Monthly Archives: August 2007

Tasting Famega Vinho Verde NV

Famega labelYummy goodness. Straw yellow with green reflections, it was slightly petillant (bubbly), and after the bubbles exploded in your mouth, the palate was totally dry and pleasently herbal. Tasted just like ripe yellow delicious apple with some lime squeezed over it. Very light: alcohol content is only 9%, so I quite happily drank half the bottle at our Blues on the Green picnic and drove home (don’t tell) with no ill effects. Exactly what I was looking for in a picnic wine!

This was lovely with our meal: gazpacho, green salad with feta, and a tortellini pasta salad with artichoke hearts. Also gracing the blanket: a rosemary sourdough bread, some aged manchego, and summer fruits. I also look forward to drinking this wine with seafood, fish, or a lemony grilled chicken. It’s really a good pair for almost any summer dish, with the possible exception of barbecue.

I had mentioned Vinho Verde in another post, one on Alvarino and its native region of Rias Baixas, saying how the two regions are fairly close and how I was looking forward to tasting the Portuguese version of this grape, which they call Alvarinho. Imagine my dismay when I research this wine after enjoying it so and discover that there’s no Alvarinho in it! Facestab! (I should have known, really, because of the low alcohol in the wine. Alvarinho in a Vinho Verde will bring up the alcohol content significantly.) Continue reading

Tasting Rosenblum Cellars Heritage Clones Petite Sirah 2005

Rosenblum PS Heritage ClonesThis was an impulse purchase — normally I don’t buy bottles this expensive, sticking to under $10-15, but I was meeting friends at my house and saw this in the wine store, and…

Color is dark and inky, like black blood in a movie. The aromas are warm and earthy, with some tarry characteristics. This wine is on the hot side (meaning the alcohol content is high enough at 14.4% that I can feel it burn my nose a bit), and presents vanilla oak, sweet cherry, white pepper and mocha notes. There is an interesting, elusive whiff of aged cheese or truffle or really sticky skunk bud.

On the palate, I get licorice, tobacco, and powerful blackberry jam flavors. The wine has a strong tannic grip, which makes it meaty and chewy-feeling, like it’s tight on my teeth and gums. The acidity is good, though, balancing out those structured tannins. The long, lingering finish is very reminiscent of dried blueberries. This wine is rich and delicious, very rewarding for $23 a bottle. Drink it with something equally rich: italian sausage, duck, or osso bucco. Continue reading

Pairing Perfection

Peanut butter and jelly. Car and driver. Movies and popcorn. Wine and food. Each of these pairs are lesser without the other. Sure, they can stand on their own if need be, but when joined, the whole is MORE than the sum of its parts. Case in point:

My husband and I had a lovely night out a week or so ago, stopping off at a wine bar for an aperitif, and then dining at Ciola’s in Lakeway. I had researched Ciola’s before for a potential company dinner I was asked to organize, and had wanted to go there for a while. Their menu looked interesting and their wine list was very well written. Back in my wine rep days, I did a lot of wine list analysis, and the wine list at Ciola’s shows a lot of careful, thoughtful selections.

Ironically, though, I didn’t really order wine off the list. Liberty School Cab labelOur waiter happened to be the wine steward, Tommy Williams, Jr., and once we ordered our entrees he told us about some wines he was pouring that weren’t on the by-the-glass list. One was a Vermentino, which he particularly recommended with my linguine & clam sauce, so I took the leap of faith (not a very big leap, considering the list) and acquiesced. T wanted a Cab, though, so he ordered a glass of the Liberty School Cabernet Sauvignon , always a solid choice.

The calamari we ordered for starters was very well executed: the squid was tender, the breading was light and crunchy, and two dipping sauces came with: a marinara and an aioli. Both delicious, but I stuck to the marinara… there’s something semi-obscene about dipping fried food into mayonnaise sauces, even if it is fish.

T’s Rigatoni Genzano was a heck of a meal: large chunks of Italian sausage, with what looked like quartered peppers. His Liberty School Cabernet Sauvignon (didn’t get the year) gave sweet oak and blackberry aromas, with some green pepper and clack cherry notes. The color (difficult to see in the very romantic lighting in the restaurant) was a nice dark red with some garnet highlights. Soft tannins on the palate with a black pepperyness, and big currant flavors. Slight taste of raspberry, as well. Overall, a rich & soft Cabernet with a very decent finish for $9 per glass. Tom liked how his wine tasted with his food; I could see how the green pepper of the wine matched nicely with the red peppers in his dish, but I thought the bite of the Italian sausage wasn’t all that flattering, wine-wise.

MY wine and food pairing, though, was phenomenal. Continue reading

Tasting Martin Codax Albarino 2006

Martin Codax Albarino 2006 labelBoy, I’m drinking a lot of white lately. I loves the red, and I believe in the Rose, really I do, but I am THIRSTY for white these days. Might that have something to do with the Texas summer having finally descended upon us, incarcerating my universe in an oven of sweaty, airless misery? Nah.

Color is a pale straw, because this wine is too cool for all your tired golden reflections. When cold, the nose presents a startlingly vivid scent of ripe pear. There are some herbal qualities, too, and it smells like it’s effervescent, but it ain’t. I see what you’re doing there… tricky.

Nice lemony, mineral palate, tangy rather than tart. Super clean and refreshing, with a hint of pear and/or golden delicious apple. Very long, pleasant finish: these flavors want to sit in my mouth for a while, and I’m loving it. Continue reading

Boxed in

Such an interesting article from our local Austin Chronicle this week on boxed wines! Wes Marshall writes about wine and food for the Chronicle, and organized a blind tasting of wines packaged in boxes, inviting various distinguished Austin wine geeks, including the three Austin men that won the Texas Best Sommelier Competition: Devon Broglie, Craig Collins and Scott Cameron. There were 12 tasters in all, and they tasted a total of 50 wines, giving out a prize for Best Red, Best White, and Best in Show. The winners were:

1.) Seeburger Riesling from Germany

2.) Powers 2003 Columbia Valley Cabernet Sauvignon from Washington State

3.) Hardy’s Stamp Merlot from Australia

Now, you may be surprised to hear about very serious wine people enthusiastically tasting box wine. The box stuff is cheap and nasty, right? Well, here’s the thing: not necessarily. Wine is finally having a much-needed packaging revolution. Wines that would sell for $10-15 a bottle are now frequently being packaged in the “bag in box” format and purchased enthusiastically in such wine-savvy locales as Europe and Australia. According to Wes Marshall, 54% of all wine purchased in Australia is in a box. These are people who care much more about substance over form, yeh?

Why give up the good old bottle and cork? Simple: air. When wine is exposed to oxygen, it starts to go south. Specifically, it oxidizes, robbing the wine of its fruit and causing the wine to brown. Wine that’s been packaged in that vacuum bag in the box is guaranteed oxygen-free for life, and therefore can be drunk in any quantity desired, over any timespan desired, without you haveing to worry about the wine going off. Do you drink a glass of red wine a night, like it’s medicine? Then bag-in-box is your Holy Grail.

Another good reason to buy wine in a box rather than in a glass bottle is portability. Continue reading

Tasting Feudi di San Gregorio Falanghina 2005

FdSG hires labelI heart obscure white varietal wines!

Light gold in color, suggesting oak aging. Fascinating nose: flowery, strong ripe banana and almond scent, with some cheery orange peel as it warmed up. The taste was almost exactly like lemon juice from concentrate: sharp and acidic, to the point of bitterness. A strong nutty flavor. Light- to medium-bodied, belying the oak aging I thought it might have by looking at the color. (Later I checked; no oak on this wine — what a great natural color, then!)

Almost Alsatian in style: a very opulent, perfumed nose contrasting with a palate nearly off-putting in its austerity. Really wish I had tried this with some food — it would so kick ass with fish. Super-interesting, though; I had been expecting appley character, as that is typical for this varietal, but really didn’t taste or smell it, frankly. Average bottle price: $20 Continue reading

Tasting HdV Napa Valley Red Wine 2003

hdvnapavalleyredwine-label.jpgUhhh, Scamp? You forgot the name of the wine.

Actually, no. This is HdV’s meritage bottling, which they did not name until 2004. The word meritage is a cross between the words “merit” and “heritage,” and it’s the official California name for a wine that is a blend of at least two grape varietals (hard to blend just one). It rhymes with “heritage,” so please don’t go all fake French on it and say meritaaahhhhggge. Give it a good, American hard G; it’ll probably push back, as most meritage blends are Cabernet Sauvignon-based.

California winemakers started making meritage blends in honor (or imitation) of the great wines of Bordeaux, which are all blended wines. Red Bordeaux wines are blended from any or all of 5 grapes: Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Cabernet Franc, Petit Verdot, and Malbec. White Bordeaux wines are blended from Sauvignon Blanc and Semillon.

In the US, we usually market a wine by its varietal, and blending makes the consumer suspicious: a “Robert Mondavi 51% Cab, 42% Merlot, 7% Cab Franc” doesn’t exactly fly off the shelves. In France, they figure all you need to know is that it’s Chateau Haut-Batailley, because the winemaker tries to make the wine taste the same from year to year, blending it differently every vintage to create the same aromas and flavors that makes that wine distinctively Chateau Haut-Batailley. This is what American winemakers are going for with their meritages: a distinctive, winery-evoking character that makes you think, “Ahhhh…. HdV.”

When enjoying this HdV premium tasting at the Lake Travis Wine Trader, I was intrigued to learn that this winery with such close ties to internationally renowned Burgundy was not making a Pinot Noir, but instead a meritage blend, a la Bordeaux. Michael Apstein, in an article about HdV, says that de Villaine declined to bottle a California Pinot Noir because of the “inevitable comparisons.”

In the glass, the wine was a rich red, not jewelled with clarity, but muscley-looking. It was quite toasty on the nose, with some green pepper aromas and a very subtle black currant scent. Overall, pretty spicy/peppery on the nose. The tannins were quite astringent on the palate, with some cranberry and maybe loganberry fruit. The finish lasted about 5 seconds. I expected it to be more fruit-driven when it warmed up a little, and it evened out a little bit, but largely stayed the same. I felt there was too much oakiness present, and the wine was not really ready to drink yet. A pretty austere red blend, for Napa Valley meritage.

To be fair, some reviewers were extremely pleased with this wine, citing rich cherry fruit from the Merlot and earthy, mushroom character, but I didn’t get any of that in my tasting. This wine is probably improved by food: a nice steak or duck dish would cast the tannins in a much more flattering light. Bottle price: $67

Tasting A to Z Pinot Noir 2005

a2z_pinot_05.jpgPretty, garnet color. Warm Bing cherry, cranberry and sweet strawberry on the nose. On the palate, the wine has a slight silkiness, not too much, although that begs the question of how much is too much… Bright, cheerful acidity on the palate with some warm spice flavors that lingered in my mouth with a scrumptious Bing/black cherry finish. Very well balanced tannin and acidity. Yum-yum!

I am from Oregon, and I love Pinot Noir. And I love Oregon Pinot Noir, so it must be noted that I am biased in favor of this wine. Plus, their website is fancy-cool. One of the beefs I have with Oregon Pinot Noir is how expensive it tends to be, and A to Z really feels me on that one. Their whole gig is to bring good Oregon wine to my mouth without emptying my pocketbook on the way, and for that I thank them heartily. I don’t recall ever having an A to Z wine that I didn’t like, and I will try to remember to taste more of their stuff. You should be seeing more of their juice around your friendly local wine shop, as Wine Business Monthly named them the #1 Hot Small Brand of 2006.

A to Z Wineworks brought together a lot of very well-respected people in the Oregon wine industry with the aim to make a négociant-style wine in Oregon. This is a tradition quite common in France, especially in Burgundy (Jadot), Beaujolais (Duboeuf), and the Rhone Valley (Guigal and Jaboulet). A négociant can buy grapes or grape juice from vineyard owners and make it into wine, or she can buy wine fermented by the vineyard or even other wineries and blend that into a wine that she will then bottle under her own name. The most famous example of a négociant wine in the US is the infamous “Two-Buck Chuck,” or Charles Shaw, whose 2005 Chardonnay recently won the California State Fair’s prize for Best Chardonnay.

If you are horrified at the concept of drinking a wine that is a blend of juice from the Rogue Valley all the way up to Hood River, then you should carefully look for words like “estate bottled” on your wine label, because that’s about the only way you can tell that a US wine was really grown and pressed and fermented and bottled all by the same gal. Me, I care more about well-made, inexpensive, tasty tasty wine, so I don’t worry my head about that. A to Z’s 2005 Pinot Noir purportedly has about 40 different wines in its blend. If it produces an Oregonian Pinot Noir with some character and verve that I can afford to drink, I say, the more the merrier!

A caveat, in which the Scamp’s ass is covered: Not all négociants make great wine. Some of it is nasty plonk, not even worth that $6.99 you paid for it. But at the prices you’re likely to pay for these bottles, you can experiment with impunity.

Other US négociant labels include:
Castle Rock
Domaine La Due
Teira
Three Thieves
Stephen Vincent
Cloudline
Mark West
Stone Creek

The wines of Don Sebastiani & Sons are some of the most successful examples of California négociant wines. I list them separately here because I have learned that this company is financially and politically supportive of anti-choice legislation, and so I won’t be buying them or reviewing them here. Some of their wines include: Pepperwood Grove, Aquinas Napa Valley, Mia’s Playground, Screw Kappa Napa, Smoking Loon, Used Automobile Parts, Fusee, Gino Da Pinot, Le Bon Vin de La Napa Valley, Plungerhead, Hey Mambo, White Knight. Why they be harshing on the womens like that? Shame!

Predictability is the New Black

Driving home from work the other day, I caught another of NPR’s excellent stories about global warming. In the teaser for the segment, the announcer said something about “a positive side to climate change,” and I immediately knew we were going to hear about wine.

For some reason, the only upside anyone can seem to find to global warming is that France has been having record highs, which has resulted in ultra-fruity, superripe, California-style Bordeaux and Burgundy. This is the kind of wine that Wine Ratings God Robert Parker gives 10,000 points to, which sells wine, which is definitely good news for French wineries.

Not so good news for warm-weather climates, though, this global warming. The NPR story focused on Spain, and had a Spanish winemaker talking about planting in the foothills of the Pyrenees, hoping for cooler temps there.

What really caught my ear in this story, though, was not the discussion of rising temps and their fears effects on our agriculture. No, what I thought was so interesting (not that disaster isn’t interesting, my apologies to the 4 horseman and all) was the comment by Albert Puch of wine giant Torres that vintage variations, once a given in the minds of European winemakers and consumers, is no longer an excuse for mediocre or bad wine.

Que que?

Some background: Old World wineries (winespeak glossary — Old World = wine regions in Europe; New World = wine regions everywhere else) trained their consumers long ago on the vintage system: if you wanted to know which of their wines were the best, you needed to memorize which vintages were the most successful. Of course, every wine maker does her best with every harvest, but sometimes your weather is great and sometimes it’s crap and it’s hard to control that, even in France.

Then, when everyone agreed that average vintages were a shame but what could you do?, New World wineries started bringing vintage after vintage to the table with no variation in quality. Regions like Australia, California, Chile, even Washington all have very predictable weather, and could make a wine that tasted the same year after year after year after year… You know when you buy a bottle of Chateas Ste Michelle Riesling or Jacob’s Creek Shiraz and you enjoy it, you can buy another one next year and it’ll be equally likeable. Victory! No more vintage charts!

Old World winemakers fought back, charging that their wine had very much specialness in it that made it better than predictably drinkable New World wines do not. They can’t really tell us what that is, but it’s there, and you’re missing out if you drink tasty new world wine all the time. And lots of people beleived them for a long time, feeling undisciplined and bourgeouis when they forgot their vintage cheat sheet at home and had to buy something they simply knew they liked, without remembering whether hail fell in the Rhone Valley in 2002.

Hearing someone from Torres saying that they needed to find places that weren’t going to provide unpredictable harvests was like hearing the fashion editor of Vogue say she was going to have to write about some shoes for women that don’t hurt our feet. Finally, the cart is placed behind the horse where it belongs, and you, gentle reader, are in the driver’s seat. Giddup!

Nice Acid

A Poem

In posting my tasting notes on certain white wines recently, I may have mentioned that a wine had “good acidity.”  It occurred to me much later that all my attentive readers may not be familiar with the importance of acid.

Many friends may now be thinking, “Well, now, if it’s acid we’re talking, I know my way around a blotter sheet… er, hey, I thought this was a wine blog!”   Got it in one: this is a wine blog, and no discussion of wine would be complete without a thorough understanding of acid.

The acid in wine is largely of four kinds: tartaric, malic, acetic, and citric.  Sorry, none of the three-initial-variety here.  It is not the acid in wine that made you stagger up to that guy at the party and tell him all your theories on fetal genital development.  But you wouldn’t have been drinking that wine if it weren’t for the acid in it (OK, you have a point, let’s blame the pH this time), because acid is one of the essential elements of What Makes A Wine Taste Good.

Wines with good acid are refreshing and bright.  They taste better with food, they age better, and they make you more appear more intelligent.  OK, maybe not so much with that last one, but the other three are all true.  Wines without acid taste flat, and are frequently maligned with descriptions like “flabby.” 

“But Scamp,” you ask bravely, because you know there are no dumb questions, just dumbwaiters, “how will I know that my wine has this nice acid of which you speak so wittily?”  I’ll tell you:  acidity makes your mouth water.  Just like taking a sip of fresh lemonade, sipping a Chablis or an un-oaked Sauvignon Blanc will trigger your salivary glands.  John Juergens, in his excellent Wine 101  article on Robin Garr’s Wine Lover’s Page, says that wine without acid tastes like a flat Coke.

Wines with naturally high acidity usually come from cool wine regions, like France’s Champagne, Chablis, and Alsace, all of Germany, California’s Anderson Valley, Santa Barbara, and Carneros, most of Oregon, and most of New Zealand.  (This is not an exhaustive list, to be sure.) 

Sometimes grapes grown in very cool regions actually have too much acid in them, and wineries are permitted to chaptalize the wine, which means they add sugar to make fermentation possible (because yeast eats sugar, but is killed by too much acidity) and to balance the flavor of the wine.  Frequently highly acidic wines are subjected to a second fermentation, called malolactic fermentation, which takes the malic acid (think apples) and converts it to lactic acid (think milk).

It is high acid that makes many of my favorite whites my favorites.  German Rieslings and Gewurztraminer have such divine sweet aromas of roses, honeysuckle, peaches, apricots, melon, and spice that it’s a refreshing pleasure to finally sip the nectar and be treated to a bright, no-nonsense slap of honest acidity.  It’s like meeting a person who is stunningly beautiful but utterly humble at the same time: entrancing, and rare.

You can also find high acid in red wines, which usually either means it’s a New World wine built to age (high acid also stabilizes a wine and kills certain micro-organisms that can harm a wine during aging) or it’s an Old World wine from a colder region.  In Europe, where wine is just one more kitchen staple like cheese and bread, no meal is complete without a wine on the table, and so wine is made to be drunk with food.  More acid in a red wine will help it stand up to acidic foods like tomatoes, and will help your palate cleanse itself by stimulating your salivary glands. 

A warning: acid makes a wine taste sour, so if a wine with higher acid does not have correspondingly powerful sweet fruit flavors, it may not appeal to you.  If you don’t like a wine and you think it’s because of the acid in it, you might try it with food before you write if off completely, because it may simply not be built to drink by itself.

Here’s a Nice Acid Cheat Sheet, if you want to try an acidic wine with dinner (hint, hint) tonight:

White

Chablis (must be French)

Sauvignon Blanc

Pinot Grigio

German Riesling

 

Red

Chianti or Sangiovese

Barbera

Bordeaux

Burgundy, and other Pinot Noir from Oregon, and in CA the Central Coast & Carneros

 

Fancy winespeak you can use to describe acidity in a wine include:  racy, crisp, tart, brisk, snappy, twangy, and juicy.  After the second glass, others may occur to you… enjoy!