Hey guys! Just like many of you I am not an expert when it comes to wines. When it comes to finding the right words to describe what it is I taste, I too have trouble in using the correct "terms" and "descriptions." I have found a book on wines that has been very helpful, "The World Atlas of Wine." As of today, I have had the oppurtunity to taste many different styles and vintages of wine from both Old and New World. Here are my thoughts on each, I hope this comes as help for you when trying to find that perfect wine.
I tasted this wine after it was opened for a couple of days and I was pleasantly surprised. It had a fruity taste almost like a combination of blackberries and raspberries which reminded me of a Pinot Noir. Was not bitter or dry and went down very smooth. It wasn't too thick or dark, this is something they would refer to as "Terroir," meaning "All things not from man." Or as I would say not too much cow manure. This is 100% Merlot and is from France. Therefore, this wine would be a Bordeaux. Would I recommend this wine, Absolutely. Especially for the low amazing price of $19.88. All I have to say is this wine blew me away!
I always enjoy a glass of good tasting Pinot Noir, this is definitely on my list. Not only does it satisfy every taste bud my mouth consists of but for this price of $18.88, that is unbelievable! It doesn't take long for this wine to breathe, I tasted it a few minutes after it was opened and was smooth from the moment it entered my mouth until it made its way into my stomach. I liked this wine so much I took one home to share. This is one of those Red Wines I can pair with any meat… Fish, Steak, Chicken, even a salad.
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Uncorked: Italy's New (Old) Wave by Kyle Meyer
Italy is no longer the land of wicker-covered bottles that double for candleholders. For years, Il Fiasco was the ubiquitous representative for Italian wine in America. That wicker-wrapped bottle, combined with a red checked tablecloth, pretty much meant you were in for an evening of simple, raspy red wine along with a slice of pizza, lasagna or manicotti, swimming in a sea of red sauce.
There's nothing wrong with that. Bringing it “old school” still has its charms: The wine is cheap, the food is filling and maybe Vincenzo will serenade as you eat. Fun!
For years, that was the American version of the Italian wine-and-food experience. Fortunately, that changed in the ’80s as Wolfgang Puck made pizza cool and Americans found out that Italy was bigger than the stretch of countryside from Florence to Naples. Risotto, “real” pizza and regional dishes from other parts of Italy began to emerge. Two decades later, Piedmont, Friuli, Campania and Puglia all have their own culinary devotees in the states, with a host of passionate young chefs lovingly transporting these classical dishes to tables all over the states. (Chris Bianco's eponymous pizzeria is a prime example.)
With this surge in regional Italian cuisines, it only makes sense that the wines would follow. If you're a chef highlighting the cuisine of Puglia, the heel of Italy's “boot,” are you going to pour Chianti? Heck no! You're going to give your customers what the locals in Puglia are drinking, as that is the wine that is the perfect fit for the food on the table.
Recently, both merchants and consumers are discovering that many of these “new” wines are extremely versatile when pairing them with any type of meal that speaks of the Mediterranean – outdoor grilling, olive oil, tomatoes, veggies, cured meats and so on.
Here is a short but tasty list featuring alternative Italian wines, sorted by their respective zones within Italy, from north to south.
PIEDMONT The northwest, France-adjacent corner of Italy is known for its chewy yet elegant Barolo and Barbaresco wines produced from the Nebbiolo grape. Readers also should be on the lookout for the Barbera wines from this zone. These wines are food-friendly, with dark berry flavors, supple textures and bright acids. My favorite producers include Giorgio Pelissero, Paitin and Renato Ratti. For white wines, the Arneis grape is in the mix, making some serious inroads after almost disappearing back in the ’60s. This grape produces crisp, nutty white wines without a hint of oak. Look for gems from the likes of Vietti and Giovanni Almondo.
FRIULI Northeast Italy is, for the most part, white wine country. These racy, minerally expressive wines are some of the greatest vini bianchi produced in Italy today. The star grapes for my palate are the scintillating Sauvignons (what we know as Sauvignon blanc here in the states) as well as the local Friulano grape. The Sauvignons are packed with grapefruit and mandarin flavors, framed by a distinctive tomato leaf and sage profile to the aromas. The Friulano grape shows more structure, with a focused band of guava-like tropical fruits. It is also considered the perfect match to a plate of the classic Prosciutto San Daniele ham this area is known for. Venica, Meroi and Bastianich are certified stars with these varieties.
CAMPANIA This area east of Rome is quickly making a name for itself among the hip sommeliers and retailers around the country with an array of unique, versatile wines. These wines tend to veer toward peach and stone fruit flavors with a honeyed minerality in the richer examples. Be on the lookout for grapes such as Greco di Tufo, Falanghina and Fiano di Avellino from famous local producers like Feudi di San Gregorio, Cantina del Taburno and Terredora.
PUGLIA Previously, the “heel of the boot,” Italy's southeastern region, was known more for tomatoes than for wine. Outside investment in this warm, sunny clime, with a focus on native grape varieties, has yielded immediate results. Primitivo (a kissing cousin of Zinfandel), Negroamaro and the seldom-seen but oh-so-tasty Susumaniello all produce gutsy, powerful red wines that pair magically with the classic Pugliese dish of Orecchiette pasta with sausage and chili flakes. Look for producers like Cantele, Li Veli and Leone de Castris, all three providing exceptional value.
When I think of Champagne, I think of pleasure. I don't think of pain. But a recent trend in the bubbly world is looking to change that.
Maybe I'm an old fogey at 42, but for the life of me I'm still trying to figure out this love affair with zero dosage Champagne. I was at a tasting recently where there were a whole slew of thesebottlings. They go by a couple of names, including some “fantasy” names, but technically they are known to French wine law as Brut Nature wines, or wines that have no additional sugar added at the dosage – when the crown cork on a fresh bottle of Champagne is popped off, the wine is disgorged (rid of its sediment and dead yeast cells) and then topped off by a mixture of wine and cane sugar syrup, which adjusts the level of fruitiness in the finished wine and/or adjusts the final acidity.
Traditionally, most Champagnes that are labeled Brut have somewhere in the range of 6-12 grams/liter of sugar added at the time of dosage. Wines that are Brut Nature can only have 0-2 grams/liter. So in theory, a wine that is Brut Nature could be considered the very essence of a particular terroir in Champagne, a wine that has not been gussied up with sugar and made to taste like something it isn't. On paper, this makes perfect sense. I'm a wine geek. I get it. In practice however, it is a different story.
People, there is a reason that a wine considered to be “dry,” even by French wine bureaucracy standards, is allowed to carry up to 12 grams/liter of dosage. Simply put, Champagne is a lousy place to grow grapes. It is cold, it is gray, it is at (or past) the climatic boundaries for viticulture. It is a fine enough place to grow grapes with 9-10 percent potential alcohol that have the opportunity to go through the magical secondary fermentation in bottle to make exciting Champagnes, but it is not necessarily a great place to make actual WINE. That is why we have this beautiful beverage, Champagne. Otherwise, Champagne would've been out of a job two centuries ago.
When you take all the sugar out of a bottle of Champagne, you are taking most of the flavor with it. Just as with the whole concept of dry Riesling from the Mosel (which German wine importing icon Terry Thiese has consistently, correctly railed against), the theoretical concept behind having sugar in the dosage for a bottle of Champagne is to INCREASE flavor and INCREASE terroir. Without it, 95 percent of the sparkling wines produced in Champagne wouldn't be worth a hill of beans. We would be trapped in a world of sour, mouth-puckering, skeletal, lemony fizz that would absolutely have no flavor interest whatsoever.
Which is what I am tasting when I sample a glass of about two-thirds of the current Brut Nature/zero dosage Champagnes currently on the market. This current trend is something of a car wreck in my opinion. Wine after wine of lean, no pleasure, zero fruit, angry bubblies that I'm supposed to understand and appreciate for their versatility with food and unique terroir. Huh? For all the talk of terroir and food versatility, many of these wines end up tasting the same!
Maybe I'm overreacting. After all, there are a few really good zero dosage bubblies on the market from the likes of Gimonnet, Legras, Tarlant and a host of other micro-producers that are currently media darlings. I've had most of the best, and I will say that, for those houses that are skilled enough to produce them at that quality level, there are indeed some top-flight examples that, like any great wine, can send a shiver down the old spine.
But lets remember something: To produce great zero dosage Champagne, one cannot cut corners. Your farming has to be perfect, the ripeness and cleanliness of your fruit the best. These grapes have to be riper than your typical Champagne grapes, basically of top table wine quality and intensity. From an aging standpoint, the base wines for these super-dry cuvees tend to be aged in wood, not steel tank, so they can grab some extra texture and richness prior to going into the bottle. After bottling and being laid down to age, these wines also need to spend more time aging on their fine lees, so as to extract even more flavor and richness.
Getting the picture? Zero dosage is a labor of love for the wineries that practice it. And this is precisely the problem. With the recent trend being towards drier Champagnes in an attempt to appeal to the sommeliers and uber-terroirists, we are seeing a bunch of zero-appeal Champagnes made by houses that don't have the proper “skills” to make these wines happen. Which is not to say that these houses aren't some of the finest in Champagne, because many of them are – from the biggest “Marques” to the tiniest, estate bottled Proprietaire-Recoltants. It’s just that most of them have never sunk their teeth into the whole “zero” concept with any degree of passion and fervor. Just because you technically know how to go through the process, that doesn't make you an instant rock star at it.
Again, for all you “zero lovers” out there, I am not hating on the style. There is a place in the world for the best examples, and those wines are indeed profound. But look at it this way: Think lemonade. There are cats out there who grow the most SPECTACULAR Meyer lemons, from perfectly manicured trees, and pick them at their exact moment of maximum ripeness. These guys could probably make a damn fine glass of lemonade without adding sugar, maybe the best I've ever had. My concern is not for them; my concern is for the other 95 percent of the cats out there who grow GOOD lemons that are trying to do the same thing because someone is telling them this is what the market wants and desires. My advice to them and to all those producers in Champagne land? A little sugar can make a lot of deliciously tangy lemonade...
Last week was pretty cool, as I had the opportunity to catch up with a very special friend of mine in the biz. His name is C.P. Lin, and he's the winemaker at one of New Zealand's most happening wineries, Mountford Estate, located an hour and change from Christchurch on the east coast of the South Island.
Before I met C.P., I'd already been a fan of Mountford's wines for quite some time, having had the chance to taste the evolution of their style over a number of years. The earlier wines were "almosts," but I could see the direction the winery was headed and I liked it – a definite Burgundian slant to the fruit but with a little more joy and spice to the wines than the typical NZ Pinot at the time. It was obvious the winemaker had some serious chops, as this work in progress continued to gain stylistic momentum.
Then BOOM! Fireworks. Namely, Mountford's 2006 Estate Pinot Noir. OMfrigginG. What a great frickin' bottle of wine. It makes the hair on my neck stand up just talking about it. I still believe it is one of the three or four greatest New World Pinots I've ever tasted...and I've tasted a lot of them. This wine had the finest defining hallmarks of New World and Old World Pinot all wrapped in one complete package: earth, truffle, cinnamon, baking spice, sweet cherry, silky ripe tannins, impeccable balance. In essence, it was Pinot perfection.
Who made this wine? I had to know, the wine dork in me was chomping at the bit. Some research lead me to find out the winemaker was a guy by the name of C.P. Lin, an immigrant to New Zealand from Taiwan as a teenager...who just so happened to be completely blind.
What? A blind guy from Taiwan made this? The story became twice as interesting in about 30 seconds. I come to find out that Mr. Lin also speaks five languages fluently and holds multiple degrees in Mathematics and Wine Science from a couple of prestigious New Zealand universities. This man was already an inspiration to say the least...
The story about how he landed the job is a good one. One day C.P and some friends are having lunch at the Mountford Estate (prior to C.P.'s involvement at the winery) when the proprietor at that time, Michael Eaton, asked C.P. what he thought of the wines. C.P. bluntly replied that they were “crap.” Stunned, Michael decided to take the group on a tour of the vineyards, where C.P. certainly started to get Michael's goat again, telling him what he needed to change in the vineyard solely by feeling his way through the vines! C.P. could tell that there were too may buds on each vine and that the water shoots (suckers) needed to be removed. Amazing.
Smoking a cigar, Michael listened half-heartedly to this blind Taiwanese guy tear apart his wines and vineyards. So C.P. took his skills one step further, remarking that someone among the group was not just smoking a cigar, but a Monte Cristo cigar! Shocked and baffled again, Michael Eaton knew at that moment that he had to have C.P. on his team, and immediately made him winemaker. The rest, as they say, is history.
Michael Eaton no longer owns Mountford, but C.P. remains as winemaker, the new ownership knowing and understanding his very unique skillset. C.P. has a crew that handles the day to day, as he shows up usually only during harvest, blending and to make sure the vineyards are being kept in line with what he wants. C.P. does all the blending at the winery, again with no visual cues, only the true taste, texture and aromas of the wines. His word is final.
Try tasting blindfolded sometime, it is a trip. As C.P. says, "Color is not a taste." And we have no idea just how much we rely upon our sight when it comes to determining wine quality and/or flavor. If a wine “looks” too light in color, the eyes will lead the palate to think it is dilute. But as I've learned, color has no bearing on concentration or intensity or balance. Of course, C.P. has known this from the start, and he is well aware that color, acids and tannin can all come from a bag or a box, so he pays no attention to such things, preferring to let the wine speak for itself.
And they do. His lineup of Pinot Noir, Chardonnay and Riesling wines are second to none in New Zealand, and easily rub elbows on the world stage with the finest examples from France, the US and Germany. The winery's lineup includes his Village bottling, from a blend of estate and contracted fruit; the Liaison, solely from the top culling of contract fruit; the Estate (self-explanatory I suppose); and finally his Gradient bottling, three barrels from one of the most expressive young vine Pinot Noir sites I have ever tasted. In a recent blind tasting among a group of wine rock stars, C.P.'s Gradient placed first, ahead of many top-flight Burgs including Anne Gros' Echezeaux and Lamarche's La Grand Rue!
C.P. Lin might very well be one of the most inspiring stories the wine industry has ever produced. Yet he quietly goes on about his work down in New Zealand, producing world-class wines and enjoying himself along the way by drinking a few (he is a huge Champagne and Chablis fan!). As the vineyards at Mountford continue to mature and C.P. continues to evolve as a winemaker (he's been at Mountford for a little over a decade), I shudder to think of the quality that will continue to emerge from this special man working in his very special place...
KYLE'S BLOG: DOGLIANI'S LOOKING TO CATCH A BREAK...
Her family's winery, Marziano Abbona, is one of the true jewels of Piedmont, located in the Dogliani sub-zone of the region. Dogliani is a jewel in its own right, having been granted the country's most exalted DOCG status in 2005 for their bold, complex, powerful red wines produced from...Dolcetto.
Yup. Dolcetto. Bet you didn't know that the one-time scrub of the Piemontese red wine world is now considered, even by the Italian wine bureaucrats, a truly noble red wine grape. And for the Abbona family, who were one of the first to estate bottle their Dogliani wines back in the 1970s, it is truly a welcome sight. Or is it?
There's a lot of pressure here, from all sides, with a few tough obstacles to overcome.
First, there's the grape itself. Dolcetto was never given a snowball's chance of producing even remotely interesting wine, even by its own native Piemontese growers. Too often relegated to the worst parts of the vineyard, be they the bottom of the hill or, gasp, even north-facing, the wines produced from these grapes had no hope of being anything more than pedestrian, a bunch of mediocre wine from mediocre grapes planted in mediocre, or worse, terroirs.
On top of that, Chiara discussed with me just how difficult it is to grow truly great Dolcetto. It is apparently much more finicky in the vineyard than Piedmont's noblest red grape, Nebbiolo, requiring twice as many man hours to achieve the same qualitative results one would achieve with a “normal” vineyard crew in a Nebbiolo vineyard. Abbona matter-of-factly stated they worked so hard on their Dolcetto as a labor of love, knowing they could probably make a bit more “soldi” growing Nebbiolo, as Dogliani is adjacent to Monforte, one of Barolo's great communes. But the old Dolcetto vines have always been there so, c'est la guerre (wait, that's French...).
Fortunately for Dogliani, there were a bunch of growers like the Abbona family working twice as hard for half the coin taken home by their neighbors next door in Monforte. So many talented growers, as a matter of fact, that the Italian government had no choice other than to grant the zone its own DOCG in 2005, the first for Dolcetto.
But now Dogliani is in the spotlight, and the rest of the Dolcetto grapes outside Dogliani are still planted, for the most part, in lousy sites. Bummer for the Dogliani folks as Abbona herself acknowledges that the ubiquitous Dolcetto d'Alba is still the most recognized version of this wine, meaning there will still be a flood of not necessarily bad, but innocuous wine with DOLCETTO in really big letters on it for quite some time. This means a real uphill battle for the producers in Dogliani who, I'm sure, would not mind a little price bump based on their newfound recognition, but can't get it since the vast majority of the Dolcetto grown outside their zone is basically just ok...because that is all it was MEANT to be.
Honestly, how hard do you think the cats that are producing $150 bottles of Barolo (which, by the way, are not flying off the shelves) going to work on making $15 Dolcetto? To recap what I wrote earlier, it takes twice as much effort and time in the vineyard to make bang-up Dolcetto, which then needs to be babied in the winery to prevent several of the winemaking issues, including reduction, that commonly plague it. Sounds like a real pain in the butt if you ask me. And I'm sure most of the growers in Barolo and Barbaresco would echo that sentiment.
So, that takes us back to the poor schleps in Dogliani: a group of hard-working, hands-dirty types that hung their hopes and aspirations on a grape that even their neighbors pretty much don't care about, but who still grow enough of it to make things twice as hard for the Doglianese to sell their “good stuff” for anything more than a small premium, though the sweat equity is more than double.
Gotta hand it to them, those folks in Dogliani are true gluttons for punishment. I suppose that's why several of the best, including Abbona as well as the Pecchenino brothers, produce enough Barolo on the side to actually pay their bills...and maybe have enough change in their pocket to grab a bite to eat next door in Monforte...
For now, I hope this intrepid group of grower/producers continue to fly the flag for this very special, often unheralded, corner of Piedmont. Help them out and buy some wine! Here's a short list of top producers from Dogliani that are currently at the top of their game, you won't go wrong with any of them: Chionetti, Marziano Abbona, Francesco Boschis, Pecchenino, Anna Maria Abbona, Luigi Enaudi, and Ca’Viola.
Here's a question for you: When you think of wine, do you even remotely think of South Africa? After France, Italy, California, Washington, Oregon or Australia, which wine region do you think of next?
For some of you this may be Germany, maybe for some it is Austria, or probably Chile...maybe Argentina since they're on a bit of a roll right now.
One thing I know for sure is that for the VAST majority of consumers, be they casual wine drinkers or hardcore connoisseurs, South Africa is not on the radar.
South Africa is, like, on the other side of the world, right? Then there was that whole apartheid thing; nothing like the decades-long sublimation of a race to leave a great taste in your mouth.
It was only the mid-‘90s when we started to see the first South African wines come to America following the abolishment of apartheid and the ensuing free elections that ushered in a new era. We were excited to taste these wines, as we had known the country had a strong wine culture. Due to the embargoes placed upon South Africa by the US and a host of others, no one had tasted or, for that matter, even seen a bottle of the stuff.
Our first tastings, put on by some pioneering importer types, were, shall we say, mixed at best. The “terroir”-driven reds were rife with barbecue flavors (literally, like you licked your hibachi) and a persistent iodine streak that left many of these high acid reds – many poorly vinified – with little hope at all of catching on in the States. The majority of the whites were so lean, lemony and under ripe, they proved nearly undrinkable.
The years that followed saw South Africa slowly clean up its act, but still, the damage was done and it was going to take some time to repair it. These first wines should not have been shown. The die was cast.
Most of the problems started in the vineyard. Prior to the embargo being lifted, South Africa had no access to top clonal material, and thus could not propagate vines that worked on the level of their international competitors. It was only in the last decade that South Africa's vineyards have managed – either through improved vineyard management for the older vines or better clones of newer vines, planted in better locales for those varieties – to start catching up to the rest of the world. These new/restored vineyards and a new approach in the cellar based on the growing knowledge base of SA's “flying winemakers” (who no longer have a South African “house palate”) have quickly lead to a quiet revolution in South African wine.
Recently, I had the chance to join the revolution at a tasting here in Los Angeles sponsored by the South African consulate. A golden opportunity for sure, as it’s not very often that wine geeks like myself (or anyone for that matter) get to sample multiple offerings from 25+ cutting-edge South African wineries at one time. I was not leaving until I tasted everything and got my fill of Johnny Clegg and Ladysmith Black Mambazo.
It was a quick three hours. A whirlwind of really SATISFYING wines. There wasn't a table I dropped by where I wouldn't have hung out, poured a tall frosty mug and talked shop. I knew the producers on hand for this gig were good, but I was pleasantly surprised by the consistency and depth of fruit across the board, both whites and reds.
Chenin Blanc (formerly known as Steen by the locals) is alive and well. Crazy to think there were many in South Africa who were almost ashamed of the country's thousands of acres of dry-farmed, bush vine Chenin. In the mad dash to make international wines that would appeal to export markets, a lot of perfectly fine old-vine Chenin was grubbed up to plant Chardonnay or Sauvignon, much like heaps of old vine Grenache, Shiraz and Mataro were grubbed up in South Australia in the 1970s and 1980s to plant Cabernet and Merlot. Fortunately for us, many of the older vines in South Africa were saved before it was too late, and we are now reaping the benefits as a broad range of character-filled whites, from the textured yet vibrant wines of Adi Badenhorst's Secateurs label to the classically snappy Old Vine Reserve from SA pioneer Ken Forrester, are available and sell for well under $20!
Sauvignon Blanc is growing up. The first SA Sauvignons brought to the US were, in essence, New Zealand Sauvignon wannabes, excessively pungent, razor sharp and loaded for bare with pyrazines (organic aromatic compounds that impart herbaceous and vegetal flavors like asparagus and celery). Recently, the last few vintages have seen more producers harvesting riper fruit and handling it better in the winery. Now all that “snap” and precision is supported by a wealth of tropical fruit flavors (the Neil Ellis and Brampton wines shined in this vein) as well as a greater sense of adventure and diversity as some producers take a cue from the likes of the late Didier Dagueneau in the Loire, using larger, new wood barrels and native yeast ferments with extreme success (Reyneke's Sauvignon captured this juju perfectly).
Blended reds ruled the day. Not just “Rhone blends” or “Bordeaux blends” but “funky” blends, too. There were no rules as any and all red grapes were joined together to make more than one compelling wine. Pinotage and Petit Verdot? The Missing Virgin bottling from Post House took those two grapes and built a marvelous, inky, dense, pure, joyful wine. A real treat. How about a mix of Sangiovese, Nebbiolo, Pinot Noir, Shiraz, Mourvedre and Barbera? Why the hell not? That was the blend for Bouchard Finlayson's 2009 Hannibal, a wine that was easily in the Top 10 of the room. Crazy, but it worked. And so on...
The “classic” wineries have never been better. A few vanguard labels survived the first foray for SA wines into the US and those producers have rewarded our faith in them with current releases that are truly compelling. Kanonkop's Kadette Pinotage blend in 2010 was impeccably balanced and drinkable as usual, and de Trafford's 2007 Cabernet, with its cool yet thoroughly ripe black fruit flavors and seamless tannins, reminded me of the best from Western Australia's Margaret River area; high praise indeed.
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