Back in July, I started writing about wine every Wednesday. Since then, I’ve covered the basics of wine and an overview of the major wine grape varietals. The question now is: What next? Are there wine-related topics you’d like me to write about? Or should I discontinue this feature and move on?
Entries in wine wednesdays (18)
Tomorrow is Beaujolais Nouveau Day, a holiday you probably weren’t aware of that celebrates a wine you probably don’t know about, but should.
Beaujolais is a wine-producing region in eastern France, south of Burgundy and north of the Rhône. The wine made there comes from the Gamay grape, a thin-skinned, low tannin varietal whose flavors are dominated by red berries. Beaujolais is easy drinking and tends to be quite reasonably priced. It’s generally released after about a year of aging, so you should be able to find bottles of the 2010 vintage now.
And then there’s Beaujolais Nouveau. It’s released to celebrate the end of the harvest season on the third Thursday in November, and it’s made with some of the first grapes harvested that season. That’s right. Six weeks ago, the grapes were picked, crushed, and dumped into concrete fermenters to turn into wine at top speed. The results were bottled and rush delivered to all corners of the world so they could be put on sale tomorrow. In some ways, it’s a gimmick wine. The wine writer Karen MacNeil has compared drinking Beaujolais Nouveau to eating cookie dough. It’s true that it’s not the most sophisticated wine in the world. On the other hand, it’s great chance to experience a young, uncomplicated wine in it’s purest form. This is wine of the moment, as it should be consumed by the end of the year in which it is released. It’s fun and silly, which is something that wine culture quite frankly needs a little more of.By the way, non-Nouveau Beaujolais is one of my favorite wines to pair with Thanksgiving dinner. It can stand up to the sorts of rich food that are so often served on that day. I particularly recommend the Cru Beaujolais wines, which despite being some of the top wines of their region, are often priced under twenty dollars. My favorites are from the areas of Juliénas and Moulin-à-Vent.
UpdateFitness: Ran 5 miles
I suppose to do this right I would have started with Aligoté. Regardless, things come to a end with Zinfandel.
Zinfandel — or just “Zin” — is the quintessential California grape. Yes, I know that genetic studies have shown that it is identical to Italy’s Primativo and is actually a clone of Croatia’s Crljenak. I just don’t care. As far as I’m concerned, Zinfandel comes from California. No one else grows it like we do.
The predominant style of Zinfandel is often aptly described as a “fruit bomb.” The word “jammy” gets used a lot, and not without good reason. Zin thrives in hot climates, like Amador County or near Paso Robles. The weather in those areas leads them to produce big, fruit-driven wines that can’t be mistaken for anything else. Zinfandel is rarely a subtle grape, and to love Zin is to embrace that lack of subtlety.
You might be asking yourself, “What about White Zinfandel?” Remember when I talked about rosés? About how you can make delicious pink wines from red grapes? It’s not one of those. White Zin is — quite frankly — an abomination, and I will not speak further of it here.
Given its already-concentrated fruit flavors, Zinfandel also makes wonderful dessert wines. It’s one of my favorite things to have with a dark, bittersweet chocolate desert.
We don’t drink a lot of Zinfandel, but there’s some in the cellar, including the Foxen 7200 Lockshaw Vineyard Zinfandel (Paso Robles), Sextant Wheelhouse Zinfandel (Paso Robles), Hop Kiln Late Harvest Zinfandel (Russian River Valley), and Santa Barbara Winery Zinfandel Essence (Santa Ynez Valley).
And that’s my varietal tour. What am I going to write about next with regards to wine? I’m not sure. Tune in then to find out.
UpdateFitness: Ran 4.5 miles
Leave it to the Italians to grow a grape whose name translates as “the blood of Jove.” They love their food, wine, and colorful language, I suppose.
We’re in the home stretch of my overview of what I see as the most important grape varieties to know. That means we’re finally leaving France behind; the last two I want to talk about come from elsewhere in the world. This week’s grape: Sangiovese.
Sangiovese is the predominant red grape varietal of central Italy and of its most famous winemaking region, Tuscany. How common is it? Grab the closest bottle of Italian red wine. I’m willing to bet its got Sangiovese in it. It’s often blended, as in Chianti, but it is also bottled by itself, as in Brunello di Montalcino. There are other Italian red grape varietals — including the highly drinkable Barbera and the fickle and often-expensive Nebbiolo — but if you can only learn about one, Sangiovese will open plenty of doors for you.
The flavors and aromas of Sangiovese are often unremarkable; the key thing to know about it is that it is one of the higher-acid red grapes. Remember when we talked about how the acidity of wine impacts pairing with food? That you want to drink a wine that’s more acidic than the food you’re pairing it with? That’s why you don’t see a lot people drinking Cabernet Sauvignon with pizza. Sangiovese-based wines pair wonderfully with tomato-based dishes, which isn’t surprising, considering where the grape comes from.
Understanding Sangiovese can also be a key to saving yourself some money when you’re looking at a wine list. Italian varietals are often a little cheaper than their French counterparts, particularly in restaurants. Some of the bigger names still have a substantial markup, but often the best values on restaurants’ wine lists are Sangioveses.
Our cellar skews more French- than Italian-influenced, but we still have a few bottles of Sangiovese and Sangiovese-based blends hanging around, including the Ethan “Hallauer Vineyard” Sangiovese (Santa Ynez Valley), Foxen 7200 Volpino (a blend of Sangiovese and Merlot, Santa Ynez Valley), and Vignamaggio “Terre di Prenzano” Chianti Classico (Chianti, Italy).
UpdateFitness: Ran 5 miles
When the first edition of Great Wine Made Simple was published in 2000, Syrah wasn’t one of the Big Six. When the second edition came out in 2005, it was. That should give you some idea of how the popularity of this other, other red grape exploded in the last few years.
Syrah is one of the many red grape varieties that spring from the Rhône in France. By itself, it produces a moderate amount of tannin, prominent red fruit notes, and — more often than not — hints of black or white pepper. Much as Cabernet Sauvignon is often used in blends, French Syrah is usually combined with a handful of other varietals to round it out, usually to bring down the tannin levels and to increase the fruit flavors. Although it is used through the region, the further north you go, the higher the percentage of the Syrah in the mix. For my money, the most interesting blend is Côte-Rôtie, which combines Syrah with a white grape, Viognier, resulting in a wonderfully aromatic, floral nose.
The other epicenter of Syrah production is Australia, where they call it Shiraz and the warmer climate tends to produce even fruitier wines, where the red fruit flavors dominate. California Syrahs can be made in either style, depending where they come from. I tend to like the one that express what California can do best: Big, darker fruit than you can get from France, but with more finesse than you see in most Shiraz.
Pinot Noir is my first red wine love. Syrah is my second. Some favorites in our cellar are the Andrew Murray “Roasted Slope” Syrah, Foxen Williamson-Dore Vineyard Syrah, Melville “High Density” Syrah, and E. Guigal “Brune et Blonde de Guigal” Côte-Rôtie.