Tuesday, July 29, 2014

Learn Wine Tasting: Part 3 - Wine is Not a Cocktail: Location Location Location

   Wine is Not a Cocktail   

Or IS it?
During the process of speaking about wine tasting to customers, or teaching a class about wine tasting, the issue of European wines vs "new world" wines comes up often (and admittedly I am often the one driving the topic in that direction). It bears talking about because of the overall different styles the wines have. As I've written here before, we are comparing a wine culture (Europe) that goes back many centuries and even millennia, to one that may have started a century or two ago, but only came into its own in the last forty years! This fact has given Europe's wine culture a lot of time, both to evolve and to develop strong traditions steeped in history. A basic fact about viticulture and location comes very much into play here.
Europe has Been in a State of Flux All of Its History:  Until Now (hopefully)

Europe's vineyards are planted largely within regions that were under the control and protection of some national, aristocratic, or church entity. Countries were constantly in competition with each other, if not outright war. It just wasn't a very stable situation, nor was it safe to travel very far. Under these conditions, you planted your grape vines where you could. The choices were fewer, and everybody--incessantly driven to grow grapes and make wine it seems--found the best spots that they could within their own confines. Given this limitation, I'd say many of them did surprisingly well. Some of the world's most cherished wines are European wines grown on land that was found out by these people so long ago.

Compare this to the new world. California's first vinifera grapevines (read my recent vinifera post) were planted by Spanish Catholic missionaries. Later, more were brought over from Europe in the 19th century. The point is though, that the land masses were vast, there was comparatively less volatility in the political situation, and guess what: the WEATHER IS BETTER in the places they chose to plant. The more sunlight and warmth there is where the grapes are growing, the more natural sugars and flavor compounds the grapes will develop while on the vine. For world class wines to result though, warmth is not enough. Grapes can also be ruined by too much warmth. They need periods of cool to develop an attractive amount of acidity as well as complexity of flavor. So again, the process of finding the ideal spots to plant takes place. But in the new world, there are simply more choices, and more room to experiment. 
Two Wines Made from Piedmont's Barbera Grape. One is from California. They WILL be different!
The resulting wines tend to have a bigger style, more fruit intensity, more tannins where appropriate, and richer on the palate. I have little doubt that in a blind tasting, the average American wine drinker is likely to prefer a California Merlot over a similarly priced French Merlot--even a right bank Bordeaux Superieur. They are simply more obviously gratifying because they have more fullness right up front. The initial impact--when enjoyed by themselves--is a more complete taste experience. 
So does that make these wines "better"?   I'll leave you with that question for now.

Next time:  Wine in Not a Cocktail: Wine with Food


 -- Marc Soucy, FWS CSW
Marc Wine Blog

Wednesday, July 23, 2014

Rosé Wine: Pressed or Bled ? Do You Care?

"Bled Wine" Sure doesn't sound appetizing...  
Two of my Current Favorite Rosés to Compare styles
Translations don't always work perfectly. Something what seems harmless in one language can be irritating or even offensive in another. To create a wine from the "blood" of grapes, when stated in French--or any romance language--has some kinship to the concept of sacredness...yes there are religious roots to that turn of a phrase. So tied to the Catholic Church has the production of wine in Europe been how could there be no such references?

Domaine de Chantepierre TAVEL
So, historical analysis aside, "to bleed" in English is translated into the simple word "saignée" in French (pron: 'seng-yay'). Red grapes are crushed in the traditional manner of making red wine. With red wine, the torn skins are left in the juice for weeks as the fermentation process is completed. With Rosé, the skins are removed after just 8-16 hours. The remaining pink liquid continues its fermentation in the style of a white wine. Slower fermentation at lower temperatures is the norm for attaining bright fruitiness and fresh flavors. The color is deep and lush. The flavors are often persistent and berry driven. DOMAINE DE CHANTEPIERRE produces a Tavel (left) which has been making this style of Rosé for so long, the very name Tavel requires that it be a Rosé. That's right, there are NO red or white Tavels.

Chateau Routas

In 1961, an ingenious device called a bladder press was invented. A large inflatable "balloon" sits inside a vat, which is filled with bunches of grapes, stems and all usually. The balloon gets very slowly inflated with water, and as it grows in size, it presses the grapes against the outer walls of the vat, gently creating small ruptures in the grapes. The pressure is very even in every direction, so damage to the grapes and their stems is almost nonexistent. The delicate juice leaks out with only some direct contact with the skins or stems, since there is plenty of room for the juice to drain away. The juice is basically drained off almost in real time. The resulting color is light salmon pink, compared to the maraschino cherry red of the crushed or bled versions. Prior to 1961, a centuries old design called the basket press was a common method. CHATEAU ROUTAS (right) is another of the world's great Rosés, a Côteaux Varois de Provence. Provencal Rosés are known for their delicate almost airy flavors and textures.
This wouldn't be complete without my tasting notes on these two wines, eh?
                             So here goes:

2013 Domaine de Chantepierre  Tavel  Rosé
Grapes:  80% Grenache - 20% Cinsault - 10% Clairette - 5% Syrah - 5% Picpoul

"The wine appears a rich translucent maraschino cherry red. Attractive aromas of red cherry, peach, spices and slight earthiness lead to a mid palate of ripe red raspberries. The back palate goes drier, with tart acidity and assorted dark berries lasting through the finish. Remarkably good extraction and intensity puts this wine in a different league from most. Pair with whatever you're in the mood for, even in cooler weather."  

2013 Château Routas  Côtes de Varois en Provence  Rosé
Grapes:  45% Cinsault - 35% Grenache - 20% Syrah

"Appearing a light salmon pink with a slight hue of canteloupe, this Rosé epitomizes the Provence style: satiny, delicate, and refreshing. A nose of strawberry and flowers lead into flavors of watermelon with strawberry notes. A smooth finish with hints of lavender and citrus makes this a near perfect summer wine. Pair with Salade Niçoise, poached or grilled salmon, or chicken salad sandwiches."

 -- Marc Soucy, FWS CSW
Marc Wine Blog

Wednesday, July 16, 2014

Marc's Wine Review: 2010 Mader Riesling

Mader  Riesling 2010
 Mader Viticulteur, Alsace, France    

Grapes:  100% Riesling
Jean-Luc Mader had been a member of a wine cooperative when he decided to strike out on his own in 1981. Later on in the ‘80s, he began to cultivate his own grapes, and the quality of his wines took off. Using grapes harvested from family owned plots scattered across several Grand Cru communes in Alsace, Mader cool ferments the wines, often letting them evolve slowly until March. This very long fermentation process guarantees complexity without losing freshness, fruit, and the bright acidity typical of the Riesling grape. Typical of the French style, this Alsatian Riesling is drier than most German Rieslings seen here in America. This style still exhibits the Riesling grape’s tendency towards sweetness, without being a sweet wine, and should please many wine drinking couples with its “dual” personality.
Jean-Luc Mader

Marc's Tasting Notes:

Showing a pretty nose of dried apricot with delicate hints of kiwi and candied ginger, this dry Riesling explodes with Riesling character without any of the sweetness we so often expect from this grape. Citrus acidity emerges with the first sip, taking the aromatics through the experience, with citrus fruit, apple, and peach flavors appearing. Again, no sugar. The acidity is the main balancer in this wine, nicely offsetting the fruit flavors, and delivering a nicely complex sipping experience. The unusually long cold fermentation time used at Mader succeeds in delivering more character than many dry Rieslings. This wine is a great choice if you are fatigued with the semi-sweet versions you may be used to.

 -- Marc Soucy, FWS CSW
Marc Wine Blog

Thursday, July 10, 2014

My Favorite Gin is Back: G'Vine Floraison

Yes, I do drink things other than wine. I've been seen sipping a little Cognac especially after a special dinner, and enjoying a craft beer or two. My favorite spirit for making mixed drinks though is Gin. I suppose there is a certain fragrance or aromatic component to all of these that make them "wine like" on some level. I can't seem to get enough of the botanical aromatics that well crafted gin provides. It is only the alcohol content that tempers my enthusiasm. 
On the one hand, the traditional "London Dry" style is quite suitable for most cocktails, but for a straightforward dry Martini (and NOT a vodka one, thanks anyway), to me the over-the-top aromatic style is more enjoyable. To better understand this, just compare two very popular gins:  Bombay silver (or clear) vs Bombay Saphire. The clear gin is closer to a true London Dry, and the Saphire is a couple of steps closer to the more aromatic "distilled gins" as they are called in the textbooks. And yes this is the case even though it says "London Dry Gin" right on the Saphire's label. At least you'll get the idea if you try them.

 So what's my favorite? (Well I already let the cat out of the bag, didn't I...)
G'Vine Floraison Gin, distilled from grapes in France. I have tried several dozen gins, and while this one does have SOME competition for those highly pronounced botanicals, it has more than almost any other I've tried, and while it is expensive, it isn't crazy expensive like some. It is made in small batches in the Cognac region using Ugni Blanc grapes and ginger root, cardamom, nutmeg, lime, juniper and some other tasty things. 


 -- Marc Soucy, FWS CSW
Marc Wine Blog

Wednesday, July 9, 2014

Rosé Denial: How To Enjoy Rosé Wines

Yep.... It's that time of year. Pink wine is showing up everywhere. 
Are you taking part or not?
Rosé wines it is quickly being learned in America, is a great hot weather choice. Sales continue to increase, and our special summer Rosé display at the shop gets emptied out at a faster rate with every year that goes by. There is still a lot of misconception and some resistance to the pink stuff, though. I still run into people who expect it to be sweet, who expect it to have little flavor, or think it's just not for them for whatever reason. 

Well, let's examine this "lack of flavor" thing. I was recently asked what a supposedly "good rosé" tastes like. My answer was that it was the wine world's equivalent to taking a bite of freshly cut watermelon. Do you criticize watermelon for having "little flavor"?  Why, there are no bold berry flavors and it is delicate and refreshing. Perfect for the hot weather. ...Huh. 

I've told the story more than a few times about how I learned to love Rosé. My wife and I were on vacation in Provence, and we were quite jet lagged and walking around Nice waiting for our hotel room to be ready for a shower and a nap before our dinner and stroll. Even though it was May, the area was experiencing a heat wave, and it was around 92 degrees Fahrenheit. Everywhere we looked, people were drinking Rosé, on the sidewalk cafes and in the open air restaurants. Fans were whirring, and everyone was looking for shade. We witnessed a group of construction workers sitting down to have their lunch, packed from home I imagined. One of the men revealed a wrapped up bottle which brought looks of relief from the others. It was Rosé. He poured each of them a drink, and they sat there next to their hardhats, looking more relaxed than they probably had been all day. 

Hmm, I thought and turned to my wife: "Maybe we should check out the local Rosés while we're here." We drank nothing but Rose wine with every meal on that trip and it just made us feel good when facing the hot sun. I've been hooked ever since.  

Rose wine can be enjoyed in a formal or informal setting. They can be a simple sipper in the summer, or the perfect accompaniment with certain dishes. There are two basic styles of Rosé that dominate the serious end of the category, and we'll go over those next time.

Define "Serious end of the category" I can hear someone say.  Some pink wines are mass produced using grapes grown via agriculturally optimum conditions. This means the more grapes the better. It means remarkably healthy and rich soil. It means plentiful water for the vines. It means mass harvesting by machine. It means rapid fermentation, filtering, bottling, and shipping. It is created to service an identified market that is not made up of wine enthusiasts but are beginning to enjoy the concept of it. There is certainly nothing inherently wrong with creating this type of wine since it serves a real portion of the wine market.

But "serious wines" these are not. 

(I love the expressions on those guy's faces!)

Next time:  pressing vs bleeding

 -- Marc Soucy, FWS CSW
Marc Wine Blog

Tuesday, July 8, 2014

Marc's Wine Review: 2013 Yalumba "Y Series" Viognier

Yalumba  The Y Series  Viognier  2013
 Yalumba Winery, South Australia (G.I.)    

Grapes: 100% Viognier

Yalumba is Australia’s oldest family owned winery, and has held the flame of carefully crafted boutique wines through the last 160 years since its founding. Hosting a team of Australia’s elite winemakers, its broad range of styles, fruit sourced from Australia’s best growing areas, and Yalumba’s willingness to stretch into new and different directions, are all contributing to the newfound prestige the label is enjoying. Their chief winemaker, Louisa Rose leads a team of several winemakers, and has won numerous awards, including Winemaker of the Year in Gourmet Traveler Wine Magazine in 2008, the Women in Wine award in 2004, and Barossa Winemaker of the Year in 1999. Her capacity for innovation and trend setting have already become legendary in the business. 

Yalumba's Chief Winemaker, Louisa Rose

Viognier grapes can take on additional flavors from the vine's surroundings quite easily, and produce full bodied white wines.. In the right hands a wonderful wine can result. The Y Series represents the “entry level” for Yalumba wines, sourcing the grapes from the broader South Australia region rather than from a more focused appellation like Barossa or Eden Valley. In the hands of an enthused Viognier specialist like Louisa Rose, this still leads to a wine of notable distinction.

"Old World" Charm Doesn't Just Exhist in Europe
Marc's Tasting Notes:

The nose is quite flowery, including notes of pear and apple skin. The smell of fresh picked apple inspired acidity makes the imagery all the more vivid, and white minerality intersperses with the fruit. The wine is mouth filling, with flavors of pear, peach, white stone, kiwi, and other tropical fruit showing as if a juicy fruit salad. The minerality envelops all that fruit throughout however, keeping the wine tightly integrated from start to finish, which by the way is short to medium in length. That certainly doesn’t take away from the overall enjoyability of this wine, though. The sheer size and flavor of this Viognier makes it a great pick for people who don’t naturally gravitate towards white wines. And I like it a lot too.


 -- Marc Soucy, FWS CSW
Marc Wine Blog

Saturday, July 5, 2014

Marc's Wine Review: 2011 Michael David Petite Petit Petite Sirah

2011  Michael David "Petite Petit" Petite Sirah
 Michael David Winery, Lodi AVA, California     
Grapes: 85% Petite Sirah - 15% Petit Verdot

Immediate satisfaction is not a given in the world of wine. Somehow, brothers Michael and David Phillips have managed to trigger the potential of the often enigmatic Petite Sirah grape, by adding a small amount of Petit Verdot, Bordeaux’s utility blending grape. What is often considered a wine that requires long aging, becomes quickly accessible and drinkable now… …that is if you love jammy wines!  California’s Lodi AVA is famous for their Zinfandels, but Petite Sirah is also no stranger there. Warning: The warm weather influence and sheer ripeness of the grapes may be obvious...
Just an everyday stroll in Lodi
Marc's Tasting Notes:

Initial aromas include assorted dark berries with caramel notes and hints of herbs. Closer inspection brings blackberry and additional hints of smoke. A taste reveals a full wine that coats the palate. Blueberry and blackberry compote dominate the mid palate, and the wine’s smokiness can hint at bacon or smoked meat, along with the occasional hint of tobacco. The intensity of this wine places it among wines that cost more. If you are a fan of big, unrelenting red wines, try this one. Either ignore or enjoy the whimsical labeling, but don't let it prevent you from trying it. You are likely to keep coming back.  

 -- Marc Soucy, FWS CSW
Marc Wine Blog

Wednesday, July 2, 2014

Learn Wine Tasting: Part 2 - Our Sense of Smell

Smell Can Dictate the Taste of Wine   

The term "wine tasting" is a bit of a misnomer, or at least it is an oversimplification. True, we do ultimately taste the wine by putting some in our mouths, but not until--assuming we are following the "formal" wine tasting ritual--we have created a set of expectations in our brains about this wine. The wine's appearance, but above all, the collection of aromas we collect before tasting is where most of the action is. With this information about the various smells we've collected, we create the equivalent of a "sensual hologram" that prepares us for the coming expected flavors. The flavors do not always confirm the preconceptions we've created, but for the most part, they do flesh out the experience by cementing the various aromas into something more tangible... ...or shall we say palatable. If you smell strawberries for example, do you then taste them?   In all likelihood, yes.

The Olfactory System picks up detailed aromatic information before and during tasting.
Our sense of smell it can be argued is as data intensive as our sense of sight. It is so detailed and information rich that we humans are capable of picking up hundreds of bits of data through our noses at once. It's just that we have been evolving slowly but surely over the centuries to depend on our sense of smell less and less. So therefore the advantage formerly given to people with superior senses of smell is contributing less and less to the gene pool, and humans are gradually losing their olfactory acuity. On top of that, our increasingly sterile and deodorized living environments are making us lazy where our senses of smell is concerned. Finding your next meal, detecting a dangerous intruder, or picking the best mate rarely ever involves our senses of smell anymore, but they most certainly did a long time ago. Things have changed. 

For me, being enthusiastic about wine has opened a path towards becoming reacquainted with my sense of smell. Becoming more connected through my senses with the rest of the world can only make my life richer and more immediate, more real. Focusing on smells and learning to identify them over time is a great mental exercise and teaches you to enjoy things more. Wine is only one of them. Wine can be the vehicle you use to learn to connect with life in a more direct way. By paying this increased amount of attention to your food and drink, it can also makes you much more aware of where food comes from, and what you are putting in your body. Generally speaking, I feel it has enhanced my life in a number of ways.  It can do the same for you. 

You just have to dive in.

Next time:  Wine is Not a Cocktail


 -- Marc Soucy, FWS CSW
Marc Wine Blog
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