Tuesday, November 18, 2014

Learn Wine Tasting: Part 4 - Wine with Food

Learn Wine Tasting - Pairing Food and Wine
Why Wine is Not a Cocktail (at least not usually)

Wine tasting is based on a few basic truths that are easily overlooked, and we should try to address these right up front. First, what makes wine special is its ability to merge with certain foods, so that the food's textures and flavors intermingle with that of the wine. In order to best appreciate this, the taster must develop a method of getting both food and wine in their mouths at the same time. Anyone who has had some soda with a bite of their fries already know how to do this. Keep in mind that it is the sum of the parts of both wine and food that makes the whole you are after. Wine can play a similar role to sauce, spices, or other condiments with your food. Approaching it with that in mind can help a lot in choosing a good wine to go with any dish. 

Another perspective: Because combining wine with food is the goal here, it is possible that some wines do not leave much room for the food to express itself on your palate. Full bodied, assertive wines can crowd out the aromatic character of food, washing over it and possibly making the food a moot point. If the wine's aromas and flavors are too big, it doesn't much matter what food you're eating. It will get overwhelmed with the flavor of the wine. This is why you should pay attention to the wine you choose, and why wine and food pairing is considered difficult by many. 

Not sure why I put this here.... seemed funny.

If you choose to have a glass of wine as a cocktail (and I certainly recommend it), the most immediately satisfying wine for your particular taste is automatically the right choice. Unfortunately, many people have decided that that should be the end of the story, choosing to be part of the "drink what you like" school of thought. What happens, though, is that many wines adversely interfere with the enjoyment of many foods, and there are biochemical reasons for most of these interactions. I have touched upon some of these in previous posts, like this one about red meat and seafood.

European wine (aka old world wine) has evolved over many centuries to accommodate the presence of the local cuisine. It is a safe assumption that Europeans rarely ever just drink wine for the fun of it. Wine is a part of the meal, and is considered pretty inseparable, unless one is choosing to avoid alcohol. The wines have a drier character than new world wines (like California, Argentina, etc), usually a shorter tarter finish, and are less full bodied overall. I see these as wines that leave room for the food's own traits. Drunk on their own, especially the ones at lower price points, they can come across as less immediately satisfying to the new world wine drinker. In the interest of keeping this brief:  This is largely because of longer hang times in a climate with more sunlight, plus the relatively brief history of new world wine production. In the absence of a true wine culture in America for example, we are only now taking baby steps in pairing our wine with food, whereas the French, the Italians, the Spanish, etc.. have been doing it for many centuries.

That's the Stuff.

So the short of it is, when I want to have a glass of wine as a cocktail, I often choose something from the new world, like a wine from the United States, New Zealand, or Australia. If I'm having wine with dinner--which is 3/4 of the time I drink wine--I tend to look at French wines first because of their enormous diversity and flexibility, as well as their nature as wines that evolved primarily to be paired with food. If I'm eating Italian cooking, I never even consider French wine. The Italians have been doing it for far too long, and there is simply no comparison between the sublime experience of an expertly prepared Italian meal made from fresh ingredients paired with a great Italian wine, ... ...and anything else. The almost built in self pairing is a part of that equation.

The wine has already left room for the food, and vice versa. You just have to make minor adjustments.

Pay attention, and enjoy it.  Life is good.

 -- Marc Soucy, FWS CSW

Marc Wine Blog

Tuesday, October 28, 2014

Wines from South Africa and Greece : Emerging from Under the Radar

Two Wine Producing Countries Rapidly Growing in Stature - Part 1

Greece and South Africa

Within the last few weeks, I've had the chance to taste a pretty broad sampling of high quality wines from two countries that have had--for different reasons--spotty histories within the modern global wine trade. Wines from Greece fall into various levels of quality and usually sport the names of unfamiliar grapes on the label. Be aware that some of these grapes are in fact ancestors or precursors to grapes we use today in very popular wines. Also, don't fall into the trap of thinking that Greek wines are sweet, funky, or resin flavored. Sure a few are, but there are many tasty and interesting dry wines being produced in Greece today. Certain producers put a great deal of effort into creating world class wines that many wine lovers would appreciate ...if given the chance

Greece Has a Number of Varied and Unique Wine Producing Regions
Greece of course was producing wine long before today's more famous wine producing countries, having inspired and instructed the southern Italians, Sicilians, the Gauls, and areas of the Iberian peninsula during their Mediterranean colonial endeavors. As such, the Greeks can be credited with spreading winemaking throughout western Europe, and therefore ultimately, the new world as well. 

I think it's safe to say that South Africa brings a certain set of mixed emotions to American consumers. Some of it is based on lack of familiarity, some on skepticism, and some on politics from the past. The Republic of South Africa went through a very dark period called apartheid, and simultaneously operated its wine industry as a virtual monopoly for some time. Even though South African wine had been produced for a very long time, most of the world never saw any, and the trade embargoes that resulted as protest against the apartheid regime extended this condition for a while longer. 

South Africa's Dominant Wine Producing Area, the Western Cape
Grapes that are quite familiar to American and other New World consumers are widely grown in South Africa, like Cabernet Sauvignon, Syrah (Shiraz), Sauvignon Blanc, and Chenin Blanc. There is also a uniquely South African cross called Pinotage. These wines have character and generally speaking, boldness in style. Many Americans would probably appreciate some of these wines easily, again ...if given the chance. I especially enjoy some of the red blends often combining Cabernet Sauvignon with Shiraz, as well as many of their celebrated white wines. 

I'll write more about these two countries in upcoming posts. I hope you'll give both these countries a closer examination. They both really deserve it. And don't be afraid to ask your trusted wine consultant to recommend the best quality examples. 

'Till Next Time

 -- Marc Soucy, FWS CSW

Marc Wine Blog

Tuesday, September 30, 2014

Vertical Tasting: 2010 and 2011 Château Jouanin Côtes de Bordeaux - Castillon

2010 Château Jouanin   Castillon - Côtes de Bordeaux
Côtes de Bordeaux AOP, France     Grapes:  85% Merlot  -  15% Cabernet Franc

2011 Château Jouanin   Castillon - Côtes de Bordeaux
Côtes de Bordeaux AOP, France     Grapes:  90% Merlot  -  10% Cabernet Franc

In my review of the 2009 Château Jouanin back in March of 2013 (see here) I was tasting what was believed at that time to be the best vintage since the much admired 2005 vintage. 

This past June (see here) I promised to do a vertical comparison of the ensuing 2010 and 2011 vintages.     Well here it is!  

The weather in 2010 was nearly perfect, as it had been in 2009. Variations in month-to-month temperatures and rainfall occurred of course, but nobody was complaining. Growers and winemakers alike were thrilled with both seasons. 2009 experienced more rain, though a lot of rain is never a good thing where wine growing is concerned. That said, it was a very healthy amount that contributed to the fruity quality of the vintage. 2010 by comparison was drier, with wider temperature swings, and a pretty wet June. 2011 experience near drought conditions in the early part of the year, had a very hot April, and luckily, experienced better weather as harvest approached. What does this all mean?

Viticulture and viniculture both include the making of corrections, mainly in the timing of things. How long to wait before beginning to harvest the first wave of Merlot, for example. Every step can be crucial to the result in the wine. For this post, I made sure to taste the 2010 and 2011 side by side to have a more direct experience. My 2009 notes are repeated below. My memory of that wine is in agreement with what I wrote here.

Now this is too complicated a topic to delve into here in any depth of course, but my intent is to acquaint you with the concept of weather's effect on wine flavors and aromas. I encourage you to explore this topic by researching other sources. 

And as I always say: Do your OWN vertical tasting. You learn a lot! (continue below)

Now back to the vertical tasting notes:

Marc's Tasting Notes:

2009 Château Jouanin   Castillon - Côtes de Bordeaux

Very dark ruby, almost opaque. Nearly surprising aromas of bright red raspberry balanced with vanilla taffy make this wine alluring. On the palate, though, its true nature emerges: black cherry, dark flowers, assorted dark berries, and earth are complemented by prominent but smooth tannins. The intermingling of opposite traits in this wine make it a pleasure to experience, especially for the price. The small amount of Cabernet Franc definitely finds expression.

2010 Château Jouanin   Castillon - Côtes de Bordeaux

Dark ruby with a few millimeters of brickish hue on the rim. The initial nose reveals an attractive combination of black cherry, blackberry, vanilla and toffee, with hints of underbrush. Over time, sweet spice and coffee aromas develop. A taste brings a nearly granular structure and tight but smooth tannins. Flavors of plum with a tinge of prune, and continued dark fruit and oak influences make this a most enjoyable wine for its youth. The finish is long and pleasant with the flavor components mingling in a smooth and consistent manner.

2011 Château Jouanin   Castillon - Côtes de Bordeaux

Ruby with some translucence. The wine shows assertive aromas of plum, mixed dark berries and underbrush, licorice, mint, and a hint of tobacco. One expects quite a mouthful based on this, but here is where the less than ideal weather has had its effect:  The wine is substantially lighter on the palate than you would have guessed based on the aromas alone. Rougher tannins and obvious acidity sit with green flavors like bell pepper and a certain stalkiness. That said, this Castillon holds a certain intrigue all its own. The earth from the vineyard shows through, as do the various fruit components, however lighter in body. I found this easy to drink, and yes even easy to enjoy. The attractive aromas certainly make it so.

My final comments:  Château Jouanin if you noticed doesn't use any Cabernet Sauvignon, so the quality of their Merlot grapes is paramount, as is their careful use of Cabernet Franc to add interest and balance. Right bank Bordeaux wineries are not unused to this. The heavy soils of Castillon helps the winery's Merlot achieve good characteristics.

2009 has been very easy to like since it was released. It has great fruit and intensity. 2010 is emerging as getting the most positive response recently. Its structure and complexity are standing up extremely well at least over these short years. 2011 is at a huge disadvantage, and yet I have to salute the Château. They pulled this one out, and managed a wine that is not to be overlooked. Sure it's not a layer downer...a year or two perhaps. That said, you can pop one of these open now and drink it with your steak or chops, and leave the 2010 in the rack for a while.

 -- Marc Soucy, FWS CSW

Marc Wine Blog

Tuesday, September 16, 2014

Reasons to Celebrate Wine: International Grenache Day

International Grenache Day is Friday September 19
And You Thought You Had Nothing to Do on Friday...

The Grenache grape is more widely planted, and appears in more high quality wines then you may realize. Well, this Friday is someone's attempt to start repairing this travesty of justice, for Friday is International Grenache Day!  (cue trumpet flourish) 

Above are the labels of really good wines that are based on the Grenache grape. More often than not, they are blends that include other red grapes like Syrah or Carignan. Spanish Garnacha (Navarra), French Gigondas (Rhone), Italian Cannonau (Sardinia), and a much celebrated "Rhone Ranger" blend from California. Other serious uses of Grenache include the other southern Rhone powerhouses Châteauneuf du Pape and Côtes du Rhone, Spain's illustrious Priorat, and varietals and blends in spots in Italy, Australia, and the U.S.   

Your Mission this Friday, is to try at least one Grenache wine (hopefully more)

Historical and botanical grape research ("ampelography") indicates that the Grenache grape plantings made their way across the Mediterranean from the east, through southern Italy and Sardinia, eventually being planted in eastern Spain. From there, it gradually made its way into southwestern France, and then found its most famous home in France's Rhone Valley. 

Grenache tends toward lighter red colors, even verging on orange or brown even at a young age. It provides attractive silky texture, red and dark fruit flavors, spice, herbs, and fine earth flavors, depending on the terroir. Oak aging and using old vines are two popular techniques for adding additional structure and intensity to Grenache based wines. As already mentioned, blending it with other grapes is far more common than making it as a single varietal wine.

I find them particularly enjoyable, and they serve as a frequent choice as my "other wine" when a Pinot Noir or a Petite Sirah are just not in the cards. They pair extremely well with roasts, duck, pork, lamb, and rich and earthy vegetable dishes. Among hearty reds, Grenache provides a pretty easy wine to pair with food. The choices are so broad, you almost can't go wrong. 

Finally, Grenache is arguably the #1 choice for making high quality Rosé wines. One of the world's greatest sources of Rosés, France's Provence region, uses this grape as their default choice. 

Oh, and one more factoid:  Some statistics show it as the most widely planted red wine grape on earth. So it really hasn't been hiding in plain sight. It's been in our face all along.  So go get some!  

I'll be drinking a nice Grenache this Friday, you can be sure of that.

'Till Next Time

 -- Marc Soucy, FWS CSW

Marc Wine Blog

Sunday, September 7, 2014

Italian Wine Class in Boston

Veni Vidi Vino!  Wine Tasting Tour of Italy

Hello Boston area wine lovers!  I will be teaching this four week class beginning on Thursday September 25 from 6:30pm to 8:30pm. The other three classes will be held each of the next Thursdays. 

Learn about Italy's wine regions, the dizzying variety of wine styles, and what to order from the wine list the next time you're in an Italian restaurant. You'll get a cheese plate every class, a variety of wines to taste, and 2 hours of discussion and ideas about Italian wine. What could be better?!

The Boston Wine School is located at 1354 Commonwealth Avenue, Boston (Allston) Massachusetts

See you then !

 -- Marc Soucy, FWS CSW

Marc Wine Blog

Wednesday, September 3, 2014

September Begins a New Wine Season

New Wine Season Beginning

Keeping it very quick today:   Along with the approaching end of summer comes a lot of trade tastings where producers, importers, and distributors show their new wines, and revisit favorite old wines. Always a pleasure to delve into this.  

Keep visiting for more thoughts about wine, wine with food, and appreciating wine more through better understanding. 

Thanks for continuing to visit!

 -- Marc Soucy, FWS CSW
Marc Wine Blog

Monday, August 18, 2014

Learn About Wine: Revisiting Red Wine with Red Meat

Hello all. I am still often asked about this red wine with red meat issue. I wrote a short piece on this topic that I think really covers it. Thanks for the questions and comments!

Red Wine with Red Meat

OK, let's please put this one to rest, shall we? For many years, the "wine intelligentsia" has been promoting red wine as the superior match with red meat, such as beef. Conversely, you are supposed to drink white wine with fish and seafood. For just as long, people who are not a part of this group have eyed them with some suspicion, thinking that perhaps, this is some kind of snobbery... ...that maybe these supposed "rules" are not as meaningful as the promoters of wine culture make them out to be.

Unfortunately, a few years ago, wine writers, educators, and critics seemed to collectively throw up their hands in the face of overwhelming resistance to their advice. A trend towards "drink whatever you like" emerged, and the people rejoiced! At last, they were free of the authoritarian wine regime! A funny thing happened, though. 

Democracy in Action?  Everybody is Entitled to Their Opinion

Increasingly, patrons of restaurants were becoming dissatisfied with their meals. Things didn't seem right. They picked their favorite meal, and ordered their favorite wine. Why was it less than satisfying? Had food quality gone downhill? Was this restaurant to blame? They would begin reporting their dissatisfaction on public restaurant review sites like Yelp, and others. 

Needless to say, the restaurant industry was not happy, and lucky for everybody, we've begun to back away from this misguided "drink whatever you like" mentality. Why did this happen? Let's cut right to it.

Red wine has a substance in abundance that white wine does not: tannins. Tannins are the stuff that can make wine seem slightly abrasive in your mouth. They mainly come from the red grape skins when they are still in the fermenting grape juice. There is a symbiotic relationship between red wine and red meat, when eaten together. The tannins actually help to break down the fat in the red meat (red meat is higher in fat than many other foods), and this helps reduce any unpleasantness that might arise from chewing on fat. Simultaneously, the high levels of protein in red meat have an effect on the flavor of the wine: it smooths out the abrasive tannins, and makes the experience even more enjoyable. You may notice a feeling as though the meat is actually melting in your mouth as you add a nice red wine. What could be better ?

Regarding fish and seafood, something else happens. Fish has oils in it. Those oils clash with tannins in a way that makes your fish / wine combination taste bitter, even metallic. The best seafood dinner will seem like something is off, if you're drinking a red wine with it. The more tannic the wine (like Cabernet Sauvignon, Malbec, or Shiraz) the worse this effect will be. Lower tannin wines, like Pinot Noir, Gamay (Beaujolais), Frappato (Sicily), and some Tempranillos (Spain), go a bit better with seafood, but are best paired with hearty, meaty fish like salmon or tuna. Otherwise, even the lower levels of tannin in those wines will clash with the fish oils, and create a bitter experience. If you've experienced this before, it's not the chef.

Is This Appropriate?   Yes, but only sometimes.
So, red wine is best served with red meat, and white wines are usually the better choice with seafood. There are exceptions, but these have little to do with your personal preferences. Being aware of this bio-chemical relationship between your food and your wine, will only help you make better choices and enjoy life more. It was an illusion that the "wine police" were monitoring your activities. Do your own policing, and you'll see how much more fun wine can be.  

My final disclaimer: Of course you should drink whatever you want, especially when you're just having the wine, or maybe with some cheese and crackers. Just be sure you're making the right pick when you're pairing a wine with a meal you'll be eating. Things will be more pleasant.   With a little practice, your life will get better.    I promise. 

'Till Next Time



Wednesday, August 6, 2014

Remember to Have Fun with Wine


Take It Just Seriously Enough to Relax About It...

"My grandfather always told me: You need a minimum of fifty years to learn how to make wine.
...And then you die."
                     --Olivier LeFlaive, one of Burgundy's most successful and respected producers.

Remember:  Don't take wine TOO seriously; just seriously enough to learn more about what you like
and don't like. Try to open up your mind to new things, but this is only so you can give things a proper chance. Don't feel pressured to love something that you don't, but don't shut things out either. Just remember to have fun and sense of humor about it. That's what wine is really for, after all. I suspect Monsieur LeFlaive would agree.

 -- Marc Soucy, FWS CSW
Marc Wine Blog
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