Monday, December 10, 2012

It’s Cold Out There…Time to Think Porto

With the onset of the cold weather, I start thinking of sitting by a fire with a plate of cheese (especially blue), apples, and nuts, and sipping on a nice Porto. This is such a wonderful ritual that it’s almost worth half freezing to death driving home after work to enjoy it.

Porto, or Port, is a wine produced in the Duoro Valley of northern Portugal. It is typically red and sweet, although dry white forms are occasionally seen. Port is fortified by the addition of a neutral spirit called aguadente that stops fermentation, leaving residual sugar and an alcohol content of 18-20%. It is then aged in barrels.

The Duoro Valley was defined as an appellation in 1756, making it the oldest in the world. Over 100 different  grapes can be used, but only five make up the vast majority—Tinta Barroca, Tinta Cao, Tempranillo, Touriga (most widely grown), and Touriga Nacional (considered the best but difficult to grow).

Red Port is found in several styles.

Tawny Port is aged in wooden barrels that expose it to gradual oxidation and evaporation. As a result, it gradually mellows into a golden brown color with a distinct nuttiness and viscosity on the palate. If a bottle of Port says simply “Tawny,” it has been aged in wood for at least two years. Designations of 10, 20, 30 and over 40 year old Tawny exist at markedly escalating costs. Most Port houses blend wines from several vintages to keep their style consistent. A Tawny from a single vintage is called a Coheita.

Ruby is the most common and the least expensive Port. After fermentation, it is stored in concrete or steel tanks to prevent oxidative aging. This keeps the fruit fresh and lively.  Reserve ports are usually rubies from the best lots of grapes.

Late Bottled Vintage (LBV) was wine that was destined to become Vintage Port but was left in barrel longer than planned, usually due to decreased demand.  So it is somewhat similar to a Vintage Port, but is softer and rounder because of the longer time in barrel, and usually a bit lighter in style.

Vintage Port is the most famous of the Ports, the rarest (less than 2% of all Port produced), and the most expensive, approaching $100.00 or more per bottle at release. This is made from grapes produced in a single year, and only if the harvest is of excellent quality (usually 3 or 4 times per decade). A vintage is declared in the second spring after harvest. The wine is aged for  a maximum of 2 ½ years in wood before bottling. Many require an additional 10, 20, or even 40 years before they reach their proper drinking age. They retain their ruby color and their fresh fruit, but are remarkably powerful and complex…and can remain drinkable for many decades.

There are many excellent Port houses.  Symington Family Estates owns the brands Graham, Dow, and Croft which are all good. Also excellent is the Fladgate Group (Taylor, Croft, and Fonseca). Most Rubies cost in the low teens, while the plain Tawnies cost in the mid teens. Ten year old Tawnies cost in the thirties and 20 year olds cost in the fifties and sixties. LBVs average twenty-five to thirty dollars.

When considering these prices, remember that these wines are thick, sweet, and powerfully flavored. They are meant to be drunk in much smaller amounts than typical table wine, and half a glass is usually more than enough. One bottle will give you lots of enjoyment!

Monday, November 12, 2012

Turkey Friendly Wines

Thanksgiving is again upon us, and the store will be full of people looking for that special wine to go with their holiday meal. I have a few suggestions.

A white wine must stand up to the myriad flavors that assault our taste buds at the holiday table, not be overpowered by them. My favorite choice is Gewurztraminer, especially those from Alsace. These spicy, full-bodied wines are an ideal choice to go with the yams, cranberry sauce, green bean casserole, and everything else…especially the bird. Domaine Trimbach does an especially fine job with this varietal.

Riesling, with its touch of sweetness and generous minerality works well too. Donnehoff Estate from Nahe and Darting Estate Kabinett from the Pfalz are both classic examples of what the Germans can do with this grape, and Kung  Fu Girl does Washington state proud. Vouvray, the Loire’s version of Chenin Blanc, is another appropriate choice, with its symbiotic blend of minerality, fruit, and flinty acidity. Try Varennes Du Clos.

Choices abound for the red wine lover. Probably the most commonly chosen is Pinot Noir. Its medium body, fragrant aromatics, and cherry flavors mingle gracefully with roasted fowl. Baus Family is a good example from California. Llai LLai is an extraordinary value from Chile, while Regis Bouvier’s En Montre Cul and Drouhin’s Chorey Les Beaune admirably represent Burgundy.

While I’m a big Pinot fan, especially of those from Burgundy, this year my red is going to be a Chinon, probably Jean Dumont Les Mureaux. This wine is from the Loire Valley and is 100% Cabernet Franc. Most commonly known as one of the Bordeaux grapes, Cab Franc can be awesome on its own. The nose has a characteristic herbaciousness that combines with nice berry fruit and round tannins in a medium body with a food-friendly acidity. This varietal goes very well with turkey and other fowl.

Best wishes for a very Happy Thanksgiving!

Tuesday, October 30, 2012

Two Hours in Italy

There is something special about Italian wine. The way it is interwoven into the lifestyle of Italy’s countryside…and the way the lifestyle is woven into it makes it, to me, the most incredible wine experience that exists. When I go to a French tasting, I leave wanting to understand more about French wines. I feel the same about Spain. When I leave an Italian tasting I want to learn Italian. I want to jump on the nearest plane and get lost in the small towns of Tuscany or Piedmont, walking the streets and vineyards.

I had the privilege of eating lunch with Domenico Clerico this week at Mateo, a great Boulder restaurant. Mr. Clerico is getting on in years, has major health issues, and speaks no English. Telling stories through an interpreter, this incredibly respected winemaker came across as a humble farmer who loves what he does, and loves even more sharing his love for it. He seems genuinely amazed that the entire world is clamoring for his wines.

We started with his 2011 Dolcetto Visadi. It was spicy, fruity and all in all a perfect example of this varietal which is the everyday wine in the Piedmont. Next we tried his 2011 Capisme E. This is a stainless steel fermented Nebbiolo. Nebbiolo is Italy’s noble grape that spawns the great Barolos. This is a bright, fruit-forward version of this wonderful grape with vibrant red fruit flavors. Both of these wines went beautifully with cheese, cured meats, paté, and steamed mussels.

Next we tasted his 2010 Arte, a blend of Nebbiolo and Barbera, aged fifteen months in new oak. This is a tannic wine, with toast and vanilla and ample, complex fruit. It went well with the butternut squash risotto with chèvre, walnuts, and roasted mushrooms.

Finally came his two Barolos, the 2008 Pajana and 2008 Ciabot Mentin. These are sourced from opposite ends of the same vineyard, the famed Ginestra. The Pajana is from a south-facing area and is slightly more open and forward than the tightly wound Ciabot, from a south-southeast facing region of the hill. Both are massive wines and will age for many years and become even more magnificent. Although very young, they are brilliant even now, and matched beautifully with the wild boar ragu taglierini and braised beef short ribs with root vegetables.

Clerico’s wines are a luxury—each of his Barolos will set you back a hundred bucks, and the Capisme, $35.00. The Arte is about $45.00 and even the Dolcetto comes in at $24.00. But they are all worth every penny.

Treat yourself to a bottle and enjoy La Bella Vitta!

Sunday, October 14, 2012

Grower Champagnes – A New Approach to “Bubbly”

As the holidays approach, sparkling wines come to mind, from inexpensive Proseccos from Italy and Cavas from Spain, to the myriad California and French bubbly to the most famous (and expensive) of all—Champagne (sparkling wine from the Champagne region of  France). Nothing seems to epitomize celebration like Champagne, and when most people consider buying it they look for the large houses such as Moet et Chandon or Veuve Cliquot. These producers source their grapes from all over the region and blend various lots from different areas and even different years to maintain a consistent flavor and style year after year.

There is, however, an interesting alternative—the grower champagnes. The  vineyards sourced by  this type of maker are clustered in a single village and sometimes even a single vineyard. The wines are crafted to reflect the terroir of the village, especially if it is a grand cru vineyard.

Grower Champagnes are usually released younger and often show a lower dosage (the process of adding sugar before final corking) and occasionally no dosage at all. Before shipping, most producers disgorge the deposits that collect in the bottles. The resulting space is filled with a shipping liquor and a tiny bit of pure cane sugar. The absence of dosage allows the intrinsic qualities of the wine, such as terroir and minerality, to show through.

The downside is these wines are more variable year to year compared to the large houses. But the wines are far more interesting and flavorful. Today there are 19,000 growers in Champagne and about 5000 are making their own wines as the popularity grows. To find out if a Champagne is a grower Champagne look for the initials RM (recoltant-manipulant) or ask your wine associate.

While the number of wines is staggering, here are few examples that you can’t go wrong with. Champagne Moutard  is one of my favorite Champagnes period. It is from a grand cuvee vineyard and is 100% Pinot Noir. The wine bursts with brioche, pear, and peach aromas and flavors with beautiful notes of honey, flowers and minerals. The price is about $43.00—not cheap, but on par with Veuve or Moet Chandon NVs, and far more interesting.

Champagne Aubrey is made from a majority of Pinot Meunier with Pinot Noir and Chardonnay as part of the mix. All the fruit is from Grand Cru vineyards. Fresh apples leap from the glass to your nose, with hints of cocoa and toast. There are flavors of passion fruit, apricots and spices, even mango. This wine undergoes malolactic fermentation, giving it impressive body. A beautiful Champagne for $45.00.

Finally there is Jacques Copinet, a NV Champagne that  mimics an aged Vintage Champagne. The aroma is of buttered toast sprinkled with a bit of molasses. On the palate there is a wonderful balance of power, intense caramel breadiness, and wonderful elegance.  Worth the $50.00 you’ll have to spend.

When it’s time to celebrate, try one of these Champagnes and have a truly wonderful experience.

Sunday, September 30, 2012

Forgotten French Grapes – Moved on to “Better” Places?

When customers ask me where the Malbecs are,  I always respond with another question— Argentinian or French?  They look at me quizzically, as though I have no idea what I’m talking about.  I could respond the same way if they asked about Tannat, but no one ever inquires about that wonderful grape.
Many grapes originate in one country but later are found to grow wonderfully in another country and often result in wines completely different from the originals. These wines are fun to compare in “terroir tastings.”

Malbec is an excellent example. This grape originated in Cahors, France and is grown throughout Bordeaux. It’s one of the five grapes that can be blended into the great wines from that region. Wines from Cahors consist mostly of Malbec with a small contribution from another varietal, usually Merlot. These wines are complex, structured with layers of fruit and moderate to fairly big tannins.  Nice examples are Chateau Saint Sernin, Clos La Coutale and Domaine de Cause, all under $20.00. Malbec was later brought to Argentina where it produces massively fruit forward, low tannin wines of medium complexity that are easy drinking, user friendly, and inexpensive. Good examples to try are Durigutti, Renacer Punto Final and  Catena.

Carmenere originated in France and is known as the “forgotten Bordeaux varietal.” It is the sixth grape that is allowed to be blended into Bordeaux, although it has nearly disappeared from that region due to difficulty with ripening. It was brought to Chile, where it prospers. It results in wines with a nose of leather, spice, and chocolate and deep black and blue fruit flavors mixed with spice and pepper. Very nice examples are Odfjell Orzada and Apaltagua.

When the book The Red Wine Diet, which discussed the benefits of red wine on heart health, was published, the author spoke of Tannat, the major grape found in Madiran wines from Southwestern France. Madirans tend to be quite tannic, rustic, and complex. The fiercely tannic Tannat grape is usually blended with Cabernet Sauvignon and/or Cabernet Franc resulting in much softer wines. A great example is 1907, an incredibly complex wine for only $13.00. This grape was brought to South America by Basque immigrants where it has flourished. In fact, it is now the national grape of Uruguay. It also grows well in Argentina. The resulting wine is much more fruit forward and less tannic than Madiran, with lots of dark fruit flavor. A nice is example is made by Rodolfo.

Lots of other grapes move to other places and do well. Grenache originated in Spain and now flourishes in southern France and in Australia, Syrah is everywhere. Zinfandel, known as “America’s grape,” actually originated in Croatia, traveling to America where it is known as Zinfandel, and to Italy where it is known as Primitivo.

So try the same varietal from various parts of the globe. You’ll find out what a difference soil, climate, altitude, and differing winemaking techniques make.  And you’ll no doubt uncover some new favorites!

Wednesday, September 12, 2012

Gruner Veltliner, the Ultimate Food Wine

Our store is located in Boulder, Colorado, a notoriously “foodie” town. We have a huge wine selection and a well-trained wine staff, so we’re often asked about food pairings. Easy, right? Usually, but some foods are difficult.  Asparagus and artichokes, for example, contain a chemical called cynarin which makes wine taste metallic.

Without hesitation, I take customers asking about these two veggies to the Austrian wine section and suggest a Gruner Veltliner (pronounced groon-er velt-leen-er). More often than not, they’ve never heard of it, but if they take my suggestion, it soon becomes one of their “go to” wines.

Gruner Veltliner is grown primarily in Austria where it comprises about 37% of the total grape production. There are two basic expressions of this varietal. If it is grown in the granite soils on the very steep hillsides along the Danube west of Vienna in the areas of Wachau, Kamptal, and Kremstal, the wine is very pure with perfect acidity and enormous minerality—sometimes described as “liquid stone.” These wines are full bodied with beautiful perfumed aromatics and age gracefully. They have the strength of character to match with any food. If the grapes are grown in the southern plains, the perfume is peppery and spicy, and these wines are drunk young.

Berger from Kremstal is crown capped like a beer bottle and comes as a liter only. The wine is light, faintly herbal, and is refreshing like minerally cold spring water. This an excellent entry level Gruner at $15. You’ll be glad it comes as a liter since one glass will not be enough.

Nigl Kremser Freiheit, also from Kremstal, has a smoky, creamy nose that is gradually overtaken by bright fruit and minerals. Light and stimulating, firm and lively, this is a wonderful wine for chicken and artichokes, asparagus soup, or just about any other food.

Arndorfer Weinberge, from Kamptal, is a spicy Gruner with vibrant minerality and acidity, and notes of grass and citrus on the nose. This is a perfect wine to start the evening, as the acidity makes the mouth water and the mind crave food. A great example of this grape’s potential, it’s a bargain for $25.00. Martin Arndorfer, not yet thirty years old, and his wife both come from familes of great winemakers. I had the privilege of meeting this enthusiastic yet humble young man and tasting through a half dozen of his wines, including his Vorgeschmack, 80% Gruner and 20% dry Riesling, aged four months on the lees in 80% stainless steel and 20% used oak. This wine has been one of my staff picks ever since.

Gruner Veltliner is one of the greatest food wines available. The freshness and vibrancy make it especially well suited for cooking that focuses on fresh local ingredients. Chefs all over the world are embracing it.

So next time you head to your wine shop, think Austria!

Monday, August 6, 2012


Many people who come in the store look for specific varietals of wine…Cabernet, Chardonnay, etc. However, many wines are blends of two or more different grapes. The different grapes contribute different aspects to the flavor profile of the wine. One grape may add structure, another may supply dark fruits, and another may add spice. As a result, the wines can be remarkably complex and flavorful.

Many countries in Europe label their wines by the region where they are grown (Bordeaux, Chateauneuf du Pape) rather than the type of grape in the bottle, and these are very often blends of several grapes.

Bordeaux wines can contain up to five specific grapes—Cabernet Franc, Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Petit Verdot and Malbec. (Carmenere is also allowed, but almost never used). These wines tend to be dry, structured, and complex. Although some can cost over $1000.00 a bottle, many wonderful examples exist in the $10.00 to $20.00 range. Look for Chateau Vrai Caillou, Terrefort Lescalle and St. Elme.

Meritage (rhymes with “heritage”) is an American wine that contains a combination of the same grapes found in Bordeaux wines. Claret is yet another term for the same type of wine. Newton, Rodney Strong, and Franciscan are a few to look for. Lyeth makes a nice one for under $15.00.

Up to nine different grapes an be used in Chateauneuf du Pape, though Grenache, Syrah, and Mouvedre are the most common. These are complex age-worthy wines and can be very expensive. If you have $80.00 or $90.00 to spend, look for Mas de Boislauzon Quet or Janasse Chaupin  from the 2010 vintage. These are magnificent wines. For $30.00 you can drink a very nice example from Barrot. Chateauneuf du Pape is in the southern Rhone. Lots of wonderful inexpensive wines from the various villages that comprise the area nestled at the foothills of the mountains are available. They are usually blends of Grenache and Syrah with either Mouvedre, Carignan, or Cinsault added to the mix. They are great wines for a great price. Look for Boisson Cairanne, Chateau Pesquie, and Gassier Cercius, all under $20.00 and wonderful.

The blend of Grenache, Syrah, and Mouvedre has made its way from the Rhone Valley to Australia and the U.S. and has become so popular that they are referred to as “GSM” blends. John Duval’s Plexus and Two Hands Brave Faces are beautiful examples from “Down Under,” Stump Jump is a great example at a cheaper price.

In addition to the GSM formula, California produces many blends, combining Syrah, Merlot, Zinfandel, Petit Sirah, Tempranillo, Cinsault, Cabernet Sauvignon, Mourvedre, Grenache, Sangiovese, and Barbera—sometimes up to six or more in one wine. I like to call these “kitchen sink “ wines. Great examples are Orin Swift’s Prisoner at $40.00 and a much cheaper wine called The Culprit 2010 at $15.00.

Blended wines offer wonderful complexity and big flavors, often for great prices. Give them a try!

Saturday, July 21, 2012

Moscato d’Asti—Summer’s Perfect Wine

Moscato d’Asti is produced mostly around the town of Asti in Southeast Piedmont, probably Italy’s most important wine producing region. It is made in a frizzante (lightly sparkling) style, is low in alcohol (4.5 - 6.5%) and has a zippy acidity that makes it an ideal summer refresher. Despite being modestly sweet, the low alcohol and good acidity clear the palate, so it's not syrupy or cloying. This makes the second glass as good as the first. It is made from the Muscato Bianco grape, which has been grown in Piedmont for hundreds of years.  Although made in the same area and from the same grape, it is distinct from Asti Spumante, a fully sparkling wine typically done in a drier style.

Moscato d’Asti is known for its freshness, elegant floral aromas, and delicate flavors of peaches and apricots. The wine is typically paired with non-chocolate desserts, particularly the classic Panatonne (a sweet bread containing candied orange, citron, and lemon zest), fruit tarts, or dry pastries made with hazelnuts or almonds. It’s also a great apéritif.

Many wineries produce this wine, including some of the most well known estates in Piedmont. It is not particularly expensive, usually in the $12.00  to $20.00 range.

Vietti Cascinetta is made from only the best grapes harvested from thirty-five year old vines. The nose suggests aromas of peaches, rose petals, and ginger. On the palate, its modest sweetness is perfectly balanced with acidity and minerality. Fresh apricots round out the creamy finish. Price tag? About $16.00.

A bit pricier at $15.00 per half bottle, but probably one of Piedmont’s best Muscatos, is Michele Chiarlo Nivole. Nivole means “clouds” in the Piedmontese dialect, and it appropriately suggests the wine’s airy, elegant quality. The fragrant, intensely fruity bouquet is offset by musky notes and leads to flavors of fresh peaches, apricots, and a hint of lemon.  Its refined sweetness is supported by an excellent balance of acid and bubbles. The finish is clear and crisp. You’ll wish it came in full bottles. The half is simply not enough of this beauty.

I drink dry wines ninety-five percent of the time. When I’m in the mood for something a little sweeter, Moscato d’Asti is the one I choose (except for the occassional Riesling or Port, of course.) Give it a try. You’ll love it.

Monday, July 9, 2012

It’s Greek To Me

When considering Greek wines, many think of Retsina as the country’s only contribution. This bizarre wine, flavored with the resin of the Aleppo Pine, has a taste reminiscent of disinfectant and turpentine and is drunk in wide-mouthed tumblers to prevent the aroma and flavor from overwhelming the drinker.

This is NOT the final word on Greek wines.

In fact, Greece produces many beautiful wines both on the mainland and on the islands. These wines are made from unfamiliar-sounding grapes that result in fresh, aromatic whites and bold, flavorful reds.

One very reliable producer is Domaine Skouras from the northern part of the Greek mainland. They make several wines, but the first I ever tried remains one of my favorites—the Skouras White. This is a blend of Roditis and Moscofilero. It is aged over lees in stainless steel resulting in a light to medium bodied wine with husky, citrus, floral, and herbal aromas.  Flavors of tangerine, lemon, and melon combine with a fresh, crisp acidity and a minerally finish – all for about ten bucks.

The Skouras St. George Nemea 2008 is made from 100% Aghiorghitiko. The nose is of berries – blackberries, raspberries and even strawberries. On the palate, the fruit turns more towards blue – blueberries and plums with a bit of vanilla. The wine is medium bodied, earthy, with ripe tannins and a nice acidity.  This is a fun wine for $14.00.

Alpha Estate’s Axia 2008 is a blend of 50% Syrah and 50% Xinomavro, and it is a mouthful of wine! A complex bouquet of spices (vanilla, clove and pepper) and violets with hints of blackberry hits the nose. Wonderful berry fruit (blue and black), earth, and spice strike the palate. The tannins are velvety and the acidity is just right. This is a great wine on its own and also with food.

Not to be outdone by the mainland, the island of Crete is responsible for 20% of Greece’s wine production. The Alexakis family is a cooperative that makes great wines. The 2011 Malvasia Aromatica, related to the Malvasia of Italy, is well named. This wine is intensely aromatic with sweet notes of honeysuckle, orange, and jasmine. The nose suggests a sweet palate to follow. However, it is fresh, crisp, and citrusy  with a beautiful acidity.  This is a great food wine, and the contrast between the sweet aromatics and the dry, refreshing palate makes it a fascinating sipping wine.

The  2008 red wine from this co-op is a blend of 40% Syrah and 60% Kotsifali. The latter is the most traditional red varietal on Crete. This wine has aromatics of cinnamon, clove, and blackberry. The medium bodied wine has a background of berry fruit with lots of spice (cinnamon, pepper) and earth (dirt, actually).  I am pleasantly reminded of a forest floor. This is a very interesting wine that I’m going to have with my next lamb dinner.

Next time you are thinking of a white, instead of Chardonnay think Malvasia Aromatica! Instead of Zinfandel, think Xinomavro!  But by all means think about giving Greece a chance to impress you. You won’t be disappointed.

Sunday, June 24, 2012

Dare to be "Geeky"
Time for Some REALLY Strange Grapes

Last blog I talked about Tannat, the grape found in Madiran wines. The blog before I talked about white varietals beginning with “V.” Today I sat down with Mike, one of my favorite distributors, to taste “Geeky” wines. This is a term we use for wines from obscure grapes that are often unusual. Sometimes it's impossible to decide if they are wonderful or just strange. In today's case, they were both.

First up was Burja Zelen 2010 from Slovenia. Zelen is a rare grape grown only in the Primorje region of Slovenia. It is not grown much because of low yields, but recently the grape has made a comeback. It is remotely related to the Italian grape Verduzzo. The wine is a golden yellow with a pretty bouquet of tropical fruit and spice. Its palate is rich with peach and apricot against an unusual background reminiscent of green tea. A nice acidity balances out the flavor.  Unfortunately, you will probably never see this grape. This particular producer makes the most of anyone in the world…135 cases.

Next up was Valdibella Munir Catarratto. Catarratto is one of the most ancient varietals in Sicily and was one of the original grapes used in the production of Marsala. The wine is incredibly aromatic with intense citrus notes. The fruit is nicely balanced with ample acidity and structure. This is a great everyday wine.

Last was the Valdibella Acamante Perricone 2010. Perricone is another ancient indigenous Sicilian grape. Only 340 hectares in all of Sicily--and the world--are devoted to its growth. The wine has a fragrant nose of fruits and spice, and I expected it to be full bodied. Instead, it is medium bodied with beautiful red berries, clove, and pepper, and surprisingly obvious tannins. This is a great summertime red. Of note, this varietal has an extremely high level of antioxidants that are so important in heart health. As a side note, you'll be glad to know that Valdibella's wines are certified non-mafia as indicated on the label.

I also want to mention one more wine I tasted recently, although not with Mike. St. Mont Les Bastions from the Basque influenced area of Southwestern France is a pretty little wine fashioned from local varietals--Arrufiac, Petit Courbu, and Mensang--found only in the immediate area. The wine has a very complex, fresh, fruity, floral and slightly herbal nose and palate. It is very refreshing and appealing. This is a great match for summertime fare or sipping alone on the deck.

Literally thousands of grapes are used in making wine. While Cabernet, Nebbiolo, Sangiovese, Merlot, and Malbec, as well as Chardonnay, Pinot Grigio, and Sauvignon Blanc are well known for good reason, trying new, different, and sometimes obscure wines adds to your palate and you never may find a gem among them.

Sunday, June 10, 2012

Madiran—No Spoonful of Sugar Required for this Medicine to go Down

Madiran is a small village in Basque-influenced southwest France just north of the Pyrenees. It is also an appellation, and it gained worldwide attention when Roger Corder published his 2007 book The Red Wine Diet and recommended Madiran wines as the most heart healthy in the world.

Corder’s research revealed that red wines contain procyanidin, an antioxidant that prevents heart disease. The Tannat grape, the basis of red Madiran wines, has more procyanidin than any other grape. Coincidentally, the lifespan of men in the Madiran district is among the highest in the world.

The Tannat grape produces tannic, complex wines with rich dark fruit and raspberry flavors and aromas of spice, coffee and vanilla. These wines have had a reputation of being fiercely tannic, requiring years of aging before being drinkable. Now, Tannat is often blended with Cabernet Sauvignon and/or Cabernet Franc which softens the tannin and results in a much more approachable wine.

Another way to soften tannins is a process called micro-oxygenation, introduced in 1991 specifically for Tannat grapes. Oxygen is introduced into fermenting wine in a controlled manner. This results in polymerization of the tannins into larger molecules which are perceived as softer.

1907 Madiran (Producteurs Plainmont and Cave Crousilles) is a spectacular example of the level of flavor, structure, and complexity these wines can reach at a $15.00 price tag. It is a blend of 70% Tannat, 20% Cabernet Sauvignon, and 10% Cabernet Franc.

The nose of spice, coffee, and cocoa is followed by a blast of dark fruits and raspberries layered against a background of tannin, licorice, minerals, and a beautiful acidity. The result is a remarkably complex wine for the price. Its unusual combination of power and freshness makes it a spectacular match for grilled steaks or barbecued ribs on the back deck.

The 1907 is named for the year the appellation was first defined. It is produced by independent growers jointly with two cooperatives.

Basques immigrating to South America brought Tannat there, and it is now widely grown and has, in fact, become the national grape of Uruguay. The wines there are much fruitier and less tannic, and  although good, are very different than the beautiful Tannats from Madiran, especially the 1907.

1907 Madiran is a must have wine. Find it and buy it—lots of it. As good as it now, it’ll probably be even better next year.

To your health!

Sunday, June 3, 2012

Are you an ABC? Try a V!

When summer’s warm weather comes, even die hard red drinkers turn to white wine. However, if you're sick of the over-oaked, buttery Chardonnays that flood the marketplace, even to the point of being an ABC (anything but Chardonnay) person, consider a different letter—V.

Viognier, a grape known for its floral aromatics and fruit-forward flavor profile, is grown in Condrieu and the Languedoc in France, and more recently in California and Australia. It is fairly low in acid and is often used as a blending grape to soften Shiraz in Australia. Great food wine, especially with Thai food. An excellent example is Triennes Sainte Fleur from southern France.

Verdicchio is grown primarily in the Marche region of Italy. It has a fairly marked acidity and a lemony citrus flavor profile with a definite almondy background. This wine can age and become more complex and layered. It is wonderful with seafood, chicken, or even pork. San Lorenzo Verdicchio dei Castelli di Jesi Vigneto di Gino is one of my all-time favorite white wines. Aged on the lees for nine months, it is more medium-bodied and complex than most Verdicchios. Fantastic with bacon wrapped scallops.

Vernaccia di San Gimignano is from the area surrounding the town of San Gimignano in Tuscany. This wine is crisp and clean with good acidity and citrus fruit flavors. It's great with sushi. Cantine Gini is an excellent example. The palate is crisp and elegant with a hint of almond on the nose.

Vermentino is the major white grape of Sardinia. It produces wines of good acidity (despite the very hot growing conditions) and noticeable minerality without the citrus zing of many white wines.  Argiolas Costamolino is wonderful, with lots of fruit balanced with a beautiful minerality. It’s a beautiful match with fish and shellfish.

Verdejo is grown primarily in the Rueda region of Spain, although it originated in North Africa. It is also being grown successfully in Australia. This grape has aromas of tropical fruit with flavors of lime and green apple. An interesting example is Molly Dooker The Violinist. Molly Dooker means left-handed in Australia and this wine is typical of this estate…immense fruit extraction, huge flavor of tropical and citrus fruit.

The letter V rules in the summer. All of these wines are wonderful by themselves and with summertime fare at lunch and dinner. So get adventurous, forget the Chardonnay and the Pinot Grigio, and try some of these. You’ll be glad you did.

Tuesday, May 22, 2012

Memorable Memorial Day Wines

Today’s high is going to 94 degrees here in Denver. With Memorial Day Weekend approaching, I’ve got barbeque on my mind. Although beer is a great beverage choice, don’t overlook the many excellent wines that go beautifully with the bounty of the day. Lighter wines are perfect for sitting on the deck before dinner. Vinho Verde, the subject of my previous blog, is a great choice. The freshness of the fruit, the acidity, and the pétillance of the wine make it delightfully refreshing.

In my quest to write as little new material as possible, I’ll mention another good choice — Rosé, the subject of my blog prior to the one on Vinho Verde. The strawberry and melon flavors in a dry, light-bodied wine also perfectly complement many of the foods served, such as chicken, burgers, and salads.

For the red drinker, lighter style reds make more sense before food is served. Pinot Noir, Beaujolais (from the Gamay grape), and Schiava (an indigenous varietal from northern Italy) are all wonderful. I also suggest an extraordinary wine from Pic St Loup in the south of France Le Loup Dans la Bergerie (literally, The Fox in the Sheep Pen). This is a medium bodied wine with awesome fruit and spice. It combines Grenache, Syrah and Merlot, is fairly easy to find, is inexpensive, and offers amazing depth of flavor.

While some white drinkers like oaky, buttery California Chardonnays, other varietals work better on a hot, sunny day. The citrusy zip of Pinot Grigio works well (Tieffenbruner is my favorite), as do the Spanish Albrinos (try Burgans). White Bordeaux from France and Soaves from Italy round out my favorites.

As the food arrives, there are myriad wines to choose from. Argentinian Malbec works great, no surprise since Argentinian barbeques are legendary. Renacer Punto Final and Durigutti are two of the best. California Zinfandel, such as Cosentino’s The Zin, are superb, as are Southern Italy’s Negroamaros (e.g. Menhir’s N Zero) and Nero D’Avolas. If you are doing steaks or burgers with blue cheese, try a nice easy going Cabernet like Rickshaw. If lamb is on the menu, the earthiness of the southern Cotes du Rhones makes these the perfect wines. Great examples are Domain Boisson Cairanne and Chapoutier Belleruche.

Whatever you drink, enjoy the holiday and drink responsibly (or let someone else drive home). Remember, great wines that make great food even better don’t have to break the bank. Cheers!

Monday, May 7, 2012

Word of the Day…Pétillant

Warm weather has arrived and it’s time—even for us devout red wine lovers—to look in different directions for great summertime wines, and also to see just how sharp your local wine merchant is. Go into the shop and tell him or her that you want a pétillant wine made from Loureiro, Arinto, Trajadura, Avesso, Azal, or Alvarinho grapes. If you get the correct answer, you can reassure yourself he knows what he is doing, and you’ll also have a fun, refreshing wine—Vinho Verde.

Vinho Verde is from the Minho region in the far northwestern part of Portugal. It can be red, rosé, or white, although most are white. The name literally means “green wine” but translates as “young wine,” and is meant to be drunk young, preferably within a year of bottling. So if you find a 1999 Vinho Verde tucked away in a forgotten corner somewhere, it’s more like finding a 1999 Bud Light than a white Burgundy.

These wines are fresh and have fruity aromas and flavors. They are injected with carbonation much like a soft drink. So while not sparkling, they are “fizzy.” The official term is the French word pétillant (pay tee ya[n]), or slightly sparkling. Although the bubbles die fairly quickly, the nice acid zing keeps the wine refreshing.

Vinho Verde is great by itself on the back deck or by the pool, and is absolutely wonderful with shellfish. It’s also great with spicy food because it is low in alcohol (8-12%). Alcohol enhances the effects of hot spices, which is why a nice juicy Zinfandel from Lodi causes spicy to become painful, and why beer is the beverage of choice with Indian food. The final reason to buy lots of this wine is that it is ridiculously cheap, often in the $7.00 or $8.00 range. Low alcohol plus inexpensive means buy several bottles.

Thousands of producers of this wine exist, and often a dozen or so can be found in a single store. Here are a few that are particularly good:

Gazela is pale straw color with hints of brassy green and simple white fruit flavors with a hint of melon. The carbonation adds a bit of pizzazz to the crisp dry flavor. A great match for shellfish and great by itself.
Casal Garcia is one of the more fruity examples with peaches and citrus on both the nose and palate. It is particularly good with carnitas and guacamole.

Twin Vines has an interesting twist on the nose and palate—fresh nectarines and lime. Great especially on its own on the deck.

Don’t try to seriously contemplate these wines. They are just easy, fun wines to drink in the summer. If you haven’t tried them, now’s the time.

Thursday, April 26, 2012

You Can Drink Rosé and Still Be a Bad Ass

All you macho types keep in mind these words coming from Charles and Charles (a joint project between Charles Smith and Charles Bieler). It’s spring...the beginning of Rosé season.

Rosé wines are made from red grapes. The grape skins have very limited contact with the juice which gives the wines a pink color. The shorter the contact, the lighter the color. While Rosé can be sweet, off dry, or bone dry, today I'm talking about the beautiful decidedly dry type.  The flavors of Rosé wines tend to be subtle versions of their red varietal counterparts—strawberry, cherry, watermelon, citrus, and raspberry.

These wines are perfect for spring and summer, as they are served chilled and are probably the most food friendly and food versatile wines on the planet. The light body and delicate flavors make them ideal picnic wines that go well with roast beef, chicken or ham sandwiches, egg or potato salad, and even chips and dip. They are great for backyard barbeques, easily handling burgers, hot dogs, chicken, and even steaks. And nothing is better than Rosé to drink with nothing at all on a bright summer day. They are also great values, most being in the 10 to 20 dollar range.

Rosés got a bad rap after the winemaker at Sutter Home invented White Zinfandel completely by accident (an arrested fermentation).  This started the flood of sweet wine cooler-like blush wines from California. Consequently, in the past I've had people run from the tasting bar when I did a Rosé tasting. Dry Rosé, though, is a wonderful wine, and sales are going up. People are finding pleasant surprises at store tastings even if all the wines are pink.

There are hundreds of Rosés on the market. I'm going to mention three that are reasonably priced, fairly easy to find, and outstanding.

Domaine du Salvard Cheverny Rosé 2011 screams “Loire Valley” with its strong minerality and beautiful acidity. It is a blend of 60% Pinot Noir and 40% Gamay. The nose and palate are full of rose petals, strawberries, bell pepper, and a bit of peaty earth. The finish is lingering and perfectly balanced.

Bieler Pere et Fils Rosé 2011 is from Provence, a renowned area of Rosé production. This deeply colored Rosé is Syrah driven (50%), blended with 30% Grenache and 20% Cabernet Sauvignon. It is cranberry red in color with a nose of raspberry, cherry, and wild strawberry. It is crisp and flavorful on the palate with a medium body and notes of red berries, cherries, and spice.  The finish is long and refreshing.

Feudi di San Gregorio Ros’aura Rosato 2011 is made from 100% Aglianico which is known for making very powerful tannic wines. The wine is a brilliant ruby color with a huge nose of freshly crushed strawberries and cherries. Medium bodied and intensely fruit driven with a palate of strawberry preserves, cherries, and a hint of green herbs, it has a lingering but crisp finish. This is a powerful Rosé, and has always been one of my favorites.

These wines are coming into stores in large numbers this time of year and can be found at great prices.  So all you guys, if your football coach invites you to dinner, be brave and grab a bottle of dry pink wine. He’ll be impressed with your wine savvy.

Saturday, April 14, 2012

The Amazing Lady Winemakers of Italy

Women are making their mark in all walks of life, including the wine industry. While America has its Helen Turley, nowhere are women making a greater impact on winemaking than in Italy, where three women are rapidly joining the ranks of the truly elite.

Elisabetta Foradori has become one of Italy's "superstar" winemakers and without a doubt is Italy's finest producer of wines made from Teraldego, one of Italy's oldest and finest endogenous grapes. All of her vineyards are in the Campo Rotaliano region of Trentino, where this grape (genetically related to Syrah) reaches its zenith. From these biodynamically farmed vineyards she is quietly making some of Italy's most complex, deep and compelling wines.

The style of Foradori's Teraldego is stunning and unique. The bouquet is of sweet black fruit, orange, chocolate, herbs and soil. On the palate the wines are graceful, focused and beautifully balanced, somehow refining a robust somewhat Syrah-like flavor profile of black fruit, cherry and plum, with a hint of chocolate. The tannins and acidity are perfectly integrated. She has single-handedly renewed interest in a previously little known varietal and her wines are in restaurants all over Italy.

Foradori's entry level wine is called simply Foradori (about $25) and is wonderful. Her flagship wine is called Granato, comes from her finest selection of grapes and is aged 12-15 months in used oak. It is spectacular, worth the $60 price tag. She also makes two single vineyard wines which are now just arriving in the U.S. I can't wait.

Nicoletta Bocca founded her winery in 1992. Since then she has raised the stakes for production of Dolcetto and there's simply no stopping her. She has amassed 16 acres of old vines (40-60 years old) nestled in the hills of Dogliani, an area gifted for long-lived wines with strong tannins that have a higher aptitude for aging and the ability to maintain freshness despite the evolution of flavors and complexity. She stresses the characteristics that come naturally from extraction during fermentation and aging in wood instead of the fruitiness and easy drinkability that this grapes has been known for....until now.

Her wines, beginning with her stunning entry level Valdiba ($16) and ending with her fabulous Dogliani ($27) are hugely intense with beautiful fruit (black cherry, plum blackberry) and floral notes. There is a very noticeable background of stone and mineral that marks her wines with a unique identity. I recently tasted a vertical of the Dogliani beginning with the 2003 and they were by far the best Dolcettos I've ever drunk.

While only in her twenties, the immensely talented and precocious Sicilian winemaker Arianna Occhipinti has charmed the world with her organically grown local varietals, namely Grillo, Frappato, and Nero D'Avola. She has taken the natural wine movement to dizzying new heights and there is as much fanfare about her unwavering dedication to producing terroir driven wines as there is the enjoyment of the resulting wines' grace and beauty. She has rapidly become Sicily's "rockstar" winemaker.

Occhipinti's entry level wines are called TAMI ($12-18), a joint project between her and some friends including her boyfriend, owner of Tami Wine Bar in nearby Siracusa. The TAMI IGT Grillo is one of the most aromatic wines imaginable with tangerine, jasmine tea, chalky minerals and figs leaping from the glass. On the palate there is ample fruit balanced by perfect acidity and brilliant minerality. Smelling the TAMI IGT Frappato is like walking in a ripe strawberry field. Beaujolais-like in body, there is sweet black cherry, blackberry and chocolate on the palate with a lively fresh acidity. It is a beautiful summertime red. The TAMI IGT Nero D'Avola is a soft, elegant expression of a varietal that can be bold and fruit forward. The nose is very aromatic with delicate notes of violets, sage and strawberries. The palate is extraordinarily elegant with layers of boysenberry, espresso and and licorice. There is amazing complexity for a medium-bodied wine. Finally, there is her Occhipinti SP68 IGT Rosso ($26), a blend of Frappato and Nero D'Avola. It is named for the road that goes by her estate. The wine combines the spiciness of Zinfandel with the earthiness of a Chianti, and possesses a zippy acidity that gives it an eccentric twist. This is an amazing wine, not to be missed if you can find it.

If you can find any of these wines, buy them while you can. They are going to get harder to find and more expensive as the reputations of these ladies continue to grow.