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.