Category Archives: Wine Education

Grape-Region Decoder Ring

A colleague of mine was recently in a Spanish restaurant where she was presented with a simple wine list, about 10 whites and 10 reds, but not one wine was recognizable. Everything was lowercase print and it was not clear what was the italygrape or the region or the producer… Confusing to say the least. And while a lovely wine steward helped her select a nice wine to try, that kind of menu can be frustrating, even with only 20 wines. To help on that end, here is a quick cheat sheet on grapes & regions from Spain and Italy (since these are often the ones that have the more confusing indigenous grape varieties to stump us).

White Wines

What you might see

What is it?

What’s it taste like?

Rueda

A region in northwest Spain, Rueda produces white wines made from the Verdejo grape, occasionally with some Sauvignon Blanc blended in.

Crisp, dry, refreshing, with an almost herbaceous character. Good citrus and mineral aromas and flavors. If you like Sauvignon Blanc and Pinot Grigio, you will probably enjoy Rueda.

Albarino

A grape from the Galacia region of Spain – Rias Baixas to be exact.

Makes a delicious aromatic wine, with floral and tropical fruit notes. Very crisp acidity balances this wine out – a perfect match for seafood.

Falanghina

A white grape grown in Southern Italy.

Apple and bananas. Not really taste like that, but can have great tropical fruit aromas and flavors, but not too heavy. A good medium-body wine.

Arneis

A grape from Piedmont region of Italy.

Floral and nutty, with stone fruits like apples and pears as well. Crisp, medium-bodied. This is a very cool variety and goes with lots of foods.

RED WINES

What you might see

What is it?

What’s it taste like?

Monestrell

A red grape from Spain, also known as Mourvedre in France and most other wine-producing regions. Monestrell wines usually come from Jumilla, Yecla or other regions in Spain.

Often from old-vines, Monestrell makes wines with concentrated ripe black fruit and spice. Typically rich and intense, occasionally “jammy”

Priorat

A region just south of Barcelona in Spain, producing wines from old-vine Carignan and Garnacha in sandy soils

Very concentrated and intense, Priorat can have structured tannins with concentrated fruit. Some bottles are collectibles and age-worthy.

Barbera

Barbera is a grape that actually makes it onto the label of the wine. Barbera d’Asti or Barbera d’Alba are the most popular.

Barbera is a light bodied grape with lots of great fruit and acid – excellent food wine! Think pasta with red sauce.

Primitivo

It’s Zinfandel! Same grape DNA, but different name when it comes from Italy.

Also has a different flavor profile. Primitivo is not as concentrated and dense as some California Zinfandel. More rustic spice going on. But great fruit as well.

Montepulciano d’Abruzzo

Montepulciano is the GRAPE here, Abruzzo is the region

Lots of ripe fruit and easy drinking. These are very approachable wines.

Vino Nobile di Montepulciano

Montepulciano is the REGION here and the grape is Sangiovese, which is the noble grape (vino nobile) of the region.

Similar to Chianti. Sangiovese-based Tuscan red with good acid, cherry fruits and dusty tannins.

We’ll follow up to this segment next month so let us know what other grapes and regions cause confusion!

What you don’t know about Bordeaux

2 glassesIt’s not all grand chateaux and dusty bottles that need 30 years cellar age. This historical region, which has been making wine for centuries, knows what it’s doing and does it well. Some wines are age-worthy collectibles, but the majority are meant to be drunk now and enjoyed with food. Here are some fun facts you may not have known about Bordeaux.

-The region is made up of 57 separate appellations, or AOCs.

-Bordeaux represents 2.3% of total world wine production

-In 2007, the region produced nearly 760 million bottles of wine. That is a LOT of wine.

-Carmenere, the grape now associated with Chilean red wines, was once a common blending grape in Bordeaux. It grew out of fashion in the mid-20th century and is now almost extinct.

-“Cot” is the local name for Malbec, a grape that is waning in importance in the region.

-A half-bottle of Bordeaux is called a “fillette.”

-The 1855 classification stands exactly as it did in 1855, with one exception – Chateau Mouton Rothschild moved from a Deuxieme Cru (second growth) to a Premier Cru (first growth) in 1973.

Get all the facts you ever wanted to know about Bordeaux at www.bordeaux.com. And don’t forget to browse our updated affordable Bordeaux section at Wine.com. Especially our Club Claret line up.

Introducing Club Claret

My name is Anthony Foster, Master of Wine, and I work with Club Claret. Club Claret is your fast track to the heart of Bordeaux.

We are always in clip_image002touch with what is going on on a daily basis. I don’t live in Bordeaux but I am an eight iron away and get into the region many times a year. Our job is to find you the real deals and not just the icon wines, though we can offer you those also. Why Club Claret? It is a very English name that Allan Sichel put into words so aptly over 50 years ago.

“Claret is a kindly, sensitive, proud wine. It will be charming to all who wish to make its acquaintance. It will reveal its inner-most self only where confidence will be appreciated and respected. Claret, in short, is capable of expressing beauty and truth, to delight the palate and nurture the mind of the philosopher in all of us. It is food to the mind, not a bludgeon. It reveals its secrets slowly, and becomes at once an inspiration to the striving and a recompense to the successful.”

Bordeaux has produced wines since the dawn of its history. The first reports date from the Roman occupation, but it was several centuries later, when the marriage of Eleanor of Aquitaine (the ancient name for Guyenne) to Henry II of England brought the whole of the province of Guyenne, including Gascony, into the possession of the English kings, that the wines of the country became known in England. Neither vineyards nor wines, however were as we know them today. At least three hundred years were to elapse before the first cork was used, and about five hundred years before wine was put into glass bottles.

The vineyards in those early days were no more than strips of vines in the cornfields, small patches, mostly in the area just to the south of Bordeaux. The wine they produced was light in color, often made from a mixture of red and white grapes, and was drunk young – within a year of being made. It was, at that time, a crime to sell old wine as new. The merchants of the Sénéchaussée of Bordeaux enjoyed the sole rights of selling wine from the Feast of St. Martin until Easter. The wine was lighter in color than that from the southern vineyards, and it is believed that the designation Clairet, by which it was known, is the origin of the word Claret used today. clip_image002[7]

Nowadays the products of the Bordeaux vineyards are esteemed mainly because of their ability to develop in bottle such delicacy of flavor and aroma that not only is the resultant character intrinsically pleasing but also pleasantly intriguing. Not only does it become possible to recognize a particular wine as a personality, but it becomes impossible to analyse that personality, so perfect is the harmony of the component flavors.

The soil on which the vines are grown is poor soil, suitable for no other crops. The vines themselves have, through the centuries, been selected and developed until today each type of soil is planted with the vine that suits it best, each estate has arrived at just the right proportion of the various authorized vines to suit its local climate. The poor soil contains no excess of any one substance; the vine is not too greedy for any single form of nourishment. The wine itself is made with no interference from man; every minute degree of substance in the soil plays its part, unhampered by any excess of sugar or alcohol, in creating such a rhythm and harmony in the resultant wine that a light Bordeaux of a perfect year may live and improve for half a century.

Now come and join me in the ever-growing world of Club Claret, try some of the wines and really appreciate why this the oldest wine region in the world is still first in every wine-lovers mind. Taste the elegance, sophistication and harmony these wines bring to great cuisine.

Wine Education Wednesday: Sulfites in wine

Chances are, the wine you drank last night had a "contains sulfites" advisory on the label. Ominous as that sulfites may sound, sulfites are a terribly misunderstood component of wine. We’ve set out to demystify a few sulfite myths here.

– First let me say that just as some people are lactose intolerant or allergic to pollen, there are people who are sensitive to sulfites, even the small amounts in wine (which contains about 10mg/glass; 80mg/liter), and this sensitivity can cause a reaction. Asthmatics can be particularly sensitive. This small percentage of the population must also avoid other sulfite- heavy products such as dried fruits and molasses. If you think you're sensitive to sulfites, try eating a handful of dried apricots and see how that affects you – dried fruits, particularly apricots, have about 10 times more sulfites added than your regular glass of wine.

– Sulfites are not the cause of the mysterious red wine headache. Some drinkers do get a headache from red wines, but studies have not yet been able to find the exact culprit there, though histamines are thought to have some effect. White wines often have more sulfites than reds, so if no headache is caused by whites, but you do get them with reds, its not the sulfites.

– Almost ALL wines contain some percentage of sulfites. Yeasts naturally create sulfites in wine during fermentation, so if your wine was fermented, then its got some sulfites hanging around. What the USDA’s advisory label primarily refers to are added sulfites.

fermenting juice- Sulfites are added to wine as a preservative since wine is a perishable substance. They are not dangerous. They have been a part of winemaking for centuries, though in different forms. They kill bacteria in wine, which we certainly don’t want, and they protect the wine from oxygen, which can turn a wine to vinegar pretty fast.

– Almost all winemakers add some sulfites to their wines. Again, winemakers want to preserve their wine, and sulfites are the safest way to do it. You can find wine with no added sulfites, which can be stated on the label. These are the only wines can be certified organic by the USDA. There are other organic certification programs that do allow minimal sulfites to be added.

– There is no difference in the French or Italian wine you drink here vs. the one you drank in the home country. Winemakers do not add more sulfites in wines coming to the US than they do to wines that remain local. Most other countries do not require a sulfite warning on the label, so you will only see the warning on wines purchased in the US. But again, that does not mean that a Bordeaux here in the US has more sulfites than the Bordeaux sold in Bordeaux. Just the labeling laws differ.

So, those are some notes on sulfites. A great article to read on sulfites and wine is here, done by researchers at UC Davis.

Why I love Viognier

This often mis-pronounced grape is being found on more tables and taking up more room in wine store racks – thank goodness! What a delicious and complex wine this grape can become! It can also offer wonderful easy-drinking values. I love it because it can come in so many forms – single varietal, in a white wine blend, or even in a red wine blend.

Due to the fact that the grape is naturally low in acidity, Viognier can be tricky to pick and produce. It has to be harvested at just the right time to maintain that balance between acid and fruit. It also lacks longevity, even at the high-end, so even when you’re buying “collectible” bottles, they are meant to be drunk within a few years.

What makes Viognier so appealing? Hard to put a finger on it, but for me it's the combination of aromatics and texture that make it so delicious. The nose is full of apricot, peach and perfume, while on the palate, you have this lovely, rich coating texture that is all from the grape rather than oak or malo-lactic fermentation. One drawback (or benefit, depending on how you look at it) is the alcohol levels can be high. Still the wines are a pleasure to drink.

Viognier is also a master blender, both for white wines as well as red. In white blends, its favorite partners include other Rhone varieties like Roussanne, Marsanne and Grenache Blanc. For red wines, it is actually co-fermented in small amounts with Syrah. The original region using this blend, Cote Rotie permits up to 20% of Viognier in its wines though its usually a much smaller percentage. Oddly enough, the addition of Viognier actually deepens the color of the Syrah and definitely boosts its aromatics. So successful in Cote Rotie, the practice has been picked up elsewhere, most notably in Australia, where you commonly find Shiraz + Viognier blends.  ch  grillet

Where does Viognier grow best? As a single varietal wine, you have the classic all-Viognier, all the time appellation, Condrieu. Condrieu is situated in the northern Rhone and produces some of the most delicious and complex Viognier you can find. Within Condrieu lies Chateau Grillet (pictured to the right), a small appellation of only a few hectares, which also produces only Viognier. Always under single ownership, this small production of Vigonier has a higher price tag, mostly due to its scarcity. California is also making some awesome Viognier, a few of my favorites being Cline and Bonterra. Australia has also found a niche with Viognier – Yalumba is doing great stuff with the grape and has an excellent organic Viognier.

When it comes to Viognier in blends, head to the Rhone where you’ll find it in many of the Rhone whites (though not in Chateauneuf-du-Pape whites, as it is not one of the 13 permitted varieties). And, like the single varietal wines, California and Australia are making some excellent white Rhone blends with Viognier.

For Syrah/Shiraz with Viognier? Cote-Rotie is the classic place to find this. But the hefty price tag and scarcity of those wines may send you looking elsewhere, in which case head to Australia. They have really embraced this blend and producers like Innocent Bystander, d’Arenberg and Yalumba are making some quite delicious examples. Do watch those alcohol levels though… they can get up there!

For food pairings, I love sipping it with roast chicken or a rich pasta sauce. My corny side loves to enjoy it on its own watching the sunset.