Category Archives: Wine Education

Malbec. It’s hot.

melipal

Malbec. Everyone’s talking about it. Everyone’s drinking it. It’s on wine lists and wine shelves and it’s taken the US wine market by storm. In fact, imports of Argentinean wine have jumped 39% in the first 6 months of this year, and a majority of that jump is Malbec. Talk about hot, you’ve got to check out our amazing deal on the Melipal Malbec 2006 – 95 points and only $18. The perfect Malbec to try if you are new to the grape, and the perfect Malbec to buy if you are a seasoned Malbec lover.

What exactly makes this grape so hot?

So what exactly makes this grape so hot?

argentinaThe history: A bit of a Cinderella story, Malbec’s typical role has been as one of the five grapes in Bordeaux blends, but usually only composing a meager 5% or less, particularly in Bordeaux. The grape is susceptible to rot and is not the best of the bunch over in Bordeaux’s maritime climate. However, when placed in the high altitude vineyards of Argentina, Malbec showed its true colors (a very dense, purple color) and made itself a very happy home there. The county’s wine industry will never be the same – when consumers think Argentina, they think Malbec. When they think Malbec, they think Argentina.

The wine: This is the most important aspect of a grape, is it not? The wine it becomes? Malbec creates a wine that is dense and purple. Aromas include  blackberry, plum, black cherry, violets, mocha and spice. The styles range from sweet & jammy to spicy & peppery. The wines have smooth but firm tannins and often a touch of oak. The majority are concentrated. Some are easy-drinking quaffers while others can be more complex and layered. Big-wine lovers love this wine!

The food: Obviously the grape does not make food, but the wine coming from the grape is an excellent match with beef! Steak, roasts, grilled  beef ribs… it’s a meat wine. Which leads me to the next reason Malbec is hot…

The price: It’s a value! At a steak restaurant, when that California Cabernet you love looks too ridiculous at $150, look to Malbec. You’ll find some excellent wines under $50 (at the restaurant!) that will match your meat just as well – if not better – that your usual Cabernet. Most Malbecs fall in the $10 – $25 range, though some producers make complex, age-worthy Malbec in the $50+ range. Beauty of the wine is, you can drink very well at a very nice price.

Sold yet? Here are some producers to look for: Catena (one of the oldest producers in Argentina); Crios; Melipal; Dona Paula; Terrazas; La Posta; Zuccardi . There are many more producers that are excellent, so keep exploring! 

Wine Education Wednesday: Côte Rôtie

Posting Wine Education Wednesday on a Thursday… because I’m a day late and because I wanted it to coincide with the great deal Wine.com has on a fantastic Côte-Rôtie wine –the Domaine Duclaux 2004. Delicious stuff, usually $50 and on sale for $24.99. But first, a bit about the region:


Region: Côte-Rôtie

Appellation & Country: Northern Rhône region of France, near the town of Ampuis, a bit south of the larger city of Lyon.

Grapes: Syrahtee pee vine is the only red grape permitted, but up to 20% of Viognier can be blended in during fermentation.

Climate & Soils: Côte Rôtie translates into “roasted slope,” which accurately describes where the grapes are grown for these wines. The steep,  terraced hills of Côte-Rôtie are indeed roasted during the summer due to their facing south. The soil is primarily schist, and picking grapes can be a challenge due to the steepness and the rocky terrain. I’ve climbed these slopes before trying to get some good shots of vines, and trust me, it’s tricky. Can’t imagine trying to pick grapes from each vine. So, while most pickers are more adept than I, other options like pulleys and such are occasionally used.

The main two slopes are the Côte Blonde and the Côte Brune. Aptly named as the slope of the Côte Blonde has mainly granite, with a limestone element that makes the soils more white. On the other hand, the Cote Brune has more schist and an iron content that darkens the soils making them more brown in color.

How does the wine taste? Since the grape is Syrah, you’re going to get some concentrated dark fruits and a definite element of spice. But, Côte Rôtie is known for being one of the more elegant appellations of the Northern Rhône. Unlike Hermitage or Cornas, Côte Rôtie wines carry descriptors like “finesse” and “feminine.” These characteristics have some to do with the soil  and climate, but also with that small percentage of Viognier that is added during fermentation. The co-fermentation of Viognier with Syrah increases the aromatics of the wine, while deepening its color and softening the texture. Though up to 20% is permitted, most producers include about 3% – 5%. Typical notes for a Côte Rôtie include raspberry & blackberry, violet & other floral notes and a touch of spice. Tannins are  refined, texture is soft but also rich and round. Wines from the Côte Blonde are described as more elegant, while the wines of the Côte Brune are known for a bit more power and backbone. Age-worthy, wines are also often approachable while young. Not to say these wines are lightweights! They can be quite powerful in their seductiveness. And quite addictive, too. guigal

Notable Producers: Guigal is by far the most well-known producer in Côte Rôtie. Established in the 1940’s, Guigal owns many vineyards in the appellation and makes some of the most sought-after wines of the region – the “La-Las” – which are La Mouline, La Landonne & La Turque. Get a hold of these three wines to experience the powerful finesse Côte Rôtie can offer. Other producers to note include: Vidal-Fleury (which is owned by Guigal), Chapoutier, Jaboulet and Duclaux. If you can find them, Ogier, Clusel-Roch and Jean-Michel Stéphan are quite delicious examples of what Côte Rôtie offers.

Take advantage of our deal on the Domaine Duclaux 2004! It’s a steal!

The Wine Academy of Spain

As a fan of Spanish wines, I was lucky enough to attend a three day intensive Spanish wine course in San Francisco last week. It was offered by The Wine Academy of Spain, which is dedicated to the education of wine professionals and enthusiasts, and the promotion of Spanish wines.

They offer courses all over the country, so keep an eye on their schedule for next year.

spain mapThe Academy’s president is Pancho Campo, the first Master of Wine in Spain and a member of Al Gore's Climate Project. The class instructor was the very passionate and knowledgeable Esteban Cabezas, who is a partner in the Academy and founder of the Wine Business School, and a Master of Wine student. You couldn't help but get excited about Spanish wine listening to him speak! The class was filled with wine geeks and wine lovers of all kind: retailers, wine radio personalities, specialized Spanish wine shop folks, sommeliers, distributors and importers.

We studied in depth the many wine regions of Spain, along with its important producers, and learned a great deal about the culture through Esteban's anecdotes about the food and his travels. We also tasted 50+ delicious wines. I was particularly intrigued by the section on Sherry. I knew a bit about the production of Sherry, but had tasted very little of it. It can be an acquired taste. Spanish people drink it much more than Americans do, but I encourage any wine lover to read about it and give it a try. There are so many styles, you are bound to find one you love. For a dry Sherry, I suggest trying Gonzalez Byass Amontillado Sherry, and for those with a sweet tooth I recommend Alvear Pedro Ximinez 1927. This one is excellent with vanilla ice cream.

Spanish winemakers produce many varied styles for all budgets, and each region is pretty unique. If you are a fan of lighter whites with refreshing acidity, try a Txakoli from the Basque Country, like my latest favorite, Bodegas Berroja Berroia Txakoli 2008, made predominantly from a grape called Hondarribi Zuri. Don’t worry about pronouncing it, just drink it. It’s delicious. If you like a red with some intensity and concentration, try a yummy Garnacha and Carignan blend from Priorat. If you are the more traditional type, grab a Tempranillo from the Rioja, which typically has more wood ageing and is great with all kinds of food. Or you can sip what many young Spaniards drink, “calimocho,” a mix of red wine and Coca Cola. I’m not too sure I’d like this (it sounds like a hangover waiting to happen), but Esteban told me not to knock it until I try it.

Salud!

Wine Education Wednesday: What is Veraison?

A slightly dorky education Wednesday, but a good word to know since it’s what was just happening in many Northern Hemisphere vineyards! Veraison (pronounced, veh-ray-zuhn) marks the stage in vine ripening when the grapes go from little, hard green berrieveraisons to softer, colored grapes. A few things happen in this process:

First, the sugar and acid ratio switches. When the little berries begin, the acid content is much higher than sugar. During verasion, the sugar content increases and acid decreases, making the berries softer and plumper, looking more like actual grapes.

Second, the color changes. Till now, the grapes looked like little green peas. Verasion takes them from this stage to actual grape stage. For white varieties, this means that they become a softer, transparent yellow-green color. For red varieties, it’s more obvious, taking the grape from bright green to red or purple.

Veraison is quick for the particular berry, lasting only about a week, but it can be sporadic from berry to berry and vine to vine. It usually occurs in the summer time, anywhere from early July to mid-August. From this point on, the berry just keep ripening to become the perfect grape for your future wine!

Wine Education Wednesday – Ribera del Duero

Region: Ribera del Duero

Country: Spain (located north-central, in Castille & Lyon)

Grape(s): The wines of Ribera del Duero are almost exclusively red. White wines are rare and not exported. The reds come primarily from a variation of Tempranillo, which goes by the name of Tinto Fino or Tinto del Pais here. Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot and Malbec are allowed and often used in the blend.  Garnacha is used for rosados.

What’s it taste like:  If you’re buying a bottle at $20 or less, you’re likely to get black cherry and plum notes, with bright acidity and dusty, yet smooth tannins. You may find some to be smoky and others to be more jammy. It’s a good idea to read tasting notes on each producer. On the higher end, expect notes of tobacco, licorice, blackberry and minerals. Firm tannins, sometimes rustic, but also with an old-world elegance. The best wines of the area are refreshing, yet sturdy and complex, with an ability to age and mature gracefully. Power + Finesse is what the best wines offer.

Rules & Regulations: Ribera del Duero is a DO, or Denominacion de Origen, which is a quality level that adheres to specific standards set down by a governing body, or Consejo Regulador, for each region. It has been one since 1982. If you care to delve in and learn the nitty gritty on the DO system and Ribera del Duero's regulations, check out Wines from Spain (www.winesfromspain.com). They know their stuff.

Producers: Tpesquerahe most famous wine of the region is Vega Sicilia, possibly the most expensive and sought-after wine in Spain. Tasting this wine can be a magical experience. I had the honor of tasting both the ‘68 and the ‘70 in NYC once. This was 6 years ago and it is still fresh in my memory, ranking as one of the top wine tasting experiences ever. 
Other producers include:
Value ($20 or under): Torres Celeste, Vina Gormaz, Abadia Retuerta – these three producers create wines that generally show intense fruit and smooth tannins.
Higher End: Emilio Moro, Condado de Haza, Pesquera, Comenge,  Aalto

What are some of your favorite producers?