Category Archives: Wine Education

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?

Wine Education Wednesday: Syrah vs. Shiraz

 Lately I’ve been craving Syrah for two simple reasons: It pairs well with hearty meals and, best of all, it costs much less than other popular varietals. With so many options for wine lovers out there, one question I get from time to time is,  'what is the difference between Syrah and Shiraz?' Answer - Nothing!  In the true spirit of Australian individualism, the Aussies planted Syrah and called it Shiraz.  The two grapes are genetically identical, though in taste profile, you will find some differences.

Since Roman times Syrah has been grown in the a Rhône region of France.  Hence, it is commonly referred to as a Rhône varietal.  Syrah has seen a surge in popularity and is now grown in California, Washington, South America and South Africa. You can find it in just about every region, though those listed are most popular.  Despite these new challengers, I prefer Australian and French Rhône wines.   Syrah from these regions offer intense richness and a full-body.

French Syrah

French Syrah comes from the Rhone Valley, which is divided into the Northern and Southern Rhône.   Northern Rhône wines command a high price and produce some of the most sought after and long-lived Rhône wines.  Northern Rhône wines are made primarily from Syrah, though in some areas a small percentage of white can be blended in. Familiar appellations in the Northern Rhône include: Côte Rotie, Saint-Joseph, Crozes-Hermitage, Hermitage and Cornas.

The Southern Rhône produces much more accessible wines in that they are priced affordably and made for much earlier consumption than Northern Rhône wines, which can take decades to mellow. The freshness of Southern Rhône wines is a result of blending Grenache with Syrah, as well as a myriad of other grapes, including Carignan, Cinsault and Mourvedre.  In fact, Grenache is considered the dominant grape in the Southern Rhône and Syrah is often added to beef up the blend with powerful tannins and flavor (a practice also followed in Australia). Familiar appellations include: Gigondas, Vacqueyras, Côtes du Rhône and Chateauneuf-du-Pape.

Northern Rhône Syrah offers leather and spicy black pepper qualities coupled with intense tannins and a higher natural acidity than its Shiraz brother.  Complex flavors lead to a long wonderful finish worthy of contemplation. Southern Rhone wines, having a smaller percentage of Syrah and different growing conditions, are much softer, though still providing some spicy, earthy notes.

Notable Producers:  E. Guigal, Jean-Luc Columbo, M. Chapoutier, Chateau Beaucastel

Shiraz

Australian wines are booming and winemakers have made huge strides understanding which varietals grow best in each region.  Australian Shiraz is planted in several areas, but the best come from the Barossa, McLaren Vale and Coonwarra (also noted for its Cabernet Sauvignon).  These areas experience high temperatures resulting in very ripe fruit with lower acidity.  The ripe fruit coupled with Australian winemaking techniques create luscious, silky, mouth-filling wines.  The Barossa Valley in particular excels in the Aussie style offering round tannins and dark fruit flavors, accented with chocolate notes. Thirsty yet?

Notable producers:  Penley Estate, Penfolds, Hewitson, Tait, Peter Lehmann

My Picks

Delas St. Esprit Côtes-du-Rhône Rouge 2007 ($9.99). Contains soft tannins with smoky aromas of black pepper and burnt brown sugar.  Pair with roast chicken. A steal at $9.99!


Tait The Ball Buster 2007.  Luscious dark fruit with cocoa nuances.  Pair with steak or roasted lamb.