Category Archives: Varietals & Styles

The new age of Prosecco

written in collaboration with wine author and consultant  Alan Nardi

If you like wine — and since you’re here on wine.com I’m assuming that you do — you’ve probably heard of Prosecco. You might well have tried it and you might even be a fan, like millions of others throughout the world, but there’s much more to this quintessentially Italian bubbly than most people are aware of. There are a few important things you really need to know to help you find the one you’re really looking for, that is, the one you’re going to enjoy the most.

To begin with, you probably know that Prosecco comes from Italy, in the northeastern corner of the country, but did you know that there are actually three Proseccos? And, while all three share some common factors and are produced in the same general area, there are some critical differences between them. In a nutshell, it comes down to two things: terroir and tradition.

Prosecco DOC, created in 2009, is produced in an extensive area encompassing two regions of Italy — Veneto and Friuli — 9 entire provinces, and 556 towns. Because most of the growing area is located in flat plains and valleys, the yield of grapes per hectare is much higher and many of the vineyards can be (and are) harvested mechanically. Despite the fact that this is a new appellation, Prosecco DOC now accounts for about 80% of all Prosecco produced.

Colli Asolani Prosecco Superiore DOCG, also created in 2009, is a small area located in the hills around the town of Asolo in the province of Treviso. Though wine has been produced here for a long time, until bubbly Prosecco started to boom, the real focus of this region was — and in many ways remains — still red and white wines. The Colli Asolani area currently produces about 1% of Prosecco.

Conegliano Valdobbiadene Prosecco Superiore DOCG is a small area consisting of 15 municipalities (most are sleepy villages) in an east-west swath of hills located right in the middle of the greater Prosecco area. This is where the Glera grape — which must make up at least 85% of all Prosecco — first found its ideal home and this where the wine we now know as Prosecco was born.

Grape growing and wine making have been taking place in Conegliano Valdobbiadene (ko-neh-yee-ah-no val-do-bia-deh-nay) for hundreds, perhaps even thousands, of years and the vines have been painstakingly handcrafted over time to fit the undulating contours of the hills. Even today, most of the work in the vineyards is done by hand by thousands of independent farmers on small family plots who supply grapes to the 178 wineries. The “Italian Method” of making wine sparkle was developed around the turn of the 20th century at the enology school in Conegliano (founded in 1876, it is Italy’s oldest and remains a vital and important institution to this day) and the very first Prosecco appellation was created by a Consortium of Conegliano Valdobbiadene producers in 1969.

Conegliano Valdobbiadene occupies an exceptional geographic position: the Dolomite Mountains just behind the hills blocks the harsh northern temperatures while the Piave River Valley at the foot of the hills forms a plain extending south all the way to the Adriatic, bringing warm sea breezes that ventilate the vines and create a unique combination of Alpine and Mediterranean influences.  Even within the small area of Conegliano Valdobbiadene there is a tremendous diversity of microclimate due to its complex geological history.  The Conegliano (eastern) section was shaped by glacial activity from the Dolomites that shaved off the tops of the hills and carried it downwards along with lots of other glacial material extending the hills to the south (you can see this as a heart-shaped bulge on the map). For this reason, the altitudes here are lower, the slopes gentler, and the soils are denser, with lots of ferrous and morainic deposits. The western Valdobbiadene side was little affected by glaciers, so the altitudes here are higher, the slopes are much steeper, and the soil contains an abundance of marine deposits (the entire area was once under water). In between these two extremes is a myriad of environmental variations.

The long viticultural tradition and great diversity of terroir within the Conegliano Valdobbiadene area is reflected in the wines that are made here. In 2009 a sub-category called Rive (ree-vay) was created, which indicates a Prosecco DOCG made entirely from grapes of a single village or hamlet. The grapes must be hand-harvested, the maximum yield of grapes is lower than that of a regular Prosecco DOCG, the wine must be vintage-dated, and the name of the Rive — of which there are currently 43 — must appear on the label. Besides the village/hamlet designations, a Prosecco may also be made from grapes of a single specific vineyard (this is a winery decision and not part of the officially regulations). Then there’s the legendary Cartizze subzone, known as Valdobbiadene Superiore di Cartizze, an entire south-facing hillside in Valdobbiadene of 106 hectares with over 140 proprietors.

While we all think of Prosecco as a sparkling (spumante) wine, it also can be fizzy (frizzante) and there’s even a rare still version known as Tranquillo. While the Glera grape is the principal player in Prosecco, there are also several other native varieties of Conegliano Valdobbiadene that can make a notable impact even in small quantities (especially if they come from old vines, of which there are many in the area). The amount of residual sugar in a Prosecco DOCG also varies considerably and makes a huge difference in the final product. “Dry” (with 17-32 grams of residual per liter) is actually the sweetest type of Prosecco; “Brut” (0-12 grams per liter) is the driest; and “Extra-Dry” is in between.

Finally, while the vast majority of Prosecco Superiore is made using the Italian Method developed at the Conegliano enology school over a century ago, it is also possible to conduct the second fermentation in bottle, either in the traditional process known as Col Fondo in which the sediment (fondo) is left in the bottle, or the Metodo Classico in which it is removed.

There’s something for most every palate and every occasion so dive into Conegliano Valdobbiadene Prosecco DOCG and have fun exploring what makes it simply, distinctively Superiore!

Great European Garnacha/Grenache for Toasting #GarnachaDay 2017

Garnacha, one of Spain’s signature red wine grape varieties, is known and loved as “Grenache” in France, where it enjoys exceptional plantings in the warm Mediterranean climate of Roussillon. While staking claims on being one of the oldest and widest planted red wine grapes in the world, with its origins firmly planted in the varied terroirs of Spain and France, the EU boasts over 97% of the grape’s plantings on an international level.

Garnacha/Grenache – The Grape: Early to bud, often last to harvest, this hardy, thin-skinned red grape is thought to have originated in the landlocked region of Aragon in northeastern Spain. Because Garnacha/Grenache acclimates quickly to the varying demands of crazy continental climates as well as the warm weather patterns of the Mediterranean like a champ, it is a go-to grape for all sorts of winemaking missions. From world class rosés to concentrated collectibles and fortified favorites, and routinely bottled as a key contributor in synergistic blends or flying solo as a single variety, Garnacha/Grenache brings plenty of vinous charm and outright versatility to the winemaker’s cellar. After all, what other single grape variety can lay creative claim to redwhite, and rosé, dry, off-dry, and sweet, fortified along with sparkling wine renditions?

Garnacha/Grenache Flavor Profiles: In general, Spain and Southern France’s warm, sunbaked growing season gives rise to well-ripened Garnacha/Grenache grape clusters that may carry considerable sugar, which converts to elevated alcohol levels in the bottle. Ranging from medium to full-bodied, often hauling higher alcohol levels (15% is not uncommon), with lower levels of innate acidity, and sporting thinner skins that give way to modest tannins all balanced by engaging aromatics, Garnacha/Grenache shines bright with delicious ripe red fruit character. Expect a berry medley to take center stage with raspberry, strawberry, blackberry and cherry dominating initial impressions. Peppery influences along with cinnamon and cloves, earth and herbs, chocolate and coffee, savory spice and smoky notes may all debut in the bottle. Tapping into old vines that produce lower yields, allows many Garnacha/Grenache vineyard managers to deliver assertive wines with remarkable flavor intensity that showcase a rich, full-bodied, concentrated palate profile. Just to keep things interesting, Garnacha/Grenache may also be crafted as delicious white wine, ranging from fresh and mineral-driven to rich, round and full-bodied, dubbed appropriately as “Garnacha Blanca” or “Grenache Blanc.”

Pairing Picks for Garnacha/Grenache: With its less intense acidity and tamer tannin levels offset by ripe fruit forward flavors, European-style Garnacha/Grenache is a versatile, food-friendly partner for all sorts of delicious fare. A natural for grilled meat, smoked baby back ribs, a mix of regional barbecue, burgers, brats and brisket, chorizo and shrimp paella, seasonal gazpacho, Serrano ham and Manchego, slow roasted lamb, chicken stuffed with chorizo, lentils, the Paleo favorite of bacon-wrapped dates, spicy tacos and burritos, hearty stews, and meat lover’s pizza, Garnacha/Grenache promises and delivers some serious pairing partnerships.

Regional Garnacha/Grenache in Spain and Roussillon:
Today, Garnacha/Grenache finds firm footing throughout Spain and the Roussillon region of France. In Spain, the most passionate producers and classic wines can be found from these five DO regions: Campo de Borja, Terra Alta, Somontano, Cariñena and Calatayud.  Campo de Borja, the self-proclaimed “Empire of Garnacha,” was the first to embrace and develop the concept of modern varietal Garnacha wines. Its picturesque wine route is a haven for wine country tourists. Terra Alta, the white Garnacha specialist, delivers mineral-driven wines that highlight the grape’s versatility. Somontano approaches the grape with a New World spin, crafting luxury wines built to age. Cariñena  is an up and coming region that combines altitude, wind, significant diurnal temperature swings with old vine concentration, but let’s face it Cariñena is not quite a household name (yet!) for Spanish wine growing regions, which means that the price to quality ratios are still stellar. Calatayud often delivers its Garnacha in a versatile light. From intense, hot pink rosés to full throttle, full-bodied high-octane reds.  Grenache is the enterprising go-getter of Roussillon, backed by 28 centuries of vineyard prowess and a coveted Mediterranean climate, this French wine growing region is bringing laser-like focus to biodynamic and organic wine offerings. From the Spanish border along the coast, the Roussillon region caters to old Grenache vines that produce both dry and fortified wines from the grape.

Classified as PDOs (Protected Designation of Origin) by the European Union, wines from all of these regions are upheld to strict standards to ensure the highest level of quality.

8 Popular Garnacha/Grenache Bottles to Try (all under $20) – Delve into the delicious array of European style Garnacha or Grenache from a variety of regions and styles at stellar values with prices ranging from $10-20.

 

Riding out Summer with Regional Rosé

Whether it’s rosé (France), rosato (Italy), rosado (Spain), Tavel (Rhone Valley) or simply “blush wine” – these region-specific wine terms point unashamedly to pink wine. Rosé wines are the rising stars and delightful chameleons of the wine industry. Ranging in color from hot pink to salmon and copper to pale blush, there are countless shades running from soft and subtle to loud and proud depending on which grapes were utilized and how long the grape skins were in contact with the juice. Happily, the versatile nature of rosé wines doesn’t stop there! Rosés also come in a wide range of styles: sweet, off-dry or bone dry with most Mediterranean sources of distinct rosés being decidedly dry.

Rosé Wine: Color and Character

Rosé wines are essentially red wine grapes in summer suits. Most rosés are derived solely from red grape varieties (though some producers blend red and white wine together to find their perfect pink). During a brief encounter with grape skins, the must (juice) takes on more subtle color variations; however, the longer the contact time the more vibrant the pink hues tend to become. Shades of pink are also significantly influenced by the type of grapes used for the specific rosé wine. Typically, the thicker the grapes’ skins, the more vibrant color pigments they can offer a vat of must.

Which Grapes Reign Pink?

The most popular grapes for initiating a bottle of rosé are Syrah, Grenache, Cinsault, Mouvedre, Merlot, Malbec, Zinfandel, Cabernet Sauvignon, Pinot Noir, Tempranillo, and Sangiovese. These grape varieties may either be used solo or in a synergistic blend, with many regional rosé offerings basing their grape picks on the more prolific red wine varieties found in each growing zone. For example, many of Italy’s rosatos are founded on the popular Tuscan grape, Sangiovese. Likewise, Spain’s rosados find firm footing with the high-profile Tempranillo or Garnacha grapes coming out of the Rioja region.

Rosé Wine Flavors and More

Typically delivering more body than a white wine, but lacking the tannic grip of a dry red, rosé wines tend to be more subtle versions of their red wine counterparts. The fruit character steers toward red berry profiles with strawberry, cherry, and raspberry along with significant citrus and watermelon debuting on a regular basis. Rosés enjoy a happy range of palate profiles, running from completely dry to fairly fruity and sometimes sweet, depending on the region and producer. If you prefer dry and exceptionally food-friendly wine? Then scout for Mediterranean rosés from southern France, Spain or Italy.

Rosé: Food Pairings

While often enjoyed as an engaging aperitif, rosés are remarkably adept at pairing with a wide range of regional foodie finds. Generally carrying higher levels of mouth-watering acidity, these pink drinks are easy pairing partners. From the quintessential Mediterranean cuisine of fresh fish and signature tapas to summer salads, shellfish or the smoky fare of South American entrees and carrying on quite well with the burgers, brats and pub grub of many American treats, well-chilled rosés promise to be one of the most adaptable wine pairing picks around.

Where to Drink Pink: Regional Recommendations

 

 

 

Washington Wine

Brimming with a pioneer spirit, Washington state is not just host to some of our country’s biggest success stories like Microsoft, Amazon, Starbucks, and Costco, it has actually become America’s second largest wine producer, after California! Doubling in the last 10 years from 450 in 2006 to over 900 today, it boasts an exploding number of wineries. On top of that, out of Washington’s 900 wineries, nearly 850 are small, and family owned.

Presently, the state has more than 50,000 acres of vines spread out across its diverse landscapes from evergreen forests in the west to sagebrush desert in the east where a particular mixture of soils contribute to making Washington wine truly unique.

Washington Wine Map. From Washington State Wine.

With the exception of two (Puget Sound and Columbia Gorge), all of the AVAs of Washington state are actually sub-AVAs of the larger Columbia Valley. This valley is the center of a soil base of basalt bedrock. On top of this base are the soils of the Missoula Floods, a series of 30 cataclysmic floods occurring after the last Ice Age 15,000 years ago. After the damn of the glacial lake covering parts of Montana and Canada broke, it sent huge rivers of water rushing from Western Montana, across the state and out to the Willamette Valley of Oregon. It brought with it granite and well-drained, clay-poor soils. On top of the Missoula Floods layer are loess and wind deposits that have been scattered and blown over the landscape for years. These vary from four to 50 feet deep in places.

In the eastern part of the state, where almost all of its AVAs are located (14 total in the Washington), this windy and rolling landscape has a dry and arid climate; this combined with the soils make the area inhospitable to phylloxera, an aphid-like insect that feeds on grapevine roots. This extraordinary set of climate and soil conditions means that vine grafting is not needed and virtually all of the state’s vines grow on their own rootstocks, which some would argue makes a more authentic wine.

While the state produces wine from well over 40 varieties, it particularly excels in making fantastic wines from Cabernet Sauvingon, Merlot, and Syrah for reds and Riesling and Chardonnay for whites. Here are some of our favorites, which we find to all express the spirit of Washington wine!

The 2013 Figgins Estate Red is a truly remarkable blend. Consisting of Cabernet Sauvignon, Petit Verdot, and Merlot, it shows a pretty mix of aromas of cocoa powder, forest floor, and red cherry. A full and ripe palate brimming with black fruit, which leads to a long, fine-grained finish. This is a special one that will lie down in the cellar for a few years!

Figgins Family Wine Estates fall release party, Walla Walla, Washington. From Washington State Wine.

One of the most famous and arguably the best Cabernet vineyards in the state, the Champoux Vineyard in Horse Heaven Hills, turns out some of the most supple and well-balanced reds. Januik Winery 2014 Cabernet Sauvignon shows exotic aromas of dried flowers and florest floor. The palate explodes with black and red berries; the finish is full of sweet, velveteen tannins.

Wines of Substance Super Substance Stoneridge 2013 Merlot is a great example of what Washington is capable of. Pronounced aromas of blackberry pie, conserve, and cola give way to a big, juicy, and ripe fruit flavors, a hint of espresso, black licorice, and a good depth in the finish.

Les Collines vineyard in spring, Walla Walla, Washington. From Washington State Wine.

Syrah absolutely flourishes in many of Washington’s AVAs. Gramercy Cellars 2013 The Deuce Syrah is a benchmark Washington Syrah and will remind avid Syrah lovers of Northern Rhone. The Syrah grapes come from three vineyards in Walla Walla: Les Collines, Forgotten Hills, and Old Stones. Aromas of violets, olives, and white pepper balance the savory flavors and stony, mineral texture.

Eroica 2015 Riesling offers an amazing balance of ripe citrus fruit, intriguing floral notes, and a mouth-watering acidity typical of Washington Riesling.

Abeja Vineyard, Walla Walla, Washington. From Washington State Wine.

The Abeja Chardonnay gives pleasant aromas of white flowers and pear. On the palate its unctuous texture is balanced by a refreshing acidity. Flavors of lemon chiffon and nectarine come to mind.

To search out more Washington wines to try, follow this link.

For everything you wanted to know about Washington wine, check out the Washington State Wine website.

The Blanc Side of Bordeaux

Hailed as one of the top wine producing regions in the world, Bordeaux typically brings to mind bold red wines worthy of the cellar.

But the white wines of Bordeaux are not to be overlooked. These bottles should have a place on your dinner table and at parties all summer long! These wines offer a diverse selection, from bright and easy-drinking to complex, layered, and age-worthy.

If you’re hesitant to try whites from this dominantly red region, you should know that until relatively recently, up to 60% of Bordeaux vineyards were planted to white grapes—reds only came to dominate plantings after a devastating frost in 1956 wiped out most of the white grapevines. While frost destruction was the catalyst for change, the move to more red grape plantings was due to a combination of factors including market demand, better soil-grape matching expertise and the desire to move away form the production of high volume base wines for the spirits industry.

The good news here is that though white wine production may be limited, the attention to detail and dedication to selecting vineyard locations with suitable soil types and mesoclimate make the wines noteworthy. Furthermore, over the past decade or so, producers have been making productive changes to combat issues of oxidation and insufficient aromatics in their white wines. One important change has been improved canopy management, meaning each vine bears the appropriate number of grapes, and these grapes get to see the right amount of sun at the right time. What does that do? It creates healthier grapes, and as well all know, healthier grapes make better wine. Once these healthier grapes enter the cellar, producers focus on keeping fermentation temperatures low, which preserves the fresh aromatics and acidity of the grapes, which is particularly important for Sauvignon Blanc. In summary, the white wines of Bordeaux are thriving due to the use of healthier grapes and better winemaking techniques.

White Bordeaux wines are comprised of three primary grapes: Semillon, Sauvignon Blanc and Muscadelle. One may occasionally see small quantities of varieties such as Sauvignon Gris among blends, but this is fairly rare. Like the red wines of Bordeaux, many of the best white wines are blends, with a focus on creating a balanced wine with character and complexity. The range of varieties available for blending allows for a diverse selection of wine styles. A few styles and regions to look for include:

Bordeaux – the largest appellation of them all! Some of the prestigious red appellations cannot be used on the labels of white wine, so you may just see “Bordeaux.” Many Bordeaux-appellated whites are simple and easy drinking, while others are more complex and noteworthy. Be sure to read the descriptions for these wines, as they could be light and fresh or more mineral-driven and intense. While both are delicious, the appellation itself is so diverse, it’s important to educate yourself before you buy.

Entre-Deux-Mers – Fresh, easy drinking, and value-oriented, white wines of Entre-Deux-Mers (which means between two seas) are the style you want to sip as an aperitif on a hot summer day or with fresh ceviche. Typically dominated by Sauvignon Blanc, these white wines are all about refreshing acidity and lively fruit flavors.

Graves – Named for the gravelly soils of the region, Graves is ideal for producing complex, often age-worthy white wines. With mineral-tinged notes paired with complex fruit and floral notes, these wines are ideal for accompanying a meal and often benefit from a few years in the bottle so the flavors can integrate.

Pessac-Leognan – The cru-level white wines live here, in a small region within Graves. This is where you see higher prices and higher quality. You may call these cerebral wines—not always easy to define in their levels of nuance, but certainly worth sipping to try to find out! These are perfect for a special meal and can easily enjoy some time in the cellar.