Category Archives: White Varietals

Rias Baixas & Albarino – Choices of Style

Albariño, from the coastal region of Rías Baixas, the grape’s birthplace, is celebrated worldwide for its signature qualities – vibrant acidity, fresh, fruit-forward aromatics and versatility to pair with a wide range of foods. What wine lovers and Albariño enthusiasts may not realize is the variety’s spectrum of styles — and the new winemaking techniques being implemented throughout Rías Baixas and its sub-regions. While often bottled and consumed young, this world-class variety continues to evolve in surprising ways. The grape’s natural characteristics lend itself to a variety of winemaking techniques and styles, including:

  1. Wild Yeasts: Some winemakers favor the use of wild yeasts during fermentation. This practice can be challenging as the winemaker has less control over which exact yeasts are present, but the technique also enhances the grape’s authentic characteristics in the wine and adds complexity.
  2.  Barrel fermentation and/or aging: Aromatic grapes (like Albariño) typically avoid oak. Barrel contact can dull or mute the aromatics and freshness of the grape, which leaves the wine flabby and uninteresting. But in certain years (particularly warm ones that produce riper, richer grapes), controlled barrel fermentation or aging can truly enhance Albariño — adding texture and extending the wine’s potential to age. More winemakers are experimenting with this option.
  3. Lees Aging: Those little particles post-fermentation can be pretty powerful. The lees, otherwise known as dead yeast, are often removed immediately following fermentation. However, allowing the wine to stay on the lees can add tremendous benefit. Producers in Rías Baixas are using this technique to highlight texture, flavor and freshness.

These different techniques ensure that tasting Albariño will never be boring. Stock up on a few bottles to experience the unique styles of each!

Germany: Light, refreshing and underrated

If you think you know German wine, think again. German wines are some of the most complex, interesting and delicious wines in the world. If you are a German wine fan, you are aware of this little secret, but for those who skip the tall bottles labeled with unfamiliar German text, you are missing out. Through my wine-centered academic pursuits, I often encounter resistance to look past one’s own inexperience with German labeling and pronunciation, and that is a shame. If we can add foreign terms like “Chateau” and “Grand Cru” to our wine vocabulary, we can learn to recognize the German counterparts of “Schloss” and “Grosses Gewächs” — and open ourselves up to a whole new world of electric Rieslings and elegant Pinots. Here are some educational tid-bits that may help you in understanding and buying German wine — you’ll soon realize that reading German wine labels is as easy as drinking Riesling.

The White Grapes:
The most common grape associated with Germany is Riesling. Germany is the homeland of Riesling and it is the region’s most-planted varietal, so this is a reasonable association. In Germany’s cooler climate, Riesling quite often produces a dry wine, with an array of fruit flavors backed by incredibly refreshing acidity (hello, summer!) and a mineral undertone. What makes Riesling unique –and possibly misunderstood — is its ability to be bone dry yet carry such juicy and ripe fruit through its aromas and flavors. And oh, did I mention the crisp and refreshing acidity? And…should you prefer sweeter wines, no better place to find top-quality than Germany; late harvest German Riesling is some of the best and most age-worthy sweet wine in the world!

In addition to Riesling, Germany produces Müller-Thurgau, an easy-drinking, refreshing white wine with apple and pear flavors perfect for hot summer days, Silvaner,  a traditional variety in the Rheinhessen and Frankenregions that offers subtle notes of stone fruits with an herbal edge, Pinot Gris (also known as Grauburgunder) and Pinot Blanc (Weissburgunder). The latter two are grapes you probably know from other regions, but here in Germany they are a bit more rich and round than their other European counterparts, with loads of ripe fruit and soft acidity.

The Black Grapes:
While the region is most well-known for its fresh, elegant whites, Germany also produces bright, fruit-driven reds. Pinot Noir (also known as Spätburgunder) accounts for 11% of Germany’s total vineyard area, producing red wines with cherry, vanilla and pepper characteristics. In fact, Germany now grows more Pinot Noir than New Zealand and Australia combined, making Germany the third largest Pinot Noir producer in the world.

In addition to Pinot Noir, Germany produces Dornfelder – a thick-skinned grape that produces deeply colored red wines with flavors of blackberry, plum and Elder Flower. If you are hesitant to stock up on German wines because you fear it’s sweet or don’t understand the label, here are a couple of tips for diving in.

Understanding the wine style:
If you don’t want sweet, look for words that indicate dry. One of those terms used is Trocken. Trocken means “dry” in German and some wineries add this word to their labels to alert consumers that the particular wine is indeed dry. Then there is Grosses Gewächs. Sometimes shown as simply “GG” on the bottle, it means two things — first, it’s a dry style, and, second, it comes from a top vineyard site. Typically these will be higher in price, but also in quality. Kabinett, a term that indicates the sugar level of the grapes when they are picked, is typically light in body and can range from off-dry to drier in style. An easy way to determine just how dry the wine is? Look at the alcohol content. Kabinett Riesling with an alcohol level between 8-9% ABV will have more residual sugar, while drier styles can reach 12% ABV. If you want to start with Riesling on the delicate side, go to the Mosel. You will see Mosel on the label, but you can also tell because Mosel wines are bottled in a tall flute-shaped greenbottle. The Mosel, dominated by slate soils on steep slopes near rivers, produces some of the best quality dry (and sweet!) Riesling of Germany. Across all price points, these wines offer citrus and stone fruit, backed by a steely minerality. They are delicate and delicious and a perfect foray into the delights of German wine.

We encourage you to embrace German wines, especially this summer, and enjoy that perfect summer mix of delightful acidity and juicy fruit flavors. You will be the hit at every summer party!

 

The Albariño of Rías Baixas

As summer approaches, our minds dream up our next vacations; they take us to the café-lined streets of Paris, the sunny beaches of Bali, the snowy mountains of Mendoza…

For those of us who can’t exactly hop on a flight to our dream destination next week, certain wines – and their ability to reflect a distinct sense of place – can be the next best thing.  One example is Albariño from Rías Baixas, a white wine that almost tastes like sitting at the beach along Spain’s cool, misty northwest coast.

Rías Baixas is unlike anywhere else in Spain. The small coastal D.O. sits in the broader region of Galicia, also known as “Green Spain” due to its cool maritime climate and abundance of rain – a kind of oasis in a country known for its hot, dry summers.

This climate is a perfect match for Albariño, a thick-skinned grape variety native to the region. While there is plenty of rain in Rías Baixas, there is also ample sunlight, which allows Albariño to ripen and ultimately express notes of white peach, apricot, melon and honeysuckle. Still, the region’s cooling coastal influences produce wines that are light and elegant, chock-full of mouth-watering acidity. The wines often show a slight salinity, mirroring the cool, salty air in which their grapes thrive.

It is no surprise that Rías Baixas wines have burst onto the global wine stage, adored by trendy sommeliers and industry influencers. Comparable to some of the most renowned white wines in the world, Albariño from Rías Baixas offers exceptional value – you can get all the crisp acidity and minerality of a Chablis or a Sancerre for a fraction of the cost. The wine’s fresh style also makes it an ideal pairing with a wide range of foods, but it really shines with its region’s staple cuisine: seafood.

So, what are you waiting for? Pour a glass, grill some oysters, and take a mini-vacation at your dinner table.

The perfect match: New Zealand and Sauvignon Blanc

While many regions produce incredible and delicious Sauvignon Blanc, and while New Zealand produces a myriad of top-quality varietals, there is no combination quite like Sauvignon Blanc from New Zealand.

New Zealand arrived on the international wine scene in 1979 — not long ago, even by New World standards — when Montana Wine Company produced its first Sauvignon Blanc from Marlborough vineyards. Over the next decade, the country’s reputation transformed from “small island near Australia” to “wine-producing powerhouse.”

Sauvignon Blanc took over a larger proportion of New Zealand’s production in the 1980s, when a wine glut led to government-ordered vine-pulling. In response, most wineries pulled out the less noble varietals Muller-Thurgau and Chenin Blanc. That same decade saw a Phylloxera outbreak that led to re-plantings of Sauvignon Blanc on Phylloxera-resistant rootstock.

In 1985, Cloudy Bay launched its Marlborough Sauvignon Blanc in that distinctive style we now associate with most New Zealand Sauvignon Blanc. This wine burst onto the global stage and arguably put New Zealand Sauvignon Blanc on the world wine map.

So, what is it about New Zealand Sauvignon Blanc that has consumers ditching their by-the-glass Pinot Grigios? First, the style is distinctive. For new and experienced wine drinkers alike, there is something to be said about intense aromatics. New Zealand Sauvignon Blanc offers a consistent bouquet of lime, grapefruit, cut grass, herbaceous undertones and a touch of bell pepper. It’s immensely appealing, refreshing and memorable. People describe it unlike any other wine – zesty, prickly, feisty, electric, zingy… descriptors that make your taste buds wake up and sing!

As we move through spring and into summer, New Zealand Sauvignon Blanc will certainly be a staple in my fridge and a go-to for pool parties and summer-evening soirees.

Wine Pairing Strategies for Thai and Sushi

Let’s face it Asian fare is downright delicious, but it can be tricky to find solid wine pairing partnerships given the dynamic fusion of flavors, spices and otherwise exotic ingredients. In general, spicy themes beg for a wine that tames the heat with a touch of sweet (think German Riesling and off-dry Gewurztraminer). So, wines that carry higher levels of alcohol and lean heavily into oak, tend to overwhelm many of the innate flavors of Thai and sushi finds.

Wine Pairing: Thai

From super savory to feel-the-heat spicy green curries and creamy coconut milk textures to the full-on fusion of sour, sweet, salty and bitter found in your favorite Pad Thai, there is plenty of variety and culinary innovation busting out of most modern Thai dishes. When it comes to partnering up a wine, there are several things to consider.

  1. Sweet tames heat: for super spicy dishes, grab a wine that carries its own dash of residual sugar. This bit of sweet puts out the flames of hot red and green chili peppers quite well and fans the flames of flavor integration. German Rieslings at 9% abv or less are no-brainers for spicier curries.
  2. Bold flavors beg for less bold wines: Austria’s groovy Gruner Vetliner delivers savory flavors all wrapped up in rich fruit that won’t compete with the bolder flavors, but lighter weight of shrimp Pad Thai or more mild curries.
  3. Acidity is a good thing: when you’ve got moderate protein, a mix of funky flavors and exotic aromas and typically a starch base of noodles or rice, wines that deliver a dose of zesty acidity tend to highlight the flavors and carry the dish with added dimension.

 Quick Pairing Picks:

Wine Pairing: Sushi

Salty seaweed, wasabi, pickled ginger and raw fish. Not one of the easier pairings by any standards, but fully capable of showing fantastic potential with a handful of wine styles. As you increase the spice component, you want to decrease the alcohol levels or the alcohol will just amplify the heat and douse the flavors. For super versatile, tried and true pairings, you can rarely go wrong with off-dry Gewurztraminer or German Riesling (again). However, for more detailed menu matching, sometimes it’s easier to start with the protein for pairing. Let’s check in on wines for these ultra-popular rolls.

  • Crab Roll: The basic crab roll is picture perfect for pairing with an Alsatian Gewurztraminer or classic German Riesling, both teaming with mouth-watering acidity and forward fruit. These wines promise to play extremely well with the crab, cucumber and avocado that typically pack themselves into your everyday crab roll. Want to turn it up a notch? Give it a go with an off-dry Vouvray, based on the Chenin Blanc grape, that brings zippy acidity, round textures and lots of minerality that plays off the briny character of the crab meat.
  • Spicy Tuna Roll: The extroverted flavors and palate weight of the traditional spicy tuna roll call for a wine that shares many of the same characteristics. Enter Viognier. Highly aromatic, showing plenty of apricot and honeysuckle on the nose with more on display on the palate, Viognier echoes many of the characteristics of the roll itself – fresh, fuller bodied, complicated, versatile with rich silky textures.
  • California Roll: Avocado, cucumber and crab. Does it get any better than that? Well, with sushi, yes…often it does! But, the basic California roll is still loved by young and old alike, it’s a great introduction to all things sushi and provides a snappy pairing with everything from Alsatian Rieslings with their drier styles or the often herbaceous, topped with sunny citrus New World Sauvignon Blanc.
  • Tempura Shrimp Roll: The crispy, fried textures of the tempura make sparkling wines and Champagne a must-have glass for cutting through the yummy, fatty flavor profiles of your basic tempura shrimp roll.
  • Salmon Roll: Most salmon rolls show well with sparkling and still roses. The sparkling roses promise to cut through the fatty textures and clean the palate in one fell swoop.
  • Eel Roll (aka: Unagi or Dragon Roll): Earthy and briny, eel rolls work exceptionally well with the full-throttle aromatics and slightly sweeter side of Gewurztraminer, as does the snazzy, sweet, soy-based Unagi sauce that usually accompanies the roll.

 Quick Pairing Picks: