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!

 

White Bordeaux: Refreshing elegance in a glass

In summer, we crave white wines with bright acidity. But the last thing we want is palate boredom with the same-old go-to Sauvignon Blanc we buy by the case. Enter the white wines of Bordeaux. Complex and diverse, these wines offer a style for every palate and every occasion, and all put forth zesty acidity to keep you refreshed, whether you’re melting in the summer heat or need a perfect wine to pair with your meal. If you only think of Bordeaux as a source for red wines, then it is time to take notice of these fabulous whites.

The three grape varieties that are used in the majority of white Bordeaux wines are Sauvignon Blanc, Semillon and Muscadelle. Occasionally, one may see small quantities of other varieties, such as Sauvignon Gris, in the blend. Like the red wines of the region, many of Bordeaux’s best white wines are blends – elegantly balanced wines with character and complexity. The range of varieties available for blending, added to the diversity of Bordeaux soils and micro-climates, makes for an almost endless selection of wines – each showcasing its distinctive style and terroir.

How to choose the right white Bordeaux?

If you are looking for something fresh, fruity and light, look for Bordeaux AOC (just Bordeaux on the label!) or Entre-Deux-Mers on the label.  These wines are typically unoaked, easy-drinking and value-driven. Predominantly from Sauvignon Blanc, these white wines are all about refreshing acidity and lively fruit flavors. They are meant to be drunk young and are ideal with fish, poultry, salads or served as an aperitif. Our favorites are:

Château Marjosse Blanc 2015 – Clean, refreshing and lively, the floral and fruit notes shine through on this wine. A value at $15, its made by the producers of the esteemed Cheval Blanc.

Château Bonnet Blanc 2016 – Loads of citrus and ripe melon on the nose and palate. A medium-body but zesty acidity make this ideal for summer days and a shellfish dish.

Clos des Lunes Lune d’Argent 2015 – A dry wine from the sweet wine region of Sauternes, this wine is predominately Semillon. Stone fruit and a full body on the palate, but lifted by fresh acidity.

If you prefer something with some steely minerality, layers of complexity, discrete well-integrated oak and possibly some aging potential, head over to Graves, located on the left bank just south of the city of Bordeaux. Both the Graves region and its smaller sub-region of Pessac-Léognan, produce some of the most complex, age-worthy white wines in the world. Our affordable favorites include:

Clos Floridene Blanc 2015 – A phenomenal vintage for both reds and whites, the Floridene Blanc has so much going on in the nose. From white flowers to lemon curd, backed by ripe nectarine and subtle herbal notes. The mineral-laced palate covers your mouth and lingers until you must take another sip. Stellar wine to drink now or hang onto!

Château Couhins-Lurton Blanc 2015 – An exotic spice note hums along through this wine, with the classic mineral and citrus notes of a dry Bordeaux Blanc. A rich mouthfeel, but again, with great acidity, makes this a worthwhile partner to a decadent meal.

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.

Tempranillo – The Ultimate Grilling Wine

Located in the heart of Spain, Ribera del Duero is Tempranillo country. Thanks to a heady mix of cool nights and sizzling hot days, it’s the perfect climate for bringing out the best in the region’s bold style of Tempranillo.

Ribera del Duero – The Grape

Hands-down the Ribera del Duero’s shining star is the Tempranillo grape, known locally as Tinto Fino. The region’s rugged climate forces Tempranillo to ripen with thicker skins, more pigmentation and higher levels of acidity, which all translates to high-powered, meat-loving tannins, vibrant color pigments and incredible aromatic profiles in the glass. The wines of Ribera del Duero show an alluring mix of supple intensity and extreme food-pairing versatility.

Ribera del Duero – A Griller’s Delight!

When it comes to the best wines for grilled grub, red wines typically top the list. Wines that can handle smoked sausage, grilled steaks, poultry, pork and a kabob of seasonal veggies and assorted meat should carry their own balance of fruit, acidity and structure. Tempranillo brings all three key components to the grill and generously offers up exceptional food pairing partnerships.

  • Grilled Salmon: Tempranillo can also show its versatility in partnering up with the likes of grilled salmon, where the wine’s innate fruit character shows up bright as a backdrop against the variety of seasonings and marinades that often wrap themselves around a summery salmon filet. Serving tip: serve cool at around 55-60 degrees especially for lighter fare like salmon
  • Grilled Chicken: Whether slathered in barbecue sauce or simply seasoned with fresh herbs and a squeeze of lemon, grilled chicken is an easy pairing partner for Tempranillo’s earthy character and fruit forward (often black cherry and strawberry) nature.
  • Grilled Pork: From tenderloin to pork chops, Tempranillo is a master pairing partner with all things pork. Maybe it’s the traditional pairing roots of Jamón ibérico or maybe it’s that Ribera del Duero’s higher acidity cuts through the dry spice rubs and always handy barbecue sauces with familiar ease, either way Tempranillo is a no-brainer for pork themes whether grilled, slow cooked or cured.
  • Steak, Burgers and Brats: Ribera del Duero’s full-throttle tannins can make it a steak lover’s dream. The wine’s tannin astringency is easily tamed by the steaks fatty components and the flavors of both are deliciously elevated. Tempranillo also carries its own smoky character, thanks to oak’s happy influence, which gives it an edge to serving with a wide range of smoked, grilled and cured meats.
  • Veggies? Yes! Don’t let the “red wine with meat” myth steer you away from the grilling adventure of salt and pepper veggie kabobs. Tempranillo is one of the most versatile reds around. Sometimes Tempranillo comes across like a spicy Pinot Noir. The wine’s herbal, earth-driven character can make it an unforgettable partner for the concentrated, sweet flavors of lightly charred veggies.
  • Solo: We aren’t the only ones that like to sip a glass while turning steaks on the barbie. A glass of Tempranillo while pulling grill patrol is the perfect way to get the party started.

Ribera del Duero’s Tempranillo promises loads of blackberry, black cherry and blueberry fruit in tandem with an earthy mineral-driven, tobacco-induced flavor profile. Full throttle fruit and integrated structure, along with Tempranillo’s sassy style and versatile pairing nature make it a top pick wine for serving with a wide variety of grilled fare this summer.

Want to give Tempranillo a go with the grill? Check these out:

 

 

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.

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