Tag Archives: red wine

Buying Bordeaux on a Budget

Located along the Atlantic Ocean in the Southwest area of France, Bordeaux is the largest major wine appellation in the country. It offers 65 sub-appellations within its borders, and boasts over 277,000 acres of land under vine. While red wines account for 85% of the total production in Bordeaux, there is also dry white, sweet, rosé and sparkling styles produced – something for everyone.

Thanks to modern vineyard and cellar practices, very good to great wine can be produced in Bordeaux each year. With its maritime and variable climate, vintage variation is common, with some years being riper, more opulent and powerful, while others are more ‘classic’ in style, with more subtle flavors and lighter body.

As the notion of red Bordeaux as an exclusive collector wine dwindles, more consumers see the value and quality of Bordeaux at all price points.  In fact, modestly priced Bordeaux has never been better.  As indicated earlier, improved vineyard practices and more plot-by-plot viticulture in Bordeaux have resulted in some of the best values on the market, with wines that are clean and complex, but still anchored to a true sense of place.

So now you ask, where to start when you search for a great – yet affordable – Bordeaux for your dinner table? A few tips for the beginner Bordeaux drinker.

  1. Snag any wine from a “great” vintage
    Sometimes the stars align just right and the weather in Bordeaux is perfect through harvest, the vines stay healthy and vignerons pick just at the right moment. Critics praise this as a “great” vintage. When one of these years come around, snagging any bottle of wine even when you are not sure of the producer is a safe bet. Healthy grapes make great wine. The most recent great vintages were 2015 and 2016, though some 2016 have not made it to the global market yet. 2014 was also very good, noted as more elegant and less bold or opulent so if you enjoy subtle and refined, 2014 may be your year. Bordeaux and Bordeaux Superior wines from these vintages are ready to be enjoyed now, though could evolve even more in your cellar over the next few years… up to you! Either way, with the quality out there, it’s time to stock up!
  2. Look to the Côtes
    Once operating as their own entities, the “côtes” of Bordeaux joined forces to create “Union de Côtes de Bordeaux.” Previously labeled as Côtes de Castillon or Côtes de Francs, these regions now promote a larger Côtes de Bordeaux association as Francs, Côtes de Bordeaux or Castillon, Côtes de Bordeaux. This allows smaller, lesser-known regions to better associate with the more internationally recognizable name Bordeaux. These Côtes are on the right bank, meaning red wines predominantly based on the Merlot grape. Typically more approachable when young, the Côtes wines are affordable, intensely flavored and delicious.
  3. Strong producers typically fare well no matter what mother nature delivers.
    Certain producers, the ones you see year after year on the shelf, craft great wine in nearly every vintage, whether it’s good, very good or great. Not to say the wine will taste the same year-to-year (that’s the beauty of Bordeaux), but the quality will be consistent and worth enjoying.

Bordeaux creates some of the most food-friendly wines in world, and when you can get top quality at incredible prices, it deserves a place on the table. Enjoy!

 

Grab a Glass of European Garnacha (aka Grenache) for #GarnachaDay

 

 

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.

 

 

Bordeaux: It’s for everyone

Innovative yet traditional, easy-drinking yet complex, delicious and approachable now but also able to sustain the long haul, that’s Bordeaux in a nutshell. It’s a rather large and diverse nutshell, but the point is that while Bordeaux is the quintessential region for wine aficionados and collectors, it is also the region for the everyday wine drinker. Once the basics are introduced, anyone can embrace and understand the wines of Bordeaux.

Located along the Atlantic Ocean in the Southwest area of France, Bordeaux is the largest major appellation of France. It has 65 sub-appellations within its borders, and boasts over 275,000 hectares (nearly 275,00 acres) of land under vine. Red wine dominates Bordeaux today, representing 85% of its total production, though the dry whites, sweet wines, and even harder-to-find sparkling and rosé, are top quality. While Bordeaux has a tough climate—its proximity to the ocean makes it a fairly wet place, prone to disease and pests—its winemakers are striving for sustainability. The push for sustainable winegrowing and winemaking has taken hold.

With so many wine regions of the world to choose from, and so many of them newer than Bordeaux, why would you choose it? The answer is its diversity and sustainability.

Diversity
From white, rosé, red, and world-class sweet wines, Bordeaux has many families of wine at all different price points. Over the past century, Bordeaux has continued to focus on its terroir, finding the right grape for the right soil and microclimate, and making sure those grapes are expertly nurtured. For the white wine lover, excellent value wines labeled as from Entre-Deux-Mers or AOB Bordeaux Blanc deliver zesty acidity and ripe citrus fruit flavors in its wines. For more complexity and ageability, try the whites from the Graves district—in particular its sub-region or enclave Pessac Léognan.

Red wines range from delightfully fresh to dense, sappy and ready-to-drink to cellar-worthy. If you are looking for something to drink now that is fruit driven yet dense, and want something fruit-driven yet dense, try values from Fronsac, Castillon—Côtes-de-Bordeaux, or Francs—Côtes-de-Bordeaux. Bright and fresh qualities can be found in recent vintages of wine labeled Bordeaux and Bordeaux Supérieur. Most of these wines are based on the Merlot grape and are approachable now. For the cellar, we head to the left bank where the communes of the Haut Médoc offer structured Cabernet-based wines, which, in particularly in good vintages, can be cellared for a many years.

Sustainability
Bordeaux has a maritime climate, which means climatic challenges. Rain at flowering or harvest increases disease pressure (aka likelihood of rot). While Bordeaux might not be top of mind when you think of organic, the push toward sustainable winegrowing and winemaking has definitely taken hold. Sustainability and environmental responsibilities are high priorities across Bordeaux today, and start early in the vineyard. Diverse cover crops are found between the vines, creating biodiversity and encouraging natural predators to help manage pest control. In addition, cover crops create mild competition, managing vine vigor and forcing vine roots to go deeper. Canopy management techniques have become more sophisticated to foster healthier vines and prevent or manage common diseases. These practices lessen the need for any additional chemical spraying.

 

Silver Oak Cabernet Sauvignon is a time-tested treat!

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Let’s go back in time to really understand how far Silver Oak Cellars has come. In the early 1970’s, Justin Meyer and Ray Duncan decided to launch a winery dedicated exclusively to making Cabernet Sauvignon, a bold move.  At this time, varietal wines had not yet become a reality in the United States. Most American wines were generic (Chablis, Burgundy and Vin Rose) or fortified wines (port, white port, tokay, muscatel). Serious table wines from California were not yet a reality. The French owned the market (Bordeaux, Burgundy, Beaujolais, etc.) So who are these renegades to create a winery dedicated exclusively to Cabernet Sauvignon? They were pioneers!

What came first? The label or the water tower?
Consumers recognize the iconic water tower on the Silver Oak label – and possibly from visiting the winery, as one sits above both tasting rooms in Alexander Valley and Napa. But alas, the label was not inspired by the water tower, in fact, it was inspired by original co-founder Bonny Meyer, who photographed upwards of 30 Napa Valley water towers. Meyer finally commissioned  John Farrell, a young local artist,  to create the Silver Oak label with the water tower image. The physical tower was built afterwards.

Today, the marketplace can’t get enough of Silver Oak. Huge crowds descend each year on the little town of Oakville on the winery’s well-orchestrated release day. Under the direction of winemaker Daniel Baron, Silver Oak Cabernet Sauvignon continues to improve remains one of Napa Valley’s most sought-after wines.

The 2010 Silver Oak Alexander Valley Cabernet serves up plenty of ripe fruit flavors, with an accent of savory herbs and a shading of sweet oak. Delicious now, especially with a highly marbled grilled rib eye of beef, this wine will enjoy development in the cellar for another 10-15 years. The winery’s chef Dominic Orsini recommends flank steak and salsa verde. Doesn’t that sound good? I am sure glad we have progressed since the 1970’s – Silver Oak Cabernet Sauvignon is a time-tested treat!

P.S. I love you! Time to explore Petite Sirah

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Once upon a time, there was this lonely grape called Petite Sirah. Upon discovery, farmers and winemakers loved this grape so much that they nicknamed it “petet serre” and said it very fast with a grin. The real name of the varietal is Durif (named after a French scientist who crossed Syrah and Peloursin at the end of the nineteenth century). For years, this varietal sat lonesomely on the shelves gathering dust. Customers breezed by it, reaching for Cabernet Sauvignon, Pinot Noir, Zinfandel and other more famous varietals. It is my intention to bring this varietal to the fore.

Not as ferocious as most Zinfandel, less stately than many Cabernet and much more robust than elegant Pinot Noir, Petite Sirah has found its home among people who simply enjoy wine and food without pretense.  I often call upon it for parties and when the gang comes by on the weekend for outdoor grilling and potluck meals. In today’s lesson, I have chosen three Petite Sirah for your enjoyment.

The 2012 The Crusher shows a shading of wood and plenty of pleasing grapiness. Coats the palate well and invites a plate of polish sausages, hot links and plain ‘ole hot dogs. For a fruiter style, with a bit less wood, I would go for the 2012 HandCraft. Perfectly poised, with its pretty red fruit flavors that pair nicely with roast chicken, I can almost feel the match on my palate. In the lighter and more elegant style, the easy-drinking 2012 Bogle does the trick nicely.

Not just for meals, Petite Sirah can serve as a cocktail wine to be paired with hors d’oeuvres. So take a trek off of the beaten path, snag one of these Petite Sirahs, and educate your palate about one of California’s hottest under-the-radar varietals. For more information, check out the group: P.S. I Love You, here is a link to their website.  I think I’ll grab a bottle of Petite Sirah to enjoy with a savory pot roast  for a comforting dinner on a foggy summer day in the city by the bay.