Category Archives: Wine Education

WINE (noun): the alcoholic fermented juice of fresh grapes used as a beverage

Source: Merriam-Webster

Drink Like a Founding Father this Independence Day

Back in the early days of  America, when water wasn’t always safe to drink due to lack of proper sanitation, our Founding Fathers needed to find some way to stay hydrated. Ingeniously, those clever men who brought us the Declaration of Independence also came up with a foolproof way to consume liquids without the risk of water-borne disease: alcohol. It was widely understood that alcohol killed bacterial contaminants, and while it came with its own set of risks, it was deemed much safer (and much more fun) to drink.

While distilled spirits and beer were popular choices, our Founding Fathers (especially noted connoisseur Thomas Jefferson) often turned to wine as their beverage of choice. Early attempts at planting grapes in the New World were unsuccessful, as the European grape varieties brought over by colonists were not suitable for surviving American pests and vine diseases. Therefore, imported wines were widely preferred. In honor of Independence Day, raise a glass of one of the following wines to our Founding Fathers:

Port

While today we think of this sweet, fortified Portuguese wine as an after-dinner drink, our Founding Fathers would often consume Port alongside the meal itself. If you prefer bright, fresh red fruit flavors, try a Ruby Port. For more complex notes of caramel, nuts, and dried fruits, turn to a Tawny style.

Sherry

Like Port, Sherry was also frequently drank with dinner. This fortified wine from Jerez, Spain comes in a wide variety of styles ranging from bone-dry to sticky-sweet, but the sweet-toothed  colonists tended to have a preference for the sugary stuff. Dry styles, like Fino, Amontillado, and Oloroso, can pair beautifully with a meal, while sweeter styles like Pedro Ximénez and Cream Sherry are perfect for dessert.

Scuppernong

You won’t find Scuppernong in many wine shops today, but in colonial times this was one of the few Native American grape varieties to be planted successfully with appealing results. In fact, Thomas Jefferson was so fond of it that he planted it at his Monticello estate. It is still produced by some wineries in North Carolina, where it is the official state fruit.

Bordeaux

This French import which is associated with class and quality today has maintained that stature since the days of our founders, when it was a favorite of Thomas Jefferson, George Washington, and John Adams. Back then, Bordeaux was also known as “Claret” – named as such for the pale color it took on in the early days of its production (the word is derived from the latin for “clear”). By the Colonial Era, it had come to resemble the deep red hue we know today, but the name stuck, and is still commonly used in the British wine trade.

Madeira

While Madeira’s heyday in America has long since passed, it was actually one of the most important alcoholic beverages in the days of our Founding Fathers. So important, in fact, that it was used to toast both the signing of the Declaration of Independence and the U.S. Constitution. George Washington is said to have drank a pint of Madeira every day with dinner. And with good reason—that stuff is delicious. Whether you prefer the searing acidity of the Sercial style or the candied sweetness of Malmsey, this intentionally oxidized and cooked fortified wine from the eponymous Portuguese island deserves to make a comeback. Why not give it a try this July 4th?

The Next Great Grape: Garnacha From Cariñena

At times, it can be a little bit tricky to keep up with the world of wine. Ancient grapes like Saperavi and Trousseau cycle back into fashion just as quickly as brand new regions are planted with vines. Learning about wine can sometimes feel a bit like waiting in line at Disneyland—once you’ve made it through the room of Cabernet, Pinot, and Chardonnay, you turn the corner and there’s a whole other room filled with obscure varieties and appellations to learn. In fact, the more you learn about wine, the more you realize there is still left to learn!

To help you stay ahead of the curve, we’ve done our homework on one of Spain’s most exciting up-and-coming regions. It’s still under the radar, so even your wine-loving friends will be impressed by your discovery. The region is Cariñena—open any reference book like the Wine Bible or the Oxford Companion to Wine, and you might find one mere sentence about this northeastern Spanish DO. Located in Aragon between Catalunya and the Pyrenees Mountains that form the border between France and Spain, wine has actually been made there since the Roman era, and DO status was achieved in 1932. So in reality, the only thing that’s new about this region is the public’s interest in it.

When we think of Spanish wines, we typically think of Rioja or the much younger DO Ribera del Duero. But with its signature Garnacha-based reds and other high-quality reds and whites, Cariñena is poised to become the next big thing from Iberia due both the affordability and crowd-pleasing approachability of its wines. While Garnacha is the most widely planted grape, Mazuelo (known elsewhere as Carignan, or Cariñena—a grape that originated in this region with which it shares its name), Syrah and Tempranillo are also common. These are used to produce smooth, fruit-forward red wines (often made from old vines) as well as bright, red-fruited dry rosés. White wines are commonly made from the Viura grape.

Since these wines are so budget-friendly, you have nothing to lose by giving them a try! Add a bottle to your next order and before long, you’ll be singing the praises of Cariñena to your uninitiated friends.

 

Provence: The Prescription for your Pink Wine Phobia

Do you suffer from a crippling fear of rose-tinted wines? Do you wander the aisles of the wine shop, shielding your eyes from bottles filled with cheerful pink liquid? Do you find yourself frustrated on a hot summer day when a glass of room-temperature red is insufficiently refreshing yet white seems insubstantial for pairing with your barbecued fare? If you answered “yes” to any of these questions, you may be suffering from a debilitating condition known in the oenophile community as “roséphobia.” If you or a loved one is suffering from this disorder, do not despair—hope is on the horizon.

The most effective treatment to combat roséphobia is exposure therapy. Many sufferers are simply unaware of the breadth and depth of styles of rosé wine available on the market, especially those who are traumatized by flashbacks of saccharine Mateus and other similar products popular in the second half of the 20th century. However, these distressing memories can quickly become a thing of the past through the discovery of dry, high-quality rosés, particularly those hailing from the Provence region of southeastern France. This treatment may be administered under the counsel of a skilled professional, but roséphobics may also explore these wines on their own, taking comfort in the knowledge that just about any bottle is a safe bet.

Unlike the nearly neon-hued, sugary blush wines of (mostly) yesteryear, the rosés of Provence possess an appealing pale salmon color that is easy on the eyes. This visual aspect is important, as the first sensory interaction a roséphobic will have with a wine is the observation of its pigment. The delicate appearance of Provençal rosé can provide reassurance to those undergoing therapy that they may expect to consume a wine of balance and finesse.

Interference with treatment may occur if a roséphobic makes the false assumption that the muted shade of these wines bears a correlation to a lack of flavor. In fact, these rosés can be quite substantial and structured. Almost always blends, they combine the best assets of various locally grown varieties for a superior flavor profile and mouthfeel. Grenache gives fresh berry aromas, Cinsault adds bright fruitiness, Carignan and Syrah provide body, color, and structure, Tibouren contributes elegance and aromatics, and Mourvèdre lends spice, floral notes, and firm tannins. Awareness of the capabilities of these grapes is an important step in preparing the skeptical roséphobic for the first sip.

The next phase of treatment is the tasting. Though it may seem intimidating, former roséphobics have been known to look back on this part as the moment they realized they were cured. It is recommended to combine this step with a proper Provençal meal in order to enhance enjoyment of the wine. For best results, try a traditional bouillabaisse—a seafood stew flavored with olive oil, garlic, saffron, and fresh herbs. Provence’s dry, structured, and zippy rosés with notes of red berries, watermelon, orange citrus, stony minerality, and the local garrigue (a mix of wild Mediterranean herbs including lavender, rosemary, and thyme) are the perfect accompaniment to such a hearty, flavorful dish. On their own, they are equally enjoyable, providing plenty of refreshment without sacrificing substance.

Once you have consumed your first glass of rosé from Provence, you are well on your way to recovery. In fact, you may very well eventually find yourself experiencing symptoms of rosé addiction, which include seeking out high-quality rosé wines from other regions, frequently planning picnics, and compulsively checking the internet for reasonably priced airfare to warm-weather destinations. This should not be cause for concern—eleven out of ten wine professionals agree that a moderate case of rosé addiction can be beneficial for your enjoyment of life. Though the initial diagnosis can be alarming, roséphobia is easily treatable and the prognosis for recovery is strong. If you know someone who is suffering from roséphobia, please help spread the word so that no wine lover is forced to live with this unnecessary and tragic condition.

 

 

 

 

 

Summer in a Bottle: The Albariño of Rías Baixas

Many regions throughout the world are known for a particular specialty—gastronomic or otherwise—but some more than others have the ability to conjure up vivid sensory memories. One such region is northwestern Spain’s Rías Baixas. To the uninitiated, this may just look like a confusingly-spelled set of words. But to those who have visited or tasted the wines and cuisine of this region, the phrase “Rías Baixas” is enough to make the mouth water, evoking the sensation of salinity in many different forms: a refreshing glass of white wine, a briny seafood meal, or the crisp, fresh air of a picturesque oceanside vista.

The wines of Rías Baixas owe much of their personality to the geography and terroir of the lush, verdant region. Situated along the Atlantic Coast, the relatively modern DO (established in the 1980s) is unique within Spain for its focus on white grapes, which thrive in this relatively cool, damp corner of the country. The name “Rías Baixas” (pronounced “re-ass by-shuss”) comes from Galician—”rías” is the word for the sharp estuaries that cut in to the “baixas,” or the lower-altitude region of southern Galicia. These narrow, finger-like bodies of water that stretch inland from the Atlantic Ocean contain a mix of fresh and salt water, making them an ideal home to an incredibly diverse array of delicious maritime creatures that make up the cuisine of the region. Hard granite soils combined with mineral-rich alluvial top soils provide optimal growing conditions for top quality white wine production.

The other key component of this region is its star grape variety: Albariño. While other varieties are permitted, Albariño makes up the vast majority of plantings, and with good reason. It has the ability to produce distinctive wines that maintain their unique varietal character in a wide range of styles, owing both to the diversity of the five different sub-zones and to winemaking decisions such as maceration length,  the use of wild yeast, barrel fermentation and ageing, malolactic fermentation, and lees contact.

Texturally, Albariño typically falls somewhere between a Sauvignon Blanc and a Chardonnay, while flavor-wise, floral perfume, zesty citrus, stone fruit, and minerality are ubiquitous. In the warmer sub-regions of Rías Baixas, ripe melon and peach flavors dominate, while bottlings from cooler climes are often marked by lean acidity as well as grapefruit and lemon notes. An undercurrent of salinity runs through most examples, making them an unparalleled pairing with the region’s plentiful seafood offerings. The Albariño grape is so integral to the style of the wine produced in Rías Baixas that the name of the variety is printed on every bottle—a practice rarely seen elsewhere in Spain (or most of Europe, for that matter).

Thanks to the adaptability of Albariño and its friendly, near-universal appeal, the Rías Baixas DO has something to offer just about every white wine drinker. These wines can be enjoyed year-round, but are especially delightful during the summer, when warm, sunny weather calls for a crisp, refreshing beverage. They sing when paired with any kind of marine life—particularly oysters or scallops—but are equally fantastic on their own. If you can’t make it to Spain for a vacation this summer, a bottle of Rías Baixas Albariño just might be the next best thing.

 

 

 

New Zealand: A Sauvignon Blanc for every Palate

Most wine professionals would agree that no grape variety is more easily identifiable in a blind tasting than Sauvignon Blanc. And perhaps this variety’s unique qualities are more pronounced in wines hailing from New Zealand than in those of any other provenance. As soon as the bottle has been opened and the wine is poured into a glass, an unmistakable perfume fills the surrounding air with notes of zesty citrus, tropical passion fruit, freshly cut grass, tangy gooseberry, and occasionally crisp bell pepper or piquant jalapeño. Often, vegetal aromas like asparagus or artichoke are present as well.

But although New Zealand Sauvignon Blanc typically stays true to its varietal character, don’t mistake its consistency for uniformity. Though many of these wines share common aromas, there is a wide range of techniques available to grape growers and winemakers to coax the raw materials into delightfully different final products.

The decision of when to harvest the grapes is one way in which producers can influence the style of the wine they intend to make. When Sauvignon Blanc grapes are harvested early in the season, they have high natural acidity and flavors that lean toward lime and asparagus. If weather permits and the grapes are left to ripen longer on the vine, notes of tropical fruit and even peach can develop. Producers will select the date of the harvest with this in mind. Some wineries, for example, Jules Taylor, have several vineyard properties throughout a particular region and will harvest each at a different time, so that they may be blended together for a more complex and layered wine.

There are many different clones of Sauvignon Blanc to choose from, and winemakers often select a clone or a mix of clones in order to produce a desired style of wine. Some of these highlight classic New Zealand grassy and herbaceous flavors, while others, such as the Bordeaux clones, tone down these “green” notes and focus on tropical fruit. Mt. Beautiful is an enthusiastic proponent of the latter type of clone. Later, in the winery, yeasts can be selected as well to bring out the desired level of aromatics from the wine. Wineries like Giesen, Whitehaven,  Villa Maria, and Nautilus put a high emphasis on yeast selection, while others like Pegasus Bay choose to rely on the indigenous yeast naturally present in the winery and on the grapes.

Another option in the vineyard is to encourage lower-yielding vines. Generally, as the number of grapes grown in a certain area decreases, the concentration of flavors in each grape increases. This results in a more complex and flavorful wine, and is becoming a more frequent practice in New Zealand vineyards.

Once the grapes have been harvested and transported to the winery, the winemaker has an important decision to make regarding the vessels in which the wines will be fermented and aged. Stainless steel has typically been the popular choice in New Zealand, which preserves the pure, fresh fruit aromas of the Sauvignon Blanc grape. Babich, Mud House, Stoneleigh and Astrolabe are known for making wines in this clean, crisp style. But increasingly, winemakers are turning to various types of oak barrels to produce an alternative style of wine. Unlike the production of, say, some California Chardonnay, the aim here is not to add woody flavors to the wine, but rather to round out the texture and create a richer mouthfeel. Often, as is the case with Brancott‘s higher end “B” Sauvignon Blanc, only a small percentage of the wine spends time in oak to create a subtle effect. Some of these wines, such as those from Staete Landt, have a surprising ability to age beautifully.

Another increasingly popular way to enhance the body of these wines is extended lees contact and occasionally lees stirring. This interaction with dead yeast cells adds a creamy yet elegant roundness to the wine. Clos Henri, Mt. Beautiful, Yealands, and Wither Hills all employ this practice to varying extents.

Some New Zealand Sauvignon Blanc, such as Loveblock, goes through the process of malolactic fermentation, much more typically associated with Chardonnay. This helps to soften the tart, green, acidic flavors for a more approachable style that could perhaps serve as a gateway for those not used to the more pungent characteristics common to the variety.

Yet another way to diversify Sauvignon Blanc is to combine it with something other than Sauvignon Blanc. Pegasus Bay does this beautifully with a Bordeaux-inspired blend of Sauvignon Blanc and Semillon. This adds great complexity, texture, and some subtle savory notes, as well as extra ageing potential.

With all of these different methods of producing New Zealand Sauvignon Blanc, not to mention regional variation (Amisfield, for example, is located in the much cooler climate area of Central Otago, the southernmost wine region in the world), it is easy to see that this small country has something to offer that will please just about any palate. If you’ve written off this grape as a one-trick pony, you may want to give it another try. And if you’re already a fan, there likely are many delicious new styles that you have yet to taste. There has never been a more exciting time to drink these wines, which are still almost criminally affordable even for the very best. Try New Zealand Sauvignon Blanc well-chilled as the summer heats up, paired with salads, fish, vegetables, goat cheese, or just a few good friends and the warmth of the sun.