Monday, April 13, 2015

Run for the Rosés, Part 1 – Italian Pink



Many countries’ lesser-known indigenous red grapes produce highly tannic wines that are sometimes a little difficult to approach. Faced with such a situation, some producers are augmenting the production of these wines in a way that makes me quite happy: rather than just making straight reds, they’re turning some of these harvests into rosé. 

Dolemite says, "Try the rosé, sucka." (Bear with me...)

As anyone who’s been around these parts for a while knows, I’m a rosé junky. Love the stuff. That’s why I’m happy to see more places producing it. I would say that 90% of rosé I try comes from one of three places: the US, France, and Spain. Italy is not usually somewhere I consider for rosé. This year, two of Italy’s larger wine producers decided to make 2015 the year that they’d release their first pink offerings, and I was lucky enough to score a couple of samples. (Thanks to Amanda from Wagstaff for the hookup!)

Other wines from these two producers, Mezzacorona and Stemmari, are fairly ubiquitous in wine shops across the country. Both make solid table wines, and I’ve written about some of these in the past.

These wineries are located at different ends of Italy. Mezzacorona produces wines from near Trento in the mountains of northern Italy, while Stemmari’s wines are sourced from grapes grown in southern Sicily. To give some perspective, the Mezzacorona vineyards are on a line, latitude-wise, with Mt. Rainier in Washington. Stemmari’s are approximately at the same latitude as Napa. This difference in geography, not to mention terroir and grape type, means that these wines should display significantly different characteristics.

Both these wines are produced in the traditional rosé method. Once the grapes are picked, they undergo a process called “cold maceration.” Cold maceration means that the grapes are lightly pressed and the juice is left in contact with the skins and stems for a brief period of time – 6-8 hours for the Mezzacorona and 12 hours for the Stemmari. This allows the juice to pick up some of the color and flavor from the skins.

The juice is then fermented at somewhere in the neighborhood of 62 degrees. Cooler fermentations typically produce a more delicate wine. The fermented wine is left “on the lees” for 4-5 months to add body. “Lees” is WineSpeak for “dead yeast left in the bottom of the fermenter.” Leaving wines on the lees tends to add a fuller, creamier texture. Unlike the reds made from these tannic grapes, rosés are made to be drunk young, so no need to think about laying down bottles for any reason other than to pull them out in the summertime. But since Spring is such a delightful time for rosé, these two needed a try…
 
Mezzacorona 2014 Rosé – I can’t help but chuckle when I see that wines are produced in “the Dolomites,” since that always makes me think of the Rudy Ray Moore and the Blaxploitation film of similar moniker. (I was also pleasantly amused when MS Word autocapitalized "Blaxploitation." It is a genre...) 

This pleasant enough quaffer is made from the Lagrein grape, which usually makes tannic, chewy reds reminiscent of Syrah. Made into rosé, however, this version of Lagrein makes a pink that’s light, fruity, and straightforward. I found plenty of strawberries on the palate along with a fairly mild citrus. The finish isn’t overly acidic for rosé. I hoped for a little more zip, but I thought it was good, middle of the road wine. The Sweet Partner in Crime deemed it “fine.” In other words, it’s a decent enough, uncomplicated wine that would pair up with a broad variety of foods that aren’t overly rich or fatty. Pork, light pastas, or grilled salmon would be decent matches. There are certainly rosés we liked a bit more, but for $10, it’s worth a go.


 
Stemmari 2014 Rosé – From the southern coast of Sicily comes this slightly darker, somewhat richer offering. The Stemmari is made from 100% Nero d’Avola grapes. Nero d’Avola, as you might remember, is the best-known and most widely-planted grape varietal in Sicily. Nero d’Avola also produces powerful wines that should be cellared for at least a couple of years to let the tannins calm down. There’s no need for this kind of patience with rosé, however, and the resulting product is quite reflective of the grape that gave it birth. Of the two wines, this one has a little more muscle. Beyond the color, this rosé has more pronounced fruit flavors, although the strawberry backbone is common between the two. There’s more mineral notes here, which is no surprise considering the volcanic soil of Sicily. The finish also has a little bit of a tannic characteristic that I found somewhat more interesting. I would think this would go just fine with some richer dishes. We had this with a roast pork tenderloin with a glaze I made out of some huckleberry jam that came from our local CSA. It stood up to the flavors well enough. For a change of pace from reds with a bigger-flavored springtime meal, it’s another workable $10 option.

Neither of these wines are anything that I’d consider complex, but the whole point of rosé is enjoyment, not deep thought. I would give the slight edge to the Stemmari in this side-by-side, but my palate’s still somewhat in winter mode. I might flip-flop if you asked me in a few months. Regardless, nice to see better quality-yet-still inexpensive rosé emerging from Italy as an alternative to the aforementioned rosé triumvirate.


Monday, March 30, 2015

The Vine Gets Naked with G'Vine Floraison

A new sample of liquid goodness recently made its way across the threshold at Vine HQ -- a sample which was definitely a bit of a changeup for your Wine Guy’s palate. This representative from a family of potent potable not seen before in this space is an interesting twist on a common white liquor: G'Vine Floraison Gin.

Wine is my usual tipple, but I've been known to drift into the world of distilled spirits from time to time. I enjoy a good gin Martini (or even better, a Vesper...mmm....), but I've not gone on the deep dive into that world of spirits the same way I have with bourbon and rum. I was looking forward to trying this green-capped clear liquor.

The description of G'Vine (which I may also use as name of my upcoming mixtape with 50 Cent) proudly states that it's "generously infused with the vine flower as well as over 9 different botanicals." The tech sheet list of botanicals, minus the vine flower, is ten items long, so that's an accurate statement. But why do botanicals matter when it comes to gin? And what really *is* gin, anyway.

Gin in its present form was created in the 17th century in the Netherlands. Dutch distillers had been creating a form of neutral spirit flavored with various berries and herbs since the 1500’s for medicinal purposes to treat ailments such as lumbago, kidney stones, and gout. A version for its current use came about in the late 1500’s, when it was known as jenever (yeh-NAY-ver).

English soldiers fighting in the Eighty Years War were given jenever before battle to calm their nerves, giving rise both to the term “Dutch Courage” and to the gin-drinking culture in England. Gin was used to mask the flavor of quinine in tonic water – as quinine was given to Dutch and English colonists in some parts of the world to prevent malaria. (Yes, your refreshing gin and tonic started as a form of disease prevention.)

Gin is generally distilled from either grains or grapes. The neutral spirit created from this process is then re-distilled with some sort of botanical, which imparts the bulk of the herbal flavors. Juniper berries are always the primary botanical (which is why some folks say that gin tastes “like a Christmas tree”), but any number of other flavors, including citrus peel, anise, and many others.

G'Vine Floraison, which is neither Dutch or English – instead hailing from the Cognac region of France -- belongs to the “distilled from grapes” category. In addition to juniper, G'Vine uses ugni blanc grapes, coriander, cassia bark (better known as cinnamon), licorice, cubeb berries (similar to black pepper), nutmeg, ginger, green cardamom, and lime.

What does this combination of flavors do, in this case? Honestly, I've never tasted anything like this version of gin before. I tried it both in a Martini and in a gin and tonic. This is easily the most aromatic gin that’s ever galloped across my taste buds. My typical gin selections are Hendrick’s and Bombay Sapphire, and neither comes close to matching the strength of the nose here.

Honestly I found the G’Vine almost overp
oweringly perfumey. At first sniff, I was interested, but the aroma quickly became too much when featured on its own in a martini. It was better in a gin and tonic. The bitter flavor of the tonic balanced out the perfume somewhat, but it was still a powerfully scented concoction. On the flipside, it's one of the smoothest gins I've ever tried. Many gins I’ve tried bite hard, but this one has little grip and next to no burn. If you find that the perfume scent is to your liking, it's very drinkable.

The best use I found for it was as a mixer. I had some gin in the back of the liquor cabinet that was given to me as a gift once upon a time. I always found the gift gin (which isn’t a brand that you’d likely run into around here) to be a little harsh and I'd gone through it very slowly. I mixed it 2-to-1 with the G'Vine Floraison and made another Martini. (Different day, kids. I’m not that much of a lush!) That worked. The G'Vine gave a nice little boost to the other flavors in the other gin and rounded off the bite. I found the result quite pleasant.

If I were going for a gin of my own at this point, I'd probably stick to my tried and true pair mentioned above -- but if you're a gin fan and you're looking for a new experience, or if you have some less expensive gin that could use a little dressing up, certainly consider at least giving this a run. G'Vine runs around $40 for a 750 ml.




[Vine note: yeah, I know that I wrote about this one before. But I liked my expansion, and I wanted to share it with you. Ain't I a peach?]

Monday, March 16, 2015

Naked Vine One-Hitter O' The Green (Part 3) -- G'Vine Floraison Gin

A bit of a changeup to conclude this little pre-St. Patrick's triple -- a representative from a family of potent potable not seen before in  these parts: G'Vine Floraison Gin.

While wine is my usual tipple, I've been known to drift over to the world of distilled spirits from time to time. I enjoy a good gin Martini (or even better, a Vesper...mmm....), but I've not gone on the deep dive into that world of spirits the same I have with bourbon and rum. I'm always up for trying something new, so I was looking forward to trying this green-capped clear liquor...

...that is, until I thought about what the reaction would be if I walked into a St. Patrick's Day party carrying a traditionally English beverage. My proudly Irish brother from another mother, The Wizard of Covington, would probably crack me upside the head with a bottle for denigrating the occasion so. However, as G'Vine is a French distillate (from the Cognac region) -- and since both the Irish and the French traditionally dislike the English, I might get a pass.

In any case, on to the liquor itself. The description of G'Vine says that it's "generously infused with the vine flower as well as over 9 different botanicals." The tech sheet list of botanicals, minus the vine flower, is ten items long, so that's an accurate statement. But why do the botanicals matter?

Gin, in case you didn't know, starts as a neutral spirit like vodka. It's generally distilled from either grains or grapes. G'Vine Floraison belongs to the latter category. The neutral spirit is then re-distilled with some sort of botanical, which imparts the majority of the flavor. Juniper berries are almost always the primary botanical. In the case we have here, in addition to juniper, G'Vine uses ugni blanc grapes, coriander, cassia bark (better known as cinnamon), licorice, cubeb berries (similar to black pepper), nutmeg, ginger, green cardamom, and lime.

What does that mean for this particular tipple? Honestly, I've never tasted anything like this before. I tried it a couple of different ways -- in a Martini and in a gin and tonic. I can say, honestly -- this is the most aromatic gin I've ever tried. It's almost overpoweringly perfumey. At first sniff, I was interested, but the aroma quickly became too much when it was featured on its own in a martini. I will say this for G'Vine -- it's one of the smoothest gins I've ever tried. Many gins bite hard, but this one has little grip and next to no burn. If that perfume scent is to your liking, it's very drinkable.

On its own, it was better in a gin and tonic. The bitter flavor of the tonic balanced out the perfume somewhat, but it was still a powerfully scented concoction.

The best use I found for it was as a mixer. I had some gin around that was given to me as a gift in the back of the liquor cabinet. I always found the gift gin to be a little harsh and I'd been going through it very slowly. I mixed it 2-1 with the G'Vine Floraison and made a Martini. That worked. The G'Vine gave a nice little boost to the other flavors in the other gin and rounded off the bite. I found it quite pleasant.

If I were going for a gin of my own at this point, I'd probably stick to my tried and true Bombay Sapphire or Hendrick's -- but if you're a gin fan and you're looking for a new experience, or if you have some less expensive gin that could use a little dressing up, certainly consider at least giving this a run. G'Vine runs around $40 for a 750 ml.


Sunday, March 08, 2015

Naked Vine One Hitter O' The Green (Part 2) -- Mulderbosch

The next item in the St. Pat's Pack is not a stranger around these parts:


There are few more distinct brandings than the offerings of South Africa's Mulderbosch Winery. I've snagged samples of this bright green bottled concoction for the last couple of years. Here's what I wrote about the Mulderbosch 2012 Sauvignon Blanc last April:
 I found it quite delicate, flavorwise. It does have a pretty pronounced citrus fruit flavor, but one more in the sweet grapefruit range than many that end up with tart lemon or lime flavors. There’s also a fair amount of creaminess that belies the light body. The finish is more fruity than crisp and isn’t particularly lasting. I can see why this would be recommended as a brunch wine, although at 13.6% percent alcohol, it might be a strong way to start your day. I could see this going nicely with some fruit crepes or other dish that’s got some light cream in the recipe. Pleasant enough to sip on its own, as well.
There are a few minor modifications I'd make after the eleven additional months this wine's spent in bottle. It's still perfectly good. The wine's rounded out a bit. The really tart finish at the end has mellowed a little, although there's still plenty of acidity. There's a little astringency starting to form at the end, so if you get a bottle of it, you might want to decant a tad. Do drink it right away. It's not a wine for laying down.

The latest retail on this is around $18, so if you're looking for a cheap quaffer for a party, this probably isn't for you. If you're taking Wednesday off to ease your hangover and you find yourself looking for a brunch wine, however, it's a hair-of-the-dog consideration.

Saturday, March 07, 2015

Naked Vine One-Hitter O' The Green (Part 1) -- Domaine di Tariquet

This winter's thrown my internal clock for a loop. I can always sense the start of Spring in my bones. I get that tickle in my hindbrain that's been around since we, as a species, decided that the whole "walking around on two legs" thing was pretty beneficial. That wonderful tickle that gets all the juices flowing as we head into the season where the world starts waking up again.

I've missed that tickle this year. February was so miserable that it flew by as we huddled in our winter wine cave. I suddenly realized, "Deer lawrd...it's MARCH already." It just doesn't feel like March yet.  Daylight savings time usually doesn't roll around while there's still six inches of snow. 

Thankfully, relief seems to be on the horizon -- and we can start thinking about some of our upcoming springtime revelry. One of those revelries is, of course, St. Patrick's Day -- a time when the rivers and the beer often run green. 

My good man Ferdinand at Colangelo sent along a suggestion. Why not slide a few other "green" beverages into the rotation? Sounds like a sensible enough suggestion. I mean, just how much Bud Light spiked with Green No.3 does one country need? He was good enough to send along a few emerald-hued offerings for review. I'll get to the first one in a moment, but I've an explanation to give first

Some long-time readers may have noticed the recent slowdown in posting here on The Vine. Yes, I've not been writing as much as in months past. Some of you can probably guess why, but for those of you who don't -- in my other life, for the last three-plus years, I've been working on my doctorate in Educational Policy, and I'm at a critical point in the writing of my dissertation. Predictably, I haven't had a lot of spare mental energy to crank out wine columns. Fear not. Lord willing and the creek don't rise, I should be through the process in a month or two, and I should be back with a properly thirsty (and hopefully celebratory) vengeance.


For now, I'll be handling these potential Oenos Go Bragh one at a time. First up is the Domaine du Tariquet 2013 "Classic" Cotes du Gascogne

I've powered down a lot of white wines from Gascony over the last several summers. Those whites are traditionally light, crisp, and high in acidity. They're wines built to be drunk young -- usually as an aperitif or with a light meal. The Tariquet is no exception.

Made largely from a combination of Ugni Blanc and Colombard, with a little Sauvignon Blanc and Gros Manseng thrown in for good measure, the Tariquet starts with a pleasant enough nose of grapefruit and green apples. I was expecting an acidic wine, I should have guessed when I read "serve thoroughly chilled" on the tech notes, but this one knocked me back a pace.

Some white wine fans refer to themselves as "acid freaks" when they enjoy wines like this. Maybe my palate's still in winter wine mode, but this is a tart wine. The smell doesn't lie. The flavor is "green," to be sure -- lots of grapefruit and apples at high-pucker volume. I thought it was a little too much for my tastes. The finish, predictably, is clean, crisp, and quick. 

If grapefruit is a flavor you enjoy and you can get past the initial acid blast, it's a pretty drinkable wine. I'd probably wait a couple of months, at least until my lawn starts growing again and I start doing outside work, before I chased this down. Just the same -- if you're throwing a party and some of your leprechaunic friends are big white wine fans, you could stand to have a couple of bottles around. The Tariquet retails for around ten bucks.

P.S. GTHC. Always.


Thursday, February 12, 2015

Just in Time for Valentine's -- The Fresh Bubbles of Franciacorta

The common knowledge of Italian sparkling wine begins and ends with two particular types of sparklers: Prosecco and Moscato.

Prosecco is the best known. Prosecco is both the name of the white grape used to make the wine and
Franciacort-ahhhhhh....
the region in the Veneto where these grapes are grown. These wines tend to be on the dry side and tend to be somewhat reminiscent of Spanish cava, the budget-friendly sparkler I’ve mentioned many times.

The other is Moscato, one of my favorite brunch wines. Moscato are fruity, usually low in alcohol, lightly effervescent, and often rather sweet. The best known Moscato hail from the Asti region and are labeled, logically, “Moscato d’Asti.”

[Side note: You’ve undoubtedly seen “Asti Spumante” on your wine store shelf. That term just means “sparkling wine from Asti.” “Spumante” simply means that that the wine is sparkling, not that it’s dry or sweet. Asti Spumante is not necessarily made from Moscato, either.]

There is another Italian growing region gaining in popularity among sparkling wine fans – Franciacorta. This area, located in the Lombardy region of Northern Italy, is about an hour east of the region’s capital, Milan. Franciacorta’s winemakers produce sparkling wines made largely from chardonnay and pinot noir.

Franciacorta differs from the other sparkling wine producing regions in The Boot because of the style of production. Franciacorta winemakers use an identical method to make their bubbly as the winemakers do in the Champagne region of France. This technique, known as methode Champenoise and covered in more detail at other times in this space, involves a secondary fermentation in the bottle to produce carbonation. Franciacorta’s bubbles arise from the same fermentation technique, known in Italy as Metodo Classico. Franciacorta is the first Italian wine region to use this method exclusively.

Bottle with the Franciacorta DOCG seal.
Franciacorta’s growers are a close-knit bunch. 50 years ago, the producers in Franciacorta voluntarily self-imposed regulations on wine production, aging length, nomenclature, etc. As a reward for their efforts, Franciacorta became the first sparkling wine region in Italy to receive “DOCG” status. DOCG, short for Denominazione di Origine Controllata e Garantita, is Italy’s highest level of wine appellation and guarantee of quality. DOCG is the same designation used for the top wines in regions such as Chianti, Barolo, and Vino Nobile di Montepulciano.

Franciacorta wines, while similar in grape varietal and production style to those in Champagne, are produced from grapes grown in vineyards in somewhat warmer climates than their French counterparts. As a result, these wines tend to be fuller and fruitier in flavor and have a somewhat “sharper” characteristic. Even so, Franciacorta’s sparkling wines are more complex and layered than the other bubble-filled offerings from Italia, and the wider wine-drinking world is starting to take notice.

Catherine at Balzac kindly sent along a few samples of some of these sparklers, which all retail for around $20-25.

La Montina (NV) Franciacorta Brut – This bottle of bubbles is light and approachable, with a considerable continuous burst of tight bubbles. The main flavor characteristic I ran into was orange blossoms, definitely on the nose, but it also echoed across the largely dry palate. The La Montina lost me a little bit at the end, where the orange blossom flavor turned a bit towards orange rind, especially as the wine warmed a bit. To minimize this astringent finish, make sure you have this wine good and chilled when you serve it. I’d suggest it more as an aperitif than anything, especially with nice antipasti. A “little fat in your mouth” helps this wine a great deal.

Ronco Calino (NV) Franciacorta Brut – Of the three bottles, this was the most powerfully carbonated. The bubbles were sharp and quite strong initially, but they faded quickly into a mellow fizz. I thought this had a very pleasant lemon chiffon flavor, with a crisp, prickly finish. On its own, decent enough, but it was excellent with dinner. We had this with a challenging pairing – a green salad with a tart vinaigrette alongside roasted chicken in a caper sauce. The finish cut through the vinegar flavors without a problem, letting that light lemon flavor shine through. For light meals like this, I’d rather open a bottle like this than an okay still wine, adding some festivity to an everyday meal.

Cavalleri (NV) Franciacorta Blanc de Blancs Brut – Of the three, this Blanc de Blancs was our clear favorite. Blanc de Blanc means that the wine is 100% Chardonnay. (The complement, Blanc de Noir, means that a wine is made from 100% Pinot Noir.) The Cavalleri was the driest and crispest, and sported the most firm mousse of the three. The flavor also had more of a “Champagne” character with its tight finish, tart lemony notes and distinct aroma of yeast. On its own, I think it would serve as a really wonderful aperitif. I also thought it handled a challenging Greek-ish salad pairing well, especially if you snagged a bite that had a big blob of goat cheese therein. I would have liked to give this a go with a slightly heavier meal like a roasted chicken or pork tenderloin dish. Money well spent for a bottle of this.

With Valentine’s Day just around the corner, if you’re looking for a little amore and would like to expose your intended to something a little different with your sparkler, Franciacorta’s a very solid choice. Certainly worth a try for expanding your bubbly horizons.