Friday, May 20, 2016
Monday, May 16, 2016
|"We make there's none of that |
pesky antifreeze in your wine..."
Thursday, May 12, 2016
Saturday, April 30, 2016
Tuesday, April 19, 2016
These bubbles came from a particularly lovely bottle of Prosecco. Specifically, the Bisol Valdobbiadene Superiore di Cartizze DOCG (Yes, we’ve been on a bit of a Prosecco kick around here these days…) We covered another Prosecco by the same producer, Bisol, not long ago. You might remember the review for their “Crede” – which featured this guy:
The “Cartizze” is the Crede’s big brother. Retailing for around $50, the Cartizze represents the top end of Bisol’s production.
As a quick review and to break down the wine’s name (which can be helpful when dealing with many old world wines), “Valdobbiadene” is a specific area within the Prosecco region known for producing the higher-quality versions of the wine, so it gets tagged with “DOCG,” the highest level of regional classification “Prosecco Superiore” does not indicate a difference in aging, as certain other similar sounding tags like “Chianti Riserva” do. Instead, it just translates as, “Hey! This is the gooood stuff.”
Cartizze, then, is the specific location from which the grapes are sourced and where the Bisol winery is headquartered. Think of this wine as the “single estate vineyard” version from this producer – their crème de la crème. (Or “crème de la crede,” in this case.) This wine is made from 100% Glera, the base grape of most Prosecco.
On this particularly glorious Saturday afternoon, I got back from a lovely massage that the Sweet Partner in Crime had booked for me as a gift. (Also, big ups to 501 Salon – one of the best places for pampering anywhere in the Greater Cincinnati area…) Once my body reconstituted itself from the wonderfully melty state I was in when I made it back to Vine HQ, the SPinC put together a wonderful little antipasta plate, we popped the cork, and headed for our front porch to enjoy some beautiful weather while we sampled.
By nomenclature and by price point, this should be a pretty good wine. But I admit to some skepticism. I mean, $50 for a Prosecco? I know that Prosecco quality has increased a lot over the years, but is it worth twice as much as the next most expensive one I’ve tried?
It makes a damned good argument.
The perlage (“carbonation” in WineSpeak) was delightfully fresh and creamy. The flavor is exceptionally well-balanced and very fruity. The body is rich with peaches and pear flavors, but without the cloying sweetness that sometimes accompanies those flavors. The finish is long and fruity.
I know what you’re thinking – my review there sounds like a lot of the other flavor profiles I’ve pushed out for Prosecco. Here’s the added angle. After every sip, I found myself reflexively eyeing my glass the way that I do when I get a really good red wine or a nicely crafted rum. The bursts of flavor were very different from many Prosecco, which can be somewhat uninspired, flavorwise.
With the antipasti, I thought it was quite exceptional – whether with the charcuterie, cheese, olives, or even a real tongue-twister like marinated artichokes – the wine’s flavor worked both as complement and palate cleanser.
I was quite impressed by the Cartizze. If you want to open your wallet and see what Prosecco tastes like at the same price point as a Taittinger or Pol Roger, you’ll be in for a treat. I give it three Apollos:
Tuesday, April 12, 2016
I enjoyed learning how the various styles were classified, the various malts and hops that were signatures of a particular type. That knowledge made me a good consumer, especially once my preferences started to shift from beer to wine.
Fast forward about…well…a decade and a half from my brewing days, and the craft beer revolution is in full swing. I’ve lost count of how many different permutations of India Pale Ale I’ve stumbled away from in the last few years. Hop heads carrying Moleskins have become common sights in the world’s brewpubs, sampling and classifying beers by taste, color, region, grain & hop terroir – even water sources. Some of them have adopted a bit of a hipster mentality, loudly proclaiming the superiority of a region or a style over another.
“Dude, I’m here for French wine,” you’re probably saying, “What’s this got to do with Vin de Bordeaux?”
For centuries, the French have treated wine like the craft beer crews do their steins of suds. In Bordeaux, red wine is parsed so finely that our beery hipster’s ironic Grizzly Adams beard would grow half an inch from sheer envy. Traditionally, Bordeaux is classified according to the “Classification of 1865,” stemming from a decree from Napoleon.
As we’ve covered before, the top wines in Bordeaux were classified into five “Growths,” based on their chateau of origin. The designation supposedly represents where the winery ranks on a hierarchy of general wine quality. (And if you imagine there might have been some skullduggery as wineries tried to get themselves “classed up,” you’d be 100% correct.) In all, there are 61 classified growth chateaux, and the wines they produce are historically the most expensive. If you’re curious, the wineries that make up the “Premier Cru Classe” (First Growth) are Chateaux Lafite, Latour, Haut-Brion, Margaux, and Lafite-Rothschild. Looking up the prices is left as an exercise for the reader, but fifth growth wines usually start around $50.
Below the classified growths come the “AOC” wines, which tend to be less expensive – and will be the ones you tend to find in the French section of your local wine store. They’re labeled with the sub-region of Bordeaux, such as Graves, Fronsac, or Medoc and with the name of the Chateau that produced the bottle. Below that on the classification scale are Bordeaux AOC and Bordeaux Superieur AOC. These wines can be made from grapes grown anywhere in Bordeaux. These tend to be the standard “table Bordeaux.”
Needless to say, the “official classification” led to some consternation among growers, mainly in the Medoc region, who felt that their own products were of higher quality than ordinary table wine. They wanted a classification above AOC even if they weren’t classified growths. For this reason, 444 estates were designated as “Cru Bourgeois” in 1932, indicating that they were a “cut above.”
Eventually, of course, some of those chateaux wanted a more prestigious designation within Cru Bourgeois. In 2000, the classification was revised again into three quality tiers, released in 2003. The reaction was swift and nasty, leading to French courts annulling the classification in 2007.
Ever enterprising, the winemakers of the region compromised. They brought back the Cru Bourgeois designation in 2010 – but rather than a blanket award to an entire chateau, the designation is applied on a wine-by-wine basis, based on a yearly blind tasting.
Crus Bourgeois tend to run between $20-50. The winemaking techniques and production costs are
I was fortunate enough to receive a couple of examples of these Cru Bourgeois. I wound up with the Chateau Tour des Termes 2012 St. Estephe ($30) and the Chateau Lestage Simon 2012 Haut-Medoc ($22). We tried these over the course of a couple of evenings.
The Tour de Termes was a real treat. The bouquet had a really interesting mint scent over a bit of old world funk. Smooth and silky, the palate yielded complex flavors of dark cherry and blackberry, with a little bit of tar and some firm tannins. The finish was easy and lasting, with really nicely balanced tannins. Definitely a wine for consenting adults. When we came back to it the next evening, it still held on to many of its smooth characteristics. Even at $30, I thought this bottle was a great value.
The Lestage was also a good wine, but it lacked the wow factor and the complexity of the Termes. I thought it was a little more straightforward with the fruit, and didn’t have quite as much depth on the palate. This one had a little bit of a licorice flavor that seemed not to quite line up with the fruit. A day later, it had pretty much fallen apart and wasn’t too different from a “standard” Bordeaux to my tastes. Again, it wasn’t that it was bad – it just didn’t do as well in comparison.
I think that a quality designation like this carries a lot more weight than simply relying on a historical classification from 200 years ago. As my sommelier buddies would tell me, the French “Grand Cru Classe” designations aren’t inaccurate, but there are always considerable differences from vintage to vintage – and the price point doesn’t always line up with the quality. A yearly “stamp of approval” at least lets you know that a wine has passed muster. I find that process eminently sensible. And if you can get a Bordeaux for $30 that’s comparable in quality to a classified growth, you’re doing pretty well for yourself. Try some and thank me later.
Monday, April 04, 2016
|Dinner for One. Wine for Six. Lovely.|
An uncomfortable silence settles over your tableful of playful banter like someone just asked for volunteers at a business meeting. Everyone nervously looks around, hoping someone…anyone will step up to the plate.
You’re a Naked Vine reader, by gum! You’ve accumulated enough wine knowledge to be dangerous! I know you’re good pairing for dinner in the privacy of your own home, but are you ready for the big stage? Are you brave enough to look that server in the eye and say, “Bring that list right here! Allow me!”
Hell yes, you are! And I’ll be right there at your side with these few basic tips to help you win the evening.
First and foremost, Take your Time. Once you’ve got the wine list in hand, this is the perfect opportunity to ask your server to get a round of waters for everyone – or just say that you need a few minutes while you make some decisions. (This little stall has the added benefit of letting people peek at their menus without feeling pressured.)
Once the server departs, Survey the Scene. “Does everyone want to go in on a bottle or two?” Some of your friends might want beer, cocktails, or a specific glass of wine. Get a quick sense of how many people you’re ordering for. A standard 750ml bottle equates to five 5-ounce glasses of wine. I usually assume 2-3 glasses per person during a leisurely meal for an ordering standard. Do appropriate multiplications and divisions to come up with a rough estimate of how many bottles you’ll need. Also, ask what folks are thinking of ordering, foodwise, to get a general idea on the pairing spectrum. For instance, if everyone’s getting fish, you’re probably leaning white. If you can’t determine whether a white or red will be best, order one of each and let people choose. And don’t let the server take the wine list away.
Don’t Get Fancy. Remember, you’re not leading a wine tasting. While you may absolutely love the deep, barnyard funk of a particular French wine region, this isn’t the venue to wow the table with your in-depth knowledge. The pecking order is friends -> food -> wine. Think about middle-of-the-road, crowd-pleasing wines when you’re making your choice, since palates and entrees can be all over the map. Also, good restaurants often offer many of their most food-friendly wines by the glass, so file these away for reference as you’re perusing the list.
Go Deep. There’s a reason that Cabernet Sauvignon from California, French Bordeaux and Burgundy, and Italian reds like Chianti show up so often on wine lists. People are familiar with them – at least by name – so they make for an easy order. Since they’re an easy order, many restaurants tend to increase the markups on these bottles. Every country has lesser-known wine regions and grape varietals, many of which you’ve explored with me here. Instead of Chianti, for instance, drop a Barbera on folks. If you’re thinking French Burgundy, maybe think about a red from Loire or Languedoc instead.
Also, great values can be hidden on wine lists from somewhat obscure countries. Lesser-known varietals and wine regions are often priced to move. We know that South America makes fabulous, relatively inexpensive wine, for instance – and if you’re choosing between a California Cabernet and a Malbec from Argentina at a steakhouse, I can guarantee you the Malbec will give you a better bang for your buck.
Go Cheap. (Or at least don’t be afraid to.) Do you think, outside of a Guy Fieri joint, a chef’s going to put something on a menu that they know tastes terrible? Of course not! In any decent restaurant, you should be able to order the least expensive item on a menu and still have a quality meal. A wine list is nothing more than a menu. A restaurant should vouch for every bottle on their list. Order what you think will be best.
[Also, in my opinion, it's easy for high-end wines to be wasted in a restaurant setting. Many of the more expensive wines – top-end Bordeaux, Italian Barolo, and high-end Napa cabernets, for example – need to be decanted, sometimes for hours, for their flavors to really shine. That doesn’t happen in many restaurant settings, as server will often just go through the wine service and pour. There are some establishments who do a good job presenting these wines -- but you need to do your research...]
Don’t be Afraid to Ask. It’s perfectly OK to ask the server or the sommelier for advice. (After all, that is what they’re there for.) Rather than just asking, “What would you recommend?” give them a little guidance. If you’ve narrowed it down to 2-3 choices, say “I’m thinking about these. Which would you say is drinking best?” If you’re really stumped, maybe go to: “Can you give me a couple of options for a medium-bodied, food-friendly red?” or “What are a couple of mellow, somewhat fruity, dry whites?” They’ll suggest something workable.
Be the Boss. Here come those bottles! Time for the wine service. The server or sommelier will first present you with the bottle to verify they’ve brought the correct selection. They’ll then open the bottle and usually hand you the cork. Look for any signs that the cork might have been damaged. If there are wine stains running down the sides of the cork, or if it’s crumbly or brittle, this can be a warning sign that the bottle is flawed. File this away mentally for the next step. Don’t sniff the cork – I mean, unless you've got a particular fetish for that sort of thing.
|Making this face at first sniff? Send it back. Please.|
Get any of these smells, sensations, or flavors? Simply turn to the server and say, “I’m sorry. I think this bottle is off.” Be firm. Don’t be intimidated. Trust your instincts. Use the Force. Whatever you need. They’ll bring you a new one, trust me. It’s your damned bottle. Get a good one.
Chances are, though, the wine will be just fine. If you sniff and everything’s cool, then lean back in your chair with a self-satisfied smile and say, “This will do nicely,” and relax as the server makes the rounds.
Finally, always remember that You Can’t Screw Up. There’s no “universal donor” in the world of wine. You’ll never find a bottle that’s perfect for a group of people with varied palates all ordering different meals. Your goal was to find a “good enough” wine, and you’ve done that! Once everyone has a full glass, raise your glass, give a hearty “Cheers,” smile, and bask in the admiring gazes of your friends.
Friday, March 25, 2016
One of these tannic wines that can easily pair with lamb is a wine we’ve featured here before – Sagrantino di Montefalco from the Italian province of Umbria. Umbria, the “green heart of Italy,” is the only province in the country without any kind of coastline.
Cultivation of the Sagrantino grape in Umbria can be traced to the town of Montefalco in 1549, although vineyards in that area date back as far as 1088. The name of the grape comes from the Latin “sacer,” meaning “sacred” – referring to the concentrated raisin wine produced by monks in this area both for religious rituals. A “regular” version of this wine was consumed in mass quantities by the locals during religious feasts and festivals like Easter and Christmas.
Umbria is known traditionally for white wines. A combination of demand for those whites and the relative low yields of Sagrantino vines pushed much of the native red varietal out of the local vineyards during the 1960’s and 70’s, almost wiping it out completely. In 1979, a few wine producers sought and received a “classified status” for Sagrantino, which allowed broader cultivation. The status was granted in 1992. From that time, the acreage of Sagrantino vineyards has quadrupled.
If you’re in the “I drink red wine because it’s good for my health” camp, you’ve found your wine. Sagrantino’s claim to fame is that it has the highest concentration of polyphenols of any grape varietal in the world. Polyphenols are the chemical compounds found in red wine (sometimes called resveratrol) that help the body protect itself from cellular damage.
I also discovered that Sagrantino may be the most tooth-staining grape varietal. When I brushed my teeth the night after sampling, I spit almost-black. My teeth looked like I’d been at a long red wine tasting. (And yes, I brushed again.)
Speaking of tasting, these are frickin’ enormous wines. I considered Barolo and Barbaresco to be the “big Italians” until I tried Amarone – the super-concentrated wine made from partially dried grapes in Valpolicella. Move over, bambini. Sagrantino are inky black in color, highly tannic, and very high in alcohol. Mancy clock in around 15.5%. So, if you’re trying them – decant, decant, decant! (And assign a designated driver if you’re not at home.) Get the wine into a decanter a minimum of 90 minutes before you start your meal or else you’re going to end up with the wine equivalent of a mouthful of coffee. You can easily open it at lunch to serve it with dinner.
Sagrantino is also not an inexpensive wine. Most of them run between $25-50 for a standard sized bottle. (Like Amarone, it’s often available in half-bottles.)
The Scacciadiavoli (which translates awesomely from Italian as “Devil Hunter” had a nose of roasted meats, cherries, and leather. The body had, expectedly, some very powerful tannins alongside some plummy fruit and spice. The finish continues for quite some time as the tannin gradually dried my tongue. As powerful as it was, it’s nicely balanced.
The Antonelli was a somewhat different experience. This wine’s fruit opened much more quickly. The fruits were rich and full. The sensation was almost as if the fruit was “kissing me back” on the back of my lips with lots of licorice and blackberry flavors. There was a distinct undertone of oak to this wine which wasn’t there as strongly in the Scacciadiavoli. I thought this one wasn’t quite as well balanced, either. It was more approachable initially, and better to drink on its own.
With the lamb chops, The Scacciadiavoli was the superior wine. The wine’s structure made it a better match with the chops’ flavor, I thought. As the more restrained wine initially, I thought its flavors developed more interestingly alongside the meal. We finished a glass of each and then recorked both bottles for later.
We overbought on the loin chops but I went ahead and grilled them all. The leftovers ended up in a couple of lamb-and-mushroom melts a couple of days later. When we reopened the wines, both of them were still very drinkable. The Scacciadiavoli’s tannins had mellowed quite a bit, and it continued to be an excellent food wine. The Antonelli’s fruit calmed down a bit, but the overall experience was much more nondescript.
If you’re cooking a big Italian themed meal this weekend and you want an elegant wine alongside – especially if you’ve got folks coming over who enjoy big wines – then this might be an interesting option.
Tuesday, March 08, 2016
As you all know, I’m a big fan of bubbles. But I’ve never quite figured out what to do with Prosecco.
|Bust of Antonio Carpene outside the Istituto Coneglio|
When a bottle of Carpenè Malvolti 1868 Prosecco di Conegliano-Valdobbiadene DOCG Extra Dry appeared, I was quite pleased. I’d given good marks to the Bisol “Crede” Prosecco a couple of months ago, and I hoped that this one would be of similar quality. As I pointed out when I wrote about the Crede, if you see the regional classification of “Valdobbiadene DOCG” on the side of a bottle of Prosecco, you’re probably looking at a pretty decent bottle.
What I didn’t realize when I opened the package was that I was holding an interesting little piece of history. Antonio Carpenè, the man whose name is borne by the bottle, sounds like one fascinating dude. He was a pioneer in Italy of scientific winemaking. Armed with a Chemistry degree from the University of Pavia, he turned away from a professorship at the University of Bologna to found the first modern winery, Carpene-Malvolti, in the Veneto in 1868 (hence the wine’s name) as well as founding the Istituto Conegliano, which is now the largest technical winemaking school in the world.
Now, one might suggest that he was a little too deeply ingrained with science. His son was named “Rubidium” and his daughter was named Etile, which is the Italian spelling of “Ethyl.” He was going to name his second daughter “Oenocyanin” – after the pigment in grape skins, and I can imagine the…um…conversation that followed. The daughter ended up being named “Mary,” who eventually carried on the family tradition by naming her first son “Iridium.” Takes all kinds.
In any case, in the 1930’s, Carpene’s sone, Antonio Carpene, Jr. decided to apply a new method of wine carbonation to Prosecco. This method, called Metodo Italiano or the “Charmat Method,” is a less expensive, less time-consuming carbonation method than the tried-and-true method Champenoise. In the Charmat Method, rather than being carbonated in bottles, the wine undergoes this secondary fermentation in steel tanks, which are sometimes coated in enamel. The wine is bottled under pressure in a continuous process. The grape varieties like Glera used in Prosecco respond positively to this method, maintaining their flavor characteristic much more firmly.
So, back to this bottle of bubbles. Prosecco is often an aperitif, but the tasting notes indicated that it
My first impression was that the flavor profile in general was much richer than a “typical” Prosecco. The nose is floral with a hint of yeast and caramel. I found big peachy-pear flavors on the front end which led me to expect a Moscato-style sweetness. Instead, the palate is soft and quite dry. The carbonation is pleasantly sharp, finishing cleanly with a long, pleasant peach finish. Quite pleasant to enjoy on its own. AFter enjoying this wine with our meal, I imagine this wine could be a Swiss Army knife of pairings for a Prosecco lover. It has enough carbonation to clean the palate of a creamy sauce like the one we used, while it still had enough flavor to balance the starch and cut through the oil in the fish.
The price of the Valdobbiadene area wines tends to be a bit higher, but I thought it was every bit the equal to the Crede, which I previously reviewed – but at $19, it’s several dollars a bottle less. If you’re looking to explore some of those wines, this would be a nice entry into higher-end Prosecco. Is it a bit of a reach for an everyday sparkler? Probably, but I think you’ll enjoy the flavors within, whatever or whomever you have it with.
Sunday, February 28, 2016
|"Do not allow children to mix drinks.|
It is unseemly -- and they use too much vermouth."
Poor vermouth. A drop too much sends cocktail hipsters into an absolute uproar. Many martini drinkers take great pride in their disdain for this mixer and aperitif.Winston Churchill, in a piece of famous apocrypha, would mix his martinis and “give a nod towards France” rather than add vermouth to his shaker. Spanish filmmaker Luis Buñuel stated that "Connoisseurs suggest simply allowing a ray of sunlight to shine through the bottle” of vermouth into the gin for a proper martini.
Monday, February 15, 2016
|Our recent shopping trip (artist's rendition)|
Sunday, January 31, 2016
Friday, December 18, 2015
|No. Not him. But the Bisol gets a thumbs up.|
Sunday, December 13, 2015
|The national flag of Macedonia. Sunshine!|
Macedon 2013 Pinot Noir – From the mountains in the southern Macedonia, this pinot noir is not a morning person. If you crack a bottle, expect that it will take a bit of air and time to loosen up. I decanted it for a couple of hours and it still needed a good, long spin in the old tasting glass. Until it gets enough air, it's a little grumpy, with some fairly rough tannins dominating. Once it's had a little time to face the day, it unlimbers itself and becomes quite pleasant, much like me in the a.m. The Macedon’s nose is light, floral, and cherryish. A solid earthy backbone gets wrapped in layers of smoke, plum, and leather. The finish is grippier than your average pinot and hangs around for a good long while. The pricetag is the kicker. I figured it would be solidly in the $25 range, but it's only $15. A killer value.
While the Black Stallion grape is plenty cool in and of itself, my enthusiasm stems from my strongly-held opinion that Mad Max: Fury Road is one of the great pieces of cinema in recent memory. You might recognize her here:
|In my world, Furiosa is the Wine Fairy. I'll drink whatever she suggests.|
Friday, November 20, 2015
The Super Tuscans, are not made according to the traditional standards of Tuscany. Instead, these wines generally have Sangiovese blended with other grape varietals like Cabernet Sauvignon or Merlot -- usually yielding wines that are bigger and richer than many of their Italian counterparts.
So what happens when a winemaker in Montepulciano decides, "Oh, heck with it -- I've got all these high-quality Bordeaux-blend grapes...let's make a high-end wine from that juice and commit the heresy of including zero Sangiovese in the mix."
The answer, or at least one of them, is the Avignonesi Desiderio Cortona DOC Merlot 2011. This Bordeaux blend of 85% Merlot and 15% Cabernet is a big, burly bottle of red, clocking in at 14.5% alcohol. It's aged for 18 months in barriques, which are the small barrels traditionally used to age Bordeaux.
Thanks to Sean at Colangelo, I had the opportunity to try a sample of this high end (around $60) Italian red.
Not a wine for the faint of heart -- this merlot is toothstainingly rich and thick. I'd say it's probably as big an "Old World" wine as I've come across any time recently. That said, the Desiderio starts with a nose that's surprisingly light. I caught the cherry notes that I usually find accompanying a Sangiovese-based wine, which is probably at least some function of the teroir. I also found some darker blackcurrant scents followed by a whiff of chocolate.
Any illusions that the light nose might yield subtle flavors disappear quickly. On the palate. stuff gets going right away with the gobs of big, rich dark fruit that you'd expect in a merlot, but alongside a big blast of smoky tannin. The mouthfeel is big, tannic, and drying. The finish lingers long and dry, with plenty of plum and smoke. I found the Desiderio to be little rough around the edges, so you might want to consider laying it down for a bit. If you crack it now, decant it for a good long while, and serve it next to some hearty, preferably grilled, fare or big sauces to take the edge off. Many lamb preparations would be a good match here.