Monday, June 01, 2015

Naked Vine Double Barrel -- New Terroir, New Tastes

Terroir comes up quite a bit around here, obviously. To refresh your memory, terroir is the combination of soil geology and composition, geographic location, and weather patterns that affect the growth of grapevines and thus affect the flavor of a wine. A wine made from Chardonnay in the cool, limestone-soiled French region of Chablis will taste completely different from a Chardonnay from the warmer, loamier soils of California’s Central Valley, for instance.

The practical upshot of the effect of terroir is that, given enough consumption, you can make general assumptions of what a wine from a certain country or region will taste like. This is especially true in some of the regions lesser known by the general wine-drinking public. For instance, if I’m in a restaurant and I see a New Zealand sauvignon blanc on the wine list that I’ve not heard of, I usually feel fairly certain that the wine will be highly acidic and have grapefruity flavors with the occasional fragrance of fresh-cut grass.

Of course, you’re familiar with the old saw about the word “assume” – and that can come into play with wine. One reason we can make these assumptions about a country’s wine flavors is that there tend to be areas of that region that dominate wine production – whether because of weather, amount of grape production, access to easy shipping, and any number of other factors. The New Zealand sauvignon blanc I mentioned above? I can also make an assumption that the wine came from the Malborough region of New Zealand, which leads that country in wine exports. However, other regions of the same country do their own twists on wine production – yielding wines that can be very different and certainly worth exploring.

I received a pair of bottles from Juliana at Colangelo from a couple of Southern Hemispheric regions which are starting to make more of a dent in the U.S. wine market. Both turned out to be somewhat different than my usual expectations.

The first bottle was from – surprise, surprise – New Zealand. As I’ve mentioned, most of the best known wines from there hail from Marlborough, which is on New Zealand’s South Island. This wine, the Trinity Hill 2013 “The Trinity” Red Blend, comes from Hawke’s Bay on the North Island. (I’ve actually written about a wine from Hawke’s Bay a couple of New Years Eves ago…) The reds I’ve tried from New Zealand tend to be on the lighter side, like pinot noir. The North Island’s climate is somewhat warmer, which allows for the growth of grapes that thrive in a little more heat. This Merlot-dominant blend with additions of Tempranillo and Malbec, packs a little more oomph in its pleasant package.

The nose is fairly fragrant, full of plums and blackberries, and those big flavors are echoed on the palate. It’s not too thick – certainly falling into the medium-weight category, with plenty of grippy tannins that aren’t overwhelming. The finish is lasting and full, with blackberry, mint, and lasting tannins. We cracked this over Memorial Day weekend, and I’d grilled up a London broil. The Sweet Partner in Crime made a wonderfully hashy side out of some leftover Israeli couscous, crystallized ginger, leek, and asparagus and we laid the strips of steak atop. Just a lovely meal, I gotta say. For $17, this wine stepped right up.

The other bottle was a Chardonnay from South Africa. The most common wines from South Africa are from regions such as Constantia, Stellenbosch, and Paarl – all of which have terroir that includes a warm climate. This makes for big, rustic reds – many of which are made from Pinotage, a cross between Pinot Noir and Cinsault that grows well in hot weather. The white wines tend to be made from sauvignon blanc and chenin blanc – again, good warm weather grapes.

However, there’s much more attention now being paid to a region of South Africa called Elgin. Elgin is located on a high-altitude plateau, which allows for the creation of “cool climate” wines, which tend to be lighter in body and higher in acidity. From Elgin comes the Lothian Vineyards 2013 Chardonnay – billed as a more “Burgundian” version.

I’m not sure I’d quite go that far with that description, but the flavors are certainly different from any other South African white that I’ve tried. Most of those wines tend to make good summer sippers, but this one makes for a much richer, fuller quaff. The nose brought to mind “toasted pear,” if that makes any sense. For a cool climate wine, the body is richly styles and somewhat hefty on the palate for a white with full flavors of honey, apple, and butterscotch. There’s some oak hanging out, too, but much less than I thought there would be given the nose.

The Lothian finishes creamily, with just a quick citrus bite and a long butterscotch ending. I wouldn’t exactly call it “elegant” – that makes it sound dainty, which it’s not. I’d probably go for calling it “classy” chardonnay. Good alongside any sort of fish with a little oil in it. We had this with some rainbow trout filets over wild rice, and we found it quite nice. The pricetag on this one is around $20. If you’re a fan of California chardonnay and would like something with a slightly different twist, it’s worth a try.

No comments: