Tuesday, August 29, 2017

Canned Rosé – A Naked Vine Examination

The contenders...
A couple of our neighbors recently invited The Sweet Partner in Crime and I out on their boat for some fun in the sun out on the Mighty Ohio. I brought along some beer for myself, but the SPinC prefers rosé for her day drinking.

Bottles of wine pose their own unique portability issues, so on my load-up trip to Big Wine Store, I ambled by the “bulk” section to see if there were suitable containers. That’s when I discovered that the powers-that-be have gifted us with rosé…in easy-to-boat-with aluminum cans.

I’ve covered the idea of wine-in-a-can in this space before. My initial experience with Underwood Pinot Noir led me to purchase a couple of cans of their rosé for our trip. But I noticed that there were several other companies joining the canned wine – and specifically canned rosé – movement. And judging from the state of the shelves, it seems like these are becoming more popular options.

As a note, there’s nothing inherently wrong with a can as a storage system for wine…at least for wine that’s designed to be drunk in a casual manner. Wine cans are lined, like beer cans are, to avoid direct contact with aluminum and juice. That said, I’d suggest pouring the wine into a cup or glass. Drinking wine (or beer, for that matter) straight from a can eliminates much of the flavor, because there’s no olfactory component other than “can lid.” While this “no smell” effect might be useful for your summertime case of PBR or Beast Light, it defeats the purpose for wine or craft beers. Pour, dammit!

A few thoughts on these metal-clad pinks, starting with good ol’ Underwood:

Underwood 2016 Rosé Wine – When I first wrote about Union Wine Company’s Underwood wine in a can, they were still rolling out their pinot grigio to go alongside their pinot noir. But we’re here to talk about the rosé. Their can clocks in at 12% ABV and is produced from a proprietary blend of Pinot Gris, Pinot Noir, Riesling, Muscat, Chardonnay, and Syrah. The tasting notes printed on the can read “Strawberry. Watermelon. Peach.” – which is pretty much exactly what you’ll get. There’s a fair amount of body to this wine, which is straightforwardly fruity all the way through. It’s easy enough to drink without thinking and made for a perfectly suitable quaff while we were out on the water.

Underwood now produces five different canned wines – the three I’ve previously mentioned, along with two carbonated wines: “Bubbles” and “Rosé Bubbles.” They’ve also rolled out a “Riesling Radler” – a carbonated wine cooler made from of Riesling and grapefruit juice that sits at around 6% ABV, the same range as an IPA.

Essentially Geared Wine Company (NV) Rosé Wine – “Seek the Everyday Uncommon” is Essentially Geared’s slogan. The website clearly caters to folks who are outdoorsy, on the go folks, and the can design was the most interesting, in my opinion, of the wines we tried here. It’s made from 100% Pinot Noir from Napa and suggests pairing with “Pizza by the slice, barbecue brisket, and falafel” – which sounds like an interesting evening’s menu.

Unfortunately, the wine itself wasn’t as interesting. In the words of the Sweet Partner in Crime, the experience of this wine was “Pink. Wet. Gone.” Honestly, it didn’t feel all that much like drinking wine. There was an initial burst of watermelon and strawberry to let you know “Hey! You’re drinking rosé,” then a little alcohol and “wine-ish” taste, and not much of a finish. The note on the can said, “Think: Pink Starburst and 80’s Punk Rock,” but I didn’t get a lot of Clash, Misfits, or Buzzcocks here.

Essentially Geared also produces a California Chardonnay and a California Red made from Merlot, Zinfandel, and Cabernet Sauvignon.

Alloy Wine Works 2016 Central Coast “Everyday Rosé” – Another California entry, but in a larger format. Most canned wine that I’ve seen comes in a 375ml can – so the equivalent of a half-bottle. Alloy’s rosé (a product of Field Recordings winery) comes in a 500ml can, so think of a tallboy next to a standard beer can.

There’s a French rosé called La Vielle Ferme which I’ve reviewed here many times. It’s basically my “house” rosé – a simple, relatively light, minerally-but-fruity pink bottle of goodness. I expected more of a California thump from a wine in a big can, but I was pleasantly surprised to find a lighter-styled, very French, pinkness therein. Their tasting note is “Tastes like: strawberry, grapefruit, mint and guava, Sour Patch Kids, and rose petals.” I don’t think it’s quite that complex, but it does have strawberry and citrus with a refreshing minerality on the finish that I liked quite a bit. It was quite reminiscent of good ol’ LVF, and I certainly recommend it among the three here – for value and for flavor.

Alloy also produces a Pinot Noir, Chardonnay, a red blend they call “Fiction,” and a dry-hopped sparkling chardonnay made from ale yeast called “Weissland.”

All of the above wines run around $5-7 per can. Costing that out for bottle price comparisons, that equates about $10-15 a bottle, depending on the can size.

While these are marketed as “everyday” wines – I likely wouldn’t stock my fridge with them on a regular basis. However, a bottle of wine runs about 2-3 lbs, while two cans are about a pound and a half, and are much less likely to shatter if you happen to drop your backpack. As long as you’re not looking for high-end juice, these will be just fine for you in the wild.

Monday, August 07, 2017

Naked Vine Triple Play: MOAR ITALY!!!

On the heels of my little adventure across the hills and beaches of Italy comes another set of Italian samples for your consideration as you continue to bask in the afterglow of Losing your V-Card.

First off is another Italian white, since we’ve been on that kick. Not a “V” wine, but an Italian autochthonal grape nonetheless. This wine is made from the Insolia grape, grown on the island of Sicily. The Feudo Principi di Butera 2015 Insolia Sicilia is minerally but rich. I didn’t expect a wine with a backbone of flint like this to have such a full mouthfeel, but this one surprised me. Nose of peach and banana. Firm, elegant body with some stone fruit. Finish is almonds, lemons, and minerals.. A really nice all-around white wine. Was a lovely pairing with a sous-vide salmon filet alongside a fatoush-ish salad. Enough oomph to both stand up to the oil in the salmon and to stand out against the vinegar and acid in the salad. Reminded me a little of a Condrieu from France, which would retail at around twice the price. A steal at $15.

Next up is an example of doing something typically thought of as a basic wine really, really well. I’m a fan of Montepulciano d’Abruzzo as an inexpensive, everyday table wine. There’s also a Riserva version of this underrated quaff, which means that it’s been aged for at least two years.  

That’s the case with the Caroso 2010 Montepulciano d’Abruzzo Riserva, whose body immediately jumps out of the glass as richer and fuller than most of its more inexpensive cousins. With blackcurrant and blackberry on the palate, it boasts a firm tannicky backbone. I thought I could have easily mistaken this for a Cabernet Sauvignon, especially on the finish, which has an interesting blend of tannin, cherries, and figs. I was so pleased to find a complexity I’m not used to with my friendly Montepulciano, and it was a stunningly good match with my “Eggplant Pamesan,” one of my special occasion meal for the SPinC. I don’t usually splurge on Montepulciano d’Abruzzo, but at $22, worth a shot to see if it’s up your alley.

Finally, there’s a current trend in Prosecco that doesn’t thrill me. A few years ago, Moscato had a big moment on the culinary stage. Moscato was a good brunch choice – low alcohol, a little bubbly – so it went well with breakfast food. But it was always a bit sweet for my liking on a regular basis. Most Prosecco I’d tried reminded me a lot of slightly fruitier Cava – both were straightforward, fairly dry sparkling wines. Moscato has fallen a bit out of favor, but Prosecco is taking up that market share by becoming more Moscato-like.

The Castello del Poggio (NV) Prosecco is an example of this very thing. At 11% ABV, it’s a fairly light white. The carbonation is creamy and soft next to a flavor based around golden delicious apples. Listed as a “demi-sec” (medium-dry) wine, I found the honey sweetness to be a bit overpowering, all in all, and the wine’s whole flavor tended to be a lack a crispness that I like in a sparkling wine. It’s not that it’s a bad wine, per se, but it’s not normally what I’d reach for. If you were making cocktails, it might not be a bad mixer. $13.

Sunday, August 06, 2017

Lose your V-Card in Italy

Breezes off the Mediterranean lightly caress your skin. You lean back, sated under a cerulean sky. Italian summer sun warms you as you feel a single drop of sweat glide down the gentle curve of your neck. Heavy-eyed with relaxed languor, you turn your head and reach your hand to softly caress…your wine glass.

OK. I’ll stop. I’m your wine guy, not your Scrittore di romanticismo. People with more adjectives than I have for scenery, food, and sex have set countless pages of romantic fiction under the warmth of the Italian sun. Still, if you’re into daydreaming about seduction and romance in Italy, we’ve got you covered here in Vine land for whatever your scenic backdrop.

Italy is home to more than 600 autochthonal (WineSpeak for “native”) grape varieties, both red and white. Until the last couple of decades, many of these grapes were completely unknown in American markets. With an increased interest in indigenous varieties driven by expanding palates and books like Bianca Bosker’s “Cork Dork,” more and more of these grapes are making their way onto wine lists of all stripes.

Interestingly, many of these Italian white varieties start with the letter “V” – and they share a winesexy aspect. Most summertime wines are either a bit watery and flabby (like cheap Pinot Grigio) or have such high acid that they can be hard to drink (like many Sauvignon Blanc). These V-wines nestle themselves into a sweet spot – less acid and more fruit richness – that make them particularly welcome partners, especially when you’ve got a bit of an appetite on a warm day.

With glasses outstretched, let’s meander to a few of these romantic Italian spots and see what they’re pouring…

Our first stop is under the Tuscan sun in the town of San Gimignano, known as the “Town of Fine Towers” and also for production of the Vernacchia grape, considered to be a simple, everyday white wine to enjoy on the palazzos of this hillside town. An example I could offer you would be the Fontaleoni 2016 Vernacchia di San Gimignano – full of apples and pears on the nose, with more citrus on the palate. However, that citrus doesn’t mean thin. The wine gently coats the midpalate. The acid comes in a bit on the finish, which is fairly gentle, with only a little lemony twinge at the end. It tastes like summertime, like a tart lemonade with intentions. 

We set sail from here to the lovely island of Sardinia, with its crystal blue waters and gorgeous natural scenery. Love lasts on Sardinia, which boasts some of the longest life expectancies on the globe. Perhaps this is driven in point by consumption of Vermentino, the best known grape on the island. I like to think of Vermentino as the Viognier of Italian white wines. The example I came across, the Castanzu 2015 Vermentino di Sardegna is lovely and lush, rich with lemon, peach, and cedar on the nose. Rich without much sweetness, I found lemon rind and peaches as the main fruity characteristic, backed up by distinct creaminess. Plenty of minerals and a little smoke on the finish, which is quite dry and lemony.

From here, let’s pay a visit to the rolling hills of central Italy, specifically the Marche region, where they are best known for your other romantic obsession – Italian shoes. In addition to cobbling, they’re known for growing Verdicchio, which was largely a blending grape until improvements in winemaking techniques over the last half of the 20th century smoothed out many of the acidic rough edges of this particular grape. Our version here, the Indigenous 2015 Verdicchio dei Castelli di Jesi is a good illustration of the balance. It’s tart without being overly acidic. The nose is full of orange blossom with a flavor of pineapples and apricot. I found a nicely balanced weight in the body with a little lemon zip at the end. There’s plenty of minerality throughout, yielding a very refreshing sip that you might enjoy while you try on that pair of Fabianis.

Moving southeast down the coast from Marche brings us to Puglia, the “heel” of the Italian boot – and to the Itria Valley, where you and yours can lose yourselves for hours amidst the olive groves and charming towns lined with pointed stone houses called trulli. In this valley (which is technically not a valley, as there are few distinct mountains), they produce whites from the Verdeca grape.

Once a primary grape in vermouth, Verdeca is largely used as a blending grape to give body to leaner whites. Some producers are now producing single varietal Verdeca wines, like the Masseria Li Veli 2014 Verdeca di Valle d’Itria. A bit darker in color than the other whites here, the Verdeca has a bit of a funky, somewhat herbal nose, followed by a very minerally, lemon and tangerine body. The finish is flinty with a flavor which reminds me a bit of orange bitters. Stronger as a food wine than on its own, it’s great with a seared tuna steak with a niçoise-ish side of roasted potatoes and green beans with sliced olives and a vinaigrette.

Pick your favorite Italian spot. Pour yourself a glass. Take a sip. Let your eyes unfocus and close. Have yourself a vision…and let yourself be awakened with a kiss.