Sunday, April 28, 2019

Kin & Cascadia -- Thinking about "Regional" wines

As I mentioned in the recent Chianti column, the naming convention surrounding most European wines revolves around the region, subregion, or -- in some cases -- the very patch of ground on which the grapes are grown. While this convention is helpful for delineating how a wine is a reflection of terroir -- the combination of soil, climate, weather, and history that go into a particular wine, it's often less helpful if you're...say...looking for a bottle of cabernet sauvignon.

Here in the States, by contrast, we tend to name our wines primarily by the main grape in the bottle. If at least 75% of the juice is made from, say, Merlot -- then the bottle can read "Merlot." The identity of the grapes on the rest of the blend can be disclosed or not, depending on the winery's desire.

Wine's about a sense of place, though. A Chardonnay from southern California will taste very different from one grown in..say...Missouri. Even more applicable, a Cabernet Sauvignon from California's. Napa Valley will taste very different from a Cabernet Sauvignon grown by the coast in neighboring Sonoma County.

To establish a sense of place, in 1978, the federal government developed a system by which a wine's location could be classified. Winegrowing regions were classified by climate and topography into American Viticultural Areas, or AVA's for short. For a wine to claim a particular AVA, such as "Anderson Valley" or "Yamhill-Carlton" -- 85% of the grapes must be sourced from that particular area. A particular AVA, such as "Napa Valley" can contain multiple sub-AVA's -- like "Los Carneros" or "St. Helena." But the broader-based "regional blends" are one way to get a sense of how terroir shapes a wine in a particular area -- so you can see if you like it.

This brings us to this edition's wines, a Cabernet Sauvignon and a Pinot Noir from Kin & Cascadia -- an oenological partnership between the Sager and Master families in the Pacific Northwest. The two wines that I had the opportunity to try boast their roots from particular AVAs.

To start with -- the Kin & Cascadia 2017 Cabernet Sauvignon (~$16). The wine is listed as being from "Columbia Valley, Washington." The Columbia Valley AVA is a very large area, shared between Oregon and Washington. Within the Columbia Valley AVA are seven subregions, one of which is the Wahluke Slope AVA -- from where a good portion, but not quite 85% of the grapes come.

I tend to like Washington State cabernets. I think they're generally a little less alcohol-driven and more subtle with their fruits than their brethren in California. The Kin & Cascadia is relatively decent. It's a drinkable Cabernet -- with coffee and black cherry flavors being the dominant flavors. Unfortunately, there's little else to note flavorwise. The finish has a somewhat sharp tannic quality, even after an hour of air, that I didn't find personally pleasant. I thought it was decent enough alongside a steak or a rich stew, but I didn't think it was overly interesting itself.

The Kin & Cascadia 2017 Pinot Noir (~$14) is a different story. This Pinot sources its grapes from the Willamette (rhymes with "Dammit!") Valley, the best known and largest of the Oregon AVA's. Now, I love me some Oregon Pinot -- and I've had enough of it to be able to somewhat ascertain the difference between the various sub-AVA's within the Willamette. The grapes here are likely from a variety of places around the Valley, and that's not a bad thing. Sometimes, especially with wines at this price point, finding the right grape sources makes for a tasty blend.

That's the case here. This particular blend of Pinot grapes yielded a lighter-styled but still quite interesting Pinot. Strawberry and cherry flavors go alongside a nicely floral nose, a solidly smoky, fruity midpalate, and a lingering, softly smoky finish. For a Pinot Noir at this price point, it's a pretty impressive offering. I think it's an incredibly good value at this price point, especially for fans of lower-alcohol Pinots. I also thought it was better with a steak than the Cab, to be perfectly honest.

Learning about different AVA's gives you an opportunity to fine-tune the sorts of wines you'll tend to enjoy, even if you might not recognize a certain producer. Think it an AVA as a high-level overview of what you should expect.

Wednesday, April 24, 2019

Naked Vine One-Hitter: Castiglioni Chianti

As I've gotten older and more full of years, my palate's changed a bit. Lighter-styled wines have been finding their way to our table more and more often. As a result, I've been grooving on Chianti -- that famously food-friendly red from Tuscany.

Now, if you're new here, remember that the naming conventions for Italian wines (as well as many European wines in general) are different from here. Many folks I know think that "Chianti" is a grape and "Chianti Classico" means a higher grade of Chianti. Release yourself from those assumptions. Chianti is the region within Tuscany from where the wine hails. (Chianti Classico is a subzone of the Chianti region.)

Chianti is made primarily from the Sangiovese grape -- at least 75% of the blend must be Sangiovese to be considered a Chianti. There are a number of other grapes, that can provide the other 25% of the blend, including red grapes Syrah and Merlot -- and whites like Malvasia and Trebbiano.

Because of this blending diversity, Chianti can be all over the map as far as flavor profile. Leaner, more acidic Chianti tend to have a higher percentage of white grapes blended in. The Chianti I had the chance to try recently -- Castiglioni 2016 Chianti -- was on the other end of the spectrum.

Castiglioni is the original estate of the Frescobaldi wine family. Wine has been produced from its vineyards since the 1300's. Their current version of Chianti is a straight blend of Sangiovese and Merlot. The result is an Italian wine that's a bit more approachable than many Chianti.

I find Chianti to have a bit of a "chalky" background flavor, which might not sound great to drink on its own -- but it actually allows it to mesh in a complementary fashion with just about any type of food. The Castiglioni has less of that chalk flavor because of the merlot in the blend, which masks it with a bigger dose of fruit. Cherry and blackberry are the dominant flavors here. This is a round, full, uncomplicated version of Chianti that can be sipped on its own.

With food, as with many Chianti, it's a much better choice in my estimation. We had this over the weekend alongside a savory lamb stew and it was a very nice accompaniment. It would also be a solid choice with roast chicken, red sauced pasta, or almost any kind of cheese, in my estimation.

Castiglioni Chianti retails for around $15. It's a very decent quaffer. Also, if you're new to Italian wines, this might be a good gateway bottle to start a vinous exploration of the region.

Wednesday, April 17, 2019

Naked Vine One-Hitter: Alìe -- A right, round rosé

Longtime Vineheads know I've long been a champion of rosé. For over a decade, I've been chanting my "pink is not a flavor" mantra to winedrinkers worried someone might think they ordered a glass of white zin.

While I can't take credit for the now-social appropriateness of the pink stuff, I certainly appreciate that the upswing in the rosé market has driven a number of countries and regions to up their respective rosé games. One particular example of this -- Italy.

I've never been a huge fan of Italian rosé, in general. I've found their rosés, often marketed as "rosato," to be overly fruity, usually a little too sweet, and honestly inferior in quality to any French rosé. I'd prefer a very light Italian red, slightly chilled, to almost any rosato.

But this old dog can certainly learn a new trick -- because I had the chance to try this new offering from Frescobaldi in Tuscany -- Alìe 2007 Toscana Rosé.

Alìe draws its name from a legendary sea nymph. Like most ancient Roman myths -- the story of Alìe is derived from a similar Greek story -- her name was "Halia" in the Greek version. Thankfully, the story of this wine is much more pleasant than Halia's own legend -- google if you want, but fair warning: like most women in Greek myths, Halia/Alìe doesn't get a happy ending...

In any case, this particular wine, made largely from Syrah with a touch of Vermentino for crispness, is a uniquely bold rosé. Alìe boasts one of the more striking bouquets of any rosé I've tried in quite some time. Many of these wines have very light, delicate airs -- this one, not so much. I found a full nose of ripe melon, fresh blossoms, and tropical fruits. The tropical fruit flavors are certainly present on the palate, as well -- alternating mango, pineapple, and a little cherry flavor. I expected the finish to be a little flabby with this much fruit on the palate, but I was pleasantly surprised to get a crisp, clean wind-down, with those fruit flavors lingering on a rounded mouthfeel.

It's a pretty substantial rosé, so if you're looking for something super light and flinty to drink on a hot day, this probably isn't going to be your speed. As a food wine, though, it really excelled. We had this next to some chicken roasted with lemon, capers, basil and torn bread -- and the roundness of the palate made it an excellent complement.

If you're interested in breaking out of a rosé rut, this would be a nice change of pace. Alìe retails for $17-20.