Quick! I say Australian wine, you say... Shiraz, right? (ok, or maybe Yellow Tail, but after that you'd say Shiraz, I bet).
In my experience, most people associate the wines from down under with fruity, boldly flavored red wines.
So what if I told you that in a pocket of the generally hot, drought-ridden Australian continent there are a few cool areas that can grow a grape that no one would ever expect to see here?
What if that grape was Riesling and what if the style was the complete opposite of the sweet stuff you may eschew?
If you think you know what Riesling tastes like and you've never had a dry Riesling, you're going to need to re-evaluate...and get yourself an Australian Riesling to see a dimension of this grape that you won't believe until you try it.
And...if you think I'm crazy, I'll admit that there's a little cognitive dissonance regarding Riesling, which is associated with cool places like Germany and Austria, growing in burning hot Australia, but it actually makes sense when you consider that immigrants from all over the world always bring their traditions and stuff with them to the place they settle. So it shouldn't be a surprise that when, in 1842, German settlers arrived in the Barossa Valley, fleeing religious persecution in their homeland, they brought with them the grape they knew best: Riesling.
Now, mind you, early versions sucked ass and were made into brandy because the grapes were planted in areas more suited for vines that like heat -- like Shiraz and Cabernet Sauvignon -- but the Germans and their Australian ancestors kept growing Riesling despite these nasty results (Germans are stubborn -- M.C. Ice is part German, so I speak from a place of knowledge). They persisted over the years even though Riesling is a very demanding vine that's easily rotted and needs to grow in cool climates where it can ripen slowly to build flavor and acid -- quite the opposite of the land available in the much of the warm Barossa Valley.
This attempt at growing Riesling rather unsuccessfully went on for a long, long time. But, after lots of experimentation and a refusal to give up on this aromatic, high acid, distinctive grape, the German-Aussie descendants, finally did it in the 80s and 90s when they planted the grape in cool micro-climates in the area. And they followed up the success with a stupendous decision to let the grape speak for itself by allowing it to get ripe and develop fruit flavors but NOT to leave sugar in the wine. The style that results is a dry, flavorful, citrusy wine with pure, crisp flavors, acidity, minerality, and massive aromas like lemon, lime, apricot, peach, and nectarine.
In cool pockets of the Barossa Valley, and especially in the nearby, high elevation Clare and Eden Valleys with long, cool autumns, Riesling is delicate yet bold, flavorful, and aromatic yet subtle, and one of the best matches with lighter or spicy food that I've had the pleasure of tasting.
I had the honor of presenting to the Southeast Regional Conference of the American Culinary Federation a little over a week ago, and the folks at Château Tanunda from the Barossa Valley were kind enough to donate their Riesling for the event (I had requested a dry Riesling as an example of a new trend in wine -- Riesling is the fastest growing white according to Nielsen, a ratings group). I also had discussed the grape in podcast #7 and when I tried this particular wine, I thought so highly of it, that I wanted to review this one to give a solid example of what I was talking about when I described a bone dry Riesling.
This is a wonderful wine made with 40% estate grown, old-vines Riesling, but I have to admit that I haven't yet experienced a bad Australian Riesling, so if you can't find this in your wine shop go for another brand and I don't think you'll be disappointed.
The Wine: Château Tanunda Grand Barossa Riesling
Where It's From: Barossa Valley, South Australia
The Grapes: 100% Riesling
Color: An unoaked, no-sugar wine with lots of acid, grown in a cool climate is usually a super pale yellow color with a touch of green. Yup.
Smell: This could be a super-turn off to you or could be really great, but the first smell wafting out of this glass was gasoline/petrol. It's a characteristic that is typical in Riesling, but that you only get if it's grown in a cool enough climate. I love it and was so happy to smell it on this wine, especially since it was backed up with unbelievable fruit, flower, and nut aromas too. The wine smelled like fresh squeezed lime, dried peaches and apricots, gardenias, and like the almond paste they put inside an almond-filled croissant! It smelled a little like honey too. There was this excellent, very distinct steel/metal smell -- the wine was so aromatic and complex. I could sniff it all day long.
Taste: There were a few surprises offered up in the taste. Yeah, it tasted like the lime I smelled, but there was almost a sensation of green apple Jolly Rancher, and, strangely, the taste of raspberries (not really common in a white, I gotta say). Once inside my mouth and closer to my olfactory bulb (remember, your tongue doesn't "taste" things like fruit or flowers, it's your sense of smell that picks up on that once the stuff is inside your mouth, warmed, and closer to the bulb) it was a bit like pine or an evergreen forest. There was a great nectar-like essence to the wine even though it was BONE dry and had ridiculously high acid that had my mouth watering for ages after I swallowed it. It was such a fresh, light wine -- nothing like the cloying, sweeter versions of Riesling that I think most people associate with the grape.
Food Pairings: Ok, here's a strange one. We had it with farro, an Italian grain that is nutty and starchy and pretty delicious. The texture and taste of the grain and with the herbed goat cheese that we had on top combined so well with the citrusy acid of the Château Tanunda and everything tasted fruity, creamy, and herbal. I know it's an odd pairing because farro is a weird grain, but I would recommend pairing with something nut-encrusted (white fish) or with a grain or side that's a bit nutty to experience the yumminess of this combo. M.C. Ice could not get over how great this pairing was and it did my heart good to see his skinny butt going in for seconds just so he could have the farro/Aussie Riesling match.
Drink or Down the Sink?: Drink...all day long. I know Australian wine isn't winning any popularity contests these days, but you've got to buck the trend and try Château Tanunda or another Riesling from the Clare Valley or Eden Valley to experience this grape and wine in all its refinement, dryness, and perfection in pairing with food! Yum!
Please leave a comment and let me know what you think!!
February 27, 2011
Quick! I say Australian wine, you say... Shiraz, right? (ok, or maybe Yellow Tail, but after that you'd say Shiraz, I bet).
February 25, 2011
Fresh from the airwaves...it's Episode 008 -- Wine Gadgets & Glasses: The Good, The Bad, & The Ugly.
Here's the link: PODCAST
We got this week's show idea from listener, Scott Harrah. Thanks for the suggestion!
After covering some great emails, blog comments, and posts on the Facebook page we talked about the latest out of Canada. Scientists there claim to have discovered a strain of yeast that would prevent Red Wine Headaches or "RWH" syndrome as it's commonly called. I still say it's inconclusive but you can decide...
- Here's a link to the Decanter Article that we talked about.
- ...and another to an older Wall Street Journal Article. Sadly, even though it's old not much has changed since it was written. If anyone has about $60K to pour into a research study on the topic, I bet UC Davis would be happy to receive it!
After news, we hopped into the main topic. We reviewed...
- Wine Glasses - White, Red, and Sparkling (I say simplicity is best)
- Aerators & Decanters -- find out why I'm a hater on the aerator and a decanter lover
- Preservers -- I'm not a gadget girl but thumbs up on this
- Openers (I'm so opinionated...listen to learn more)
- Chillers - In case you don't have a fridge in your home
- Wine Stain Remover - an absolute must-have!
Our grape of the week is one of Rick's favorites: Albariño (or Alvarinho in Portugal). A tasty, unique, and delicious Spanish white!
To listen, download the podcast from the iTunes store (and if you like it and can please add a comment or rate it so we can make sure to stay on the radar in "New & Noteworthy," which helps other folks find us easily that would be great!), click the link above, or use the player below! Thanks for listening!
Addendum: Listener Josh (comment below) brought up the fact that we mentioned a ton of brands in this show...something we don't usually do! He was in his car listening and said it was hard to keep track of all the brand names and suggested we put links to everything we mentioned here... your wish is my command : )
Here are the links to the brands we mentioned:
Wine Soiree: www.winesoiree.com
Waring Pro: http://www.waringproducts.com/ret/catalog/product.php?product_id=59&cat_id=5
Wine Stain Remover:
Wine Away: http://www.wineaway.com/
February 22, 2011
Have been laid up for the last few days with a disastrous cold -- sorry not to post this sooner!
But here it is:
Episode 007 Old World vs New World Wines - What’s the difference?
This week we gave some shout outs to blog, Twitter, and Facebook friends (and asked you to post your ideas to the Facebook page or in the comments below if you want!). The news was about Younger wine drinkers' preferences and how they influence winemaking -- specifically alcohol content. Here's the link to the article that we discussed: Click Here.
Our main topic was Old World versus New World -- what each means from a geographic and stylistic perspective. We broke down weather, terroir, and what you can expect when you buy a wine from Europe vs. everywhere else (more or less!).
Grape of the week is one of my favorites, and one that gets a super bad rap because most people think it's sweet and cloying: Riesling. I beg you to take another look, because it's so darn food friendly and the dry versions are delicious!
If you're on the fence about listening, this is a big episode. I break out my TRUE heritage and you'll hear me in rare form, speaking in my Long Island accent...not to be missed, as it will provide endless entertainment when you meet me in person someday!!!
To listen, download it from the iTunes store, click the link above, or use the player below! Thanks for listening!
February 17, 2011
I've been reading a lot of stuff lately that has panned the hell out of wine bloggers, wine mobile applications, and newer wine critics...and although I find some of it comical, it's been bugging me.
The basic argument in every study, commentary, and editorial is that anyone who is not already established in the wine writing game or isn't a source you know already is essentially full of s*&t. Each article, blogger, periodical, and Op-Ed'er is either saying that you don't trust anything that bloggers say (in the data-based studies) or that you shouldn't. The same goes for mobile wine applications, resource sites, and anything else that isn't Spectator, Enthusiast, Food & Wine, The New York Times, Decanter, The Wine Advocate (Robert Parker), etc.
So, according to these articles, YOU essentially are saying that all forms of new information and new media are worthless and may as well not exist except if written by the same people who write for magazines and papers that existed before the 1990s. YOU eschew "new entrants" into the field and don't trust or like anyone who hasn't earned their stripes at a major publication first. Better stop reading this blog now ...
But if you decided to read on...I'll say this. This story is a retread of the story of the entrenched, old media industries -- music labels and newspapers especially come to mind. Recall that the music labels shut down Napster rather than trying to harness its networking powers (for now, we'll leave it alone that the app was kind of stealing music). Then the industry boycotted iTunes because fat cat execs would have rather had you buy the whole crap album than just buy an individual song you may like. It's the same story: Old doesn't like the new and they don't want to share their audience or accept that things may be changing.
I'll concede that many wine blogs are written by folks without a lot of wine knowledge and that I'm personally a fan of a very few. I don't think this is a really radical view. To quote a fellow Long Islander (I'm a native, although I don't live there anymore) with everything you read or listen to or watch on a regular basis ..."It's a matter of trust."
But we don't need whining journalists to tell us to question media and our trust level of content providers. Trust is earned over time. Doesn't this go for everything in your life? Here are three examples:
1. You hear from a friend that a hairstylist is really great, so you go to the salon because you trust your friend. The stylist FUBARs your hair and then you neither trust the stylist, nor the friend.
2. You call a painter whose name you got off the Internet because you need a room painted desperately and the price is right. He turns out to be awesome. You use him again and you recommend him to everyone you know.
3. You read a review of a wine on a wine blog and it seems like something you would like. You buy it based on that recommendation. It rocks your world. You keep reading the blog and taking the recommendations.
Why is it that wine "authorities" think that we are all a bunch of morons and lemmings? Yes, there are 3,000 wine blogs out there. Not all of them will continue, and not all of them are written by people who know much about wine. But we know this. We can see it right away. And it's our choice to decide if we'll keep reading them for amusement or to find some other source of information.
I find it interesting that the data in one of the studies showed "definitively" that people don't trust wine bloggers, but then as a fellow wine blogger, The Wine Crumudgeon, pointed out, those who actually know what a blog is (that was part of the problem -- they didn't know what a blog was), trust them about as much as they trust the people at their wine shop. The empirical study implies that people trust wine shops a lot more than blogs -- proving the mantra I learned in business school -- there are lies, damn lies, and statistics.
Another fascinating article on "death to bloggers" comes from a writer for the Connoisseurs' Guide To California Wine, whose thinly veiled hatred for new bloggers seems to come from a fear that he and his cronies may be undermined by other, more interesting people on the horizon. He hopes to hold on to his salary (and his $90/year subscription fee) by stripping bloggers of their credibility and insinuating that the old guard is the only game that will survive (*Please see the comments below where a dialog between the author and I played out. He clarifies his position a bit).
I'm sure the author of that article would lump me in with the amateurs, but I like to think that because I am a Certified Sommelier, Certified Specialist of Wine, have done my time on the business side of the wine industry working in California for a large winery, and I have a wine education business in which I do classes for people constantly, that my stuff comes from a place of experience, expertise, and understanding about what people want to know about a very broad, difficult subject. But that's not up to me to decide. It's up to you to choose to trust me and many of the other bloggers out there or not.
Regardless, I think we should all resist the urge to cast a death knell to a new medium that gives people access to more information and gives them a chance to make decisions about who they believe in. The number of people who write blogs hurts no one, but the rise of successful ones eats into the scared old guard, which is why they keep predicting the end of it all (wishful thinking). I say, bring it on. In the end it's up to all of us to choose what we like and what we don't. The best will rise to the top, the less good won't garner an audience.
In this situation, let's use Billy Joel's wise words: "It's a matter of trust..." A matter which is up to you, not to someone else's opinion on wine bloggers, wine applications, and the future of wine on the Internet.
February 14, 2011
Ok, it's Valentine's Day.
And like everyone else in America (except for you REALLY slick people), you're scrambling to put something together for your spouse/love/like/crush.
I'm not big into the "Hallmark" holidays, as I like to call them, but I do like Valentine's Day because it's a great opportunity to take some time out of your crazy schedule to show someone that you care.
If there's a wine-lover in your life, I'm going to offer you three suggestions for wines to either give as a gift or have with dinner (which really, in my opinion, should be enough of a gift, but then again I'm low maintenance in the gift arena, much to M.C. Ice's delight).
The bonus of giving wine: it's an awesome last minute gift. If you've got a good wine shop around, you should be able to find any of these great wines easily and in a variety of prices (as an FYI -- the labels listed below are for illustration purposes only, so you can see what to look for. With the exception of the Darioush, I haven't reviewed any of these wines).
A great white option: Viognier (Vee-ohn-YAY)
I'm kind of embarrassed that I haven't reviewed one of these on the blog because they are so luscious and delicious, but c'est la vie (the grape is native to the Northern Rhone, so I feel the gratuitous use of this cheesy phrase is warranted). This is a good way to ingratiate yourself to a white wine lover.
Why this wine? Although I love wines that are like a bowl of acid and minerals, I think that may send the wrong message on Valentine's Day. An austere wine may make the recipient feel like you're calling him/her an icy, cold, and acetic person. Everyone reads into stuff, so spare yourself.
For Valentine's Day something floral, fruity, and sensual are much more appropriate. Viogner fits the bill -- it tends to be full-bodied, rich with peach, apricot and honeysuckle flavor, and like liquid silk in your mouth. It's a fragrant, happy, forthcoming wine in flavor and texture and your sweetie will definitely appreciate the idea that a wine with this exuberant a profile reminds you of them.
If you're going out to dinner or cooking dinner, there is no better match for any cheese (except bleu) than Viognier. It also pairs well with salads, appetizer courses, and pasta with cream sauces. It's so aromatic and delicious, that it's a great wine for pre-dinner imbibing too!
Price Ranges: Options range from a California or Australian version for around $10 to the really expensive stuff for $90 from Condrieu, at the far north of the Northern Rhone Valley in France.
BTW--My advice for this wine and the suggestions that follow would be to pick a price point commensurate with your pocketbook, AND with the seriousness of the relationship...don't go overboard for a new love, friends. But this is not a romance column, so let's get to pick #2... ______________________________________________________________
Options within an Option: Valpolicella
Italian is such a romantic language, that I think just giving something from this country of the language of passion and love will score you major points. Valpolicella (val-pole-ahh-CHELL-ah) or, if you want to spend the coin, Amarone (am-a-RHONE-eh) are two great picks.
Why this wine? There are so many styles and flavors depending on the type you get, that this seemingly simple wine can have layers of intrigue...a very romantic concept, no? Made of a blend of Corvina, Molinara, and Rondinella grapes native to the Veneto (near Venice) region, these are multi-faceted wines, to say the least. Here are your options:
Valpolicella Classico: If you want to keep things light, here's the way to go. This is a pretty simple wine but full of red berry and floral aromas. It tastes very fruity with just a hint of acidity for balance -- it's not such a serious wine, but it's a pretty fun one.
Food: If you don't like white wines this can be a good substitute -- it's great for vegetarian dishes, especially those with an Italian influence.
Price: Generally below $18
Valpolicella Classico Superiore: A much more serious wine than the Classico, this one may have done some time in oak barrels or been through the Ripasso method, where the wine is passed over skins and seeds from dried grapes to give it some extra tannins and mature flavors. If it's been in oak it has mouth-drying tannins and a healthy dose of vanilla and wood flavors added to the fruitiness of the grapes. If it's done Ripasso style, expect raisined flavors, a slight bitterness from the skins and seeds, and a fuller, more complex variety of things going on in the glass.
Food: This wine is a big step up from the one above (consider your messaging, and don't give it to the person you're breaking up with tomorrow!). Mushrooms, hearty meats, and stews would be a good match.
Price: From about $14 - $95 depending on quality level.
Amarone: You better be in love to give this version. This wine is made from grapes that have been set aside in attic rafters until late in the fall to dry and concentrate their sugars and soften their acids. It's then fermented dry (no sugar is left in the wine) and the result is a very intense aroma and flavor. Black cherry, plum, chocolate, earth, and raisin are common flavors. The word Amarone, comes from "amaro" or bitter, so expect a tinge of that in the wine too...just like love, it's a little bittersweet (although it's not sweet, just fruity but go with me on the cliche please). It's high in alcohol too -- usually upwards of 14% so drink lots of water and grab a taxi if you're having this out!
Food: I always like to pair wines from a region with cuisine from that region, so think Northern Italian fare -- pork and salami are popular in the area, so think along the "salty meat" lines for pairing.
Price: These wines START at around $60, hence the comment at the beginning of the description...
A "my heart beats for you red": Napa Cabernet Sauvignon
Why this wine? Well it's the King of red wine and it's the wine with the most prominent and revealing flavors. This wine doesn't hold much back, so if you're trying to make a proclamation of love, here's a great bet. Napa Cab works best because it's fruity, it's not very difficult to understand or appreciate, and it's got smells and flavors that are bold, powerful, and delicious. Blackberry, black currant, black cherry, tobacco, oak, vanilla, chocolate, and healthy tannins and acids make this choice a "heart-on-the-line" declaration of strong feeling.
If you're going out to dinner or cooking dinner, the food better be show-y or bold. Braised meats, game (venison, buffalo, etc), prime rib, earthy vegetable dishes (with mushrooms, eggplant), duck, and lamb can handle this big-ass wine. Lighter foods, anything with a sweet sauce, or "green flavored" things (asparagus, artichoke, herbal seasoning) will make the wine go over like a ton of bricks so caveat emptor.
Price: All over the map...from $15 to $500! For good, solid choices expect to spend $35. I have a ton of producers listed on the blog from both Napa and Sonoma (if you want to save a little money, go for something from the Alexander Valley in Sonoma).
Whatever you do today or tonight, enjoy it and even if you don't have a hot date, make sure you spend some time with the ones you love...and that includes yourself!
February 11, 2011
You've heard them thrown around and thrown down, but do you really know what they mean? Who cares if you didn't before!? Rick of Hello Vino (the free wine app) and I define these puppies and gab about everything from the critic Robert Parker to my love of drinking dirt (ok, not really...)
- Dry (and the opposite: Sweet)
Here is the article that spurred the Robert Parker chat...although we neglected to dig into the actual news that he would no longer be reviewing California wines, which has been his sweet spot for a long, long time and shaped the way a lot of winemakers make their wines (i.e., for his palate so they can get great scores). ARTICLE
As a final request...we want topics from you. This isn't just a lame-ass one way podcast. Give us some ideas and we'll make it happen! Add a comment below and we'll do our best to pick up what you're puttin' down!
Download it from the iTunes store, click the link above, or use the player below! Thanks for listening!
February 8, 2011
A Delicious Surprise from a Small Corner of the Southern Rhone: Chateau Roustan from Costières de Nimes
The Rhône Valley is a big place. It's got a northern region where Syrah reigns supreme in reds and native (and lesser known) white grapes Viognier, Roussane, and Marsanne play lead roles and supporting roles to Syrah (yes, they blend white and red there). It has an even bigger southern region, which is super diverse and contains the famous Côtes-du-Rhône and Châteauneuf-du-Pape designations.
I'm going to do a primer on the Northern Rhône soon, and then I'll get to the Southern Rhône shortly after, but for this post, I'll concentrate on a lesser known area of the Southern Rhône from where I have previously never tried a wine. It's called Costières de Nimes (Coat-Tee-AIRE d'Neem) and its the most southern of the Rhône's vineyards. It's so far south and west that it used to be considered part of the Languedoc region, which is bigger and less prestigious than the Rhône.
This is an area with a long history of winemaking and a whole hell of a lot of pride. Greeks were the first to cultivate vines in the Costières de Nimes. They alighted from the Mediterranean, found some native grapes, and in 500 BC started making the good stuff. Centuries later, Romans moved in, developed the area and it's rumored that Julius Ceasar's soldiers hung out here and imbibed in the fruit of the vine! In the 8th century, the real wine-lovers and perfectionists -- the monks from various sects (Benedictines, Cistercians, oh my!) started making fabulous wine.
Things clicked along for a while and then the world got a better taste of wines from this area when, in the 17th century, the Canal du Midi, a waterway connecting the Mediterranean with the Atlantic, opened international markets for this region's wine. The region was awarded its own designated, controlled origin (Appellation d'origine contrôlée) in 1986.
A funny thing about this region -- bullfighting seems to be a huge deal here. Although I didn't see anything in my research on Spanish influence, the web site for the wines of the region mentions two festival days involving bullfighting and a Pamplona-like bull chase...kind of not what I'd expect in Southern France, but what do I know?
I guess I better stick to the wine...
Like a lot of the Southern Rhône there are 5 main grapes that drive the boat in these wines: Syrah, Grenache, Mourvedre, Carignan, and Cinsault. Growing in a hot climate, which experiences some crazy storms, and the Mistral wind that comes from the North and can rip all the grapes off a vine in seconds, these grapes are each hearty and resilient and each add a special something to the blend. The soils tend to be stony and alluvial (deposits from rivers that look like stones and dirt) and can add a dusty mineral note to the wine.
Although similar in climate and in grapes used, wines from the Costières de Nimes are nothing like their richer neighbors in the east and northeast Rhône Valley (Châteauneuf-du-Pape, Vacqueras, Gigondas). These wines tend to be lighter in style with less complexity -- more everyday wines than ageble ones! It's also worth noting that because of all the sucky weather in this area, vintage matters a lot. The wine below was a 2008, which was a harder vintage in the Rhône with wind, rain, and a wicked Mistral wind that lead to a smaller crop of just ok fruit -- very different from 2005 or 2007, for instance.
And now to the wine, which I was surprised to find and bought out of curiosity -- having never before seen a Costières de Nimes on a shelf!
The Wine: Chateau Roustan
Where It's From: Costières de Nimes, Rhône Valley, France
The Grapes: 50% Syrah, 30% Mourvedre, 20% Grenache
Color: Syrah and Mourvedre are both pretty dark varieties so, not surprisingly, this wine was a rich ruby. It had a pretty watery rim, which I find typical of Rhône Syrah (the Australian Shirazes are so much darker and hold color to the edge practically) and medium legs, meaning moderate alcohol (it was 13%, which is pretty standard).
Smell: I really love when a wine tastes like it's from somewhere. There are so many wines out there that are generic-tasting -- not so with this puppy. Flowers, blueberry, cherry, and spice all wrapped together in a wine that was like a bottle of expensive perfume. I smelled something like a pecan sandy cookie too. The best parts of this wine for me though -- the stinky, mineral, dust smells and then the new leather that anchored this wine to the land it grew in. Very interesting, in a good way.
Taste: Syrah is known for dark fruit flavors, high tannin, and leathery flavors. Mourvedre is used for its musky, earthy notes. Grenache adds alcohol, acid, cherry, and other red fruit notes. In this wine, together these made something really delicious. Blueberry syrup, orange rind, sour cherry, and warm cinnamon spice were all over this wine. Dark flowers and roasted walnuts hung around in the background. The wine had noticeable tannin and a little alcohol burn, but it was all in balance. Even with all that flavor, the wine was medium bodied -- it wasn't huge.
Food Pairings: Like I said, this isn't a big daddy wine. Hard cheeses and salty meats like prosciutto are great for this wine. Perhaps it's because of the bullfighting stuff, but I also envision this with Spanish tapas -- mushrooms in olive oil and garlic or patatas bravas (spicy fried potatoes in a special spicy aioli).
Drink or Down the Sink?: Drink. A solid wine for a great value. If you like full-flavored, blockbuster wines, this will be too subtle for you, but I liked it's lightness and complex smells and tastes. It's a good find from a small, historical, and pretty awesome region.
Note: If you can't find a Costières de Nimes, look for a Côtes-du-Rhône with Syrah as the main grape, or a Côtes-du-Ventoux or Côtes-du-Luberon, which should have some similarly delicious characteristics!
February 4, 2011
In the news, we discuss Flash Sale sites and the Grape of the Week is Zinfandel (yeah we touch on White Zin too...even though I'm a bit of a hater).
Here are the links we mention in the show:
Flash Sites Article
My Video on French Oak TV on Closures
And the podcast...
February 1, 2011
I guess I'm obsessed with "x" themes these past two weeks. Last week it was Bordeaux and this week, it's a crazy-ass grape that is rarely made as a standalone wine -- Xarel-lo.
First things first -- how the hell do you SAY that? There are two ways to go on this. You can say it in the native Catalan language and call it "shah-REHL-lo" or you could do it the Spanish way and call it "hah-REHL-lo." If you do it the second way, try to channel my (long deceased) Yiddish speaking relatives and get a little phlegm roused when you say the "ha" part so it's kind of like clearing your throat and saying the syllables at the same time. Practice a little to get it right. If that doesn't work, channel Scooby Doo and try to say "hello" -- it's kind of like "Heerrro," except with an 'el' sound before the o.
Now that you can expertly pronounce it I guess I should tell you what it is. I'll start with a hint. Have you heard of Cava? Maybe you've seen the black bottle of Freixenet that's $12.99 (a pretty good deal if you ask me) that looks like a Champagne bottle? It's Spanish sparkling wine.
Cava, named for the caves that the wine aged in, is fabulous. It's like really inexpensive, high quality Champagne, because it uses the same production techniques but has a twist because rather than the French Pinot Noir, Chardonnay, and Pinot Meunier (the Champagne blend) it uses native grapes.
What does this have to do with Xarel-lo? It's one of the three grapes used in Cava, along with Parallada and Macabeu. Less sexy than its blending partners, the grape produces wine that is aromatic but wickedly acidic and is not known to be as delicate and palatable as its blending partners in Cava. It's used for a punch and a backbone.
Xarel-lo is the 6th most important grape in Spain and is native to the Catalonia region in the northeast. Most of the crop goes directly into Cava. It's the flagship grape of Penedes, a smaller area inside of the Catalonia area and a predominantly white wine region (although it makes great oaked reds, sparklers, and pink wine). The area is nestled between the coast and the interior plains on Spain's east coast. It's mild and warm -- benefiting from the Mediterranean sun and the coastal breezes. The area has an ideal climate for grape-growing.
So it's clear that Xarel-lo is essential in northeastern Spain, but to me it's always seemed like its most important role is a supporting one in Cava. Given that, I was surprised when a friend who represents the Albet i Noya brand gave me a bottle to try (there's my disclosure, but you know I'll be honest!). I'm always open to trying new stuff and have tried Macabeu bottled by itself with good results, but this was very outside the box.
Just as an aside though, before I get into the wine, a note on Albet i Noya, because they are not run of the mill. They farm on land that's had some form of viticulture since the middle ages, so this is not a new fangled venture. The family has tended the vineyards since 1903, and through hard work and saving, bought the land in 1986. It's a family operation all the way, making Cava and all sorts of still wines from native varieties to French ones to blends of the two. They seem very experimental and cutting edge when you look at their diverse selection (which left me thinking, it could be great or really out there, FYI). Regardless, they get huge props from me for organic farming and for making wine in a true organic way, without the addition of sulfur dioxide. Great effort and homage to Mother Nature!
Ok, so on to answering the burning question: "I know how to pronounce it, I know where it's from and I know about the producer, now what the hell (or should I spell it Xell?) does Xarel-lo taste like?..."
The Wine: Albet i Noya Xarel-lo (BTW - no "r" in Albet)
Where It's From: Penedes, Spain
The Grape: Xarel-lo
Color: The wine looked light to me -- almost Pinot Grigio-esque in color. It's kind of like a bale of hay. Nothing stood out -- no big legs, no green flecks, no dark yellow to indicate oak or sugar or age...I wasn't expecting big flavor.
Smell: This is not an easy wine, meaning it's hard to get your finger on it even just when you you smell it. At first I pigeon-holed it -- the wine smelled like green plants or a green house, maybe even like a cucumber in salt water (oh, I guess that's technically a pickle, but it didn't smell pickle-y for the record). I thought -- "Ok, kind of like a bitter Gruner Veltliner" (which is a grape from Austria that is also kind of hard to get your head around). But I was wrong with my initial assessment. With more swirling around the glass and more time, there was this delicious white flower smell and then something like a buttery croissant. I kind of marveled at the inconsistency.
Taste: More surprise here that completely mirrored my experience with the smell. The first impression of this wine was more texture than flavor -- it was tart, bitter, and acidic...but simultaneously creamy and buttery. Total extremes all in one glass. The flavors were lemony and a bit like apricot. On the third or fourth sip I realized that it reminded me of lemon curd, this expensive, creamy stuff that my mom used to buy to put on hot biscuits. The end note was very soft and creamy. I felt a little tired by the time I got to the bottom of the glass, just thinking about the wine.
Food Pairings: This was not a "drink the bottle in a night" wine. Thankfully, it's got a screw cap, so it stayed fresh for 2. The first night I sipped it with nothing -- bad move. The second night I had it with brie and crackers -- much better move. Like many European wines, this is not a casual sipper. You need some light fare -- cheese, light pastas, salads, flaky white fish, or vegetarian appetizers to make this wine shine.
Drink or Down the Sink?: It's a mixed bag. If you don't like bitter in your white, I'd stay away. If you are a brooding, analytical type -- break this down and sit with it. If you're having a lighter meal, I'd say this would be good company. As for me, I'd only buy a bottle if I were serving a nice summer meal, and I'd order it by the glass in a restaurant bu, sadly, it's not going on the list of favorite little-known wines.