Archive for the ‘Vino 101’ Category

Cellaring on a Budget

August 4, 2010

Contrary to what most people believe, you don’t have to spend large sums of money to get a wine cellar started. In fact –according to expert Michaela Morris– if you have only one or two bottles that you are reserving for future drinking, you already have a cellar. Michaela and Michelle Bouffard are the owners of house wine, a business dedicated to wine education and consulting. In an informative and fun session at the Listel Hotel, they quenched the audience’s thirst for wine tips.

The first thing you should know before you start a cellar is how you like your wines. If you like them fruity and fresh then perhaps cellaring is not a good idea. If you like to taste past those vibrant fresh fruit tones and discover strokes of barn, forest floor and earthy minerality, then ageing wine is for you. Once you decide to start cellaring wines, you need to find a place where the temperature will be relatively stable and unlikely to get too hot. Usually this place could be a basement or if you live in an apartment, a closet which door should be kept shut to fend off temperature variation. Ideally the temperature should be around 12-15C. Lights should be kept off as much as possible and a humidifier comes in handy if the natural air moisture is low.

The Housewine experts xplained that wines you choose to cellar must be the ones you like. Once that point is checked you need to taste the wine and ponder three qualities: acidity, tannin and fruit. If the wine lacks acidity then is not a good candidate for long term cellaring. This is because acidity underpins the fruit flavors of the wine and with low acidity the wine will taste flat and will lack freshness. Tannin is the other element to consider, especially when picking red wines. Tannins are compounds found in the grapes’ skins as well as in seeds and other woody tissues. Tannins have an antiseptic role as well as an anti-oxidative one. These qualities will allow the fruit to remain free of oxidation, showing its flavor through time.

As for the number of bottles you need to purchase to start your cellar,  Michaela recommend to buy three as a minimum. The first one you can open after a couple of years. This is a testing time also, since the wine will show its capacity to age. If it still maintains good level of fruit and acidity and tastes better than the original product, you can keep the other two bottles and open one at year four or three and the last one at year five. However, if the flavors already start to decline it is the moment to drink. Further ageing will disappoint you with lack of flavor and sluggish acidity. Finally, when assessing wines to age, acidity is the main indicator for whites and tannin for reds. In both cases time will turn the color towards brown. Red wine will have a brick red hue; white will become golden or even amber.

Wine Recommendations

Good white varieties to age, due to their natural high acidity include Riesling and Semillon. The first one will develop a diesel-like aroma, with fruit going from the green apple initial to riper apple, stone fruit or even tropical notes. Semillon is known to age well for decades due to its unflagging acidity and develops deliciously toasty flavors. Good choices include Nederburg (12.99), Hattenheimer (22.99) or Markus Molitor Himmelreich (53.99) for Rieslings. Excellent candidates for Semillon or Semillon-Sauvignon Blanc blends are Poacher’s Blend (12.99), Brokenwood (22.99), Black Hills Alibi (36.99) and Bordeaux’ Chateau Mirambeau (43.99).

Tannic load, as mentioned before, will increase the capacity of a red wine to age gracefully. Little known Xinomavro grape is one of the best Greek varieties for this purpose. Boutari Naoussa Reserve (21.99) will improve greatly with five years in the cellar, enhancing its natural dry cherry and fig flavors. Italy’s Nebbiolo grape always benefits from ageing. Barbaresco by Produttori (42.99) is a great option. Also from Italy, but this time in the south, the Aglianico grape with its fiery tannins gets only better after a few years of rest. Red Cello (14.99) will see its fruit shine and its tannins soften up. Other reds to put away for a couple of years include Volteo Cabernet Tempranillo (19.99), Morande Pionero Pinot Noir (15.99) and Agua de Piedra Cabernet Sauvignon (13.99).

You don’t need to be rich to start a cellar. In a few years you will be more than happy you did.


Food and Wine Matching For The Un-initiated

September 17, 2009

This is an almost esoteric subject for most. So much has been written about it that you may think -I do think- why write another line? Well, I do it because it is fun and because I love food and I love wine. So there you go. Like everybody else, I guess, except for those who like chips out of a bag, burgers out of a fast-crapfood joint and prefer carbonated drinks to accompany their “fare”.

“White wine is for fish, red wine for meat”. Who hasn’t heard this from people who are in the wine “know?”. And the reality is that there is certain validity to the claim. But as a guideline only. Remember Captain Jack Sparrow of Pirates of the Caribbean? Same idea. It is not a code, it is just a guideline. You need to know a bit more than that, basic, intuitive (we all have tastebuds after all) understanding. And you need an imagination, you need to let it soar, you have to exercise it.

For instance, every time I eat, I am thinking mmm….what could I pair this with? I was just thinking about this when a few days ago, I had a plate of lentils on white rice. The lentils were seasoned with sauteed chopped garlic, onion, tomato and pureed roasted red pepper. So, very tasty indeed, and sprinkled with chopped fresh parsley and generously splashed with olive oil at serving. One of my favorite brunch meals indeed. Viognier, I thought, almost intuitively, bringing to mind the moderate acidity of that varietal matching the dish’s. A little more acidity in the wine to cut through the olive-oily film coating my palate? Perhaps an unoaked Chardonnay. Something with a bit of body to go with the weight of seasoned lentils.

So, there you go. White wines would work well. But what about red? Some people, as we know, cannot tolerate white. Not too much body here. A big heavily oaked Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot or Shiraz would suffocate the rather bland character of the dish. Unoaked? Check. Medium to light medium body? Check. Low alcohol? Check? I figured something like Periquita, a Portuguese table wine made of Castelao, Tinta Roriz and Trincadeira grapes. Easy, smooth, fruity, uncomplicated. Perfect. It could be anything like that. Don’t bring the heavy artillery for this small infantry job.

To conclude this note, keep in mind things that are no mystery: Acidity of the dish, acidity of the wine. Let them run together. Weight, or body. How strong is the imprint of the food on your palate? The wine chosen should be equally strong, or weak. And it must be added, you don’t need a great wine to do pairing. White wine for fish, red wine for meat? Yes, but as a guideline only, not code. Don’t be intimidated. Is no rocket science.

New Zealand Red Wine Terroir

August 28, 2009

Better known by the tremendous success of its white wines,new zealand wine regions particularly Marlborough Sauvignon Blanc, New Zealand’s red wines are off the radar for the global market, with the obvious exception of Pinot Noir. The “heart break grape” has made its home in Martinborough, at the southern tip of North Island, and in Otago, in the southern end of South Island.

Central Otago has the only true continental climate in the country. Unlike the rest of New Zealand, its soils show heavy deposits of mica, schist and silt loams. Pinot Noir wines from this region have received accolades due to their purity of fruit, intensity and vibrancy.

Martinborough, in the Wairarapa region, also offers excellent Pinot Noir. Climatically is closer to Marlborough: maritime, cool and with less extremes of daily and seasonal temperatures. The top Pinot Noirs produced there exhibit richness and opulence.

Although little known, New Zealand also produces high quality Bordeaux and Rhone blends, mostly in Waiheke Island and Hawke’s Bay. The former is located in the Hauraki Gulf off Auckland. Its hilly terrain produces Bordeaux blends that have good reputation, though production is rather small.

Hawke’s Bay, on the eastern central coast of North Island, is the nation’s capital when it comes to Cabernet, Merlot and Syrah. The Bordeaux blends produced there show finesse and restrain. Syrah is the new buzz, producing wines that are fresh, long and peppery, reminiscent of the northern Rhone reds.

Wine 101: Blind Tasting or Mind Tasting?

June 9, 2009

Blind tasting is not about the eyes. And it should not be. It is about the mind. The main obstacle when it comes to blind tasting is theDessimis-PinotGrigio “noise” that our minds create. You want to guess what the variety is, or where it is from. There is a self-pampering high that comes when you guess the variety right, isn’t there? We all have been through that. But, nobody can really nail every single wine, not even the best sommeliers. Tasting wine, blind tasting it, shouldn’t be about competition but about learning. Mostly learning about yourself, because the way you learn about wines, the way you “guess” the right variety or the right origin, is mostly a process of your own progress. So, why then, compete against yourself? I mentioned the noise that comes from our minds, the static, which actually prevents us from becoming better at appreciating wine. Try to turn it off. First of all, don’t jump at your first hunch “It’s Australian Shiraz!”. Wait. Don’t try to guess right off the bat. Listen to the wine, take your time, leave the labelling to the very end. Enjoy first. That is something we seem to forget when we taste wine, specially if the setting is kind of competitive. Who cares if you lose or win? That is a page on your book, the book of your life. Tomorrow nobody is going to remember “Oh, Jenny was so good she nailed all ten wines”. The page is just one, and there are hundreds more to come. So, first of all, enjoy those wines, turn off the competitive self and start doing your technical approach. Check out the wine visually, because there you will get clues as to the quality, the age, the elaboration. Sniff carefully, a few times, but don’t try to discover aromas you dont’ really perceive. Don’t fool yourself. If you only get one aroma, that is the one you jot down and move on to tasting. Same story. Let the wine tell you about itself, don’t hang tags on it. Go past first impressions, remember that even if you don’t like that wine, quality is not always about liking. Write your notes, and only at the end try to put the picture together and short list the two or three varieties (or main grapes in blends) that you think could be. If after all that you still missed, that’s all right. But your chances at getting it right will be increased greatly for your next try. And furthermore, and more important, you had fun along the way. Cheers to that, and go confidently to your next mind tasting.

Vino 101: Argentinean Malbec

May 28, 2009

Argentina’s Malbec, From Rags To Richesmendoza-vineyard-wine-tour

When French engineer Michel Pouget planted Malbec vines in Argentinian soil in 1868, he had no idea that his simple deed would eventually transform the variety into one of the cultural icons of his adoptive home country. One hundred and forty years later, Malbec is on a firm path to earn a place in the pantheon of things Argentinean.

Argentina’s cultural landmarks are easily recognized across the globe. Maradona, the soccer genius given to tantrums and extravagance. Tango, the dance that has imprinted the world’s psyche with its overtones of passion and romanticism. Evita, former President Peron’s lover and wife, whose destitute, later powerful—and finally tragic—fate, has inspired novels, plays, operas and films. Apparently, the South American nation is not done with producing such icons: today, Malbec is synonymous with fine wine from Argentina.

Although widely planted in France, where it merited close to sixty names—many associated with its dark complexion—the grape’s standing took a nosedive when in 1956 a frost killed 75% of the Bordeaux crop. Malbec does not handle frosts too well and it is also very susceptible to rot and mildew, which makes for a troublesome cultivar in its motherland. Uneasy vineyard owners pushed Malbec to the back seat in favor of more robust lineages of Vitis vinifera, like Cabernet and Merlot. While it withered in France, Malbec thrived in the dry, warm, sun drenched conditions of Mendoza, the premier wine region of Argentina.

Traditionally, Argentinean winemakers made Malbec into lower quality, mass consumption products intended to satisfy the needs of the internal market. And this was a demand of gargantuan proportions: being descendants of immigrants of Italian and Spanish origin, Argentinians have been known to drink up to ninety liters per capita a year. Only within the last decade and a half have winemakers concentrated on increasing quality rather than quantity, and the results are becoming apparent. Exports are booming, and Mendoza is changing quickly from the sleepy Andean town that it used to be into the exciting wine capital of the Americas.

Good Malbec from Mendoza displays a palette of dark ruby tones. It is fruity on the nose (with a predominance of plum and ripe cherry), medium- to full-bodied and generally boldly oaked. Mendoza is producing ever more quality wines, many of them with a reasonable price tag. But as the push for quality is relatively new, it is not hard to come across unbalanced wines, while others are excessively oaked. There is plenty of room for improvement and, for the moment, in the Argentinean industry, quantity still has the upper hand over quality.

In North America, a few wineries are getting a firm footing with Malbec, among them, Catena, Altos Las Hormigas, Luigi Bosca and Benegas, all of them priced between $15 and $30 CDN. In the higher price bracket, Dona Paula and Achaval Ferrer deliver the varietal’s full potential. For those who are looking for a good budget wine, Los Primos, Pascual Tosso and La Puerta are excellent choices.

Mendoza’s Malbec is here to stay, and the story of the underdog that today enjoys a global reputation is a great tribute to the ingenuity of the Argentinian winemakers and to the qualities of the variety that someone once called “the failed grape.”

Wine 101: Value Wines

April 28, 2009

There is a lot of talk these days about stretching your wine buying dollars. Magazines and specialized publications -both printed and online- offer lists of “great value”, giving high points to wines that in different circumstances wouldn’t merit a comment. The practice is suspicious. True, you can find adsc08118 reasonable wine for little money, let’s say 9.99. But that is about it, and making the leap to saying that such wine deserves 89, 90 or 91 points is a huge stretch. In general, wines under 15 dollars offer little finesse, and even when they can be good sips all on their own, that is as far as they go. Some are just non-descript products, that even when they carry a varietal label, well, they could actually pass for any grape. Not to say that these wines are bad; many are of acceptable, or good quality, given the price.
There is a noticeable increase in quality when you hit the 18-25 dollar segment. Wines included in this group will show more complexity and better quality, which can be evinced from the nose itself. Past the 25 dollar mark, and particularly between 30-35 dollars, there is an exponential gain in quality and you can have wines that will leave truly satisfied. Nothing wrong with buying value wines and great bargains, but no need to fool ourselves.

Wine 101: Varietals und Blends

April 22, 2009

argentina-604Who doesn’t know what Chardonnay is? Or Cabernet Sauvignon? These two are highly recognizable grapes, which are commonly sold all on their own, as varietal wines. Meaning that the predominating -or exclusive- grape variety in the bottle will be the one shown on the label.

Blends involve varying amounts of different grapes that may have been fermented separately or together. The archetypal blend is the French Bordeaux style, which usually includes Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot and/orCabernet Franc. This successful style has been replicated virtually in every wine region in the world, and it is known in North America as Meritage.

In blends, the winemaker seeks to highlight some characteristics of a particular grape, or to polish off edges, to add structure, lift up the fragance or the acidity, in order to work a final product that will better the outcome of the individual varieties.

Varietals are easier to approach, because they showcase typical characters like fruit and aroma. They tend to be more “extrovert” than blends, in which the winemaker intends to achieve something more complex,  more subtle and elegant. It could be said that varietals are more about the grape and blends are more about the winemaking.

Examples of red blends are Cabernet Sauvignon-Merlot, Grenache-Shiraz-Mouverdre, Cabernet Sauvignon-Shiraz. For whites we have Semillon-Chardonnay, Semillon-Sauvignon Blanc among others.