April 23rd, 2011 by jenn in general wine knowledge
A glass of red wine can do wonders for your attitude – not to mention your palate. But there is evidence that it may be good for your body as well. Now, don’t go switching out your veggies for a glass of Cabernet. But you can enjoy a Pinot Noir or maybe a Shiraz along with your grilled eggplant and zucchini, mushroom lasagna, or sweet potato chili. (more…)
It’s that time of the year again – the time when Vintner’s Circle releases its much sought-after Limited Edition wines! Our Limited Editions are great ways to try distinctive regional specialties (like this year’s Austrian Grüner Veltliner) and unique proprietary blends (like this year’s Pacifica White or the perennially popular Chocolate Raspberry Port). The wines are, as their name suggests, available for a short time only, and you must reserve your sessions or kits soon in order to start making the wines after the new year.
This season, we’re offering three Limited Edition red wines and two Limited Edition white wines. (more…)
Goodbye, Labor Day. Goodbye long days, warm nights, beach vacations, dinners by the pool and drinking outdoors. Welcome chilly mornings, early evenings, long sleeves and lit fireplaces. With the passing of the holiday weekend, we give a sad salute to summer and gear up for brisker weather.
But summer hasn’t given up on us yet, and I resolve to hold on to its sweet promises until I have to pull out extra quilts from the attic. To help preserve the best of what summer has left, here are a few end-of-summer wines still perfect for dinners on your patio – even if you might have to move indoors for dessert. (more…)
In honor of the upcoming Labor Day holiday, I would like to introduce (or re-introduce, for those of you already familiar) a few American grape varieties and the types of wines they make. (more…)
As summer edges into fall, with days getting shorter and leaves enjoying their last few breaths of warm August sun, grape growers in the Northern Hemisphere are ever closer to the fall harvest. Perhaps none are closer to actually bottling and selling this season’s produce than wine makers in Beaujolais, France. This region, nestled in the southern region of greater Burgundy, produces the Gamay grape-based wine Beaujolais, and is famous for its Beaujolais Nouveau.
What is Beaujolais Nouveau, exactly, and how does it differ from traditional Beaujolais? Both Beaujolais and Beaujolais Nouveau come from Gamay grapes, but instead of going through the standard red wine fermentation process, grapes for Beaujolais Nouveau go through a speeded-up crushing and fermentation process (known as carbonic maceration, aka whole berry fermentation). Most red wines are bottled a year or more after grapes have been harvested; Beaujolais Nouveau is ready to drink just a few weeks after the regional Gamay grapes have been picked.
Beaujolais Nouveau is a symbol of festivity and the sheer joy of drinking wine. Its unique maceration process yields a wine that is extremely fruity and juicy, often featuring flavors of figs, bananas and strawberries. Beaujolais Nouveau is also a very light-bodied red wine, and its relatively low tannin content makes for easy, soft sipping. Its wine making process means that Beaujolais Nouveau is not meant for long-term aging (professional reviews of bottles always read, “Drink now!”), but no matter, as this is a wine made for easy enjoyment rather than extensive appreciation.
Wine makers in Beaujolais celebrate Beaujolais Nouveau’s annual release on the third Thursday of November. Cafes selling the freshly bottled wine tout balloons and signs that say, “Le Beaujolais nouveau est arrivé!” or, “The new Beaujolais has arrived!” Beaujolais Nouveau fervor spans the Atlantic, and makes a great choice for Thanksgiving: its smooth tannins go well with a variety of holiday foods, including roast turkey, and its straightforward fruitiness pleases the wide range of picky guest palates. Most importantly, perhaps, Beaujolais Nouveau is a festive wine made for drinking, sharing, and celebrating – a perfect companion for the Thanksgiving table.
A few helpful notes: Beaujolais Nouveau should be served nicely chilled, around 55 degrees Fahrenheit or so. You can read Wine Spectator’s reviews of the 2009 Beaujolais Nouveau vintage here*, or even check out Jancis Robinson’s recent article on the traditional 2009 Beaujolais vintage. Making your own Nouveau-styled Gamay is a blast, too, and if you start the wine making process soon, you will have plenty of bottles ready for smooth, easy, celebratory drinking this fall.
Labor Day is soon approaching, and backyard barbecues don’t need to have all the fun. Picnics are another great way to soak up the last of the summer sun. An easy way to spend a holiday afternoon, picnics require little more than some cutlery, finger foods, a salad or two, and a big blanket. A few bottles of wine, kept comfortably chilled in a small cooler, give an extra special touch to your Labor Day picnic. The following are some of our favorite picnic wines, perfect for the warm September sun and the various dishes of your finger-licking picnic feast. (more…)
British Columbia is a Canadian province that spans more than 300,000 square miles across the west of the country. British Columbia is a region of varied geography, featuring stately mountains, dense temperate rainforests, populous cities (the illustrious Vancouver is located in the province), and more than six thousand islands that hug its 17,000 mile-long coastline.
The wines produced in British Columbia are as varied as its geography; the province’s motto, Splendor sine occasu, “Splendor without diminishment” (“Splendour” for all you Canadians), could serve to describe the region’s oenological landscape. There are five designated viticultural areas in British Columbia: the Okanagan Valley, the Similkameen Valley, the Fraser Valley, the Vancouver Islands, and the Gulf Islands. More than 60 grape varieties are grown across the region. White wine varietals include Pinot Gris, Chardonnay, Gewurztraminer, Sauvignon Blanc, Pinot Blanc, Riesling, and Viognier. Top red wine varietals include Merlot, Pinot Noir, Cabernet Sauvignon, Syrah, Cabernet Franc, Malbec, and Petit Verdot.
A very special treat from British Columbia is ice wine. Ice wine is, well, almost exactly how it sounds: it is a style of wine made from frozen grapes. Traditionally, grapes are left to freeze while still on the vine – this freezes water in the grapes, but not the sugars. The grapes are then harvested and pressed, which makes for an extremely sweet wine, with concentrated and complex flavors and aromas. Canada is now the largest producer of ice wine in the world! In British Columbia, the grapes are harvested on cold winter nights, in the snow, in a country famous for its coldly breathtaking winters. The top grapes used for the region’s ice wine are Ehrenfelser, Riesling, Pinot Blanc, Pinot Noir, Merlot, Cabernet Franc, and Gewurztraminer.
Today, for those of you who are not soccer fanatics (or those of you who, unlike me, don’t live with one), is the grand kick-off of the World Cup. The month-long competition takes place this year in South Africa, with 32 national teams from across the world vying to be the ultimate winner. The country that does win will be the champion for almost half a decade, as the World Cup takes place only once every four years.
In honor of the grand celebration, I’d like to introduce The World Cup of Wine: pitting teams against one another, comparing the wines of their country (with then a brief, but only fair, comparison of their game-winning potential). Today’s focus is on the big first game, South Africa (the home team) versus Mexico. Without further ado, let’s begin!
South Africa vs. Mexico: Wines
I am loathe to offend any Mexican readers, but I have to say that without much of an argument, South African wines reign supreme over those from Mexico. South Africa is one of the top ten wine producers in the world, with making more than 264 gallons of wine a year. South African white wines include Chardonnay, Riesling, and Sauvignon Blanc; red wines include Cabernet Sauvignon, Cabernet Franc, Merlot, Pinot Noir, and Zinfandel.
Two wines, though (for those of you who astutely noticed them missing from the previous list), that you really should keep an eye out for are: South African Chenin Blanc, and South African Pinotage. Chenin Blanc is one of the most popular white wine varieties in the country; it is also referred to, in South Africa, as “Steen”. Chenin Blanc is a versatile grape, and makes a range of wines from sweet to dry, still and sparkling. It also makes a mean (read: delicious) dessert wine.
Pinotage is uniquely South African. It is a cross between Pinot Noir and Cinsaut, developed in 1925 at Stellenbosch University. Pinotage makes a full-bodied wine, with ripe fruit flavors and distinctive spice. I recommend finding a bottle, and settling down to watch today’s game with a glass of Pinotage in hand.
South Africa vs. Mexico: Soccer
Here, Mexico has the big guns. Mexico has a long history of soccer (or futbol, to the Spanish-speaking crowd) success — especially in the realm of the World Cup. In fact, Mexico is one of only eight teams in the whole world that has won the grand trophy. (The others, for fun dinner party chat, are: Brazil, Argentina, Italy, Germany, England, Uruguay and France.) Though the host country, in this case South Africa, always has the home field advantage — augmented incredibly when the entire globe is in competition — I still think Mexico has the upper hand (or leg, or foot) in this match-up.
For more World Cup of Wine action, check out the Wall Street Journal’s World Cup of Wine Drinking Game.
Correction, 6/12/10: Though El Tri (the Mexican national team) is a powerful soccer team, it has not in fact won a World Cup trophy. This information was given to me after a few glasses of wine. Mexico’s team has advanced to the Cup quarters twice: in 1970 and in 1986. Time will tell if they’ll pull through in 2010.
June 8th, 2010 by jolan in general wine knowledge
I’d like to share a case study, as a way of suggesting a few white wines for red wine drinkers. This is not, I should mention, an extensive list of suggested wines, though you can find some good ones here and here and here. Rather, it’s an introduction into understanding why some people prefer certain wines, and how you can use this understanding of tastes to branch out to different wines (or suggest new ones to your husband, wife, friends, neighbors, and so on).
I’ve been good friends with Lauren since our freshman year of college, and I’ve seen her tastes progress from Smirnoff Ice to vodka tonics to beer to red wine. Her go-to red wines are Malbec, Merlot, and Tempranillo (usually of the Rioja variety). I’m excited to see the day when she opts for a glass of white wine over red – not because a certain wine color is inherently better than another, but because a greater variety in pleasure-giving drinks means more choices.
When I asked Lauren to describe what it is, specifically in regards to her sensory experience, she doesn’t like about white wine, she said, “I think white wine tastes like sour grapes without flavor.” When considering the basic tasting components of wine (acidity, alcohol, sugar, and tannins), my first instinct to respond to her use of the word sour. Sourness is related to acidity; white wines are often more acidic than red wines. I would recommend white wines to Lauren, then, that are relatively low in acidity, thus reducing the chance of her tasting “sour grapes”.
The second part of her description, that white wines are flavorless, has me think about the red wines she likes. She is not a fan of strongly alcoholic, intensely fruity reds like Zinfandel or Shiraz. Rather, she prefers red wines with lower alcohol levels and less tannins than big-bodied reds. What does that mean, in terms of flavor? Alcohol increases the perception of sweetness, so she doesn’t like “sweet” red wines (that is, those whose high alcohol levels increase fruit flavors), nor does she like red wines that are often heavily oaked. In terms of white wines, I would avoid recommending those with high alcohol levels, much residual sugar, and those that have been heavily oaked (Chardonnays, you know who you are).
In regards to wines made from specific grapes, I would recommend Roussane or Marsanne, both grapes historically from the Rhone Valley in France. They make lush, full-bodied white wines, complex in flavor and aromatics, and are not highly acidic. Alsatian Gewurztraminer or Riesling, in all their full-bodied, aromatic glory, would be other options, as would a fragrant, rich Viognier.
A short story, by way of introduction:
Yesterday, while I was at the office, typing away like the Very Important Person I am, my boss David called out to me, “Jolan, would you like to taste some wine?”
Why, yes, I would.
David was speaking with a frequent visitor to Vintner’s Circle, a gentleman named Frank. Frank had brought in a case of red Meritage, a red wine blend from California, which had been made at our Hackettstown location the previous year. Frank explained that he tried a bottle from the batch earlier in the week, but was disappointed when tasting it: the wine had an off flavor, slightly sour.
We opened a few bottles, to see if it was the entire batch that was flawed, or simply one or two bottles. (Quality assurance, you see.) We were surprised to find that only some of the bottles were off – the others still had the pleasing characteristics of a young, fresh Meritage. Those that were flawed had muted aromas and a distinct sour taste, centered on the middle of the tongue. If all the bottles were made as one batch, and given equal ingredients, temperatures, and processes, what could cause a few to be flawed and the rest to be good?
Yesterday’s tasting and my ensuing homework (David: “Jolan, bring home these three bottles and taste them.”) got me thinking about common wine flaws, and how to recognize them. Part of our detective work yesterday afternoon involved weaning out possible flaws: cork taint, for instance, wouldn’t be an issue with the bottles, because we use synthetic corks. I’ve put together a short list of the most frequent wine flaws, as a helpful guide to recognizing what, exactly, it might be that’s making your tongue pucker.
Trichloroanisole 2,4,6 (aka TCA, aka cork taint)
Trichloroanisole 2,4,6 is one of the most common wine flaws found in a bottle. I’ve heard statistics that claim TCA is found in three to five percent of bottles – one source even claimed that TCA is in one out of every ten. That may be true, but most of us aren’t sensitive enough to the chemical to actually recognize the faintest of taints. TCA comes from natural corks: many are bleached for aesthetics, and if a cork is not properly cleaned after this process, the chemical compound TCA can occur. TCA causes aromas and flavors of wet cardboard (think of old, musty boxes found in your leaky basement), and results in what we called “corked” wines. TCA can be faint, or strong, but if you can recognize it, your wine is most certainly flawed.
(Note: Wine bottles stopped with synthetic corks and screw tops, or wine in bags, are not susceptible to cork taint.)
Sulfur is an important part of wine making. Sulfur functions as a preservative, and has been used for hundreds and hundreds of years. Sulfur even occurs as a natural part of the fermentation process. However! Too much sulfur dioxide can result in aromas of burnt matches, with bitter flavors. Too much hydrogen sulfide can result in aromas of rotten eggs, with soapy flavors.
Brettanomyces (aka Brett)
One of the more famous quotes in the wine world comes from Anthony Hanson, a British Master of Wine who once said, “Great Burgundy smells of shit.” This is one of the most unappetizing ways of describing wine that I can think of, even if it does refer to one of the world’s most regal and prestigious drinks.
Brettanomyces is a strain of yeast that can occur in wine, both before and after bottling, most commonly due to unsanitary winery conditions. Brett has been hotly debated, because when present in small amounts, it can lend a certain unique complexity, with flavors and aromas of clove, smoke, and leather. (Ever have a really, really good red Burgundy? See the above quote.) When too intense, however, Brett can cause wine to reek of barnyards and dirty socks. Definitely a good reason to send a bottle back, and try again.