Wednesday, September 28, 2011

Meet Syrah - The CEO

He was the senior class president, always impeccably dressed to stand out from the rest of the high school crowd. He’s into older women and they love him too. Never needing any ostentation to impress, he has instead a way of commanding your attention and respect with a deep, booming voice and eloquent, well-chosen statements. As CEO of a major corporation, he puts those skills to good use. It was either that or politics – he would have found success there too, no doubt. Shiraz for president!

As Syrah, this thick skinned grape lives a happy life in France’s Rhône Valley, situated toward the south, working solo in the Northern Rhône (sometimes blended with a bit of the Viognier that resides in the same vineyard). From Côtes Rotie in the north to Cornas in the south, he’s the main event. In the Sourthern Rhône Syrah’s in lots of great company with Grenache, Mouvedre, Cinsault, et al. The region’s signature wine, Châteauneuf du Pape, can legally contain up to 13 different listed red varieties, all together or in any combination. Syrah is almost always in the mix and is usually detectable in the blend, the head fruit in charge. Take the Rhône all the way down to the Mediterranean and you will find Syrah still reigns in many quarters – the people’s choice!

As Shiraz, Australia has built a reputation on his shoulders, from the very cheap, animal-adorned party juice to the very rare and collectible music-in-a-glass. Like the Rhône, Australia has lots of hot sunny climes for Shiraz to thrive under – thick skinned grapes can stand more heat to develop more sugar and offer greater pigment and tannin for the making of very full bodied wine.

It’s the perfect wine for the typical American palate: think grape Blow Pops, Bazooka Joe, Sour Power, Swedish Fish and all kinds of fast food. Did I forget to mention chocolate? This is where Syrah goes in a different direction in flavor profile – not for the Snickers bar set. If Syrah were chocolate, it would be 70% Dark and Swiss or Belgian. Nonetheless, Syrah is very approachable, just be ready for your mouth to be taken over for a little while by a commanding presence.

Because it is so high in tannin and relatively low in acidity, Syrah not the greatest food wine – a glass can be a meal in itself! Nonetheless, your city’s best burger with the works and a side of fries would be a great mate for a glass of Syrah. Along the same lines, a good steak and a baked potato would work well. In fact, I always recommend Syrah wines for Thanksgiving, because that’s the ultimate flavor frenzy and this wine can handle it all! (Caution: Syrah may also help your turkey to cause all around drowsiness and you may find the football game watching you, but you’ll give thanks nonetheless!)

Your Homework
Your homework for this week and weekend is to try 3 Syrahs. Ask your favorite retailer or browse your favorite wine website for something from the Northern Rhône – St Joseph wines are the most accessible in profile and in price, but feel free to splurge on anything from Cornas or Crozes Hermitage splurge big on the venerable Hermitage itself. You will easily find Australian Shiraz in any wine shop or liquor store you enter. Try a cheap one that you can get under $10.00, and then find one over $15.00, just so you can clearly see the quality difference. My favorite wine region in Australia for Shiraz is McLaren Vale for that over $15 bottle. For extra credit, find a Syrah from California. You will impress your wine retailer with your knowledge of the name Rhône Rangers. It may very well serve as your password to gain access to some goodies from Paso Robles winemakers dedicated to Rhône Valley grape varieties – this could be lots of fun! Do Tweet your notes to @wineLIFE_ #SyrahHW. Tell us which one was your favorite (please include the wine’s name, vintage and region), how much you paid for it and its best qualities. You can also post notes on the wineLIFE Facebook wall. That’s delicious!

Thursday, September 22, 2011

Meet Pinot Noir - The Princess

Everything I know about Pinot Noir says princess. She’s that girl who demands and gets everything she wants. She’s stunning with a great figure, and she is generous to those who fulfill her desires – but she is definitely not easy. Her shoe and handbag styles are always on point. Her wardrobe is a collection of designer originals and runway fashions from the most recent shows in Paris, Milan and New York. When she’s fully decked out with high-end jewelry to accent it all, she’s absolutely fabulous. Just one look and you know she’s worth all the trouble.

As a grapevine, Pinot Noir is demanding. It is difficult to grow and disease prone. Thin skins make growing and harvest timing a serious matter – thin out the vine’s leaves too much or let them hang too long on the vine and the grapes may sunburn, or if there’s rain, they can swell, split and rot. In the winery, she’s no less challenging. Anyone who takes on the duty of ushering Pinot Noir from grape to glass must have a great deal of love and patience for the variety. Those who do are able to coax its characteristic red berry aromas and flavors to the fore are a special breed indeed. With judicious use of oak, they bring out other treats, including cola and smoky bacon or barbecue notes. The thing that makes Pinot Noir so amazing is structure. On the palate, the worst Pinots are anemic, but the best exhibit precise balance and substance – just enough tannin, acidity, alcohol and amplitude of fruit character to make each mouthful a nearly religious experience.

Purchasing Pinot Noir is almost as tricky as growing and making wine out of it. Burgundy is the French bastion of Pinot Noir. It is very rarely blended here, so any red Burgundy (or properly, Bourgogne) is 100% Pinot. This is where the easy part ends. When it comes to Burgundy, or most Pinot Noir in the world for that matter, knowing the producer and his/her style is paramount. Even in tiny villages in the Côte de Nuits, two wines made from the same vineyard by two different producers in the same vintage can taste greatly different – both can be amazing in general, but one may appeal to you more than the other. The only way to find out is to taste them both. Buying Oregon Pinot Noir posses a similar challenge. Willamette Valley is Oregon’s most famous region, and Pinot is its claim to fame, but not all Willamette Pinot is created equal, and since the 2004 film Sideways popularized the varietal, prices of Pinot Noir from Oregon and California have increased much faster than other wine prices, but the quality has not increased in tandem in many cases. The one source for consistent Pinot Noir, surprisingly, is the Marlborough region of New Zealand. In this realm, prices are reasonable, and you can almost choose blindly to get the glass of wine you want every time no matter the producer. New Zealand’s Martinborough and Central Otago regions produce more noteworthy Pinot Noir, although they present a similar predicament as Burgundy and Oregon – purchase by producer.

And did you know...
Pinot Noir is a component of champagne? Yes, that which we pop is made from a blend of white wine grapes Chardonnay, and red wine grapes Pinot Noir and Pinot Meunier (not fermented on skins so no pigement for non vntage brut - they are left in to make rosé).

Pinot Noir for Your Palate
If you grew up eating high-end food made from high quality ingredients and fresh meals cooked frequently then Pinot Noir is right up your alley. A palate that has been reared on or become accustomed to fresh, high quality ingredients is geared to appreciating the fine nuances of this wine. If you have been and still are constantly inundated with the up front flavor of instant gratification foods, you might miss the point. Nonetheless, you should pick a night to relax, spend $18 on a bottle of Pinot Noir, and cook something simple for dinner. You can enjoy Pinot Noir with tuna and salmon seared rare or sashimi style (hold the soy sauce). Cheese choices include a lighter cheddar, gouda or gruyere – you’d be surprised to enjoy a glass with an omelet. I also love Pinot Noir with pork, particularly loin.

Your Homework
Your homework for this week and weekend is to try 3 Pinot Noirs. Ask your favorite retailer or browse your favorite wine website for a Bourgogne Rouge. You will easily find Pinot Noir in any wine shop or liquor store you enter, but I strongly suggest that you spend at least $15.00 per bottle. Pinot Noir under that point has been consistently disappointing. Find yourself Pinot Noirs from Oregon, California and New Zealand. Do Tweet your notes to @wineLIFE_ #PinotNoirHW. Tell us which one was your favorite (please include the wine’s name, vintage and region), how much you paid for it and its best qualities. You can also post notes on the wineLIFE Facebook wall. Enjoy!

Pictured: Hospices de Beaune Volnay-Santenots 2005 1er Cru and Treleaven Pinot Noir 2009 Cayuga Lake AVA New York, retailed at wineLIFE for $17.99

Thursday, September 15, 2011

Meet Merlot - The Poet

When I think of Merlot, I remember the guy who at first glance didn’t really stand out in a crowd, but could lace you up with lyrics if given the chance. He’s average height and he’s actually kind of cute. His silky voice delivers great poetry right from the tip of his tongue. With that, he gets the girl every time.

Merlot is so smooth! He blows raspberry and cherry notes out of his saxophone – easy listening. Usually a band accompanies him – Cabernet Sauvignon and Cabernet Franc in a melodic blend. But in some specific sites in the old and new world, Merlot is rich like bass, with impressive tannic texture on the palate by itself.

Bordeaux is where the world’s most expensive Merlot has been produced for centuries, and these are two of the world’s most expensive wines. Chateau Petrus and Chateau Le Pin grow ancient Merlot vines on a subsoil of ferrous clay on the right bank of the river Gironde. The wines made from these vines are special and rare things indeed. Another other great bastion of Merlot is in Washington State. Leonetti Cellar has been making wine since 1905 in the Walla Walla Valley appellation, where the summer sun is generous and Merlot ripens happily into something of substance.

If you are a basic meat, potato & string beans kind of person, Merlot is for you, because it doesn’t demand much at all for you to enjoy and understand. As far as food pairings, we could talk about what to avoid – abundant spiciness and pepper or acidity in food will over speak Merlot’s smooth, placid, poetic voice. Keep it simple.

Your homework for this week and weekend is to try 3 Merlots. Ask your favorite retailer or browse your favorite wine website for a right bank Bordeaux or any Bordeaux in which Merlot is dominant. You will easily find Merlot in any wine shop or liquor store you enter. My suggestion for the other two is to try one that is around $10 and another one that is closer to $30. That way you will see a definite quality difference. Do Tweet your notes to @wineLIFE_ #MerlotHW. Tell us which one was your favorite (please include the wine’s name, vintage and region), how much you paid for it and its best qualities. You can also post notes on the wineLIFE Facebook wall. Enjoy!

Pictured above: Thomas Henry Merlot 2007 Napa Valley, retailed at $15.95 at wineLIFE Wine Shop. Tasty berry and cherry fruit and silky tannin, drinks nicely, finishes dry.

Wednesday, September 7, 2011

Meet Gewürztraminer - The Diva

When I think about Gewürztraminer (pronounced ge-VIRTS-trah-meener), I recall the early-bloomed exotic beauty that struts the halls in stiletto boots. She has legs for days and a rude attitude that makes her even more intriguing. Dudes offer her gum just so they can watch her pouty pink lips move when she chews. Those who hate her secretly study her swag so they can learn how to command the kind of attention she gets.

Literally translated as the spicy Traminer – Tramin is the place in northern Italy from which the grape hails, gewürz is the German word for spicy – this variety is unique indeed and is beloved by those who truly understand it. Think ginger spice, just think about that funk and sizzle that ginger gives you on the nose. You can expect a wine with a lot of body and that’s rather perfumy, often smelling of rose petals and lychee fruit. In the glass Gewürztraminer tends to have deeper color than some other white wines as a result of contact with its blushing skins during fermentation – the perfect tan. Sweeter versions give you more of the tropical fruit characters, but still the signature heady aroma. In general, Gewürztraminer smells sweet but tastes dry (all the sugar is fermented out).

Gewürztraminer’s homeland, if not its motherland, is Alsace, the almost German region in eastern France. Usually it comes 750ml size Alsace flute, the same tall slender bottle Riesling comes in. It is grown all over the world with happy digs in the Nelson region of New Zealand, Germany, Austria and various New York AVAs. It’s used in some well known blends from California and Oregon. No matter how many other grapes are in the blend, Gewürztraminer stands out as a striking presence.

Comfort foods that remind me of Gewürztraminer include Christmas rum raising cake, Easter hot cross buns and ginger snap cookies. Having said that, I just love dry Gewürztraminer with Thai curry noodles, or on a different vein, tuna or salmon sashimi – juicy acidity rolls itself happily around the rich oily fish on the palate.

Your homework for this week and weekend is to try 3 Gewürztraminers. Start with one from Alsace – luckily these are the French wines that are labeled by grape. Then see if you can find a local one, as well as one from New Zealand. Don’t be surprised if you’re left speechless after she first passes your lips. Do Tweet your notes to @wineLIFE_ #GewurzHW. Tell us which one was your favorite (please include the wine’s name, vintage and region), how much you paid for it and its best qualities. You can also post notes on the wineLIFE Facebook wall. Go get ‘em!