Wednesday, November 16, 2011

Meet Moscato - The Life of the Party

A party ain't a party until he shows up. He’s the catalyst; something about his vibe just brings fun into any room just like the character Magnitude from Community whose name is a combination of the words Magnetic Attitude. That’s Moscato. Who cares if he doesn’t always get his work done? When the clock strikes five and its time to loosen your tie or kick off your pumps, that’s when it’s most important to have a guy like him in your mix!

Moscato is the Italian name for the Muscat grape, one of the only few wine grape varieties (of the vitis vinifera species) that actually tastes grapey when made into wine. This is not to be confused with Muscadet from the Loire (made from a grape called Melon), the Muscadelle grape from Bordeaux, or the American Scuppernong grape Muscadine (which is a different species all together – no relation). Moscato is also the name of a wine style from the northwestern Italian village of Asti in the Piemonte region. What became popular in the 80’s and 90’s as Asti Spumanti – spumanti is Italian for sparkling – is now simply known as Asti. It’s the same sparkling, low alcohol, sweet Muscat wine. Moscato d’Asti is even lower still in alcohol and less effervescent. It’s usually sold in bottles that have a regular cork or screw top, unlike Asti and other fully sparkling wines that come with a mushroom shaped cork held down with a little wire cage. Pop Pop!

Muscat also makes a fabulous dessert wine, sometimes fortified to around 15% alcohol like the southern Rhône treat Muscat de Beaumes de Venise. These wines are often built to last long years and evolve into joyously mature bliss later in life. Meanwhile, in the south Australian region of Rutherglen, Muscat (known locally as Brown Muscat because it gives a high proportion of dark grapes) is a mainstay that is made into decadent mahogany colored stickies that could put the best Swiss dark chocolate to shame.

Flavor Profile
When your palate craves natural sodas and homemade sweets like tablet (a coconut treat from the French and Kweyol speaking Caribbean) or Greek Kataïfi, that is a palate that would appreciate well made Asti, Moscato and Muscat dessert wines. There is such a thing as dry Muscat, very popular on the Greek wine scene. It’s a bizarre bird indeed – you recognize the Muscat aroma, but then you get it in your mouth and it’s not at all what you expected. When your mind is on a cumin and fennel vibe, that’s a good time to reach for a dry Muscat.

Food Pairings
For a wine that is so simple, it can be a most difficult thing to pair with food. Truth is most Moscato/Muscat wines can stand alone. Have sparkling Moscato drastic as an aperitif to start your evening – at only around 5% alcohol; it’s a great way to ease into a lovely night. Finish a meal with a fortified Muscat from the south of France. As I dig deeper into my food and wine memory, I recall enjoying blue vein cheese with a good funk on it in the company of a non-fortified Muscat dessert wine. I can imagine one of those dark Rutherglen Muscats from Australia making a great connect. With a dry Muscat I like Mediterranean flavors like oil cured black olives, capers, and sun-dried tomatoes – think tapenade, humus, pita and grape leaves. It’s a party, and Moscato is on the scene!

Your Homework
Your homework for this week and weekend is to try a Moscato d'Asti, a dessert Muscat wine and, if you can find one, a dry Greek Muscat. There’s a world of Muscat wines you can get into. This trio is a good cross section – the sweet, the dry and the bubbly. Do Tweet your notes to @wineLIFE_, #MoscatoHW. 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.

Wednesday, November 2, 2011

Meet Pinot Grigio/Gris - The Gemini

Everyone gets Pinot Grigio. This side of the Gemini's personality is very easy to understand, there are no surprises. As easy as he is to understand, he is just as easy to find. He's everywhere you are. Button-down shirts, sweater vests, khakis, clean shaven face, argyle socks, oxfords - that's a Pinot Grigio look. Just a regular guy. Perhaps he's a great looking regular guy, but you could definitely bring him home to meet the parents.

You can’t miss the evil twin - Pinot Gris. Same guy, different guise. Pungent cologne, bright red jeans, loud, artistic and bizarre - nothing you'd expect from his laced up alter ego! He and Sauvignon Blanc would get along well in theory but in practice they don’t blend! That would be far too much insanity in one room.

Really they are simply two names for the same gray-hued grape - Grigio in Italian, Gris in French, both mean gray. But as they've evolved in their respective homelands, they've evolved into two very unique styles of wine. So unlike Syrah grown in Southern France and Shiraz grown in Australia, the two incarnations of the gray Pinot are very different from eachother indeed.

In northeastern Italy, Pinot Grigio is the sweater vest. It produces light, crisp, clean wines that don’t offend. We call these kinds of wines “crowd pleasers”. From the Tre Venezie comes massive amounts of Pinot Grigio for easy drinking There are notable exceptions from Friuli-Venezia Giulia and Trentino-Alto Adige, smaller parts of the region that take pride in bringing the best out of the variety – floral notes on the nose, minerality on the palate – great structure in general. Nonetheless, they are true to their argyle socks.

In Alsace, the eastern French sliver of land isolated from the rest of the country by the Vosges Mountains, Pinot Gris has both his septum and labret pierced. The dry styles are funky with more body than most white wines of the world – in a way they remind me of extra virgin olive oil in both texture and aroma. The sweeter styles are rich, aromatic and complex, a wine geek’s dream indeed. Overall, Pinot Gris from Alsace (known once upon a time as Tokay Pinot Gris or Tokay d’Alsace) is unlike any other wine experience.

Based on the two benchmark regions, wines produced anywhere else in the world from this variety are named according to the style in which they produce. So you can expect Pinot Grigio from California to be crisp, clean, perhaps more fruity than the Italian version because of the warmer climate, but still simple. These wines are made for the uncomplicated palate, the baked potato set. Then when you see a Pinot Gris from Nelson, New Zealand, you should buckle your seat belt! These wines, like their French contemporaries, are for you food voyeurs who have actually thought about or even ventured a taste of monkey brains… don’t say ewwww!

Pinot Grigio and fried chicken are famous friends, much in the same way that sparkling wine and non-vintage champagne works (and interestingly, some Pinot Grigio does indeed come with a light spritz), the crisp acidity is the perfect foil for this greasy, salty summer favorite. Think potato chips, cheese nachos, over easy eggs – simple, savory, nicely salted, non-spicy, accessible standards.

You must think more gastronomically for Pinot Gris on the other hand. For starters, you can break the rule of white wine with white meat and voyage into the land of the other white meat – pork! Alsace, having been a part of Germany for a period of time, has rich food traditions that mix both cultures into a beautiful pot of proverbial stew. Think sausage with sauerkraut or a pork loin roast with winter vegetables, country or mousse pâté or even souse (braised pigs feet) on a Sunday morning tossed in a vinegar salad with onions and cucumbers, slight pepper. Pinot Gris will handle any of that like a champion for you. For those who don’t partake, duck or game meat give just as much of that rich flavor that hits you in your retro-nasal passages with a funk you hate to love for that Pinot Gris swag.

Your Homework
Your homework for this week and weekend is to try 2 Pinot Grigios and 2 Pinot Gris. Ask your favorite retailer or browse your favorite wine website for wines from the above mentioned regions. Your two Pinot Grigios should definitely be Italian – go for a $10 bottle and get a recommendation on a $20-25 one (please avoid that one overpriced brand for which you only are really paying a popularity fee – you know who you are!). Both of your Pinot Gris can be French, or you can do as Gris does and have an adventure in another part of the world. The thing is when the wine is labeled Pinot Gris its bound to be interesting! Do Tweet your notes to @wineLIFE_, #PinotGHW. 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. Don’t you just love these assignments??