Friday, July 25, 2014

Acustic Blanc from Spain

I talk a lot about shopping at Spec's, because there's a big one near my house, it has a great selection, and the prices are reasonable.  However, I am also a fan of Houston Wine Merchant.  I trust their selections, so every time I go, I look in the sale bins and try to pick up several bottles I know nothing about.  Acustic Blanc was one of those.  It comes from Spain, so you may want to keep the Spanish Wine Cheat Sheet handy for this review.

Knowing nothing about this wine, I did a little research.  It comes from Monsant, a very small region in the province of Tarragona, next to the more famous region of Priorat.  Monsant DO was formed in 2001 and is known more for red wines than whites.  Many of Monsant's grapes come from old vines.  Acustic Celler uses organic farming methods, though it is not yet certified organic, and is a well-respected producer in Monsant.

Acustic Blanc is blended from 60% white Garnacha, 25% Macabeu, 10% pink Garnacha, and 5% Pansal. Gerrard Seel Wine Merchant offers some technical details:  "The hand harvested grapes were given a two day skin maceration at cold temperature to extract as much flavour as possible from the skins. 30% of the wine was fermented and aged in new French oak barrels of low toast before blending with the tank fermented wine."

But how does it taste?

Color:  Medium yellow.
Nose:  Strong floral aromas (maybe orange blossom?), mineral, peach, and red apple.
Palate:  Medium body, high acid, with more citrus flavors than were apparent on the nose, crisp peach, and a bit of that savory quality on the finish which gives away the oak aging.  14% abv.

This is a well-crafted wine, but don't let it get too warm!  I let my glass sit out too long and noticed that as the wine warms up, the alcohol can become too apparent.  Alcohol always becomes more noticeable at warmer temperatures, but since this wine starts out at 14%, it needs to stay cold to keep that high alcohol content from taking center stage.

I could see Acustic Blanc pairing well with many types of food.  I happened to drink it with roasted lemon-pepper broccoli and baked fish with Chinese 5-spice and sesame oil, and it was very nice with both.  I'd recommend it with a wide variety of fish, chicken, or vegetarian dishes.  Because Monsant is near the Mediterranean coast of Spain, Acustic Blanc should compliment Spanish dishes from the region (paella!) and other Mediterranean-style dishes -- think herbs and olive oil.

Acustic Blanc's $18 price tag is perfectly reasonable, but I'm still happy I got it on sale!

Friday, July 18, 2014

Rosa Regale: Fresh, Crisp, Juicy, and Sweet

If you like sweet wines, either for everyday drinking or just on occasion, and you have felt disappointed that most of your options are white (and many of them are of questionable quality), then I have good news for you!  I recently got to taste Rosa Regale and found it charming.  It's a high quality, light, red, semi-sweet, sparkling wine.

Rosa Regale comes from the Piedmont region of northern Italy and is classified as a Brachetto d'Acqui DOCG.  This places it at the top of the Italian wine quality system, so it has a reliable pedigree.  Rosa Regale is 100% Brachetto, a red grape.  Skin contact during fermentation is brief, so the wine gains some red fruit flavors, but remains light and low in tannin.

Here are the details:

Color:  Pale ruby.
Nose:  Fresh red fruits, especially cherry and strawberry, with a hint of melon, and some floral characteristics.
Palate:  Semi-sweet, high acid, low tannin, with fresh, juicy red-fruit flavors, and a hint of earthiness.  7% abv.

I drink very little sweet wine, but I have to admit this one is nice.  The sweetness and the acidity balance well, as do the fruit characteristics and the hint of earthiness.  It's sweet, but not syrupy or desserty - just light and crisp and easy to drink.  At about $18 per bottle, it's not an everyday wine, but it does occupy a niche with few players (that I know of).  There aren't that many good quality, sweet, red sparklers.

I'm fairly new to the world of Brachetto d'Aqui, but Rosa Regale reminds me of a red version of Moscato d'Asti, a semi-sweet, sparkling white wine.  After all, they both come from Piedmont and both have their own DOCGs.  In fact, some friends of mine, who recently got married and are big Moscato d'Asti fans, asked me to recommend a celebratory wine for them.  This meant something they would like that they hadn't tried, something a bit out of the ordinary, and a few dollars more expensive than what they would normally spend.  If you like sweet and semi-sweet wines, I'll tell you what I told them:  you need to try this!

Thursday, July 10, 2014

Wine Infographic: Recognizing Top Quality German Wine

As a follow-up to my German Wine Cheat Sheet from a few weeks ago, I'm sharing this guest infographic, which comes from the German auction house Auctionata. Since they deal in fine wine, they've developed this guide for international drinkers. They're going to help us navigate those complex German wine labels, which offer a wealth of information about the wine.  You can download a pdf of this graphic from Auctionata's blog at this link.

Thursday, July 3, 2014

A Tuscan wine with simple, Tuscan-inspired food

This week I planned to write about Banfi's Rosso di Montalcino.  As usual, I was tasting it on a weeknight, after a long day of work, having given very little thought to what was for dinner or whether it would go with a Tuscan wine.  Following the general rule that "what grows together goes together," I figured I needed some classic Tuscan flavors.  Following my rule that if I get home from work after 6pm and intend to do a serious tasting I will not spend more than 30 minutes making dinner, I needed simple food that would come together quickly.  A 2-minute Google search confirmed my expectation that marinara sauce and salami were good options.  It turns out that truffles are classically Tuscan as well, which worked in my favor since I happened to have truffle butter at home. With the addition of bread to dip in the marinara, spinach to saute in the truffle butter, and some roasted onions for good measure, we had a meal that would pair nicely with the wine.

3 things I should probably mention:  1)  Roasting onions in the oven is the greatest thing ever, and I can't believe I went so many years without knowing that.  2)  I love the taste of salami, but I don't like greasy foods, so I always cook mine to remove some of the grease.  (Confession:  when I say "cook" I mean "microwave for a minute in between lots of layers of paper towels."  It's not classy, but it works like a charm.)  3)  Cheese would have been an obvious and delicious addition to the spread, but I'm lactose intolerant, so I don't have cheese around the house very often.  (The small amount of truffle butter for the sauteed spinach was not enough to be an issue.)

Finally time to drink!

Rosso di Montalcino is a DOC region in Tuscany, just south of Chianti Classico.  It's made in the same area as its bigger brother Brunello di Montalcino, but Rosso requires less aging, so it is lighter, fruitier, cheaper, and less tannic.  Both are made from 100% Sangiovese grapes.

Here are the details on the Banfi Rosso di Montalcino from 2011:
  • Color:  Medium ruby with a hint of garnet.
  • On the nose:  Cherry, cranberry, plum, leather, and spice, with more subtle floral and mineral qualities.
  • On the palate:  Dry, with flavors that generally match the aromas.  High acid, medium+ tannin, 14% abv.
This wine has a nice balance of fruity and savory characteristics.  The tannin is higher than it seems at first, since the mouth-watering acidity (this is a compliment) masks the tannin somewhat.  It opened up and mellowed out in the glass, so I think you could either drink this now or hold it for another 3-4 years easily. If you're impatient, you could decant it, but you'd miss experiencing the gradual in-the-glass evolution.

All the food paired just fine.  The standouts were the tomato sauce and the salami - no big surprise. Sangiovese really can't be beat when you're eating tomato sauce.  The spices in the salami brought out the spice notes in the wine.  The earthiness of the spinach, truffle butter, and onions were good too. 

My local Spec's on Bay Area stocks this wine and sells it for $20.  At that price, at least in my mind, it's not meant to be a regular weeknight thing, but it doesn't have to be saved for a special occasion either (like you might do with its big brother Brunello).  This is a great in-between wine for when you feel like indulging a little, and not regretting it later.

Friday, June 27, 2014

Wine Infographic: German Wine Cheat Sheet

Next up in the series: Germany!  German white wines are wonderful to drink in the summer heat, so now is the time to explore them.  (See the full collection of wine cheat sheets here.)

To see the Cheat Sheet in full size…
…in Internet Explorer, right click on it and select “open link.”
…in Chrome, right click on it and select “open image in new tab.”
…in Firefox, right click on it and select “view image.”  

Thursday, June 19, 2014

Comparing 2 Texas Viogniers

Almost a year ago I linked to an article about a competition in which wines made from Texas-grown Viognier grapes beat wines from France's Rhone Valley (the home of the grape) and California.  (Go here for the full story of the tasting and a list of winners.)  Viogniers are one of the rising stars of the Texas wine industry, and I've been wanting to get to know them better, so I selected 2 to taste and compare.  I wanted 2 Texas Viogniers that both scored well in last year's tasting, are widely available, not too expensive, and roughly the same price.  So I picked McPherson and Becker.  Both the McPherson and Becker Viogniers are made from grapes grown in the panhandle of Texas (though Becker is based in the hill country).  Both were the 2012 vintages.  Let's taste!

2012 McPherson Viognier

McPherson is located in the Texas High Plains wine region, which is in the panhandle of the state. This Viognier finished 4th in last year's tasting.

  • Color:  Deep yellow.
  • On the nose:  Tropical fruits and floral aromas dominate, along with peach, banana, and some earthy minerality.  
  • On the palate:  The flavors on the palate generally match the aromas on the nose.  Full body, high acid. 13.9% abv.

I really like this one, and at $13 a bottle I will buy it again.  The rich flavors and full body combine with high acidity to make a versatile wine.  (I happened to be eating German food the night I tasted this, and it paired nicely.)  

2012 Becker Vineyards Viognier

This wine finished 3rd in last year's tasting.  The website tells me it also won a silver medal in Lyon, France. Though Becker is based in the hill country, these grapes also came from a vineyard in the panhandle. 

  • Color:  Deep yellow.
  • On the nose:  More minerality than the McPherson, with fruit aromas leaning more toward stone fruit than tropical.  Less fruity overall than the McPherson, but with more floral qualities.
  • On the palate:  As on the nose, there is less fruit character on the palate here, but more floral, earthy, and mineral character.  Slightly higher in acid and lighter in body than the other Viognier.  Higher in alcohol at 14.4%. 

In my opinion, two things detracted from this wine, but only one of them is likely to be the wine's fault.  First, I wasn't crazy about the floral qualities.  This is probably my issue, not the wine's.  I enjoy floral character in wine, but certain flavors put me off and make me feel like I'm drinking perfume.  For example, Gewurztraminer and I have never gotten along.  I know, I'm crazy.  But this Viognier reminded me of the Gewurztraminer flavors that I don't like.  Becker's website says the floral aroma is of violets, so maybe I just don't like violets...  Anyway, it's nothing against the wine. Second and more important, I found the alcohol level too high, causing the wine to be out of balance. Perhaps a richer fruit component could have stood up to such a high alcohol level.  Like the McPherson, the Becker Viognier costs about $13.


I prefer the McPherson Viognier to the Becker, though the Becker performed better in last year's tasting. They're both reasonably priced, so if you're like me and you drink far more white wines in summer than any other time of the year, give one or both of these a try.

Friday, June 13, 2014

Improve Your Tasting Skills: Sauvignon Blanc and Gooseberries

Students of wine always want to improve their recognition of wine aromas and flavors.  A great way to do this is to smell and taste wine while you smell and taste the fruit that the wine smells like. With some wines, this is an easy task, because the fruits are readily available – lemons, limes, apples, peaches, strawberries, etc. Sauvignon Blanc is trickier.

The aroma of Sauvignon Blanc is often compared to gooseberries, especially if the wine comes from a New World wine region like New Zealand.  Gooseberries aren’t common in the United States, so most of us have no idea how they taste or smell.  But I have tracked them down!  Here are some local places where you can get your hands on gooseberries.

  • Spec’s downtown location sells: 

Maintal Gooseberry Fruit Spread from Germany ($4 for 12oz)
Tiptree Gooseberry Preserves from England ($7 for 12oz)
Vavel Gooseberry Jam from Poland ($3 for 16oz)


  • Oregon brand gooseberries in syrup can sometimes be found in grocery stores, in the canned fruit aisle or with the pie filling.

  • IKEA sells gooseberry preserves.  I'm not sure if our local Houston store still stocks them, but you can order them online.  

  • Gooseberries have a secret identity!  They are sometimes called golden berries and marketed as a "super food" in health food stores.  Golden berries are usually sold dried. You can buy them at Whole Foods Market (in the super food section in the health foods and supplements aisles in the center of the store, next to the wheatgrass).  Amazon sells them too, at a slightly higher price.  In Clear Lake, the new Fresh Market on Bay Area sells dark chocolate covered golden berries in the candy/bulk section.

  • Speaking of golden berries, I've noticed in the last few days that one of the varieties of Evolution Harvest fruit and nut mix sold at Starbucks includes them (along with cashews, cranberries, and almonds).    

I've tried the Vavel gooseberry jam, the plain dried golden berries, and the Starbucks mix.  The jam tastes sweet and mild.  The dried berries have a strong, tart flavor more reminiscent of actual Sauvignon Blanc wine, so this would be my top recommendation.  The golden berries in the Starbucks mix are less tart.

Pick up some gooseberries (or golden berries) and improve your tasting skills.  Plus, it turns out they're probably good for you too!

Do you know of any other ways to get gooseberries?  I'd love to try them fresh!