Thursday, April 10, 2014

2 Affordable Italian Reds from the Whole Foods Twitter Tasting

If you've missed the Twitter Tastings organized by Whole Foods Market, you're missing some fun. People from all over taste the same wine and tweet their thoughts. This time around, I was particularly interested in the 2 Italian reds they featured:  Monrosso Chianti (2010) and Verrazzano Rosso, a red blend also from Tuscany (2012).

Cue the Chianti Cheat Sheet:

These 2 Italian wines, Monrosso Chianti and Verrazzano Rosso, come from the same region - Tuscany. Chiantis rank at the highest level of Italy's wine classification system, DOCG.  The Verrazzano Rosso is ranked lower, at the IGT level.  A lower ranking can be both a blessing and a curse, because even though it's ranked technically as lower quality, there are fewer regulations at the IGT level.  DOCGs are strictly regulated in terms of grape variety, alcohol content, aging, etc.  Whereas, the IGT-level winemaker has more freedom to experiment.  For instance, the Monrosso Chianti has to use at least 85% Sangiovese grape juice. The Verrazzano website tells me that their red blend mixes Sangiovese with Merlot (but doesn't give the percentages).

But how do they taste??

Monrosso Chianti 2010 -- Aromas/flavors of cherry, cranberry, and vanilla, with some earthy qualities. Medium, rounded tannins.  Medium-plus acidity, 13.5% alcohol.  Surprisingly smooth and easy to drink for a Chianti.  Chiantis are known for pairing well with food, but this wine could easily be drunk on its own.  It could go with anything from roasted chicken with herbs, to mushroom risotto, to spaghetti and meatballs.  It's totally all-purpose.  It even paired well with an apple-berry crumble that I made, based on this recipe (I used cranberries).

Verrazzano Rosso 2012 -- Earthier, spicier, richer than the Monrosso.  Aromas/flavors of red and black fruits, cocoa, and spice.  Higher in tannin than the Monrosso, but a bit lower in acid.  13.5% alcohol. Heavier, but could still be drunk on its own or paired with food.  This really opened up nicely after it had a chance to breathe in the glass for about 15 minutes.  I'd pair this one with something a little richer and heavier - pot roast, roasted lamb, or something with tomatoes and herbs.

I liked both of these wines.  The best part:  they are less than $15 at Whole Foods.  They are a great value at that price, and versatile enough to go with whatever weeknight meal you're cooking.  Give them a try!

Whole Foods Twitter Tasting Tonight!

Whole Foods has organized another Twitter tasting of Italian wines this evening from 7-8 pm.  Head to Whole Foods and taste these 4 featured wines, which are all under $16.  Then join the conversation about them on Twitter using #WFMwine.

  • Caposaldo Pinot Grigio
  • Monrosso Chianti 
  • Verrazzano Rosso 
  • Presto Prosecco

I'll be tasting the reds with some of my favorite wine drinkers, and tweeting my thoughts from @ClearLakeWine.

Here are Whole Foods' notes on the wines I'll be tasting:

Monrosso Chianti – Lavender and cranberry aromas blend in this soft, rich ruby red wine. Gentle tannins, abundant fruit, and a well-balanced finish characterize this textbook Chianti.
Suggested Pairings: Parmigiano Reggiano, grilled salmon, roasted lamb chops, pasta carbonara, pizza, and Puttanesca Pasta

Verrazzano Rosso – This red has complex aromas of fresh fruits and violets followed by Tuscan herbs, black currant and pomegranate flavors that move to a smooth finish.
Suggested Pairings: Pecorino Toscano, osso buco, gnocchi, hummus, rosemary flatbread, and Sun-Dried Tomato and Salami Couscous Salad

Join us tonight!

Friday, April 4, 2014

Burgundy, Bottle Aging, and Tertiary Aromas

I’ve pointed out before that many of us keep our wine for too long, and that most wines don’t improve after the first few years in the bottle.  Of course, there are exceptions to that rule, and one of them is Burgundy. This week I attended a tasting, hosted by the Bourgogne Wine Board (BIVB), of older vintages of Burgundy from 1996 to 2006.  These wines were amazingly fresh and fruity for their age.  Some of them were still improving and could last another several years (or 10). 

Let’s briefly review what happens when wine ages:
  1. The molecules of acid and alcohol bind together in new and exciting ways, creating additional, more complex flavor and aroma compounds. (more on that here)
  2. Tannins soften and mellow (and eventually begin to precipitate out of the wine, creating sediment).
  3. Fruit aromas change from fresh to dried, and eventually fade, while the non-fruit aromas (like earthiness or minerality) become more prominent.
In tasting notes, you sometimes see wine aromas described as primary, secondary, or tertiary.  This has to do with #3 above.  Primary aromas come from the fruit itself.  Secondary aromas come from the winemaking process (oak aging, malolactic fermentation, aging on the lees, etc.).  Tertiary aromas come from bottle aging.  In older wines, the primary aromas move to the back seat, and the secondary and tertiary aromas start driving.  For instance, a young Burgundy that is primarily fruity with a hint of earth and sweet spice could potentially age into an amazing Burgundy like the one I tasted a few weeks ago that smelled like incense – seriously, it smelled just like church on Easter.  The fruit character was still there, but muted, and the sweet spice aromas had evolved into an intoxicating incense bouquet.  (This kind of transformation won’t happen every time – just with the best wines under the right conditions – and it will depend on what the original aromas were.)

Back to Burgundy...  Both red and white Burgundies are capable of aging well, as long as they are stored properly (in a cool, dark place, not too dry, and not bumped around too much).  Burgundy's wine regions – also called appellations, AOCs, or AOPs – are divided into a hierarchy.  Grand cru is the top, then premiere, then village, then regional.  Here's a handy list of all the appellations from the BIVB website, which indicates which level in the hierarchy each appellation holds.  For long-term aging (10+ years), focus on appellations at the village level or above.  The Cote de Nuits and Cote de Beaune sub-regions are particularly known for good quality and ageability.  These can be expensive, so if you have less money to spend, a cheaper bottle can still age, just maybe not as long.  Burgundy is one of the increasingly rare regions where the wines are built to age.

I plan to create my own cheat sheet for Burgundy at some point, but for now, check out the one from Wine Folly below.  All those appellation names are what you will look for on the bottles!  (click to enlarge)

You may also want to read:
A little chemistry explains a lot
Is your wine over the hill?
French Wine Cheat Sheet
Chardonnay Cheat Sheet
Pinot Noir Cheat Sheet

Friday, March 28, 2014

Can you get decent wine on an airplane (in economy)?

Ordering a glass of wine in an economy seat on an airplane can be risky if you care about what you drink.  While First Class and Business Class passengers often have a good list to choose from, the main cabin is usually offered “red or white” and you have to take your chances.

On a recent United Airlines flight from Houston to San Diego, I took my chances and was pleasantly surprised.  When I chose “white” I expected an over-oaked, overly-alcoholic Chardonnay fruit bomb.  But actually got a French IGT-level Sauvignon Blanc.  Les Deux Pins Sauvignon Blanc (2012) from the Pays d'Oc region was crisp with a good balance between fruity flavors and minerality.  It had floral and citrus notes (lemon with a bit of orange peel), and a hint of the usual vegetal aromas, but less herbal/grassy impression than the typical New Zealand style.  I'm sure it was chosen for this middle-of-the-road character to please the widest possible audience, which makes sense, and I think the wine achieves this goal.  It's expensive at $8 per glass, but we are talking airplane prices, so maybe not terribly outrageous.

On the flight home I picked “red” with reasonable success.  This time there were 2 different French Cabernet Sauvignons available, both from Pays d'Oc (the same region as the Sauvignon Blanc), and both from 2012. I wasn’t familiar with either of the producers, so I picked at random and got Jean Belmont Cabernet Sauvignon.  It was fairly light and tart for a Cab, though it had typically dark fruit aromas, and moderate acid and tannin.  Again, I assume it was intended to strike a compromise among different red wine tastes, and I think it succeeded.  I poured half the little bottle at a time into my glass plastic cup, and the wine improved as it breathed.  The Cab was also $8.

Though neither of these wines was spectacular, they were perfectly fine and much better than I anticipated. United’s website tells me that Doug Frost, Master Sommelier and Master of Wine, selects United's wines. The list of wines available for First and BusinessFirst passengers is available here, but for Economy I believe the “red or white” selections are unspecified and may change periodically.  I can’t guarantee you’ll have these same choices on your flight, but this has given me hope that an economy class “house” wine can be a pleasant experience!

P.S.  Master Sommelier Andrea Robinson selects wines for Delta’s Business Elite class, but I’m not sure whether she selects the wines for the cheap seats.

P.P.S.  It annoys me that United no longer offers ANY free snacks.  Not even a small bag of pretzels on a 3+ hour flight leaving at lunchtime.  I’m happy to report that Delta has not yet sunk to this level of savagery, and still gives out cookies or pretzels.

Friday, March 14, 2014

Wine Infographic: Sherry Cheat Sheet

Sherry is a fortified wine that has been produced in Spain since around 1100 BC and was extremely popular throughout the 19th century.  It's currently experiencing a resurgence of popularity, so I thought we needed a cheat sheet to remind us of the key Sherry facts.

Sherry has been frequently mentioned in literature, including several of Shakespeare's plays (usually as "sack").  My favorite literary reference to Sherry is in Edgar Allen Poe's short story, "The Cask of Amontillado."  The full text is here, and it only takes about 10 minutes to read the whole story.  Without giving away the plot, I can say that I love the association of wine cellars with burial and crypts.  As you'll see in the cheat sheet, Amontillado is a type of Sherry that develops flor (a film of yeast on top of the wine), but then the flor dies or is killed.  Poe cleverly uses Amontillado (and flor) as a metaphor for...well, what happens at the end...  This story might also have the best opening line of any short story ever.

To see the full collection of regional cheat sheets, click here.

To see the full collection of grape cheat sheets, click here.

Thursday, March 13, 2014

Whole Foods Market Twitter Tasting

Tonight from 7 - 8pm people from all over the country will be tasting Italian wines from Whole Foods and tweeting about them using #WFMwine.

Come join the conversation with me @ClearLakeWine!  These are the wines we'll be talking about:

They all cost less than $16.  I've included the descriptions provided by Whole Foods below.  Come see what the Twitterverse thinks tonight!

Ruffino Orvieto Classico – Fresh flowers and citrus on the nose are followed by ripe green
apple up front, sassy acidity and a characteristic touch of mineral. The finish is long and
fragrant with almond notes.

Pairings: Piave, shrimp scampi, egg dishes, and Mango Quinoa Salad

Banfi Principessa Gavia Gavi – Vivid aromas of pineapple and tangy green apple are on the
nose, and there is a lovely balancing act between juicy ripe pear notes and bright acidity with a
clean, delicate finish.

Pairings: Robusto, spicy jerk chicken, garlic scallops, and Pineapple-Chicken Kabobs with

Donnafugata Sed├ára – Fresh cherry and strawberry aromas give way to cascading notes of sun-
dried cranberries, then black olive then peppercorn. The finish is rich, deep, and rustic.

Pairings: Sottocenere, lamb, mushroom risotto, crusty artisan breads, and Smoky Mushroom

Gran Passione Rosso – Ripe blackberry and chocolate-covered cherries distinguish this
delicious aroma. This rich red is juicy with notes of black fruit and a satisfyingly long, dense

Pairings: Taleggio, dry-aged steaks, shepherd’s pie, chocolate covered strawberries, and Lamb
Stew with Spring Vegetables