Tuesday, July 30, 2013

French Wine Law Changes

In the French appellation system, new regions are added or removed from time to time.  

Here is a list of recently added AOCs, courtesy of the French Wine Society.  If you've purchased my book, The Pocket Index of French Wine, you'll want to note these new additions!

  • Alsace: Two communal AOCs have been added to the eleven previously approved for a total of thirteen. These two communes are Alsace Bergheim and Alsace Coteaux du Haut Koenigsbourg, and use of the communal name is limited to still white wines.
  • Languedoc: Formerly a communal extension of AOC Languedoc, Picpoul de Pinet has been elevated to an independent appellation. The denomination continues to apply to six communes including Pinet, but the authorized cultivation area has been reduced in size by 18% to 2,400 hectares. In addition, base yield has been lowered to 55 hl/ha.
  • Provence: A fourth sub-region within AOC Côtes de Provence, Pierrefeu, has been approved and applies to red and rosé wines. The zone encompasses multiple communes on schist slopes and a calcareous clay plain. The other three sub-regions are Sainte-Victoire, Fréjus and La Londe.
  • Rhône Valley: There is an additional “named village” in the Côtes du Rhône Villages, Gadagne, bringing the total of this tier to eighteen. CDRV Gadagne may be sourced from five communes including Châteauneuf-de-Gadagne. The approved area is a few kilometers due east of Avignon in the Vaucluse department on the left bank of the Rhône River. The vineyards are situated on a long plateau of galets roulés.

Saturday, July 20, 2013

Local Event: Chilean wine tasting at the MFAH

James King of the Texas Wine School will be leading a Chilean wine tasting at the Museum of Fine Arts, to complement their current exhibition of Latin American art.


Vinho Verde: Your New Favorite Summer Wine

There’s a certain type of wine I love to drink in the summer.  I look for something that can be drunk cold, is crisp, light, refreshing, and is cheap enough to be served at summer barbeques.  If you’re spending any time outside in the heat, it’s also good if the wine’s lower in alcohol.

Vinho Verde (pronounced “Veenyo Vaird”) is one of the greatest summer wines that few people know about.  It comes from Portugal and is usually white, light, crisp, and very slightly sweet.  It’s slightly fizzy – what the Italians call frizzante and the French call petillant.  Its flavors are usually clean and simple, citrusy, with an occasional hint of tropical fruits or minerality.  Vinho Verdes are made from a variety of local Portuguese grapes, such as Arinto, Trajadura, and Loureiro.  I think of them as the barely-sweet, slightly fizzy lemonades of wine.  They have all the qualities I like in a summer wine, and because they are high in acid, they go well with many foods – fish, chicken, veggies, and all your favorite light, fresh summer foods!  Better yet, they're almost always under $10.

I’ve tasted several Vinho Verdes that are available in our area and made some tasting notes.  The first 2 are simple and fruity, while the second 2 have a few more earthy characteristics.  In general, the lower the alcohol, the more sweetness they’re likely to have.  They’re all tasty - give one a try!

Simple and Fruity

Producer:  Opala
Grapes:  not listed
Price:  $9
Where Purchased:  Whole Foods
Tasting Note:  crisp, refreshing, fairly simple, off-dry (slightly sweet), slight carbonation, flavors of apples and lemons.

Producer:  Esteio
Grapes:  not listed
Price:  $6 - $9
Where Purchased:  HEB
Tasting Note:  aromas of citrus and peach with a hint of melon, off-dry, slight carbonation, high acid.  9% abv.

A Bit More Earthy

Producer:  Anjos
Grapes:  40% Arinto, 30% Trajadura, 30% Loureiro
Price:  ~$9
Where Purchased:  Houston Wine Merchant
Tasting Note:  slightly fizzy, primarily dry with just a hint of sweetness, high acid, citrus flavors of lemon and grapefruit.  9.5% abv

Producer:  Casal Garcia
Grapes:  not listed
Price:  $7 - $10
Where Purchased:  Spec's, Kroger
Tasting Note:  aromas of citrus and minerality, a hint of sweetness, slightly carbonated, high acid.  10% abv.

(Some of these were from the 2011 vintage, and some bottles didn’t name a vintage.)


Thursday, July 11, 2013

Building a Better Wine Tasting

Recently I was invited to the best educational wine tasting I’ve ever experienced, and I wanted to pass on some great lessons we can all use when planning wine tastings at home.

This seminar and tasting event was hosted by Banfi wines and their winemaker Rudy Buratti.  He explained Banfi’s research into the various clones of the Sangiovese grape which are blended into their Brunello di Montalcino wine.  Sangiovese has many different clones, and each one has different characteristics.  Mr. Buratti explained that in order to produce the best quality Brunello, Banfi has spent 30 years researching these clones to isolate which characteristics each clone would bring to the final blend, and how each clone would perform in each of their vineyards’ different soil types. (By the way, many Banfi wines are available at Spec’s, including their excellent Brunellos.  Try some!)

To illustrate the research and testing, we tasted 3 wines made from 3 different clones, grown in the same vineyard in the same year.  This way the only difference in taste was due to the particular clone.  Then we tasted a blend of all 3 clones from 3 different vineyards from the same year.  Finally, we tasted 3 vintages of the final Brunello blend, combining the characteristics of all the clones and all the vineyards.  (Another attendee wrote a nice summary of the experience here, including some tasting notes and a picture.)

Here’s a diagram to help this make sense:

When I attend a wine tasting, I want to learn something beyond whether or not I like that particular wine.  I also love organizing wine tastings at my house for friends.  The key to creating an educational wine tasting is comparison and contrast.  Notice how each round of the Banfi tasting kept 2 elements the same and isolated 1 factor impacting the wine.  That way when you taste, you know which differences in the wine are due to which factor – whether grapes, vineyard/soil, or vintage.

Most of us can’t organize a tasting like Banfi's because we don’t have access to those building blocks of wine that winemakers use to craft their final products.  However, we can use this same technique to organize better wine tastings ourselves.

To use this concept to create your own unique, educational tastings, focus on the main factors that make 1 wine different from another:  climate, soil, grape, vintage, and winemaker style.  (I’ve written about these factors before, here.)  Try to find several wines that have most of those factors in common, isolating just 1 or 2 differences, for example:
  • Wines from one producer in one region which are made from different grapes – This helps to isolate different grape characteristics.
  • Wines from one producer, made from the same grape, from different years – This is called a vertical tasting and allows you to see the influence of weather variations from year to year.
  • Wines from the same grapes in same region, but from different vineyards and producers, such as Pinot Noirs from Sonoma or Sauvignon Blancs from New Zealand – This shows you soil variation and winemaker influence.
  • Wines from one grape produced in regions all around the world, such as Cabernet Sauvignon from California, Washington State, France, South Africa, Australia, and Argentina – This demonstrates the effect of regional climate and soil differences.

It’s amazing what you can learn from these types of tastings.  When I attended a French Wine Scholar prep class, we tasted several different Beaujolais Crus (the Crus are the top 10 winemaking areas in the French region of Beaujolais), and noticed significant differences between them, despite the fact that the area encompassing all Beaujolais Crus is only about 6,500 hectares, or roughly 16,000 acres, or 25 square miles.

If you taste this way, I guarantee you will learn something interesting.  Please let me know if you try this at home – I’d love to hear what you did and how it turned out!

Tuesday, July 9, 2013

"A Nation of Wineries"

This interactive infographic from the New York Times shows the growth of U.S. wineries from 1937 until now.


Here's an excerpt from the section about Texas:
(click to see it larger)

Wednesday, July 3, 2013

Texas Saké (a surprise addition to your 4th of July?)

Did you know Texas makes saké?  I didn’t until recently.  And it’s not just any sake:  it’s saké made from the same type of rice used in Japan, it’s organic, and it’s good.  I don’t typically like saké very much, so I’m not a connoisseur, but I do know that the fresh, crisp, grassy, earthy, and slightly sweet notes in this saké made it better than almost any I’ve had.  And I’m always excited to promote organic and Texas-made products.

I learned about the Texas Saké Company a couple of weeks ago when I attended the opening of an art exhibition at the Asia Society.  The evening had a Japanese theme, so the Texas Saké Company was there offering samples.  I learned that Texas is rare because it is one of only “a few areas outside of Japan that grow the right type of rice to make sake.”  Apparently this type of rice was brought to Texas in the early 1900s and grows here so well that from then until now, most of the rice grown in Texas has been Japanese rice.  The Texas Saké Company in Austin uses “centuries-old handcrafted techniques” to create its saké in small batches that are certified organic.  They are producing the “first and only saké made from Texas rice.”

It comes in 2 types.  “Whooping Crane” is a traditional saké.  (That's the one in the picture, which I borrowed from their web site, and hopefully they won't mind!)  “Rising Star” is a coarsely filtered sake, which is cloudy and has a creamier mouth-feel.  They are available at Central Market, Whole Foods, and Houston Wine Merchant.  Both types cost roughly $22 for a 375ml bottle, and $35 for 750ml.

If you like saké, or maybe even if you think you don’t, I encourage you to give these a try.  They would be a nice accompaniment if you're grilling chicken or fish on July 4.  Make sure you chill them!  And if you’re in the Austin area, stop by and visit – the tasting room is open every Saturday.

Monday, July 1, 2013

Retsina Update

Recently I wrote about ancient beers and wines, including retsina, the Greek white wine infused with pine resin.  Unfortunately, though retsina is fascinating, it isn't that pleasing to drink, and it's a shame to waste wine (no matter how cheap).  At the time I speculated that it might make a good cooking wine, and I'm here to report that I tested that theory.

I made a simple chicken stew in the crockpot with chicken breasts, onion, garlic, carrots, celery, kale, and white beans.  I flavored it with salt, pepper, and rosemary, and used a combination of chicken broth and retsina for the cooking liquid.  It turned out great.  Since the pine flavor in the wine is reminiscent of rosemary, the retsina just punched up that flavor.  I think you could use retsina in any dish where you would normally add white wine and rosemary.

Now you have no excuse not to try this wine that's been around for 2000 years.  Taste it, let it transport you back in time, then cook some chicken in it.