Thursday, August 28, 2014

My continuing quest for cheap, dry Rieslings

As regular readers know, dry Riesling is quite possibly my favorite white wine.  Many good, dry Rieslings are priced around $20 (or more), which puts them out of my "everyday wine" price range, so I'm always looking for inexpensive options.

First, it bears repeating that, contrary to popular belief, not all Rieslings are sweet.  There are various ways to tell whether a bottle of Riesling will be sweet, dry, or somewhere in between.  I wrote about a strategy for predicting the sweetness level of German wines here.  Even better is the International Riesling Foundation's sweetness scale, which some producers put on their labels.

My current favorite cheap, dry Riesling is Pewsey Vale from the Eden Valley in Australia (which I've mentioned before here).  It runs $12 - $15, which is a great value.  But there are several other dry Rieslings which are widely available and even cheaper!  So of course I had to try them.  

The title holder and the challengers:


The 2 "challenger" dry Rieslings both come from the Columbia Valley in Washington State.  The Pacific Rim Dry Riesling costs about $9, while the Chateau Ste. Michelle is around $8.  Incidentally, they both use the International Riesling Foundation's sweetness scale on their back labels (as does Pewsey Vale).

One difference between these wines jumps out right away - the different bottle shapes.  Chateau Ste. Michelle uses the traditional German flute, while Pacific Rim uses the common "Bordeaux" bottle.  This can indicate a difference in the style of the wine.  German-style Rieslings tend to be lighter and more minerally (less fruit-forward), while Rieslings from the "new world" of wine (outside Europe) tend to be richer and fruitier.  Sure enough, when I tasted them side by side, Pacific Rim was fruitier, while Chateau Ste. Michelle in the German-style bottle was lighter and leaner.

Here are the full tasting notes:

2012 Pacific Rim Dry Riesling
  • Color:  pale yellow
  • Aroma:  pungent citrus and rich apricot with mineral undertones
  • Palate:  high acid, flavors generally match aromas, slightly bitter and hot on the finish, medium body, 12.5% abv
2012 Chateau Ste. Michelle Dry Riesling
  • Color:  pale yellow
  • Aroma:  bright lemon and peach with lots of earthy, mineral character, and a hint of the "petrol" quality that some Rieslings have
  • Palate:  high acid, flavors generally match aromas, medium body (but a bit lighter than Pacific Rim), 13% abv  (Though this alcohol level is higher than the Pacific Rim, this wine seems better balanced and integrated.)
Neither of these were bad wines, but they didn't blow me away.  I liked the Chateau Ste. Michelle a little better.  They're both a good value for the price, but I think in most cases I'd pay a few dollars more and buy a bottle of Pewsey Vale.  So Pewsey Vale remains my favorite cheap, dry Riesling, but I'll keep my eyes open for other potential contenders.  Please let me know if you have one to recommend!

A note on food pairings:  Rieslings are often paired with Asian and/or highly spiced foods, so I drank these with Baharat roasted cauliflower and Indian-spiced eggplant over pasta.  Please forgive my poor food photography...

The wines paired well with these dishes.  But don't forget that the Riesling grape originates in Germany, so Rieslings are a good choice with any type of German food as well, like sausage and sauerkraut, pork chops, chicken and dumplings, etc.

Friday, August 22, 2014

Wine Infographic: Riesling Cheat Sheet

Next up in the wine cheat sheet series:  Riesling!

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 in new tab.”
…in Chrome, right click on it and select “open link in new tab.”
…in Firefox, right click on it and select “view image.”   

You might also be interested in:
Wine Infographic:  German Wine Cheat Sheet
How to Tell if German Wine is Sweet or Dry
How Sweet is Your Riesling (part 2)

Friday, August 15, 2014

Drinking Barolo and Eating Rose Petals

I've written before about how long to store and age wine (the question of "when to drink") and admitted that I often wait too long to drink wines, because I'm saving them for the perfect occasion.  Well, recently I opened a wine that I'd been saving, and I think I got the timing just about right (if not early), so I thought I'd share my experience.

I purchased a 2003 Prunotto Barolo about 6 years ago and had been storing it in a wine fridge.  A Barolo is a type of wine (DOCG level) from Piedmont in northern Italy which is made from the Nebbiolo grape.  Many Barolos can age and improve for decades.  They can be very expensive, but Prunotto is mid-range.  To decide when to drink my bottle, I did a little research online.  Some sites recommended aging this wine for a few more years to reach its peak, while quite a few of the personal reviews from those who had tasted the wine suggested it was time to drink now.  Since I had the right occasion coming up - the birthday of a friend who loves big, red wines - I decided to go ahead and open it.

The typical aromas of Barolo (and Nebbiolo) are roses and tar, and they usually have a lot of acid and tannin.  This Barolo had aromas of fresh and dried cherries, along with floral and earthy qualities.  The flavors basically matched the aromas, with an earthy, savory finish.  It tasted great.

As wines age, their characteristics change:
  • fresh fruit aromas/flavors turn to dried fruit
  • fruity aromas/flavors diminish, while non-fruit aromas become more prominent
  • acid levels diminish
  • tannin levels diminish (the tannin molecules join together and precipitate out of the wine, creating sediment)
So, did I drink this wine at the right time?  Yes and no.  I could have waited longer, because the wine still had lots of fruit aromas, lots of acid, lots of tannin, and surprisingly little sediment.  This tells me it could have aged longer and developed more complex aromas.  On the other hand, 11 years is a decent amount of bottle aging, the wine was delicious, and it was a good choice for the occasion.  I don't regret drinking it, but the next time I have a bottle of Barolo, I'll probably give it a few more years.

Here's what we drank it with:

Fresh bread and sharp cheese are always a good idea.  The espresso rind on this cheese made it especially good with the earthy flavors in the Barolo.

Sundried tomato tapenade and sausage are great options with Italian wines.

 Of course, cherries went well with the cherry aromas in the wine.

Because of the typical rose aroma, I thought it would be fun to smell/taste with actual, edible rose petals.  I bought these candied rose petals online, and they paired really well!  (The ingredients are just rose petals and sugar.)

Dark chocolate is usually good with big red wines.

We also had a few other cheeses, some wine crackers, and fresh tomatoes with balsamic vinegar.

The full spread:

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Saturday, August 2, 2014

Returning to Messina Hof for my 1st harvest and grape stomp!

Most people who are interested in Texas wine have heard of Messina Hof winery.  It was established in 1977 by Paul and Merrill Bonarrigo, whose son Paul and his wife Karen are now carrying on the family tradition.  The wines have won many awards over the years, and the Bonarrigos and Messina Hof have been instrumental in the growth and promotion of the Texas wine industry.  In 1977 there were 3 wineries in Texas - now there are 300!

Messina Hof is the first winery I ever visited.  This was about six years ago, before I knew anything about wine, except that I liked to drink it.  My husband and I had just become interested in wine and were still trying to figure out what we liked.  When we toured Messina Hof and tasted the wines, the Cabernet Franc made a huge impression.  Not only was it a grape we had never heard of, but we absolutely loved the wine - we were fascinated by the earthy/herbal qualities we had never experienced.  That visit sparked my interest in the many flavors of wine and fueled my desire to learn more about it.

Last night I visited Messina Hof again for their Moonlit Harvest and Dinner.  It was a beautiful evening - surprisingly cool and breezy for August in Texas.  We arrived about 6pm for tasting, picking, grape stomping, dinner, and then a special announcement!

Wine on Tap

It was fun to see the innovations since my last visit.  Messina Hof has been experimenting with "wine on tap."  This works a bit like beer from a keg.  The wine is taken straight from the barrel and placed into something similar to a beer keg, and attached to a tap.  This is the system they use in their tasting room, and it lets you taste the wine as it would taste straight from the barrel.  It's a neat experience for the consumer, since the flavor is different from what you taste out of the bottle.  

It's also efficient for restaurants and wine bars.  Restaurants often have to throw away leftover wine, when a bottle has been open for several days and begins to oxidize.  The tap system prevents this waste, since it keeps the wine away from air as it's being used (the same idea as bag-in-box wines).  Once the keg is tapped, the wine stays fresh for 2 months or so.  This prevents waste and saves money for the restaurant.  We tasted the Cabernet Franc on tap, and it was just as good as I remembered!

Harvest Time and Grape Stomp

After a few instructions about how to use the knives (the mixing of wine and sharp objects requires careful attention!), we were set loose in the vineyard to fill our bins with bunches of Lenoir (aka Black Spanish) grapes.  These grapes are destined to become Sofia Marie Rosé.  

Messina Hof makes 4 different wines from the Lenoir grape.  The grapes increase in sugar content as they hang on the vine (more on that here).  More sugar in the grapes translates to either more sugar or more alcohol (or both) in the finished wine, so different wines require grapes with different sugar levels.  So the Lenoir grapes are harvested at 4 different times to make these 4 wines.

After the picking, Monsignor Malinowski offered a few words of blessing and led a prayer for a continued fruitful harvest.  In today's world, especially if you live in a big city, it's easy to forget that wine is an agricultural product, and growers are still dependent on nature.   

Once the grapes are picked and blessed, it's time to stomp!  While most wine today is not made by people stomping grapes (we have machines for that now), Messina Hof still celebrates the tradition on harvest day.  I'm glad they do, because it's a great reminder of wine's connection with the past (after all, it's been around for thousands of years), and it's fun!  They'll even let you put your grapey footprints on a T-shirt.  (That's my husband peeking out from behind my T-shirt.)

If you've never harvested grapes, I highly recommend it.  There's no better way to expand your knowledge of wine than to go to a winery, see how the wine is made, look at the vines, and if you're lucky - pick some grapes yourself.  Messina Hof does a great job of making this a fun and educational event.  

Messina Hof is Expanding

At dinner, we heard some exciting news first hand:  Messina Hof is expanding into Grapevine, Texas.  In late 2014 they will open a new urban winery in historic downtown Grapevine, joining the Grapevine Wine Trail.  Messina Hof's newest location will be in the Wallis Hotel, and will include a 2-story space with a wine production facility, a retail shop, and a tasting room with 18 wine taps.

Grapevine Mayor William Tate spoke at dinner to welcome Messina Hof to Grapevine, and praised the Bonarrigos for their pioneering work and their involvement in promoting Texas wine, through Grapevine's annual Grapefest and in their participation in the Grapevine-based Texas Wine and Grape Grower's Association.  Mayor Tate has led the city of Grapevine for an amazing stretch of 39 years and has successfully positioned his city as a wine hub in the state, which is fitting for a city named after its wild grapevines.

What We Tasted

I can't finish this post without adding a few notes on the wines we tasted.  Messina Hof grows Lenoir in its main vineyard in Bryan and sources the rest of its grapes from other vineyards around Texas.

Blanc du Bois Private Reserve:
Blanc du Bois is a familiar grape in Texas.  This one is light, refreshing, and easy to drink.  Though it is dry, it's very fruity, so I think it would please a wide variety of palates.

Sofia Marie Rosé:
The Lenoir grapes we picked last night will become this year's Sofia Marie.  This wine is named after Paul and Karen's daughter.  It's deep in color for a rosé, but still light and crisp.  It's ever-so-slightly sweet with 1% residual sugar (the threshold where most people can just begin to detect sweetness).  The tart and jammy, yet earthy flavors are nicely balanced.

GSM (Grenache, Shiraz, Mourvedre):
I'm a big fan of GSM wines in general, especially ones from the traditional home of that blend in the Southern Rhone Valley of France, and this example could hold its own against any of those.  I love the aromas of earth and baking spice in this dry red.  Messina Hof's GSM will only be available in restaurants, and is just now making its way into the Houston area, so I'll post an update when I know where you can try some.  (Better yet, just visit the winery!)

Paolo Cabernet-Merlot Blend:
This Bordeaux-style blend is an all-around good red wine.  Smooth and approachable, yet full-bodied and steak-worthy.

"Glory" Moscato Mistella (Late Harvest):
Since the grapes develop more sugar as they hang on the vine, a "late harvest" wine has lots of sugar in the grapes and tastes sweet.  This wine is very sweet, but has a good amount of acidity to balance the sugar.  It has the typical Moscato flavors and tastes sweet without being cloying or candy-like.

Papa Paolo Port:
Messina Hof makes a great port-style wine, which was one of my clearest memories from my first visit.  Most ports are fortified with grape brandy up to the standard level of 18 - 20% alcohol, so they sometimes taste strong and harsh.  Messina Hof uses a process that allows the yeast to do the work of fermentation to get the alcohol to the correct level, without needing additional brandy, so their port is super smooth.  The aromas and flavors of dark fruits (black cherry, blackberry) and chocolate, combined with lots of sweetness, and acid to balance, just can't be beat.

If you're interested in Texas wine, a visit to Messina Hof is essential.  The main location in Bryan is an easy day trip from DFW, Houston, or Austin.  With their second location in Fredericksburg and the expansion into Grapevine coming soon, it's becoming easier than ever to get to know Messina Hof.  I appreciate their interest in community and wine education, and of course, they make a good glass of wine!  

The harvest celebration continues throughout August, so check out the special events happening all month.

Friday, August 1, 2014

Wine Infographic: New Zealand Wine Cheat Sheet

Next up in the series:  New Zealand!  You're probably familiar with New Zealand's famous Sauvignon Blancs, but they make other wines too, many of which are light, fresh, and great for warm weather.

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 in new tab.”
…in Chrome, right click on it and select “open link in new tab.”
…in Firefox, right click on it and select “view image.”   

You might also be interested in:
Improve Your Tasting Skills: Sauvignon Blanc and Gooseberries