Better Know A Varietal – Cabernet Franc

Cabernet is a red wine grape that probably originated in Bordeaux. It differs from its better known “big brother” Cabernet Sauvignon in that it is less tannic and more aromatic. When you smell a Cabernet Franc wine you frequently smell things like violets, raspberries and even liquorice. You can taste those things too and also flavors like black currents and black berries. Some Cabernet Franc wines have a nice peppery aspect too. When less than fully ripe grapes are used flavors such as green peppers and even grass can be present. Some people like those flavors while others consider them flaws. I tend to think of them as flaws unless they are very subtle.

In Bordeaux Cabernet Franc is almost always blended and is considered to give some finesse to wines that are dominated by Cabernet Sauvignon. In the Loire Valley of France it is usually vinified alone to make wines such as Chinon, Bourgeil, and Samur Champigny. Some very nice varietal Cabernet Franc’s are also made on Long Island in New York, and increasingly other regions are experimenting with it.


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A car that runs on wine?

Yep, its true.  Well I have had some wines that I though were only good for turning into vinegar and a few I wouldn’t even do that with so why not.  Read all about it:

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Wine For The Fortnight – Ayala Champagne Brut Majeur, NV

I recently tried Ayala Champagne’s Brut Majeur and enjoyed it. I usual do enjoy drinking Champagne. This one is very light despite being made from 60% red grapes. It had a definite citrusy flavor with a little bit of yeast at the end. If you like German Heffe Weisen beers, this is a Champagne for you. I thought it was nice to drink on its own, particularly in the summer but would be overwhelmed by most food. Enjoy.

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Wine For The Fortnight – Villa Sparina Barbera Del Monferrato Superiore 2012

Since our last “Better Know A Varietal” feature was on Barbera (, I thought it would be nice to review one. Villa Sparina’s Barbera Del Monferrato Superiore 2012, is a very nice example of a modern take on Barbara. While the wine maker does not use oak to add tannins they do allow the malolactic fermentation (See for a discussion of oak aging and for a discussion of malolactic fermentation). This rounds out what can otherwise be an acidic variety into a wine that makes a nice sipping wine as well as going great with food. The bright cherry notes are underlain with the flavors of plums and even a bit of cedar. Barbara’s are general very food friendly. This one would be great with a plate of cheese and charcuterie. It retails for around $16, which is mid priced for a Barbera from Monferrato. Enjoy.

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Better Know a Varietal – Barbera

Barbera is a red wine grape from Italy. It used to be the most widely planted grape in Italy but has been supplanted by Sangiovese and recently Montepulciano. In most of Italy it is blended into wines that are not very interesting. In the northwestern Italian province of Piedmont it is sometimes treated with the respect it deserves, particularly in the regions around the cities of Asti and Alba as well as the Monferrato Hills. Recently some California wine makers have been experimenting with it too.

Barbera is a fairly acidic variety with flavors of cherry, raspberry and blackberry. In the better examples, earthy notes such as cedar can be tasted. What makes Barbara unique is that for a red wine grape it has very little tannin. Some producers view this as a flaw and add tannins by aging their Barbera in oak barriques (see for a discussion of oak aging). While this can yield very nice wines, all too often it turns them into rather generic tasting reds. 

Far from viewing the lack of tannins as a flaw, I see it as an asset. As a result of its acidity and lack of tannins, a well made Barbera is probably the most versatile and food friendly wine there is. Looking for a red wine to have with fish? Try a Barbera. Having a group of friends over that includes vegetarians and carnivores? Give them a Barbera. Having something in a cream sauce and want to have a red wine with it. Barbera is the wine for you. Oh, and there may be no better wine to have with pizza. 

Some Barbera’s are too acidic to make pleasant sipping wines but even there, for me, their versatility with food more than makes up for that. Enjoy.

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It’s Too Hot For Wine

Yesterday a woman told me about loosing several wines to the heat. She and her husband had bought them on a trip to the North Fork of Long Island a few weeks ago. They only have airconditioning in their bedroom and the wines were in the kitchen. They all got cooked which is a shame as it was preventable. If you are in their place stick the wines in the fridge, even reds. You can take them out a couple of hours before you drink them and they will be fine. While it is far from ideal and not good for longterm storage your fridge at 40f is a lot better than your kitchen at 90f. If you can it is better to store wines that have corks on their sides as a fridge will dry out a cork pretty quickly. Stay cool.

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Wine For The Fortnight – DeMorgenzon DMZ Cabernet Rosé, 2014

This fortnight’s wine is a rosé that takes something of a different path. DMZ is made by the DeMorgenzon winery in the Western Cape area of South Africa. Although labeled as being a “Cabernet Rosé”, a little digging on the web revealed that it is 100% Cabernet Sauvignon (no Cabernet Franc). This in itself is a bit unusual. Cabernet Sauvignon is not that popular of a grape for making rosé. Based on appearance and flavor I think this wine has had longer skin contact than most rosés. As a result, the wine is bigger and bolder than most rosés but retains the thirst quenching character that makes rosés so appealing in the summer. This one can handle bold and spicy dishes like barbecue that are popular now. Retailing at between $10 -$15 it is a good value too. Enjoy. 

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What Makes for Good Summer Wine

Here in the northern hemisphere it is officially summer. It sure feels like it too. In these days of central heating and air conditioning you can comfortably drink just about any wine any time of year. Some wines better suit some seasons though. 

So what makes for a good summer wine. Well first it has to be a good wine. No amount of beach vacation or pretty views is going to make a bad wine good. They may have you paying less attention to how bad they are. Getting past that here are some of the qualities I look for. I like summer wines to be lower in alcohol. Alcohol promotes a warming sensation. In white wines I prefer crisper wines to big oaky ones. In red wines I like them to be more on the acidic side. I don’t mind some tannins but a prefer a red that doesn’t leave me thirsty. 

Rosés are great for summer drinking.  


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Better Know A Varietal: Malbec

Malbec is a red grape that probably originated around Bordeaux and is still a minor variety there. In France it is a major player in Cahors in the south-west of France but it is in Argentina that it found its most popular home. 

Malbec makes deeply colored wines with fairly high levels of tannin which in good examples is matched by darker fruit flavors such as plum and blackberry. Woodsy and cedar notes can also be tasted in some Malbec. Aromas can be a bit subdued compared to the flavors. 

Argentine Malbec are most often found as single variety wines but there are some nice examples that are blended with Cabernet Sauvignon, Cabernet Franc, or Syrah. 

I have rarely tasted a bad Argentine Malbec and the can often be good values as nice ones can be had for under $15. Stepping up to just over $20 can yield some very nice wines. French Cahors are frequently overly tannic. Chasing after the international market that knows Malbec from Argentina has caused some makers of Cahors to make poorly balanced fruit bombs. There are some good Cahors but they tend to need at least five years of age before they reach a nice drinkable balance.

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