Last year I attended The New Zealand Wine Fair (see http://thewinepopulist.com/?p=143). When invited to go again this year I was happy to. Once again I was impressed with the high quality of all the wines offered. While I tasted wines from some of the same vineyards as last year, I made an effort to taste as many new ones as possible.
One vineyard, te Pa, really stood out. Their Marlboro Sauvignon, 2012 was one of the best at the tasting with a very nice balance of fruit and acidity but with the added pleasure an almost briny mineral finish. I wanted a dozen oysters to go with it. The Pinot Gris 2012 was also at the top of the flock. Pinot Gris is a grape from Alsace, in France. There it makes perfumed and fruity wines with a lot of acid to balance the fruit. Some are made with a touch of residual sugar. I usually like Alsatian Pinot Gris. The same grape under the name Pinot Grigio is a popular Italian white wine. There it is most often made in a much more restrained style that frequently is rather boring. te Pa’s Pinot Gris reminded me of the Alsatian ones but with a fresh tasting cleanness that is typical of New Zealand Whites.
Making characterful red wines is one place that New Zealand has a ways to go. Most that I have tasted are well made but not very exciting. The Marlboro Pinot Noir, 2011 from te Pa showed that this did not have to be the case. It had much of the complexity of a good Burgundy while keeping the freshness that the whites have. So here is the bad news, if you are in the US, te Pa does not yet have an importer. I do hope one picks them up so that I can enjoy these wines more than once a year.
Some of the other wines that I liked, and fortunately are available here were the Jules Taylor Pinot Gris, Marlboro, 2012 which had real character; The Sauvignon Blanc from Saint Clair Family Estate, and a bit of a surprise, Sleni Estate’s Cellar Selection Chardonnay, Hawkes Bay 2012 which at a suggested retail price of $12.99 US was one of the least expensive wines on offer.
I recently attended a tasting of Vintage Ports. See http://thewinepopulist.com/?p=219 for a discussion of the basics of fortified wines such as Port. Each of the seven producers had a vintage 2011, and six producers also had another vintage of their choice. It was interesting how similar the 2011’s were while how different the other wines were. Each of the 2011’s were big round tasting wines with definite raisin notes. Cockburn’s and Warre’s were the most distinctive of these wines. The wine from Cockburn’s had a defiantly spicy flavor. The Warre’s had more acidity and was to my taste a more balanced and elegant wine than the other 2011′s at the tasting.
The vintage Ports ranged from a young of 2007, provided by Smith and Woodhouse to the oldest being a 1980 from Grahm’s. I don’t know if it was due to the difference in vintages or that house styles show up more in time but these were a much more diverse group of wines then the 2011’s. One again the Warre’s was a bit more acidic and subtle and the Cockburn’s a bit more spicy. They both were more complex and interesting then the 2011’s. The oldest wine, a 1980 from Grahm’s was a beautiful wine that was complex and nuanced but still tasted very fresh and young. The Quinta do Vesuvio, 1994 was less impressive but still a very nice and fresh tasting wine. Dow’s 1985 was very rich and a bit overwhelming. It would go great however with strong blue cheese, which can be hard to match with a wine. The remaining producer, Quinta de Roriz was under new ownership and thus only provided the 2011 vintage.
If you read the wine press, or even those little tags with scores and reviews that some stores put up, you will come across discussions of “oak” and “new oak”. So what does oak have to do with wine?
For millennia many wines have been aged in wood casks, now usually made of oak or chestnut. In the twentieth century it became common to age wines in other containers such as stainless steel and lined cement. There is nothing wrong with these techniques, but wood does have an impact on the wine. Even the tightest wood casks are somewhat porous. The down side to this is you lose some wine to evaporation. The upside is that over time you get very small amounts of oxygen entering the wine. While large amounts of oxygen are detrimental to wine when it ages, these small amounts are good. It allows the small amounts of yeast still living in the wine after fermentation to continue to live. This has a stabilizing effect on the wine.
Any wood cask will allow for what is called micro-oxidation. Oak does more. There are chemicals present in oak that flavor wine. Smaller containers have more oak to the volume of wine and thus give more of the flavors. Smaller barrels called barriques are used when significant impact from oak is wanted. The amount of flavor a barrel can add to wine diminishes with use. Most wineries will not use an oak barrel for flavor more than three times. Thus you will see discussions of “new oak”. This just means the barrels are being used for the first time. Wine geeks will even get into talking about what kind of oak tree was used with “American oak” adding stronger flavors than “French oak”. Oak from Slovenia is also used. It is considered to be somewhat neutral.
So what does oak taste like? Well exploring Chardonnays is a good way to find out. Most California and Australian Chardonnays are aged in wood, most frequently American oak. They also typically have spent some time in new oak. If you taste a white Burgundy such as a Macon, Meursault, or the like, you are probably tasting French oak. Different makers age their wines for different amounts of time and for different amounts of time in different age barrels but you can still quickly pick up the change that oak makes. Finally, taste a good Chablis aged in stainless steel. This is Chardonnay without any oak. I like them all but if you have a preference, knowing what oak does can help you find wines you like. Enjoy.
Fortified wines are wines that even many wine geeks don’t know much about. So I will start with most basic of basics. Fortified wines are wines that have had alcohol added to them, most often brandy. This started as a way to preserve wines. In the days before modern transportation, shipping wine was a hazardous business. It still is sometimes. Hot or freezing weather poorly sealed or handled casks could all ruin wine. Alcohol acts as a natural preservative. If added during fermentation it stops fermentation leaving more sugar. The process was discovered around the sixteenth century and became popular at the end of the seventeenth century. Sweet wines were much more popular then.
Many fortified wines have a historical association with Britain. For much of its history Britain did not produce much wine and never enough to meet demand. So the bulk of the wine consumed there was shipped. Also, the British tended to be at war with its nearest wine supplier, France. So they turned to other places such as southern Spain (Sherry) and Portugal (Port). This is why many reputable Port and Sherry houses have British names.
Any wine can be fortified and so there is a huge range of flavors, degrees of sweetness colors and textures available. People who don’t have much experience may taste one or two and think they don’t care for fortified wines. That happened to me. I had tasted a few Sherries. I didn’t like them. Truth is I have yet to taste a Sherry I really liked. Then I tasted a good vintage Port and wow. Even before that I had tried and enjoyed Muscat de Beaumes de Venise, a desert wine from the Rhone Valley in France, without realizing it was fortified. So if you don’t care for Port or Sherry, try a Madera, Marsala, or even a Muscat de Beaumes de Venise. Enjoy.
Sorry that there have not been many posts of late but I am fighting a nasty bout of re-occurring flu. Wine has many health benefits but none work on the flu. Hope to be back drinking and writing soon.
For a while now I have used Amarone as an example of a classic wine, often considered great, that I just didn’t care for. My wife and our friend Matt, both of whom love Amarone, have regarded this as a real flaw in my wine judgment. Well I changed my mind. At least, I tasted one Amarone that I loved.
First some details. Amarone is a wine from the Venetto region of north-eastern Italy. The grapes used and the area it is grown in are the same as for Valpolicella which is usually a food friendly easy drinking red. What is different is how the wine is made. The grapes are slowly dried for as much as three months before they are pressed. The result is a powerful, high alcohol wine with definite raisin flavor. My complaint has been that alcohol and raisin flavors can be too strong leaving little else to experience.
Well, as I now know, it doesn’t have to be that way. I attended the Vin Italy – New York tasting yesterday and tried the Amarone Riserva Cent’ anni Albert Trabucchi, 2004, from Trabuchi d’ Illasi. The alcohol was there, as was the raisin flavor. But it also had ripe fruit flavors like plum and even cherries. On top of that there was a nice amount acidity. It was still a big wine, but for me it was beautifully balanced. I loved it. I think I will be much more open to trying other Amarones to see if they too can be so good.
So what do I think is the takeaway on this? Your tastes can change. If you don’t try and re-try you can miss a wine that may become a favorite. So what will I use for an example now? Well I have never had a Pintotage that I thought much of…
A scientist claims he has made palatable wine that is chock full of good things for your health. Me I would rather take vitamins and drink good wine. I also think that many studies on wine and health disregard that people who enjoy wine tend to care about what they drink and eat. They also know how to relax. All of which have health benefits. What do you think?
In some wine circles cocktails based on wine are frowned on. Me, I say why not? Now I wouldn’t use particularly good or expensive wines for a cocktail but there are so many decent and reasonably priced wines out there to use. For recipes that call for Champagne, I tend to use Spanish Cava, or in some cases Prosecco. I save my real Champagne for drinking as it is.
Kir is classically made with Aligote, a light white wine from Burgundy. For reasons I don’t understand, Aligote has gotten a bit pricey. As a wine it never floated my boat so I have no problem substituting another light white such as a Macon, Entre Due Mer, or even a Pinot Grigio. These wines work well for most white wine cocktails. Sauvignon Blanc can work well too but many have a fairly strong lemon and/or pineapple flavor that may or may not work. I would be careful about using the inexpensive Chardonnays from California and Australia as they tend to have a lot of oak and vanilla flavors that I don’t care for in a cocktail.
Red wines are not used as often but Vin Rouge avec Cassis is a classic variation on Kir that is popular in southern Burgundy where it is usually made with Beaujolais. Mulled wine is a great winter warmer. I would recommend using a wine relatively low on tannins like an inexpensive California Merlot, Beaujolais, or Barbara.
Just for fun here is one I devised:
1 oz. Limoncello
1 oz seltzer or club soda
In a white wine glass add four or five ice cubes, the limoncello and seltzer. Top off with chilled Prosecco. Drink it on a hot summer day, or a day you want to think about hot summer days and just try to think badly of wine cocktails.