Corks have been used to close wine bottles for a long time. They have been pretty much the standard method of closing a bottle since th 18th century. Most wine authorities agree that there are definite benefits to using a cork, particularly when it comes to aging wines. There are some downsides too. Quality corks are more expensive than other stoppers. They require the wine to be stored on its side. Corks can last a very long time but they do degrade over time. Corks can carry bacterial infections that ruin wine.
Alternatives have been developed ranging from composite corks (made up of pieces of cork glued together) to plastic corks, glass stoppers and finally screw tops. Of the alternatives, screw tops are my favorite. Who needs more plastic? Glass is awkward, and the composite corks have all of the negatives and none of the benefits of a real cork. Screw tops are easy to use; are hygienic; and are recyclable. They don’t however allow the very slow exchange of oxygen and the wine that occurs with a cork.
So what’s my call. If you have a wine that should be opened within the first three years after bottling, by all means, please use a screw cap. If you have a wine intended for longer aging, a cork is the way to go.
Yesterday a powerful earthquake hit the central Italian regions of Umbria and the Marche. I have had the good fortune to visit these wonderful areas. It is very sad to think of the devastation that has occurred. As more information becomes available about how people can help, I will post it here and on our Facebook page.
We were briefly hacked but the site is back up and I have upgraded security. I am looking at options to help keep the spam bots out so we can get conversations going again.
In the last few years there has been an explosion in consumption of rosés in the US. As a result there has also been an explosion in the number and variety of rosés available. In general I applaud this. I like rosé and appreciate the availability of a wider range of wines.
I recently attended a tasting of around twenty five rosés. Retail prices ranged from just over $10/bottle to over $50. I enjoyed most of them but was mystified by one aspect. There appeared to be little to no correlation between quality and price. The most expensive wine was a French Provençal wine. They also made a less prestigious line, also from Provence for half the price. Side by side I couldn’t tell them apart. This happened again with a Provençal rosé made by a winery owned by a couple of American celebrities. It was bottled in a fairly distinct bottle. At the tasting was a different wine (once again at about half the price) bottled in the same bottle. Once again, side by side they tasted identical.
One of the wines, Whispering Angel has been touted as the best rosé in the world. It was fine but no better than other wines of that style that cost $10 less. The wines I liked the best retailed for between $14 and $23. Two were made by producers I know and respect. The other two were new to me.
My takeaway was that even more than with other wines, price doesn’t indicate quality in rosés. There are enough inexpensive rosés available for you to try some and drink the ones you like. Don’t be seduced by the prices or the hype unless someone else is paying.
Sauvignon Blanc has recently become a favorite white wine varietal. Part of that is boredom with yet another Chardonnay but part of it is the general high quality of inexpensive wines made from the grape.
Sauvignon Blanc probably originated in the Bordeaux region of France were it is most often blended with Semilion. Bordeaux’s based on this blend are most frequently light to medium bodied wines with some mineral notes and frankly not that interesting to me. There are exceptions but they tend to be pricey.
In France’s Louire Valley (which is another contender for where the grape originated) they make much better use of the grape, usually vinifying it alone to make dry, semi dry and sweet wines as well as sparkling wines. Flavors typically have some citrus notes but can also include tropical fruits, melon and honey. Many of the dry ones have nice mineral finishes.
I credit New Zealand with the grapes current popularity. Starting in the 1980’s New Zealand started exporting consistently good, reasonably priced Sauvignon Blanc’s with tropical fruit flavors and nice zesty refreshing qualities. At the time the trend in white wines had been to ever heavier and oakier wines. New Zealand Sauvignon Blanc may not have seemed “serious” in comparison but they sure tasted good.
Sauvignon Blanc is now made in just about every country that produce wines and a remarkably high portion of them are pretty good. Warmer climates such as California and South Africa tend to make more full bodied wines that can loose some of the refreshing character that I like but they are usually well made wines.
There is one partial exception to my feeling that Sauvignon Blanc is a safe bet. For many years many vineyards in Chile said they had Sauvignon Blanc planted when they had Semilion. Semilion makes for less characterful wines that can be prone to oxidation. There are many fine Sauvignon Blanc’s from Chile but it helps to know the producer.
One question I get asked is what red wine to serve with fish. There are a lot of variables here. Among them are what kind of fish. The meaty or oily the variety of fish the easier it is. Swordfish can handle anything but the biggest and most tanic wines. It is hard not to overwhelm a light fish like sole. How the fish is prepared is also to be considered. Fried and grilled fish are more friendly to red wine than poached fish. Cream sauces and white wine sauces are difficult. That said my go to red wine for fish is Barbera. It has low tannin levels and goes very nicely with fish as lean as trout. Other lighter low tannin wines such as some pinot noir (not oak aged) and even some tempranillo’s can work. In the end it is what you like that counts.
This little primer on Pinot Noir is a bit harder for me to write than the others. Pinot Noir is the grape for many of my favorite wines. That said, I am a bit opinionated and keeping my populist hat on here is a bit harder.
Where Pinot Noir originated is not known but it most associated with Burgundy where it has flourished for hundreds of years. There it is made into some of the most sublime red wines in the world. There it is also made into overpriced under flavored crap (oops that populist hat is tilting). Explaining red Burgundy would take a book but here is my very abbreviated take. Getting wines from producers you know to be good and from good years is even more important here than in most other regions.
A good Burgundy is a medium to slightly lighter bodied wines with fruit flavors such as cherry and raspberry and more earthy flavors like cedar and tobacco. They are not sweet and have fairly high acidity making them go well with meat, particularly game.
Pinot Noir is made into red wines in other regions of France where while they can be decent, rarely are as good a a good Burgundy. Other countries such as Italy, Chile, New Zealand, and the US also make red wines from Pinot Noir. I have a some very nice Pinot Noir’s from Chile. My luck in New Zealand has been mixed but I have never had a bad one from there. The Italian ones I have had so far taste like generic Italian reds with little Pinot Noir character. The US is a real mixed bag. California has popularized a style that is very fruit forward and sometimes a bit sweet. It is not for me. Oregon has a climate that is closer to that of Burgundy and makes some very nice wines.
Pinot Noir is not just used for red wine. When it is pressed such that the grape skins are quickly removed from the juice it yields a white juice that is a major component of many Champagnes and other sparkling wines. When some contact is allowed between the juice and the skin a rosé is the result. I love Champagne and appreciate ones that have high Pinot Noir content. The rosés I have had have been pleasant but nothing special.
Syrah, AKA Shiraz is a red wine grape most identified with the northern Rhone region of France, and as Shiraz Australia. Legend has it that it was brought to France from the middle-east by a knight returning from one of the Crusades.
In the northern Rhone it is usually vinified alone or with very small amount of other grapes. These wines tend to be big bold wines with spicy and woodsy flavors and powerful tannins. Wines made from Syrah in the Cotes Rotie and Hermitage are among the best red wines in the world. Unfortunately they are also expensive. Less prestigious regions such as Crozes Hermitage can make some fine wines from Syrah but you have to pick with care. In the central and southern Rhone Syrah is most often blended with grapes such as Grenache, Mourvedre, and Cinsuult. The most prestigious of these wines is probably Chateaueneuf D’ Pape. In a blend it ads considerable structure while the other grapes can add fruit and some softness.
Syrah is also grown to the west of the Rhone in Langduec and Roussillon and to the south in Provence. Some excellent wines are made here but even more than in the Rhone you have to pick by producer.
In the 19th century Syrah was brought to Australia were it is known as Shiraz. Australian Shiraz range from very fruity, slightly spicy factory wines to some harder to find examples that can hold there head up with the finest offerings from the Rhone.
Syrah is popular with some northern California wineries who believe that it is more suited to the warm dry climate than the ever popular Cabernet Sauvignon. As in Australia, the style can vary widely.
Recently there has been a trend to use the traditional southern Rhone blend of Grenache, Syrah and Mourvedre, making wines called “GSM”, in places such as California, South Africa, and Australia. The few I have tasted I have enjoyed.
A great little song about living the good life from my friend Katrina Maxwell: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=fR_rAtoYcCM
This post starts what I intend to be a series on paring wine with food. The traditional approaches to this subject usually begin in one of two places. They start with very general kinds of food (e.g. chicken,fish) and suggest wine to go with them, or they start with a type of wine and suggest very general kinds of food to go with them. This can be helpful when you are trying to wrap your head around the basics of pairings but can miss some of the subtleties that make good pairing a joy. I am going to take a different approach were I talk about specific meals and why I paired specific wines with them.
For starters, last Wednesday was my wife’s birthday; Happy Birthday! I made a roast duck with pan roasted potatoes and sauted spinach for diner. The wine I chose was a Pinot Noir from Chile made by Bosler. People frequently think of Pinot Noir as being either new world (very fruity with low tannins) or old world (less fruit, more tannin and acidity). The Bosler may be made in the new world but it is old world in style. Old world style Pinot Noir’s are a great match for duck. Duck tends to be fatty with a fairly strong flavor. The fruit flavors work well with duck and the acidity helps cut through the fat. The tannin provides a nice balance that makes you want to come back for more duck followed by more wine. Yum.
For the second way, well it was a big duck and we had left overs. I made a duck hash with poached eggs for brunch. The duck hash was mostly potatoes with onions, garlic, celery, carrots, red pepper and some herbs and spices, most notably smoked Spanish paprika. I love bubbles with brunch so I made kir royal’s to go with the hash and eggs. Kir royal is a wine cocktail made from sparkling wine (I used a sparkling wine from Burgundy but any Champagne style sparkling wine works well. It would be a waste to use real Champagne though). The bubbles are mixed with Cassis, a black current flavored liquor. One again the acidity helped cut through the fat of the duck and sauted potatoes and the casis flavor went well with the duck. There is a classic French dish of roast duck in cassis sauce. Once again, Yum.