Better Know A Varietal – Zinfandel

Zinfandel is in many ways a quintessential American grape.  Although it did not originate here, no vinus vinafera, (or fine wine grapes) did, it found its home here and has prospered.  There are several competing theories as to where it originated but the best guess is somewhere in the middle-east, probably Syria.  Don’t be surprised, well into the eighteenth century the middle-east was a major supplier of wine to Europe.  Many predominantly muslim countries have historically made wine.   Either they didn’t take religious injunctions against alcohol seriously or they didn’t mind selling it to others.

A grape variety called Black Zinfandel was mentioned in the U.S. as early as 1830.  By the 1850’s it had reached California where by the end of the nineteenth century it was the most widely planted wine grape.

Zinfandel is used to make a wide variety of wines, everything from a very light rose (“White Zinfandel”) to big dark tannic red wines that drink best after years of aging.  Most everyday Zinfandels are fairly big wines with a lot of jammy fruit flavors.  They can have interesting spicy and peppery flavor as well.  When the fruit is not balanced by alcohol, tannin’s or acidity they can seem sweet and cloying.  Better ones make use of the naturally high tannin content in the grape skin.

Zinfandel is sometimes blended with grapes such as Merlot and Cabernet Sauvignon.  I have even tasted blends with Zinfandel and Sangiovese.  However, it is most often vinified as a single varietal.  This is particularly true of the “Old Vine Zinfandels”.  Most wines made from grapes grown on older vines exhibit more character and structure than those from younger vines.  This is even more so with Zinfandel.  Given that some Zinfandel vineyards are over one-hundred years old, wine maker have tried to distinguish their wines made from older vines.  There is however no standard for calling a vine an “old vine”.  You have to trust the vineyard.

A quick note on related grapes:  Since Zinfandel is not known to exist outside the U.S. (except when brought from the U.S.) there has been some effort to find its roots (pun intended).  A lot of fuss has been made claiming that the Italian grape Primitivo is the same as Zinfandel.  Some Croatian varieties have also been touted as the “original Zinfandel”.  Particular attention has been given to genetic studies of Primitivo made in the early 1990’s.  DNA testing has gotten a lot better since then and the same methods used at that time could not distinguish between Pinot Noir and Pinot Blanc (closely related but very different varieties).  I suspect that Primitivo is closely related to Zinfandel. When it is grown side by side with Zinfandel they have yielded distinctly different wines.

I enjoy Zinfandel most often in the fall or winter when its alcohol and big fruit flavors can be a good match to Thanksgiving turkey and roast game.  Enjoy.

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A Wine for the Fortnight – Scacciadiavoli, Montefalco Rosso, 2009

The Central Italian town of Montefalco is famous for its Sagrantino grape and the resulting single varietal wine, Sagrantino di Montefalco.  Wine makers in this corner of Umbria have another red wine trick up their sleeves, Montefalco Rosso, made with a blend of Sangiovese and Sagrantino.  Wine Makers may use up to 30% other grapes.  In this case, Merlot is used.  With Sagrantino’s long aging requirements and low yields, the Rosso was designed to be a money maker for the wineries while the Sagrantino carried the banner for quality.  For many wineries this is how it is, but some, including Scacciadiavoli, craft wines that can stand on their own. The Scacciadiavoli, Montefalco Rosso, 2009, is a medium bodied very well balanced wine with some dark fruit and earthy notes one would expect from Sagrantino.  It also has some of the cherry flavors and bright acidity that Sangiovese can bring to a wine.  We had it with lamb chops and it went perfectly.  It would match well to other grilled meats like a steak or a veal chop.  It was so good we kept drinking it after we finished eating and it still worked nicely as just a glass of wine.  At around $16 a bottle it was a home run for value.  Enjoy.

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Nice Job If You Can Get It

From Science Daily: http://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2014/04/140402110004.htm

 

Some people have had problems with the link.  You can copy and paste this in the browser: http://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2014/04/140402110004.htm

 

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Another Painting From Elinore Schnurr

 

Many of you will remember that Elinore Schurr, a local artist here in Long Island City, allowed me to post a photograph of a wine themed painting she had done.  It was a great painting and one of the all time most popular posts here at The Wine Populist.  She generously has shared another.  Enjoy

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Getting To Know A Varietal – Sangiovese

Sangiovese is a red wine grape that originated in Tuscany.  It is the primary grape in Chianti and Vin Nobile D’ Montipulciano and is also the only grape allowed in Brunello.  It is the most planted grape variety in Italy.  Planting it is increasingly popular in other countries.

Wines made from Sangiovese tend to have a medium bright red color.  The flavor and aroma of cherries is a hallmark of the grape.  Styles range from bright and acidic thirst quenching wines to some very big and complex ones.  It is popular to blend it either with other Italian varieties as in Vin Nobile and many Chianti’s or with Cabernet Sauvignon.  It is the latter idea that helped set off the whole “Super Tuscan” movement.

Most Sangiovese based wines are very food friendly, going well with everything from roast chicken to spaghetti with meat sauce.  They make excellent wines to go with a snack of salami or cheese such as you get at many wine bars.

In addition to the Tuscan ones, I have enjoyed some very good ones from Umbria and a real liking for Rosso Conero’s from the Marche.  There also are some very nice varietal labeled ones being made in the Dry Creek Valley area of Sonoma, California.

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Better Know A Varietal – Chardonnay

This post starts a new feature were I pick a grape variety and explain a bit about its history, characteristics and most frequent use.  There are over 1,800 varieties of grapes so I shouldn’t have a problem keeping this one going.

Chardonnay is a white grape that originated in Burgundy, France.  Now Chardonnay is the most widely planted wine grape in the world.  It is the premier white gape in California and Australia, so much so that many people don’t realize that it is a French grape.

This is easy to understand.  Chardonnay is an easy to grow grape but it is sensitive to where it is grown.  Being so popular, it also gets handled in a lot of different ways.  It can be hard to wrap your head around the vast number of different styles of Chardonnay.  Here are some general guidelines that can help.

Chardonnay grapes grown in warmer climates, such as most of Australia and California, tend to ripen earlier and have higher sugar content.  This translates in the bottle to having more fruit flavors and higher alcohol.  The aroma is frequently of tropical fruit such as oranges, pineapple, or even bananas.  Some producers, particularly in Australia, tend to make Chardonnay’s that have a bit of sweetness to them.  California ones are more likely than not pretty dry.

In cooler climates such as Burgundy or the Pacific north-west tend to make Chardonnay’s that are less fruity and have more mineral flavors.  The aroma tends to smell like flower, mushrooms or cheeses (in a good way).

The way the grapes are made into wine can make a big difference too.  There are two major technique decisions a wine maker has with Chardonnay.  The first is whether to allow malolactic fermentation.  See http://thewinepopulist.com/?p=23 for a discussion of malolactic fermentation.  Chardonnays that have undergone it tend to be big, buttery and very smooth.  Wines that haven’t tend to have a bit more acidity and be more refreshing.  Almost all Australian Chardonnay has undergone malolactic fermentation.  Chablis is a classic example of wines that have not.

The second decision is whether to age the wine in oak or not. See http://thewinepopulist.com/?p=225 for a discussion of the practice of aging wine in oak.  Oak tends to have a strong impact on Chardonnay.  Higher alcohol wines tend to handle oak better than lighter wines.  Thus oaked styles of Chardonnay are popular to make in warmer wine growing regions.  Once again, almost all Australian and California Chardonnays have been aged in contact with oak.  Most French ones have too, but usually less aggressively.  There is a growing trend to age Chablis in oak but many are not.

A final word on blending: With the notable exception of Champagne and other sparkling wines, it is not common to blend Chardonnay.  It is such a characterful grape that it tends to stand best on its own.

 

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A Wine For The Fortnight – Marcarini, Ciabot Camerano, Barbera D’ Alba, 2010

Barbera is a red wine grape from Piedmont in Italy.  It used to be the most commonly planted grape variety in Italy until it was surpassed by Sangiovese.  In most of Italy it turns out ordinary wines but in the Alba and Asti regions it can make something special.

This fortnight’s wine is an example.  Barbara is a curious grape in that unlike almost all other red wine varieties it has very little tannin.  Some makers age Barbara in oak to give it some tannin.  This can be problematic.  I usually am not a fan of oak aged Barbara.  When done right, as in this case, it gives not just tannin but some extra finesse and structure to the wine.  The wine has some nice fruity flavors which are balanced by the natural acidity as well as the tannins from the oak.  This makes it a bigger and more complex wine.

Most Barbera’s are food friendly wines and this one is no exception.  It would go well with pizza or pasta but also has the oomph to hold up to red meat dishes like lamb or steak.  I would particularly enjoy it with a grilled veal chop.

At under $15 a bottle it is a real bargain.  Enjoy.

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Wine Collecting and Forgery Vs Drinking

Over the last few years there have been a number of stories about wine collectors being ripped off by forgeries.  Here is a new one.  http://www.rawstory.com/rs/2013/12/12/federal-prosecutors-dealer-passed-off-fake-laboratory-wine-to-drive-up-auction-prices/

As many of the wines that have been involved in these scandals have been of doubtful drink ability even if authentic, the obvious solution is to buy wine to drink, not as a collectible.  If you want to be a collector get into stamps or hummel figurines.

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Wine For The Fortnight – A Box Wine?

You may think this is taking populism to far but I liked this one.  So how did it happen?  I recently attended a tasting of affordable Bordeaux wines.  Most were reasonably well made but unexciting.  There were a few good ones though and one of them was a box wine, Chateau Tassin, 2009, from Wineberry Importers.

It is a typical Bordeaux blend of Merlot, Cabernet Sauvignon, and Cabernet Franc.  It had a nice level of acidity but had typical Merlot smoothness, some good berry and black current flavors from the Cabernet Sauvignon, and some spiciness from the Cabernet Franc.  Was it a wine to lay down and bring out for special occasions?  No, but it would make an excellent house red and would work well for a party too.  Being a box wine you would not have to worry about oxidation.  Just have a glass when you want.

This wine has not yet been released but it should be any day now.  Other Wineberry box wines cost around $40 for three liters.  Enjoy.

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Wine For the Fortnight – Pace Roero Arneis, 2011

OK, I know it’s been a lot more than a fortnight since the last wine review.  This one may have been worth waiting for.

Arneis is a white grape from Piedmont in Italy.  Piedmont is a region most known for its red wines such as Barolo, Barbera etc.  The Roero is a range of hills a bit north of the most famous areas where Barolo and Barbaresco are made.  Barbera and Dolcetto are the most well know grapes from the area.

Until about twenty years ago virtually no one made wine from Arneis.  The gape plants were used somewhat like a canary in coal mine.  They were more susceptible to pests and diseases than the red grape plants of the area.  If the Arneis had problems, the farmer knew to keep an eye on the other plants and could take prophylactic measures.

Starting in the 1980’s, and really taking off at the start of the oughts, the grape found favor.  This makes sense as good white wines are not common in the area.  Arneis breaks from the typical mold of Italian whites, which are high acid and low on aroma.  It also tends to have a bigger body than your typical Italian white.

This is the first wine I have had from Pace and it was a nice example, with flavors of pear and a bit of peach backed by a good structure and a long mineral finish.  The aroma was mildly floral and reminded me of orange flowers and honeysuckle.  While not as acidic as many Italian whites, it still is very food friendly.  It would work well with most poultry dishes and any but the lightest of seafoods.  My wife observed that it was a white wine you could serve to people who don’t usually like whites and they would still enjoy it.  At just under $20 a bottle, it was about average for an Arneis.  Enjoy.

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