Friday, August 31, 2012

Greece Brings Some Diversity

I keep a spreadsheet of the wines in my house.  From a time management standpoint it is not particularly effective.  But from a 'choosing the wine for tonight' standpoint, I kind of love it.  I like to filter by varietal.  I like to sort by drinking window.  I like to sum up how many wines I have from a given country.  I apparently like to be a geek.  Sometimes however I get a little sad at the lack of diversity in grape varietals that most wine producing regions are producing.  The great grapes of France seem to dominate my list whether I am searching Old World or New World.  I love cabernets and pinots and appreciate the distinct differences that different terrors and philosophies bring to my collection, but to have 100 wines and only 10 different varietals can be a bit disappointing.

So I find that there are a few countries who are doing great things with distinct, native, and rare varietals - and I get excited.  Greece in particular has had a place recently on my list, and while pronunciation and spelling becomes an issue, diversity becomes a catalyst for exploration.  These Greek wines were not only all delicious, they were also different, distinct, and compelling.  They were affordable and food friendly, and brought smiles and surprises to those who shared the dinner table.  When looking for Greek wines, here are a few varietal suggestions:

Moschofilero - melons and flowers seem to dominate here, for my nose, and a sense of honey through the palate keeps the ultimately dry wine frisky.  The wine is so clearly not cut from the same cloth as our typical chardonnay and sauvignon blanc, it is a white wine alternative that will enliven your lighter fare.

Xinomarvo - Now this grape can get me all geeked up.  A lighter bodied red with a tendency to have a decent dose of acidity, this is not pinot noir - but can certainly be used for meals in which your natural inclination is to open a pinot noir.  Suede, cedar, and fresh raspberry highlighted the examples I have had, and as a bonus - this grape can take a bit of age and become rather velvety.

Assyrtiko - Another alternative to your everyday whites this grape, when grown in the right soil, mixes a rather intense minerality with its fresh orchard fruits.  Again, you will not mistake this for the more pedestrian varietals, and it is well worth a try for those of you who make white wine exploration a part of your regular consumption (which, by the way, should be ALL of you.)

Feel free to butcher the pronunciation, it is unlikely your wine store clerk will have the confidence to correct you.  Feel free to check out my wine reviews linked in the header for specific bottles to seek out.  Then let Greek wine continue to expand your horizons.  Diversity is the key to continued pleasure when trying to master the un-master-able pursuit of wine!

Wednesday, August 1, 2012

On France

No one is likely truly interested in excuses for complete silence around here the last several weeks.  However, a quick note to indicate that I was traveling and am now back.  I was traveling through France and it was fantastic.  I encountered lots of wine, some of it great - and naturally some of it not so great.  I wanted to give a few observations about the wine world of France, from which you can glean whatever conclusions you wish:

- The south of France is so beautiful, so warm in the summer, and generally so friendly that whatever quality of wine they produce seems just great for the setting.  This is of course completely about the setting and not about the wine.  But the Languedoc is certainly producing some of the more affordable, interesting wines in France and should continue to be an area of your exploration.

- Wine culture in French restaurants in general is not any more advanced than wine culture here.  The lists are vague, the glasses are inappropriate, the temperatures are less than ideal.  However there did seem to be a much stronger tendency by the patrons to include wine in their meals.  This seemed to be done with a lot less intimidation or some of the pomp and circumstance that can surround the wine culture here - and it was refreshing.

- The old rules by which France regulates their vineyards and wine production may be stifling, but they help delineate a sense of diversity that is truly pleasurable.  While it may be frustrating to be restricted in what you grow and how you vilify it, there is a likely outcome that allows exploration of the various regions to be exhilarating.  The culture, the people, the soil, the weather - I guess the idea of terroir produces such diversity in the wines that hundreds of years of stodgy tradition actually enforce something really beautiful.

- Wines are not cheaper at the source apparently.  Maybe we are lucky here in the U.S. but we can essentially buy the same wines at the same prices (not 100% true, but primarily accurate).

- This didn't sink in for me, but it is apparently acceptable to put ice in a cheap rose.  I'd rather put the bottle of rose in some ice and appreciate it for what it is, but....  I'm apparently in the minority in Nice.

- Beaujolais (which I have advocated before) has such a legitimate place in your wine rotation.  And when it comes to the dinner table it is way more flexible than many of the wines we generally choose.  This tip can save you some money too - check it out.

That's it for now.  I have some reviews of some great wines out of Australia and Greece coming up soon, just need to shake the jet lag!!

Friday, June 8, 2012

Check out the reviews!!

Just a quick to note to acknowledge that while there have been few new posts on The Vino File lately, there are always new wine reviews being added to the database, linked above.  Check them out!!  I can attest that the Eden Road Shiraz was a wonderful surprise and well worth your look.

Friday, May 11, 2012

CA vs. France - A sparkler showdown

Champagne is rightly the king (queen?) or sparkling wine on the world stage.  So much so that like Kleenex, or Tylenol it now is often the term used by the masses to describe any product resembling itself.  (Sorry Champagne for the comparison to pills and tissue...)  However, many Champagne brands realized early that the Chardonnay in particular being grown in California was pretty damn good, and decided to set up shop on this side of the Atlantic to create some California sparkling wines.  Now these domestic sparklers are at an all-time high in terms of quality and it begs for their to be a quick little showdown.

Champagne Tattinger in Reims is just one of those big old Champagne houses who got in on the California action.  They started Domaine Carneros in, well Carneros, and have been producing sparkling wines and still Pinot Noir from the property since the early 1990's.  I sat down to a NV Champagne Tattinger La Francaise Brut and a 2005 Le Reve Domaine Carneros.  Many would argue that this is an unfair comparison, I would argue back - this was just for fun, the winner here really receives no glory or elevation.

The Champagne Tattinger La Francaise was yeasty and filled with citrus fruits.  It was bright with acid but rather on the full side.  Like most entry level Champagne it was not super complex but was tasty, refreshing, and fun.  I liked it a lot for a $30 Champagne, it is widely available, and have no problem recommending it.

The Le Reve was a whole different animal.  Certainly on the rich side, it was brimming with fruit and brioche, a touch of smoke, and layers of flavor.  The mouthfeel was creamy but lifted, and the nose was beguiling.  This is a spectacular bottle of sparkling wine - one that makes the $95 price tag seem justified. 

So in this non-binding death match California came out on top, and Champagne proves again that they may a great decision in investing in California production.  Have you ever put a Champagne toe to toe with a California sparkling wine?  What were your results?

Friday, May 4, 2012

PSMIOFF 1.04 - Chardonnay Showdown

There comes a time in every man's life when he must man up and admit that he loves Chardonnay. I mean this as a true obligation, and one that many man can never concur. The stigmas abound and are difficult to face, but failing to achieve this difficult task only serves to rob oneself of the joys that this often maligned (and often mistreated) grape adds to one's life. With this goal in mind the brilliant minds behind the Pasadena Society of Millenials Interested in Observations on Fermented Fruit sat down to a long and lustrous lineup of Chardonnay recently. What resulted was a qualitative increase in the number each person assigned (from 1-10) in their adherence with the following statement:

 'I think Chardonnay makes some of the most interesting and beautiful white wine in the world and will try to find a place for it in my regular drinking and purchasing habits.'

If you too are ready to tackle this right of passage, I provide for you a list of rather diverse California and French Chardonnays for your persevering efforts, presented in order of the group's ratings:

1) Liquid Farm 2010 'White Hill' Chardonnay -Wow, this is an amazing wine from a new winery in Sta. Rita Hills with a distinct point of view.  This wine smells of lemon meringue and a bit of grass.  It brims with bright acidity, citrus notes, honey, and a beautiful touch of minerality.  This is so incredibly fresh it will wine you over instantly - a truly beautiful Chardonnay at $38.

2)  Bedrock Wine Company 2009 Brousseau Vineyard Chalone Chardonnay - Seems New World fruit with an Old World sensibility stole the show as this is another restrained, minerally wine with a touch of sweet green apple, amazing florality, and a kiss of salinity.  The balance in this wine is spectacular and the flavors that emerge as it crosses your palate are very pleasing.  This is a superbly crafted wine - and one I put on par with Liquid Farm.

3)  Melville Estate 2010 Wente Selection - Available to wine club only, this wine was rich and leesy, with tropical pineapple on the nose and palate.  And yet it snapped to a crisp finish and showed a rich minerality.  Stunningly Californian, and a pleasure to drink Melville often gets my highest recommendation.

4)  Peter Micheal Belle Cote 2009 - I had high hopes for this wine, and it was good.  Brimming with tropical fruit - papaya and pineapple, there was also a distinct aspect of fresh bread dough to this wine.  The oak was apparent but integrated, and an aspect of vanilla sugar finished it off nicely.  For me this wine was very good, but not worth the price.

5)  Saarloos and Sons 2008 Daughter's Chardonnay - I am only realizing now that Caifornia deftly overshadowed France in our specific tasting, and this Santa Barbara helped that right along.  A nice wine for the $24 price tag, this wine was riper than the previous with cotton candy and sweet tropical fruit throughout.  The acid was a bit prickly yet, but I can certainly recommend this wine for those who like fatter California Chardonnay.

6)  2008 Louis Jadot Chassagne-Montrachet - Alright, France's turn, and this one was certainly showing the more mineral, stony, lean side of Chardonnay.  A bit characterless, this wine showed apple skins, underripe pineapple, and a sense of dry extract.  Alright in itself, but not worth the $50 price tag - this wine was a bit of a disappointment.

7)  Ramey 2009 Hyde Vineyard Chardonnay - A bit too much for most of the crowd, this was creamy, oaky, toffee, and ripe pear.  I thought it was handled nicely and the elements were in balance, but it didn't go over well with those adverse to a bit of butter and oak.  At $60 this is a splurge, and should only be purchased by those who like their Chard big and ripe.

8)  Robert Denogent 2008 St. Veran - Austere and dry, this wine was rocky, minerally, and had some big acidic lift.  It wasn't bad, it just wasn't interesting and definitely needed to be on a dinner table.  The majority called it a pass as the simplicity was not met with enough interest.

9)  A Macon that will remain unnamed was completely oxidized - cool to taste if you like nutty sherry type flavors, but not fair to include in the evaluation.

A nice lineup to display the diversity and wonder of Chardonnay, and a proud declaration - I love Chardonnay!

Friday, April 13, 2012

Saving Some Collective Breath

Today as a sort of public service announcement I offer the top ten things we can all stop saying. If everybody saved 10-15 words a day that would be like 3-4 billion words in the U.S. alone. If you think about it, that's really a HUGE savings and you kind of only have to choose one of the sentences below to not say each day. Plants will be able to work a little bit less hard to convert us new oxygen, everyone can really just relax. Take your pick, or come up with a new idea of things that 'go without saying.'

1) This is a completely non-smoking flight. (I love how they almost always say completely, like its different than those ones where you can smoke on the descent...)

2) The backlash against Merlot should be over. (Still for some reason no one can mention Merlot without referencing Sideways. It makes me itchy its so played out.)

3) Buckle up!

4) I just hate the butter and oak bomb Chardonnays (yeah, yeah, you and everyone with some sophistication)

5) I could really stand to lose a few pounds (You could save a few words by just saying 'I'm a modern American')

6) Sparkling wine does not need to just be for celebrations (anyone who does not know this doesn't deserve to drink it with food - doesn't need to be said anymore)

7) At least it's Thursday (I actually would refrain from making any reference to what day of the week it is at work, it is mundane and believe me everyone is already well aware)

8) I don't like sweet wine (yes you do, you just won't let yourself)

9) What? You haven't seen ? (I get this all the time and I want to say, uh yeah, that's what I just said)

10) This wine is made in a more international style (call it overripe, call it overoaked, mention is has no real sense of place but don't call it the 'international' style - that phrase is ironically becoming as flabby as the style it is trying to represent)

You're welcome oxygen supply!!

Wednesday, March 14, 2012

Understanding Cognac: A Primer

A couple of months ago I received a bottle of Cognac. As the box was opened I felt a surge of excitment, the box and bottle were beautiful, the juice inside mahogany brown and inticing. I placed the bottle proudly at the front of my liquor cabinet, making sure that it hid from view that embarassing bottle of coconut-flavored rum behind it, and promised to take it out for a swirl soon enough. Only a few hours later did I realize that I had no knowledge or context for what I had received. As if the bottle was staring me down from its perch in the cupboard, I began to feel uncomfortable.

"You got all excited, but you don't know what I really am or have a clue what to do with me," it seemed to be challenging me from the kitchen. I realized quickly that the gift may be more than a nicely foiled box and ornate glasswork. Indeed, this gift may be a chance to learn about an entirely unique and delicious beverage. What follows is simply what I learned, which in turn allowed me to enjoy my Cognac both in context and in experience.

Cognac is called Cognac simply because it hails from the region around the town of Cognac in Western France (yes, I started simple.) It is a brandy, meaning it is a distilled spirit produced from fruit. In the case of Cognac it is entirely produced from grapes, namely Ugni Blanc, Folle Blanche, and Colombard. Like all AOC regulated products in France the requirements for a beverage to be legally called a Cognac are quite complex, but this is how France has consistently provided consistency in their wines and spirits (and consistently been considered at the top of the wine and spirit production pyramid)!

The grapes are pressed and vinified into a white wine, and only grapes from one of the certified regions of Cognac can be included. The resulting wine is probably not something you would want to drink at this point - Ugni Blanc is rarely seen as a white table wine on its own, and the region of Cognac does not necessarily produce enough body and ripeness to make a palateable wine. What is produced however lends itself beautifully to the next stages of Cognac production.

The wine is then double distilled in a copper still (years, and I mean many years, of practice have indicated that copper imparts no taste influence on this process), and even the stills that can be used are regulated. The double distillation results in a spirit that is then put into oak barrels for aging. This aging process is important as flavors from the oak are imparted into the spirit overtime. I'm sure you are as surprised as me to know that the type of wood used to make these aging barrels is, you guessed it, prescribed. Eventually the spirit is transferred to glass containers and awaits the blending process.

The blending process, although not required, is usually done in a manner that allows the specific house to release a consistent tasting product year after year. It is during this process that the tasters attempt to produce a complex taste profile that will result in a distinct style for their specific house. It is the age of the youngest brandy in the blend that will set the quality grade that you may recognize from your strolls down the Cognac aisle:

V.S. - indicates a Cognac in which the youngest spirit was aged in barrel for at least two years

V.S.O.P - indicates that the youngest spirits was aged for at least four years

X.O. - indicates at least six years of aging for the youngest spirit in the blend

You must keep in mind that the designation is based on the youngest spirit in the blend, not the average. Many X.O. designated Cognacs average nearly 20 years of aging (and you will find that this extra time in storage will cost you a bit more money, but the complexity certainly tends to follow).

So I now had a bit of understanding about what it was staring me down from the cabinet, but I still wasn't sure what to do with it. The beauty of Cognac is in the myriad of flavors that it can present. While each house or brand attempts to produce a similar taste profile year to year, the variety within the category is what ultimately may drag you wine geeks into a prolonged exploration.

I realized that coming at Cognac from a more traditional table wine background that I would best enjoy this drink as intended, simply in a snifter, with no distractions, observing and enjoying the aromas and tastes that this Cognac presents. While the 40% abv offers some distinction in how this is enjoyed, it is best enjoyed on it's own. I simply poured a small amount into my glass, swirled the liquid to release some aromas and took a tentative sniff. I found this was all that was needed. Too far into the glass and the alcohol was overpowering (and a bit astringent). But the typical nose plunge of wine tasting was not needed or warranted. Instead I found that the aromas of nuts and caramel, sometimes flowers or vanilla are fascinatingly present well above the glass. Every bit as intriguing and complex (in many cases more so) than a great glass of wine I have come to love picking out the aromas of a slowly warming glass of Cognac.

The alcohol content of Cognac presents a different tasting technique as well. Best for me is to make sure I am a bit warmed up - a big initial slurp will not be pleasant. Instead several smaller sips over time allow the full complexities of the spirit to come through. And the variations you will find when exploring Cognac are certainly what will keep you coming back. Some are warm and leathery, others brighter and flowery. The distinctions, and yet the regions ability to maintain a consistency through their tight production standards, are astounding.

Armed with a bit of knowledge and context I went forth and thoroughly enjoyed the Cognac I received. The gift kept giving, beautiful packaging for initial excitement, a new head full of knowledge for continued thought, and a new habit for pleasurable sipping - I am thankful that I am coming to know Cognac.