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3 Reasons Why We Drink White Wine – in Winter

Few think of white wines as a winning choice any time of year, let alone now in the heart of winter here in New England. Red wine somehow seems the natural way to soothe the impact of the cold, dark days we experience.

In fact, once we shed our own similar inclinations, we discovered a surprisingly wonderful coping mechanism.

Here’s why adding white wine to your repertoire right now will help assuage your winter woes:
 

1.   Dry Air Begs for a Palate Pick-Me-Up

If you’re like us, you’re heading for the water cooler on the regular. Nothing seems to quench your thirst. Guess what? Many white wines can. Add a little zip to your regularly scheduled wine-down and you can refresh your taste buds (and your spirits) with the natural burst of mouthwatering acidity whites are best known.

 

2.    Hearty Fare Hearts Robust Wines

The importance of texture should not be underestimated either. Just as you reach for that soft, cozy blanket to wrap yourself up in, many white wine styles offer the same satisfaction. Here we're talking about wines that have a touch of heft, and can be deemed oily, or fleshy.

Why?

Robust whites complement the weight of heartier fare. Think Chowder or thicker soups like pumpkin, cauliflower, butternut squash, etc. Gratin potatoes. A tangy, goat-cheese quiche. Monkfish or Swordfish. Chicken casserole. Even an old-school (or re-imagined, newer school) Mac & Cheese.

You get the idea. Just be sure the weightier wine you select also has that essential acidity we talked about above, too. You’ll need that element to cut through the fat of such bold dishes.

 

3.   Winter Helps Ensure Whites are Enjoyed at the Right Temp

One guest at an event we hosted said oh-so-sagely, he feels “whites have to work harder to woo” him. When he tasted the white wine flight we had curated, he mused at how much more depth the wines had – he could taste their nuance.

So often whites are served way too cold. Whites show more layers of aromas and flavors when they are served at the ideal 50ish degrees Fahrenheit. And in New England many of us are blessed with enclosed vestibules or unfinished cellars that naturally ensure wines are stored, and then easily served, at the right temp. You don’t have to fuss with the fridge. Nature works to your logistical advantage. Meanwhile you’re able to discover what so many whites really have to offer.

 

Certainly white wine is a huge category, just as red wine is. The winter simply proves an unsuspecting time to explore the possibilities.

Satiate your cravings for comfort food, resuscitate your senses and otherwise bring life back to your body and soul by giving whites the chance they deserve this winter!

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How to Pair Wine + Cheese – 3 Easy Methods

 Photo Credit: Shane Godfrey Photography

Photo Credit: Shane Godfrey Photography

It's a given that wine and cheese go well together. But that doesn't mean that every wine pairs well with every cheese - or vice versa.

How do you 'try before you buy'? Well, if you can't, use one (or more) of these 3 methods!
 

1.    PAIR TO COMPARE.

INTENSITY  of flavor is a wonderful starting point. Wine takes-on more memorable nuance with age, just as cheese does. Young fresh wines tend to be bright and quaffable. Wines become nuttier (oxidized), or perhaps you’ve noticed dried fruit flavors or aromas when tasting a truly aged wine. Just as a cheese “dries out” with aging, in a wine the fresh-fruit-factor starts to play second fiddle to dried fruits (e.g. figs, apricots, even raisins) or other traits specific to the wine (grape’s) particular kind. Pair two young things or two time-tested cheeses and wines together and you have a match! 

PROTEIN  loves protein. Remember from your own larger life experience that fat is a wonderful flavor vehicle. And as cheese dries out, fat and protein become more concentrated (dare we say… intense?). In wine, tannin – or the uber-dry feeling left on your tongue after you swallow – is a form of protein. So a very dry (or tannic) wine is a good match for heartier cheeses.

TEXTURE  is a fun one. It’s not hard to imagine that fatty or creamy cheeses can sing with buttery, oaky, curvy wines. How does a wine come to give that impression? The grape’s natural characteristics are partly in play, and winemakers can dial up the impact when they use American oak (in particular, as opposed to French or Hungarian, stainless steel or the like) to age their wines (yes, the duration of time in oak matters, too – like a marinade).

 

 

2.    PAIR TO CONTRAST.

SALTY vs. SWEET  Another familiar piece of advice, right? Sweet and salty are opposites that attract, and so yes, there is a very good reason why fruit (fresh or dried) and nuts often adorn a cheese plate.


TEXTURE vs. TEXTURE  Wait, didn’t we already cover this one? Yep! Just as you can complement textures, you can also contrast them. Boisterous, palate-refreshing sparkling wines are a wonderful counter to richer, lingering cheeses.


 

3.    PAIR BY PLACE.

This is one of our favorites. As the adage says, “If it grows together, it goes together.” There’s a reason why foods and wines from a certain place are grown there, styles evolve, etc. Tradition stems from local success. So don’t fight it!


 

Certainly knowing what a particular wine tastes like (both the grape’s own characteristics and as these are massaged per local traditions) is a great advantage - and just as important as knowing what a particular cheese tastes like. That’s where things begin.

So, start with what you know, whether it is a particular wine favorite, or a particular cheese. Pair focused on just that one element, referencing our guiding principles to find matches that sing (there are often more than one). Soon you’ll be connecting the dots about why a pairing works – or doesn’t! – on instinct and gaining confidence to take the ball and run with it.

 

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Champagne or Sparkling Wine? How to Select the Right Bubbles for the Occasion

If you’re confused about Champagne and Sparkling Wine you’re in good company. Questions come up at nearly every event we host, regardless if sparkling wine is even one of the wines we’re sharing.
 

  •    Can you call this Champagne?
  •    What is Cava?
  •    What about Prosecco?


Today we take things sip by sip, exploring Champagne, Cava, Prosecco, Sekt, and Crèmant sparkling wines in turn – so you will not only know the differences between them, but also which style is best suited for the occasion at hand. Let's dive in!
 

Champagne | Champagne, France
 

ONLY sparkling wine from Champagne, France is Champagne, and can be called (or labeled) as such. The northern most region in France, this incredibly temperamental, cool-climate locale with its chalky soils ensures grapes with very high acidity – exactly what you’re after when it comes to producing exceptional bubbly.

There are also only 3 legally permitted grape types that can be grown and included in a Champagne wine: Chardonnay (white), Pinot Noir (red) and Pinot Meunier (red). These can be blended (most often) or fly solo.

In addition to the tricky, cool climate (i.e. while you want ripping, fresh acidity, you also need grapes to ripen enough to give the wine some balancing fruit-mojo), the technique employed in making Champagne (méthode champenoise) is incredibly labor and time intensive. Winemakers must induce a second fermentation inside the bottle which, suffice to say, takes many, many steps over an extended time including, at the end, freezing the neck of the bottle to later disgorge unwanted sediment (key for flavor development, but not desired in the final product). The result is a bright, complex, layered and toastier/creamier style of wine.

Often Champagne is Non-Vintage (NV). Winemakers prefer to blend fruit from different harvests to achieve the “House Style” for which they are known. Only in exceptional vintages will wine be dedicated to a vintage year bottling.

INSIDER TIP.   While most of the Champagne we drink is dry (Brut), there are sweeter styles available. Extra Dry is actually slightly sweeter than Brut, followed by demi-sec and then, rarely, doux.
 

Cava | Penedès, Spain
 

Cava is the Spanish term for their own style of sparkling wine, and named after the cave cellars where the wine was aged.

It came into being in 1872 when Don José Raventos found himself tromping through Champagne, France and encountered their specialty. He was rightfully fascinated. Soon enough he had decided to employ the traditional French méthode champenoise technique at home, but wanted to put a uniquely Spanish spin on it.

First up, he used local, indigenous varietals: Macabeu (the dominant grape), Parellada and Xarel·lo – all white grapes – contribute their own unique characteristics to the blend and create a uniquely Spanish sparkler. (Producers today are also permitted to use Chardonnay, Pinot Noir, Garnacha and Monastrell in the blend.)

Next was his approach to aging: Cava is aged for only 9 months on the lees (this technique helps give Champagne its famous toasty character).

The differences go on, but the important thing is the result: Cava is a cheery, slightly less robust, citrusy/fruity, sometimes slightly nutty alternative to Champagne.

INSIDER TIP.   Wander off the ubiquitous Cristalino or Friexenet paths and you’ll often find even more value, while supporting smaller producers.
 

Prosecco | Veneto, Italy
 

Venetians, for their part, turn to Prosecco – aka Italian sparkling wine – daily. And whether you know Prosecco yet or not, you’ve probably noticed it is certainly an affordable bubbly option.

What makes it different than its counterparts? This wine is named for the largest proportion of grapes used to produce it, Prosecco. It is widely considered more straightforward, lemon-limey and leaner than traditional Champagne.

Why? It’s snappy flavor and texture result because it is made using a different approach than its French and Spanish cousins. The Charmat method ensures the secondary fermentation (necessary to “trap” the CO2 and create the bubbles) occurs in large, pressurized tanks rather than in the bottle. This means the wine is oxygenated and bottled “on demand,” without a long aging regiment. And, since the wine is made in batches if you will, rather than bottle by bottle, this helps keep the price low.

INSIDER TIP:    Gravitate toward Prosecco if a sparkling cocktail is on the menu, too. It’s perfect for both sipping solo and for adding a little unobtrusive sparkle to your cocktail recipe.
 

Sekt | Germany & Austria
 

Fun Fact:   Germans drink more Sparkling Wine per capita than any other country. They also produce the most variety of options, all under the larger umbrella term “Sekt”.

Their bubbly can be made with any method described already herein. Naturally, pricier selections are made in the traditional méthode champenoise while cheaper offerings are bottled with the Charmat method. Stylistically you will taste the characteristics that each of these respective approaches imparts – leaner for the latter and toastier and richer for the former.

They can also be made from a wide selection of grapes, with the grape-type used also helping to dictate the flavor experience in the final product. E.g. Riesling Sekt tend to be more zippy with trademark high acidity; Pinot Blanc and Pinot Gris deliver a fuller-bodied, rounder experience; and Pinot Noir rosé styles deliver more tang and berry fruit, with pretty aromatics.

While less widely known/imported, a German (and Austrian) sparkling wine experience is quite diverse – and certainly worthy of your interest.

INSIDER TIP:   Use your wallet as your guide. Spend more than $15 to avoid the plonk.
 

Crèmant de [Fill-In-The-Blank] | Non-Champagne Regions, France
 

You didn’t think France was having all of the sparkling wine fun in just one of its wine growing regions, did you?

Truth be told, French Crèmant is perhaps our favorite alternative to Champagne. Most often made in the same traditional method, each region in France has go-to varietals. These same grapes are pressed into service for their sparkling wines. For example, the Loire Valley is known for their Chenin Blanc. So Crèmant de Loire tends to be made from Chenin. In Burgundy they are world-famous for Chardonnay and Pinot Noir, so that’s what you should expect in bubbly forms.

INSIDER TIP:   Artisanal or small production winegrowers that decide to produce sparkling wine make a BIG commitment. They need the resources – economic and otherwise – to do so. If they are going down this path, they are doing it for a reason. In our experience, passion pays. Crèmant wines are an uber-affordable alternative to Champagne, with many exceptional selections falling in the $16-$22 range.

 

What’s the moral of the story?
No matter which country floats your boat, sparklers are not just for toasting and gifting; with the variety of styles available worldwide they can be for every day. And perhaps they should be! With their essential, naturally high acidity, sparkling wine pairs superbly with any cuisine. Plus, they’re just F-U-N.

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What the Classic PB&J Reveals about Your Wine Preferences

Lately we’ve been on a Peanut Butter kick. We go through phases and admit this one has lasted longer than a single jar.

While enjoying the latest fix, we were also deep in prep for a few upcoming wine workshops. It was only a matter of time before our brains connected the two: Peanut Butter and Jelly sandwiches and wine have a few key things in common. As a result, how you take your PB&J can reveal a bunch about your wine preferences – and lead you to new discoveries!
 

Check it out:

Wine has three main components. We like to think of them as the “DNA” of wine (or TAF, if we're feeling cute): Tannin, Acidity + Fruit.
 

Tannin is the dry feeling a wine can leave on your tongue, sometimes lingering after you swallow. Some people call it the “furry” feeling. Others describe it as the bitter/dry element you can get from black tea – it kind of sticks to your tongue and leaves you a little thirsty or looking for a bite of food to cut the sensation. In your PB & J sandwich…yep, it’s the Peanut Butter.

Acidity is the mouthwatering element in a wine. It’s the brightening, mouth-puckering or thirst-quenching element, like a squeeze of lemon to your favorite salad, veggies or fish.

Fruit is, well, the fruit! Grapes, specifically, but flavor-wise can be a whole spectrum of diverse possibilities depending on the grapes that make up the wine itself. Some grapes may have more tropical fruit flavors, others more tree fruits, and still more can emulate stone fruits, or berries, or cherries…you get the drift.

With Peanut Butter the equivalent to Tannin… you are correct: Jelly does double-duty, delivering both Acidity and Fruit to balance the wine.
 

So how does this help you find new wines to try? Let’s look at a few examples:

1|   The Protein Fein: “Lather up the PB with just a hint of Jelly”

Your wine persona:  You tend to like drier, more structured wines. As a general rule, red and white wines from the Old World (aka Europe) are a good leaning, with Italy and Portugal great starting points for reds and French Muscadet and Portuguese Vinho Verde safe bets for whites.


2|   The Jam:  “An extra spoonful of jelly makes the peanut butter go down…”

Your wine persona: You tend to prefer wines that are either more mouthwatering (aka higher in acidity) and/or more fruit forward.

Note: “Fruit Forward” does not necessarily mean sweet. It means wines that high-five with their fruit foot forward, like biting into a ripe, juicy plum rather than into a bland, mealy one. Do you prefer wines that are plump with fruit (fruit forward) or wines with a subtler fruit element?

One approach to finding wines that dial up the mouthwatering effect is to seek out wines from cooler climates. This could be in the Alto Adige of Italy (think Alps) or high-altitude New World locales like Argentina (think Andes).  If it’s the toothsome fruit you’re after, grapes like Zinfandel, Syrah/Shiraz, and Spanish Monastrell are a good start for reds while Torrontes, Chenin Blanc and Rhone Valley white blends are delicious white wine diversions.
 

3|   The Purist: “I’ll take my PB&J sandwich evenly applied and distributed. Not too much PB and not too much J.”

Your wine persona: You tend towards wines that offer the best of both worlds – which means there’s even more room to play as you seek out wine styles that strike a middle ground. Two main approaches will get you there. You can ask for either of these:

  • Old World wines with softer edges or bolder fruit. Red wine styles like Rioja, Cotes du Rhone rouge, and also lesser-known but equally delicious German Dornfelder, or Austrian Zweigelt will get you there.
     
  •  New World wines with a bit more earthy nuance. Here ask for red wines like Cabernet Franc from the Finger Lakes or Chile, older/aged Australian Shiraz blends, South African Cabernet Sauvignon, or Willamette Valley Pinot Noir.
     

Hold up.   Do you prefer your PB&J separately like some other folks we know? The same principles apply. For PB soloists, see above for “The Protein Fein” recommendations. Digging the J on its own? See “The Jam”.
 

The PB&J analogy is a great go-to barometer that can get you started and put you in a safe position to broaden your horizons and welcome new grapes or places into your world. But bear in mind, a grape’s propensity to be more tannic (Cabernet Sauvignon, Nebbiolo), or higher in acidity (Riesling, Pinot Noir), or more fruit-forward (Zinfandel, Gewürztraminer) is due to its actual DNA, mother nature and the grower who further nurtures it along. Typically, winemakers take what nature delivers and use tools in the winery to dial things to their ultimate preference – just as you build your own PB&J to order. Ask the Sommelier on duty or the Wine Director at your favorite shop for help using the PB&J preference analogy.

 Insider Tip:  The common wine descriptor words bolded + italicized above will help you further describe what you’re after.
 

Want more ideas? Wine Folly has developed a great resource that helps gauge grapes by their “DNA”. But really, tasting is believing. Go for it!

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Break the Ice with 4 Key Nuggets of Wine Knowledge

Have you ever been out to eat with a client, a prospect, your boss or colleague (let alone on a date!) and felt totally lost when handed the wine list?
 

Here’s a little secret: you’re not alone. We’ve all been there – even us wine pros and Sommeliers. Sure, there’s a lot to geek out on if you want to. But that’s true about a lot of things.


Meetings and social occasions alike are (or should be) about getting the proverbial conversation started and building rapport. You don’t need a PhD or your Master Sommelier certification for wine to be one of the tools in your tool belt. Often just a few tidbits can help break the ice and get you where you want to go, just like knowing how to tie your shoes. (Think how many successful steps you’ve taken since you picked up those few essential pointers!)

Here are FOUR juicy nuggets of wine wisdom to help turn your discomfort into discourse.
 

1 ●  The Wine World is divided into just 2 categories: Old World + New World.   

Old World wines come from Europe. Historically, that sounds familiar, right? Christopher Columbus sailed from the Old World (aka Europe) to ‘discover’ a New World. In wine terms, it is the same: New World wines are made in places that Europeans colonized, including the Americas, South Africa, New Zealand and Australia.

Now that you’ve got that sorted, the wine world is at your fingertips! Here's how:
 

2 ●  Old World wines tend to be food-loving while New World wines can stand alone. 

This is a bold statement and it is not to suggest there isn’t a LOT of diversity within each category. But we promised to cut to the chase here. Stylistically New World wines tend to be friendlier, they read smoother when you taste them. In contrast, Old World wines tend to be more reserved. When everyone’s favorite wing-man, Food, shows up however, Old World wines come out of their shell; an easier-going, more friendly experience evolves.

In effect: If you’re just grabbing a glass at the bar, or you want a bottle that will segway with you into dinner, choose from the New World.
 

3 ●  “If it grows together it goes together.”   

There is a reason the local cuisine complements the local wines. They are birds of a feather, so flock together! Apply this idea to wine selection. Case in point: Argentina is perhaps best known for its beef, so their red wines are a great choice if you’re at a Steakhouse. Naturally, red-sauced Italian fare works well with many Italian red wines – start there.

Still too many options on the list? Use what you now know from the above to narrow down what you’re in the mood for stylistically (aka friendlier/smoother vs. reserved/food-loving*) and apply the next tip.
 

4 ●  Use your budget to your advantage when asking for help. 

It’s always a winning strategy when you can empower someone to help you, right? Meanwhile, you can rest assured having a budget when selecting a wine is also an asset. It helps the person you’ve asked narrow the playing field even further.

With an inquiry as simple as –

“You’ve got a great selection here – I’m excited. Can you help me make a choice? I’ll help you by narrowing the playing field. I’m looking for a (XX*) bottle around $YY.”

– you’ve just given their ego a little boost while being clear about what you want, for the price you want it.


Have burning questions? Use the comments field below, or give a shout! We’ll collect the most commonly asked questions and continue this series.

 

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What to do with left over bubbly? drink it!

Did you end up with a few extra bottles of sparkling wine after New Year's this year? It seems to be the normal course of things - and many people hesitate to do the obvious thing with these wines, what with official "celebrations" behind us. But corks are meant to come out! Here's how I've gone about tackling this delicious, festive, "problem": This New Year the Prosecco of choice for my friends and I was Santome. This is one I'm sure I've blogged about in the past, because it delivers lifted, just tart green apple fruit and lemon zest flavors; it's more crisp, dry nature makes it a good one to make cocktails with if that's your bag, but it is also delicious all on its own. For $12.99 you have no guilt opening bottle after bottle - and if you stick with it all night, you're likely in a hangover free zone. But on December 31st we didn't quite make it through the full case, so I anted up for game night last weekend. Santome was the perfect accompaniment to the deviled egg appetizers I whipped up.

Next, I pulled out the bigger guns in my repertoire...

In my bubbly archives, I discovered I somehow still had one bottle of the 1999 Pierre Morlet Brut. With good friends who enjoy good wine, why not pop a cork? They are meant to come out after all, so what more of an occasion do you need? And this wine had already been in bottle for more than a decade. So as the pork tenderloin rested and the cinnamon scented butternut squash mashed potatoes cooled a little, we popped the cork on this bad boy, too. It had a lovely mousse, with just the right amount of toastiness, red and yellow apple fruits, and a lithe lemon cream texture. A wild accent of hazelnuts mid-palate made this wine a favorite among the group.

After savoring Pierre, we finished our bubbly spree with the very dry, mineral-laced Egly-Ouriet Grand Cru Brut. Another winner, we enjoyed the texture of this wine also, with fine bubbles bringing pear and red apple fruit flavors quickly to bear. This wine was particularly memorable for the previously mentioned minerality - a clean, wet pebble/chalky essence. Delicious vin!

Remember, you don't need an official celebration or Real Occasion to enjoy sparkling wine. It is the most food friendly option available, pairing with every possible food, and delicious all on it's own. As you begin to dig your heals into 2011, I beg you to take sparkling wine with you on your travels more frequently! Why not make an easy night in with friends that much more enjoyable?

How often do you drink sparkling wine?

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Bottle variation - Fact or Fiction?

I had the great pleasure of attending an exceptional wine dinner featuring older vintages (1986, 1997, 2000, 2003) of Bordeaux wines last weekend. The company was delightful, the venue memorable (Menton, Barbara Lynch's latest venture), and the wine superb. Yes, I am happy to make such a blanket statement about the vin even though the group found there was some bottle variation among the wines on offer and there was some discussion of the merits of each selection. (More on the specific wines tasted in a later post....) I realized in retrospect that "bottle variation" is a topic that isn't really discussed in the mainstream. Folks might grab a bottle off the shelf - or buy a case of something they had a tremendously good experience with once - and discover the next bottle is "still good, but doesn't taste quite the same". This can happen for a number of reasons.

When dealing with smaller production wines meant to age like those I tasted Saturday, how the wine is handled and storage condition are critical to preserving a wine. Factors like exposure to heat and light and how well the cork holds up over time can significantly impact it. Back in the day when wineries conducted assemblage (the process of blending a wine) more organically, or when winemakers would siphon off certain amounts from each barrel and bottle each bottle individually, in/consistency bottle to bottle literally happened in the moment. But today and since roughly the 70s, stainless steel tanks allow winemakers to blend at once and then send the wine through a bottling line.  Among the more elite wineries with the funds/equipment et. al. necessary to create a consistent wine bottle to bottle and with a careful attention to detail regarding shipment, you can imagine things should be pretty dang consistent. True, you never know what happens behind the scenes as the wine is handled from importer, to distributor, to you. But still....

My take is that when all parts are created equal and particularly when we're dealing with high-end stuff that has the best chance of any to be treated properly in transition from winery to table, bottle variation is the result of something I call "bottle personality". Maybe I'm coining the phrase, maybe I'm not. But we in the trade largely agree that wines can show differently on any given day simply due to tides, atmospheric pressure change and the like. What's not to say a wine can't have an off day? It is an organic creature after all and, like us, can feel inclined to pout - or strut its stuff  - accordingly.

I'm not one for change in general, but I do find it absolutely fascinating in the case of wine. It's one of the reasons I'm in this business: the experience is almost always unique, and therefore uniquely fulfilling.

What's your experience with bottle variation?

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The skinny on ecofriendly wines. Part two: organics

The Organic Wine Connection: http://www.organicwineforyou.com/The market for organic produce has really picked up steam in the last few years. Consumers looking for organic wines, however, are often confused by what the labels really mean - and the deal with sulfites, for that matter. Yeah, it's true, there are different laws and standards depending which country is producing the wine. But at the end of the day you can break things down pretty simply.  Head over to Wicked Local today to get the here's what and how of it all!

Do you seek out organic wines? What is your impression of them on the whole?

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The skinny on ecofriendly wines: Part one, sustainability

Tim ThornhillIt's only natural what with Earth Day last week eco-friendly wines are on the brain. Eco-friendly, what? You heard me! Ecofriendly WINES. It's a new-ish buzz word encompassing the many (confusing) categories of wine including biodynamic, organic and sustainable wines, among others. We'll be tackling these various terms and attempting to break them down into bite size pieces on Wicked Local. Today we're starting with "sustainable" wines. Check out what Tim Thornhill and his crew are doing at Mendocino Wine Co. to reduce their carbon footprint, churn out fabulous wines and grow their business all the while. Cool stuff.

What's your knowledge of "sustainable" wines? Is it something that's important to you?

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wine exploration: Bierzo and Mencia

Bierzo, SpainWere you nerdy about wine in 2006? If so, you probably read a few articles about Bierzo, or the indigenous grape varietal they cultivate there (Mencia). Maybe you even tasted it. (It was considered "up and coming" at the time - and perhaps it still is, though I've only ever tasted a handful of Bierzo/Mencia wines since.) I became a fan of Mencia back then, having sampled a wine from Bierzo at  my shop's annual Fall Grand Wine Tasting event. I ended up with half a case of Dominio de Tares Baltos.  Since then I've fallen off the Bierzo wagon.  I was simply ready for new adventures once I finished my 6 bottles.

But as my co-worker and I continue to reevaluate and revisit the 1200 or so facings we have on our shelves, I found the Baltos again and decided to give it a whirl once more.

Bierzo is a fairly small wine-producing region located in the Northwest of Spain, quite close to Portugal. After the phylloxera epidemic killed most of the vines in the late 19th Century, economic crisis made it additionally difficult for Spanish winemaking to bounce back. But when they did in Bierzo, locals stayed true to their roots (no pun intended) and grafted Mencia vines, the dominant, native red grape varietal there. Bierzo became its own Denominacion de Origin in 1989. By then they were producing wines using more modern techniques to celebrate the best of their local varietals.

I have to admit, I was a bit disappointed when I retasted the Baltos. I was hoping for a wine with a bit of lift, as we like to say, something with red fruit flavors, a touch of earth and something... unique, I suppose. I remembered the Baltos as being distinctly versatile, pairing with a variety of foods and satisfying many people's taste buds. What I found was aromas of brett, or a barnyard essence with a touch more "funk" than simply walking into a real barn (a smell I actually cherish  in a wine). Brett isn't a fault, per se (though it is controversial), but I was hoping for violets, black raspberries and sweet plums. The palate delivered a touch of black plum fruit, but its leather earthiness dominated. A gentle bite of licorice filled the back palette. The wine wasn't bad, but it wasn't doing it for me either.

Perhaps it was palette fatigue at the end of a long day tasting and evaluating 75 or so wines for the shop, but the bottom line is, I was underwhelmed.

As I discussed at the outset, Bierzo was considered an up-and-coming region just a few years ago. I write about this 'designation' often enough. The thing is, Mencia/Bierzo doesn't seem to have taken off - at least not here in Greater Boston. Frankly, I've tasted very little Mencia offerings. I'm not in a position to judge them as a whole one way or the other. But I am curious:

How many of you are familiar with the Mencia grape and what is your experience with these wines?

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