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For the love of a woman... or the love of a wine?

As the first gentle snowflakes of the winter were falling here in Boston yesterday morning, I was up and at'm reading wine reviews. It's true I'm always doing research. But yesterday somehow the stage was set such that I couldn't help chuckling at some of the terminology in our wine lexicon! Have you ever noticed how often a wine - or maybe just the BEST wines - are described by some of the most colorful lingo of any (neutral) topic? Some of the best terms (for the best wines) are words any woman would love to have poured over her (perhaps literally and figuratively!). A few of my favorites are: Smooth, Elegant, Alluring, Enticing, Polished and Supple.

Other terms may be more Marilyn Monroe in nature... How about: Opulent, Round, Generous, Vibrant or Juicy?

Others are ones you wouldn't mind your partner whispering in your ear, sweet nothings that say everything you want to hear: Sensual, Sexy, Seductive.

Wine writers certainly have seemed to conjure a few precious gems to get you in the mood!

What wine terms tickle your fancy?

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Beaujolais Nouveau release at Midnight tonight!

Before Harry Potter book signing parties, there were other parties, wine parties, that came more frequently than those of the Harry Potter variety. They came every 3rd Thursday in November to be precise. And the tradition lives on.... Just one week before Thanksgiving stacks of the colorful Georges Duboeuf's famous Beaujolais Nouveau are sent out to wine shops from Beaujolais, France (think Southern Burgundy where Pinot Noir thrives). Wondered what it is? Beaujolais is a wine made from a grape called Gamay. The Nouveau style is made through a fermentation process called carbonic maceration and is released super-duper fresh, i.e. from harvest to bottle to market within mere weeks! It is intended consumers drink this wine young, and certainly no longer than 6 months. Why? Well, Gamay is a low-tannin varietal, which makes it optimal for those who prefer a light-styled, fruity, fruity wine. But even with it's naturally high acidity (another "age-worthy" component for wine), the fact that the wine goes through carbonic maceration hurts the wine's natural ability to age.

The hoopla of this catch-and-release process began in the late 1800s. Locals recognized this light-styled red wine was perfect for the transition between seasons and the unofficial 'switch' from white to red wine drinking - and they made a party of it (just imagine! pitchers of wine from the barrels were on offer!!) while the more grand Beaujolais wines were still working their mojo and evolving. The French government decided to reign in the revelry a little bit in 1938 and then in 1951 declared the "3rd Thursday in November" rule.

I don't mean to mislead you, however. Georges Duboeuf isn't the only producer of Beauojolais Nouveau; he's just the most famous because he produces so much of the stuff. Regardless who's Nouveau you select to sip, expect tooty-fruity red berry flavors. It's not my bag, though I have come to appreciate Beaujolais/Gamay when on offer from one of the premiere villages where the wine hasn't been quite as fast-tracked, e.g. Moulin-a-Vent, Morgon, Fleurie and Brouilly. Those wines tend to offer a bit more complexity - a touch of earth, a touch more depth, and a touch of tannin to offset all of that boisterous fruit! Their light style, much like Pinot Noir, is indeed a great complement to your turkey dinner.

So the question is... will you Nouveau?



Portuguese wines are worth seeking out

Last Thursday night I was not on my usual perch watching the (second) most amazing ALCS comeback in history. "Why not?", you ask, shocked this Red Sox fan was elsewhere.... I was attending an intimate wine dinner at (the new) L'Espalier hosted by ViniPortugal. I would not have traded the opportunity for one moment. Much like the Red Sox game, I had my own uniquely amazing evening, learning more about the 'nerdier' side of Portuguese oenology, tasting an array of wines and bending the ear of Portugal's most revered (and perhaps most delightful) winemaker.

Many Americans think of Portuguese wines (beyond Port) simply as bargain, quaffing wines. Not bad, but not necessarily noteworthy or particularly complex either.  When I received my invitation to last week's event, I was thrilled at the opportunity to meet Nuno Cancela de Bareu, Portugal's leading Winemaker and Consultant, and learn more about what ViniPortugal is up to these days. My experience (re)tasting about 12 wines - red, white, sparkling and dessert - only reconfirmed what I've known for sometime: Portuguese wines are worth seeking out.

Let's start at the beginning, shall we?

Nuno Cancela de Abreu is perhaps Portugal's primary, modern-day wine pioneer. He studied in both Portugal and France, ultimately receiving his degree in viticulture and enology from the Instituto Superior de Agronomia in Lisbon. He spent six years in the Duoro region, influencing the modern production of Port and Douro wines. Next, he planted a new vineyard on family land in the Dao and, as a result, launched two brands (Quinta da Giesta and Quinta Fonte do Ouro). Somehow he simultaneously managed Quinta da Romeira in the Bucelas region and single-handedly brought the wonderfully floral, minerally and fruity indigenous grape Arinto into its own. Thereafter he revolutionized Quinta da Alorna's operation in the Ribatejo region. Nuno's passion is to transform Portuguese wines (and their reputation) into fine, internationally recognized and coveted selections. And, in my humble opinion, the world should be grateful for it! He is well on his way.

Nuno was asked to introduce the group to several of his favorite Portuguese selections - not necessarily his own wines - available in the Boston market. The list of wines on offer are too long to discuss in great detail in this single post, so I'll simply list a few now and then spend some time here and there over the next months talking about various offerings in greater detail. Are you ready?


'07 Quinta de Catralvos Lisa (a lovely, fleshy, floral and clean Moscatel)

'07 Deu la Deu (aka "Muros Antigos" in Boston) Alvarinho (same as Albarino in Spain - wonderfully rich peaches and apricots, with a touch of bite)

'07 Quinta da Murta Arinto (it says Bucelas, the region, on the label, but this is 100% intensely floral and minerally Arinto - don't be confused!)


'04 Casa de Santar Rsv  (a blend of Castelao, Touriga Nacional and Touriga Franca - soft, fine tannins and redberry fruits)

'06 Quinta do Coa ( a blend of Touriga Nacional, Touriga Roriz (Tempranillo) and Touriga Franca - one I had forgotten how much I enjoy, offering great floral aromas, dark fruits, some soft, caramel oak flavors and terrific spice)

'05 Cartuxa Rsv (Trincadeira, Aragonez and Alfrocheiro - this is a big food wine, offering fabulous dried plumb and raisin fruit aromas and flavors, spice and a subtle, lasting finish)


'07 Luis Pato Espumate Rose (this is 100% Baga, gently bubbly raspberries and strawberries!)


Andresen 20 Yr. Tawny Port (who doesn't want hazelnuts, toffee and dried fruit flavors from their Tawny?!)

At the dinner Nuno gave us a rundown on the various regions in Portugal, how the climate and terroir impact the viticultural conditions that allow certain varietals to thrive, et. al. (Yes, I was in my happy place, gleefully unaware what was happening up the street at Fenway!) The thing to remember is Portuguese wines are made of native grape varietals - like those outlined above - you've likely never heard of. Don't think of that as intimidating or too foreign. Winemakers are following Nuno's lead, making these foreign-sounding wines approachable in the way they taste. The fact that our economy is so tough right now and the price of these wines is still amazingly "right" for the time being makes this a great place to explore. Much like the Languedoc in France offers a better price point for winelovers of the Southern Rhone (because these wines are less sought given historical winemaking practices), Portugal offers value wines that are complex, interesting and - delicious!

At the start of the evening Marcio Ferreira of ViniPortugal told us his organization's goal is to reinforce a favorable image of Portuguese wines. In speaking with Nuno, I learned just how tightly-knit their community is; fortunately, innovation, forsight and exceptional winemaking like Nuno's makes Marcio's job that much easier. They are all in it together!

Want to see for yourself? Head over to the Harvard Club tomorrow night and then report back your own findings by commenting below!



que syrah, shiraz!

You've heard me talk about Syrah here and there over the months. This is because I'm a huge fan of Rhone Valley (French) wines, both Northern and Southern alike (though for different reasons). Syrah is a grape you'll often find blended along side it's happy varietal partners Grenache and Mouvedre in the Southern Rhone in particular. I love these wines. They have boisterous fruit, a hint of spice and a rustic edge. Syrah got it's known kick off in slightly cooler parts of the Northern Rhone. What do I mean by "known"? Well, the grape's precise geographic origins aren't fully known with speculation the Greeks or the Romans had something to do with it. Nevertheless, in the village of L'Hermitage, named after the chapel that sits at the top of the town's primary hill, Syrah has its claim to fame. (The nearby Cotie Rotie is also well-known for it's Syrah.) The Northern Rhone boasts a cooler climate than its Southern counterpart because the Mistral winds bring cooler temps down from the Massif Central. Getting too technical on you? No worries... suffice to say it's consistently cooler up North with few microclimates to permit variation vineyard to vineyard. That means there's less opportunity for many different red grape varietals to thrive. In the North, Syrah can work its mojo. In the South, Syrah is one of 20 other major grape varietals that flourish - hence all the blending down in those parts (it's so fun!). Meanwhile, the French have done the only thing that could be done: mandate Syrah is the only red grape varietal permitted in the Northern Rhone's AOC wines.

Syrah is a "big" red grape. It is very dark in color, full bodied, fleshy and full of tannin. I always associate black pepper spice with these wines and look forward to picking out the myriad of potential aromas on the nose of each different Syrah wine. Sometimes it's all violets, sometimes a bit of cocoa, and other times its all big, blackberry fruit. At the end of the day, they promise to be supple, sexy, smooth wines.

I often get the question "So, what about Shiraz?". Syrah and Shiraz are the same grape, genetically. The minor name variation is just an Old World v. New World phenomenon. The flavor profile of Syrah vs. Shiraz wines certainly vary though. This is based on the winemaking style and climate of the wine's origin. For example, Syrah from the Northern Rhone (and generally, other Old World areas) tend to offer a little less fruit, a little more smoke and a bit more subtlety in the many flavors that coalesce in the glass. Typical of New World winemaking practices, Shiraz wines from Australia or California tend to put their fruit foot first, their pepper foot second and otherwise tend to be higher in alcohol (due to the warmer climates from which they hail).

Neither Shiraz nor Syrah is better than the other; it just is what it is. The trick is to taste a few offerings of each. This way you'll find your personal preference between the two styles. And before you taste, it's a good idea to decant. Younger wines will lap up the oxygen on offer and provide a more integrated, 'evolved' flavor profile, if you will. Older wines relish the chance to throw their sediment (into the decanter, rather than into your glass).

Which syrah/shiraz style do you prefer?


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just a little 'squeeze'!

A couple of Wednesdays ago we talked about minerality and I promised to return to the topic of acidity, in terms of why it may/may not really matter. To simplify things for you in an already busy world, here's a quick excerpt to refresh your memory re: the basics on acidity: If you smell a wine and your mouth waters, you are detecting acidity in the wine. If you take a sip and detect a bit of a tingling sensation on your tongue and/or the inside of your cheeks start to water, you’re also in the money. Acidity heightens the flavor of foods, or makes the wine more “food-friendly” (and also helps it age). This is a great thing, so long as the wine offers complementary amounts of fruit and tannin to balance the acidity present. This is also described as a wine where all the major components (acidity, fruit and tannin) are in balance. Too much acidity and you’ll experience a razor blade slicing through the center of your tongue. Not my idea of a good time….

Wait... what was that? Acidity actually heightens the flavors of foods? How can something sour be a good thing?!

Case in point: A couple of years ago I had the great pleasure of making a trip to Cyrpus, a small island in the Mediterranean. I had been to the south of Spain earlier in my life, but this trip really allowed me to experience the Mediterranean culture and cuisine because I was staying with my friend's family. I had a unique opportunity to enjoy the best homecooking and the freshest (of already fresh) fruits and vegetables. Because these ingredients were so juicy on their own, salad took on a whole new meaning. There was no need for even their amazing olive oil to dress it. A squeeze of lemon became our daily marinade - for EVERYTHING. The acidity in the lemon simply enhanced the flavors of the already lushiously delicious flavors of each dish. I live in a lemon-enhanced, dressing free universe to this day.

Remember when it comes to wine I also mentioned the major components of wine need to be in harmony. You want the red, white, pink or bubbly stuff to have enough fruit or other layers of flavors as well as enough dryness (tannin) to complement one another. If acidity is doing the right two-step in your glass, you'll be transported to a higher level of sensory experience, particularly where your food pairing is concerned.

How so? When you pair a wine with higher acidity with foods of a similar profile, the two produce a sweet result. Think of Italian fare and wine. Chianti (made largely from the Sangiovese grape) pairs well with red sauces or tangy cheeses like Fontina. Or think of that Sauvignon Blanc from New Zealand paired with grilled veggies dressed in just a squirt of lemon juice. The veggies taste even sweeter and the wine loses some of that acidic bite it has on its own. I love rubbing a wedge of lemon on my corn on the cob, too. No need for butter at my table!

How does acidity play out in terms of various wines? Generally speaking, cooler climates producer crisper, more acidic wines. Think of the grapefruit flavors that often thrive in your glass of Sauvignon Blanc from Marlborough, New Zealand, for example. Certain grape varietals are also naturally high in acid. Through different processes (the specifics of which we'll save for another day) winemakers can manage acidity during winemaking. This is particularly important for grape varietals that are high in acid, like Sangiovese.

I admit I'm not knowledgeable about the physical or chemical science behind why acidity is such a flavor-enhancer. So if you're a science wiz or everyday food nerd who can give us the skinny, please comment below! Otherwise, I'm happy to just know from experience that there is only truth to this fabulous phenomenon.

What's your experience?

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what in the world does "minerality" mean?

When I first started actually tasting what wine was in my glass - you know, the 5 S's: see, swirl, sniff, savor, swallow - I had a really hard time discerning when a wine offered minerality and when it just had nice acidity. To my beginner palate, the mouthwatering juices in my mouth were one in the same with a wine with a little 'bite', if you will. I found I struggled with this concept when tasting white wines more often than reds. Many whites offer crisp, citrusy flavors. I associated this crispness with minerality. But when I really got the hang of tasting - whites and reds alike - I was able to disassociate the two, or detect each of these components separately, should they be evident in the wine. Let's start with acidity. If you smell a wine and your mouth waters, you are detecting acidity in the wine. If you take a sip and detect a bit of a tingling sensation on your tongue and/or the inside of your cheeks start to water, you're also in the money. Acidity heightens the flavor of foods, or makes the wine more "food-friendly" (and also helps it age). This is a great thing, so long as the wine offers complementary amounts of fruit and tannin to balance the acidity present. This is also described as a wine where all the major components (acidity, fruit and tannin) are in balance. Too much acidity and you'll experience a razor blade slicing through the center of your tongue. Not my idea of a good time....

Now on to the more challenging of the two: minerality. When I think of minerality in wine, I think of it falling into two camps. My preferred of the two is wet stones, you know, like when you are out on a hike and you can almost taste the wet rocks leading up to the waterfall. (Or if you were more adventurous as a kid, just remember actually licking the stone.) Otherwise, minerality for me is more like seltzer water where there is that extra bit of salinity lingering on the midpalate or finish. I know others who associate minerality with chalk dust that floated from the teacher's chalkboard back in grade school; in that case you'd be experiencing more of a clean, dusty, earthy kind of minerality thing going on. It's all good.

Why does minerality matter (we'll save the same conversation on acidity for another day)? It doesn't really, I suppose. It's essentially just another term to pick apart all the fun things that could be going on in your glass with any given pour. To me it's one particular wine term that comes up more often in the summer months, when you're sitting on your porch drinking some truly fabulous whites, like those from the Loire Valley in France (think Sancerre (Sauvignon Blanc), for example).

What does "minerality", one of the wine world's most elusive flavor concepts, mean to you?

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