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Wine Wednesday


Minervois, a god-like wine

Chateau Coupe Roses Bastide MinervoisI was channeling Disney and Belle a couple of weeks ago. Today I envision a Greek god named Minervois. Except the name  "Minervois", a small sub-region of the Languedoc in France,  actually comes from the village of Minerve. Who knew? Because when I re-tasted an old favorite from this area, I wasn't just pleased with the result, it was a near-spiritual experience - for just $13 (retail). Backing up a touch, Minervois offers the world reasonably priced reds typically comprised of Grenache, Syrah and Mouvedre, perhaps with some Carignan or Cinsault mixed in for good measure. It depends. It's an experimental part of the world down there. Some wines are purely easy quaffing selections. But others are quite memorable. Typically the latter come from low-yield vines (remember, this means concentrated fruit flavors) in the rocky hills above the plateau.

The 2006 vintage of Chateau Coupes Roses Minervois La Bastide was a wine I first tasted nearly two years ago. I remember it having very floral notes and a tannic structure. It was very good, but it needed either food or a few breaths of fresh air to come alive and loosen up a bit. Perhaps both. Several weeks ago I happened to retaste this same vintage. Holy canolies. The extra bottle time served this wine well! If you can get your hand on a bottle (or several) I highly recommend it because it is tasting out beautifully right now. I saw the imaginary god Minervois, I'm not kidding.

To paint you a clearer picture, the Bastide is comprised of Grenache and Carignan with a touch of sultry Syrah. Today I find those same enticing floral aromatics from two years ago, with violets and juniper coming through most clearly. Tasting it is also like taking a dip in my spice rack! Sage and marjoram flow on the palate, with accents of resin and other earthy notes chiming in. It's the lush, fleshy- smooth, velvety blanket of black raspberry, plum and strawberry fruit that leaves you breathless, however.  The wine finishes with mouthwatering acidity, like a little wave washing onto the shore.

aquitaine-beet-salad-and-beet-soupImagine my delight when I popped over to Aquitaine in the South End last week and discovered this wine is available by the glass. It really is a savory wonder, absolutely delightful on its own and, of course, a good match for their beet salad, steak, lamb or chicken dishes. If you think you'll have more than one glass (and I suspect any wine-sipping citizen might), just treat yourself to the bottle!

Do you enjoy Minervois? What selections are in your "cellar"?



Drinking red after Memorial Day

Lambrusco at Pour Favor's March Wine & Style eventFolks have been coming by the shop with great gusto for warmer temps;  and they have been seeking out red wines for the occasion! No, we're not just talking about "BBQ wines". We're talking about wines to sip and enjoy with or without a meal while you sit on your porch watching the sun go down. Today I'm going to share some lesser known varietals or unique regional offerings (hybrids or blends) perfect for just such an occasion. Your mission, should you choose to accept it, is taking this list (or a modified version, as you see fit) to your local shop to see which offerings they have on offer. These are some cool wines to keep your summer fresh - but they aren't necessarily available at every shop. They are, no less, worth seeking out.

Zweigelt. Austrian fruity goodness. Some earth. Often a touch tart. Lively. A hybrid of  St.-Laurent and Blaufrankish.

Dole. A Swiss wine, which blends Pinot Noir and Gamay. Fresh, ripe redberry fruits and cherries. Distinct in its own right, it has a unique identity I think many palates will embrace.

Dornfelder. Some argue this is the new "hottness" out of Germany. Another red berry-fruited wonder, but with a great spice. Terrifically light on its feet - without ever leaving planet Earth.

Gamay. Low tannin, light style red. Very fruity and THE grape in Beaujolais red wines. Seek out Beaujolais Villages offerings to get a bit more depth in your glass (aka a dash of Burgundian earthiness).

Lambrusco. An Italian, frizzante style wine. Vinified sweet and dry - so ask to accommodate your taste or intentions. A lovely spectrum of depth and redberry fruit flavors on the market.

Some of these may be familiar to you as we've bantered about several in the past. But I've been known to get stuck in traditional ruts when on a mission for an aperitif or a lighter style red to accompany a meal on a hot day. So, go on! It's a big bad world of refreshing RED wine out there.  Remember these options and... experiment!

What other reds do you like on a hot day? There are several more out there... please chime in!



A trip to Gascony for a killer white wine

Gascony: time a wine from Gascony, France comes across the tasting table, Disney's Beauty and the Beast comes to mind. I have no idea why. I've never even been to Gascony! Perhaps there is something about the history of that region (think Vikings, Duchies, Joan of Arc and the 100 Years War) that transports me to Belle's little village.  Of course, it doesn't help this part of the world is most famous for one of my favorite evening night caps:  Armanac. I can just see myself sitting in the Beast's big leather armchair enjoying a little sippy sip before turning in.... One of the still wines I most appreciate from that area - a Peter Weygandt selection - is quaint like Belle's village, too. It is so in all the best senses of the word. Indeed, it is "skillfully" crafted, and delightfully "unusual in an interesting, pleasing, or amusing way". It has  easy-quaffing, mouth-filling, zippy pizazz.

What is this wine I speak of? Domaine de Cassagnoles' Gros Manseng. Gros Manseng is a white varietal grown exclusively in the southwest of France. As hinted above, it is better known for its role in the creation of Armagnac. But it is not often a major player in the world of still wines - or at least not in terms of export, I imagine.  (If my suspicion is correct, then kudos to Mr. Weygandt. He's got something special on his hands!)

The Domain Cassagnoles Gros Manseng is a delicious, paradox white. It strikes my fancy in the same way that some lesser known (or appreciated?) Italian whites appeal to me (e.g. Friulano, from Italy). It is a bit on the fuller, richer-textured side of the equation, but comes no where close to being a good alternative to a full bodied, oaked Chardonnay. (Egad!) It has too much lift in the mid palate and the fruit flavors are distinct. They are reminiscent of just-ripe, white peaches, quince and apricots - fruit-forward, but not juices-running-down-your-arm sweet. The citrus component is present just enough to provide that levity and zip, without being a grapefruit or lime-bomb of acidity often found in Sauvignon Blanc. A touch of minerality gives it a sense of place; you know it must be an Old World offering. This wine is like a little girl who's a bit more "grown up" than her peers - powerful and opinionated, but still having a welcome, youthful charm.

Ah... Much like Belle, no?

If you haven't sought out Gros Manseng, please do! It is such a versatile white ready for quaffing or pairing with fresh, spring/summer dishes.

Are you familiar with (still) Gros Manseng? How about Armagnac?


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H1N1... Wines?

mexico (wine) fevahOk. Bad joke. (I can't take full credit as one of my best friends, fellow foodie and wine lover actually fed it to me.) What can I say? Sometimes a little levity is needed!And it was Cinco de Mayo yesterday.... Mexico is actually the oldest wine producing country in the New World. Who knew? (Jancis Robinson and Hugh Johnson, apparently. There are two full columns dedicated to Mexico in their most recent edition of the World Atlas of Wine.) I was intrigued - but not surprised - to learn the Spaniards got the ball rolling in the 1500s; but there was a significant interruption in 1699 when "the King of Spain banned new vineyards in Mexico, fearing competition to Spain's wine industry, thus halting the development of a wine culture in Mexico for three centuries." Egad! 3 C's? No wonder no one really knows about Mexican wine - and the country is better known for tequila and refreshing cerveza.

It wasn't until the 18th Century that vines started to get a little local love. Grenache, Carignan and even Pedro Ximenez (used in the production of a yummy, rich Sherry) varietals landed on the scene. Somehow, someway, "they" also figured out that Baja, Mexico was quintessential vine country, er... wine country. Only 10 miles from the Pacific Ocean, Baja has a terrific climate and mineral-rich soil ideal for viticulture. Today innovation seems to be setting in - albeit slowly.

If you caught the recent "Diary of a Foodie" episode on PBS, a work of Gourmet magazine, none of this is news to you. Rather, Casa de Piedra Winery is synonymous with innovative, tasty Mexican vino.  Piedra plants a range of "uncommon" Mexican varietals and their philosophy is to keep yields small while employing a "simple technique". The episode reports they plant Grenache and Mission grapes for the reds, and Palomino for the whites. Further research on their website suggests their repertoire of varietals is much greater: Tempranillo, Merlot, Cabernet Sauvignon and Zinfandel are additional red varietals planted; Chenin Blanc, Riesling, Sauvignon Blanc and Semillon are some of the whites grown. That's certainly a diverse lot! I applaud their willingness to experiment.

Unfortunately I've never had the (dis?)pleasure of sipping on a Mexican wine offering. But by Robinson's account, while "Mexican tastes and drinking habits have long lagged behind the increasingly exciting achievements of Mexico's modern vineyards and wineries", they are worth checking out.

Are Mexican wines even available in your market? Have you had a chance to sample them?

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Red wine when summer comes early

Vacqueras loveWe've had a lovely bender of 80 degree temps here in Beantown. Love it. My soul is being nourished with Vitamin D, my grill is getting some much needed TLC, and I have an "excuse" to drink red wines even when it is warm out. This week I brought home a bottle of one of my all time favorite wines: 2006 Mas du Bouquet Vacqueras by Vignerons de Caractere.  Yes, I love a good Cote du Rhone. But the Vacqueras is my true happy place in that region. Almost 20 years ago Vacqueras got a little extra "credit" for the wines it produces, largely red wines made of the famous "GSM" trifecta: Grenache, Syrah and Mouvedre; Vacqueras became one of (now) five AOCs in the Cote du Rhone. (By way of reference, there are over 100 villages within the CDR that do not have a special designation, or AOC status.)

Law mandates Vacqueras reds have at least 50% Grenache and at least 20% of either Syrah or Mouvedre. From there winemakers can blend in any one of the other 10 varietals permitted in the CDR, though you'll often discover Cinsault if a fourth grape is included in a particular red. Vacqueras is special because of its glacial soils as well as the hot, dry climate that is perfect for producing dense, structured, concentrated wines. And yet I find Vacqueras offerings tend to be a bit more approachable than its Gigondas or Chateneuf du Pape counterparts. (Ok, fine, you're working your way up the Wow Factor charts in "magical" qualities with those other two AOCs, but you also pay a few extra dollars accordingly.)

Vacqueras wines can certainly indulge your wild side or transport you to the great outdoors - they can offer tremendous earthy, herbaceous, rustic qualities, with trademark spice hitting a nice note on the finish. But more often I find those elements are more subtle, evolving behind the bigger fruit fiddles playing the main tune. These reds are big and bold - but soft and lush, too. The paradox enthralls my taste buds - AND more to the point, indulges my need to grill, grill, grill!

The Mas du Bouquet is a favorite of mine because of its tremendous consistency despite being the product of a co-op of winemakers. I think its consistency is actually an expression of place: the Manganelli Family has owned their vineyards for 100 years and many of the vines are quite old. That kind of history coupled with a dedication to sustainable, environmentally-friendly practices must set a certain tone and yield (no pun intended) particularly good fruit. That gives any winemaker a decent head start.

My tasting notes, you now demand? Fine, fine... When it is first opened, spices will literally tickle your nose distracting you from garnering more. But within as little as 20 minutes, its violet and lavender florals emerge, followed by aromas of black raspberries and plums. These fruits are juicy on the palate, with a touch of blackberry coming to fruition as well. A hint of leather, a hint of spice - and all is naughty and nice! The mouthfeel is what sends me to the moon, though - lush and supple with only gentle tannins becoming even softer as the wine continues to open. Lip-smacking goodness. Perfect with game, burgers, lamb - or even an earthy risotto dish, I imagine!

Which Vacqueras do you most enjoy? Or will you beginning your travels with the Mas du Bouquet?



another German wine find! Dornfelder now under our belts and the trees about to budbreak, what could be more natural than musing a bit on a somewhat random,  German, hybrid, white varietal? Scheurebe! It's fun to say (shoe-ray-bay) and even more fun to drink! A couple of weeks ago I was inspired to bring home a bottle of the 2007 Forster Schnepfenflug A.D. WSTR Scheurebe Kabinett. That night I simply wanted a wallet-friendly pick-me-up wine.  I wasn't even having anything particularly exciting for dinner - I just wanted a little something to sip while I cooked and then work well enough with whatever culinary creation I managed.  Scheurebe is fairly versatile. It has a bit of weight to it (perfect for Spring), offers honey aromas, ripe peach and citrus flavors and a touch of spiced minerality. The Forster's acidity is not overwhelming, making it a solid cocktail wine: no food is required to really enjoy it.

Based on the flavor profile above, you probably won't be shocked to learn Scheurebe is a German hybrid varietal with Riesling thought to be one of the parent grapes. Often enough these wines have a touch of sweetness to them, too. The Forster, clocking in at relatively low 10.5% alcohol, certainly falls into the off-dry category.  (Unlike it's Riesling parent, Scheurebe isn't known for high acidity, as mentioned above. This makes me wonder who its other parent is! As yet, it's not clear who's the daddy, as Silvaner has been recently ruled out.)

But best of all, because Scheurebe is a hardier grape than Riesling, it has staying power in the vineyard. It is resistant to the colder elements, commands decent yields, and can grow in less desireable areas. This means you can get the wine for less. Consider it "recession proof"!

Have you tried Scheurebe? What was your impression?



A wine for wine nerds - or to intrigue your dinner guests

Oatmeal cookie comfort. Thanks to Kitchen Witch for the photo.I quite enjoy reading whatever "varietal character" Appellation America comes up with for various grapes. Sometimes I agree with their take and sometimes I don't; (their impression is America-centric, so often the grape varietals I differ about show different characteristics when left in the Old Country, where I'm more often sipping). But they are always pretty darn entertaining. Enter Dornfelder, described by Appellation America as the latest action hero out of Germany. In your most recent role as 'the Germinator' all the older German stars seemed pale by comparison. Who knows how big you'll become, bulking up with each appearance. To think the critics suggested 'Nouveau Beaujolais-sequel' in their initial reviews. How mistaken they were! In less comical speak? Dornfelder is a German hybrid of two other grapes, which were also scientific experiments at the Weinsberg breeding institute. You'd think this particular grape might be so far (genetically) from anything "real" so as to lose itself, but I've found this grape could, in fact, live up to Appellation America's "The Germinator" description. This is what I call a "nerd wine" - but I argue this one is both for the wine lover and anyone new to fermented grape juice.

How so? This grape can create wines that are definitely vibrant-colored, floral nose-packing, juicy ripe-fruited wonders. For a country where the climate is a bit tricky for optimal fruit ripening, this grape does just fine - in fact ripening early enough in the season a late frost is no worry. It is also quite resilient. Like the Zweigelt grape in Austria, Dornfelder stares down vine diseases with relative ease.  And yields are prolific enough viticulturists and winemakers alike aren't sweating it out, pressing every last drop of juice from the skins to make enough wine to make Dornfelder worth their efforts. Happiness in a glass, I should think!

One of my favorite reps came by with the Diehl Dornfelder 2007 at the start of the new year. These are 1 Liter bottles (extra juice!) that in the MA market would go for about $16.99. My notes were simple: "YUM. Bright red fruits - raspberry flavors abound - and a nice touch of spiced minerality." Last week I tasted the Windisch Dornfelder 2007, which offered a touch more depth even and darker fruit flavors - and for less dinero ($10.99). The nose was much more floral, too. Quite surprising for the money.

Despite my fairly limited Dornfelder tasting experience, I have a hard time not agreeing with the "experts" about this wine's general characteristics. They suggest the best of these offerings have connotations of good Beaujolais village, particularly in terms of weight (on the lighter side, more like a Pinot Noir) and fruit vibrancy or ripeness.  The minerality and spices I've found in the two I've tasted most recently suggest something entirely its own, too - not old world earthy/barnyard, but something warming and familiar, like Grandma's spiced oatmeal cookies.

I know Dornfelder is extremely rare here in the states so I did a quick bit of research among my friends/colleagues in the trade. Word on the street is there are only four offerings available (in Massachusetts). But this doesn't mean you shouldn't keep an eye out for them on restaurant wine lists (a good match for many dishes). Better yet, ask your local buyer what finds they have (or can get) in stock. Then treat your dinner guests to a glass!

Which Dornfelders have you tasted? Any favorites - or is this something new you might try?



Wines with Style

Thanks to Gourmet for their image of The Achilles Project/Persephone!Ever been wary of a "Wines by the Glass" list? Been dubious the wines were opened two days prior to your debut at the bar? Or better yet, ever been overwhelmed by a list that's a real list, offering an ample array of wines you've never heard of?  The bars/restaurants that take their glass pours seriously are a rare and wonderful breed. The trick is navigating their list with style and grace. Not always an easy task! The Achilles Project/Persephone here in Beantown offers more than 20 different wines by the glass. To me, this is the first indicator they are serious about wine. The second indicator is that a good number of the wines on their list are "nerdy" (read: boutique offerings you don't see everyday). Like the boutique shop they run up front, they are focused on being fashion-forward, offering something new for folks to try. And because they are serious about glass pours, they also tend to be on the lookout for any wine that is past its prime, giving customers a greater opportunity to enjoy a "fresh" experience.  Sign me up!

Today I thought it would be fun to go through their "Wine By The Glass" list and pick out a handful of grapes that might cause a customer or two to scratch their head - when really they should be doing a little jig and embracing the list's fabulous uniqueness. Buckle your seat belt!

Lambrusco: This red wine varietal from Emilia Romagna, Italy is something else... Lightly sparkling (frizzante, as the Italians like to say), this wine offers smart red berry fruit flavors, often with just a touch of sweetness eminating from the ripe grapes they pick for this elixir. Think antipasto or anything with a touch of saltiness or lightly fried (calamari anyone?) as a perfect pairing. Or sip it on it's own! It's a real charmer.

Assyrtiko/Asirtiko: This white grape varietal may have different spellings, but to me they say the same thing: crisp, citrus deliciousness. The closest "mainstream" varietal I can reference for new Assyritko drinkers would be Sauvignon Blanc. But Assyrtiko brings additional minerality and even a hint of smoke to the table. This is a probably one of the most well respected varietals in Greece, with its real home in Santorini. Unique, bright goodness in your glass.

Scheurebe: This is one of Germany's best known hybrid varietals, yet it is still somewhat of an orphan.... DNA tests prove that this grape's dad is Riesling, but Mom is still unknown (though previously thought to be Sylvaner). Gotta love a freak! This wine typically offers tremendous floral aromatics and a touch of residual sugar (RS).  Tasting the wine out on the town can be a bit of a gamble, but your bartender should be able to guide you on just how sweet it is (though often enough you'll find they err on the drier side). Very much worth the experimentation, I've found. Often a great match for slightly spicy Asian dishes.

As for the Reds on their list, well.... some of these may be better paired with food than as a "cocktail wine" but it is certainly not everyday you see Austria's own delicious and lightly refreshing test-tube varietal Zweigelt on the roster, let alone a Mencia or a even a Monastrell (the Spanish name for the grape Mouvedre, which is better recognized in French wines). Nero d'Avola is up and coming, thought to be a pseudo Syrah with additional notes of currants, clove and vanilla; I find them more often distinct in their own right and offering far less oomph than Syrah can. But they are often just the thing to scratch the itch at a very reasonable price. Carignane can be wonderful, but I prefer to enjoy it when dinner's up, rather than at the bar with friends. I find it too dry, earthy and edgy without a bit of food on hand.

Any which way you look at it, the key thing is context. Do you want to sip something easy like a bit of Zweigelt while you chat with friends? Do you prefer something more familiar but still adventurous (like an Assyritko) to take the edge off a long day? Or do you crave a bit more body in your wine as you snack throughout the evening? If you're unsure you can either start with a bit of bubbly or white wine to get the ball rolling - and you can always ask your bartender for a recommendation to suit your mood!

Half the fun of wine is where you  are, what you're doing or who you are with. It's worth a touch of experiment; don't you agree?



Sip from the fountain of youth! Toast Madiran.

Ch. Peyros Vielles VignesHave you discovered a few (more) gray hairs? Have you convinced yourself laugh lines are endearing or add character to your face? For a girl who decided years ago her freckles are really lucky spots (I do have the luck of the Irish, afterall), it makes sense I'm all about an optimistic outlook when it comes to (signs of) aging. Of course, I do my part to stay ahead of the curve: I eat healthfully, exercise regularly, take my vitamins, brush my teeth and drink Madiran wines. Wait... what was the last one? YES! I drink from the fountain of youth, aka Tannat-based wines from the Madiran, France. I had no idea the additional health benefits when I first started enjoying red wines from the Madiran. I mean, we've all read various studies about the benefits associated with an occasional glass of red wine. But Madiran wines are additionally beneficial. Tannat, the primary red grape in these wines, has a ridiculously high level of procyanidins. These bad boys have serious heart-healthy cache: they keep the cells in your arteries in the pink, supply your body with boucoups antioxidants and can even lower your blood pressure and keep cholesterol in check.

And no, drinking these wines is not like being forced to eat spinach when you were a kid (my nemesis). As its name connotes, Tannat grapes are high in tannin, producing structured wines capable of aging. But this grape also can bring intense fruit and lovely spices to the table, not to mention a welcome helping of earthiness. In the Madiran in particular, vintners work their magic to bring the latter component forward and soften the wine's edges by blending in a touch of Cabernet Sauvignon, Cabernet Franc or even Fer.

There are two Madiran red wines in particular that strike my fancy: 2004 Domaine Moureou Madiran; and 2003 Chateau Peyros Ville Vignes Madiran. Both are teeth-stainers, rustic, and filled with dark berry fruits (blackberries, blackcurrants, black cherries, etc.), plums and offer a touch of vanilla given up by the oak barrels they age in. The herbs and spices will tickle you pink as each sip reveals a new flavor. Because it is the offspring of wine innovator Patrick Ducourneau (father of micro-oxygenation), the Moureau has a lovely roudness to it. To my palate, the Peyros is destinct in its own right, offering up a unique, delicious and intriguing earthy/stoney minerality. Both are their own beast, ripe for hearty meats, stews or even a Buffalo burger hot off the grill. Try one, try both or seek out others. Just be sure to tell us what you think!

Fun Fact: The Madiran boasts one of the highest percentages of Centarians  in the world!


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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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