Wine Grape Cheat Sheets: Merlot

Cabernet TopThe Soundbyte:  Thank goodness we are ten years past the movie “Sideways” and we can stop defending Merlot.  Ha! Ok, that was a fantasy.  I still find myself defending Merlot. Like this:  despite some serious bashing, Merlot has a lot going for it.  Merlot is loved for its supple texture and forward fruit characteristics.  Merlot is often thought of as just a blending partner for Cabernet Sauvignon, and indeed these two grapes are often combined in some of the world’s greatest red wines.  Merlot does just fine on its own, however, and those very qualities that make it a great blending partner also make it an ideal match for a wide variety of foods.

Typical Attributes of a Merlot-Based Wine:

  • Medium tannin as compared to many red grapes, due to the large size of the grape “berries”, giving it a higher juice-to-skin ratio than most red wines
  • Smooth, soft, and supple texture…many winemakers say it’s all about the texture when it comes to Merlot
  • Rich Red Color…often belying the smooth character or the wine
  • Moderate to lively acidity, fruit-forward flavors
  • Lighter than Syrah and heavier than Pinot, Merlot ranks just under Cabernet Sauvignon in the heft rankings.
Well, hello my little vixen. You try to look so tough and edgy, yet I know you are velvety smooth...

Well, hello my little vixen. You try to look so tough and edgy, yet I know you are velvety smooth…

Typical Aromas of a Merlot-Based Wine:

  • Fruity:  Grapes – Merlot is the one red wine that tastes like grapes:  Welch’s Grape Juice, Grape Jelly, Grape Jam; Blackberry, Boysenberry, Strawberry, Raspberry, Cranberry, Plum, Ripe Cherry, Currant, Fig, Prune
  • Floral:  Rose, Violet
  • Oak-Derived: Cedar, Cocoa, Cigar, Tobacco, Vanilla, Smoky
  • Herbal:  Mint, Bay Leaf
  • Spicy:  Cinnamon, Clove, Licorice, Coffee
  • Sometimes: Candied Fruit, Fruitcake, Sandalwood, Truffles, Tobacco

Where The Best Merlot is Grown:

  • The Bordeaux region of France, where it is a large part of the blend of most wines, and the predominant variety in the wines of the Right Bank
  • The Languedoc-Roussillon and throughout Southern France
  • Surprise, surprise…Merlot is the most widely planted red grape in all of France (who’s Merlot-bashing now?)
  • California, particularly the North Coast Regions
  • Washington State
  • Italy, especially Trentino-Alto Adige, Tuscany, Veneto, and Fruili
  • Australia, Chile, and Argentina
I'll have what she's having.

I’ll have what she’s having.

Food Affinities – Base Ingredients:

  • Beef, Veal, Venison, Pork
  • Lamb – Merlot does especially well with Lamb.  Everywhere that Mary went, Merlot was sure to go…
  • Duck, Turkey
  • Cheddar Cheeses
  • Blue Cheeses

Food Affinities – Bridge Ingredients:

  • Mushrooms, Onions, Garlic
  • White Beans – weird but really really true
  • Rosemary, Mint, other fresh and dried herbs
  • Walnuts, Pecans
  • Blackberries, Boysenberries (but be careful with the sweetness)
  • Tomatoes, Sun-dried Tomatoes
  • Eggplant, Fennel, Beets
  • Bacon, Pancetta
  • Dijon Mustard

Are you ready to stop bashing Merlot now?  Don’t make me get out the Petrus!

The Bubbly Professor is “Miss Jane” Nickles of Austin, Texas…missjane@prodigy.net

Wine Grape Cheat Sheets: Carmenère

CarmenereThe Soundbyte: Carmenère is often called “the lost grape of Bordeaux” and was part of the original Bordeaux blend.  However,in the 1880’s as phylloxera ravaged the vineyards of Europe and all the vines needed to be re-planted, Carmenère resisted grafting and was essentially lost. 

Many of the original vinifera vines planted in Chile were brought from Bordeaux during the mid-1800s, as phylloxera was ravaging the old world. Along with its better-known cousins such as Cabernet Sauvignon, Sauvignon Blanc, and Merlot, Carmenère arrived in Chile at the same time.

 Carmenère thrived in Chile, where it was often mistaken for Merlot in the vineyard. In fact, much of what was bottled as a particularly spicy style of Chilean “Merlot” before 1994 quite possibly contained quite a bit of Carmenère. The mystery was solved in 1994 when Professor John-Michel Boursiquot of the Montpellier School of Oenology noticed the distinctive character of Merlots from Chile and soon discovered that much of what was considered to be Chilean “Merlot” was actually Carmenère—and not a local clone of Merlot, as had been believed.

In the vineyard, Carmenère is often the last grape to be picked, and it requires a lengthy season to reach full maturity. Therefore, it is not well suited to Bordeaux, but in the right areas it can produce great wines. Chilean Carmenère is rich in color, redolent of red fruits, spice, and berries, and has softer tannins than Cabernet Sauvignon. Chile is currently the only country growing Carmenère on a wide basis. Many consider Carmenère to be the signature grape of Chile.

Typical Attributes of a Carmenère Based Wine:

  • Rich with dark fruit flavors of ripe berries and plum.
  • grilled steak for carmenre with tomatoesFirm structure, full body and heavy tannins; lush, velvety texture.
  • Deep, dark color.  This is a “big red wine”!
  • Carmenère is distinguished by fruitiness accompanied by the flavors of “spice and smoke”
  • Some experts think Carmenère is a long-established clone of Cabernet Sauvignon, and the grapes do share many qualities
  • Underripe Carmenère, or grapes from a cool growing season, can taste vegetative, like green bell peppers. Carmenère  takes longer to ripen than other red grapes, so be on the look-out for these flavors.

Typical Aromas of a Carmenère Based Wine:

  • Fruity: Blackberry, Blueberry, Raspberry, Currant, Dark Plum, Cherry
  • Spicy: Black Pepper, White Pepper, Dried Herb, Cinnamon, Anise, Vanilla, Licorice
  • Earthy:  Smoke, Wet Earth, Leather, Tobacco, Coffee
  • Oak-Derived:  Oak, Chocolate, Mocha, Cocoa
  • Vegetative:  Green Bell Pepper, Green Olive, Herbal, Lavender

Where The Best Carmenère is Grown:

  • Chile, where vintners have staked a claim on Carmenère as their “signature” grape variety. Chile is currently the only country that grows Carmenère on a widespread, commercial basis.
  • A few wineries in California and Washington State, where it is largely used in Meritage blends.  The Guenoc Winery in Lake Country brought the grape, which has to withstand a three-year quarantine before being planted, to the United States from Chile.
  • Italy’s Eastern Veneto and Friuli-Venezia Giulia regions, including the Piave DOC, which since 2009 have been allowed to produce a varietally-labeled Carmenère.
  • Bordeaux, France; where the grape is grown on a very limited basis, but is still considered part of the Bordeaux Blend. Grande Vidure is a historical synonym sometimes used in Bordeaux. Chateau Clerc Milon has the largest plantings of Carmenère in the region, but there are still less than ten acres in all of Bordeaux.

Grilled spicy steakFood Affinities – Base Ingredients:

  • Beef, Lamb, Veal, Venison, Pork
  • Poultry when prepared in a rich, hearty manner such as grilled, smoked, or braised…
  • Grilled Foods, Smoked Foods    

Food Affinities – Bridge Ingredients:

  • Garlic, Onions, Mushrooms
  • Walnuts, Pecans
  • Rosemary, Oregano, Basil, fresh Herbs of all kinds
  • Tomatoes, Sun-dried Tomatoes, Eggplant, Bell Peppers
  • Black Pepper, White Pepper, Green Peppercorns, Spicy flavors
  • Barbeque Flavors, Hearty, highly seasoned foods 

 The Bubbly Professor is “Miss Jane” Nickles of Austin, Texas   missjane@prodigy.net

Wine Grape Cheat Sheets: Grenache

grenacheThe Soundbyte:  Grenache (technically, in this case, Grenache Noir) is the world’s second most-planted red grape variety and most what I like to call the most popular “wing man” in the world.  What I mean is that while Grenache is capable of starring in varietal wines, it just might be the world’s most popular partner in a red grape blend.

Grenache is the most widely planted red grape in Spain, where it often gets blended with Tempranillo, Cinsault and a host of other grapes.  Grenache is one of the three amigos (Grenache-Syrah- Mourvèdre) of the “Southern Rhône Blend” and plays a part in some of the more complex blends to be found in the Rhône as well.   Grenache is also made into dessert and fortified wines, and makes a world-class rosé. 

Typical Attributes of a Grenache Based Wine:

  • A typical Grenache varietal could be described as soft on the palate, relatively high in alcohol and with aromas of spice and berries. These types of wines should be consumed young.
  • The texture of Grenache has been described as “rustic” or “fleshy”.
  • The grape tends to be thin-skinned and low in both color and tannin, however, these factors can vary depending on vineyard conditions and winemaking; some Grenache packs a powerful tannic punch.
  • In addition to varietals, Grenache is used in fortified wines, dessert wines, and delightful rosés; but its most common incarnation is as the backbone of hearty red blends.  

Typical Aromas of a Grenache Based Wine:

grenache grapesFruity:  Blackberry, Blueberry, Strawberry, Cranberry, Currant, Cherry, Raisin, Plum

Spicy:  Black Pepper, Menthol, Licorice

Earthy:  Wet Earth, Leather, Forest Floor, Bramble, Tobacco, Smoke, Leather

Floral:  Roses, Dried Rose Petals, Violet

Oak-Derived:  Chocolate, Mocha, Cocoa, Vanilla, Sweet Wood

Where The Best Grenache is Grown:

  • In France’s Rhône Valley, especially the Southern Rhône, where it is the super star grape of Châteauneuf-du-Pape , Gigondas, and Rasteau; and the “G” in the “G-S-M” blends of the Côtes-du-Rhône.
  • The grape is made into delightful rosés throughout the Southern Rhône, including Lirac and, most famously, in the 100% rosé AOC of Tavel.
  • Also in France, Grenache is grown in Provence, Rouissillon, Languedoc, Minervois, Fitou, and Corbières; and is made into fortified wines in Banyuls and Maury.
  • In Spain, where it is the most widely planted red grape in the country, the grape is called “Garnacha”.  Garnacha is main variety in Pirorat and Campo de Borja; and plays a major role in the wines of Rioja, Navarra,  Somontano, Catalonia, Cariñena, and La Mancha.
  • Australia, where it makes some awesome varietals, including my favorite, d’Arenberg’s McLaren Vale “The Custodian” Grenache. (Australia also produces “Bitch Grenache” which probably outsells all the rest in terms of volume, but oh well.)  
  • California, where it has historically been grown in San Joaquin Valley and other warm areas, but is now produced other regions such as Santa Barbera and Paso Robles. Washington State is also getting into Grenache.
  • Several regions throughout the south of Italy, particularly Sardinia, where it stars in the wine known as Cannonau di Sardegna.

grenache foodFood Affinities – Base Ingredients:

  • Beef, Lamb, Veal, Venison, Pork, Hard Cheeses 

Food Affinities – Bridge Ingredients:

  • Simple, rustic dishes, Grilled Foods
  • Tomatoes, Sun-dried Tomatoes, Tomato Sauces
  • Onions, Garlic, Mushrooms, Eggplant, Fennel, Roasted Bell Peppers
  • Green Olives, Black Olives, Capers, Green Peppercorns, Black Pepper
  • Rosemary, Thyme, Bay Leaf

The Bubbly Professor is “Miss Jane” Nickles of Austin, Texas…

 

Wine Grape Cheat Sheets: Sangiovese

Sangiovese ChiantiThe Soundbyte:  Sangiovese literally means “blood of Jove” (Sanguis Jovis), “Jove” being the Roman god Jupiter.  It is widely accepted that the grape was well-known to the winemakers of Ancient Rome, and it is suspected that the grape was known in Tuscany as far back as the time of the Etruscans. The grape is still is widely grown throughout Central Italy, from Romagna to Lazio, and throughout Italy down to Campania and Sicily.

Outside of Italy Sangiovese is mainly known as the main grape of Chianti, in all its forms, but Italian wine lovers know that it also stars in Carmignano, Vino Nobile di Montepulciano, Morellino di Scansano, Brunello di Montalcino, Rosso di Montalcino, and Sangiovese di Romagna, among many others.   

While often used in a blend, Sangiovese is increasingly seen as a stand-along varietal.  In addition, it is now being used in blends with “international varieties” such as Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot and Syrah.  You may know these wines as “Super Tuscans”, whose style is now being imitated in other parts of the world. 

 In a country growing hundreds (if not thousands) of different grapes, Sangiovese reigns as the number one grape varietal in Italy, where it accounts for 10% of the entire wine grape crop.

Sangiovese Grapes Typical Attributes of a Sangiovese Based Wine:

  • The flavor profile is complex, with earthy aromas often overtaking the aromas of fruit, spice, flowers, and oak.
  • Sangiovese has a moderate to high level of natural acidity.
  • Medium to full-bodied, with descriptors ranging from supple and elegant to assertive and robust.
  • The finish tends towards bitterness.  I often describe it as “bitter cherry”.
  • Medium tannin due to the grape’s natural “thin skin.”  This is often assuaged with oak contact.
  • This “thin skin” and natural low-level of anthocyanins can make Sangiovese-based wines seem light in color.  It tends to show an orange meniscus, even in younger wines.
  • Sangiovese is a “lighter” style red wine, and its approachability has made it a consumer favorite.  Sangiovese makes a wonderful, spicy rosé, and stars in many an Italian rosato.

Typical Aromas of a Sangiovese Based Wine:

  • Fruity:  Plum, Cherry, Blackberry, Raspberry, Strawberry, Blueberry, Mulberry, Orange Peel
  • Spicy:  Tea, Clove,  Cinnamon, Thyme, Anise
  • Floral:  Violet, Dried Flowers
  • Wood-derived:  Cedar, Oak, Vanilla, Sweet Wood, Smoke, Toast, Tar  
  • Earthy:  Wet Leaves, Wet Dirt, Forest, Tobacco, Tea, “Dusty”, Herbal

Where The Best Sangiovese is Grown:

  • Italy, its native home, where it is the #1 wine grape varietal. 
  • Sangiovese BrunelloIt especially thrives in Tuscany, where it forms the base of the wines of Chianti and Vino Nobile de Montepulciano, Brunello di Montalcino, as well as many others, and is sometimes part of the blend, along with Cabernet Sauvignon, in the wines known as “Super Tuscans”.
  • Outside of Tuscany, it is found throughout Italy: In Umbria (Montefalco Sagrantino and Torgiano Rosso Riserva), in Le Marche (Conero and Rosso Piceno), as well as the wines of Lombardy, Emilia-Romagna, Valpolicella, and as far south as Campania and Sicily.  At least fourteen Sangiovese clones exist, including Brunello and Prugnolo Gentile.
  • Italian immigrants brought Sangiovese to California.  The earliest recorded Sangiovese vineyard in California is the Seghesio Family’s Chianti Station Vineyard, planted near Geyserville in 1910.
  • Sangiovese never really took off in California until the “Super Tuscan” movement of the 1980’s.  Since then, Sangiovese has been gaining popularity in the United States and is now grown in Napa, Sonoma, and The Sierra Foothills.
  • Flat Creek Estate in Marble Falls, Texas created a Sangiovese-Cabernet Sauvignon blend they call a “Super Texan” in 2005. The wine immediately commanded world wine attention when it won the coveted Double Gold Medal at the San Francisco International Wine Competition that year.  The “Super Texan” style of wine seems a natural fit for Texas terrior and has now been duplicated by adventurous winemakers all over Texas.
  • Oregon, Washington State, Virginia, and The Niagara Peninsula now have Sangiovese plantings, as do Australia, Argentina, Romania, Corsica, South Africa, and Chile.

 Food Affinities – Base Ingredients:

Beef, Lamb, Pork, Chicken, Turkey, Duck, Hard Cheeses


sangiovese steakFood Affinities – Bridge Ingredients:

Simple, rustic dishes, Grilled Foods, Fresh Herbs

Tomatoes, Sun-dried Tomatoes, Tomato Sauces

Onions, Garlic, Mushrooms, Eggplant, Fennel, Roasted Bell Peppers

Green Olives, Black Olives, Capers

Pecans, Walnuts

Pasta Dishes, Risotto Dishes

Proscuitto, Pancetta, Bacon

The Bubbly Professor is “Miss Jane” Nickles of Austin, Texas….


Wine Grape Cheat Sheets: Tempranillo

The Soundbyte:  Tempranillo is a primary red grape for much of Northern and Central Spain, including the famous wines of Rioja and Ribera del Duero.  It is also a key blending varietal in Port and known by the name Tinta Roriz in Portugal’s Douro River Valley.  The name “Tempranillo” is derived from the Spanish word “temprano”, meaning early, and refers to the fact that the grape buds, flowers, and ripens a full two weeks before Spain’s other leading red grape and frequent blending partner of Tempranillo, Garnacha (Grenache).

There is a fantastic old legend that Tempranillo ended up in Northern Spain via the Camino de Santiago.  Cistercian Monks, so the legend goes, making the religious pilgrimage from Burgundy to Santiago de Compostela, left Pinot Noir cuttings behind at the Monasteries around Haro, Burgros, and Logroño.  From these vines, the Pinot Noir grape morphed itself into its new surroundings and ended up as the Tempranillo we know now and love.  Alas, this tale must remain with us as “just a good story” seeing as recent ampelographic studies have shown no genetic connection between the two cultivars.  Tempranillo, is however, thought to be a native son of Northern Spain.

Typical Attributes of a Tempranillo Based Wine:

  • Medium to Deep, ruby-red  color in appearance (while young). Tempranillo-based wines can sometimes show a deep hue but lighter color intensity such as is often seen in Sangiovese or Pinot Noir.
  • These are long-lasting wines, and can often improve with significant aging and maturation.  This is in part due to      the fact that Tempranillo has a low amount of oxidizing enzyme, making it particularly resistant to oxidation.
  • These wines, made from heat-loving, thick-skinned black grapes, tend to be medium to high in alcohol.
  • Tempranillo’s low to medium levels of natural acidity mean that it is often part of a blend, although in many prestigious wines Tempranillo can be up to 90% of the blend.  It is less often than most made into a 100% varietal wine.
  • Medium to High levels of tannin, often described as “firm yet round.”
  • Intense fruit flavors mingled with spice and earth tones, often improved by oak contact.
  • Tempranillo can be made into a fun, fruity, easy drinking wine via Carbonic Maceration.
  • Tempranillo makes some wonderful, dry rosés.

Typical Aromas of a Tempranillo Based Wine:

Fruity: Strawberry, Blueberry, Raspberry, Blackberry, Black Currant, Red Stone Fruit, Cherry, Plum, Raisin, Prune

Spicy: Vanilla, Dried Herbs, Clove, Cinnamon

Herbal: Green Herb, Mint, Eucalyptus

Earthy: Wet Earth, Leather, Mineral, Tobacco, Graphite

Oak-Derived:  Cedar, Vanilla, Oak, Soft Spice

Where The Best Tempranillo is Grown:

  • Spain, where it is one of the leading grapes and grown throughout the country.  The grape is the star of the wine      regions of the North of Spain, including Rioja, Nararra, and Penedès.  Here and elsewhere, it is frequently blended      with Grenache, Cariñena (called Mazuelo in Rioja), and Graziano.
  • Spain’s (arguably) most famous wine and winery, Vega Sicilia, makes a  Tempranillo-based blend and is leading the way for a resurgence of the vines and wines of the Ribera del Duero region of Spain.
  • Tempranillo is also the leading grape variety of the Spanish regions of Valdepeñas and La Mancha, where it sometimes goes by the name of Cencibel, Ojo de Libre, Tinto Fino, Tinto del Pais, Tinto del Toro or Ull de Liebre.
  • Portugal’s Douro Valley, where it is both a varietal wine and key blending partner in the fortified wines of Port.  Tempranillo is also used as a varietal wine in the Portuguese region of the Alentejo. In Portugal it is usually referred to as “Tinta Roriz” or “Tinta Aragonez”.
  • California, Washington State, and Oregon. The TAPAS (Tempranillo Advocates and Producers) people do a lot to      promote Tempranillo in the New World – check them out!
  • Texas – Alamosa Wine Cellars in Bend, Texas makes a 100% Estate-grown Tempranillo Blend called “El Guapo” – it      was the first Texas wine I fell in love with! Read more about that story here: http://bubblyprofessor.com/2011/08/26/texas-tempranillo/
  • It is possible that the grape known as “Valdepeñas,” grown in California’s Central Valley for use in jug wine, is actually Tempranillo.
  • Australia, particularly McLaren Vale.  Australian producer D’Arenberg has a Tempranillo/Grenache/Souzao blend called “Sticks and Stones”.
  • Chile, Argentina (where it is called “Tempranilla”), and Mexico all have some plantings.

Food Affinities – Base Ingredients:

  • Beef, Lamb, Veal, Pork, Grilled Foods

Food Affinities – Bridge Ingredients:

  • Spanish Ham, Smoked Paprika, Tapas
  • Paella, especially when made with lots of Chicken and Sausage (a richer verision, as opposed to those heavy on the seafood.)
  • Garlic, Onions, Roasted Garlic
  • Tomatoes, Roasted Tomatoes, Dried Tomatoes
  • Currants, Prunes, Almonds (go easy on the sweetness)
  • Mushrooms, Bell Peppers, Roasted Bell Peppers, Stuffed Peppers, Green Olives
  • Black Pepper, Chili Spices, Barbeque Flavors, Hearty, highly seasoned foods

The Bubbly Professor is “Miss Jane” Nickles of Austin, Texas  - missjane@prodigy.net

Wine Grape Cheat Sheets: Cabernet Franc

The Soundbyte:  Cabernet Franc has often been thought of as Cabernet Sauvignon’s more cerebral and refined little brother.  Lower in tannins and acids, not quite as full-bodied, and more aromatic and herbaceous than Cabernet Sauvignon, Cabernet Franc is also much better able to withstand cool temperatures and ripens early.  These characteristics most likely led to Cabernet Franc’s plantings in Bordeaux, where it still holds fast as one of the red grapes of the Bordeaux blend. 

The grape’s cold weather-heartiness is also leading to increased plantings in much of the new world, and it’s unique “elegant-structured-spicy” quality is inspiring new legions of fans.  However, it might be time to hang up the “Cabernet Sauvignon’s little brother” cliché, and the sooner the better:  recent DNA technology has confirmed that Cabernet Franc, with a little help from Sauvignon Blanc, is actually Cabernet Sauvignon’s father.

Typical Attributes of a Cabernet Franc-based wine:

  • Medium tannins, sometimes referred to as “silky”, “fine”, or “well-integrated” tannins.  Whatever you call it, Cabernet Franc does indeed have a lower tannin profile and a smoother mouth feel than many red wines.
  • Elegance, finesse, and well-structured:  well-earned terms used to describe Cabernet Franc’s balanced, moderate tannin and moderate acidity combination.  
  • Typical flavors and aromas include red fruit, berries, perfume, and spice.
  • Bright, sometimes pale-red in color, although the color and depth can be deeper in warm weather versions.
  • Though typically thought of as lighter wines, Cabernet Franc-based reds from strong vintages or warmer climates can be full bodied and well-structured for aging.
  • Cabernet Franc is used to make delightful rosés in the Loire and in many new world regions.
  • Cabernet Franc’s cold heartiness makes it a natural for ice wines as well as late harvest dessert wines, as is done in Ontario and New York.

Typical Aromas of a Cabernet Franc-based wine:

Fruity: Raspberry, Blueberry, Strawberry, Cranberry, Red Cherry, Black Currant, Cassis, Plum, Pomegranate

Spicy:  Black Pepper, White Pepper, Dried Herbs, Black Licorice, Rosemary

Earthy/Vegetal:  Tobacco, Cedar, Cigar Box, Green Bell Pepper, Green Olives, Graphite, Mushroom, Tea

Floral:  Violets, “Blue Flowers”, Perfume

Oak-derived:  Vanilla, Coconut, Sweet Wood, Smoke

Where the Best Cabernet Franc is Grown:

  • Bordeaux, where it generally plays third fiddle in the Cabernet Sauvignon/Merlot/Cabernet Franc/Malbec/Petit Verdot quintet.  However, Cabernet Franc often gets to be the star of the show in St. Émilion and in much of Bordeaux’s right bank, where some of the most prestigious wines of the region (and the world) give Cabernet Franc a starring role. The vineyards at Château Cheval Blanc, one of the world’s most renowned wines, are planted to about 57% Cabernet Franc, and at Château Ausone, a St. Émilion Premier Grand Cru Classé “Category A,” the vineyards are about 50% Cabernet Franc and 50% Merlot.
  • The Loire Valley, where the regions of Chinon, Bourgueil, and Saumur-Champigny make both red and rosé wines from a minimum of 90% Cabernet Franc.  Cab Franc is sometimes called “Bouchy” or “Breton” in the Loire.
  • Tuscany, of all places, where a brave soul at Tenuta di Trinoro makes a blended wine with varying levels of Cabernet Franc, feeling it is “under planted” in Bordeaux.
  • Northern Italy, particularly Friuli and Veneto, where it goes by the name “Bordo”.
  • Many people feel Cabernet Franc might have found a home in the vineyards of Hungary.  Cabernet Franc in Hungary gained lots of attention in the late 1990’s when it became apparent that some regions of Hungary were not optimal for Cabernet Sauvignon to reach its full ripeness. Cabernet Franc is now grown widely in the Hungarian regions of Villány, Szekszárd, and Eger.
  • Ontario, Canada, where is it made into both dry table wines and Ice Wines.   
  • New York’s Finger Lakes and Long Island wine regions, as well as the states of Virginia, Michigan and Colorado.
  • California and Washington State, where the grape appears as part of the Meritage Blend as well as in varietal wines. In the warm Napa Valley, the plantings are small, but in some cases quite prestigious.  For instance, Della Valley Vineyards “Maya” is a blend of Cabernet Franc and Cabernet Sauvignon.

Food Affinities – Base Ingredients:

Beef, Veal, Pork

Chicken – just make sure you prepare it via a grill, saute, bake, broil or braise with lots of flavor complexity.  (Save the poached chicken on a bed of spinach salad for a Chenin Blanc day.)

Duck and just about any Poultry (see above.)

Grilled Meat, Poultry, and Vegetables 

Food Affinities – Bridge Ingredients:

Garlic, Roasted Garlic, Onions, Mushrooms

Bell Peppers, Cajun/Creole Spices

Rosemary, Thyme, Mint, Bay Leaf

Tomatoes, Roasted Tomatoes, Eggplant, Fennel

Barbeque Flavors, Grilled and Smoked Foods

Greek and Middle Eastern Flavors

The Bubbly Professor is “Miss Jane” Nickles of Austin, Texas.

 

Wine Grape Cheat Sheets: Gamay

The Soundbyte:  The Gamay grape makes uncomplicated, easily drinkable, light bodied, light-colored red wines.  It is also capable of producing richly hued, rather tannic, complex and age-worthy wines.  It’s a vinifera chameleon. 

One thing that we can be assured of, though, is that the grape is hearty in the vineyard.  The grape is so prolific and high-yield that long ago it was feared that the grapes would overwhelm the vineyards of Burgundy, and too much Gamay might run the risk of damaging the reputation of the fine Pinot Noir the Burgundy region was (and is) known for. In order to avoid this messy complication, Philip the Bold, Duke of Burgundy in the early 1400’s banished the grape from the Kingdom and declared it to be an  “evil, disloyal plant”.   

Grape growers who loved the high-yield, easy-drinking wine were nonplussed and set up their beloved Gamay vines just over the border in France’s Beaujolais region, where the grape still reigns today.

Typical Attributes of a Gamay Based Wine:

    • Light to medium bodied, although it can surprise you at times with a sturdy wine.
    • Tannins are all over the place; some versions are light to medium, some versions have sturdy tannins.  The grapes themselves are considered high tannin, although wine-making traditions often ameliorate their impact.
    • Crisp, lively acidity.
    • Some versions can have a light, cranberry juice-like clear red colors; others have a deeper red hue that looks just like Pinot Noir.
    • Fruit-forward aromas and flavors of ripe berries, red fruits of all kinds, even apples and pears.
    • Many versions are what I like to call “picnic wines” – uncomplicated  and easy to drink.  The fact that Gamay can be served  slightly chilled for a refreshing thirst quencher adds to the picnic appeal.
    • Beaujolais, by far the best-known Gamay-based wine around, is often made via the fermentation technique known as “Carbonic Maceration”.  Because of this unique process, Beaujolais often displays aromas of banana, bubble gum, and “red hard candy.”  Whether these aromas are derived from the grape or from the fermentation process is up for debate.
    • Many Gamay-based wines are highly drinkable when young, although Gamay is capable of producing age-worth wines. The Beaujolais Crus are all good examples of age worthy Gamay.
    • We can’t forget the very popular “nouveau” style wine made from Gamay that is  intended to be consumed just a few months after harvest.  Look for Beaujolais Nouveau to be released every year on the Third Thursday of November, along with a good deal of publicity and many excellent parties.

Typical Aromas of a Gamay-Based Wine:

Fruity:  Strawberry,  Raspberry, Cranberry, Cherry, Red Plum, Red Currant, Ripe Pears, Red Apple

Floral:  Lavender, Wild Flowers, Violets, Rose Petal

Oak-Derived: Oak, Cedar,  Fresh Lumber, Vanilla, Sweet Spice, Licorice, Nutmeg

Found too often to ignore: Old-fashioned pink Bubblegum, Banana (reminds me of Banana Candy, especially “Laffy Taffy”), Red Hard Candy, Skittles and Starburst (try it for yourself!)

Where The Best Gamay is Grown:

  • The Beaujolais  Region of France, just south of the Burgundy Region.  The wines of the region include  Beaujolais, Beaujolais-Villages, and highest quality wines known as “Beaujolais  Cru” and labeled with their village names.   The most well-known, Beaujolais Nouveau, accounts for just over 50% of the entire output of Beaujolais.
  • It’s kind of a well-known  secret, but Gamay is still permitted in certain parts of Burgundy such as  the Mâconnais, and just may be surreptitiously tucked in amongst the Pinot vines even in  some of Burgundy’s higher ranking vineyards.
  • France’s Loire Valley, particularly Anjou, Touraine, and Cheverny, where the grape may  turn up in red wines, rosé, or sparkling wines.
  • The Niagara Peninsula  and other parts of Ontario (Canada).
  • California grows  some Gamay, but there was confusion in the past about a wine called “Napa      Gamay” or “Gamay Beaujolais”.  It is  now known that these wines were made from a grape known as Valdiguié.  However, you can find some real Gamay being grown in California these days.
  • Oregon, living up to its nickname of “Burgundy West”  is trying  its hand with Gamay.
  • Australia and New Zealand have a bit of Gamay.

 Food Affinities – Base Ingredients:

Seafood of all kinds – try Mussels, Lobster Rolls, Crab Salads, Snapper Veracruz, or fried shrimp.  This might work best with the lighter versions, but if you are looking for a red wine with seafood match, Gamay will be among your best choices.

Chicken (hot or cold), Duck, Poultry of any kind.  Try duck with cherries.

Just about anything made from Pork:  Ham, Prosciutto,  Sausages, Charcuterie, Roasted Pork Loin, Pork Chops

Picnic Food, Cold Food, Cheese Plates, Sandwiches (think Prosciutto on a Baguette with  a slice of Brie…)

Food Affinities – Bridge Ingredients:

  • Tomatoes, Capers, Dijon Mustard
  • White Cheeses, Sharp Cheeses such as Feta
  • Salty Foods – maybe chips and dips, pretzels and hummus?
  • Onions, Garlic, Green Bell Peppers
  • Green Olives, Black Olives
  • Mixed flavors such as an array of appetizers or finger foods

For more on the history of Gamay, see my previous post on “The Evil and Disloyal Plant”.

The Bubbly Professor is  “Miss Jane” Nickles of Austin, Texas…

 

Wine Grape Cheat Sheets: Malbec

The Soundbyte:  One of Malbec’s earliest claims to fame is the spot it holds as one of the five grape varieties approved for making red wines in the Bordeaux region of France (six if you count Carmenère).  It seems that Malbec was fairly widely planted in Bordeaux before a “particularly harsh winter” in 1956 wiped out a good majority of the vines, never to be re-planted.  Nevertheless, Malbec is still used in Bordeaux, albeit in small amounts. Malbec  can bring spiciness, very deep color, ample tannin, and a particular plum-like flavor to blended wines. Recently, Malbec has found a new home and a new home in the high-altitude red wines of Argentina.  The best Malbecs can de described as mouthfilling, fruity, and sumptuous.  Worldwide, Malbec is planted in small amounts, buts its popularity and acres planted is on the rise.

Typical Attributes of a Malbec Based Wine:

  • Medium to full-bodied.  Malbec-based wines are known for having a high level of dissolved solids, known in the wine world as “extract.”
  • In France the grape is primarily used for blending, although the New World tends to make Malbec into 100% varietals.
  • The tannins tend to be medium to full, and when young, tannins are sometimes “tight.” Wines from warmer regions, or those made  using certain winemaking techniques (such as PFM) can have tannins that are “plush” or “ripe”.
  • Malbec tends to make earthy, “rustic” style wines.
  • Malbec-based wines tend to be very deep red or purple, almost inky, in color.
  • Malbec also makes a delightful rosé wine and…I’m beginning to see some late harvest/sweet wines made using Malbec. 

Typical Aromas of a Malbec-Based Wine:

Fruity:  Plum, Dark Cherry, Cooked Berries, Blackberry, Boysenberry, Raspberry, Fig, Black Currant 

Spicy:  Anise, Vanilla, Cocoa, Chocolate, Espresso, Tobacco

Sometimes from the Grape, and sometimes from Oak:  Oak, Cedar, Fresh Lumber, Mocha, Toast, Coffee, Tar

Where The Best Malbec is Grown:

  • Argentina…it especially thrives in the province of Mendoza.  Malbec is the major red varietal grape planted in Argentina.
  • In the Bordeaux region of France, where it is blended in small amounts to add spice to the “Bordeaux Blend.” 
  • Cahors, the region in Southwest France known for making 100% Malbec wines sometimes called “The Black Wine of Cahors”.
  • There is small amount grown in the Central Loire Valley
  • There are some plantings in California, Washington State, Oregon and Texas, where it is made into both varietal wines and as a part of the Meritage blend.
  • You may be drinking Malbec but don’t know it; the grape goes by many aliases including “Auxerrois”, “Cot”, and “Pressac”.

 Food Affinities – Base Ingredients:

Beef, Lamb, Veal, Venison, Pork, Hard Cheeses

 Food Affinities – Bridge Ingredients:

  • Garlic, Roasted Garlic, Onions, Mushrooms
  • Walnuts, Pecans
  • Rosemary, Thyme, Mint, Bay Leaf
  • Tomatoes, Roasted Tomatoes, Sun-dried Tomatoes
  • Cocoa, Chocolate (easy on the sweetness!)
  • Eggplant, Fennel
  • Blackberries, Currants, Figs
  • Black Pepper, Creole Spices, Chili Spices, Barbeque Flavors

Wine Grape Cheat Sheets: Pinot Noir

The Soundbyte:  The Pinot Noir grape has been grown in the Burgundy region of France for centuries, and, unblended, makes the region’s world famous red wines.  Pinot Noir is also grown in Champagne, where is the most widely planted grape and makes its way into many “house blend” Champagnes as well as Blanc de Noirs and Rosé Champagne.  Pinot also growns in the Loire; Sancerre Rogue is Pinot Noir!

Pinot Noir has also found a home in the Willamette Valley Region of Oregon State, so much so that the region is often referred to as “Burgundy West.”  The grape also does well in the cooler growing regions of California. 

However, the grape is incredibly finicky in the vineyard, and any other growing region is taking a chance with Pinot Noir.  Pinot Noir is often called the “heartbreak grape”, as it is also a difficult grape to handle in the winery, Pinot Noir can be “the best of wines…or the worst of wines.”

Typical Attributes of a Pinot Noir-Based Wine:

  • Light Garnet to Dark Ruby in Color…sometimes the lightness of the color belies the flavor intensity of the wine!
  • Medium Body, Medium Tannins
  • The finest Pinot Noir wines combine juicy fruit with good, zingy, balanced acidity.
  • Pinot Noir is potentially one of the most delicate, complex, and food-friendly red wines.
  • Pinot Noir has a signature aromas (imho) of floral notes at the top of the glass, cherry-berry at the bottom, both circling a core of “earthy-wet dirt” hints.
  • Save Pinot Noir for an occasion when you have at least 25 dollars to spend…bad Pinot Noir can be disappointing indeed. (The “New World Hope” exception to this rule just might be Pinot Noir from Tasmania…time will tell.)
  • Pinot Noir makes fantastic sparkling wines and is the most widely planted grape in Champagne.  If you are drinking a Blanc de Noir, chances are, you are drinking Pinot.
  • Rosé of Pinot Noir is a beautiful thing.

Typical Aromas of a Pinot Noir-Based Wine:

Fruity:  Black Cherry, Dried Cherry, Raspberry, Strawberry, Cranberry, Plum

Earthy:  Mushroom, Wet Dirt, Wet Leaves, Barnyard, Smoke

Floral:  Rose, Violet, Dried Flowers

Wood-Derived:  Vanilla, Smoke, Oak, Hints of Spice from Barrel Aging

Where The Best Pinot Noir is Grown:

  • The Burgundy Region of France
  • Champagne
  • France’s Loire Valley…Sancerre Rouge is actually Pinot Noir
  • Oregon State…sometimes called “Burgundy West”!
  • California, particularly in and around the Central Coast, Los Carneros and The Russian River Valley.
  • New Zealand
  • Australia has an up-and-coming cool-weather Pinot Noir region in Tasmania
  • Be very wary of Pinot Noir from Other Regions…it is a finicky grape in the vineyard!

 Food Affinities – Base Ingredients:

  • Beef, Lamb, Veal, Poultry, Pork
  • Heavier seafood such as Salmon and Tuna…this is truly a wine that can pair with both red and white meat (depending on the preparation…)  
  • This is an ideal wine for the typical American Thanksgiving menu, as well as most other “everybody brings a dish” type of holiday meals.  

Food Affinities – Bridge Ingredients:

  • Mushrooms, Truffles, Black Olives  
  • Earthy Flavored Cheeses, Blue Cheese, Soft Cheeses
  • Tomatoes, Garlic, Shallots, Onions
  • Basil Pesto, Fresh Herbs
  • Eggplant, Beets, Roasted Red Bell Peppers
  • Cherries, Cranberry, Plum – as with most dry wines, careful with the sweetness level.

The Bubbly Professor is “Miss Jane” Nickles of Austin, Texas

 

 

 

Wine Grape Cheat Sheets: Syrah

Syrah – The Soundbyte:

The Syrah grape, also known as the Shiraz grape,  is rumored to be a native of the city of Shiraz in Iran.  There’s a colorful legend about how it was brought from its Middle Eastern home to the south of France by a knight returning from the crusades, but it is also rumored to be native to the Rhône region itself.  Both tales make good wine stories.

Today, the grape is widely grown in the South of France, where it stars as the main red grape in the Northern Rhône and a blending partner to Grenache and Mourvèdre in the south.  The grape has shown to be so ideally suited to life in Australia that it has become somewhat of an icon in Australian Wine.  In order to give the wine its own “down-under” identity apart from other producers, Australian Winemakers choose to call the grape by its (supposed) ancestral name, Shiraz.  Syrah is also widely grown in many other new world regions, where it is made into dry reds of both the single variety and blended variety.  While it is often made into bubbly, rosé and dessert wine, Syrah is mainly known as a powerhouse red. 

 Typical Attributes of a Syrah Based Wine:

  • European-style, Old-World Syrah-based wines tend to be medium dark in color and concentrated in flavor. Old world Syrah is often blended with other, softer grapes to minimize or balance tannin and alcohol levels. These wines are often earthy, dense, smoky, herbal and even “gamey” wines.
  • New World Syrah (sometimes called Shiraz) based wines tend to be dark purple, opaque, and inky in appearance.  Other attributes of New World Syah include high alchohol, fruit-forwardness, and intense tannins. These tannins are sometimes considered “soft”  or “velvety” because they are drinkable when the wines are still young (often a result of winemaking techniques).
  • Australian Shiraz has sometimes been called “plush ripey” and The Bubbly Professor just can’t resist that.
  • The Australians have also made a slightly sweet version of sparkling shiraz quite popular.
  • Syrah also makes a lovely, dry rosé.

Typical Aromas of a Syrah-Based Wine:

Fruity:  Blackberry, Plum, Ripe Cherry, Currant, Prune, Blueberry, Orange Peel

Spicy:  Black Pepper, Cinnamon, Clove, Vanilla, Chocolate, Coffee, Espresso, “Burnt Coffee”  

Chemical:  Leather, Burnt, Tar, Smoke, Burnt Rubber, Asphalt, Graphite

Earthy:  Gamey, Smoky, Minty, Barnyard, Garrigue

Floral:  Lavender, Wild Flowers, Dried Flowers, Violets

Where The Best Syrah is Grown:

  • Australia, where it shines! 
  • The South of France.  Syrah stars in the wines of the Rhône, as the dominant variety in the North (such as the famous wines of Hermitage and Côte Rôtie), and as part of a blend in the South (as in Châteauneuf-du-Pape and Côtes du Rhône). 
  • Syrah also does well in the Southern French regions of Provence and Languedoc-Roussillon.
  • South Africa, especially the warmer regions such as Paarl and Franscheok.  For a real treat, try a bottle of “The Chocolate Block” from Boekenhoutskloof Winery (extra credit if you can pronounce it).
  • California, especially Sonoma, Mendocino, Napa, and Santa Barbara.
  • Washington State, the new “hot” growing region for Syrah. 

 Food Affinities – Base Ingredients:

  • Beef, Lamb, Veal, Venison, Pork, Hard Cheeses

 Food Affinities – Bridge Ingredients:

Garlic, Onions, Mushrooms, Walnuts, Pecans, Rosemary, Thyme, Bay Leaf, Sage, Tomatoes, Eggplant, Fennel

Blackberries, Currants, Prunes (but go easy on the sweetness)

Green Peppercorns, Black Pepper, Coarse Grained Mustard, Chili Spices, Barbeque Flavors

The Bubbly Professor is “Miss Jane” Nickles of Austin, Texasmissjane@prodigy.net .

 

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