Wine Grape Cheat Sheets: Malbec

The Soundbyte:  One of Malbec’s earliest claims to fame is the spot it holds as one of the grape varieties approved for making red wines in the Bordeaux region of France.  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. More recently, Malbec has found a new home and a new home in the high-altitude red wines of Argentina.  The best Malbecs can be described as mouth-filling, fruity, and sumptuous.  Worldwide, Malbec is planted in small amounts, but 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; when young, the tannins are sometimes described as tight or tightly-wound. Wines from warmer regions, or those made  using certain wine making techniques (such as PFM) can have tannins that are described as 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 Malbec-based  wines sometimes called “The Black Wine of Cahors”.
  • There is small amount grown in the Central Loire Valley of France.
  • 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, typically unblended, makes the region’s world famous red wines.  Pinot Noir is also grown in Champagne, where it 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, the warmer spots of New Zealand, and the cool spots of Australia (think Tasmania, Yarra Valley, and the Mornington Peninsula).

However, the grape is incredibly finicky in the vineyard, and many other growing regions are 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 in tannin
  • 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 grows Pinot Noir in its cooler regions such as Tasmania, Yarra Valley, and the Mornington Peninsula.
  • 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 Shiraz, is   believed to be native to southeastern France. There’s a lovely legend that tells of the grape as a native to the city of Shiraz in Iran, transported from its Middle Eastern home to the south of France by a knight returning from the crusades—but, alas, it has been proven untrue and will remain with us as “just a good story.”

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 a whole gaggle of grapes—including Grenache and Mourvèdre—in the south. It has become somewhat of an icon of Australian Wine.  In order to give the wine its own “down-under” identity apart from other producers, Australian winemakers often choose to call the grape 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 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/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 is sometimes described as plush ripey. Who can resist that?
  • The Australians produce sparkling Shiraz.
  • 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.
  • 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 .

Wine Grape Cheat Sheets: Zinfandel

Zinfandel – The Soundbyte:

Zinfandel used to be known as “California’s Mystery Grape,” as an old-timey legend says that Zinfandel vines of the vitis vinifera species were growing happily in California before European settlement of the New World.

This was fun to believe for a while, but today we know better,  and it is believed that today’s Zinfandel traveled from Croatia to Vienna during the Habsburg Monarchy’s rule over Croatia.  Some cuttings ended up in the Imperial Nursery in Vienna, and from there were sent to a horticulturist in Long Island, who sent some vines out to California, where Italian immigrants working the gold rush appreciated the grape’s sturdy, robust style and planted them with enthusiasm, only to abandon their vineyards when the gold rush fizzled out.  These vineyards, and their mystery grapes, were then rediscovered years later with the post-prohibition wave of California winemakers. Quite a story, right?

DNA fingerprinting has revealed that today’s Zinfandel is genetically equivalent to the Crljenak Kaštelanski grape of Croatia  and either identical to or very-very-very closely related to the well-known Croatian grape known as Plavac Mali. Zinfandel is also either identical to—or very closely related to—Primitivo, as grown in Puglia.

Wherever it came from and whatever you call it, Zinfandel has proved itself as a hardworking, heat-seeking, robust grape.

 Typical Attributes of a Zinfandel-based Wine:

    • Fruit-forward,  intense fruit flavors…the aromas and flavors of blackberry, cherry and plum are quite recognizable.
    • In my wine tastings I generally introduce Zin as “Blackberry/Black Pepper/Black Licorice.”  It’s a pretty good Zin cliché.
    • Medium to high alcohol…sometimes 15% or more.
    • Medium to full  body; more likley towards the full.
    • Medium to high tannin combined with lively acidity.  Warm weather growing areas can mellow the tannins to the velvety type, but they remain quite high.
    • Red Zinfandel’s spice, fruit, and acidity make it a very food friendly wine.
    • Yes….the  Zinfandel grape can be made in the “White Zinfandel” style.  To make white zinfandel, the wine is allowed to ferment on the intensely colored red grape skins for a day or  two, just until the juice turns a light pink color.  At this time, the juice is pressed off  the grape skins while the fermentation process finishes.  While it is true that your Mama’s White Zinfandel most likely had a touch of residual sugar and this style remains popular today, Zinfandel is also made into crisp, dry, serious rosé.
    • Late harvest Zinfandel is often made into a luscious, complex dessert wine; one of my favorites is “Zinnie de Potelle” by Chateau Potelle.
    • Some winemakers freeze their late harvest (or regular harvest) Zinfandel grapes to make to make “ice wine-style” dessert wines, often with cute-cute-cute names such as “Fro-Zin”.

Typical Aromas of a Zinfandel-based Wine:

  • Fruity
    • Blackberry, Blackberry  Jam, Boysenberry, Boysenberry Jam, Raspberry, Raspberry Jam, Plum, Ripe Cherry, Pomegranate, Raisin, Prune
  • Spicy
    • Black Pepper, Cinnamon, Clove, Nutmeg, Allspice, Anise, Licorice, Chocolate
  • Wood-derived:
    • Oak, Vanilla
  • Sometimes:
    • Maple, Mushroom, Mint, Mineral

Where The Best Zinfandel is Grown:

  • California, especially Sonoma Valley, Amador County, the Sierra Foothills, Paso Robles, and Lodi
  • The south of Italy—as Primitivo
  • Croatia, where it is sometimes called “plavac—as Plavac Mali or Crljenak Kaštelanski
  • Texas – including the Texas High Plains AVA
  • While California remains  Zinfandel’s favorite adopted home, it is having some success in South Africa,  South America, and Australia

Food Affinities – Base Ingredients:

  • Beef, Lamb, Venison, Pork, Chicken, Turkey, Duck, Sausage

Food Affinities – Bridge Ingredients:

  • Spicy Foods
  • Spicy, Slightly Sweet Foods like Barbeque Sauce or Hoisin Sauce.
  • Tex-Mex Flavors
  • Grilled Flavors, Smoky Flavors
  • Blue Cheese Bacon Cheeseburgers
  • Burgers with Caramelized Onions
  • Any type of burgers (even turkey burgers)
  • Sausage and Peppers
  • Eggplant, Mushrooms, Black Beans
  • Tomatoes, Sun-dried Tomatoes
  • Mint, Rosemary, Oregano
  • Thyme, Cumin, Blackening Spices
  • Onions, Shallots
  • Walnuts, Pecans, Hazelnuts
  • Chocolate – which many people love, but most folks will recommend that you stick to the sweet versions of Zin for dessert.

Wine Grape Cheat Sheets: Cabernet Sauvignon

Cabernet Sauvignon – The Soundbyte:

Cabernet Sauvignon is probably the world’s most popular and well-known red grape variety.  It is the main grape in the world famous wines of Bordeaux, and the wine that made the Napa Valley famous.  The beauty of Cabernet is its thick skin, both literally and figuratively.  Literally the grape’s thick skin and small berries give a  wine deep color, complex flavors, and hearty tannins.  Figuratively, Cabernet Sauvignon is thick skinned by being resilient to a variety of climates and soils in the vineyard.  Just about every country that has a climate warm enough to consistently ripen red grapes successfully grows Cabernet Sauvignon.

Typical Attributes of a Cabernet Sauvignon-based Wine:

  • Dark Ruby Red to purple, opaque, and almost inky in appearance
  • Young Cabernet Sauvignon is ripe, powerful, and concentrated.
  • Highly tannic
  • Complex with layers of interesting flavors and textures
  • The high level of tannin in Cabernet Sauvignon-based wines makes them among the most age-worthy of all wines.
  • Aged Cabernet takes on grace, finesse, and an earthy, complex bottle bouquet.

Typical Aromas of a Cabernet Sauvignon-based Wine:

  • Fruity
    • Blackberry, Blueberry,  Ripe Cherry, Black Currant, Cassis, Plum, Prune, Raisin
  • Herbal/Vegetative
    • Vanilla, Mint, Eucalyptus, Bay Leaf, Green Bell Pepper, Green Olive, Rosemary, Dried Herb
  • Earthy
    • Cedar, Cigar Box, Cigar Smoke, Pencil Lead, Graphite, Tobacco, Wet Dog
  • Oak-Derived
    • Oak, Fresh Lumber, Cedar, Chocolate, Cocoa, Smoke

 Where The Best Cabernet Sauvignon is Grown:

  • The Bordeaux Region of France
  • California and Washington State, the far south of Oregon
  • Chile and Argentina
  • Australia
  • Italy, where it stars in some Super Tuscans, and is used in small amounts in many different wines
  • Cabernet grows  successfully in many regions throughout the wine making world…it adapts well to a  variety of conditions.

Food Affinities – Base Ingredients:

  • Beef -Prime Rib, Grilled Steaks…it’s all good!
  • Lamb – Bubbly Prof prefers Merlot here, but Cab works!
  • Veal
  • Venison
  • Pork
  • Hard Cheeses

Food Affinities – Bridge Ingredients/Flavor Bridges:

  • Currants, Prunes, Raisins (go easy on the sweetness)
  • Walnuts, Pecans
  • Mushrooms, Eggplant, Tomatoes, Roasted Tomatoes
  • Mint, Rosemary, Thyme, Oregano, Basil, Black Pepper
  • Blue Cheese – but be careful with the bitterness!

The Urban Legend:  The Cabernet Sauvignon/Chocolate Food Pairing:

According to some…Chocolate and Cabernet Sauvignon is a match made in Heaven.  For other people, it’s not so great and some people really dislike the pairing! In my Intro to Professional Wine Studies Class, I have my students try out the Cab/Chocolate combination without giving them any hints as to whether they “should” like it or not.  In my 16 years as a wine teacher, I’ve led more than 12,000 students through this exercise, and I estimate that the split is just about 50/50, with women more likely to enjoy the combination than men.

The idea behind the combination is a common flavor or aroma bridge…Cabernet often displays aromas of cocoa or chocolate.

The reason some people do not care for the combination is that sweet food tends to dry out and emphasize the acid/bitter/tannic tastes of a dry red wine.  I personally do not care for it…but all I can really do is suggest you try it for yourself!

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