Mother Muscat

MuscatIt is often said that Muscat is an ancient grape, known to antiquity since perhaps 3,000 BC. It is just as often claimed that Muscat was one of the grapes described by Pliny the Elder and his contemporaries as Apiane, named due to the fact that they were so sweet as to attract bees (api in Latin). It has even been claimed that Muscat was the original vinifera grape from which all others sprang forth – heck, I’ve even mentioned that in some of my classes.

But all of this talk is, alas, just talk, and not backed up by any actual history or botanical facts. It may be true – but then again, it may just be the stuff of legends.

It cannot be denied, however, that Muscat is an old grape. With at least 200 grapes going by the name Muscat Something, and dozens more showing the grapey-musty aroma characteristic of the family, we know that Muscat has been swimming in the grape gene pool for at least 2,000 years.

A student of mine recently asked me to give her a list of the main members of the Muscat family. At first I thought such a task would take hours, but determined to “keep it simple” – I came up with the following descriptions of some of the leading members of the Muscat extended family:

muscatbeaumesdeveniseMuscat Blanc à Petits Grains: The main Muscat – that is, the grape that gets the prize for consistently producing the highest-quality wines and the one that is believed (by actual botanists) to be the Muscat from which the other Muscats sprung is Muscat Blanc à Petits Grains. This grape has a vast number of synonyms, most of which are really just translations, such as Muscatel, Moscatel, Frontignac, Muskateller, Moscato, Moshcato, and Muscat Canelli. This is the majority grape that is used in the vins doux naturels of southern France, including Muscat de Rivesaltes, Muscat de Beaumes-de-Venise, and the similar wines of Frontignan, Mireval, and Saint-Jean-de-Minervois. In Italy, this grape appears as the star of Asti and Moscato d’Asti. In Greece, she is known as Muscat of Patras, Samos, and many other, more-difficult-to-pronounce wines.

Muscat of Alexandria:  Another ancient variety, considered to be very close to the top of the Muscat food chain, as a likely cross between an Italian grape known as  Axina de Tres Bias and Mother Muscat (Muscat Blanc à Petits Grains). This grape is considered to be somewhat inferior to Muscat Blanc à Petits Grains, and is often used to produce very sweet wines with moscatel-de-setubal_1orange or orange-flower aromas. Muscat of Alexandria (which, by the way, has no proven connection to the ancient city of the same name) is used as a minor grape in the sweet Muscat-based wines of southern France. In Italy, the variety is far more likely to be used as table grapes as opposed to wine, except in on the island of Pantelleria, where it is much beloved as the star of Passito de Pantelleria. Much of Spain’s Moscatel is Muscat of Alexandria, where it is used in Sherry, Málaga, and the surrounding areas for many styles of wine, including the sweet and fortified wines of the region. Muscat of Alexandria is also the star of Portugal’s Moscatel de Setúbal, and, as Hanepoot, is used in the fortified wines and brandies of South Africa.

Muscat Fleur d’Oranger: Actually a cross between Chasselas and Muscat Blanc à Petits Grains; often known as Orange Muscat. California, particularly the warmer regions, grows a good deal of Orange Muscat, where it makes its way into sweet wines such as Quady’s brightly-packaged Essencia and Electra. Delightful Orange Muscats are made in Washington State, Canada, and Texas as well. In Italy, Moscato Fior d’Arancio in the Veneto’s Colli Euganei is made with Orange Muscat, and the grape makes its way into many of Australia’s sweet wines as well.

Photo of Elysium via Quady Winery

Photo of Elysium via Quady Winery

Muscat Ottonel: Thought to be a Chasselas X Muscat de Saumur cross, native to the Loire. Used for both dry and sweet wines, mainly in Alsace, where it may be bottled as Muscat d’Alsace. Austria’s Neusiedlersee and Neusiedlersee-Hügelland are known for sweet, botrytis-affected wines produced using Muscat Ottonel (here known as “Muskat Ottonel”). Hungary uses the grapes, mainly as blending partners, in both sweet and dry wines. Other plantings are found throughout eastern Europe, including in Romania, Bulgaria, Moldova, Russia, and the Czech Republic. 

Muscat of Hamburg: Also known as Black Muscat or Zibibbo Nero. The origin of the grape is unclear, although there is an excellent story about an Englishman named  Mr. Seward Snow who created the grape by crossing Black Hamburg (Schiava Grosso) grapes with Muscat of Alexandria, thus producing Muscat of Hamburg as a “grandchild” of Mother Muscat (Muscat Blanc à Petits Grains). Throughout the world, Muscat of Hamburg is used in a scattering of sweet red wines, and widely grown to be used as red table grapes. It is grown extensively in California’s Central Valley, where it is used to produce Quady’s sweet, dark dessert wine known as Elysium.

As previously mentioned, these are just the main branches of the 200+ members of the Muscat Family tree. Muscat is primarily known for sweet, dessert, and fortified wines, but we can’t forget the fact that Muscat is often made into dry wines (known for their hauntingly “funky” aromas of must, flowers, and fruit), as well as its widespread use in table grapes and raisins! For those of you practicing blind tasting, it is widely accepted that while all wine is made from grapes (well, at least the wines that might show up at a blind tasting), Muscat-based wines are among the few and far between that actually have “grapey” aromas in the finished wine. Try it and see!

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

 

Wine Grape Cheat Sheets: Chardonnay

Well, the Bubbly Professor cannot believe she has not yet published a cheat sheet on Chardonnay…but these things do happen.  In case you are a fan of wine grape cheat sheets, here’s the one you might have been waiting for…

Chardonnay Salmon PastaThe Soundbyte:  Chardonnay may very well be the world’s most widely recognized grape variety.  It was very likely the first wine you ever heard of, and what you will most likely be served if you order a glass of “white wine” at a cocktail party.  The grape itself is quite neutral, but can be transformed via wine making magic into an oak-infused butter bomb, a crisp, citrus-and-mineral balancing act, or even a front porch-chugging box wine.  There’s a lot to be said about the chameleon known as Chardonnay!   

Typical Attributes of a Chardonnay-Based Wine:

  • Creamy, complex, high alcohol and lush flavors.
  • The fruity aromas wary widely depending on the climate.
  • The grape itself can be called “delicate” in aroma and flavors, but Chardonnay is very susceptible to the influence of wine making, and can be laden with aromas and flavors of oak, butter, cream, yeast, and vanilla, among others, through wine-making processes.  Whether or not these are “good for the wine” is a matter of personal opinion and much debate.
  • Attributes of a European “Chablis Style” Chardonnay: Crisp, Medium-bodied, terroir-driven, fruity, and mineral
  • Attributes of a New World, “California Style” Chardonnay:  Full-bodied, highly alcoholic, likely oak-aged, and “buttery”
  • Chardonnay is also used in Sparkling wines, including Champagne and Franciacorta.

Typical Aromas of a Chardonnay-Based Wine:

  • Fruity:  Green Apple, Red Apple, Baked Apple, Pear, Peach, Apricot, Pineapple and Other Tropical Fruits, Citrus:  Lemon, Lime, Orange
  • Caramel: Honey, Butterscotch, Caramel, Brown Sugar
  • Nutty: Hazelnut, Toasted Hazelnut, Walnut
  • Yeast-Derived: Toast, Baked Bread, Oatmeal, Popcorn
  • Butter (from malo-lactic fermentation…of course!)
  • Mineral: Flint, Wet Stone, Wet Sand
  • Oak-Derived: Vanilla, Coconut, Sweet Wood, Oak, Smoke, Toast, Tar

Chardonnay HarvestWhere Chardonnay is Grown:

  • The Burgundy Region of France, especially the Côte de Beaune and Chablis
  • The Champagne Region of France
  • Other regions of France, such as Alsace (where it is only allowed to be used in sparkling wines) and the Languedoc-Roussillon
  • California, where it is grown in many diverse regions and produces a wide range of styles
  • Oregon, where it shines in both still wines and sparklers.
  • Australia, where it is a leading white wine grape
  • New Zealand, where it is the #2 white wine grape after Sauvignon Blanc
  • The cooler regions of Chile
  • Franciacorta and other regions in Italy
  • Canada, including Ontario, Quebec, and British Columbia
  • And…almost anywhere wine is grown!

Food Affinities – Base Ingredients:

  • Seafood of all kinds
  • Crab Cakes, Lobster, Shrimp dripping with butter and garlic…
  • Chicken, Turkey, Game Hen, Duck
  • Roast Chicken…Roast Chicken…Roast Chicken
  • Veal, Pork…Beef.  (About that beef…be careful with the preparation. As certainly as the heavier bodied white wines, including Chardonnay, can pair with beef, that does not mean that it is a good substitute for red wine in every case.   Keep your dishes plain and simple, seasoned with herbs, mushrooms, or grilled onions.  Unless you want to hurt someone, avoid Texas Chainsaw Barbeque Sauce and other condiments that are over-the-top rich and heavy in flavor, texture, sweetness, or spiciness. Trust me on this one.)

 Roasted Chicken for ChardonnayFood Affinities – Bridge Ingredients:

  • Corn, Pumpkin, Squash, Polenta
  • Tarragon, Basil,  Thyme, Oregano and other fresh herbs
  • Soft cheeses such as Brie or Camembert (especially good with unoaked versions)
  • Semi-firm cheeses such as Havarti, Monterey Jack, Meunster and Gouda. Smoked      versions of Gouda are especially good.
  • Firm cheese such as Swiss, Emmentaler, Gruyère, Manchego, and Jarlsberg
  • Nutmeg, Cinnamon, and Allspice (but resist the temptation to go sweet…think savory…savory…savory…)
  • Hazelnuts, Cashews, Walnuts, Pecans, Coconut (savory…savory…savory…)
  • Butter, Brown Butter, Cream, Sour Cream, Olive Oil
  • Bacon, Ham, and other cured pork products
  • Mushrooms, Onions, Garlic
  • Dijon Mustard (think about it…where is the town of Dijon?  hmmmm….)

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

Wine Grape Cheat Sheets: Sémillon

35-Semillon-grapesThe Soundbyte:  Sémillon is a golden-skinned white wine grape known primarily for its close association with Sauvignon Blanc, as in the Sauvignon/Sémillon blends of White Bordeaux and its many imitators worldwide.  Sémillon is increasingly seen as a stand-alone varietal, particularly in the Hunter Valley Region of Australia, where it seems to have found its “second home.”  Sémillon has a well-documented susceptibility to Botrytis, and is often made into dessert wines.  It is the most widely planted white wine grape in Bordeaux, particularly in Sauternes.  Fans of Sémillon like to brag that the most famous dessert wine of all, Château d’Yquem, is 80% Sémillon.

Typical Attributes of a Sémillon Based Wine:

  • The grapes are hardy in the vineyard and relatively easy to culitivate.  They are fairly resistant to disease, but as luck would have it, are quite susceptible to Botrytis.
  • Sémillon tends to have moderate acidity, which is most likely why it became the world’s best blending partner for Sauvignon Blanc, which tends to scream with acidity.
  • Sémillon tends to have good extract, and a rich, “oily” texture or weight,  sometimes referred to as  “waxy”.
  • Varietal wines tend to have medium to high levels of alcohol.
  • Sémillon tends to be low on aromatics when made into a varietal, which is another reason why it does so well with the intensely aromatic Sauvignon Blanc. 
  • It has been described as rather “bland” in its youth, but is one of the rare white wines that can transform with age.  Older versions can take on a hazelnut, toasty richness. Oak aging also helps create a more complex wine, and, along with  malolactic fermentation can encourage aromas of butter, cream, vanilla and smoke.
  • An interesting wine-tasting term that is often used to describe Sémillon is “lanolin,” which is actually a substance found in wool and used in cosmetics (!).  In “WineSpeak” the term refers to a smooth, creamy impression that might be considered to opposite of “tart” or “sharp”. 

semillon bottlesTypical Aromas of a Semillon Based Wine:

Fruity:  Apple, Pear,  Lemon, Nectarine, Grapefruit, Melon, Fig, Date  

Spicy:  Saffron, Vanilla, Dried Herb

Vegetal:  Green Grass, Asparagus, Bell Pepper 

Botrytis Affected Versions:  Apricot, Dried Apricot, Quince, Peach, Honey, Pineapple, Vanilla, Butterscotch, Curry

Oaked Versions:  Vanilla, Sweet Wood, Toast, Smoke, Oak, Coconut

Where The Best Sémillon is Grown:

  • The Southwest of France, particularly Bordeaux, where it most likley has its native home.  Sémillon is the most widely planted white grape in Bordeaux, particularly in Sauternes where it may claim up to 80% of the vineyard property.  Of course, it shares the white Bordeaux blend with Sauvignon Blanc and sometimes a dash of Muscadelle, so it has remained somewhat out of the spotlight. But be sure…Sémillon rules the white Bordeaux world.
  • Australia’s Hunter Valley, which has become Sémillon’s adopted home in much the same way that Malbec has taken to Mendoza. Hunter Valley is well-known for being a leading producer of 100% varietal Sémillon.
  • In other parts of Australia, Sémillon is used as a blending partner for Chardonnay as well as in Bordeaux-inspired Sémillon-Sauvignon Blends.
  • The Côtes de Gascogne, a Vin de Pays produced in the Armagnac region, is heavily planted to Sémillon.
  • The Loire Valley has a smattering of Sémillon, as does Portugal, Israel, Argentina, Chile, California, Washington State, New Zealand, and South Africa.

semillonFood Affinities – Base Ingredients:

  • Roast Chicken with Herbs!
  • Seafood of all kinds…try Classic French Steamed Mussels
  • Poultry, Duck, Veal, Pork…

Food Affinities – Bridge Ingredients:

  • Corn, Pumpkin, Squash, Polenta
  • Coconut, Apples, Pears, Pineapple
  • Nutmeg, Saffron
  • Hazelnuts, Cashews, Walnuts, Pecans
  • Bacon, Mushrooms, Sweet Onions, Garlic
  • Lemon and Grapefruit make excellent flavor bridges, but try not to overdo it on the acidity (remember, this is a low-acid wine)
  • Tarragon, Basil, Thyme, Lemongrass, Basil, Rosemary, Fresh herbs of all kinds 
  • Butter, Brown Butter, Cream, Sour Cream, Olive Oil

If your Sémillon-based wine is more “Sauvignon” than “Sémillon” – check out the food pairing advice on the Cheat Sheet for Sauvignon Blanc.

If your Sémillon is botrytis-affected, well…I promise to post a Sauternes version of “Perfect Pairings” soon!

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

missjane@prodigy.net

 

 

Wine Grape Cheat Sheets: Gewürztraminer

The Soundbyte:  Simply stated, Gewürztraminer is an enigma.  It is the one wine you either love or hate.  The wine has a tendency to have a flavor quite different than what is expected from its rather forward floral, fruit, and spicy aromas; and your first sip can be quite a “shock” to the palate, to say the least! This is not to say its not a delightful wine; it can be a delicious wine indeed, and in my opinion a fantastic partner for many otherwise hard-to-pair foods. 

The French region of Alsace has seen the most success with Gewürtraminer, and the name is obviously German, but the grape’s history began in Italy, somewhere in the Tyrollean Alps, near the village of Tramin in Alto Adige.  Like many grapes, Gewürztraminer tends to mutate based in its surroundings, so the grapes themselves may be golden yellow, light pink, or even pinkish-brown and spotted.  It also tends to be a difficult vine in the vineyard, being quite susceptible to poor fruit set, frost damage,and certain viral diseases.  However, the grapes, with their thick skins and blotchy colors, can attain very high sugar concentrations and those amazing aromas, which can lead to some pretty interesting wines!

Typical Attributes of a Gewürztraminer Based Wine:

  • The one thing that cannot be denied about Gewürtraminer is its spectacular fragrance.  Be prepared for a waft of rose petals, exotic fruits, and spicy perfume aromas that seem to leap out of the glass. 
  • Gewürztraminer’s Lychee aroma is legendary. It has even been reported that Gewürztramier and Lychee share a common chemical structure responsible for the aroma. If you’ve never sniffed a lychee, go grab a can from your neighborhood grocer’s Asian Foods section and prepare to be amazed!
  • Gewürztraminer is made in many styles, from bone dry to very sweet.
  • Guard your palate, and brace yourself.  Even in dry styles of the wine, Gewürztraminer’s aromas smell sweet, but the flavor can hit the palate with a bombshell of dry spice and perfume.  I’ve often compared it to eating pure ground cinnamon.  Not entirely bad, but kind of weird if you were expecting cinnamon cookies.
  • Gewürtraminer tends to be low-acid, which can be problematic in some of the sweeter wines.  However, at the same time the wine tends to have a bit of bitterness to it.  This can lend a needed balance to a low-acid wine, especially those of the off-dry or sweet styles. However, when pairing the wine with food, remember that acidity and bitterness react to food pairings in very different ways.
  • The amazing ability of Gewürztraminer to attain high sugar levels means that dry versions of the wine can be misleadingly high in alcohol…this is a wine to watch out for!
  • Sweet versions of Gewürtraminer are made from late harvest grapes and botrytis-affected grapes.  In Alsace, these wines might be called “VendagesTardives”or “Sélection de Grains Nobles.” 
  • Gewurz also makes a very nice ice wine is made as well.

 Typical Aromas of a Gewürztraminer Based Wine:

Fruity:  Pear, Lychee, Peach, Apricot, Guava, Pineapple, Passion Fruit, Mango, Grapefruit, Sultana (Golden Raisin)

Floral:  Roses, Rose Petal, Gardenia, Carnation, Jasmine, Honeysuckle, Honey, Perfume

Spicy:  Ginger, Cinnamon, Nutmeg, White Pepper, Allspice, Clove

Strange but True:  Coconut, Pond’s Cold Cream, Cheap Rose Perfume, Nivea Cream, “Cosmetics,” “Old Lady Perfume” (don’t try to deny it), Church Incense, Petroleum, Turpentine, Diesel, Gasoline.

Where The Best Gewürztraminer is Grown:

  • The Alsace region of France, which  many people consider to be the place where Gewurztraminer finds its “perfect expression”.  (By the way, in the French language there is no “ü” in Gewurz, so don’t let anybody tell you it is spelled wrong!)  In Alsace, Gewurztraminer accounts for about 20% of the vineyards, making it the second-most planted grape of the region.  Riesling, the number one grape, accounts for 23% of the vineyards.
  • Austria, Germany, Hungary, Switzerland, Luxembourg and many of the smaller wine producers of Eastern Europe also grow Gewürztraminer, but it may be going by any one of the following aliases:  Roter Traminer, Drumin, Pinat Cervena, Livora, Tramini, Mala Dinka, among others.
  • True to its history, the grape is still grown in the Trentino/Alto Adige areas in Italy. 
  • Areas of Canada, such as Vancouver Island, The Okanagan Valley, and Ontario, as well as New York’s Finger Lakes and Long Island Wine Country. 
  • The Cooler regions of Australia and New Zealand  
  • California grew Gewurztraminer back in the 1870’s; a well-regarded version was produced by Charles Krug in Napa and Jacob Gundlach in Sonoma.  These days, the cooler regions of California, including Mendocino County, Monterey County and Sonoma, also do quite well with small plantings of the grape.

 Food Affinities – Base Ingredients:

Crab, Mussels, Shrimp, Salmon, Smoked Salmon, Sushi, Tuna, Sturdier Fish

Smoked Food  

Pungent Cheeses, Smoked Cheeses (Roquefort, Muenster, and Gouda among the favorites)

Chicken, Turkey, Duck

Liver, Chicken Liver, Foie Gras

Just about anything made with Pork

Salami, Paté, Bacon, Pancetta, just about any type of Charcuterie

 Food Affinities – Bridge Ingredients:

  • Tropical Fruits, Orange, Lychee
  • Ginger, Fennel Seed, Cinnamon, Clove
  • Onions, Garlic
  • Smoked Gouda, Smoked Mozzarella
  • Asian Flavors, Curry, Spicy foods
  • It seems that the pungency of many foods actually cuts the pungency of Gewurz, which does not always happen in the food-and-wine world but this is a great example of a “flavor bridge” being a good thing!
  • French Onion Soup and Gewurz is one of the best food pairings on earth! Click here for My Favorite French Onion Soup Recipe.

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

missjane@prodigy.net

 

 

Wine Grape Cheat Sheets: Chenin Blanc

The Soundbyte:  Chenin Blanc is native to the Loire Valley Region of France and is widely grown throughout the Loire and the new world.   

Chenin Blanc produces a fruity, floral, easy to drink white wine with clean, fresh flavors and a good zing of acidity.   However, this is no simple little white wine grape; Chenin Blanc can be made into serious, mineral-driven dry wines, methode traditionnelle sparkling wines, and decadent botrytis-affected dessert wines in addition to the well-known, and much beloved “porch sipper” style.    

Typical Attributes of a Chenin Blanc Based Wine:

  • Dry Chenin Blanc wines are generally light bodied and fruity, with floral and nutty overtones.
  • Chenin Blanc has a good deal of acidity, but balanced with the fruity, or sometimes sweet, tastes and flavors typical of the grape it generally comes across as a smooth, easy to drink and easy to love wine.
  • Dry Chenin Blanc tends to be low-alcohol and refreshing to drink.
  • Chenin Blanc’s delicate character makes it a good match for delicately flavored foods.  It can also be used as a wine match for interesting, spicy, or blended “fusion-style” flavors;   Its delicacy means there are few flavors that will “clash” with such foods.
  • Chenin Blanc is also made into Sparkling wines in the Loire Valley and other regions.
  • Due to its racy acidity, Chenin Blanc also stars as a dessert wine often produced in a late harvest or botrytis-affected style.
  • Chenin Blanc also has a serious side, and the steely, nervy, mineral-driven wines of Savenniéres have been called “the most cerebral wines in the world”.  

Typical Aromas of a Chenin Blanc Based Wine:

Fruity:  Apricot, Melon, Green Apple, Green Plum, Pear, Quince, Lemon, Lime, Grapefruit, Greengage (a light green plum popular in France and England).

Floral/Herbal:  Orange Blossom, Wildflowers, Perfume, Honey, Honeysuckle, Acacia, Grass, Hay, Angelica (a herb that smells somewhat like celery, is often candied, and is used to flavor Chartreuse)

Chalk, Mineral:  Flint, Smoke, “Steely”

Nutty:  Almond, Marzipan

Where The Best Chenin Blanc is Grown:

  • The Loire Valley in France, notably the regions of Vouvray, Coteaux du Layon, Savevnnières, and Saumur.  The Loire Valley is thought to be the native home of Chenin Blanc, and it is used to make just about every type of white wine possible.  The region of Savennières produces bone-dry, steely versions, while Anjou, Montlouis, and Vouvray are made in a variety of styles from dry to sweet.  Saumur and other Loire regions produce sparkling Chenin Blanc from dry to sweet, and world-class dessert wines are the specialty of Bonnezeaux and Quarts-de-Chaume. 
  • Chenin Blanc is the most widely planted white wine grape in South Africa, where for centuries it has gone by the name of “Steen.”  The grape may have been one of the original grapes planted by Jan van Riebeeck in 1655, or may have come to South Africa with the French Huguenots who arrived a bit later.
  • California, Washington, New Mexico and several other U.S. States
  • Australia, where it is often blended with Semillon, and New Zealand, where it is grown in small amounts on the North Island.
  • Many other wine producing regions and countries, including the emerging regions of Israel, Brazil, Urugauy, and Mexico, have plantings of Chenin Blanc.

Food Affinities – Base Ingredients:

  • Delicately Flavored Seafood, Smoked Seafood, Shellfish
  • Chicken  and Poultry, Chicken Liver, Foie Gras
  • Ham, Prosciutto, Bacon
  • Goat’s Cheese
  • Crudities and Dips
  • Potato Dishes, Vegetarian Dishes
Food Affinities – Bridge Ingredients:
  • Curry, Indian Spices, Asian Spices
  • Capers, Herbs
  • Mushrooms, Avocado, Zucchini, Endive, Spinach
  • Honey (go easy on the sweetness with dry wines)
  • Almonds, Hazelnuts
  • Apricot, Melon, Apple

Click here for a review of my Favorite Chenin Blanc of all Time!

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

 

 

Wine Grape Cheat Sheets: Viognier

The Soundbyte:  Viognier seemed literally an endangered variety only a few years ago, but is now recovering worldwide in terms of both both popularity and acreage. Viognier makes unique white wines that will bowl you over with a its outrageous floral aromas and peach-pear-apricot fruit flavors. While Viognier will beguile you with its gorgeous aroma and yellow-gold hue; make no mistake, this wine can pack a punch in terms of body, flavor, and alcohol…all in a great way, of course!   

 Typical Attributes of a Viognier-Based Wine:

  • Intriguing Floral Bouquet combined with apricot, peach, and pear aromas.
  • Tropical fruit flavors and a creamy mouthfeel.
  • Even without oak aging, Viognier can be as full-bodied as an oaky Chardonnay.
  • Deep golden color.
  • Rich and intense in flavor, sometimes high in alcohol, although the overall richness makes the alcohol not very noticeable.  Proceed with caution!
  • Viognier is quite low in acid. This makes for a smooth, velvety palate…but it might be best not to pair this wine with high acid foods.
  • I have had a few late-harvest dessert wines made from Viognier, and they are delicious!

Typical Aromas of a Viognier-Based Wine:

Fruity:  Apricot, Over-ripe Apricot, Mango, Pineapple, Citrus, Apple, Pear, Peach

Floral:  Honey, Acacia, Orange Blossom, Violet, Honeysuckle, Wildflowers

Spicy:  Anise, Clove, Cinnamon, Nutmeg, Vanilla

Herbal:  Mown Hay, Tobacco, Mint

Butter, Cream

Where The Best Viognier is Grown:

  • The Northern Rhône appellations of Condrieu and Chateau-Grillet produce amazing white wines from 100% Viognier.
  • In the Southern Rhône and throughout the south of France, Viognier is often used to add fragrance and to soften and lighten the red G-S-M or Syrah-based wines of the Rhône.  Even if you wouldn’t know it from looking at the label, a red Rhône or G-S-M blend can have up to 10% ov Viognier in the mix.
  • California, particularly the warmer regions such as Lodi and the Sierra Foothills.
  • The State of Virginia is beginning to make some excellent Viognier, and Texas makes some nice versions as well!
  • Australia makes some excellent versions.
  • Plantings in France’s Languedoc, Roussillon, and Provence regions are expanding.

 Food Affinities – Base Ingredients:

  • Pungent Cheeses
  • Crab, Mussels, Shrimp, Salmon, Smoked Salmon
  • Smoked Food, Poultry, Turkey, Pork

Food Affinities – Bridge Ingredients:

  • Tropical Fruits, Pears, Apricot, Peach, Orange
  • Curry, Ginger, Clove, Cinnamon
  • Sweet Onions, Garlic, Coconut, Honey
  • Herbs, Corn, Polenta, Walnuts, Hazelnuts
  • Butter, Cream, Fresh Cheeses

Click here for a recipe for Chicken with Forty Cloves of Garlic – a “perfect pairing partner” recipe for Viognier.

Wine Grape Cheat Sheets: Riesling

The Soundbyte:  Much-maligned and misunderstood due to those overly sweet, bright blue and pink bottles resting on the bottom shelf at the supermarket, Riesling is actually considered to be among the leading white wine grapes in the world.  Riesling produces some of the world’s finest, most complex, and long-lasting white wines.  It is considered to be native to Germany, where its cultivation can be traced back thousands of years. 

The Riesling grape is renowned for its ability to walk a tight rope of a balancing act in its combination of sugar and acid,  resulting in wines that somehow manage to be both delicate and complex.  As for the pronunciation of the name, you have to smile in order to sy it correctly – go look in the mirror!

 Typical Attributes of a Riesling Based Wine:

  • Riesling has the  amazing ability to be both very fruity and very acidic at the same time.
  • Riesling’s  acidic backbone and complex, balanced flavors give it the ability to age.
  • The world’s great Rieslings are grown in cool growing regions and made into dry white wines renowned for their bracing acidity; terms like steely, nervy, racy, tongue-splitting and precise come to mind as good ways to describe the potential acidity of a Riesling in all its glory.
  • Despite my devotion to the dry Rieslings of the world, I must admit that many of the Rieslings on the shelf have a degree of residual sugar in them which may or may not be detectable due to the balancing acidity in the wine.  The Germans have developed the label term “Classic” to indicate a wine with some residual sugar that is still perceived as dry to most palates.  Genius.
  • The German term “Halbtrocken” means “half-dry” and pertains to wines with between 0.9% and 1.8% residual sugar.  Most American palates would describe these as “just slightly sweet”.

The term “Kabinett” indicates a low level of ripeness at harvest; the terms Auslese and Spätlese refer to grapes with a higher level of sugar at harvest; these wines may be dry or may have a small degree of residual sugar.

As for the dessert wines made from Riesling, they have their place among the best dessert wines in the world.  The new world makes “Late Harvest” Rieslings “Botrytis-affected Riesling” and “Riesling Ice Wine”.  The old world calls them Beerenauslese,  Trockenbeerenauslese, and Eiswein.

Typical Aromas of a Riesling Based Wine:

Fruity:  Peach, Dried Peaches, Apricot, Apple, Green Apple, Baked Apple, Pear, Orange, Orange Peel, Lime

Floral:  Jasmine, Rose, Orchid, Juniper, Honey, Perfume, Wildflowers, Orange Blossom, Lime Blossom

Mineral:  Flinty, Steely, Wet Stones, Chalk, Ozone (the scent of the air after a rainstorm)

Chemical:  Petrol, Gasoline, Rubber Bands, Varnish, Wet Paint, Paint Remover

Late Harvest and Ice Wine Rieslings can take these aromas to the extreme…I’ve found that the lime aromas transform into a quick scent of pickle juice or green olives (sounds weird, but “in a good way”) and these wines can remind me of “dried peaches rubbed on a wet stone”.  Just try it for yourself!

Where The Best Riesling is Grown:

  • Riesling is native to Germany and grown throughout Germany’s wine regions.
  • Austria
  • The Alsace Region of France.
  • California, Oregon, Washington State (Bubbly Prof really likes the Washington State Rieslings)
  • New York State’s Finger Lake Region
  • Canada, especially the Niagara Peninsula
  • The cooler  regions of Australia such as the Eden Valley and the Clare Valley 

Food Affinities – Base Ingredients:

  • Sushi…it’s the best match in town so I had to list it first.  It’s crave-worthy.
  • Seafood of all kinds
  • Smoked Seafood – Smoked Salmon and Riesling would be my “last meal” request.
  • Chicken, Poultry of any kind
  • Ham, Pork, Prosciutto, Sausages
  • Asian Flavors, Indian Flavors  – Riesling loves the the salt, the spice, and even the heat. 

 Bridge Ingredients:

Jalapeno Peppers, Wasabi – Bubbly Prof says any type of “green heat” is fabulous with Riesling.

Cilantro, Lemon Grass, Fresh herbs of any kind

Orange, Orange Zest, Lemon, Lime

Avocado, Corn, Leeks, Sweet Onions, Tomatoes, Sun-dried Tomatoes

Bacon, Pancetta, Green Olives, Capers

Ginger, Curry, Cinnamon, Nutmeg, Allspice, Soy Sauce, Salty condiments

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