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: 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: 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

 

 

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 – Pinot Gris

Pinot Gris – The Soundbyte:

Pinot Gris, known to most of the world as the delightful if somewhat over-exposed Italian Wine called Pinot Grigio, is renowned for its crisp, fruity, vaguely floral and aromatic wines from Northern Italy.  The variety known as Pinot Grigio is the “same grape-different name” as the grape variety Pinot Gris and goes by many other aliases as well.  Pinot Gris aka Grigio is successfully grown in France, Germany, Austria, Switzerland, and Hungary, and is being planted with increasing popularity in The New World.  The grape got the name “Pinot Gris” in France because of its grayish-white fruit and is believed to be a natural mutation of Pinot Noir.

 Typical Attributes of a Pinot Gris/Pinot Grigio-Based Wine:

  • Light to medium bodied
  • Almost always fruity, with lemon-lime-citrus aromas common in the Italian version, and tropical fruit-tree fruit aromas typical of the “New World” and Alsatian style.
  • Very often stainless steel cold fermented.
  • Generally crisp, acidic, and refreshing.
  • Italian Pinot Grigio is often described as “Sauvignon Blanc without the grassy quality”.
  • Pinot Gris from Alsace and Oregon tends to be more full bodied as well as a bit smoother than the Italian style or version, and is often compared to unoaked Chardonnay. (The Bubbly Professor agrees with this comparison, but thinks that Pinot Gris has a “waxier, creamier and smoother” style than Chablis, for instance.) 
  • A late harvest, dessert wine called “Vendage Tardive” is made from Pinot Gris in the French Region of Alsace. Late harvest and “Vin de Glacerie” styles have also been spotted in Oregon.

Typical Aromas of a Pinot Gris/Pinot Grigio-Based Wine:

  • Fruity:  Peach, Dried Peach, Apricot, Lemon, Lime, Tangerine, Fresh-cut Pears, Green Apple, Melon, Tropical Fruit, Kiwi, Mango, Citrus
  • Floral:  Wildflowers, Blossoms, Honey
  • Herbal: Thyme, Oregano, Lemongrass
  • Mineral: Wet Stones, Wet Sand
  • Nutty

Where The Best Pinot Gris/Pinot Grigio is Grown:

  • Italy, especially in  the Northern Regions of Venezia, Fruili, and Alto-Adige
  • The Alsatian  Region of France
  • The cooler wine growing regions of Europe such as Germany, Austria, and Switzerland.
  • California, especially Napa and Santa Barbara
  • Oregon, where it shines! 

Food Affinities – Base Ingredients:

  • Seafood, Smoked Seafood, Seafood Salads
  • Poultry 
  • Veal
  • Vegetarian Dishes
  • Fried Foods such as fried calamari, fried clams, and fried zucchini

Food Affinities – Bridge Ingredients:

Tomatoes, Mushrooms, Zucchini, Hors d’oeurves

Cream Sauces, Sour Cream

Citrus, Subtle Vinaigrettes, Capers, Green Olives

Basil, Tarragon, and just about all Herbs

Bell Peppers, Roasted Fennel, Garlic, Onions, Shallots

Toasted Pine Nuts

Ricotta Cheese, Mozzarella Cheese

 

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

Wine Grape Cheat Sheets: Sauvignon Blanc

Sauvignon Blanc  – The Soundbyte:

Sauvignon Blanc is one of the world’s major white wine grape varieties, celebrated for its distinctive aromas and bracing acidity.  Its crisp acidic backbone makes it one of the most food-friendly of all table wines.  Sauvignon Blanc is a highly aromatic white wine, and it’s distinctive aromas can vary greatly depending on terroir and winemaking.  While generally thought of as a single-varietal or blended  dry white wine, Sauvignon Blanc is also used to craft luscious dessert wines. 

Typical Attributes of a Sauvignon Blanc-Based Wine:

  • Sauvignon Blanc can be made in a variety of styles, based primarily on fermentation techniques and whether or not the wine is blended or oak aged.
  • Botrytis-affected and Late Harvest Sauvignon Blanc can be used to produce very sweet, complex dessert wines.
  • Lighter Style, Dry Sauvignon Blancs are generally stainless steel fermented and aged only briefly (if at all) in stainless steel.
    • The typical attributes  of this lighter style wine are:  Light Body, Crisp, Delicate, Highly Acidic, Steely, Precise, and Fruity.
  • The richer style, sometimes called Fumé Blanc in the New World, is often oak-fermented, sur lie aged, and sometimes oak barrel aged. 
    • The attributes of this richer style include:  Medium Body, Rich, Complex, Smoother, Oak-derived Complexity.
  • Sauvingon Blanc is often blended with Semillon in order to add complexity and tone down it’s usual razor-sharp acidity.  This style was pioneered in the White Wines of Bordeaux.

Typical Aromas of a Sauvignon Blanc-Based Wine:

Fruity:  Green Apple,  Apricot, Lime, Lemon, Green Plum, Melon, Pear, Grapefruit, Pineapple, Gooseberry, Kiwi, Papaya

Herbal/Vegetative: Cut Green  Grass, Green Bell Pepper, Asparagus, Fennel, Herbs, Lemon Grass, Hay,  Straw, Wildflowers

Mineral:  Wet Sand, Wet Stone, Riverbank, Ozone, Fresh Rain

Chemical:  Ammonia, Sometimes referred to as “PiPi du Chat”

Dessert Wine Styles of Sauvignon Blanc can disply aromas of honey, dried apricot, peaches, nutmeg and even curry…botrytis-affected wines will have that inimitable “earthy edge”!

Where The Best Sauvignon Blanc is Grown:

  • The Bordeaux Region of France, notably Graves and Entre-deux-Mers.
  • The Loire Valley Region of France, notably Pouilly-Fumé and Sancerre.
  • California’s Napa and Sonoma Regions.
  • New Zealand, notably the Marlborough Region.
  • South Africa, particularly Stellenbosch.
  • The cooler regions of Chile and Argentina
  • Australia, notably The Adelaide  Hills Region.

Food Affinities – Base Ingredients:

  • Raw Shellfish
  • Seafood of all kinds
  • Chicken
  • Acidic Sauces
  • Tomatoes
  • Salads, Vinaigrettes
  • Vegetarian Dishes
  • Avocado
  • Asparagus

Food Affinities – Bridge Ingredients/Flavor Bridges:

  • Citrus
  • Fennel, Bell Pepper, Eggplant, Zucchini
  • Herbs, Mushrooms, Garlic
  • Dijon Mustard
  • Capers, Green Olives
  • Prosciutto
  • Feta Cheese, Goat Cheese

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

 

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…