Wine Grape Cheat Sheets: Gamay

The Soundbyte:  The Gamay grape—officially known as  Gamay Noir à Jus Blanc—can make 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 a bit to the south of the vineyards of Burgundy, 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—however, some versions can show more “serious’ aromas and flavors such as savory herb, earthiness, and minerality.
    • Many versions are “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 is sometimes produced via the fermentation technique known as carbonic maceration.  Because of this unique process, Beaujolais often displays aromas of banana, bubble gum, and red candy.
    • 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 pear, red apple
  • Floral:  lavender, wildflower, violet, rose 
  • Herbal: dried herbs, white pepper, crushed black pepper
  • Earthy/Mineral: wet stone, crushed rock, dried leaves, wet dirt
  • Oak-Derived: oak, cedar,  vanilla, sweet spice, licorice, nutmeg
  • Sometimes found as a result of carbonic maceration: pink bubblegum, banana, pear drop, red candy

Where The Best Gamay is Grown:

  • The Beaujolais  Region of France, just south of (and somewhat overlapping, and technically part 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, which has its own history and style.  However, you can still 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 this 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 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

 

 

 

The Real Rules of Food and Wine Pairing, Part Three

In the last two posts, we’ve learned that food and wine should be paired up with an eye to their tastes, flavors, and textures.  We’ve also discussed the three concepts most important to making that world-class match.  Today…we reveal the “real rules” -those flavor dynamics that occur when wine meets food – and how to make them work for us!

The Real Rules…Here they are!  

  1. Any level of acidity in food…whether it is a squeeze of lemon or a topping of tomatoes, will diminish your ability to taste acidity in wine.  Simply stated, acid in food makes acid in wine less apparent.  If you are starting with a tart, high-acid wine, acidic foods will make your wine taste smoother.  The flip-side of this rule is that acidic foods can wash out low-acid wines and make them taste flabby – beware!  Acidic foods require high-acid wines.
  2. Sweet food will make the sweetness of a wine less apparent and bring out the other characters of a wine, be it acid, tannin, or bitterness.  If a wine does not contain any discernible sweetness, sweet food will reduce the fruity flavors and bring out acidic, tannic, and earthy tastes and flavors.  One of the biggest mistakes people make is pairing a savory food with a sweet sauce…like roast pork with apples…with dry, tannic wines.  Such dishes require a slightly sweet wine – or a very, very fruity wine for a good match.
  3. Fatty foods will smooth out acidity, and sometimes the tannin in any style of wine.
  4. Salty food goes well with acidic wines – they “turbocharge” each other.
  5. Salty food goes well with slightly sweet wines – it’s the trail mix effect.
  6. Salty foods are a conundrum with bitter or tannic wines. In the case of mildly salty foods (prepared with good-quality salt), a bit of salt can help diminish the perception of bitterness and perhaps the tannin in a wine. However, iodized salt can emphasize bitter or tannic flavors in certain wines, as can too much salt—so be careful with ultra-salty foods and please tell the chef to ditch the can of cheap iodized salt!
  7. Bitter tastes in foods enhance bitter tastes in wines – beware!!
  8. Matching a flavor in the food with a similar flavor in the wine (such as “herbal”) is called a “flavor bridge” and will most likely be a great match.  Flavor matching is almost always successful and can be a very fun, creative way to pair up food and wine…but be sure the taste components are dealt with before you attempt any flavor match-ups!
  9. Flavor contrasts, will work very well when the flavors mesh together.  Experiment and have fun!  Fruit with Fish?  Herbs with Lamb?  If it works, we call this blend of flavors a “natural affinity” (meaning quite simply “they go well together!).  Happy note:  almost all flavors in food and wine go well together…it’s rare to find a real “clash”.
  10. Texture matches, such as light-bodied wines with light-bodied foods, and rich wines with rich food, are always a reliable match.  Also keep in mind that in the case of rich food (roast beef with cheddar mashed potatoes or apricot-white chocolate cheesecake), sometimes having a lighter wine as the pairing partner will provide a bit of welcome palate relief and refreshment. The rich food/lighter wine pair-up also allows the food the be the “star of the show” which is sometimes what you are looking for! Many somms consider the textural component to be the most important aspect in the wine-and-food equation, but don’t forget that it is the taste components in the food that really have the ability to change the way a wine is perceived.
  11. It’s all relative…these rules can help forecast the interactions between food and wine in simple (taste, flavor, texture) terms. However…whether or not a match is considered to be “good” is subjective, and dependent upon the personal tastes and preferences of the beholder. Folks vary quite a bit in their ability to perceive and appreciate the various forms of food and drink. So the bottom line is…if you like it, drink it!

Cheers and Bon Appetit!

The Real Rules of Food and Wine Pairing, Part Two

In yesterday’s post we learned that food and wine pair up, for better or worse, based on their tastes, flavors, and textures.  Today, in installment number two, we Get to Know “The Three Concepts”  vital to a perfect pairing.

Step two on the path to becoming a food a wine genius:  Master the Three Key Concepts…repeat them like a mantra!

Key Concept #1:  You don’t pair to flavor, you pair to taste.

Lots and lots of well-meaning people think they know food and wine pairing because they heard – somewhere in wine and food cliché-land – that you can match or contrast flavors in food and wine.  That’s true, you can…but the result is virtually meaningless (and can be a disaster) if you haven’t first dealt with the major taste components in both the food and the wine.

It’s worth repeating…the most important component in any food and wine match-up is the taste components…sweet, acid, salt, bitter, oil, and tannin.  The presence of any of these in your food will change the way you perceive your wine…for better, or worse!

Key Concept #2:  You don’t pair to protein, you pair to preparation.   

If someone tells you they are serving up turkey, fish, or poultry for dinner, your food-and-wine pairing job has just begun.  About the only usable information we can get from this tidbit is a hint as to the overall texture of the dish.  Otherwise, we have nothing.  Let’s face it, protein is bland.  Fish, chicken, and pork have almost no taste components in them (save for varying levels of fat and a bit of umami – more on that later) before they are prepared.

What do you really need to know before making a match?   Hopefully, if you’ve read this far, you know…you want to know what tastes are involved.  It all depends on preparation…is it broiled, fried, steamed, and even more importantly…how is it seasoned, served, or sauced?  That’s what you need to know!

Key Concept #3:  You pair to the “The Key Elements” in a dish. 

To be really, really good at pairing food and wine, you must develop an instinct for discerning the key elements in a food or wine….the tastes, the flavors, and the textures.  Most meals are a cacophony of tastes, flavors, and textures, and most wines contain at least two taste components and might carry dozens of flavors.  It would take hours to figure out a perfect pairing based on all the information available, even for the simplest meal!  So, we have to learn to cut through the clutter and figure out the one or two elements of a wine or a dish that will most impact the pairing.

A very good rule of thumb is that is the major taste components (acid, sweet, salt, bitter, oil, or tannin) are present in a discernible level in either the food or the wine, those taste components will be among the key elements.  After you have figured out the tastes, try to discern the key flavors.  Other components that might be one of your key elements include spiciness, heat as from chili peppers, or an extreme of texture such as the lightness of a lemon soufflé or the heaviness of roast prime rib accompanied by cheddar cheese mashed potatoes.

One word of caution in this step is not to rely too heavily on generalities.  Wine and food are all about creativity and subtlety so take each wine and dish on its own merits. In addition, people vary in the ability to perceive and enjoy all aspects of food and wine, including even the most carefully considered pairings. In other words, if you enjoy it – drink it!

Once you develop a knack for breaking a food or wine down into its key elements, and you can learn to apply a few simple rules (see tomorrow’s post) and have a great chance at a great pairing!

MAJOR CAVEAT: People vary in the ability to perceive and enjoy tastes, flavors, and textures as well as a range of food and wine (by themselves and in any combination). If it works for you…go for it!

The Real Rules of Food and Wine Pairing, Part One…

 

Forget everything you think you know about food and wine pairing!

  • White Wine with Fish…
  • Strawberries and Champagne…
  • Red Wine and Chocolate…

Whatever you’ve heard, forget it!

I’m sorry to be the one to tell you this, but food and wine pairing have nothing to do with wine color, pairing to proteins, or “matching or contrasting” flavors.

The truth of the matter is this: food and wine pair up, and pair up successfully or disastrously, based on three components:  tastes, flavors, and textures.  Learn the principles behind these truths and you will become an instant food and wine genius!  Who can resist that?

To Get Started…Defining “The Three Components”

Tastes include sweet, salt, acid (sour), bitter, and umami (certain types of protein). Due to their importance in food-and-wine meet-ups, fat/oil, and tannin are often included in this component category..

A taste component, as you should have learned in elementary school, is something that can be perceived using just your tongue, or your taste bud?  Time to dust off that memory!  I also include tannin and fat/oil in this category, as many scientists believe they are actually tastes, and they have such a profound impact on a food and wine pairing.

The truth is this:  if a wine, or a dish, is sweet, salty, acidic, bitter, or contains a lot of mouth-coating oil or tongue-drying tannin, that fact is likely to have a big impact on its behavior in a food-and-wine match.

Taste Components are almost always the most important factor to consider in a food and wine pairing.  Specific tastes in food will change the way you perceive specific tastes in wine.  These changes are predictable and consistent, and are outlined in my “few simple rules” chart – to be posted in the near future.

 Flavors….fruity, floral, herbal, earthy, nutty, oaky, meaty…the list goes on!

 Flavors are sensed as a combination of taste, aroma, and texture.  Please don’t confuse flavor with taste!  Cherry is a flavor, sweet is a taste (repeat after me!).  Flavors in food and wine are not that big of a deal when it comes to a successful match.

Flavors are very forgiving…they can be successful in either the “match” or the “contrast” mode.   But never, ever, attempt to pair to flavors until you have dealt with the tastes!  Flavors can be matched to highlight the flavor, such as herbal wine with herbal food.  This is called a “bridge flavor” and can make for a very successful match.  Or, flavors can be contrasted to make a meal balanced and interesting.  For instance, we can cool down a spicy food by pairing it with a fruity wine.

Texture…light-bodied, medium-bodied, rich, round, lean…

Textures are discerned using the tactile sense of touch.  Textures should usually (although not always…) be matched.  In other words, serve light bodied food with light bodied wine, and rich food with rich, full-bodied wine. However, there are some exceptions…if you want one part of the meal (that is, the food or the wine) to really shine, you can mix textures in what I like to call “the wind beneath my wings” effect.

Textures are generally best matched rich for rich or light on light, however exceptions can be interesting.

MAJOR CAVEAT: People vary in the ability to perceive and enjoy tastes, flavors, and textures as well as a range of food and wine (by themselves and in any combination). If it works for you…go for it!

 So….that’s just the beginning. You are two more posts away from being a wine and food genius!