Wine Grape Cheat Sheets: Sangiovese

Sangiovese ChiantiThe Soundbyte:  It is widely accepted that Sangiovese was well-known to the winemakers of Ancient Rome, and it is suspected that the grape was known in Tuscany as far back as the time of the Etruscans. The grape is still is widely grown throughout Central Italy, from Romagna to Lazio, and throughout Italy down to Campania and Sicily.

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

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

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

Sangiovese Grapes Typical Attributes of a Sangiovese Based Wine:

  • The flavor profile is complex, with earthy aromas often overtaking the aromas of fruit, spice, flowers, and oak.
  • Sangiovese has a moderate to high level of natural acidity.
  • Medium to full-bodied, with descriptors ranging from supple and elegant to assertive and robust.
  • The finish tends towards bitterness.  I often describe it as “bitter cherry”.
  • Medium to medium-plus tannins, often assuaged with oak contact.
  • Sangiovese is often used to produce a “lighter” style red wine, and this approachability has made it a consumer favorite.  Sangiovese makes a wonderful, spicy rosé, and stars in many an Italian rosato.

Typical Aromas of a Sangiovese Based Wine:

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

Where The Best Sangiovese is Grown:

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

 Food Affinities – Base Ingredients:

Beef, Lamb, Pork, Chicken, Turkey, Duck, Hard Cheeses
sangiovese steakFood Affinities – Bridge Ingredients:

Simple, rustic dishes, Grilled Foods, Fresh Herbs

Tomatoes, Sun-dried Tomatoes, Tomato Sauces

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

Green Olives, Black Olives, Capers

Pecans, Walnuts

Pasta Dishes, Risotto Dishes

Proscuitto, Pancetta, Bacon

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

 

Perfect Pairings: Wines for Thanksgiving

When pairing wines with a big turkey dinner, it’s time to take sides. 

By “taking sides” I mean that you need to choose your wines with a mind to the varied tastes and flavors of your side dishes.  Turkey – the main event –  is actually quite neutral in flavor and can pair nicely with a variety of wines.  Side dishes for turkey, however, include the sweet (think yams topped with mini marshmallows), the spicy (sausage stuffing),  the salty (gravy), and the tangy (pickles, olives, and cranberry sauce). 

It takes a fruity, acidic wine with no chance of clashing flavors to match that schizo of a meal.   

I know this subject has been talked to death, that opinions on the matter run hot, and what the world needs now is hardly one more blog post on what wines to serve on Thanksgiving.  So, it is with humility and a bit of trepidation that I offer the following “Bubbly Professor Rules” on wines for Thanksgiving.

Rule #1 – Choose a Wine with Lots of Crisp, Lively Acidity:  Tangy foods, such as cranberry sauce, citrus, or anything from the relish tray, need to be paired with wines that can stand up to the challenge.  To be safe, serve a wine that has lively acidity to begin with and your wine will maintain its balanced flavor even in the presence of acidic foods.

Rule #2 – Choose a Wine with Lots of Fruity Flavors:  Cranberry Sauce, Sweet Potatoes, Creamed Corn and Yams…due to the fact that they have a degree of sweetness, these foods require a wine that has a very fruit-forward style. A wine with a hint of sweetness is ideal, as any sweetness in a food will diminish the fruitiness or sweetness of a wine.  It’s best to start with a wine with a good deal of fruit flavors, and maybe even sweetness, in order to preserve the wine’s balance with these types of foods.

Rule #3 – Choose a Wine that is Low to Moderate in Tannin:  Tannin is an integral part of the taste, flavor, and structure of most red wines, and the component that gives many wines their “grip” and a “velvety” feel in others.  So, even though we love it, we must be careful with tannin in the wines we serve on Thanksgiving, as too much tannin can clash with salty tastes or spicy flavors.  To avoid a clash of the titans that might end up with a metallic or bitter taste in your mouth, keep those red wines low in tannins and smooth!

Rule #4 – Choose a Wine with Very Little, if Any, Oak:  Oak is a beloved flavor enhancer of many wine styles.  However, highly oaked wines can clash with some food flavors.  Flavors that are slightly sweet, a bit fruity, or a tad spicy can all spell trouble when combined with oak!

Rule #5 – Choose a Wine that is Moderate in Alcohol:  Alcohol, while part of what makes wine so delightful, has a tendency to clash with certain tastes and flavors, and with all the flavor mingling going on at Thanksgiving, a clash is likely.  If at all possible, keep your wine choices in the moderate alcohol range.  Let’s face it…turkey already has enough drowsiness-inducing tryptophan to put you to sleep.  We don’t need any help from excessive amounts of alcohol!

Bubbly Professor’s Wine Suggestions For Your Turkey Dinner: 

  • Riesling from Alsace, Germany, or Washington State
  • Viognier from Texas, California, or The Rhône Valley of France
  • Unoaked Chardonnay
  • Bubbly – Any dry or semi-dry Methode Champenoise Sparkling Wine
  • Prosecco
  • For the adventurous…Sparkling Shiraz
  • For the less-than-adventurous…Moscato d’Asti
  • Dry Rosé – an all-around great choice!
  • Zinfandel from Lodi or Sonoma
  • Pinot Noir from Burgundy, California’s Central Coast or Oregon
  • Malbec from Argentina
  • Shiraz from Australia
  • Beaujolais
  • Or, of course, you can use this philosophy:  Serve anything you like…it’s just one day out of life!

Happy Holidays, Everyone!! No matter what you serve, enjoy the day and give thanks for all the good things in your life! 

Wine Grape Cheat Sheets: Tempranillo

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

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

Typical Attributes of a Tempranillo-based Wine:

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

Typical Aromas of a Tempranillo-based Wine:

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

Spicy: Vanilla, Dried Herbs, Clove, Cinnamon

Herbal: Green Herb, Mint, Eucalyptus

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

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

Where The Best Tempranillo is Grown:

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

Food Affinities – Base Ingredients:

  • Beef, Lamb, Veal, Pork, Grilled Foods

Food Affinities – Bridge Ingredients:

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

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

Wine Grape Cheat Sheets: 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: Cabernet Franc

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

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

Typical Attributes of a Cabernet Franc-based wine:

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

Typical Aromas of a Cabernet Franc-based wine:

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

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

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

Floral:  Violets, “Blue Flowers,” Perfume

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

Where the Best Cabernet Franc is Grown:

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

Food Affinities – Base Ingredients:

Beef, Veal, Pork

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

Duck and just about any Poultry (see above.)

Grilled Things – including Meat Poultry, and Vegetables

Food Affinities – Bridge Ingredients:

Garlic, Roasted Garlic, Onions, Mushrooms

Bell Peppers, Cajun/Creole Spices

Rosemary, Thyme, Mint, Bay Leaf

Tomatoes, Roasted Tomatoes, Eggplant, Fennel

Barbeque Flavors, Grilled and Smoked Foods

Greek and Middle Eastern Flavors

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

 

Wine Grape Cheat Sheets: 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: 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: 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