Wine Grape Cheat Sheets: Merlot

Cabernet TopThe Soundbyte:  Thank goodness we are ten years past the movie “Sideways” and we can stop defending Merlot.  Ha! Ok, that was a fantasy.  I still find myself defending Merlot. Like this:  despite some serious bashing, Merlot has a lot going for it.  Merlot is loved for its supple texture and forward fruit characteristics.  Merlot is often thought of as just a blending partner for Cabernet Sauvignon, and indeed these two grapes are often combined in some of the world’s greatest red wines.  Merlot does just fine on its own, however, and those very qualities that make it a great blending partner also make it an ideal match for a wide variety of foods.

Typical Attributes of a Merlot-Based Wine:

  • Medium tannin as compared to many red grapes, due to the large size of the grape “berries”, giving it a higher juice-to-skin ratio than most red wines
  • Smooth, soft, and supple texture…many winemakers say it’s all about the texture when it comes to Merlot
  • Rich Red Color…often belying the smooth character or the wine
  • Moderate to lively acidity, fruit-forward flavors
  • Lighter than Syrah and heavier than Pinot, Merlot ranks just under Cabernet Sauvignon in the heft rankings.
Well, hello my little vixen. You try to look so tough and edgy, yet I know you are velvety smooth...

Well, hello my little vixen. You try to look so tough and edgy, yet I know you are velvety smooth…

Typical Aromas of a Merlot-Based Wine:

  • Fruity:  Grapes – Merlot is the one red wine that tastes like grapes:  Welch’s Grape Juice, Grape Jelly, Grape Jam; Blackberry, Boysenberry, Strawberry, Raspberry, Cranberry, Plum, Ripe Cherry, Currant, Fig, Prune
  • Floral:  Rose, Violet
  • Oak-Derived: Cedar, Cocoa, Cigar, Tobacco, Vanilla, Smoky
  • Herbal:  Mint, Bay Leaf
  • Spicy:  Cinnamon, Clove, Licorice, Coffee
  • Sometimes: Candied Fruit, Fruitcake, Sandalwood, Truffles, Tobacco

Where The Best Merlot is Grown:

  • The Bordeaux region of France, where it is a large part of the blend of most wines, and the predominant variety in the wines of the Right Bank
  • The Languedoc-Roussillon and throughout Southern France
  • Surprise, surprise…Merlot is the most widely planted red grape in all of France (who’s Merlot-bashing now?)
  • California, particularly the North Coast Regions
  • Washington State
  • Italy, especially Trentino-Alto Adige, Tuscany, Veneto, and Fruili
  • Australia, Chile, and Argentina
I'll have what she's having.

I’ll have what she’s having.

Food Affinities – Base Ingredients:

  • Beef, Veal, Venison, Pork
  • Lamb – Merlot does especially well with Lamb.  Everywhere that Mary went, Merlot was sure to go…
  • Duck, Turkey
  • Cheddar Cheeses
  • Blue Cheeses

Food Affinities – Bridge Ingredients:

  • Mushrooms, Onions, Garlic
  • White Beans – weird but really really true
  • Rosemary, Mint, other fresh and dried herbs
  • Walnuts, Pecans
  • Blackberries, Boysenberries (but be careful with the sweetness)
  • Tomatoes, Sun-dried Tomatoes
  • Eggplant, Fennel, Beets
  • Bacon, Pancetta
  • Dijon Mustard

Are you ready to stop bashing Merlot now?  Don’t make me get out the Petrus!

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

Wine Grape Cheat Sheets: Carmenère

CarmenereThe Soundbyte: Carmenère is often called “the lost grape of Bordeaux” and was part of the original Bordeaux blend.  However,in the 1880’s as phylloxera ravaged the vineyards of Europe and all the vines needed to be re-planted, Carmenère resisted grafting and was essentially lost. 

Many of the original vinifera vines planted in Chile were brought from Bordeaux during the mid-1800s, as phylloxera was ravaging the old world. Along with its better-known cousins such as Cabernet Sauvignon, Sauvignon Blanc, and Merlot, Carmenère arrived in Chile at the same time.

 Carmenère thrived in Chile, where it was often mistaken for Merlot in the vineyard. In fact, much of what was bottled as a particularly spicy style of Chilean “Merlot” before 1994 quite possibly contained quite a bit of Carmenère. The mystery was solved in 1994 when Professor John-Michel Boursiquot of the Montpellier School of Oenology noticed the distinctive character of Merlots from Chile and soon discovered that much of what was considered to be Chilean “Merlot” was actually Carmenère—and not a local clone of Merlot, as had been believed.

In the vineyard, Carmenère is often the last grape to be picked, and it requires a lengthy season to reach full maturity. Therefore, it is not well suited to Bordeaux, but in the right areas it can produce great wines. Chilean Carmenère is rich in color, redolent of red fruits, spice, and berries, and has softer tannins than Cabernet Sauvignon. Chile is currently the only country growing Carmenère on a wide basis. Many consider Carmenère to be the signature grape of Chile.

Typical Attributes of a Carmenère Based Wine:

  • Rich with dark fruit flavors of ripe berries and plum.
  • grilled steak for carmenre with tomatoesFirm structure, full body and heavy tannins; lush, velvety texture.
  • Deep, dark color.  This is a “big red wine”!
  • Carmenère is distinguished by fruitiness accompanied by the flavors of “spice and smoke”
  • Some experts think Carmenère is a long-established clone of Cabernet Sauvignon, and the grapes do share many qualities
  • Underripe Carmenère, or grapes from a cool growing season, can taste vegetative, like green bell peppers. Carmenère  takes longer to ripen than other red grapes, so be on the look-out for these flavors.

Typical Aromas of a Carmenère Based Wine:

  • Fruity: Blackberry, Blueberry, Raspberry, Currant, Dark Plum, Cherry
  • Spicy: Black Pepper, White Pepper, Dried Herb, Cinnamon, Anise, Vanilla, Licorice
  • Earthy:  Smoke, Wet Earth, Leather, Tobacco, Coffee
  • Oak-Derived:  Oak, Chocolate, Mocha, Cocoa
  • Vegetative:  Green Bell Pepper, Green Olive, Herbal, Lavender

Where The Best Carmenère is Grown:

  • Chile, where vintners have staked a claim on Carmenère as their “signature” grape variety. Chile is currently the only country that grows Carmenère on a widespread, commercial basis.
  • A few wineries in California and Washington State, where it is largely used in Meritage blends.  The Guenoc Winery in Lake Country brought the grape, which has to withstand a three-year quarantine before being planted, to the United States from Chile.
  • Italy’s Eastern Veneto and Friuli-Venezia Giulia regions, including the Piave DOC, which since 2009 have been allowed to produce a varietally-labeled Carmenère.
  • Bordeaux, France; where the grape is grown on a very limited basis, but is still considered part of the Bordeaux Blend. Grande Vidure is a historical synonym sometimes used in Bordeaux. Chateau Clerc Milon has the largest plantings of Carmenère in the region, but there are still less than ten acres in all of Bordeaux.

Grilled spicy steakFood Affinities – Base Ingredients:

  • Beef, Lamb, Veal, Venison, Pork
  • Poultry when prepared in a rich, hearty manner such as grilled, smoked, or braised…
  • Grilled Foods, Smoked Foods    

Food Affinities – Bridge Ingredients:

  • Garlic, Onions, Mushrooms
  • Walnuts, Pecans
  • Rosemary, Oregano, Basil, fresh Herbs of all kinds
  • Tomatoes, Sun-dried Tomatoes, Eggplant, Bell Peppers
  • Black Pepper, White Pepper, Green Peppercorns, Spicy flavors
  • Barbeque Flavors, Hearty, highly seasoned foods 

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

A New Branch of the Chianti Family Tree?

Tree Use for ChiantiNews Flash!

Last month (February 17, 2013 to be exact), the Chianti Classico Consorzio approved the creation of a new top-tier classification of Chianti Classico DOCG wines to be known as “Gran Selezione.”  The term is expected to be approved by the Ministry of Agriculture, and if so, will be a quality level “above” Chianti Classico Riserva. 

It is estimated that approximately 7% of the production of Chianti Classico will be eligible for the  designation.  The first wines eligible to display the term on their label will be those from the 2010 vintage.

If you’ve been following my study guide on the wines of the Veneto (or even if you’ve been following Italian wines at all) you know that Italian wines are already surrounded by a jungle of regulatory and legislative classifications.  Luckily, this in no way affects how delicious, delightful, and affordable they can be!

In the interest of “keeping it simple.” here is a quick look at how this new branch of the Chianti family tree fits in with its brothers and sisters:

Chianti Classico Gran Selezione DOCG:

  • Must be produced from 100% estate-grown fruit
  • Minimum 30 months of aging  
  • Is intended to acknowledge vineyard-specific wines
  • Will represent approximately 7% of the production of Chianti Classico

chianti classico gallo neroChianti Classico Riserva DOCG:

  • Minimum 24 months of aging
  • Minimum 12.5% abv

Chianti Classico DOCG:

  • Minimum 12 months of aging
  • Minimum 12% abv

All versions of Chianti Classico must be a minimum of 80% Sangiovese, produced from grapes grown within the 100-square miles of the designated Chianti Classico region.  Up to 10% Canaiolo may used, along with up to 15% other varieties, of which Cabernet Sauvignon, Syrah, and Merlot are often used.  Yields are limited to 3 tons per acre.

Sangiovese in TuscanyBy the way, not everyone is thrilled about this new development.  A quick websearch on “New Chianti Classification” revealed a wide range of opinions up to and including disgust(!), bewilderment(!), and we are not amused(!).  Of course, many people also think it is a great idea, intended to showcase and honor the highest level of production of the region.  We will be watching how this plays out in the future!

My Source (in Italian): http://www.aisitalia.it/chianti-classico-gran-selezione.aspx

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

If you think there is a Bubbly Professor Tuscany Quiz in your future…you are correct!

 

Wine Grape Cheat Sheets: Malbec

The Soundbyte:  One of Malbec’s earliest claims to fame is the spot it holds as one of the five grape varieties approved for making red wines in the Bordeaux region of France (six if you count Carmenère).  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. Recently, Malbec has found a new home and a new home in the high-altitude red wines of Argentina.  The best Malbecs can de described as mouthfilling, fruity, and sumptuous.  Worldwide, Malbec is planted in small amounts, buts 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, and when young, tannins are sometimes “tight.” Wines from warmer regions, or those made  using certain winemaking techniques (such as PFM) can have tannins that are “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 100% Malbec wines sometimes called “The Black Wine of Cahors”.
  • There is small amount grown in the Central Loire Valley
  • 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: Syrah

Syrah – The Soundbyte:

The Syrah grape, also known as the Shiraz grape,  is rumored to be a native of the city of Shiraz in Iran.  There’s a colorful legend about how it was brought from its Middle Eastern home to the south of France by a knight returning from the crusades, but it is also rumored to be native to the Rhône region itself.  Both tales make good wine stories.

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 Grenache and Mourvèdre in the south.  The grape has shown to be so ideally suited to life in Australia that it has become somewhat of an icon in Australian Wine.  In order to give the wine its own “down-under” identity apart from other producers, Australian Winemakers choose to call the grape by its (supposed) ancestral name, 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 other, 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 (sometimes called 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 has sometimes been called “plush ripey” and The Bubbly Professor just can’t resist that.
  • The Australians have also made a slightly sweet version of sparkling shiraz quite popular.
  • 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, where it shines! 
  • The South of France.  Syrah stars in the wines of the Rhône, as the dominant variety in the North (such as the famous wines of Hermitage and Côte Rôtie), and as part of a blend in the South (as in Châteauneuf-du-Pape and Côtes du Rhône). 
  • Syrah also does well in the Southern French regions of Provence and Languedoc-Roussillon.
  • South Africa, especially the warmer regions such as Paarl and Franscheok.  For a real treat, try a bottle of “The Chocolate Block” from Boekenhoutskloof Winery (extra credit if you can pronounce it).
  • California, especially Sonoma, Mendocino, Napa, and Santa Barbara.
  • Washington State, the new “hot” growing region for Syrah. 

 Food Affinities – Base Ingredients:

  • Beef, Lamb, Veal, Venison, Pork, Hard Cheeses

 Food Affinities – Bridge Ingredients:

Garlic, Onions, Mushrooms, Walnuts, Pecans, Rosemary, Thyme, Bay Leaf, Sage, Tomatoes, Eggplant, Fennel

Blackberries, Currants, Prunes (but go easy on the sweetness)

Green Peppercorns, Black Pepper, Coarse Grained Mustard, Chili Spices, Barbeque Flavors

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

 

Wine Grape Cheat Sheets: Zinfandel

Zinfandel – The Soundbyte:

Zinfandel is known as “California’s Mystery Grape” and its roots are somewhat in question.  An old-fashioned legend says that Zinfandel vines of the “vitis vinifera” species native to Europe were growing happily in California before European settlement of the New World.  This was fun to believe for a while, but today we have at least an inkling of what really happened.  Most likely, today’s Zinfandel traveled from Croatia to Vienna during the Habsburg Monarchy’s rule over Croatia.  Some cuttings ended up in the Imperial Nursery in Vienna, and from there were sent to a horticulturist in Long Island, who sent some vines out to Califoria, where Italian immigrants working the gold rush appreciated the grape’s sturdy, robust style and planted them with enthusiasm, only to abandon their vineyards when the gold rush fizzled out.  These vineyards, and their mystery grapes, were then rediscovered years later with the post-prohibition wave of California winemakers. Quite a story, right?

DNA fingerprinting has revealed that today’s Zinfandel is genetically equivalent to the Crljenak Kaštelanski grape of Croatia  and is most likley the parent of the rather well-known Croatian grape known as Plavac Mali, although some people declare that Plavac Mali and Zinfandel are the same grape.  Zinfandel is also well known for being either identical or very closely related to the Primitivo variety traditionally grown in Puglia. Perhaps now the honorary title of “California’s Mystery Grape” makes sense.  Wherever it came from and whatever you call it, Zinfandel has proved itself as a hardworking, heat-seeking, robust grape. 

 Typical Attributes of a Zinfandel Based Wine:

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

Typical Aromas of a Zinfandel-Based Wine:

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

Where The Best Zinfandel is Grown:

  • California, especially SonomaValley, Amador County, the Sierra Foothills, and Lodi. 
  • The south of Italy, where it goes by the name “Primitivo”.
  • Croatia, where it is sometimes called “plavac mali, ” although now it is assumed that plavac mali is a close relative of Zinfandel, but not exactly Zinfandel.  (See “the mystery”, above.)
  • The Texas High Plains AVA in Texas.  Dallas winemaker Benjamin Calais of Calais Winery has just released “Tailleur 2010”, a delicious 75% Zinfandel – 25% Sangiovese blend from 100% High Plains fruit.
  • While California remains  Zinfandel’s favorite adopted home, it is having some success in South Africa,  South America, and Australia.   

Food Affinities – Base Ingredients:

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

Food Affinities – Bridge Ingredients:

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