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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 rankings-by-heft.
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 one of the few red vinifera wines 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 widely planted in Bordeaux in the years before phylloxera. 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 forgotten.

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—Merlot Chileno—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 Chilean Merlot and soon confirmed that much of what was considered to be Chilean “Merlot” was actually Carmenère.

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 many parts of 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. 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 have a vegetative “green bell pepper” aroma or flavor. 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
  • 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 had 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. Château Clerc Milon has the largest plantings of Carmenère in the region, but there are still less than ten acres in all of Bordeaux
  • China, which grows a great deal of Carmenère, often under the name Cabernet Gernischt

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

Wine Grape Cheat Sheets: Chardonnay

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

Typical Attributes of a Chardonnay-Based Wine:

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

Typical Aromas of a Chardonnay-Based Wine:

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

Chardonnay HarvestWhere Chardonnay is Grown:

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

Food Affinities – Base Ingredients:

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

 Roasted Chicken for ChardonnayFood Affinities – Bridge Ingredients:

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

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

WineGeo: Escarpment and Bench

Niagara on the lakeJust yesterday, following a lovely trip to Toronto and the Ontario Wine Country, I was doing a bit of research in order to write up a blog post about the four sub-appellations of the Niagara-on-the-Lake VQA.  For the record, they are:  Niagara River, Niagara Lakeshore, Four Mile Creek and St. David’s Bench. According to the website for the Wineries of Niagara-on-the-Lake, these four areas are differentiated by soil types, weather, elevation and proximity to “three unique geographical features: the Niagara Escarpment, Lake Ontario and the Niagara River.”

I have to stop right there and promise to write the blog post on the sub-appellations (they are quite lovely) at a later date, because I just realized that in that one short paragraph I spouted off two words that I have no earthly idea how to really define.  And you, dear wine student, if you honest with yourself, must admit that you have done the same thing; you use the words all the time (chatting about wine is so-much-fun) but can you tell me, in your own words, just what exactly is an “escarpment” and what, geologically speaking, is a “bench?” 

Well, neither could I. So, I did some early morning research and am going to try to define those geological terms in simple, regular person’s language, with just a teeny bit of wine geek thrown in.

Escarpment:  An escarpment is basically an area of the Earth where the elevation changes suddenly. An escarpment is often found along the ocean shore, such as the Devil’s Slide area of California Highway 1.  An escarpment can also refer to an area on dry land that separates two level land surfaces, such as Africa’s Great Rift Valley and the Niagara Escarpment (only a small portion of which hosts the famous falls.)

A tiny piece of the Niagara Escarpment

A tiny piece of the Niagara Escarpment

An escarpment usually indicates two different types of land, such as the area of a beach where tall cliffs surround a lower area of sand.  Escarpments between two areas of level land are usually composed of different types of rock or rocks from different geologic eras, one of which erodes much faster than the other. Escarpments can also be formed by seismic action; such as when a fault displaces the ground surface so that one side is higher than the other (scary).

Significant Wine-Related Escarpments include the Niagara Escarpment, the Côte d’Or, the Balcones Fault in Central Texas, and the Darling Scarp in Western Australia. The term “scarp” technically refers to just the the cliff-face of an escarpment, but the two terms are generally interchangable.

Bench: Admit it, you’ve talked in hushed tones about the amazing flavor of Cabernet Sauvignon from the Rutherford Bench….but do you know what is meant, geologically, by the term bench?  Neither did I.  Tchnically, a bench or a “benchland” is a long, narrow strip of relatively level land that is bounded by distinctly steeper slopes above and below it. Benches can be formed by many different geological processes, such as a river (as in a river’s flood plain, or an “abandoned” river bed), waves (if alongside an ocean), or the varying levels of erosion of different types of rock.

Cross Section of Different Types of "Bences"

Cross Section of Different Types of “Benches”

Thanks to Wikimedia Commons for the diagram of “Bench Structure.” The diagram shows the different ways benches can form, such as structural benches formed by the  erosion of shale beds overlying limestone beds and the more common “river terraces.”

The famous “Rutherford Bench” is a stretch of the Napa Valley, about three miles long, starting in Oakville and heading north to Rutherford.  The bench sits in the middle of the valley floor, surrounded on two sides by small hills. The famous soil of the Rutherford Bench consists of gravel, loam, and sand, much of which was deposited there by earlier advances and retreats of San Pablo Bay.

The term “bench” appears in the discussion of wine regions (though not necessarily AVAs or appellations) frequently:  the Rutherford Bench and the Oakville Bench were both at one time or another considered for AVAs of their own, but to date have not been designated as such. There are however, five “official” wine regions that I could find that use the term:  Kelsey Bench-Lake County AVA, and four VQAs in Ontario: Short Hills Bench, St. David’s Bench, Beamsville Bench, and Twenty-Mile Bench.

References/for more information:

Deconstructing Llicorella

PrioratThis morning I set about to research the wine region of Priorat for a blog post.  I already knew the basics of the region, such as the fact that it is one of Spain’s two DOCa wines, the main grape variety is Garnacha Tinta, and the area came to international attention in the 1990s.

Wikipedia (I know, not the best reference but in this case, just a starting point) also had this to say, “The area is characterized by its unique terroir of black slate and quartz soil known locally as Llicorella.” I already knew that the soil in Priorat is mainly Llicorella…at least I knew the word, and could have guessed it correctly on a multiple choice test.  But being in a Monday sort of contemplative mood, I wondered if I really understood Llicorella.  Of course, I didn’t. So I set about to deconstruct Llicorella.

First of all…just what exactly is slate? Slate is a fine-grained, foliated, homogeneous metamorphic rock derived from sedimentary rock composed of clay or volcanic ash. It is the finest grained foliated metamorphic rock.

Slate...a Metamorphic Rock

Slate…a Metamorphic Rock

Metamorphic Rock? Metamorphic rocks are created from the transformation of existing rock types.  Metamorphism means “change in form.” Rocks under the earth’s surface change form by being subjected to heat, generally temperatures from 300° – 400°F, which can cause both physical and chemical changes in the rock itself.

Sedimentary Rock? Sedimentary rocks are formed by the solution of mineral and organic particles within bodies of water. Sedimentation is the name for several different processes that cause mineral particles and organic particles to settle and accumulate first into a dissolved solution and later into sediment.  Sediment is then transported to dry land by water, wind, or glaciers, or is left behind when the bodies of water dry up.  With time, the slushy sediment hardens into rock. Sandstone is probably the most well-known sedimentary rock.

Clay? Clay is a very fine-grained soil type made up of very fine minerals such as aluminium phyllosilicates, iron, magnesium, and a bunch of other chemicals I have never heard of. The minerals that make up clay soil are the result of weathering…the breakdown of rocks, soils, and minerals through contact with air, water, and living creatures.

Licorella

Llicorella

Volcanic Ash? Volcanic ash is made up of pieces of pulverized rock, minerals, and volcanic glass that are created during volcanic eruptions. Pieces of ash must be less than 2 mm in diameter – larger fragments are referred to as cinders or blocks. At least this one I can understand!

Foliated? There are two types of metamorphic rocks:  foliated rocks and non-foliated rocks.  Foliated metamorphic rocks, such as schist and slate, have a “layered” appearance that has been produced by exposure to heat and directed pressure.  Non-foliated metamorphic rocks such as marble and quartz do not have the “layered” appearance.

And what is quartz? Quartz is the second most abundant mineral in the Earth’s continental crust, after feldspar. There are many different varieties of quartz, several of which are semi-precious gemstones. Quartz is the most common element of sand and sandstone and is used in glassmaking.  Quartz is almost immune to weathering and is a component of granite and other igneous rocks.

Aha- that’s why sand is coarse (quartz doesn’t “weather”) and clay is fine (its made up of materials that do weather or “breakdown”).

I think I’ll stop there. But for those of you who are curious, igneous rocks are rocks that are formed by the cooling and solidification of lava or magma. Granite and obsidian are igneous rocks.

So now, when someone says, “Llicorella is a unique soil made up of black slate and quartz,” what do you know?

Vineyard in PrioratSources (in addition to http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Priorat_(DOQ)):

http://geology.com/

http://www.quartzpage.de/index.html

http://www.mineralszone.com/

http://www.turismepriorat.org/en

http://www.in-spain.info/top20/spanish-white-wine-priorat.htm

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!

 

How to Pass the CSW: How Well do You Know France?

map france citiesI love maps, because they make me dream of travel!  Someone once said “maps are the foreplay to travel.”  I don’t know where I heard that, so I can’t credit the source, but it’s a great line and I wish I had said it first!

Being a wine person, maps also make me dream of wine – or have nightmares about the study of wine.

I think we would all agree that understanding a region’s geography sets the groundwork for really understanding their wines. Note that I said “really understanding” and not just memorizing lists of rivers, towns, and grapes.  If you are a regular reader of The Bubbly Professor you know that in my classes, I try to  emphasize learning – emphasizing understanding, context, and meaning – as opposed to just “memorizing factoids” or “trying to pass a test.”

In an attempt to help those of you who are studying – and hopefully, really learning – about wine for the CSW Exam or other wine certification, I’ve put together a fun (?) map exercise for France.  I’ll give you a blank map and you get to fill in the rest!

If you take some time to do this exercise, trust me, doing some research and referencing a good map will go a long way to your understanding of the geography of France.  However, the act of actually drawing in the towns, rivers, mountain ranges and wine regions on the map takes this activity from passive learning (looking at someone else’s work) to active (drawing it yourself) and turns it into a “whole brain learning” experience.  Trust me, this exercise will increase your retention and understanding of the geography of France, laying the groundwork for understanding the geography of the wines produced there. Note that I did not say it would be fast or easy, but I guarantee it will be a worthwhile way to spend an evening.  (Perhaps a good swap for a night of watching re-runs of Mad Men???)

BeaujolaisIf you dare, click here to download the So You Think You Know France Exercise.  Enjoy the study session, and let’s see just how much we know – or have yet to learn – about the geography of France!

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

Bubbly Disclaimer:  This is my own personal advice and should not be considered as “official” advice from any school or organization. I hope the materials here on The Bubbly Prof help you out with your wine studies, and that you are successful in your certification endeavors.  Cheers!

Wine Grape Cheat Sheets: Grenache

grenacheThe Soundbyte:  Grenache (technically Grenache Noir) might just be the most popular “wing man” in the world of wine.  By that I mean that while Grenache is certainly capable of starring in varietal wines, it is one of the world’s most popular partners in a red wine blend.

In Spain, Grenache is often blended with Tempranillo, Cinsault, and a host of other grapes.  Grenache is one of the three amigos (Grenache-Syrah- Mourvèdre) of the Rhône Blend (otherwise known as G-S-M), while also playing a part in some of the more complex (ie., 13-grapes-or-even-more) wines of the Rhône.   Grenache is also made into dessert and fortified wines, and makes a world-class rosé.

Typical Attributes of a Grenache-based Wine:

  • A typical varietal wine made with Grenache might be described as soft on the palate, relatively high in alcohol and with aromas of spice and berries.
  • The texture of Grenache has been described as “rustic” or “fleshy”.
  • The grape tends to be thin-skinned and low in both color and tannin, however, these factors can vary depending on vineyard conditions and winemaking; some Grenache packs a powerful tannic punch.
  • In addition to varietals, Grenache is used in fortified wines, dessert wines, and delightful rosés; but its most common incarnation is as the backbone of hearty red blends.

Typical Aromas of a Grenache Based Wine:

grenache grapesFruity:  Blackberry, Blueberry, Strawberry, Cranberry, Currant, Cherry, Raisin, Plum

Spicy:  Black Pepper, Menthol, Licorice

Earthy:  Wet Earth, Leather, Forest Floor, Bramble, Tobacco, Smoke, Leather

Floral:  Roses, Dried Rose Petals, Violet

Oak-Derived:  Chocolate, Mocha, Cocoa, Vanilla, Sweet Wood

Where The Best Grenache is Grown:

  • In France’s Rhône Valley, especially the Southern Rhône, where it is the super star grape of Châteauneuf-du-Pape , Gigondas, and Rasteau. Typically, it plays a leading role in the blended red wines of the Southern Rhône.
  • The grape is part of the blend that is used to produce many delightful rosés throughout the Southern Rhône, including Lirac and Tavel.
  • Also in France, Grenache is grown in Provence, Rouissillon, Languedoc, Minervois, Fitou, and Corbières. It is also the leading variety of certain fortified wines in produced in Banyuls and Maury.
  • In Spain, where it is among the most widely planted red grapes in the country, the grape is called “Garnacha”.  Garnacha is main variety in Pirorat and Campo de Borja; and plays a role in the wines of Rioja, Navarra,  Somontano, Catalonia, and La Mancha.
  • Australia, where it makes some awesome varietals, including my favorite, d’Arenberg’s McLaren Vale “The Custodian” Grenache.
  • California, where it has historically been grown in San Joaquin Valley and is now produced in many other regions such as Santa Barbara and Paso Robles.
  • Washington State is also getting into Grenache.
  • Several regions throughout the south of Italy, particularly Sardinia, where it stars in the wine known as Cannonau di Sardegna.

grenache foodFood Affinities – Base Ingredients:

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

Food Affinities – Bridge Ingredients:

  • Simple, rustic dishes, Grilled Foods
  • Tomatoes, Sun-dried Tomatoes, Tomato Sauces
  • Onions, Garlic, Mushrooms, Eggplant, Fennel, Roasted Bell Peppers
  • Green Olives, Black Olives, Capers, Green Peppercorns, Black Pepper
  • Rosemary, Thyme, Bay Leaf

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

 

Wine Grape Cheat Sheets: Sémillon

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

Typical Attributes of a Sémillon Based Wine:

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

semillon bottlesTypical Aromas of a Semillon Based Wine:

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

Spicy:  Saffron, Vanilla, Dried Herb

Vegetal:  Green Grass, Asparagus, Bell Pepper 

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

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

Where The Best Sémillon is Grown:

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

semillonFood Affinities – Base Ingredients:

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

Food Affinities – Bridge Ingredients:

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

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

If your Sémillon is botrytis-affected, it will go well with sweet dishes made with honey, cream, apricots, apples, and pears—in addition to pairing beautifully with savory dishes such as blue cheese and foie gras! 

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

missjane@prodigy.net