Many Choices Off the Vine
By Don Merlot
Junto Staff Writer
Nothing is more complex than being in a wine store or ordering a wine to match your meal in a restaurant and seeing that all the available wines have new faces and no one knows anything about them, but want to sell them to you anyway. Sure we know Bordeaux, clarets, and Burgundies -- white and red. Cabernet Sauvignon, Pinot Noir, Chardonnay, Pinot Grigio, and Sauvignon Blanc, and if they have a terroir and a birth right they are going to be expensive. You really do not have to know the terroir of all the wines, but you do have to know what you like and match those elements with the wines you buy or order.
Terroir means that wines will have comparable attributes that it acquires from the vineyard environment: the climate, the soil type, the elevation and the exposure to the sun. It is a positive word that defines the pedigree of the vineyard.
As already commented Viognier and Grenache have become respected in the last decade and have opened up great marriages between food and wine. We also know that France was the origin of these grapes and with the development of the new world these wines have picked up a strong following in Australia and California, the New World.
There are more choices you can find on a restaurant wine list or your favourite wine store that you can probe. The wine that has made a lot news in the New World is Zinfandel. Widely popular by the white Zinfandel aficionados, this wine was made famous and is grown in California. The red wine has an intense charm and ranges from light tannins to unbelievable richness and with age can be smooth and silky. Recently California oenologists have linked the Italian PRIMITIVO to the same DNA as Zinfandel. Italian restaurants will have a good selection of Italian wines and so will your chez des vin. In wine and food lore Italian wines can be a little intimidating.
So Italy gives us some Old World wines and traditional varietals as well as new wines and wines that we should explore if they fit into our wine template. The most famous new wines are the Super Tuscans. These wines are made against the tradition of the controlling wine boards (DOC) but over the last decade rival the Classified European reds and whites. Tuscan vintners blended varietals much as the method in Bordeaux -- until the vintner and the buyer were happy: Today the SAN-JO-VAY-zay and the Cabernet Sauvignon compete with the super red wine star contenders. Chianti already had "Riservas" (the vintners' best) and Sangiovese produced the great Brunello di Montalcino reds which is the name of Sangiovese in Montalcino. The area of Bolgheri spawns the new breed. Classic Chianti traditionalist experimented outside of the Italian wine rules of the DOC and these super Tuscans now contend against the great growths of Bordeaux.
A full bodied Italian wine that is emerging with gusto is the Valpolicella -- Ripasso (ree-PAH-soh) which is a process that is created by pouring Valpolicella over the pressed skins from the Amarone crushing of the grapes -- AMARONE (Ah-ma-ROH-nay) wines, which are historically one of Italy's best wines The AMARONE process is taking the ripest grapes from each bunch, and are spread over reed mats and are left to dry. They are fermented to dryness and produce a velvety and rich red wine. Wines are allowed to "raisinate," a process that produces higher alcohol and gives a slight sweet and nutty taste. Next time you plan an Italian feast, try it with veal osso buco.
Since the Super Tuscans do not follow the guidelines they market their wines as Vino di Tavola, table wine and cannot sell as the prestigious DOC, the governing board of the vintners' process.
Before we leave Italy, we should talk about the Italian wine lore and the flask, or fiasco. Why Chianti has straw bottoms and wrappings? As the story goes the glass flask were shipped filled with wine with rounded bottoms. Obviously the rolling around on far distance deliveries caused tremendous breakage. The faux pas was named after the bottle type in Italian as FIASCO. Straw wrapping was included in future shipments and the traditional Chianti bottle of straw was born.
The first heads up is on new red wine rules to try: the more tannin the more it has to age to get smoother for the drinker. So if you like full- bodied red wines make sure it has aged. Most wines are to be drunk when they are released. Cabernet Sauvignon, Burundian Pinot Noir and Zinfandel that are full body have tannin and will not be smooth until they are aged over time; the more tannin the more full body the wine. White young wine is crispy, tastes like green granny apples when young. Italy has a lot of wines to savor. As a rule, drink young white as it is released or up to four or five years. Serve chilled. (As opposed to red wine this should be served at room temperature, 74 degrees F.
In the past we have tasted MALBEC when it went to Argentina and married a Pampa fed rib eye; but we should taste the varietal that stayed in France. It still is used sparingly in Bordeaux for blending with Cabernet Sauvignon, but it also traveled down the road and has reached its greatest fame in CAHORS. It is known as ' Auxerrois' in this part of South West France and enjoys the Appellation Controlee (official Wine designation district). This wine goes with game and irresistible with mushrooms. Albeit, the French wines that succeeded in traveling to the new world have done well. Cabernet Sauvignon is excellent in California, Washington State and Australia. Pinot Noir in California along the pacific Coast in Napa and Sonoma and Oregon; those in New Zealand are now world renowned.
One unique French varietal that was taken to Chile got lost and was found in the last decade as the CARMENÈRE (Car-men-YARE). In the 20th century when the Chilean vineyards started to flex their muscles, the vigneron (French contributed to Chilean wine) who brought it to Chile and mixed it up with the Merlot from the right bank of Bordeaux (Pomerol and St. Emilion) . This orphan was treated as a blending varietal and not perfected until the 21st Century started. Today in Chile a steak house will match the Argentine parilla with the renaissance of the Carmenère.
The Spanish wines have enjoyed a tremendous growth of the Super Reds in the late 20th century. There are two varietals that have produced super stars: GARNACHA (gar-NAH-cha) , which is the same as our friend from the southern Rhone, GRENACHE (the wine historians believe that the origin,"Garnacha Tinta," is Spanish and is the most cultivated grape in Spain). Spanish regions that grow it are La Mancha, Rioja and Penedès. The PRIORATO/TARRAGONA (Pryaw-RAW-toh) is recognized DOC and uses the Garnacha. It is a medium bodied red wine
TEMPRANILLO (Tem-prah-NEE-yoh) which is as crucial to Spain as the Cabernet Sauvignon is to Médoc (Bordeaux) France is driving the Spanish red wine gusto.TEMPRANILLO is dominant in RIOJA and RIBERA DEL DUERO (ree-BEHR-ah Del DWAY-roh) which resemble the top ranked growths of Bordeaux. History tells us that Tempranillo's development in Rioja was because of Bordeaux vintners that were affected by the Phyllloxera (a blight that attacked the grapes on the vines and destroyed the vineyards) in the late 1800s. These can be full bodied wines with a lot of tannin.