Wednesday, October 12, 2005

On Zinfandel Rosé

Catie over at the Through The Grape Vine blog recently wrote a post on Zinfandel, its presence (or rather lack thereof) in Washington, and the "white zin" phenomenon. (Catie if you're reading this, I wanted to send this personally via email, but couldn't find any contact information!)

The post nails the "white zin" terminology right on the head: Sutter Home created the name as a marketing device and it worked wonders (as can be evidenced by the fact that anybody is even having this conversation). "White" Zinfandel wine is just rosé. It doesn't sit on the grape skins more than a handful of hours so it doesn't turn completely red.

While I agree whole heartedly with her on the marketzoid misnomers, there are some truly fantastic rosés made from Zinfandel. The first one that comes to mind is the one from Lucas Winery ( Their rosé is made from Zinfandel and has fantastic, surprising fruit. Its apple-like bite (malic acid, perhaps?) is characteristic of the outstanding Chardonnays that Lucas produces. Pedroncelli also makes a wonderful rosé with Zinfandel grapes.

Of course, as I write this, I'm thinking of shuffling off to open a Bandol rosé.

Please keep up the good blogging, Catie.

Wine: Cavatappi Sangiovese

If soup is anything in America, it is the food of fall. Spring pea soups and late summer tomato consommés are wonderful; real honest stews are something else altogether. In Oaxaca (pronounced “wah-ha-ka”), a state in Mexico, soups are serious business. They are traditionally served as meals in themselves. As fine as vichyssoise can be, a hearty, spicy posole is to soup what a great grizzly bear is to the forest.

It’s fall in Seattle and so we must make posole. It will be evening, and so we must have wine. Pairing spicy food with wine generally reminds us of white wines, but what few deciduous trees we have here are losing their leaves and so the wine that we must drink must be red.

Sangiovese can and does pair well with a hearty, spicy soup. The one good Washington Sangiovese I know of is the Cavatappi Sangiovese from Peter’s Cellars. The bouquet is musty, earthy, and even a bit like wet wood; that is to say, it is a delightful fall wine. No light fruits are prancing around here. It has a pleasing finish and beautiful ruby color. It can be had for about ten bucks.

The author Zarela Martinez says that a Oaxacan market is the highest glory of a land where food can express dignity, generosity, and grace. Wine, food, and fall may be able to bring a little bit of that out in all of us.

Value: 4.0
Color & Clarity: 3.5
Bouquet: 3.5
Flavor: 3.0

Sunday, October 09, 2005

Wine as Fuel (Literally)

The New York Times has a story about winemakers in France distilling their wines to get ethanol, which is eventually sold to refineries to be turned into gasoline. "It's like going to a funeral," one winemaker is quoted as saying. While using wine product for something other than wine when it's more profitable to do so is nothing new, it's a bit sad to see it happening in the traditional heart of the wine world.

Saturday, October 08, 2005

Wine: Dehasa Gago 2003

Just a little bit of purple in this very accessible Spanish red – color? Let’s talk about color first.

In the early 20th century the chemist R.M. Willstätter found that most fruits which are noticeably red or purple have pigment made of cyanidine-based compounds. Bear with me: I promise this isn’t too painful (and therefore not too accurate, either). Cyanidine, a kind of anthocyanin (if you care at all), changes color depending upon the pH of the solution it’s in. Very roughly, the more acidic the solution, the more cyanidine appears to be red; the less acidic, the more it appears to be purple. (The pH of a liquid doesn’t exactly correlate to the acidity, but let’s just pretend it does for now.)

Those cyanidine compounds are in the skin of the grape; though you are not drinking the skins, you are in fact drinking things pulled from the skins into the wine (this is where most of the flavor comes from, in fact). The wine’s pH will have an impact on the color because of this, but it’s not the only thing influencing color.

As most of us know, wines change color with age. One big reason is that the compounds mentioned above slowly join up with other fellows and turn into that flaky stuff you see at the bottom of old bottles. The color gets less intense over time. Whites tend to brown a bit, becoming more straw or hay colored. Reds on the other hand get a more subtle gradient from an almost orange to a brick color; some look tawny. Old reds will tend not to be purple.

Back to the wine at hand. The Dehesa Gago (“g” according to the label and the designated shorthand) from famed Spanish winemaker Telmo Rodriguez is an impressive eight dollar wine made from Tempranillo. Just after being opened, it’s as cranky as most wines a year old, but given a little bit of air it opens up just fine. The oak works well: it isn’t overbearing but it gives it nice palatability (read as: there is a light vanilla in here). Its most notable qualities are the cherry scent and its chewy mouthfeel. Oh yeah, and it’s a dark red with some purple around the rim.

Value: 4.0
Color & Clarity: 3.0
Bouquet: 3.0
Flavor: 3.5

Friday, August 19, 2005

Wine: Coeur d’Alene Cellars Viognier

Apparently Viognier does not read this blog. Not that it should, necessarily, but seriously, the Coeur d'Alene Cellars approach in 2003 was exactly what I was complaining about: the "Idaho wine" (quotes due to the fact that its grapes come from the state of Washington) is a no-holds-barred, fully mechanized cream assault. Folks talked of apricots as they do on their website, but frankly I was underwhelmed with the overly vegetative smell.

Yikes. A friend paid too much for it at a vegetarian restaurant which will go unnamed (oops); the restaurant described it as spicy and pointed out with glee that it must be unfiltered because it's so cloudy. Sorry, it's not just unfiltered: it's flawed.

Which gets me thinking about wine contests in general. What does it mean for an Idaho wine, made entirely from Washington's grapes, that can dismay me so much to win a gold prize in an Idaho contest? (Lest you think I am making too much of the state distinction, these grapes are travelling around 200 miles on average.) Perhaps it's best not to think of things about which you have nothing nice to say.

But maybe this blog has earned at least the right to complain a little bit; there isn't too much negative here. Wine contests are bizarre and especially confusing for the average consumer in part because of their large catalog of categories. For example, one such contest has six (6) categories for varying levels of residual sugar; if you don't like dry or cloyingly sweet wines and a particular wine hoists a gold medal, what does that mean, exactly? I have yet to see a wine bottle explain exactly what it won, and in which category. I especially get a kick out of the fact that most competitions are done with more than one judge; an average of varying tastes doesn't tell you much apart from an indication that a wine may not be grotesquely flawed in its hilariously obscure category. (It doesn't always bother me to be a kettle calling the pot black.)

And there's another thing, too, that's hard: picking on someone just becase you don't like their style. But hey, I don't. (Only a wine so overly oaked can force me to use the word 'but' as a sentence starter so often. My grade school English teachers, wrong though they were on this particular topic, would beat me with a stick.) I fail to see how a casual wine drinker could find a difference between this ~$20 Viognier and a cheap, overoaked Chardonnay.

Value: 0.5
Color & Clarity: 1.0
Bouquet: 2.0
Flavor: 1.0

Friday, August 12, 2005

Wine: Hendry Ranch Zinfandel

Zinfandel, I apologize. I've been saying for so long that the tendancy toward high alcohol in your wines is starting to annoy me, but recently I've been proven wrong. Constantino's "The Zin" is a hugely alcoholic yet wonderful wine, and after tasting Hendry Ranch's 2001 Zinfandel, I'm convinced that something can really work even when you're approaching 16% alcohol by volume.

Packed with blackberry and cassis notes and blooming with the pleasant scent of great foods on the grill (charcoal, barely a hint of vinegar, and game), the Hendry is a fine example of a wine that can taste wonderful without being overwhelming even while it is turning you into a tipsy fool with only a large glass or two. Deep rich color makes this a Zinfandel worth gazing upon (which works quite well, since it pays off if you take your time with this one).

Last night, I shared another Nero D'Avola and I must admit that while I enjoyed it I was thinking back to the Hendry. The Zinfandel was well-matched with a grilled beef tenderloin (which, strangely enough, we grilled as we ate our homemade tuna tartare).

Value: 2.5
Color & Clarity: 3.5
Bouquet: 3.5
Flavor: 3.5
Everything that is new or uncommon raises a pleasure in the imagination, because it fills the soul with an agreeable surprise, gratifies its curiosity, and gives it an idea of which it was not before possessed.
~Joseph Addison

Monday, August 08, 2005

Wine: Château Moulin de Bel Air

Flavor, sometimes, lies in wait; it peeks around the corner and casts a shadow into the hallway so that we know it's there yet still too shy to come into the room. We can smell its perfume, but just barely. Stuck with idle conversation and tepid wine, we must wait until the decanting has drawn our friend out to us. Occasionally it isn't until we've forgotten about the event that great flavor finally joins us.

Château Moulin de Bel Air, a blend of Merlot and Cabernet Sauvignon (70/30), is an affordable wine that greatly benefits from an hour or two of decanting. At first taste, it had a slightly offensive vegetable quality to its bouquet and a short, fiesty finish. Scents of leather were present, but not much else.

A few hours later, having forgotten about the wine in the decanter, I revisited it and was more than pleasantly surprised: it had truly bloomed into a fine example of a Medoc wine. With its finish lengthened and softened, it was certainly more welcoming than before. The bouquet exposed pleasant hints of cedar and dark fruit. A great 15$ match for a lamb dish or perhaps a relaxed, outdoor BBQ.

Value: 3.0
Color & Clarity: 2.5
Bouquet: 3.5
Flavor: 3.0

Tuesday, July 26, 2005

Wine: Domaine André Vatan Sancerre

Love is not
enough. We die and are put into the earth forever.
We should insist while there is still time. We must
eat through the wildness of her sweet body already
in our bed to reach the body within that body.
~ Jack Gilbert
Jack Gilbert, the poet who fled from the fame flung in heaps at Beat poets like Ginsberg, composed his poetry out of not only images of the Americas and its people but of old Europe as well (as discussed elegantly by Meghan O'Rourke of Slate). His best work is unclouded & clean, relevant and accessible.

Domaine André Vatan Sancerre could be described in a similar way: perfectly clear in color and clean on the palette, while partically typical Sancerre it is also very reasonably priced. It's a well balanced, dry-tasting wine with a light citrus and honey bouquet. A perfect lunch wine (12.5% alcohol), it went down well with a salad made with a preserved lemon viniagrette.

Value: 3.0
Color & Clarity: 3.5
Bouquet: 3.5
Flavor: 3.0