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Friday, 25 August 2017 01:43

Que Syrah, Shiraz

Old world and new world choices from around the world.

Shiraz and Syrah

Syrah is my favorite grape and one that I want to share. The best way to do that is to take you on a quick journey around the world exploring the many different ways the grape is used in wine. We’ll focus on France and Australia, the biggest producers and best examples of Old World and New World versions of the wine.

 

Some Background

Due to climate, soil, natural influences, viticulture practices and winemaking style, syrah, like many other grapes, can produce notably different wines when grown in different countries or regions—another reason for our world tour.

Yet, there are important similarities among syrah grapes and wines despite the conditions for production. For example, one grape-growing nugget is “Syrah likes a view.” That’s because syrah grapes grow best planted at the top of hills where there’s less soil, yielding fewer grapes but with more concentrated flavor.

Deeper in color than most other grapes, syrah has small, thick-skinned, dark, almost black berries. In fact, when held up to the light, it’s hard to see through the wine. Syrah is also notable for high anti¬oxidant levels, dark fruit flavors, medium+ tannins and a front-loaded blast of flavor that tapers off to a spicy, pep¬pery finish. With bottle aging, notes of leather and truffle develop. Most syrah can age for five to ten years, though some well-made examples will easily age for two decades.

Syrah grapes are made into many different types of wine in addition to its namesake, including blends, rosés, fortified wines and sparkling wines.

 

Old World Overview

In general, Old World syrah from France, Spain and Italy has higher acidity and tannin levels (producing a mouth-drying feel) and more earthy, herbaceous, smoky and savory notes. These wines tend to be lower in alcohol and more elegant in style.

I would pair these styles with roasted or braised chicken, veal and beef, stews and cassoulet. Try using roasted peppers or herbs de Provence with your dishes. Hummus, olive tapenade and harder, earthier cheeses, such as Gouda and smoked Gruyère, work well with the flavors in the wine.

In Italy, you can find single-varietal examples of syrah with berry and olive notes from Cortona DOC and Syrah Tarantino IGT (DOC and IGT are regional designations with quality standards) as well as blends with sangiovese and cabernet sauvignon from Tuscany and with Nero d’Avola from Sicily. In Spain, syrah is often blended with tempranillo, garnacha or monastrell into juicy wines.

But the real Old World star of syrah is France, where over half the syrah grapes are grown.

 

Syrahs from France

Syrah is grown throughout the Rhône valley in southeast France, where it has grown since at least Roman times. In the southern Rhône valley, syrah is a key ingredient in two different regional blends with grenache, syrah and mourvèdre, the inexpensive and easy-drinking Côtes-du-Rhône wines, and the powerful and pres¬tigious Châteauneuf-du-Pape wines. The crus of Lirac, Vinsobres, Rasteau, Gigondas and Vacqueyras produce excellent blended wines from syrah that are fun to explore, too.

In the northern part of the Rhône valley, syrah is grown on steep terraces along the Rhône River and is used to make serious, single-varietal wines that are the ultimate Old World expression of the grape. Good examples can easily age for as long as a Bordeaux. The wines made there vary greatly due to differences in soil type, quality, slope, climate, sunlight and elevation, but all are elegant and very complex with sun-ripened black fruit flavors and distinctive olive and black pepper notes.

Wines from Côte-Rôtie, the “roasted slope” in the far north of the Rhône valley, are richly fruity and perfumed due to the intense sun the grapes receive on the steep, southeast-facing vineyards. An even more perfumed character can result from adding up to 5% viognier in the blend.

Farther south, in Saint-Joseph, the vineyards are east-oriented, resulting in less sunshine and ripening of the grapes. These wines are lighter and faster maturing.

In Hermitage the slopes are south-facing, and the heat-retaining granite soils help encourage ripening. The source of some of the highest priced syrahs, Hermitage wines are very dark and tannic with structure, minerality and superb concentration of flavors, including blackberry bramble and smoked meat.

Crozes-Hermitage, encompassing the vineyards surrounding Her¬mitage, is the largest appellation in northern Rhône, producing wines that are softer than those from Hermitage, due to richer soils, and have lots of spice. Nearby Cornas has south-facing vineyards on granite soils and produces elegant, near-black, tannic wines that challenge Hermitage in intensity.

 

New World Wines

In contrast, New World syrah from Australia, New Zealand, the United States, South America and South Africa tends to be char¬acterized by jammier fruit and more spice, licorice, chocolate and black pepper notes. These wines are usually higher in alcohol, more fruit-forward, and less tannic.

I pair these styles with smoked sausage, barbecue ribs, grilled steaks, hamburgers or game meats. Marinate meats with anise and clove to bring out those spices, or add caramelized onions to accent the bold, sweet notes in the wine. Softer, stinkier cheeses—such as Abbaye de Belloc, Port Salut and blue cheeses—combat tannins and match the bold flavors of the wine.

 

Syrah Becomes Shiraz

Syrah is Australia’s most planted grape variety, and Australia is the second largest producer behind France. Here the bottles are labeled shiraz (think pinot gris and pinot grigio), further delineating the differ¬ence in style.

These New World wines are rich and potent with distinct dark choc¬olate notes in addition to black pepper, spice and eucalyptus. The majority of shiraz production is in the state of South Australia, which produces most of the country’s wine and has some of its oldest vines, untouched by the phylloxera out¬break that affected vineyards in most of the world. The hot and dry climate produces fully ripe grapes and dense, bold wines.

The Barossa Valley is considered king for excellent Australian shiraz, though McLaren Vale produces fantastic, powerful examples as well. In the cooler regions, such as Hunter Valley and Margaret River, shiraz is made into medium-body, earthy and still age-worthy wines that lean more towards black pepper.

Shiraz is also frequently blended in a Côtes-du-Rhône style with grenache and mourvèdre—for what are known colloquially as GSM blends of the three grapes—or with cabernet sauvignon. Recently, some producers, following in the footsteps of their Côte- Rôtie counterparts, have been adding up to 4% viognier to their shiraz wines to add apricot notes and a brighter, more floral finish.

 

Other Sources

In addition to the two major sources, New Zealand produces wonderfully con­centrated single-varietal and Bordeaux-style blends with rich fruit that balances the tan­nins. In the United States, in warm regions like Napa, the grape is often blended with cabernet sauvignon, merlot or Rhône varieties, while in mountainous or cooler regions, like Washington, powerful varietal wines are produced.

South American syrah is very bold and fruity with riper black cherry and blue­berry fruit and is sometimes blended with cabernet sauvignon or petit verdot. In South Africa, where the wine is also gener­ally known as shiraz, the grape produces smooth, ripe, fruity wines with spicy flavors and oaky notes of vanilla and cinnamon.

Syrah is also grown in Switzerland, Portugal, Morocco, Bulgaria and Turkey, although wines from these countries are harder to find in stores. But do keep an eye out for these unique wines!

With your newfound knowledge of syrah styles, impress your friends by hosting a syrah tasting! Find examples from as many regions as you can, contrasting Old World and New World wines. See how many dif­ferences you can discern, and find a favorite.

I hope you fall in love with this bold, fun and versatile grape, too!

 

Kayleigh Thompson has worked in the wine industry for over seven years and has earned the Certified Specialist of Wine certifica­tion from the Society of Wine Educators. She works as a Wine Specialist at the Fine Wine & Good Spirits Premium Collection store in King of Prussia, on DeKalb Pike. More at FineWineAnd­GoodSpirits.com.

Published in Food
Monday, 27 February 2017 05:48

Spirited Red Wines

Red wine and bourbon barrels—the makings of a beautiful relationship

 

Image of red wines of various types, which are mentioned in the article.You’re likely aware that the popularity of whiskey in general and bourbon in particular has grown drastically in recent years. We’ve also seen a trend among experimental distillers and brewers of aging their products in unusual vessels to add new flavors and additional complexity to your drink options.

Some Scotch is aged in sauterne, port and sherry barrels, for example. Similarly, certain beers are aged in all sorts of different whiskey barrels. And recently, Jefferson’s Reserve bourbon was aged in cabernet sauvignon barrels from Napa Valley’s Groth Vineyard, after, of course, the required aging for all bourbon in new oak barrels.

Though winemakers tend to adhere more closely to tradition than do distillers or brewers—in part because of stricter laws—we’re finally beginning to see some innovative winemakers navigate uncharted waters. A few winemakers are creating wines that are aged in whiskey casks. That’s right—you can drink bourbon barrel-aged wines!

Wine purists may shake their heads. But don’t knock these delicious wines until you try them. To be clear: this innovation is done by aging the wine in whiskey barrels, not by adding bourbon to wines. And contrary to the fears of some skeptics, the resulting wines do not taste like whiskey bombs.

Intrigued, yet unsure if I’d like these new concoctions, I decided to give them a try. What follows are my tasting notes from four different options found at Fine Wine & Good Spirits stores and sampled side by side with a few friends. Note: These whiskey barrel-aged wines are still relatively rare. But since oak barrels are expensive, perhaps the recycling trend will grow.

Gentleman’s Collection Red Blend Batch No. 2, California 2014 ($16.99), produced by Lindeman’s, is a modern red blend aimed at men. Dr. Henry J. Lindeman started making wine in 1843 in Australia, a hard-drinking colony that he hoped to spur into more gentlemanly pursuits.

The Gentleman’s Collection wines are a line from California that features old-fashioned labels with a mustached man and “guides to chivalry and integrity.” For example, “Rule No. 2: Forgo Frills” is the advice on the red blend bottle.

A mix of shiraz, grenache and cabernet sauvignon aged in bourbon barrels, this red blend boasts dark fruit flavors with caramel, charred oak and sweet bourbon notes on the finish.

From the tasting, I found it heavy, lush, dark and smooth, with a delicious, long-lasting finish of sweet oak and caramel plus a hint of bourbon. Despite its relatively low 13.9% alcohol by volume (ABV), this wine came across as very heavy, but still very consumer-friendly. It has a slightly sweeter finish than many of the other wines we tried.

Gentleman’s Collection would be a nice match with baked beans, chorizo, antipasto or meatloaf.

A new venture from Fetzer Vineyards and winemaker Bob Blue, 1000 Stories Bourbon Barrel Aged Zinfandel, California 2014 ($19.99) is made from zinfandel with a bit of syrah and petite sirah aged for six months in French and American oak. After that, the wine is aged further in new and used bourbon barrels, which impart characteristics of charred vanilla, dried herbs and a hint of caramel. It’s made in small lots, to borrow some bourbon terminology.

Though the alcohol is high at 15.5% ABV, this wine is surprisingly the lightest and most fruit-forward of the group, with notes of cherry and raspberry dominating the palate. I could recognize the bourbon-barrel influence—with subtle hints of caramel and charred oak—but the finish was much more subtle than for the Gentleman’s Collection Red Blend.

Kayleigh Thompson, a Fine Wine & Good Spirits specialist, holds bottle of wine at store.I love a tasty zinfandel, and this was good with a little sweet, smoky twist, one that makes it an even better pairing for grilled burgers, pizza and barbeque pork.

The third selection, Southern Belle Red Murcia 2013 ($18.99), is certainly an experiment that paid off. Winemaker Dan Phillips created this blend of monastrell and syrah from southern Spain and aged it in Pappy Van Winkle Bourbon barrels.

The barrel choice was an idea he had after a conversation with his friend Julian Van Winkle about trading barrels. For non-bourbon drinkers: Pappy Van Winkle is a world-renowned and hard-to-get bourbon. The infusion from the barrel aging adds a complex elegance to the already refined, garnet-colored wine.

This wine comes across as the most serious offering—with notes of black currant, tar, charred oak and violets. Austere, with great structure, complexity and depth of flavor, Southern Belle is distinctly Old World in style. It drinks like a Rioja or a Barolo with a bit of bourbon tang. The noticeable hint of alcohol on the finish was surprising, as this wine is lower in alcohol, at 14.5%.

Pair it with stuffed peppers, grilled lamb chops or Manchego cheese.

Lastly, Robert Mondavi Private Select Bourbon Barrel Aged Cabernet Sauvignon Monterey 2014 ($14.99) is a limited release wine made from 85% cabernet sauvignon, 10% malbec and 5% petit verdot grapes grown in coastal Monterey County vineyards. It’s aged for 10 months in traditional wine barrels, then aged for another three months in new and used charred Kentucky bourbon barrels to add complexity and toasty flavors of brown sugar, smoke and vanilla to the rich black cherry and blackberry profile.

The Robert Mondavi wine was the favorite of most of my friends, as it did the best at balancing all the different flavor components of the previous wines. It was smooth but bold, full-bodied and had delicious flavors of blueberry, smoky oak and caramel, plus a velvety mocha finish with a bit of bourbon flair. Again, the wine with (relatively) lower alcohol content, at 14.5%, had a more noticeable flourish of bourbon.

Try this wine with bourbon glazed ribs, hearty pasta dishes, grilled steaks or charcuterie.

Now go get your hands on some bourbon barrel-aged wines, get some friends together and hold a tasting for yourself!

Cheers!

 

Kayleigh Thompson has worked in the wine industry for over six years and has earned the Certified Specialist of Wine certification from the Society of Wine Educators. She works as a Wine Specialist at the Fine Wine & Good Spirits Premium Collection store in King of Prussia, on DeKalb Pike. Learn more at FineWineAndGoodSpirits.com.

Published in Food
Thursday, 01 December 2016 05:07

Make a Gift of Wine

Inspiration for gifting the right wines.

 

Make wine a gift - graphic with wine bottlesA major challenge in navigating the holidays is choosing just the right gift for each person on your list. For grown-ups, wine is a great and personalized choice that just about everyone can appreciate. But with so many different styles and vintages, how do you know what to buy? And for the kids on your list … you need to find another source for advice!

Here are some recommendations to give you ideas and inspiration for what to buy this season. And here’s hoping this makes your trip to your local wine store a little easier and more enjoyable.

Most wine drinkers—especially experimental millennials—like a variety of types of wine, so the options are great. Since reds and fortified wines are generally best suited for the colder months, why not start there?

Doña Paula Estate Black Edition Red Blend Lujan de Cuyo 2013 (90 points James Suckling*, $14.99), from a sub-region of Mendoza in Argentina, combines the appeal of malbec and red blends—both very hot right now. A heavy, dark blend of 60% malbec, 37% cabernet sauvignon and 3% petit verdot, this wine will please California cabernet lovers, malbec enthusiasts and Bordeaux fans alike with aromas and flavors of herbs, plum, spices, blueberries and red pepper. These flavors are complemented by silky tannins and a long finish.

For the wine connoisseur or collector on your list, you may want something truly special. Joseph Phelps Vineyard Insignia Napa Valley 2013 (100 points Wine Advocate, $219.99) marks the 40th vintage of this world-renowned Napa Valley red Bordeaux blend. In my opinion, it may be the best in recent years, though the 2011 and 2012 that are still in stores are stunning as well.

The 2013 Insignia is a blend of 88% cabernet sauvignon, 5% petit verdot, 3% merlot, 3% malbec and 1% cabernet franc aged for 24 months in 100% new oak barrels. A deep, inky purple, this wine expresses aromas of blackberry, plum, flowers and espresso. Rich, concentrated flavors of dark fruit, vanilla bean, black pepper and chocolate combine with elegant tannins and well-integrated wood for a powerful experience. For optimal drinking, wait at least five to six years for the tannins to open up more fully. This beauty should continue to age well for up to 30 to 40 years.

Of course, many people prefer whites and drink them year round. The most popular white varietal is chardonnay and it’s an easy go-to if you’re not sure what style a person prefers.

Aged in 45% new French oak, 45% second-use French oak, and 10% stainless steel, Duckhorn Vineyards Chardonnay Napa Valley 2013 (90 points Wine Enthusiast, $31.99) is classic California style, done very elegantly. This wine has aromas of ripe peach, melon and lime with a hint of vanilla and pecan pie dough. On the palate, this wine is medium-bodied and complex, with well-balanced acidity and flavors of apple, pear, lemon and sweet oak leading to a silky, long finish.

Another fantastic choice for white wine lovers is a sauvignon blanc. Greywacke Sauvignon Blanc Marlborough 2015 (91 points Wine Enthusiast, $21.99) is a newer endeavor by Kevin Judd, the founder and winemaker behind Cloudy Bay. He allowed a portion of the juice  for this wine to undergo spontaneous natural yeast fermentation, which adds complexity. Aromas of ripe pear, peach, apple, passion fruit and lemon jump out of the glass, with subtle notes of jasmine following. The palate is silky with intense flavors of fresh grass, stone fruits, melons and oranges.

For those who love sweeter wines, pick up Adesso Cagnina di Romagna Dolce 2015 ($9.99). This great-value red wine is made from 100% Refosco from Le Rocche Malatestiane, by a wine cooperative with 990 vine-growing members in Italy’s Emilia-Romagna region, south of Venice. Adesso is a low-alcohol, medium-bodied red with flavors of raspberry, cherry and spice that’s easy to drink, with medium sweetness.

Whether you need a bottle for ringing in the New Year, toasting an engagement, celebrating a family gathering, or just mixing a mimosa at brunch, some occasions simply demand sparkling wine.

Made from pinot noir grapes from ten grand cru villages in Montagne de Reims and Côte de Bouzy, Laurent-Perrier Brut Rosé NV (92 points Wine Spectator, $79.99) is a beautiful, elegant Champagne. The gorgeous salmon color comes from the red grape skins staying in contact with the juice for three days before fermentation. The wine has an expressive bouquet of orange, raspberry, ginger, flowers and stone. The palate is dry, creamy and well-balanced, with fine bubbles and peach, almond, red raspberry, white pepper, chalk and baked bread flavors. It ends with a long, crisp, floral finish. This Champagne is delicious with a variety of hors d’oeuvres.

 For sparkling cocktails or toasts with large groups, you don’t need to spend a fortune. Cava is a great choice because it’s delicious and inexpensive, plus the bubbles stand up well to mixing!

Biutiful Cava Brut Nature NV (88 points Wine Enthusiast,  $11.99) is a lively blend of 80% macabeo and 20% chardonnay from north-facing vineyards in Requena, Spain. Aged in the bottle for 15 months on the yeast cells, it has citrus and green apple aromas with a hint of celery and toast. On the palate, the wine is full and citrusy with bright tangerine, grapefruit and lime flavors and a long, crisp finish.

And if you are still not sure what to buy, stop by your local wine store and ask to speak to the wine specialist. There are so many more choices to match with every person on your holiday list.

Happy Holidays and cheers!

 

Kayleigh Thompson has worked in the wine industry for over six years and has earned the Certified Specialist of Wine certification from the Society of Wine Educators. She works as a Wine Specialist at the Fine Wine & Good Spirits Premium Collection store in King of Prussia, now at its new location on DeKalb Pike. Learn more at FineWineAndGoodSpirits.com.

Published in Food
Sunday, 28 August 2016 00:10

Extending the Rosé Season

With a range of tastes and colors, it’s not just for summer anymore.

 

Bottles of Rose WineIf you’ve visited a wine store recently, you may have noticed something new. Did you spot the prominent displays of rosé wines? “Well, of course,” you may think, “Rosés are the wines of summer!”

It’s time to retire that cliché. Dry rosé wines—not to be confused with sweeter blush or white zinfandels or the Mateus and Lancers wines from the last century—have experienced a huge burst in popularity in recent years, much as moscato wines did a few years back. And the trend shows no signs of slowing.

In 2015 rosé sales grew 31.8%, and sales of rosés over $11 a bottle went up almost 60%! More diverse styles of rosés are being sold, too—light, heavy and everything in between, in a range of colors from melon, peach, red currant and grapefruit to mango and Mandarin orange—plus rosés from lesser-known winemaking countries like Lebanon and Turkey. While you’ll find Provence remains a source for quality rosés—sold in the characteristic corset-shaped bottles—do try rosados from Spain and Portugal and rosatos from Italy.

As interest increases in these delicious, dry, but often fruit-forward wines, the drinking season is extending as well.

Many people, especially millennials, are now drinking rosés year-round. The French buy more rosé than white wine, and men have so confidently embraced these pink wines that the term brosé has been coined.

And with good reason! No other wines are as versatile as rosés, which can be made from virtually any grape. Food pairings are almost unlimited. And because they are best drunk young and are under-appreciated in the U.S., rosés are definitely a bargain to be had.

With the approach of cooler weather in mind, I’ve selected a variety of rosés to try, ranging from lighter- to darker-hued wines. You’ll see there’s a match here for every palate. Another surprise? These wines are interesting enough to be enjoyed by themselves.

So grab a bottle, chill it (like white wine), and savor these great rosés now and well after summer is a warm memory.

 

Lighter-hued Rosé

Although darker-hued rosés go well with heavy autumn and winter foods, sometimes you want something a little lighter.

Commanderie de la Bargemone Rosé Coteaux d’Aix en Provence 2015 ($14.99; 91 points from Wine Enthusiast), is a fantastic example of the classic light, dry, mineral rosés of Provence, a wine region on the southwest coast of France, along the Mediterranean. Bargemone, one of the foremost estates of the Coteaux d’Aix sub-region of Provence, was created by the Knights Templar in the 13th century and now boasts over 160 acres of vines. This highly rated salmon-colored wine, made from a blend of sustainably grown cabernet sauvignon, grenache rouge, syrah and cinsault from 25+ year-old vines, is brisk and structured with zesty acidity, flavors of watermelon rind, orange blossom, white peach, wildflowers and wet stone. Enjoy this year-round with roasted turkey, hard cheeses and dishes with fresh herbs.

 

Medium-hued Rosé

Pink Pégau Rosé France 2015 ($15.99) is a delicious dark pink rosé crafted from 70% cinsault, 20% grenache rouge and 10% clairette grapes, by Laurence Féraud of Domaine du Pegau, an estate less than four miles from the famed Châteauneuf-du-Pape wine region. The vines, averaging 35–60 years in age, are planted in stony clay soils with the signature round river rocks that characterize Châteauneuf-du-Pape. Bone-dry on the palate, the wine offers aromas of berries, peach and white flowers, with bright acidity, minerality and a spicy finish. Pour it when you grill sausages or fish with lemon and capers or try it with Indian curries.

Santi Infinito Bardolino Chiaretto 2015 ($11.99) is an Italian blend of 65% corvina, 30% rondinella and 5% molinara grapes from selected parcels in the acclaimed communes of bardolino and cavaion near Lake Garda in northern Italy. This wine has a deep salmon color with fragrant aromas of cherry, black currant and grape with a savory but fruity palate. Pair it with antipasto, hearty fish stews and roasted white meats.

 

Darker-hued Rosé

A translucent cherry-colored rosé of pinot noir from Oregon, Adelsheim Rosé Willamette Valley 2015 ($19.99) exhibits aromas of raspberries, rose petals and apricot, which lead to ripe red fruit flavors. Its richly textured palate results from 16% of the wine fermenting in old neutral French oak barrels. Try it with ham, bouillabaisse, goat cheese and grilled shrimp.

For a great dark rosé, try Yorkville Vin D’Une Nuit Rosé Mendocino 2015 ($15.99). D’une nuit translates loosely to “one night stand,” so named because the dark Malbec grape skins remained soaking with the pre-fermented juice for just a few hours, giving the wine a translucent purple-red color. Made with organic grapes from the estate’s Rennie Vineyard in the Yorkville Highlands sub-region of Mendocino, this wine’s darker color corresponds with its deeper flavors of plum, tea and rhubarb with aromas of roses, rosemary and strawberry. Enjoy this juicy, medium-bodied wine with spaghetti carbonara, Greek salad, falafel, aged Gouda, enchiladas with chilis and creamy cheeses.

 

Kayleigh Thompson - Society of Wine EducatorsSweet Pink Wine

For the wine drinkers with a sweet tooth out there, I’ll share my favorite sweet pink wine. Alasia Brachetto d’Acqui 2014 ($11.99) is a delightfully spritzy, strawberry-colored wine with aromas of raspberry sorbet and fresh roses and flavors of strawberry, raspberry and a hint of white pepper. The brachetto grape, with its fizziness and sweet honeysuckle and fruit flavors, is comparable in taste to Moscato d’Asti wines but richer and with more berry notes. This unique dessert wine pairs excellently with decadent chocolate and berry-centric desserts, especially chocolate-covered strawberries. Or for something unexpected, try it with a spicy Chinese dish.

No matter the season, raise a glass of rosé—or rosé Champagne, but that’s another story. Happy sipping! 

Kayleigh Thompson has worked in the wine industry for over six years and has earned the Certified Specialist of Wine certification from the Society of Wine Educators. She works as a Wine Specialist at the Fine Wine & Good Spirits Premium Collection store in King of Prussia, now at its new location on DeKalb Pike. Learn more at FineWineAndGoodSpirits.com.

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Published in Food
Thursday, 30 June 2016 02:12

Award-Winning Whites

Grapes hanging on a vine


Award-winning Pennsylvania wines?

Yes, the Brandywine Valley is home to an increasing number of great wines, thanks to our special micro-climate ideal for grape growing. A few to try.

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Published in Food
Thursday, 30 June 2016 02:06

Summer Sippers

Summer is coming! The weather’s warm, the days are long, and it’s a perfect time to break out the whites.

 

Summer WinesWhen you’re looking for a quality, reasonably priced choice, you can’t go wrong with a New Zealand sauvignon blanc—or savvy, as it’s often called there. Best drunk young, these wines—known for their high acidity and citrus, tropical fruit and herbal flavors—are among the most vibrant and intensely flavored versions of sauvignon blanc found in the world.

Originating in the Bordeaux region of France, these grapes are also widely grown in Chile, South Africa, Australia and California (where they’re sometimes sold as fume blanc). And, final background note: when crossed with cabernet franc, they created the big, bold red—cabernet sauvignon.

Personally, I think the immense popularity of the New Zealand style of sauvignon blanc is due to its straightforward, more attention-grabbing flavors than those shown by the other two popular varietals, chardonnay and pinot grigio. And, the high acidity levels that lend the wine its trademark zestiness also make it a refreshing and pleasurable sipping experience that lingers in the mouth and the memory. It’s so food-friendly, it’s even a good choice with sushi.

Some of the best of the best are from Marlborough, on the northwest coast of the Southern Island, with the perfect synergy of climate and soil to create wines that are crisp, elegant and fresh. And if you like those, I’ve got a few more taste treats to try.

 

First Stop, Marlborough

You may want to start your sampling with Cloudy Bay Sauvignon Blanc Marlborough 2014 (93 points and #21 of Top 100 for 2015 Wine Spectator, $26.99), one of the definitive examples of bright, elegant and generous New Zealand sauvignon blancs. With aromas of lime and grapefruit and flavors of citrus, stone, lemongrass, ginger and honeysuckle, this wine sings with fresh acidity and complexity. Try it with Thai-style chicken salad, grilled asparagus and lamb with salsa verde.

White peach, celery, melon, mango and zesty citrus aromas announce Spy Valley Sauvignon Blanc Marlborough 2014 (89 points Wine Spectator, $17.99) in the glass. On the palate, tropical fruit and melon flavors accompany a silky texture and a crisp, herbal finish. It’s even better when accompanied with goat cheese, salmon with dill, or green curry dishes.

For pleasure on a budget, Mount Fishtail Sauvignon Blanc Marlborough 2014 ($12.99) bursts with vibrant grapefruit, lime, green apple and fresh-cut grass flavors and aromas. Kick up your feet and sip this wine by itself or accompanied by Caprese salads, mango, papaya and dishes accented with fresh herbs and citrus.

 

Branching Out

Even if you love the zesty flavors of New Zealand sauvignon blancs, there may come a time when you feel ready to branch out and try something new. But it can be tricky to pick a new varietal of wine if you haven’t tried it. Tasting notes help, but it can still be hard to imagine the taste of the untested wine.

Well, I’m here to save you some uncertainty by suggesting a few delicious selections with similar characteristics to a great sauvignon blanc! Here are five styles from around the world that delight the palate with the same verve as a young sauvignon blanc.

Verdejo. Verdejo (ver-DAY-ho), a grape variety from Rueda in Spain is bursting with citrus and herbaceous notes, and is the Spanish equivalent of sauvignon blanc. Sip Bodegas Naia Rueda Verdejo 2014 ($14.99), a wine with the distinctive character of limes, kiwi, grass and nuts with a long, dry finish. This wine shines with green freshness and goes well with vinaigrettes, nuts, olives and seafood paella.

Grüner Veltliner. Found most commonly in Austria, Grüner Veltliner (GREW-ner VELT-lee-ner)—or Gru-Ve (groovy) as it’s been cutely nicknamed—displays green apple, lime, mineral and white pepper notes, with stunning acidity. Try Laurenz V and Sophie Singing Grüner Veltliner Niederösterreich 2013 (89 points Wine Enthusiast, $17.99) with clean citrus and pear aromas, a juicy palate, and typical peppery spiciness. It’s a great match with grilled artichokes, veal and clams.

Picpoul de Pinet. Meaning lip stinger, Picpoul de Pinet (peek-pool) is a crisp white known for its tangy quality and good value. This wine is most commonly seen from Pinet, on the Mediterranean coast of Southern France, but it’s also one of Châteauneuf-du-Pape’s 13 allowed grapes. Pick up a bottle of Domaine Font Mars Picpoul de Pinet 2014 ($12.99) a light, electric wine with flavors of grapefruit, lime, green apple and apricot. You’ll love it with salmon, swordfish and oysters.

Vermentino. Planted mainly on the Mediterranean island of Sardinia, Vermentino (ver-men-TEEN-oh) is a high-acid wine with lovely citrus aromas that serves as a great sauvignon blanc substitute. Both food-friendly and crowd-pleasing, Argiolas Costamolino Vermentino 2014 (89 points Vinous, $14.99) shows soft aromas of citrus, stone fruits and honey, with zippy acidity and flavors of pineapple, papaya, flint and moss. Pair with pasta primavera and shrimp cocktail.

Torrontés. With notes of roses, jasmine, honeysuckle and tropical fruits, Torrontés (tor-ron-TESS) is a very aromatic and floral varietal native to Argentina. Kaiken Terroir Series Torrontés Salta 2014 (91 points James Suckling, $16.99) jumps out of the glass with intense aromas of roses, peaches, rosemary, orange peel and minerals. This well-balanced, lively wine with a lingering finish is the perfect front-porch sipper! It also pairs perfectly with summer squash and Thai and Indian dishes.

Whether you stick with the delicious, tried-and-true New Zealand sauvignon blancs or experiment with another of these satisfying sippers, I hope you find time this summer to kick back, open a bottle and enjoy!

 

Kayleigh Thompson, Fine Wine & Good Spirits

Kayleigh Thompson has worked in the wine industry for over six years and has earned the Certified Specialist of Wine certification from the Society of Wine Educators. She currently works as a Wine Specialist at the Fine Wine & Good Spirits Premium Collection store in King of Prussia. Learn more at FineWineAndGoodSpirits.com

Published in Food
Sunday, 28 February 2016 03:39

Try the Table Wines of Portugal

It’s time to discover these under-appreciated wines.

 

Portal - Portugal WineWhen someone mentions Portuguese wine, what comes to mind? If you’re like most people, you think of fortified Port or that bubbly sipper, Vinho Verde. These are certainly the best known.

But there are some delicious table wines from Portugal that you may not have tried … yet.

 

Grape Varieties

Like neighboring Spain, Portugal is blanketed with vineyards. Over 350 types of grape are grown there, including many rare, ancient varieties likely brought to Portugal by the Phoenicians. Portugal’s isolation behind Spain has given its wines a unique profile. While other countries planted French varieties, Portugal stuck with its indigenous grapes, some of which are gaining well-deserved popularity.

Touriga Nacional emerged as the flagship red variety, producing complex, structured wines with black fruit flavors, and often used as the lead variety in blends. Also noteworthy, Tinta Roriz (aka Tempranillo) is popular with table wine makers for its red fruit, olive and herbal notes.

 

Table Wines

Some of the most underrated, good-value, dry table wines from Europe are Portuguese. Most are blends of indigenous varieties, and the best are bold, rustic, plummy reds, though good whites are also available.

Although great table wines are made almost everywhere in Portugal, those from the Douro and Dão regions are more often found in the U.S. and provide a great introduction.

 

DuoRosaTastes of Douro

The area of Douro was first identified as an exceptional wine-producing region in 1756. While originally famous for Port, the region was considered by experts to be the best for table wines. Here, the vines struggle to survive in the extremely hot summers and cold winters. The hillsides can be so steep and rocky that dynamite is needed to clear narrow terraces for vineyard rows.

The principal red grapes used are many of the same varieties traditionally used in Port: Touriga Nacional, Touriga Franca, Tinta Barroca, Tinta da Barca, Tinta Roriz and Tinto Cão. Douro reds range from light and fruit-forward to supple, spicy wines full of dense plum and black raspberry notes.

For a taste of all that Douro offers, try Quinta do Portal Grande Reserva Douro 2007 (94 points Wine Advocate, $29.99) a blend of Touriga Nacional, Tinta Roriz and Touriga Franca, an aromatic red with berry, cedar and graphite flavors that’s velvety but muscular, with a firm structure. Pair with hard cheeses or game meats if you’re feeling adventurous!

For a splurge, pick up Prats and Symington Chryseia Douro 2012 (95 points Wine Enthusiast, $69.99), a blend of Touriga Nacional and Touriga Franca, aged 15 months in new French oak. With rich dark fruits, minerality, smooth tannins and graceful acidity, this wine drinks like a good Bordeaux and is delicious with veal or steak.

For a great value from a winemaker who aims to compete with the French greats, try Cedro do Noval Red Duriense 2010 (87 points Wine Spectator, $12.99) a lush blend of Syrah with Touriga Nacional, Tintao Cão, Touriga Franca and Tinta Roriz. With notes of coffee, olive and dried berries, it’s perfect with stews, goat cheese or brie.

The Douro’s white table wines are not as well known. But with full-bodied blends of Viosinho, Rabigato, Côdega de Larinho and the traditional white Port grapes, Malvasia Fina and Gouveio, they deserve attention.

You’ll enjoy Quinta de la Rosa Douro DouROSA White 2012 ($14.99), a blend of Côdega de Larinho, Rabigato and small amounts of Gouveio and Malvasia Fina, all from high-altitude vineyards, which bring out stunning acidity. This expressive white has rich citrus flavors with noticeable minerality—a delicious complement to grilled fish and chicken.

 

Proeza Dao WhiteTastes of Dão

Another of Portugal’s promising regions for table wines, Dão lies about 30 miles south of the Douro River. Enclosed on three sides by mountains, the region is sheltered from the humidity and cold of the Atlantic, giving it a Mediterranean climate. About 80 percent of Dão’s wine production is red, principally from Touriga Nacional, Tinta Roriz, Alfrocheiro Preto and Jaén grapes producing juicy, friendly wines.

From the Fine Wine & Good Spirits Winemaker’s Selection, Pedra Cancela Seleção do Enologo Red Dão 2010 (92 points Wine Enthusiast, $9.99) is a tasty medium-bodied blend of Touriga Nacional, Tinta Roriz and Alfrocheiro Preto with a hint of oak. This affordable red has cherry, berry and subtle mint flavors—an excellent match with pizza and takeout.

For something heavier—say with ribs and burgers—try Quinta de Lemos Dona Santana Dão 2009 (91 points Wine Enthusiast, $14.99). A blend of Touriga Nacional, Tinta Roriz, Jaén and Alfrocheiro Preto, aged 18 months in French oak, this is rich, fruity and complex with black fruit notes, sweet spice and perfumed character.

For Dão’s whites, the leading grape is Encruzado, yielding full-bodied wines. Bical grapes, noted for acidity, are also widely grown, as are the white Port varieties.

To sample a representative Dão white, try Proeza Dão White 2014 ($10.99), a blend of Encruzado, Malvasia Fina and Fernão Pires, with pear and mineral aromas and crispness perfect for shellfish and salads.

   

Now that the weather’s warming up, get out of hibernation and enjoy some of the tasty wines described here. I think you, too, will become fans of Portugal’s table wines.

 

Kayleigh Thompson has worked in the wine industry for over six years and has earned the Certified Specialist of Wine certification from the Society of Wine Educators. She currently works as a Wine Specialist at the Fine Wine & Good Spirits Premium Collection store in King of Prussia. Learn more at  FineWineAndGoodSpirits.com.

Published in Food
Sunday, 29 November 2015 00:42

Winter is Coming

And so is the time for buying wine as gifts

“Everything’s better with some wine in the belly.” ~ Tyrion Lannister

Responsibly, I may add to Tyrion’s quote about his favorite pastime. With the brisk breezes and the long, stark (pun definitely intended) days comes an opportunity to hunker down and catch-up on or rewatch episodes of Game of Thrones.

When I first watched GOT, I regularly mixed up character names, household affiliation and allegiances … which was exactly what I experienced when I began being a wine fan. Monastrell? Tannins? Pinot is red and white? I felt as lost as a wildling in King’s Landing. A little time and focus cured that.

On Sunday nights, Game of Thrones and wine became a household tradition as I realized how much wine and GOT had in common. Both are entrenched in history, place and, most important, character. I soon found myself pairing wines with certain personalities in the show.

Artesana 2013 Tannat-MerlotI’m certain fellow wine fanatics who overheard me at the Philadelphia Wine Festival grumbling about how a particular cabernet sauvignon was so Ser Meryn most likely thought I was two sheets to the winds of winter. But to me, it made sense.

And so, let’s make our voyage across Westeros and through my winter wine recommendations, suitable both for giving as gifts and enjoying at home during the holidays.

Like the 2012 Macho Man Monastrell ($16.99), Sandor Clegane (aka The Hound) is as macho as they come. This wine wraps its full-bodied tannins across the palate like The Hound’s thick steel armor. Through the tannins and grit, however, comes the heart of the wine that’s much more refined, with dark fruit and dried herb flavors. This brooding wine, that pairs well with hearty and meaty stews, is one The Hound would have approved as his last wish … or might he have more wishes? All I know is that producer Casa Rojo has a Hound-sized hit with this brute.

Bold, sassy and upfront, the 2013 Chronic Cellars Suite Petite ($14.99) is my petite sirah wine interpretation of Daenerys Targaryen. Suite Petite breaks the chains off the scintillating dark fruit and trounces your palate with it. Featuring a pepper-laden finish, it screams for some dragon-charred lamb. If you can’t summons a dragon to char your fare, cook up some burgers or venison.

The 2012 Frank Family Cabernet Sauvignon ($44.99) sourced from Napa Valley is as calculated and silky smooth as Lord Varys. This opulent, friendly cabernet is beautiful to drink now, with some slight decanting. Its rich cassis and plum-like elegance is showcased on the palate. Don’t let this wine escape you like Varys did King’s Landing. Serve it with filet mignon on your holiday spread and feast like a king!

Perhaps no character in Game of Thrones was (hopefully is!) as bold as Jon Snow. The fan favorite was brave, steadfast and believed in what he was doing. This perfectly sums up the 2012 Chateau Maris’s Les Anciens Carignan ($24.99). Chateau Maris is one of my favorite wineries because of its Jon-Snow-like authenticity and hand-tended, beautiful, 90-plus-year-old Languedoc Carignan vines. This is an unpretentious wine with serious, Valyrian-steel-like piercing dark fruit flavors with a nod to mocha. Pierce open a bottle and enjoy with grilled sausage or brisket.

Underappreciated or just plain unknown, Uruguay is quickly becoming the next player on the wine scene in South America. Artesana’s 2013 Tannat-Merlot ($15.99) blend is a steady, fearless wine whose character is close to that of Daario Naharis, Dany’s enforcer and lover. With its medium to heavy body and supple tannins that work in perfect accord with its acidity, this wine smooth talks like Daario. Cook up a little Beef Bourguignon and indulge in the delightful Artesana, a true winter classic.

Roger Groult Cavados ReserveDeceiving! The word that best describes Petyr Baelish, as you never quite know what to expect of Littlefinger. Like Lord Baelish, you may have a notion of what sauvignon blanc brings to the table—young juice, freshness and zippy acidity. Well, the sauvignon blanc-based Ashbourne Sandstone White ($19.99) is anything but traditional. This 2008 vintage is meshed with small percentages of chardonnay and sémillon, resulting in a full-bodied effort that showcases honey notes, dried stone fruits and bracing minerality. Some may be put off by an older white wine, but, much like Littlefinger, there’s truly more than meets the eye with Sandstone. Capture this wine exclusively in the Fine Wine & Good Spirits Wine Club and pair with crab cakes or any other shellfish.

Finally, while not a wine, the Roger Groult Calvados Reserve ($42.99) is just the right elixir to take the edge off the winter chill. A limited-release and Premium Spirits exclusive, this is relatively young, aged just three years in oak, but has the complexity of an older style Calvados. Young, complex and snappy could describe this aperitif, or Arya Stark. Both show many faces and styles, but the core attributes are rooted in their history. Like Arya, Calvados develops certain intricacies with age and experience. Made from 100% Northern France apples, from sweet to bitter, this libation is a quality way to introduce your palate to Calvados.

Winter may be coming, but you needn’t be unprepared. Grab the perfect bottle for someone on your gift list or enjoy it yourself as you tune in for more Game of Thrones. Brace for winter and enjoy responsibly!

 

Hailing from upstate New York, Dustin Best has spent 10 years working in the wine industry, enjoying a great deal of time exploring New York’s Finger Lakes region and appreciating the beauty of wine. Dustin currently works as the Wine Club Manager for Fine Wine & Good Spirits. More at FineWinesAndGoodSpirits.com.

Published in Food
Saturday, 31 October 2015 17:01

Thanksgiving Wine Pairings

Thanksgiving Wine Pairings

 

Pair Like a Pro

 

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Published in Featured
Tuesday, 01 September 2015 10:23

Discover Spanish Reds

And you’ll discover a wide range of tastes and great values.

 

Rioja Spanish WineWhen you see the word Rioja related to wine, what do you think? Is it a varietal? A place? A style? Seriously, what is Rioja and what are those multi-colored seals all about?

While technically not a varietal, Rioja is known for the red varietal Tempranillo, a grape indigenous to Spain. Tempranillo is typically the kingpin varietal in most red Rioja wines with others—Graciano, Mazuelo (or Carignan in France) and Garnacha—all playing lesser roles. Wines of Rioja may also be white or rosé and sourced from Viura (or Macebo), Malvasia, Garnacha Blanca and Verdejo, to name a few.

More than you wanted to know?

 

The Basics

Let’s try this. Rioja is a region in north-central Spain where roughly 150,700 acres (or 75 square miles, if that helps) are vine-laden with red and white wine varieties. It’s about the same size as Delaware, yet has 150 wineries drawing from 14,000 vineyards.

Flowing throughout the region, the Ebro River has a significant impact on the terroir, along with the Sierra de Cantabria mountain range to the northwest and more mountain ranges to the south. The Ebro River and mountains account for significant differences in climate throughout the region, ranging from humid continental, Mediterranean climate and an ocean climate. These climatic differences create the differences in Rioja throughout its sub-regions. Fun fact: another river, the Oja, or Rio Oja, is thought to have inspired the name.

Between the varietals and the terroir, Rioja offers a range of styles to suit all palates. These are big wines, with the structure and tannins of a cabernet, yet a fruitiness of a pinot and a hint of vanilla.

Any discussion of Rioja wines must explain how the Control Board of Rioja places a seal (Trustseals, metallic-looking strips depicting parts of the logo and the word “Rioja”) on the back of the wine bottle—essentially a four-color-coded style guide—guaranteeing the authenticity, vintage and aging of the wines. This system controls the quantity of wine produced and more important its quality—similar to the Burgundy Cru classification system.

 

Rioja Spanish WineRioja: Green Seal

Let’s take a look at the details of these Rioja Trustseals. Quick rule of thumb: the higher the level, the more time in oak barrels, the higher quality—and, not surprisingly, the higher the price. Knowing more about the labeling will help you select the style you prefer and want for a specific occasion.

As usual, I’ve included a few personal recommendations!

Formerly known as vin joven (meaning young wine), the green-sealed Rioja wines are released within their first or second year of vintage. These wines are more the Fresh Prince of Rioja than the mature, sophisticated stylings of Philip Banksian Gran Reservas described later. Young Riojas shine the spotlight on the brighter fruit flavors of Tempranillo wines without all the tannin (or richness) of the other classifications.

With a medium body, these wines are perfect for casual, stand-alone sipping at a value price point of $9-12. Try the Montebuena Rioja 2012 at a Carlton-dance-inducing $9.99.

 

Crianza: Pink Seal

The deep pink-sealed Crianza is perhaps the most common Rioja designation and most widely available in the U.S. Generally featuring more tannin than the young Riojas, these wines must spend at least one year in oak and one year in bottle. (Whites must spend only six months in oak.)

Stylistically, these wines are still very approachable and offer up a touch more spice and depth than their young Rioja counterparts. Some say they have more body than a merlot, and offer the pleasures of a great value in a cabernet sauvignon.

Coming in at 80 percent Tempranillo and 20 percent Graciano, the Bodegas Ondalán Crianza Rioja 2011 offers up black fruits, vanilla and anise at $15.99.

 

Reserva: Maroon Seal

For Rioja wines, the word Reserva actually has true meaning! To be granted the maroon-colored seal, the wine must be aged a minimum of three years, one of which must be in oak. For most Reserva-level wines, the winemaker goes beyond the minimum one year in oak and is more selective in choosing the grapes used. This results in wines showcasing darker fruits and being a bit more rustic—less fruity than the Crianza while less oakey than the Gran Reserva.

Priced at $24.99, give Cune Rioja Reserva 2009 a swirl. After you decant this beauty, the opening on this wine features ripe black fruits and hints of smoke and leather, with tannins that ride out to a savory finish.

 

Gran Reserva: Blue Seal

Finally, Gran Reserva is The Godfather of Rioja wines. Aged at least two years in oak and three years in the bottle for reds (four years total for whites), these are serious wines! Wines with this blue seal are not usually released within 10 years of their vintage and have remarkable aging potential—up to 30 years! Don’t go searching for bright fruits on these serious customers. They’re loaded with flavors of ether, tobacco and dried fruits.

Case in point, the Faustino Rioja Gran Reserva 2001, at $31.99, has almost 13 years between grape harvesting and hitting the shelves. A wine you can’t refuse!

 

Dustin BsetAs I hope you can see, Rioja wines have so much to offer in terms of value, quality and selection. In fact, Wine Spectator’s 2013 “wine of the year” was a Rioja that can be found for only $63 a bottle. Less well known than wines from Bordeaux or Burgundy, Riojas can deliver taste, quality and value. And while these wines go with a wide variety of food, they shine when paired with savory flavors of meats and strong cheeses.

I implore you to get a group of friends together, pitch in and sample the full range of Rioja wines from young to Gran Reserva. Find your style!

 

Hailing from upstate New York, Dustin Best has spent 10 years working in the wine industry, enjoying a great deal of time exploring New York’s Finger Lakes region and appreciating the beauty of wine. Dustin currently works as the Wine Club Manager for Fine Wine & Good Spirits. More at FineWinesAndGoodSpirits.com.

Published in Food
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