Monday, July 25, 2011

From California to Italy

"Unfortunately, the notion of connoisseurship is fraught with forbidding connotations, often of men with pointed goatees murmuring over glasses of wine about the intricacies of such and such a vintage compared to another. These folks exist – more in Hollywood than in real life – and they are often just as offensive in reality as in conception.
            In truth, connoisseurship is less a matter of what you know, and much more a matter of approach. As soon as one departs from the I like it/I don’t like it platform, one has become something of a connoisseur. The simplest, and perhaps best, definition is that a connoisseur is one who can distinguish between what he or she likes, and what is good. The two are by no means always the same.” – Matt Kramer, Making Sense of Wine

And so with that notion in my head, I set out to find a varietal that I wouldn’t normally enjoy. Frantically dashing about the New World reds section of the liquor store (invariably, the section easiest to navigate) five minutes before closing, I grabbed a 2009 Bogle Old Vine Zinfandel ($10.99). Though my mom loves Zinfandels (Cline being one of her favorites), I’ve never been a big fan of their peppery, earthy, and often acidic finish. Kramer refers to them repeatedly in his book as “big,” “tough,” and “strong” and that is exactly how they come across. This wine was no exception. However, I did thoroughly enjoy it. Not only was the wine a beautiful, deep burgundy but it smelled peppery with hints of oak. The first sip was warm and fruit forward, followed quickly by a finish full of peppery and oaky notes (it was aged 12 months in American oak barrels). The finish was not only spicy, but long and complex with structured tannins reminiscent of a good Cabernet. The balance between the initial fruity notes and the more earthy notes of the finish rounded out the body, giving it fullness. Though I am not sure that I'm a Zinfandel convert, if you’re already a fan, this Bogle is a great buy. It's evident that this wine encapsulates the best elements of a Zinfandel: full-bodied, fruit forward with end notes of pepper and spices. 

Spurred on by either my obnoxious wine ranting or the grueling nature of job searching, a few friends from the program came over with wine this evening to have a wine and take-out pizza night. With pizza as the inspiration, Drew brought a 2010 Pietraluna Negro Amaro* from Italy ($12.99). On opening this beautiful bottle of wine, I was skeptical. The wine smelled so fruity that I was tempted to refer to it as “jammy.” Though the wine had very fruity and sweet notes of blackberry and raspberry, it finished with a hint of pepper and silky tannins. The wine lacked some complexity and depth but the fruitiness and smooth mouth-feel made it perfect for a warm summer night spent with friends. I’d suggest you drink this wine just as I did – around a big table of friends, laughing and letting the day slip slowly away.

*I hadn’t heard of this grape before, so I looked it up and found that the Negro Amaro varietal is grown exclusively in Puglia, or the “heel” of Italy, and is known for its deep purple color and rustic taste. Often the wine can be very perfume-y (hence the sweet fruity smell) but is tempered by a more bitter aftertaste.

Thursday, July 21, 2011

Aerating away

I recently posted about the genius invention that is the Riedel wine glass… I think I also might have mentioned that it was my one-day-dream to own one (or two?). Luckily for me, my entire family not only reads my wine blog but also observes my birthday. And so, broke and 22, I now own two Vinum Extreme Cabernet glasses. I’m pretty sure that this is the perfect example of when taste outstrips means. Regardless, Riedel’s Vinum Extreme line was designed specifically for New World wines. I chose this particular set because I am a big drinker of West Coast reds, primarily Cabernet and Merlot. Because I’m in Denver right now and suitcase is not the best storage facility for leaded crystal, the wine glasses are waiting for me back in Eugene, yet to be tried. I am counting down the days until I get back.

Along with my future Riedels, I got another wine accessory I’ve been dying to own: the Vinturi red wine aerator. Pouring your wine through an aerator fills it with air (evidenced by the tiny bubbles that cover the surface of your wine post-pour) and, as a result, it tastes fuller and smoother. Infatuated by my new, gorgeous aerator, I decided to open a bottle of wine and revel in the wine-y goodness of my birthday. The bottle I opened was a 2007 La Yunta Tinto blend from Mendoza, Argentina. Composed of 49% Cabernet Sauvignon, 35% Malbec and 16% Bonarda, this wine was $9.99 and came with a “great Argentina blend” recommendation. I didn’t quite agree with the “great” part of the recommendation, but the wine was passable. Pre-Vinturi-pour it smelled and tasted rather bland, but post-aeration (and you can tell the aerator is working as it gurgles happily), the smells and tastes of this blend opened up. I could taste cherry notes most strongly, but the wine had a lackluster finish. There was no aha! I love this wine moment. And my tastebuds were left wanting more of the smooth Cabernet finish and Malbec spiciness.

Though the La Yunta was somewhat disappointing, I completely recommend the Vinturi, or any other aerator you can find. In Making Sense of Wine, Matt Kramer explains that “the conventional wisdom about wines needing to breathe involved younger red wines of an earlier era. The fact is that many red wines made before, say, the 1960s, or even later, were crudely produced. They often offered off aromas deriving from old barrels or casks, or badly kept barrels or casks…sometimes they will ‘blow off’ when the wine is left exposed to oxygen for a period of time” (182). This "blowing off" was achieved by decanting wines, allowing them to sit out for a few hours for oxygenation. However, Kramer suggests that “the real oxygenation of the wine occurred in the process of pouring the wine from the bottle to the decanter” (183) – hence the modern aerators. For a range of aerators: Vinturi ($40), The Rabbit ($30), Wine Enthusiast Aerating Funnel Screen ($30), Glass Wine Flavor Enhancer ($20).

Stay tuned for more wine-snobbery as I hunt for a fuller, more pleasing wine!

Wednesday, July 13, 2011

Getting close to Woop Woop!

I have not been particularly enamored with Denver, Colorado. When expressing my skepticism to a fellow Publishing Institute student, he chuckled and knowingly assured me that I just hadn’t been to the mountains yet... Clearly, he has no idea who I am. Concerned that the only promising thing about this city was the “mountains,” (wherever those are, I have no intention of finding out) I was plunged into a deeper dejection than before. Luckily I discovered the University of Denver area gem: Morgan's Liquor, an insanely well-stocked store with a massive wine selection. The wine section inside was a sight for very sore eyes (Denver supermarkets don't sell any alcohol above 3.2%). Not only were there full casts from Germany, Portugal and Chile, but almost every single bottle came with a recommendation. Some were vivid orange tags that read: “SALE! GREAT PINOT” and the rest either a winery’s own advertisement tag or official Wine Spectator tasting notes and notable reviews/scores/points. It is a wonder I didn’t keep my suite-mates in there longer as I scoured for wines without “leathery notes.”

I settled on two wines, both with screw caps instead of corks. I rarely buy screw cap wine so I don’t know if it was the lack of a corkscrew + fulcrum opener, the static electricity building in the air or just a burning desire to try some new wines that drove me to this cork-less madness, but I was not disappointed. Clearly a screw cap does preclude a bottle from containing a quality wine! It was the 2009 Woop Woop Cabernet ($10.99) from Australia that I tried first. I have been waiting to try this wine for a long time, endeared by the name and a history of rave reviews. The name Woop Woop, comes from the colloquial Australian phrase for “out there” and seemed apropos as we drank the wine in the middle of a raging lightning storm happening directly over us. This wine was one of the fruitiest Cabernet Sauvignons I have had in a while. This Cabernet was remarkably fruit forward, tasting of cherry. The finish was long, rich and smooth. I was left with the remains of fruit and silky tannins to remember the glass by. A friend that tasted it with me told me with hesitation that she’d been put off of red wine because of “too much Smoking Loon,” but I am happy to say that one glass of the Woop Woop and she was instantly brought back. For only $10.99, this wine was remarkably full-bodied and memorable. I'd also recommend checking out the rest of Woop Woop's varietals. Too scared of Shiraz to try their highly acclaimed Shiraz, I'll leave the task up to you!

I was surprised to see that this wine was called, simply, “Cabernet” instead of either Cabernet Sauvignon or Cabernet Franc (a confusing abbreviation), but it turns out it’s just a rather Australian shortening of Cabernet Sauvignon. This grape is one of the most diversely grown and well-known grapes in the world and until the 1990s it was the most widely planted grape. Merlot, another one of my favorites, surpassed it in production.

Stay tuned for more screw cap tasting when I try a La Yunta Tinto from Argentina next!

Sunday, July 10, 2011

The Great Denver Travesty

My lack of wine-blogging lately has started to take a mental toll (let's not use the word "withdrawal") and even though I am eating Spongebob Mac and Cheese out of a mug right now instead of drinking a nice red wine, I can’t go another day without writing a post. This sorry picture, luckily, is due to extenuating circumstances and not due to a post-grad recession into childhood. I’m actually living in a dorm in Denver, Colorado while I attend the University of Denver Summer Publishing Institute, a month long course designed to give students a jump-start into the publishing world.

Denver is an interesting place. It’s dry, hot, stormy and many of the lawns seem to be un-mowed in the surrounding area. But the weird weather and lack of yard maintenance quickly became the least of my worries. Car-less, I walked to the Safeway yesterday in the middle of a thunder and lightning storm to buy some groceries and a bottle of wine. However, I was horrified at what I found: no. wine. aisle. There were no cheerful signs advertising the California merlots, no scant section of “Imports,” not even the familiar gleam of the hardly-drinkable Yellow Tail populating the end-of-aisle display. It was, by far, the greatest supermarket travesty I have yet to experience. As it turns out, Denver only sells 3.2% beers (read: not worth it) in grocery stores… A horrifying prospect but a reality. So until I can find a liquor store in the sweaty, 90-degree weather, I must go without. My stem-less red wine glass is sitting alone in a drawer, my corkscrew without a cork, my palate without the gentle caress of well-rounded tannins, my teeth without the telltale sign of too much red wine!

Instead I am left to recommend to you a wine that I know and love and can only dream of ingesting right now: the 2009 Bogle Petite Sirah ($8.99-$9.99 in most grocery stores). I’m not normally a fan of Syrah/Shiraz* but this varietal, though it sounds like a small Syrah, is entirely different in taste and partially different in origin. The Petite Sirah, as it is known in the U.S., is made from the Durif grape, a cross between a Syrah and a Peloursin grape. Though the origin of the Petite Sirah is linked to the Syrah grape, I find it to be a much more drinkable wine. I can drink the Petite Sirah with absolutely anything, whether it is a light salad or a heartier, spicier meal. The wine is full-bodied without being overpowering, with a smooth combination of fruit and oak. The finish contains a hint of the spiciness for which the Shiraz and Syrah wines are known. I actually went through a period in which I drank only this Petite Sirah because I just couldn't entrust my $10 to any other, potentially bad bottle of wine. When my recycling bin started to look like a wine bar's glass disposal,  was forced to branch out into more untrustworthy wines. I still drink this wine when I'm feeling unadventurous and need a good bottle to accompany my night. At under $10 a bottle, it is an amazing buy!

*Like Pinot Gris/Pinot Grigio, Syrah usually means that the wine is from the French Rhone Valley and is a lighter, more acidic wine. Shiraz suggests a more full bodied wine from Australia. When the wine is made in the U.S., then the name suggests what flavor you can expect from the wine, according to the previous distinctions.

Saturday, July 2, 2011

Too Hot for Red Wine

It has actually been hot enough in Oregon for the past few days to make red wine sound unappetizing. A terrifying prospect, I know, but I am glad that the weather led me here. With a shoulder peeling from a sunburn (it is something to relish after four years spent in Washington state), I found myself stuck between white wine and a hard place. The thing is that I don’t love white wine. I am not a fan of Chardonnay, have never fully acquainted myself with Sauvignon Blanc and I don’t feel like drinking Riesling unless there is no candy around the house… which basically leaves me with Pinot Grigio. Luckily, the first wine I ever loved was a Pinot Grigio. I seem to remember that it was sparkling, luminescent in the glass and entirely lovely to gaze at.
I didn’t see my favorite Pinot Grigios on the shelf (Zenato and Kris, both Italian wines), so I turned to the trusty Columbia Crest’s Horse Heaven Hills winemakers. Rated 89 points by the Wine Spectator, this Vintage 2009 Horse Heaven Hills Pinot Gris* was only $10.99 and turned out to be a great value! In the glass this Pinot Gris was equally lovely to behold. A family friend recently sent me some historical booklets on wine and other spirits from around the 1930s and in one of them titled Simple Facts about Wines, Spirits, Ales, and Stouts the tasting guide suggests that wine should be a pleasure to the eyes as well as the palate. The author suggested that one should “look first for brilliancy —a characteristic known to tasters as ‘candlebright.’” This Pinot Gris definitely fit that rather medieval term. It was so light and clear that it looked as if it had been aged only in stainless steel barrels (white wines have a straw color if they have been aged in oak). According to the Columbia Crest website, this guess wasn’t far off as 92% of this wine was aged in stainless for two years while 8% of the wine was aged in American oak barrels, giving the wine a beautiful light yellow color and a hint of oaky smell and taste. This Pinot Gris was very fruit forward. Though I had a difficult time isolating the specific fruit notes in the wine, it reminded me of green apples and citrus fruit. After the initial fruity flavors, there was a hint of oak that lingered on the tongue and the wine finished with juicy, bright flavors. Hardly a dry white, this Pinot Gris was reminiscent of some Rieslings I’ve tried due to the sweetness and the juicy finish. The summer of 2009 in Eastern Washington, where this wine was grown, was particularly hot and was followed by a cool fall season, allowing the Pinot Gris grapes to hang on the vine longer, thereby maturing into fuller flavored grapes, lending Pinot Gris from this region a more fruit forward flavor.

*The difference between the terms Pinot Grigio and Pinot Gris is a regional one, Pinot Grigio being the term used for this white wine grape in Italy. Pinot Gris/Grigio grapes are actually a “variant-clone” of Pinot Noir. The grape is light grey/blue to pinkish brown and is traditionally a very sweet grape. More West Coast wine makers are moving toward making Pinot Gris and in 2000, Pinot Gris production in Oregon actually surpassed that of Chardonnay, something that comes as great news for me!

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