Wednesday, July 31, 2019

Basic Grapes: Riesling

It’s time we learn about the six basic grapes! 
The first lesson that comes to mind when learning about wine, is that there are three basic white varieties: Riesling, Sauvignon Blanc and Chardonnay and three basic red varieties: Pinot Noir, Cabernet Sauvignon and Syrah. 

So, today I will give you the 101 about the first white grape in the group: Riesling

What is so special about it? Loved by Sommeliers and Wine Critics, Consumers’ opinions vary about this grape, mostly because of Riesling’s piercing acidity, which is a key component in this wine as well as their floral and fruitful aromatics. But we learn first about Riesling because it produces the lightest of all whites and therefore of all wines in general, but don’t let this fool you, Riesling has a lot personality! and its personality appears when you smell and taste the wines: Riesling is not shy, quite the contrary, it’s  intense, fruity and floral... so much, one is tempted to wear it as a perfume behind our ears. Another reason Rieslings are overlooked, is because consumers tend to think that all Rieslings are sweet, and though many of them are (Rieslings can be from off dry to super sweet/ dessert style wines), yet there are many dry samples, actually most Riesling produced is dry. And even when it’s sweet, their crispy acidity will always be present, to balance the wines.

For the vine grower's point of view, Riesling has some wonderful attributes: 

1) It likes cool climates, actually is one of the few grapes that thrive in marginal climates (meaning where any other grapes won’t ripen). Besides this, It’s early ripening, which will allow it to have a long & slow season and it has a natural resistance to cold weather and frost. 
2) It’s extremely generous, meaning it can provide great quality at high yields, in Germany, where it is said that Riesling originated (in Rheingau) it can produce excellent wines at 70 hl/ha and sometimes higher than that, which is a lot, comparing for example, with yields in Burgundy where the maximum are kept at 35 hl/ht or less. 
3) It expresses the soils where it grows more than any other grape, it’s not unusual to find minerality, smoke, wet stone flavors in Riesling wines.

Best samples come from cool to cold climates: in Germany (from the Mosel, Rheingau & Pfalz). Though Riesling is planted all over this country, appellations on the north will produce lighter and higher in acidity wines than those in the South. Alsace in France produces some of the best driest samples from hilliest sites around the Haut Rhin, where most of the Grand Crus are located. In Austria, best samples come from Wachau with its granite, gneiss or mica soils. South Styria and Vienna produce savory samples too. Since most New World locations are just too warm for Riesling, is hard to find good spots...However, some good samples come from Australia’s Clare and Eden Valleys (known to be the cool spots in a country that is super warm), the Finger Lakes in NY, Ontario Canada (known for its superb Eisweins) and the cooler spots in CA: Carneros, Russian River,  Monterrey, Santa Barbara, produce wines that tend to be fuller than any other Rieslings. 

Because Riesling grows in marginal climates it will demand the best sun orientation and vineyard expositions. In Germany, Austria, and Alsace you will find Riesling planted around rivers and in some of the steepest/hilliest vineyards in the world.

Stylistically, besides having a light body, mostly because of its low alcohol, Riesling has an edgy acidity, precision and purity of flavor.  In cool climates,  it will show flavors of flowers, peaches, green apple and citrus. In moderate climates it will show apricot, baked apple and pineapple flavors. With age: petrol kerosene, honey. Dried apricots, caramel and quince will also be present in wines affected by noble rot (Botrytis Cinerea).

Because of Riesling’s high extract and aromatics, most winemakers choose to ferment it in neutral containers, meaning, stainless steel or old wooden barrels that won’t impart any oak flavor to the wine. Most producers choose not to blend Riesling with other varieties, it is after all,  a grape that can stand on its own. Having said that, in Alsace, sometimes it is blended with Pinot Blanc, Muscat or Gewurztraminer to provide them with acidity. 

The high acidity of this wine will allow it to age for many years. (top sweet wines can last 30 + years from vintage but most dry wines can age from 4-8 years.
Rieslings can be dry or sweet, there are different levels of sweetness in Germany and Austria: Spatlese (off dry), Auslese, Beerenauslese, Trockenbeerenauslese (TBA) and Eiswein (sweet/ dessert styles). Samples from Germany usually have less alcohol and body than those coming from Australia and Alsace.

Recommended Riesling Producers:

Alsace: Hugel, Trimbach, Zind Humbrecht, Weimbach, Kuentz-Bas, Osterta, Josmeyer.
Germany: JJ Prum, Egon Muller,  Dr Loosen, Basserman Jordan, J Leitz, Gunderloch, Selbach Oster, Peter Lauer,Nik Weis St Urbans Hof, Stein.

Austria: Rudi Pichler,Franz Prager, Brundlmayer, Loimer, Rainer Wess, Karl Fritsch, Josef Fischer, Josef Schmid.
Australia:Henschke,Petaluma, Tim Adams.

Cheers! Silvina

Wednesday, July 17, 2019

Ideal for Summer: Aromatic Wines

Aromatic wines...what do all of these have in common? They are not shy, these wines have intense aromas and are very flavorful and fun to drink. If you go to any blind tasting and come across one of these, I can guarantee you that you will recognize them easily!

I decided to publish this post in the Summer, because as you may see, all of them are white, but I must recognize I do drink these all year long.

Sometimes when Winos smell these, they stir away thinking these are sweet, too floral, too fruity... and I want my wines dry… please don’t let your noses fool you, some will be a bit off dry, (with a bit of residual sugar) but most will be completely dry, so always taste with your palate before talking about sweetness.

Most of my recommendations don’t see any oak, it’s simple, oak will mask their aromas, and why ruin something so perfect? They are made in old casks that don’t impart any flavor or in stainless steel temperature controlled vats, to preserve the freshness of their fruit. Cold soaking with skins is a common practice for some of these, this is done to extract even more aromas and flavors.

I often refer to these wines as “pure”, because their aromatics come naturally from their grapes, and because they are usually made with minimum human intervention. So let’s explore some of the aromatic grapes, shall we?

Riesling produces the lightest of all white wines. It does best in cool and marginal climates, since it ripens early. Best places for Riesling are Germany (Mosel & Rheingau) France (Alsace), Austria (Lower Austria), NY Finger Lakes. Rieslings are usually light in body, with high acidity and enticing aromas of: flowers, peaches, green apple, pineapple, apricots and passion fruit. Some show nice minerality mostly from the soils where they grow: stony is a common descriptor of some of these wines or slatey. With age, Rieslings can smell of honey, petrol, marzipan. When buying these, always ask about their residual sugar. Germany, Austria and Alsace produce wines that go from dry to sweet (dessert styles). Best food matches will be spicy foods and Asian cuisine.

Best samples of these wines come from Galicia, Spain (D.O. Rias Baixas) but there are plantings of Albariño in Portugal (Vinho Verde), California and Australia. Albariño will produce wines of medium to medium plus bodies and good acidity. On the nose it is fruity with aromas of peaches and apricots, in cooler climates we can also find some citrus notes (lemon zest, grapefruit), in warmer areas more mango and nectarine.  Some of these undergo aging on lees (with its dead yeasts after fermentation is over) which will add creaminess to the wines. Albariños are a perfect match for all types of seafood cuisine, especially those from Galicia and Northern Portugal.

Gewürz means spicy in German, but it’s correct to say that this wine is more floral than anything else. Best places to find Gewürz are in Germany, Alsace & Trentino-Alto Adige (Italy). Most Gewürz will have medium plus to full bodies (bigger in Alsace, also alcohol levels will be higher there too, thanks to plenty of sun). As with Riesling, there are dry and sweet versions, so always ask your wine store clerk to make sure that you are buying what you want. Wines marked as SGN (Sélection de Grains Nobles) or VT (Vendange Tardive) are always sweet/ dessert styles. On the nose: Gewürz will smell or lychees, roses, bergamot, allspice, orange blossom, ginger and face cream. Best food matches: pork, chicken dishes, salads. This is a great wine to serve also as an apéritif.

Torrontés is the most important white grape of Argentina, where it thrives in Salta at altitudes starting @ 1600 m or 5200 ft. It’s a very aromatic grape showing aromas of, peach, rose, geranium, citrus. Torrontés bodies are usually medium plus to big, some samples can have plenty of alcohol and up to 14.5%. Though they smell fruity and floral, most samples are  dry. Best food matches are Asian and Indian cuisine (curries).

Viognier is rich and flavorful with low acidity. Best places for Viognier are the Northern Rhone Valley (Condrieu and Chateau Grillet) where the grape originated, these days there’s plenty of Viognier in Australia (MacLaren Valley, Murray River) in California and the Languedoc. It needs warm weather and a long ripening season to show all of its goodness, best samples come from very old vines, this has discouraged some producers to plant more Viognier. Viognier wines usually have big bodies, high alcohol (like it is the norm in the Rhone) Some samples see some oak aging, only a  touch not enough to overcome its perfume. Viognier aromas are mostly of apricots, peaches, jasmine, spice, orange peel, lanolin.

It’s possible the oldest grapes of this group, since Romans and Greeks used to make wines from Muscat. There are three types of Muscat, Muscat Blanc
à Petit Grain, Muscat de Alexandria and Muscat Ottonel.
Like Viognier it loves warm weather, so you will find it along the Mediterranean in places like Málaga (Spain) Southern Italy, Australia, Alsace (France). It produces all types of wines from dry to sweet, from table to fortified wines (wines with more alcohol than 14% like Muscat of Beaumes de Venise) and sparkling like Moscato d’Asti, which is very low in alcohol. Muscat is also used to make wines from raisins like in Passito di Pantelleria. Most Muscats will have medium to full bodies, some with high alcohol, acidity is usually balanced. Muscat is one of the few grapes that has aromas of fresh grapes, but also rose petals and orange blossom. Sweet dessert styles will feature caramel, honey, quince and dry apricots flavors, some of the stickies may see some oak aging.

My recommendations for you to try:
Dr. Loosen Red Slate Dry Riesling 2017 $16
Trimbach Riesling 2017 $20
Martin Codax Burgans Albari
ño 2018 $15 
Chateau St Michelle Gewurztraminer 2017 $12
Michel Torino Torrontes 2018 $16
Bartenura Muscat 2018 $15
Paolo Saracco Moscato d’ Asti NV $13

Cheers! Silvina

Wednesday, July 3, 2019

It's Summer, Let's drink Some Rosé!

Finally it’s Summer! So, when thinking about something refreshing to drink at picnics, or maybe sitting on a balcony that faces the beach, one style of wines come to my mind, Rosé. 

It’s funny because the other day one of my students told me,” Rosé can’t be considered wine”,  meaning it can’t be taken seriously... only red should be called wine... but let’s face it, people love Rosé, so much that it is forecasted that 3 million cases of Rosé will be imported to the US by 2020, and we are not counting the amount of wine that will be produced domestically, since Rosé is made everywhere in the world. 

Stylistically, Rosés wines are divided in two groups, Dry and Blush wines, the difference between them is that Blush wines will have sweetness and plenty of fruit. Are you familiar with White Zinfandel? That is a typical example of sweet/ off dry Rosé. I have a confession to make: I drank a ton of White Zinfandel when I was young and long before working in wine industry, what was not to love?, Rosé was fruity and sweet and had a bit of alcohol… something that us, the Coca Cola kids love! Plus I think Rosés like White Zinfandel are a good starting point to drink wine and I’m all pro to wine drinking, to encourage more and more people to enjoy wine, they can start wherever they want, plus wineries will produce Rosé as long as it keeps on selling. 
On the other hand we have serious Rosés, dry with crispy acidity and some tannins in their structure.

So how is Rosé made? 
One way to make Rosé is similar to the way red wine is made, the difference is that the fermentation and maceration with skins is shorter, only for a couple of days, which will give more than enough color to Rosé, while with reds, fermentation with skins and maceration can go on for 2-3 weeks, the longer the skin contact, the more color and pigments will be extracted.
There is also the Saignée method, where grapes are destalked but not crushed and fermented with the skins. After a few hours, a portion of the wine is bled off the tank to continue its fermentation on its own. 
Lastly some Rosé is also made by blending white and red wine, this is prohibited by law in Europe, but it’s possible in the new world and for sparklers like in Champagne. 

What are the best places to produce Rosé?
It’s probably where great Rosés where produced first and sold in big quantities in the bars of the French riviera. These are usually pale in color and a blend from Grenache and Syrah. They tend to be full bodied, with nice acidity and mostly dry, showing some minerality. Quality is very good but some can cost you $$$$ starting at $25 and up.

Languedoc and the Rhone
Here there’s more value, these are blend of more grapes but following the same theme as above, Syrah, Grenache, Mourvedre and Cinsault. Rhone and Languedoc Rosés are usually more flavorful and with more color than the previous category. Prices vary from $12-20.

Loire Valley
Anjou, Saumur and Chignon are the places where Rosés are made in the Loire they may come in all flavors from sweet to dry, and the favorite grape is Cabernet Franc with some using also Gamay. Prices start from $10 and up.

The Rosados, as known in Spain, usually have brighter colors and are made from native varieties: Tempranillo and Garnacha (Grenache). Mostly dry, Navarra is one of the D.O. known for producing rosados, but also these are made in Rioja and other appellations. Spanish Rosé is also very inexpensive, most samples usually cost $10-15.

Italians make Rosato from native grape varieties such as Negroamaro, Sangiovese, Bardolino, etc. Italians produce both dry and sweet styles and prices start at $9 and up.

In California they make dry Rosé but also blush wines. Since this is the New World they are not required to use specific grapes and anything goes, most wines are made from Zinfandel, but also Grenache, Syrah, Pinot Noir, Petit Syrah, Cinsault and Mourvedre. Expect bigger and fuller Rosés here too with higher alcohols. Prices will go from $10 to $25.

It is considered the Burgundy of America, so most Rosé here will be made from Pinot Noir and usually be fruity but dry and with nice acidity, thanks to the cool climate of the region. Prices are in the middle, from $18 and up.

Remember always buy the latest vintage available and for Rosé is 2018. Don’t age them, since these wines are best when consumed young when all the fruit is still fresh in the bottle. 

Rosé also come in the form of sparkling wine, in all appellations including Champagne, Cava, US Sparkling, Prosecco, etc. Prices vary here too from $14 and up. 

My Recommendations:

Château Miraval Rosé 2018 $25
Château Miraval Rosé Muse de Miraval 2018 $200
Bodegas Breca Rosé 2018  $10
Cune Rosado 2018 $13
Piedra Negra Pinot Gris Rosé 2018 $12
Juan Gil Rosado 2018
Rodney Strong Ros
é PN 2018 $25
Jaboulet P45 Ros
é 2018 $14
Kendall Jackson Ros
é 2018 $15

Cheers! Silvina