Tuesday, March 31, 2020

Basic Grapes: Syrah/ Shiraz

Syrah or Shiraz? Are they two different grapes? NOPE, it’s the same grape. But it is called Syrah in France, where it thrives in the Rhone (both northern and southern appellations) and it’s Shiraz in Australia and in most of the New World. 

Originally from the Rhone Valley, Syrah/ Shiraz is a cross from two French parents Dureza (Ardeche) and Mondeuse Blanche (Savoie) and produces some of the biggest, fullest wines with high tannin and a deep purple color.
In the Northern Rhone it reaches unbelievable elegance at appellations such as Côte-Rôtie, Hermitage and Cornas. Further south in Châteauneuf du Pape is usually blended with other grapes such as Grenache. 

It was imported by the Huguenots to South Africa and from there it was transferred to Australia, where it is sold as a varietal as well as in blends with Grenache and Cabernet Sauvignon. The huge success of the Australians, was the result of many attempts to grow vines in their warm climate. Shiraz is perfect, since it needs plenty of sun.  In Australia is also used to make sparkling and fortified wines. Barossa and Hunter Valley are some of the best known appellations for Shiraz.

Syrah/Shiraz likes warm climates,  budding late but ripening early to mid season, in the Northern Rhone is usually planted on top of south facing hills on granitic soils that keep the heat. Here the climate is continental with cold winters and hot summers, kind of marginal for the grape, so it needs good exposition. In Australia is often planted in hotter zones (Barossa, Hunter Valley), though in Coonawarra and Victoria (where is cooler) we can find some samples closer to the French style. Best samples come from old vines. 

Like Cabernet Sauvignon, Syrah/Shiraz has thick skins that provides even more color and tannin. Yields are usually low in France (40/45 hlt/hl) and higher in the New World (up to 100 hl/ht). Suitable for long macerations, Syrah/Shiraz is usually aged in French oak (Rhone) and American oak or blends of both in Australia. 
There are two different styles, New World versions are softer, fruitier and riper than Old World ones, featuring higher alcohol, plenty of black fruits, chocolate and spice.  In the Northern Rhone is blended with white varieties such as Viognier, Marsanne and Roussanne. In France, its flavor profile will feature smoke, herbs, minerals,white pepper, flowers and more acidity. When in a label you see Syrah, that means the wine will tend to copy the French style, but if you see Shiraz, the  wine will be closer to the Australian/ New World fruit forward style.

The flavor profile of Shiraz/ Syrah will show black fruits aromatics such as: blueberry, black plums,mulberries, black pepper, black olives, game, coffee and spices. With age leather, smoke, roasted meats, baconThis wine has enough structure and tannin to age for a long time. Most samples can be drunk for up to 15 years, but best samples for much more (up to 30 years). 

Besides the Northern Rhone and Australia, there are planting of Shiraz/ Syrah in America: Washington, California (Santa Barbara, Paso Robles, Mount  Veeder), Argentina and Chile.

Recommended Producers: 
Rhône: M. Chapoutier, Jean-Louis Chave, A. Clape, E. Guigal, Paul Jaboulet Aine, Alan Voge, Gilles Barge, Delas, Famille Perrin, Jean Michel Gerin, Georges Vernay, Ferraton Pere & Fils.
Australia: Henschke, Penfolds, Torbreck, Jim Barry, First Drop, Kilikanoon, Mollydooker, Two Hands, D’Arenberg, Schild. 
California: Alban, Saxum, Sine Qua Non, Tensley, Carlisle, Jeff Cohn, McPrice Myers, Pruett, Herman Story.
Washington: Cayuse, K, Betz, Reyvaan, Gorman, Sparkman.

Wines that I have tasted lately:

Schild Estate Shiraz 2017, Barossa Valley $19
Ferraton Pere & Fils Crozes Hermitage Les Calendes 2016 $35
Ferraton Pere & Fils St Joseph La Source 2015 $34
These 3 are clear examples of both styles (Old World vs New World), my favorite was the Ferraton Pere & Fils Crozes Hermitage Les Calendes 2016, elegant, spicy and with a very balanced structure. The Ferraton Pere & Fils St Joseph La Source 2015 was very good but more tannic and powerful. Finally, I was very happily surprised when I tasted the Schild Estate Shiraz, fruit forward, smooth with a nice backbone. And look at that affordable price! I must admit I would have paid more for it. 
Thanks to Schild and Sera Wines for providing samples for me to taste.

Cheers! Silvina

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#WineWednesday #syrah #shiraz #thoughtsoflawina

Wednesday, March 25, 2020

Kosher wines for Passover and Kosher Fest 2020

I had the pleasure to be invited to this year’s NY Kosher Wine Fest that took place last February. This event is organized by kosher wine importer Royal Wines, that sell both Mevushal and non Mevushal wines. The difference between these two kosher categories is that Mevushal wines are pasteurized (heated to 165 Fº, a procedure that kind of cooks the wine) whether non Mevushal wines are wines made like in any other but only handled by Sabbath observant Jews. If you can choose, always go to non Mevushal (it will say so on the label).

Royal Wines imports and produces all types of wines, including their Baron Herzog line from California, a staple in most Jewish homes. Let me start by saying that non all kosher wines are sweet a la “Manischewitz”, (usually served at Kiddush services on Shabbat). There are many good and dry kosher wines, from all over the world. However, in my opinion best samples come from France, Israel and California.

Over the years, I have tasted several Kosher wines, and I have found a few gems at this tasting, such as: Drappier Brut and Rosé NV $ 50 made both from Pinot Noir, Laurent Perrier Brut NV $75 and Baron de Rothschild Champagne Brut and Rosé NV $75, that were crisp and fresh and have nothing to envy to their non kosher counterparts. 
Regarding reds, these are some of the very best wines I tasted: Terra di Seta Chianti Classico Riserva 2015 $30 and Assai Gran Selezione 2013 $45 from partially organic vineyards, two flavorful 100% Sangiovese wines.  Yatir Forest 2016 $84 and Flam Noble 2016 $95. Yatir Forest is a blend of Cabernet Sauvignon, Petit Verdot and Malbec and Flam Noble a blend of Cabernet Sauvignon, Petit Verdot, Syrah and Merlot. Baron Herzog has a special high end line of Cabernet Sauvignons: including Baron Herzog Clone# 6 Chalk Hill 2016 $140, Baron Herzog VIII Generation “Padis Vineyard”2016 $208 and Baron Herzog Special Edition Rutherford 2017 $90.
Among Rhone style blends, I like Celler Capcanes Peraj H’abib 2016 $52 from Montsant, Spain a blend of Garnacha, Syrah and Cabernet Sauvignon and Elvi’s Clos Mesorah 2016 $75 a blend of 40% 90 year old Carignan, Syrah and Garnacha (grenache).   I was also impressed to find kosher, dessert /Ice Wines from Canada: Tzafona Cellars, made from Cabernet Sauvignon 2016 and Vidal 2016 grapes $30 (half bottles).

The event was super crowded and kind of hard to move along fast, since the pourers normally rinse your glass with water every time you ask for a new pour, which caused huge lines in some of the tables. However, the food was very good and plenty, the event was very well organized, featuring an app that included a map of the tables to easily locate your producers and a full list of wines at each table with information about what was poured. But for me the best, was that finally someone was smart enough to put the signs with the names of the wineries/producers high above the tables… Wine events organizers, you should all do this! since putting name of wineries on tables that are crowded with people, makes short ladies like La Wina (me) waste a lot of time trying to find them. Everything is much easier, you can just go inside the room, look up and  find immediately the producer of your choice.

Besides these high end wines mentioned above, they had plenty of values too, like Bartenura Moscato d’ Asti 2018 $14, Alfasi Cabernet Sauvignon 2018 $9,  Baron Herzog Cabernet Sauvignon from Alexander Valley 2017 $35, Elvi Herenza Crianza 2016 $26 from Rioja, etc. Overall a fantastic event! L’Chaim (to life). 

For sure, this will be a different Passover (also known, as the festival of freedom), with our country still fighting Corona Virus. May all of us be free of this virus soon! I wish all of you a happy, healthy and safe Passover and Easter. Cheers! Silvina.

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Tuesday, March 17, 2020

Wine and Health

Once again this year, I attended Vinexpo Americas in NYC. One of my favorite things from this event are the conferences and master classes offered. There was one that attracted my attention immediately, mostly, because it is a topic I have not yet written about: the relationship between alcohol and health, or in my case of wine and health.

Those that are middle aged like me, have seen/heard about the so called “French Paradox”, it was featured in CBS's “60 minutes” program in 1991, and basically it explained how red wine in moderation is good for your health. Now, in order to arrive to this conclusion, they compared French with American populations, and saw how the French had less cholesterol and lower heart disease than the Americans, due to all the red wine the French consumed. 

Now, what makes red wine good for you? Polyphenols, especially Resveratrol. Polyphenols are powerful antioxidants, and may come from tannins both from grape skins and oak and from anthocyanins, which give color to wine.  Doctors have been studying and conducting research about Resveratrol and its effects, mostly because it lowers blood pressure, increases good cholesterol and decreases bad cholesterol, regulates insulin and suppresses cancer cells. Its antioxidant and anti-inflammatory qualities protect against Alzheimer’s and slows aging. As you may imagine red wines have higher levels of Resveratrol than whites, and that is why most people agree that moderated red wine consumption is good for you. Now, among red wines, there are some grape varieties that have more Resveratrol than others, such as Tannat, Cabernet Sauvignon, Nebbiolo, Pinot Noir, Sagrantino, Petite Syrah and Malbec. So, do consume more wines made from these!

But the Vinexpo conference called “The Health Halo, How Health is Impacting How We Drink”, was not about the French Paradox, but about trends and how more and more people are more health conscious about what they put in their bodies, which applies not only to food but also to drinks. 

The Panelists (Adam Teeter- VinePair,  David Ross- owner of LaLou Bars, Aaron Goldfarb- Journalist and Jefferson Kohler- Marketing Manager at Branca USA) argued about consumers worrying about calories, carbs, additives and alcohol. Especially they focused on a new trend in town: low alcoholic or non alcoholic wines. With one of them posing this question: Is this the future of wine? I must admit I was kind of surprised to see a booth of non alcoholic wines at Vinexpo and I thought, who would want to drink that? Isn’t booze part of the fun of drinking wine or spirits? 
Among many discussions the panel talked about the rise of spiked seltzer waters, which only have between 4.5 to 6% ABV, and about how they have become a favorite to younger generations, taking an important share of the wine market. I must admit I’m not familiar with spiked seltzers... maybe this is something I should explore... but high alcohol in wines is something that truly bothers me, not only because too much alcohol unbalances the wine and I consider it a fault, but because at my age, I do digest wines with less than 13% Abv better than those that have more. I also prefer to drink less alcoholic wines, because they allow me to drink more... I guess I would rather have 2 glasses of a Mosel Riesling with 12% Abv over a glass of CA Chardonnay at 14.5% Abv. Mostly because, the next day I won’t have a horrible headache or feel super dehydrated like I do after drinking a wine with 15% + Abv.

There was also a lot of discussions about natural, organic and biodynamic wines, and how important it is for producers to get certified. Most of the panelists agreed that, as people try to buy organic produce, spend a lot of time reading labels and support sustainability, they also care about what is inside their alcoholic drinks, including wines. Of course, I’m pro to having less additives and chemicals in my body but we need to remember that wine is a chemical product too, that needs to be stable, and sometimes going natural may mean exactly the opposite. Have you ever tried a natural wine and didn’t like it, because it was either cloudy or too funky? I guess, in the end I must agree with the panelists and admit that flavor will always win. 

Now, the audience asked about nutrition labels and if they will help the wine industry. Will knowing how many calories, carbs, sugar or abv levels help sales or not? Listing calories, maybe. Now, listing every additive added to wine… I’m not so sure,  there’s a reason why wineries don’t put all the info in the back of your bottle, mostly because not every ingredient in wine is natural. Now, regarding calories, I’m willing to admit that I do something, the audience admitted doing, in order to drink my wine, I tried to save calories in other places, like eating less carbs for example. I don’t necessarily count the calories in wine, but I’m aware they add up, yet wine gives me so much pleasure, it’s so worth the extra effort. So, my dear winos, as long as you drink responsibly, a glass of wine not only will be good for your body, but will do wonders for your soul too! Now, where is my wine glass? I got so distracted writing this post...I forgot to finish it!  

Here are two recommendations for you under $20:
Chateau La Nerthe Les Cassagnes Cotes du Rhone Villages 2017 $19
Domaine de Verquiere Rasteau 2017 $18
The first is a blend of Grenache, Syrah and Mourvedre, the second is just Grenache and Syrah, both featuring big bodies, soft tannins and plenty of black fruits and spice. Have them with lamb or steak with herbs.

Until my next post, wishing all the Winos health and patience while we go through these extraordinary circumstances. Silvina

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#healthandwine #winewednesday #thoughtsoflawina. 

Tuesday, March 3, 2020


What is Madeira?
Madeira is a fortified wine that has been produced from centuries, and it is also the Portuguese island located 625 miles from Europe, close to Morocco, to the north of the Canary Islands. History tells us that the island of Madeira was discovered in 1419 by Joao Goncalves Zarco, Tristao Vaz Teixeira and Bartolomeu Perestreto. These three captains founded a port (Funchal) on the island so that the ships that were going to the Americas could stop for provisions, and of course among them, wine.
Madeira was very popular in the US and loved by our founding fathers: George Washington, Thomas Jefferson, Benjamin Franklin, John Adams were all Madeira fans, and America’s Declaration of Independence was celebrated with plenty of Madeira, which was very much in fashion during that time.

Now, what makes Madeira wine so special? from a viticulture's point of view, the island seats on a vast volcanic mountain range of basalt soils (made of cooled lava). Only 500 hectares are dedicated to grow vines, a task that is not easy to do, for starters, the island is full of very inclined cliffs, so viticulture can only take place in small plots and by creating terraces by hand, similar to those found in the Douro region (Portugal). Then, the subtropical climate creates many problems, not only it is very hot in the summer, it also rains a lot, thankfully most rain falls in the winter when the vines are dormant.  Humidity creates other problems such as mildew and botrytis bunch rot and this is why most vines are trained in high pergolas so that air can circulate. Then there is the Leste wind, that comes from Africa and that can cover the grapes in sand, raising temperatures to 100 °F for weeks. Viticulture is possible in the island,mostly thanks to altitude with vineyards planted up to 5,900 feet. Regarding vinification, Madeira wines normally start their life as any other wine with a regular fermentation but in the middle of it, alcohol/ brandy is added to halt it; depending when the alcohol is added, there will be more or less residual sugar in the wine, creating styles that can go from dry to rich (sweet). Depending on the amount of alcohol added, Madeira wines can have from 17-22º of alcohol.

There are four noble (indigenous) varieties in Madeira, which are planted according to climate: Sercial makes the driest of all styles is planted in the north, in the coolest vineyards.  Verdelho makes a medium dry style is planted in warmer vineyards but still in the north. Bual (Boal) and Malmsey make the richest (sweet) styles, are planted in the south, in the warmer regions. There’s also a fifth grape: Tinta Negra Mole, used to make entry level wines and Colheita (vintage wines).

Historically, Madeira was not always a fortified wine, the problem was that upon arrival of the wines to their destination (the Americas), they soon deteriorated, so producers realized that the addition of a little bit of spirit was necessary to survive the long sea trip. (Something similar happened with another fortified wine: Port). Later, East Indian Trading shippers saw that the best wines were those that had crossed the equator, it seemed that the extra heat and long distance travel had a very positive effect in the wine, aiding the slow oxidation process that yielded Madeira's typical rancio aromas: caramel, toasted nuts, toffee, brown sugar, molasses, cocoa, dates and spices (cinnamon, ginger and all spice).  These first Madeira wines were known as Vinhos de Roda (because they went around the world). Now, taking the wines back and forth on long sea trips to get these delicious flavors proved to be kind of expensive, and pretty soon producers tried to find ways to replicate this, without the need of taking the wines out of the island.
One way to reproduce this special maturation/oxidation is the use of the estufagem/estufas, which are large vats with heating coils that reach temperatures of up to 131°F, a process that is done slowly to prevent burnt flavors and that usually lasts for 3 months.  The second method used is the Armazems de calor, where wines are aged in large casks in rooms like saunas, where they are kept from 6 months to 1 year.  And then the third method is the Vinhos de Canteiro, this last process is used only for the best wines. Wines are kept in producers' lodges under the heat of the madeiran sun for a minimum of 2 years, but most producers age the wines for much longer, some madeiras can be there for 20 years or more. Whatever method they use, the heating of the wine will cause the slow oxidation and concentration of the aromas of Madeira wines. After the heating process, most wines are often aged in oak barrels.

Madeira styles can be divided according to their sweetness: they could be dry (less than 25 gr of sugar), medium dry, medium sweet, medium rich and rich or sweet (more than 100 gr of residual sugar). Sercials are mostly dry, Verdelhos could be dry or medium dry, Boal tend to be medium sweet and Malmsey are the sweetest wines.  Keep in mind that even the sweetest wines won't be cloying, since all Madeira styles boast their dose of natural acidity that balances their sweetness. All of them will also have high alcohol, they are fortified wines after all! which will give them full bodies and long finishes. Like Ports, Madeiras are blended wines from different vintages and can be divided into several categories,but these below, are the most important: Rainwater Madeiras: these are the entry level wines, wines that could be off dry or medium dry, usually aged for 5 years. They owe this name to wines that were diluted with rain water during trips to the Americas. Then, we have the wines that have an indication of age: these could be 5, 10, 20, 30, 40 or 50 years old. All of them are made of one of the four noble varieties: Sercial, Verdelho, Boal or Malmsey. There’s also the Colheita and Frasqueira/Garrafeira category. These are wines from the same harvest/ vintage that have been aged for 5 years in cask (for Colheita) and 20 years in cask for the Frasqueira. Similar to Sherry, some Madeiras are aged in Soleras. In the Solera system, wines are mixed fractionally, by adding new wines to old ones, blending different vintages.

Because Madeira is an oxidized wine, i.e. is exposed deliberately to oxygen and heat, it is almost indestructible and can last for a long time, even after being opened. Just keep them in a cool and dark spot in your house. Enjoy Sercial and Verdelho slightly chilled, and Boal and Malmsey at room temperature.

My recommended Producers: Blandy’s, Broadbent, Justino's Cossart Gordon, Leacock’s, Miles, Henriques & Henriques, Vinhos Barbeito & Borges.

Thank you so much to Bartholomew Broadbent for providing an outstanding  selection of samples to taste. The winos really loved them!
Because la Wina has a sweet tooth, these 3 were my favorites: all 3 are made with the Canteiro process.

Broadbent Boal 10 Year old, $50
Intensely flavorful,medium sweet Madeira, filled with typical rancio aromas of burned caramel, date and smoke nuts notes.  Showing a vibrant and persistent finish.
Broadbent Malmsey 10 Year old, $50
Focused and powerful, sweet Madeira features toffee, pecan, molasses and chocolate aromas and a mouthwatering finish. 
Broadbent Colheita 1996, $65 (my favorite)
This exotic and succulent 23 year old Madeira shows macerated raisins, dulce de leche, brown sugar and roasted nuts notes. Lively acidity balances the sweet finish. Superb!
Cheers! Silvina.

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#WineWednesday  #Madeira  #Thoughtsoflawina #Broadbentwine