Feeds:
Posts
Comments

Archive for the ‘Regional Guide’ Category

Summer is over and fall has begun to settle quietly in. As with all of you, I’m gearing up to hunker down and get back to business (too many prepositions?).

Fall is wonderful; the way the light shifts from the harsh bright sunshine of summer to the soft golden hue of autumn, the chill that creeps in slowly and settles with a pleasant crispness and the scent of dried leaves that whisks away the sour odor of New York’s summer streets.

In the beginning, it may get just as warm as a summer afternoon, but suddenly, a glass of Rosé, though rosy as it always was, isn’t quite as charming. The bright, crisp, and refreshing quaffs of summer, no less delicious, just don’t seem to pair as well with the slight coolness lingering on the edge of the breeze.

It’s a confusing time…you’re not quite ready for the big hearty reds of winter but you’re through flirting with summer’s tipples.  For me, fall belongs to the red wines of Piemonte in Northern Italy.

If you’ve ever heard of Barolo or Barbaresco, you’ve heard about the most famous wines of Piemonte, but I wouldn’t be surprised if you didn’t know that that’s where they came from.

Barolo and Barbaresco  (made from the Nebbiolo grape) are the only two well known wines out of Italy that are identified by neither their place of origin (like Chianti, for example) nor their grape name (Montepulciano etc.).

Out of this same famed corner of Northern Italy come two less renowned grapes called Dolcetto and Barbera that produce wines by the same name (phew!).

Dolcetto is a grape that literally translates to “little sweet one.” Before you assume that I’m about to sell you on a sweet red wine (and you, like any self-respecting wine drinker, are thinking “Ew! Disgusting! Sweet wine?! Blagh!”) let me assure you that the grape’s name is entirely misleading.

Quite contrary to its name, this grape turns into an absolutely charming wine – dry, juicy, with good fruit and a fair amount of spice.

Dolcetto is the first vine to ripen in Piemonte and is often planted only on the least favorable sites in a vineyard. Many of the region’s most famed winemakers end up planting and producing Dolcetto out of sheer economy – they may have a site that’s unsuitable for Nebbiolo but instead of letting it go to waste, they’ll plant Dolcetto to sell as a simple table wine and offset profits. In the hands of the region’s star producers,  this humble little grape often ends up getting VIP treatment by default. The results have started to gain attention from wine drinkers here in the U.S – popping up in wine shops and on wine lists more and more as people realize the simple pleasures and particular food-friendliness of this little grape.

Barbera is Nebbiolo’s other ugly cousin – regarded with more esteem than poor little Dolcetto but still not as highly as Barbaresco or Barolo. Where Dolcetto is vigorous, Barbera is prodigious – capable of extremely high yields. Barbera also ripens after Dolcetto but still two weeks before Nebbiolo grapes and can thrive on sites still not ideal for Nebbiolo (a very picky grape).

Barbera, however, isn’t as charming straight off the vine as Dolcetto – with high levels of tannin and acidity that must be somehow softened. Until the 1970s this was done through blending with other varietals. Then, French winemakers suggested experimenting with aging the wine in small oak barrels. The oak barrels helped to oxygenate the wine, thus softening it, and also added richness and spice. These Barberas were suddenly structured, soft, and fruity wines that didn’t have to be blended at all! All of a sudden this grape, once only used for blending, became a good wine in its own right and quickly gained appreciation as such.

For fall, there’s nothing better than a glass of Dolcetto or Barbera – so how about a glass of both? Just the other day I was sent a sample of Cascina Degli Ulivi Bellotti Rosso 2010 – a blend of equal parts Dolcetto and Barbera – from my favorite online wine store, Plonk Wine Merchants.


Etty Lewensztain is the girl-crush lady-genius behind Plonk dedicated to bringing delicious, interesting, and affordable wine to anyone with an internet connection. She was just named one of Wine & Spirit Magazine’s 30-under-30 and she is the reason I have tried such weird wines as Plavac (Croatian) and Montsant (Spanish).

Cascina Degli Ulivi Bellotti Rosso 2010 ($18) is from a biodynamic and crazy natural winery in the heart of Piemonte. I swear, I usually don’t pay very much attention to a wine’s color but as I poured this one into my glass the color struck me – it was a gorgeous clear rose-tinted purple.

The nose was all wet leaves and hay and the first sip literally danced on my tongue. Maybe it was bottle shock – and I should have let the wine sit for a day or two longer, but the wine was lightly effervescent! Dark cherries and juicy tannins that sucked more at the tip of my tongue than the back of my mouth rounded out the first taste.

On her website, Etty suggests pairing this particular wine with a Soppressata and Wild Arugula Pizza; Rigatoni with roasted eggplant, cherry tomatoes, and ricotta salata; or Roasted veal chops with gremolata.

I suggest pairing it with these first few days of fall.

Advertisements

Read Full Post »

Last night I had the pleasure of attending the Brooklyn Uncorked event hosted by Edible Manhattan. I was especially excited because the theme of the evening was New York wines. A few weeks ago I was supposed to go to the North Fork for a weekend of tasting with a couple of GF’s but inclement weather kept us city-bound and dry.

The event was held at the gorgeous Brooklyn Academy of Music and, without further ado, lets get to it.

The men of New York love pink. I know I shouldn’t have been surprised to see so many dudes swilling Rosé at a New York wine event (Rosé’s from Long Island were among the first NY wines deemed drinkable by the wine world at large), but I was bemused by the confidence with which so many guys stepped up and demanded a taste of the pink stuff.

“Half and Half” is not just a dairy product. A lot of the wine makers were pouring Chardonnays that they were calling “half oaked”. These wines were half chardonnay that had been fermented in oak and half chardonnay that had been fermented in steel tanks. I can’t say that any of them were my favorite – they all tasted a little half baked but the concept was new and interesting.

I didn’t see a single screw top. This struck me as really interesting especially because most of the wines last night were definitely being marketed as wallet-friendly and screw tops are an easy way to pass savings along to consumers. Perhaps this young wine industry is afraid of being construed as cheap and have stuck to cork in an attempt to seem old-school? Too bad I had at least one glass that came from a corked bottle last night…

Gimmicks abounded. My favorite had to have been the wine called “Anomaly” that was being poured as a “white Pinot Noir”. Basically it was an non-sparkling Champagne (if the juice of Pinot Noir grapes is separated from the skins early on it will retain a white color – its only through prolonged contact with the skins that wines become red). Also, you’d think that in a post “white Zinfandel” world, you’d want to avoid calling your wine a “white Pinot Noir” or a “White Merlot”. Alas….

One winery, called Channing Daughters, was serving a Friuliano – a fairly obscure wine made from the grape of the same name that hails from Northern Italy. It was a brave move and the wine was pretty good – also, their Rosé was one of my favorites.

A quick note on the food: don’t serve giant fried batter-coated balls of fish-and-things-on-a-stick if you don’t want a lawsuit from someone who loses their sense of taste from trying to eat one. Cold pork belly does not taste good even if you serve it on a buttermilk biscuit. Minus any bonus points that would have been gained from the biscuit if the biscuit is hard. Do not pronounce “pistachios” as “pis-tass-ee-ohs” – you’re already serving Pâté, do you really have to convince us that you’re fancy? Lastly, although I feel bad that you’re standing behind a table of food that no one has touched all night, you’re the one that decided to serve liverwurst mousse.

• Finally, although I was really pulling for Long Island on this one, a lot of the wine from this region still has a long way to go. There was a lot of green wine (in the bad way), a lot of wine that was just too tight, and a lot of bitter aftertastes. Sadly, I found myself grimacing post-swig a little too often throughout the night. The exceptions were some really nice sparkling wines (my favorite was Sparkling Pointe’s Blanc de Blanc), some delicious Rosés, a delightfully smooth Cabernet Franc from a winemaker called Osprey’s Dominion Vineyards, and the Channing Daughters’ Friulano.


Read Full Post »

Today’s wine story in the NYTimes Dining & Wine  Section is all about the underrated magic and allure of some of my absolute favorite wine – Cru Beaujolais. Their favorite pick is also one of my absolute favorite picksChateau Thivin’s Cote de Brouilly @ about $23/bottle.

A town in Beaujolais

While Beaujolais is especially fantastic for summertime (a chill can make its flavors really sing), it’s a wine that I like to drink year-round for its delicacy, undeniable femininity and bright flavors. It’s a wine that for a very long time had a marred reputation – brought on by the copious production of bad Beaujolais Nouveau and drinker’s of Cru Beaujolais were chided for poor taste by those who didn’t know any better.

At the end of the day, however, I’ve always loved these wines because they’re so delicious it’s easy to gulp them down without stopping to consider all the subtleties that are lingering below the surface. Always the English Major, I like to think of Cru Beaujolais as a great book – something classic that everyone has to read in high school and inevitably ends up in the favorite books column on Facebook.

Beaujolais Tasting in 2009 at Georges Dubouef

So, here’s what the NYTimes had to say about Cru Beaujolais

AND

Here’s what I wrote about it way back in June of 2010 (originally published on Poor Taste)

Suck it, NYTimes.

Read Full Post »


*Note: Click the map above for the full-sized image!

The French are a people who thrive on complexity. One need look no further than to their seemingly infinite varieties of spoiled dairy or to the French language and its unique affection for long strings of vowels for affirmation of this fact. These are the people who managed to take the simple combination of butter, flour, sugar, and eggs and raise it to an art form that the world devours in awestruck bliss.

The French take their wine no less seriously than they do their cheese or pastry. The country is divided into 12 wine-producing regions that are further broken down into 472 AOC’s (Appellation d’Origine Contrôlée) that are established based on geography and the unique French concept of terroir.

Though the word is derived from the French word, terre that translates to land in English, it is a concept that evokes much more than just the ground from which the wine comes. To talk about terroir is to include all of the elements of a place that were present when the grapes were growing and not just in terms of geology, geography, or weather (though those are parts of it).

Terroir encompasses everything from the plants that grew among and around the vines to the natural events that may have occurred in a single year such as a fire. Terroir is an expression of all the particular smells, textures, and conditions that surrounded the vines of a specific area at a given time. Terroir, the French insist, can account for the differences in wines that are made from grapes grown on neighboring or even adjacent hillsides.

French school children are taught their AOC’s right along with their ABC’s – that’s how important they are. As Americans, we are used to seeing the varietal on the label right alongside the place the wine’s from, but for the French, that would be redundant as each region is so clearly associated with a particular grape or blend.

Below you’ll find my attempt to make sense out of the French AOC system. Good luck and Godspeed.

• Alsace – White wines made from Reisling and Gewurtztraminer

• Beaujolais – Young wines that are made from Gamay. These wines range in style according to where they were grown within the region.

•For more on Beaujolais, check out my previous post

• Bordeaux – Big, powerhouse red wines that are composed of various blends of Merlot, Cabernet Sauvignon, Cabernet Franc, Petit Verdot, and Malbec.

• Burgundy – Pinot Noir & Chardonnay

• Côtes de Nuits, Côtes de Beaune, Côtes Chalonnaise, Maconnais

• Champagne – Perhaps it’s fitting that the wine that’s easiest to gulp down is also the easiest to remember. Champagne is made from Chardonnay grapes as well as Pinot Noir grapes that have, very early on in the process, been separated from their red skins. A minor grape called Petit Meunier, pretty much only grown for use in Champagne is also sometimes added.

• Jura – Jura is known for making Chardonnays that have been oxidized, lending them a dark amber color and flavor notes that are more similar to those found in Sherry (marzipan and orange peel). Jura also makes some fantastic sparkling wines from Chardonnay.

• Languedoc-Roussillon – For a long time the region was known for making Europe’s table wines. Lately, however, these rustic wines have gotten lots of attention for their bold and hearty style. Merlot, Cabernet Sauvignon, Grenache, Syrah, Viogier, Sauvignon Blanc, Chardonnay

• Loire – White wines made from Sauvignon Blanc and Chenin Blanc dominate the Loire Valley. These are often considered the best white wines of France.

• Sancerre & Pouilly Fume– Sauvignon Blanc

• Vouvray – Chenin Blanc

• Chinon – Cabernet Franc

• Provence – Provence is known for enchanting and delicious roses. Red wines from Provence are the best example of a wine tasting like the land its from with pronounced flavors of thyme, lavender, and black olives swimming around. The region’s red wines are a fascinating study in wine’s savory side.

• Bandol – Wines made predominantly from the Mourvedre grape that are characterized by notes of dark fruit, cinnamon, and leather.

• Rhône

• Northern Rhone – Seriously spicy and juicy wines made from Syrah-based blends that can incorporate Viognier, Marsanne, Roussanne.

• Hermitage

• Saint-Joseph

• Saint-Peray

• Southern Rhone – These wines are different from those of the north because they blend Syrah, with Grenache, Carignan, and Mourvedre.

• Right Bank – A tendency towards light and fruity

• Côtes du Vivarais

• Left Bank – Rich, intense wines that are often meant for aging

• Côtes du Rhone

• Chateauneuf du Pape

• Savoy – obscure and indigenous white grapes

• South West France – This region is mostly notable for the Malbec that is produced in Cahors. This Malbec is a big, full bodied, and highly tannic wine that is very different than Argentine Malbec. You’ve been warned.

Phew. Deep breaths. And….

 

JUST IN CASE all that isn’t confusing enough, the wines of each region are further broken down according to rank.

Here they are from lowest to highest quality:

Vin du Table – lowest quality wine

Vin du Pays – a step up from table wine this is the “country wine” of a specific geographic area

AOC – wine that is made according to guidelines on varietal, yield, and standards from a specific geographic area.

• Okay, this gets even more confusing because some regions also have wines that called “Villages”. In the case of Burgundy, Beaujolais, and Cotes du Rhone, a wine that is qualified as “Villages” is not really considered better than the plain old AOC wines, but qualifies as distinct enough to get its own rank-within-a-rank.

Premier Cru – Wine produced within an AOC that is considered better than most and according to certain standards but not as good as the very best.

Grand Cru – The very best wine produced in a given area that comes from specific vineyards and holds up to very strict and high standards.

 

Read Full Post »

*Note: Click on the image above to see it enlarged and fully-sized

The nomenclature of the wine world can be confusing. Many times the words on a wine list are hard to pronounce and totally foreign – leaving prospective drinkers grasping at any word on the page that jumps out as familiar. There are better ways to order wine than to order the one that’s easiest to say or most recognizable.

And so, I’ve decided to help you figure out what the hell you’re looking at when you’re looking at a wine list and I’ve started with Italian wines. Italian wines can be listed on a wine list according to three criteria:

1. Name of the grape that is used to produce the wine

2. Name of the region (in Italy these specific areas are called D.O.C’s – stands for Denominazione di Origine Controllata)

3. Many Italian wines are listed as Rosso di ____ . “Rosso di” roughly translates to “red wine of…” and that blank is usually filled in with the name of a nearby town or area but is not distinct enough to be a DOC all on its own or is located within a better-known DOC.

4. Sometimes, the names of the wines don’t have much to do with either and don’t worry – I’ll cover those as well.

Ok, so now that you know those basic categories, lets dive into the wines that you’re probably most likely to run into on an Italian wine list:

Italian red wines that go by their grape name

Aglianico is a grape grown mainly in Campania. It makes a rich full-bodied wine that is meant for aging

Barbera is grown in the same region as Dolcetto and shares a lot of the same qualities but its fruitier and tends to be sweeter

Cannonau (aka Grenache) is a grape that is typically grown in Sardinia

Dolcetto is the name of a grape grown in Piemonte and is usually made into a wine that’s used as a super drinkable, light, and delicious table wine. Commonly listed as:

• Dolcetto D’Alba

• Dolcetto D’Asti

• Dolcetto Di Dogliani

• Dolcetto D’Acqui

 

Frappato is a grape grown in Sicily and has shown up more frequently of late in single-varietal wines that are light and juicy

Montepulciano is a grape that is commonly confused with Vino Nobile di Montepulciano (named after the village in which it is produced, this wine is made with Sangiovese NOT Montepulciano). Montepulciano is grown all over Italy and specifically in Abruzzo, Le Marche, and Umbria

Pinot Nero is what the Italians call Pinot Noir (easy, right?)

Primitivo (aka Zinfandel) is a grape that is grown primarily in Puglia

Sangiovese is the grape that goes into Chianti, Brunello di Montalcino, Vino
Nobile di Montepulciano, and most Super Tuscans. However, Sangiovese can be billed on its own and often appears under its grape-name when it is produced in Emilia-Romagna or Lombardia.

Sagrantino is a grape grown mainly around the village of Montefalco in Umbria. The wine produced from this grape is a hearty rustic wine known for its earthy character and hit of cinnamon on the nose

Schiapettino is a grape grown in Friuli-Venizia and produces a medium-bodied wine with notes of raspberries, white pepper, and violets.


 

White wines that go by their grape names

 

Friulano is a grape grown in the Friuli-Veneto region .

 

Falanghina is a grape grown on the coast of Campania

 

Arneis is a grape grown in Piemonte, most commonly in the hills of Roero but also in Langhe

Muscat(o) is grown in Piemonte and is most commonly seen as Moscato d’Asti, a sweet and fizzy wine

Prosecco is the grape grow in the Friuli-Venezia region as well as the Veneto region

Trebbiano is the grape that commonly goes by the names:

• Trebbiano d’Abruzzo
• Trebbiano di Romagna
Verdicchio is a grape that is grown in Le Marche and often appears under the names:
• Verdicchio di Matelica
• Verdicchio dei Castelli di Jesi

Italian Wines that go by their growing region’s name

Valpolicella is produced from grapes grown within the Veneto region. Valpolicella is made from a blend of three varieties of grapes that are relatively obscure outside of this region and grown specifically for Valpolicella. The wine can range from light and fragrant table wines to full-bodied and big.

Chianti is produced from Sangiovese grapes grown in a specific area of Tuscany.
Chianti Classico is produced in an area that stretches between Florence to the North and Sienna to the South. These wines are usually medium-bodied, have some medium tannins, and have a lighter flavor profile of cherries and florals.
Chianti Rufina is produced in the northeastern area of Tuscany around the town of Rufina and are most widely known outside of Italy as wines with a great deal of complexity and finesse.

Rosso Orvieto is a wine produced in the Orvieto region of Umbria and is usually made up of Trebbiano-based blends for whites and Montepulciano on its own or blended for reds.

Veneto Bianco is white wine produced in the Veneto region .

Vino Nobile di Montepulciano is a wine named after the village of Montepulciano in Tuscany where it is produced. It is made from Sangiovese grapes and is a sub-style of Chianti.

Common Italian wines that go by names that have nothing to do with either their grape or where they’re grown and/or produced

Barbaresco is a wine made from the Nebbiolo grape grown in Piemonte in an area called the Langhe. Barbaresco is a big wine that requires 2 years of aging before it can even be bottled, and then is expected to age for another 5-10 years after that. Barbaresco is extremely tannic when young, but softens into a gorgeous red wine known for its floral nose, and rich earthy flavor with tendencies towards smoke, leather, and tar.

 

Barolo is a wine also made from the Nebbiolo grape grown in Piemont. The difference between Barbaresco and Barolo is the area in which it is grown and the fact that grapes going into Barolo are harvested after the grapes that go into Barbaresco.

 

Super Tuscan is a wine that is made from grapes grown in the Chianti region of Tuscany but strays from classification of Chianti because of the proportions of grapes other than Sangiovese that go into the blends. Usually, Super Tuscans, incorporate more Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot, into their blends to produce a wine that is richer than Chianti.

 

Brunello di Montalcino is a red wine made from Sangiovese grapes grown around the village of Montalcino. Brunello di Montalcino is a wine renowned for its full body, smooth tannins, and bright berry flavors that are often complimented with notes of chocolate or leather.

Read Full Post »

Growing up there were really only ever two kinds of wine to be found in our kitchen – Beaujolais Nouveau during the holidays and Kendall Jackson Chardonnay (which my mother, whose penchant for abbreviation was far ahead of her time, affectionately referred to as KJ). My childhood memories are peppered with the image of the wine’s label – a singular grape leaf perpetually in the midst of its autumnal color change.

Even as a teenager, I learned early on to avoid pinching the KJ and opted instead for the Kettle One in the freezer, surreptitiously replacing it with water that, whoops, froze after too may refills.

The one night a friend and I snuck off with a bottle of KJ, we only got about halfway through before we both started to feel sick – something I would much later attribute to the wine’s shockingly high sugar content. I couldn’t understand how my mom and her friends could knock the stuff back like juice – we were better off with vodka that we could dilute enough to be tolerable.

Fast forward a few years – my mom and her friends have, thankfully, graduated from KJ (though, I still see a bottle in the fridge every now and then) and have started to drink more and more pinot noir. My mom, who never thought she liked red wine had finally found one that was light enough for her palate and wasn’t of the same family as the monster reds my dad always drank that triggered her killer migraines.

They’ve found some good stand-by pinots that are good to grab for a pot luck or dinner party, but leaving these lovely ladies to their own devices, they’ve still brought plenty of bottles that evoke memories of retching after gulps of KJ. They’ve moved on from the big Chardonnays that came of age with them in the 80’s but with little direction.

My mother aches for a good every-day bottle of Pinot that’s on par with her beloved and not-quite-abandoned KJ, and has asked me to offer some helpful advice on finding the bottle whose image may grace the next chapter of my life’s memories.

Where to Start: Region

As I’ve said before, Pinot is a tricky grape to grow – she’s a diva who is inclined to give a less-than-thrilling performance if not pampered and indulged. Pinot had a sudden surge in popularity (thanks to, I wish I were kidding, the movie Sideways) that left a lot of winemakers, who had no previous experience with the grape, scrambling to cash in on the new market and bottle their own. Needless to say, for a long time, the result of all this inexperience was a lot of cheap Pinot Noir that really didn’t reflect the finesse and poetry for which the wine had been so celebrated in the movie that made it so popular.

This wasn’t, of course, the rule and luckily, in the past couple years, both veteran Pinot producers and some newbie game changers have stepped up their game to bring consumers some really stellar Pinot Noirs that are delicious and placed squarely within the everyday price range.

In particular, producers in California, Oregon, and Chile have some exciting wines that run the gamut of styles and flavors. Generally, finding a region that matches your particular preference for a certain kind of wine (assuming its one that grows in a wide array of places) is a good idea – knowing the basic qualities that come out of specific regions can help you to, time after time, pick the wine that’s right for you.

CALIFORNIA


Sonoma, Sonoma Coast: Sonoma provides the perfect micro-climate for growing Pinot Noir. Pinot noir likes cooler regions and benefits from growing in a region where it is exposed to fog. Growing it in a coastal region known for its thick coastal fog makes perfect sense for Pinot.

What to expect: delicate, light, bright red fruit, floral aromas

What to try: Sebastiani Sonoma Pinot Noir 2008 ($13/bottle), Blackstone Sonoma Coast Pinot Noir 2007 ($10/bottle), Heron Sonoma County Pinot Noir 2009 ($12/bottle), Purisma Canyon Sonoma Coast Pinot Noir 2008 ($14/bottle)

Looking for a splurge? Try Russian River Valley – the most highly regarded appellation within Sonoma County. It’s hard to find anything under $25 a bottle from this region but if you do stumble across anything from this region that’s on sale or otherwise affordable, give it a try!

Try: Willowbrook Sonoma County Pinot Noir 2008 ($20/bottle), Joseph Swan Cuvee de Trois Pinot Noir 2006 ($25/bottle – this is one of my favorites with a tawny color in the glass, really nice nose of strawberries, and a slight earthiness that makes it stand out)

Carneros: Nestled in a valley between Sonoma and Napa, this region acts as a tunnel through which cool air and fog funnel into Napa Valley from the coast, which makes it a good area for Pinot.

What to expect: Because this is a traditionally Chardonnay-growing region, wine producers are keen on oak in this area and love to imbue their Pinots with its smoky and full-bodied characteristics. Look for bigger pinots with medium bodies, creamy red fruit, and a touch of oak, smoke, or spice.

What to try: Castle Rock Winery Pinot Noir Carneros 2008 ($13/bottle), Annabella Pinot Noir Special Selection Carneros 2008 ($13/bottle), La Crema Pinot Noir 2007

Looking for a splurge? Fleur De California Pinot Noir Fleur de Carneros 2007 ($16/bottle), Etude Pinot Noir Carneros 2007 ($18/bottle), Acacia Pinot Noir Carneros 2007 ($20/bottle)

Monterey: Coastal, with cool afternoon sea breezes that keep Pinot nice and chilly.

What to expect: The watch-word for Monterey Pinot Noir is balance. More fruit-forward than upstate Pinots and with a tighter structure to support all that bursting fruit.

What to try: Irony Pinot Noir 2007 ($11/bottle),  Poppy Pinot Noir Monterey County 2009 ($12/bottle – and one of my favorites for easy drinking), Estancia Pinot Noir Pinnacles Ranches Monterey 2009 ($12/bottle)

Looking for a splurge? Kali Hart by Talbott Pinot Noir Monterey 2008 ($16/bottle), Chalone Pinot Noir Monterey 2008 ($20/bottle), Summerland Monterey Pinot Noir 2008 ($22/bottle and another personal favorite)

Santa Barbara: Similar to Napa and its various micro-climates, Santa Barbara has a distinct topography that allows for cool ocean breezes and fog to flow through the area’s coastal ranges and makes it one of the coolest places to grow wine vines in California.

What to expect: Elegant Pinot Noir that defy any previous notion of lightness without substance in Pinot Noir – these are beautiful Pinots that have complex structure that includes a medium body, bright fruit, and a smooth long finish where others just give out at the end.

What to try: Parker Station Santa Barbara Pinot Noir 2007 ($12/bottle), Martin Ray Santa Barbara Pinot Noir 2006 ($12/bottle)

Looking for a splurge?Anything with a Sta. Rita Hills appellation will most likely be dynamite and give you an example of California Pinot at its very best.  Melville Pinot Noir Sta. Rita Hills 2009 ($17/bottle) Sanford Sta. Rita Hills Pinot Noir 2007 (half bottle @ $18)

OREGON

Willamette Valley: Cool and moist thanks to its position between the Cascade Mountains to the east and the Pacific Ocean to the west (think of LA smog effect but replace dirty lung-clogging air with fresh cool and wet sea fog).

What to expect: Oregon Pinot Noirs tend towards the more Burgundian style in that they can get a little funky and earthy in an amazingly delicious way. They’ll be delicate and lighter in body but still carry flavors of fresh fruits like dried strawberries and blueberries rather than the raspberries and dark cherry flavors of California.

What to try: Spruce Goose Pinot Noir 2006 ($11/bottle), Rascal Pinot Noir 2007 ($12/bottle), Primarius Pinot Noir 2007 ($14/bottle)

Looking for a splurge? Look for “Dundee Hills” – a sub appellation of Willamette Valley that produces stellar Pinots. Try: O’Reilly’s Pinot Noir 2009 ($17/bottle),  Belle Pente Willamette Valley Pinot Noir 2008 ($23/bottle), Benton Lane Willamette Valley Pinot Noir 2008 ($22/bottle)

CHILE

($10/bottle), Chilensis Pinot Noir 2008 ($10/bottle), Montes Pinot Noir 2008 ($13/bottle)

Looking for a splurge? Ritual Pinot Noir 2008 ($18/bottle), Montes Alpha Pinot Noir Leyda Valley 2007 ($19/bottle)

Read Full Post »


I’m young, broke, and in love with wine. The same was true a little more than a year ago when I was studying abroad in gloomy Edinburgh. The pervasive gray underfoot and overhead was threatening to turn me into a chain-smoking, sun-starved zombie, so I planned a three-week jaunt across the continent. I had a good friend studying in Paris at the time, so we joined forces and ventured into the French countryside, searching for sunnier pastures — and vineyards.

Rendered practically destitute by the weakness of the dollar against the Euro, we nixed the pricey train to Bordeaux and set out in a rental car for famed Burgundy. With nothing more than some faded Mapquest print-outs to guide us, we ended up in a small town in the northwestern corner of the Beaujolais region. See also: not Burgundy.

I’d been looking forward to drinking good wine and the general opinion of Beaujolais is that it is a simple wine; the table wine of Parisian bistros — light, fruity, and easy to drink. My only encounters with the variety came from a Christmas tradition: my mother, who drank nothing but cheap California Chardonnays, bought a bottle of Beaujolais Nouveau every year around the holidays.

Although we were disappointed, we’d spent most of the day getting hopelessly lost so we called it a day and hung up our hats. The countryside was breathtaking, our B&B came with chickens, donkeys, a claw-footed tub in our gorgeous room, and the little town was effortlessly charming. I doubted I’d find anything revelatory in our travels but I was relieved on behalf of my friend, a white-wine purist so, Beaujolais, I figured, might actually be a good compromise.

After the first sip it became clear that my disappointment had been uncalled-for. Delicate, floral, tightly structured, and redolent of fresh raspberries and strawberries, this was some delicious wine. At tasting after tasting, wild roses, violets, and peonies perfumed my glass while the wine’s acid woke up my tongue and, for the first time, I tasted the pleasant tang of granite. Light but velvety, the wine had none of that sticky, saccharine aftertaste I’d come to expect from Beaujolais Nouveau.

Beaujolais is the name of the region, but the wine is actually made from a grape called Gamay. The Gamay grape is not a diva; it’s relatively easy to grow, rigorous, and versatile. Her flavor is delicate but not often considered as elegant as her cousin, Pinot Noir. It’s naturally high in acidity and low in tannins; although it may dance on the tongue, it won’t cloy.

The region itself is large and can be easily split along the North/South divide by soil type (rocky and dry in the North and richer clay in the South). The southern parts produce wines that fall under the appellation of plain-and-basic Beaujolais and are generally lighter and fruiter — this is where the grapes that go into Beaujolais Nouveau are grown.

The Northern half produces wine under two different appellations: Beaujolais Villages and Cru Beaujolais. The former is usually of higher quality than plain Beaujolais, but not as highly regarded as the latter. Cru Beaujolais are broken down even further into ten specific appellations, each representing a distinct area and usually named after a nearby town. From North to South these appellations are: Julienas, Saint-Amour, Chenas, Moulin a Vent, Fleurie, Chiroubles, Morgon, Regnie, Cote de Brouilly, and Brouilly.

We were lucky enough to stumble right into the heart of this Northern region, so we were tasting the best that Beaujolais has to offer. Just like people, grape vines reflect the way they were brought up; the Gamay vines that are grown on the rocky and acidic soil of these northern areas have to struggle a little more to produce fruit. That struggle is reflected in the fruit and manifests itself as a more complex and structured wine.

Beaujolais is an excellent starter wine; it’s not intimidating, not meant for aging, and you can find a great bottle for a wonderful price. If you’re mostly a white drinker, it’s a nice red to ease you into the heavier stuff. More experienced drinkers will appreciate the subtleties of this delicate wine – it’s a pleasant surprise in such a “light” wine.

By the end of our trip, we were both loyal Beaujolais drinkers. My friend swore off the whites and began diving into deeper, heavier profiles. For my part, I finally found something to take the edge off that gloomy Scottish fog.

Try These:

Fleurie is commonly referred to as the most feminine of the Cru Beaujolais; with the most floral nose, often of violets, ripe red fruit, and a velvety finish (Chateau des Deduits Fleurie Beaujolais 2006 $16.95, Terres Dorees Fleurie 2008 $18.99)

Morgon wines are the darkest and richest of the Cru Beaujolais and are most similar to Burgundian wines; a peachy nose, earthy taste, and silky texture (Maison Louis Tete Morgon 2007 $14.99,  Domaine Georges Descombes Morgon 2007 $19.99)

Cote De Brouilly is somewhere in between —  not as earthy as Morgon wines but richer than a typical Fleurie (my personal favorite is the smoky 2006 Chateau de Thivin at $14.00 but also good is the more lively 2008 from the same winemakers at $18.00 and Daniel Bouland’s 2008 at $20).

Read Full Post »

« Newer Posts