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Archive for the ‘Varietal Info’ Category

I have a horrible habit of thinking it’s hilarious to pronounce Champagne like “Champ-Ag-Nee.” Regardless of how you want to say it, Champagne is weird stuff. At its most interesting, Champagne is a product of sheer ingenuity – of centuries of curious tinkering, trial, and error. At its most expensive, Champagne is one of the most successful tales of marketing in the history of food and beverage. And at its most refined, Champagne is the stuff of delirious gustatory delight and celebration.

So, what exactly is Champagne?

Champagne is a sparkling wine made from Chardonnay, Pinot Meunier, and Pinot Noir grapes that are grown exclusively in the Champagne region of France.

Queue the sound effect of tires coming to a screeching haltPinot Noir? But that’s a red grape! And Champagne is white!

Not exactly – the skins of the Pinot Noir grape (and the Pinot Meunier grape for that matter) are most definitely red but(!) the juice of the grape is actually white. If you separate the juice from the skin early in the wine making process, you’re left with the makings of a white wine.

Champagnes made from only Pinot Noir grapes or a mixture of Pinot Noir and Pinot Meunier are called Blanc de Noirs (literally translates to “white from red”). Similarly, Champagne made from 100% Chardonnay grapes is called a Blanc de Blanc (white from white). In a similarly confusing fashion, most Champagne is made from a mixture of grapes harvested in different years (usually marked N.V.). However, if a particular year (aka vintage) proves to be exceptional, under the laws of the powers that be, a Champagne Vintage may be produced that contains grapes exclusively from that one year.

Pretty Champagne vines in Fall

In Europe, where they are much stricter about these things, not only must a wine called Champagne be made from grapes grown within this small region, but that wine must also be produced by a specific and traditional method (here in America, we’re not so particular – you can slap “Champagne” on a $5 bottle of Andre. God bless America!). This method requires that the effervescence, or bubbles, in Champagne be produced by a second fermentation in the bottle.

This means that, to start, Champagne is made just like any other wine – the grapes are harvested and thrown into a fermentation tank along with some yeast. The yeast converts the natural sugar present in the grapes into alcohol and voila! A wine is born. To make that wine into Champagne, it is poured directly into the bottle along with some extra sugar (called dosage), some more yeast and set aside to age for a minimum of 1.5 years or 15 months. During those years when a vintage is declared (a year when the harvest is exceptional), bottles must be allowed to age for twice as long – for a minimum of three years.

Merci, Madame Clicquot!

For a long time, because yeast and sugar were introduced directly into the bottle, Champagne was a cloudy wine – it had all kinds of fun particulates floating around! It was the infamous Widow Clicquot (of Veuve Clicquot) who introduced the use of something called a riddling table (a table that holds Champagne bottles upside down so that the sediment from secondary fermentation settled into the neck of the bottle and made it easier to draw off) that was used to produce the sparkling clear Champagne we know and love today.

Notice: A guy all decked out in formal top hat and tails and an elegant evening-gown clad lady.

So, if Champagne is such a specific wine why do we have a habit of calling any old sparkling wine Champagne? This is where we get into a case study of brilliant marketing. Even before it came to resemble the stuff we drink today, Champagne had long been treasured by European royalty and French aristocracy and imbibed at official ceremonies and celebrations. The method champenoise wasn’t introduced until around 1700 (and, coincidentally, not in Champagne but probably somewhere in the Languedoc region). Before the method was introduced to the winemakers of the region, Champagne was imbibed as a still wine, and often only during celebratory occasions – it was, even back then, the good stuff you busted out for company. Champagne, then, was always a wine associated with luxury, prestige, and celebration.

During the 1800’s Champagne houses and producers took advantage of their product’s rarified past and began marketing it to the burgeoning middle class at home and abroad. Take a look at any old Champagne ad (if you don’t already have a poster up on your wall) and you’ll see the instant appeal.. Needless to say, the Champagne industry did gangbusters.

However that success was not built entirely on marketing a lifestyle – Champagne is amazing stuff. The range of styles; from delicate, floral and dreamy to biscuity and savory younger varieties to the rich and complex mature examples make Champagne exactly the kind of indulgence that pairs perfectly with just about any occasion.

So, to review:

A true Champagne may only be made from Chardonnay, Pinot Noir, and Pinot Meunier grapes grown within the Champagne appellation and subjected to the traditional and specific method of secondary in-bottle fermentation

Methode Champoinese is the traditional method by which Champagne is produced. Sparkling wines that are made in other regions may indicate that they were produced in this same fashion. If you see a sparkling wine that has Methode Champoinese or Methode traditionelle on the label, it just means that the wine was made using the same technique as Champagne – with the secondary in-bottle fermentation and aging.

Blanc de Blancs is Champagne made from 100% Chardonnay grapes. You may see other sparkling wines that are called Blanc de Blancs – and they may be made from white grapes other than Chardonnay.

Blanc de Noirs is Champagne made from either 100% Pinot Noir or a mixture of Pinot Noir and Pinot Meunier. You may see other sparkling wines that identify themselves as Blanc de Noirs – this just mean’s they’re made from red grapes, not that they’re Champagne.

Vintage : A Vintage Champagne means that all of the grapes used to make the wine (regardless of varietal) were harvested in the same year and that that year produced an exceptional harvest. A Vintage Champagne also means that the wine was aged for at least 3 years in the bottle. If you see N.V. on a Champagne label, it means that the wine was not produced as a Vintage and could have been made from grapes from different years.

Brut, Extra Brut, Sec, and Demi Sec are all terms that are commonly found on Champagne labels as well as on the labels of other sparkling wines. Brut indicates a dry wine; Extra Brut means, incidentally, extra dry; Sec means sweeter than Brut but still on the dry side; Demi Sec is used to indicate a sweet sparkling wine.

Next week, I’ll be looking at sparkling wines other than Champagne – Prosecco, Cava, Cremant, and New World sparklers. Stay tuned!

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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.

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A couple of weeks ago I received my very first wine samples. They arrived unceremoniously with a sticker that warned, “Do not deliver to an intoxicated person”. I was giddy with the prospect of free wine, being taken seriously, and having a lovely picnic that weekend with some friends (that’s my friend Cammy in the photo below).

The weather hadn’t yet turned into the disgusting monster that ruins your hair within 32 seconds of stepping outside, raises your electricity bill, causes you to sweat profusely before 9 am, and abducts small children and the elderly. Ok maybe not the last part.

We picked a perfect spot in Central Park where we had a view of the shirtless masses sprawled across Sheep Meadow but were secluded and shaded by the canopy of a few perfectly positioned trees. Seriously, it looked like that Manet painting below except no one was casually naked or wearing a turban-y hat.

There was however a drunk guy who kept coming over to tell us that we were beautiful and when we asked him kindly to leave us alone threw ice cubes at us. New York is so charming, sometimes.

I was eager to pour the wines, carried from 88th and Broadway down to the Bethesda Fountain with a cold pack nestled between them, for my friends on this perfect summer day. The two wines were both Sauvignon Blancs from France.

The first one we opened, Le Jaja de Jau 2010 Sauvignon Blanc ($8.99) is from the Languedoc region and produced by a famed old estate in the region called Chateau de Jau. The name of the wine (jaja) is slang for the region’s everyday wines and it’s a wine that owns up to being “fun and youthful”. This seemed like the perfect wine to bring on a picnic with a bunch of young ladies who didn’t want to take anything that day too seriously.

To that end, it was perfect. It was juicy and full of fruit and finished with an herbal kick that made it the perfect partner to our green ambience. One of my friends loved it so much she spent the next weekend scouring her neighborhood wine stores looking for it.

The second bottle was a more expensive Pouilly Fume (still Sauvignon Blanc) from the Loire Valley (Le Domaine Saget Pouilly-Fume 2009, $34.99). Unfortunately, this bottle came with a cork and we were sans corkscrew. After ten minutes of trying to open it by banging it, tucked into a shoe, against a tree, we were obliged to ask the local restaurant for help.

This is one of those classic French wines – one that has legions of obsessed drinkers and has a price that reflects its quality. This second Sauvignon Blanc was a perfect example of Pouilly Fume with lively lush fruits and a pineapple-ish acidity that makes it sparkle on the tongue. It was a little more restrained, more sincere than the flirtatious “JaJa” and probably belongs on a dinner table more than a picnic blanket.

Sauvignon Blanc has never been a favorite and neither of these wines were life-changers for me to that end and if I have to be honest, I think I preferred the JaJa de Jau with its lowly price point and lack of pretentions more than the Pouilly-Fume. Both of the wines were the perfect pairing for that lovely day and if you’re interested in picking up either to try, head over to winesearcher.com – a great website that lets you type in the name of a wine you’re looking for and the zipcode in which you’d like to buy it.

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Ladies and gentleman, I have been on a roll this week. I suspect that my brush with zombie-ism that was last week and my reintroduction to the wonders of caffeine are at least partially responsible but this week, I just feel great.

I have done such things as craft two haikus (go ahead, you try it before you roll your eyes at me), come up with an entire wine related rhyme, and made a gigantic leap in the direction of saving myself a giant mound of money by learning to make Chinese food at home. BAM.

So how did I feel when my dear cousin brought up the topic of wine spritzers? Did I slump into my chair and groan? Did I laugh? Did I cower? No, dear readers, I said bring it.

Spritzers are generally something I relegate to the realm of white zinfandel and commercials for Arbor Mist. However, I have a feeling that wine-centric cocktails are boomeranging back from 90’s obsolescence and I’m always happy to be ahead of the game.

Spritzer’s are generally nothing more than white wine and seltzer with, perhaps, a stray strawberry or raspberry thrown in for decoration. However, after a wee bit o googling, there’s also a healthy contingent of spritzer spikers out there who recommend a splash of peach schnapps or other such fruity liquors. To that end, this whole spritzer thing is starting to sound like a vaguely good idea.

So, what wine would I use? I would say that, since you’re going to be mixing it with seltzer you want to use a white wine that is already pretty light but that has plenty of fruit in it. Also, since you’re going to be watering it down, I would think that you wouldn’t want to spend more than $10. Give these a whirl:

• Torrontes: A distinct nose of peaches and apricots that would get a nice bump from a splash of Schnapps. The high acid, full body, and crisp finish are perfect for a spritzer.

•Albariño: A super super light and snappy white wine that usually has notes of watermelon and roses. Throwing in some Saint Germain Liqour along with your seltzer of choice couldn’t hurt.

Vinho Verde: Bargain-basement prices and a unique fresh lime zest quality makes this ideal for a spritzer, especially if you wanted to throw in a dash of vodka or perhaps even some clear tequila or a splash of chartreuse?

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Whenever Spring goes a-sprunging I can’t help but to think of my 10th grade English teacher, the indefatigable Mrs. Coombs. Nothing but a big lovebug at the end of the day, the woman was constantly trying to convince us that she was a crusty old curmudgeon by saying things like, “I hate the Spring. All of my students fall in love in the springtime and it’s impossible to get anyone to pay attention to anything.” Of course, it couldn’t have helped her case that she also tried to get a bunch of 16-year-olds to read all 700 pages of Richard III (or whichever one the humpback was) at about the same time.

Anyways, now that lots of green things have finally started bursting forth from tree branches (leaves, if I recall correctly?) and the tulips are blooming, I have to admit I find myself feeling more than a little flirtatious. I’ve stashed my winter coat in the furthest corner of my tiny closet never to be seen or worn again and hung six or seven dresses (yeah, it’s that puffy) and – dare I let my optimism overtake me – a pair of shorts in its place.

So while I may not be flirting with boys (save for one peculiar specimen who likes to dress up in tuxedos, owns a blue fuzzy puppet, and has a propensity for wearing bathing suits to work), I’ve most certainly been flirting with white wines. Usually I’m a pretty stubborn red wine drinker – there’s something about white wine that can just seem too girly for me. But come those first few weeks of springtime, when all I want to do is pick flowers and dance around like a Disney princess, absconding with cartoon bluebirds and wearing heels for no reason on a Sunday, it seems like white wine is perfectly appropriate.

Fresh, zippy, floral and bright are the notes that set my heart all a flutter of late. Though there was that day last week when it was out-of-the-blue 85 degrees and humid and I walked into a Best Cellars and told the guy I wanted a wine that tasted like I was “licking granite”. The phrase, “I want stones in my mouth” may also have been uttered but we’re looking through the tapes to make sure on that one.

Below you’ll find a list of the wine’s I’m currently flirting with, though who knows what love affair could blossom by next week?

Val d’Aosta: A tiny region in northern Italy (north of Piedmont) that is close to the Swiss border, this is a high-altitude growing region. The wines that come out of Val d’Aosta express their terroir with delicate flavors and often bracing acidity. The whites that come out of this region are crisp and floral and taste like melting snow.

Chenin Blanc (Vouvrey): A slick of granite on the tongue, this is just the kind of wine you want on a hot day. It can be sweet and juicy on the finish, but never loses its minerally tang. 

Albarino: This is a super super light white wine from Spain. It’s got a tell-tale nose of peaches and apricots, but gives way to a wine that is shimmering and, dare I say, ephemeral.

Godello: A Spanish white varietal grown in the same region (Galicia) as Albarino yet much less known and harder to find. It’s got the same lightness to it but softly zings with flavors of lemon and wildflowers.

Gruner Veltliner: Gruner is one of those wines that comes in a few different styles. I like mine dry with a richly perfumed nose of roses, floral notes, and exotic tropicals like lychee and passion fruit.

PS. On a side note, Matthew Kaner, owner of one of my favorite LA wine bars, (Covell in Silverlake), winemaker, musician and all around renaissance-man has an album coming out in July with his band, Liquid Love Letter. You can stream some tracks here. I suggest pairing the tracks with a bottle of Santa Barbara Pinot Noir – not only is SB Kaner’s hometown, but these delicious wines echo the softspoken sumptiousness of LLL’s tunage.

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This is a page from the wine list at Veritas here in NYC. It is one of the best Wine Lists I’ve ever seen – it lists the wines along with a brief description from the Sommellier that even tells you what GRAPE is in each wine. Love. Love. Love!!!!

Stay tuned for some exciting news folks….

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*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.

 

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Me and the BF with glasses of Malbec @ Vincent Arroyo

Often times I impress people with the random pieces of information I have at my fingertips. Just as often, however, I prove infinitely annoying in my ability to remember the scientific name for the fear of beards (pogonophobia – and no, I did not just look that up) while failing to recall important things like passwords or the name of the person calling on the other line.

When the BF and I went wine tasting in Napa last summer, I managed to impress a winemaker guiding the tasting at Vincent Arroyo, a wonderful boutique winery in Calistoga, by knowing what Malbec was.

Looking back it seems that it can’t possibly have already been early June that a winemaker was impressed that a precocious 23-year-old was able to quickly identify Malbec as a typically minor grape grown in Bordeaux for blending purposes. Or that the Malbec produced in Bordeaux was typically as full bodied yet much more tannic as the juicy and smooth Malbecs coming out of Argentina.

I, on the other hand, was just as surprised to have a reason to discuss Malbec in Napa! When the wine maker produced a bottle of wine called “Bodega” for us to try and went on to tell us it was mostly a blend of Cabernet Sauvignon and Malbec with some Merlot and Cabernet Franc thrown in for good measure, it was like a revelation. Malbec? In California? Quoi???

As it turned out, the wine was delicious and if I was the kind of girl who had $35 to spend on an every-day wine, Vincent Arroyo would have made quite a profit that day.

But none of this is really the point – the point is that I can’t believe that it was June of 2010 that a winemaker was impressed with a 23-year-old knowing about Malbec.  Because these days, it often seems like the only wine people around my age know about is Malbec.

It seems nearly impossibly that it only took from early June until the middle of August for Malbec to become the wine-du-jour amongst hip 20-somethings.

The event that set the dominoes in motion, for me, was the BF’s roommate’s dinner party in LA in August. When the host (who knew less about wine than I did about an East Coast winter at the time) ordered a bottle of French Malbec, I took notice.

And then I noticed as more people around me ordered glasses of Malbec or had bottles of it open in the kitchen with more and more frequency; my cousins at family dinner, my friend Phoebe the food-blogger, one girlfriend after another on various wine nights, and on and on until, most recently, a food-loving coworker admitted she knew nothing about wine except that she knew she loved Malbec.

20-somethings and Malbec became such a thing that the very same night I was trying to convey its very thing-ness to a skeptical friend, she went back to her apartment later that night to discover a bottle of it open on the kitchen counter. She took a picture and sent it to me with a note acknowledging my acumen for wine trends…the roommates in question hadn’t opened a single bottle of wine in her presence in the six months she’d lived with them – until the Malbec.

So, you ready to be a cool kid, too? All you have to do is run out and grab a bottle of Malbec or order a glass of it the next time you see it on a wine list. Chances are, if you’re between the ages of 21-30 you’ll like the stuff. Besides the fact that its generally pretty amenable – big fruit without being overripe, nice subtle spice, and smooth – it’s also relatively friendly to the average 20-something’s budget. Go on, experience the j’nais se quoi for yourself and let me know how it goes!!!!!

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Growing up, I spent 9 years at a Catholic school run by nuns of an Irish order called the Sisters of St. Louis (pronounced Loo-ee). St. Patrick’s day was as much about running around and pinching kids and teachers who dared to forget to wear green or who lazily grabbed a green marker and colored a swatch of their skin with it as it was about Sister Patricia.

Sister Patricia was our principle –hearty, stern, and mostly terrifying in only the way that a Catholic Nun can be. St. Patrick’s day also happened to be her “feast day” on which we showered her with appreciation and were, in turn, rewarded with donuts. For me, the coming of St. Patrick’s day usually brings with it a good deal of nostalgia and fond memories and so remains one of very few holidays on which I will willingly dress like I’m colorblind (ie lots of green). However, I realize that it’s a perennial favorite because it provides an excuse for carousing and binge drinking on a week night.

In honor of St. Patrick’s day, I have not only created the cute little graphic you see above (you’re welcome), but I have also decided to bring up the topic of Green Wine.

No, I’m not talking about getting a bottle of white wine and adding a few drops of green food coloring (although that is surely one way to go) a la the ubiquitous pitchers of green beer that will be consumed by people pretending to be Irish all across this great nation of ours (Note: I am actually, in fact, about a quarter Irish).

Instead, I’m talking about wine that has a “green” flavor profile. Though wines that are called “green” are usually being insulted, there are a few exceptions and today I’m going to tell you all about two of them.

 

Cabernet Franc is an interesting little grape that can count among its achievements its very famous offspring, Cabernet Sauvignon. Cabernet Franc is typically grown as a blending grape for Bordeaux-style wines but growers across the wine world have, in the past couple decades, begun to produce single-varietal Cabernet Franc wines that are often noted for their uniquely vegetal quality that can evoke green bell peppers or leaves.

Try:

Wildekrans Walker Bay 2005 (South Africa) – $14

  • In a blind taste test, it would be hard not to taste Cabernet Franc’s fingerprints all over this wine with its signature rush of wet leaves and an herbal, almost minty, nose that gives way to some easy drinkin’

Chateau de Coulaine Chinon Bonnaventure 2008 (Loire Valley) – $18

  • The Loire Valley, and specifically Chinon, has been in the game of producing Cabernet Franc based blends and single-varietals longer than anyone else, so they’ve really got the formula down. Cabernet Franc’s from this area tend to be more refined and less “green” but still have that kick of bell-pepper spice that sets this grape apart.

Shneider Vineyards Cabernet Franc La Bouchet 2005 (North Fork Long Island) – $20

  • I’ll be honest – I didn’t know that Long Island produced wine until I moved to New York and I didn’t know they produced anything other than Rose until fairly recently. The North Fork, however, makes for ideal Cabernet Franc conditions, and the wines coming out of the area are serious enough to start garnering some serious attention for New York wines.

 

Vinho Verde is another interesting grape, this time grown specifically in the Minho region of Portugal. While the name of the wine roughly translates to “green wine”, it’s a reference to the sprightly quality of the wine rather than to its color. These are wines that are meant to be consumed very young – and they’re fun, flirty, and can even be slightly effervescent. With flavor notes that tend to be citrusy (think lime zest) and grassy, these lovely wines are also going to cost you about just as much as a pitcher of green beer but with a higher alcohol content (9% to your typical beer’s 5%) and, chances are, a better taste. And! It’s called green wine! Win.

Try:

JM Fonseca Twin Vines 2009 – $7

  • Slightly fizzy with lots of green fruit and a splash of lime zest, this wine will wake you right up.

Famega Vinho Verde 2009 – $8

  • Very light and on the drier side, this version of Vinho Verde has a mineral tang to go along with its lime inflected flavor. Think Perrier Lime – that gets you tipsy.

 

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*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.

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