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Posts Tagged ‘pretty colors’

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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*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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*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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