I am always one for a celebration. This month marks my 14th anniversary of writing Uncorked. Writing this column gives me an opportunity to share my love and passion for wine but also offer ideas, discuss trends and sometimes just voice my opinions. But it’s your questions and feedback each week I look forward to the most. Your comments and questions have been the source of hundreds of columns.
One topic that comes up often is the changing way we drink our wines and more specifically which wines we’re drinking.
ROSÉ IS THE NEW CHARDONNAY
It has taken years, but finally rosé is considered an extraordinary dry wine standing on its own. The perception has always been all rosé wines were created equal, generally landing in the white zinfandel and extreme sweet category. It has been a remarkable transition seeing readers reaching for those refreshing rosés. Even just a few years ago the retail shelves only stocked a few choices; today you have almost entire sections devoted to this subtle, elegant wine.
- 2018 Bell Rosé, California (about $15 retail)
- 2018 Presqu’ile Vineyard Rosé of Pinot Noir, California (about $20 retail)
THE TIME OF THE BOX IS NOW
Over the past year I have watched a remarkable transition of expectations of boxed wine. Just five years ago the mere mention of serving or drinking a wine from a box was an unthinkable concept for many wine drinkers. But as more and more brands have entered the market, including well-made, high-end brands, consumers are embracing boxed wines with their ideal closure and storage options.
- 2018 Earth Wise Red Blend 3L, Spain (about $19 retail)
- 2018 Bota Box Pinot Grigio 3L, California (about $20 retail)
THERE ARE NO RULES
If you thought merlot was a good match with steak, try a riesling. I hope by now I have debunked the old rules of food and wine pairing. Just as your taste buds differ so does your ideal food and wine pairing combination. The rules were put in place centuries ago as a general guideline, but today more and more consumers are exploring and understanding, it’s all about your personal preference and style you enjoy.
- 2018 Chateau Ste. Michelle Dry Riesling, Washington (about $11 retail)
- 2018 Anne Amie Yamhill Riesling, Oregon (about $20 retail)
I wish you could have been sitting beside me at a recent tasting. Not just because you would’ve enjoyed the outstanding wines of the Von Winning vineyards but to understand how we are missing out by not buying more German wine.
We were honored to have Andreas Hutwohl of Von Winning guide us through an unforgettable tasting of some of the most impressive German rieslings and equally amazing pinot noirs.
Of course, we identify Germany with unforgettable rieslings but it was the pinot noirs that had my attention. You may be surprised to learn Germany is the third-largest producer of pinot noir in the world, behind France and the United States.
Germans call the grape spätburgunder, which means late ripening (spät) pinot (Burgunder). (The literal translation is late burgundy.) Pinot noir once accounted for just a speckling of plantings in Germany’s 13 wine regions but now makes up more than 50 percent of plantings in regions such as Ahr, Baden and Franken.
I first tasted spätburgunder almost 20 years ago. At that time there were very few examples showcasing the potential of this grape in Germany. It was also when many German vintners were struggling to get their grapes to the desired levels of ripeness before harvest. Today, thanks to innovations in viticulture and new winemaking techniques, ripening isn’t a problem and German winemakers are taking these wines to the next level.
When tasting spätburgunder, lovers of pinot noir will find a distinctive, unique expression of this grape. The wines tend to have a fresher, leaner and more aromatic profile than pinot noirs from other regions in the world. As winemaking techniques improve and younger winemakers take the helm we will see more and more high quality pinot noir coming out of Germany.
German riesling is widely available in the United States but German pinot noir is quite limited. Typically, a few dozen to a few hundred cases are imported. You don’t want to miss out on this opportunity to taste for yourself Von Winning’s lineup.
- 2017 Von Winning Estate Riesling Trocken, Germany (about $21 retail)
- 2017 Von Winning ‘Winnings’ Riesling, Germany (about $19 retail)
- 2017 Von Winning Sauvignon Blanc II, Germany (about $22 retail)
- 2018 Von Winning Pinot Noir Rosé, Germany (about $22 retail)
- 2016 Von Winning Kalkofen Riesling Grosses Gewachs, Germany (about $70 retail)
- 2015 Von Winning Pinot Noir II, Germany (about $43 retail)
- 2014 Von Winning Pinot Noir I, Germany (about $82 retail)
Grapevines may not have opinions about climate change, but they are experiencing the changes.
For wine drinkers it’s a common question I am asked by readers. Is the climate affecting our beloved vineyards around the world? The short answer is … of course.
For the long answer it’s important to understand the difference between climate and weather.
Climate refers to general conditions in a given place over a long period of time, whereas weather refers to temporary conditions of any given day. A place’s climate is defined by its weather patterns established over a period of decades.
Climate and weather can have profound effects on wine. A region’s climate dictates which grapes can be grown, while its weather influences the quality of those grapes in any given year. This is the precise reason some vintages are highly valued and sought-after and others are not.
In 2018, we saw many wine regions including the Northern Rhone, Austria and Alsace having their earliest harvest in decades. Many regions experienced unusually warm weather and much less rainfall, which resulted in very early ripening with ample sugars. Many producers are hailing 2018 as an outstanding vintage. In contrast, when growing conditions are unusually cool, the grapes will struggle to ripen and may not have sufficient sugar levels, resulting in undesirably high acidity.
To know how climate change is affecting wine production we must look at the big, long range picture.
Most only think of increasing temperatures affecting vineyards and our wines. But, it’s the increasing carbon dioxide (CO2) levels showing the largest impact on vineyards and the actual grapevines. To test future conditions, researchers at Hochschule Geisenheim University in Germany have spent years focusing on crop production using a simulated ecosystem.
They built ventilators into rows of riesling and cabernet sauvignon grapes. Half of the ventilators were blowing normal air while the others were blowing air with increased CO2. They raised the concentration of the CO2 about 20 percent to reach levels expected worldwide by 2050. The results were substantial. The CO2 vines seemed to develop extra sugar in the grapes making them bigger and juicer.
The research also showed the grapevines were soaking up much more water than a normal crop, depleting deep underground reserves. Because of this, the surrounding ecosystems were affected by moths. The moths living in the vineyard were reproducing faster, resulting in more grape eating larvae for growers to combat. With all that being said, the grapes seem to taste normal.
So what does this mean for the future of wine? No one knows for sure.
- 2018 Hugel Alsace Gentil, France (about $15 retail)
- 2018 Bruno Hunold Selection Gewurztraminer, France (about $37 retail)
The practice of changing your preferred wine with the season, just as you change your wardrobe, still meets some resistance. Most of us tend to “like what we like” no matter what the weather or season. But drinking the same wine day in and day out puts us in a rut where we miss out. With warmer temperatures just around the corner, it’s time to look at trading in the heavy reds of winter for one of these unique, refreshing value priced bottles.
Some of the best surprises can be found in the unfamiliar grape varietals lining the retail shelves. Muscadet is one of those wines. Don’t confuse this wine with Italian Moscato or our indigenous muscadine of the South. Muscadet is a dry white wine from the Loire Valley of France made from Melon de Bourgogne grapes. Don’t expect a fruit bomb like many white wines — this wine is lean, green and you can usually pick up a salinelike quality to the taste. This saline quality comes from the muscadet vineyards’ proximity to the sea. Many muscadets are aged on the lees or the suspended dead yeast particles. This wine often appeals to beer drinkers as it can taste almost similar to a lager with a creamy texture and yeast flavor.
- 2017 Chateau de l’Oiseliniere Muscadet, France (about $14 retail)
Just as I have been a cheerleader for rosé in the past, my new mission is as a champion of Picpoul. Another unfamiliar grape to many wine drinkers, this wine will eventually become a staple to the table year-round. Don’t be deceived by the tall slim green bottle often associated with sweet German wine, this is a refreshing bone-dry white wine layered with grapefruit, floral, green apple, lemon and most importantly racing acidity. It’s this high acidity and citrus fruit notes that make this wine an all-around food pairing dream and chilled sipping sensation. This grape has an extensive past as an ancient Languedoc grape variety also known as piquepoul, literally meaning “lip stinger” signifying the high acidity of the wine. Picpoul is the grape variety but look for Picpoul de Pinet when buying. It is one of the named Crus of Coteaux de Languedoc made exclusively from this grape. Another reason this is one of my favorite white wines, the price of most bottles falls under $15 retail.
- 2017 HB Picpoul de Pinet, France (about $11 retail)
Another lesser known low-alcohol white wine is Vinho Verde from northern Portugal. This wine is produced to be consumed young and should not be aged. There is no need to memorize the grapes usually used (alvarinho, arinto, avesso, loureiro and trajudura) just focus on the refreshing taste and lively, zesty acidity. Traditionally producers bottled the wine early and young, giving it a slight detection of fermentation in the bottle. But in most modern versions, winemakers give the bottle a boost of carbon dioxide for the light bubbles. It’s this style of slight fizz, citrus fruit and easy drinking that has given Vinho verde the playful reputation in Europe as “soda pop for adults.”
- 2017 Broadbent Vinho Verde, Portugal (about $9 retail)
A question I’m asked a lot is why wines smell and taste like so many different things and not just grapes. Most wine drinkers notice subtle aromas such as spice, blueberry, tobacco or vanilla. These aromas and tastes are not the result of winemakers secretly blending blueberries into the wine but are created from the process of winemaking.
Let’s start by looking at the vocabulary used to describe these terms and then the scientific reasoning.
The vocabulary can sometimes be baffling to many people when they start exploring wines by tasting notes. We have all read confusing descriptors like “the wine was brisk, subtle and showered the glass with aromas of barnyard, hay and chocolate.”
I like to explain to tasters to think of it this way, what does the aroma remind you of when you smell the wine? When I smell many gewurztraminers, it reminds me of a rose perfume my grandmother would wear. You may smell something different, but equally floral in gewurztraminer. These descriptors are sometimes specific to the taster and are often references to what psychologists call smell memories — a scent’s ability to evoke specific memories.
The scientific aspect is generally much easier to understand. The science of wine aroma and flavors involves both the grapes and the fermentation process. Each grape variety has a very unique physiological makeup with aromatic compounds varying with how the grapes were grown (both viticulture and climate.) The aromas and taste are then amplified or modified during fermentation. Hundreds of aromatic compounds known as “esters” are released during fermentation. Some of these esters contain the same molecules found in familiar aromas and taste in roses, honey, vanilla, cherries, etc. Esters are responsible for the different aromas we experience everyday from pineapples (Ethyl Butanoate) to the smell of a Christmas tree (Bornyl Acetate).
Most esters in wine impart a “fruity” smell. Each grape variety is unique. In younger wines there are primary aromas. In red wines those can be red berries, cherry, blackberries and blueberries, and for white wines they can be apples, pineapples, citrus and other tropical fruits. As wines age another tier of aromas develop known as “secondary” and “tertiary” and can be tobacco, smoke, truffle and earth. These are the sought-after aromas usually only found in high-end wines intended to age.
It takes a lot of practice to decipher the many layers of aromas and taste a complex wine will impart. The good news is you can find the Wine Aroma wheel easily on the Internet, giving you a sort of “cheat sheet” for guiding your smell and taste. But remember, practice makes perfect and just simply writing down the aromas and taste in your next glass of wine will put you on your way to being an expert taster.
To get you started, here’s some homework.
Sauvignon Blanc (citrus fruits, green apples, bell pepper, grass)
- 2017 Monkey Bay Sauvignon Blanc, New Zealand (about $13 retail)
Merlot (plum, strawberry, blackberry, oak)
- 2017 Charles Smith Velvet Devil Merlot, California (about $14 retail)
Heidi Barrett holds the acclaimed status as one of the most recognized names in Napa Valley. She can boast being the original artisan behind the cult status of Screaming Eagle and winner of some of the first multiple 100-point “Parker” scores for Napa Valley wines.
During her recent visit to Little Rock, I talked with Barrett about her career and her life. And as most who meet her will agree she is much more than Parker scores, she is passionate, humble, gracious and just the kind of person you immediately want to be friends with.
Her love of life spills over into her winemaking and other passionate endeavors. She is an artist, scuba diver and a helicopter pilot in addition to her remarkable talent of winemaking.
She has her hand in many winemaking projects, putting her signature touch on many of the most sought-after wine brands in the world. It’s her passion for her own label, La Sirena, that is especially deserving of attention. It’s her literal playground to show her amazing artistic ability in the winery. It started in 1994 as a fluke opportunity during a custom wine crush for a client using Sangiovese. The project fell through before bottling, but she had already created a beautiful wine. Just as they were about to put the wine up for sale in the bulk market she thought, “Here’s my chance to start my own winery.” And so, she did … creating her La Sirena brand.
As a true fan and follower of Barrett’s winemaking career, I am thrilled to have this brand in Arkansas. La Sirena produces about 2,000 cases of six different wines each year — her signature Cabernet sauvignon; a unique dry Moscato; Pirate TreasuRed based on Syrah, and blending Grenache, merlot, cab Franc and petit Verdot; “Le Barrettage” a Rhone lover’s dream; and the newest to the portfolio, a lush expression of Grenache.
- 2016 Pirate TreasuRed, California (about $80 retail)
- 2015 La Sirena Le Barrettage, California (about $85 retail)