Sancerre’s grapes create a finer wine

Sancerre’s grapes create a finer wine

If you’ve had sauvignon blanc from New Zealand, California or Chile and then tried a bottle from France’s Sancerre region, it quickly becomes clear that not all sauvignon blanc grapes are created equal. When I say “equal,” I don’t mean quality (that’s dependent on the producer), but style. All of these regions produce exceptional styles of this grape, but there is just something exceptionally appealing about the elegant, flinty style of Sancerre’s grapes.

Sancerre is a wine but also a place on the eastern end of the Loire Valley of France. The valley starts in the west at the Atlantic Ocean and extends east through Anjou, Saumur and Touraine, reaching the heart of central France.

As with all terroir-driven wines, the Loire Valley region showcases ideal conditions for growing sauvignon blanc, with its unique soils and semi-continental climate. This region’s soil is very specific. The area comprises three subtypes of soil, evoking distinct characteristics in the wine’s flavors. The Silex or flinty soil gives wine a gunflint, smoke and mineral component. Kimmeridgian marl (a chalky clay soil) offers distinct fruit and higher acidity, while Oxforidan limestone (larger pieces of gravel) provide the wines’ delicate and perfumed aromas.

Compared to other sauvignon blancs, I consider Sancerre one of elegance with its restrained style. The grape is known for its racing acidity, but in Sancerre styles you’ll find refreshing aromas and tastes of fresh herbs, grapefruit, lime peel and pear, to name a few.

Sancerre wines fall into our Splurge category. For Value ($15 or less) options that are similar, consider these less famous regions just west of Sancerre — Menetou-Salon, Reuilly and Quincy.

  • 2014 Signature de Loire Sancerre, France (about $19 retail)
  • 2014 Sauvion Sancerre, France (about $34 retail)
  • 2014 Domaine Serge Laporte Sancerre, France (about $27 retail)
  • 2014 Chateau de Sancerre, France (about $27 retail)
  • 2014 Pascal Jolivet Sancerre, France (about $29 retail)
Picking the best wine for those summer salads

Picking the best wine for those summer salads

Gone are the days when the mere mention of having salad for dinner conjures up images of sad assorted greens and a few misplaced carrots and tomatoes. Today’s summer salads are not just for those looking for a healthful option, but those wanting delicious too.

Of course there are numerous options for the salad greens — Boston, bibb, arugula, romaine, spinach, iceberg, kale and that is only a fraction of the list.

As with all wine and food pairings, it’s about the dominant flavors, the add-ins, that determine the best wine match. Diced pears, for example, introduce sweetness and go well with Riesling or chenin blanc. Fresh herbs will match with wines having herbal notes, such as sauvignon blanc. If the salad includes red berries Beaujolais is ideal, while toasted nuts complement a toasty oaked wine.

But some ingredients — tomatoes and vinaigrette — complicate matters. Fresh tomatoes tend to have high amounts of acid, which can clash with many wines. An easy tip to remember is to stay with a high-acid wine like a sauvignon blanc.

Vinegar and wine, though related, are not friends. Whenever possible, use fresh citrus juice such as lemon or lime instead of vinegar.

These are a few tried and true entree and wine pairings.

  • Caesar salad (with or without chicken): chenin blanc
  • Cobb salad: chardonnay
  • Greek salad: dry, white Bordeaux
  • Nicoise salad: dry rose
  • Taco salad: gewurztraminer
  • Caprese salad: sauvignon blanc
  • Grilled steak salad: light-bodied pinot noir
  • Curried quinoa salad: dry Riesling
  • Salad with Asian flavors: pinot grigio

If you’re looking for a pairing that is virtually guaranteed not to disappoint, a dry rose goes well with any salad.

THE VALUES

  • 2014 Crios Malbec Rose, Argentina (about $8 retail)
  • 2014 Montes Cherub Rose, Chile (about $14 retail)

THE SPLURGES

  • 2014 Presqu’ile Winery Rose, California (about $23 retail)
  • 2014 Hogwash Rose, California (about $17 retail)
Serve red wines at 65-68 degrees

Serve red wines at 65-68 degrees

We all know the rule or have at least heard it time and time again: Serve red wines at room temperature.

But some rules are meant to be broken or simply redefined.

Historically this rule originated from wines being stored in damp, cool cellars in European countries long before the advent of central heat and air.

These cellars, while they were not climate controlled, were typically between 60 to 65 degrees. Except for those with cellars, it’s very unlikely an average American home has a constant temperature this time of year in that range. We also are in situations where we buy a red wine in a retail store, get home for dinner and immediately uncork the bottle and consume a warm red wine.

Of course, I am not recommending throwing a vintage Bordeaux in the freezer for a couple of hours or dropping in a few ice cubes when serving. But 72 to 78 degrees — the “room temperature” range of many homes in the summer months — is far too warm for serving wine. I like to use the word “cool” when describing how red wines should be served. Too many of us are drinking red wines too warm.

If you are privy to a cellar or wine cooler, you most likely have no worry in the correct cool temperature of your red wines. But for the rest of us, here are a few pointers about how to get red wines from the average temperature of 70 to 75 degrees (or hotter) in most homes to a cool, ideal range of 65 to 68 degrees.

  • A quick bath: Fill a wine bucket with ice and water. Add a pinch of salt. Put your bottle in the bucket for about 3 to 5 minutes, any longer and the wine may chill too much. Be aware this method may damage the wine label if left in the bucket too long.
  • Pop it in the refrigerator: One of the easiest methods is to simply put the wine in the refrigerator for about 30 to 45 minutes. If you are looking for a slight cool-down, just set in for about 10 to 15 minutes.
  • Let your central air conditioning do double duty: Place the wine on its side over a floor air vent for several hours. This method may take a bit longer than other methods but is an easy cooling technique. (During summer months, storing your everyday drinking wines near air vents will help keep the bottles cool.)

These are a couple of red wines easily enjoyed cool and refreshing.

THE VALUE

  • 2014 Concannon Pinot Noir, California (about $12 retail)

THE SPLURGE

  • 2014 Louis Jadot Beaujolais, France (about $18 retail)
Wine cocktails fit for a festive toast

Wine cocktails fit for a festive toast

I’m always looking for unique ideas when it comes to entertaining and July Fourth is one of my favorite holidays for getting together with family and friends. Of course, anyone coming to any of my soirees will find wine on the menu, but this year I thought refreshing and patriotic wine cocktails would make a fun addition to the festivities.

The wine cocktail is not a new concept, as the classic Mimosa — a mixture of Champagne and orange juice — has been a brunch staple for decades.

But because of the celebratory mood of the holiday my guests will be offered a cool, zesty wine cocktail in choices of red, white and blue.

Here are a few tips:

  • To make serving easier, have drinks mixed, chilled and ready to serve when guests arrive.
  • Remember, when making a wine cocktail the wine will be mixed with other ingredients, so you will be modifying the wine’s distinctive flavors. With that in mind, I suggest using good quality but inexpensive wines.
  • And for the final touch, staying with the Independence Day theme, use patriotic cocktail sticks such as flags, stars or simply red, white or blue cocktail stirrers to hold the garnishes.

THE RED COCKTAIL

  • Blackberry and Cabernet Caipirinha: In a pitcher muddle 12 (of 24) blackberries with 4 ounces simple syrup. Add 12 ounces cachaca (Brazilian sugar cane spirit), 4 ounces cabernet sauvignon, 8 ounces orange juice and 2 ounces lime juice. Mix well. Refrigerate 1 hour. Stir well and strain into six ice-filled white-wine glasses. Garnish each glass with 2 blackberries, an orange wheel and lime wheel.

THE VALUE

  • 2014 Concannon Cabernet Sauvignon, California (about $12 retail)

THE WHITE COCKTAIL

  • White Wine Mojito: Tear 30 fresh mint leaves into small pieces, muddle in the bottom of a large pitcher. Add 1 (750-mL) bottle dry white wine, 10 ounces sparkling lemonade and juice of l lime, stirring gently. Pour into highball glasses that have been prepared with 2 to 3 mint leaves on the bottom and filled halfway with ice. Garnish with a lime twist.

THE VALUE

  • 2014 Handcraft Pinot Grigio, California (about $9 retail)

THE BLUE COCKTAIL

  • Pacific Blue Sangria: In a large pitcher, combine 1 (750-mL) bottle dry white wine, 4 ounces blue curacao, 4 ounces fresh lemon juice, 4 ounces simple syrup, 2 oranges cut into wheels, 8 ounces pineapple chunks and stir well. Cover and refrigerate at least 4 hours. Serve over ice and top with lemon-lime soda and garnish with an orange wheel or pineapple wedge.

THE VALUE

  • 2014 Belle Ambiance Chardonnay, California (about $9 retail)
Discerning palate sharpens selection

Discerning palate sharpens selection

Knowing the styles of white wines you enjoy makes exploration much easier. Some prefer dry while others demand sweet or racing acidity and others desire rich and creamy. Knowing your preferences can help you identify new wines to explore.

SAUVIGNON BLANC

The Sauvignon blanc grape is one the most identifiable white grape varieties. Its chief attribute is its piecing, refreshing aroma. It most likely will have aromas and tastes of green fruit, citrus, green apple, grass and gooseberries. If you prefer the zesty, piercing, aromatic style of this grape, look for bottles from New Zealand and most notably from the Marlborough region. If you prefer less acidity and a fuller-bodied style, check out California Fume Blanc.

THE VALUE

  • 2014 Robert Mondavi Fume Blanc, California (about $13 retail)

THE SPLURGE

  • 2014 Kim Crawford Sauvignon Blanc, New Zealand (about $15 retail)

CHARDONNAY

The Chardonnay grape is often called a chameleon as it adapts well to many styles. It can be treated with oak, no oak, undergo malolactic fermentation, stirred on its lees or even blended with other grapes, with each processing revealing a different face. But even with these ever changing disguises, there are many style similarities in this grape. Most tasting notes are of soft, creamy, buttery, melons, tropical fruits, vanilla and even baked bread. If you prefer wines with a crisp taste, consider Chablis; for more acidity, consider Northern Italy or New Zealand. And if rich and buttery best suit your taste, chardonnay from California and Australia will most likely be the best fit.

THE VALUE

  • 2014 Hess Collections Chardonnay, California (about $14 retail)

THE SPLURGE

  • 2014 Joseph Drouhin Chablis, France (about $27 retail)

RIESLING

The Riesling grape is made into many styles that can vary from bone dry, a little sweet and finally lusciously sweet. German spatlese is a sweet, medium-bodied wine with exotic flowery aromas while the German auslese is sweet but with more honeyed aromas. Even with the range in styles most are lower alcohol, high acidity and aromas and taste of limes, petrol and fresh flowers. If you prefer medium-bodied sweet wines with flowery aromas, consider a German spatlese, but if the more honeyed and sweet style is your palate, consider a German auslese or California Riesling. For those looking for dry and steely Rieslings, consider Alsace, German dry Rieslings or Australian Riesling.

THE VALUE

  • 2014 Rudi Wiest Mosel River Riesling, Germany (about $15 retail)

THE SPLURGE

  • 2014 Gunderloch Diva Riesling, Germany (about $26 retail)
U.S. wine trends

U.S. wine trends

One of my goals with this column (in addition to offering honest recommendations of wines available in our market) is to stay apprised of current issues in the wine world and share how they relate to us, the consumers.

If you’re a frequent reader of this column, some of these “trends” may be familiar to you, as I’ve written about them before. And I think many may be here to stay.

Over the past few months I’ve been keeping my eye on the forecasts among the experts at ForbesEntrepreneurWine Enthusiast, The Wine Council and Nielson’s annual report on U.S. wine trends.

Here’s a recap and a few predictions of what’s to come.

Bubbly is overflowing. The Wine Council reported last year’s trends saw, “Thirty-one percent of drinkers purchased Prosecco for the first time but another 35 percent shifted to other sparkling wines.” If this pattern continues, we are going to see more and more producers considering offering bubbly. And with lower alcohol content, fewer calories than most wines and a range of prices I predict we will see sparkling wine and Champagne throughout the year, not just during the holiday season.

More options by the glass. This trend may be the most beneficial to consumers. With advances in technology including wine taps and more sophisticated preservation devices for keeping opened bottles fresh, wine drinkers will have more opportunities to enjoy a wider variety of wines. The Coravin system, designed by a medical device inventor, works by inserting a long needle into the cork of an unopened bottle of wine. With the push of a button, argon goes into the bottle allowing the wine to flow through the same needle. After the pour and taste, remove the needle and, voila, the cork reseals.

The Rise of Female Wine Drinkers. According to a January Entrepreneur article, “Women comprise 56 percent of the total wine drinking population, which is particularly interesting in the case of a millennial, where women account for 66 percent of the population. … And while men represent 67 percent of beer sales, women are increasingly being wooed by wine, which they view as more innovative.”

Who says wine has to come in a bottle? The same article in Entrepreneur gave strong statistics supporting the idea that the bottle is being pushed aside for the box. “While 750-mL glass bottles solidly hold 70 percent of the market, 3 liter boxes and Tetra packs posted the strongest growth, while cans are also attracting consumer attention. At 3.3 percent of the market share, 3 liter boxes grew 13.7 percent and 12.3 percent in value and volume, respectively, while Tetra (only one percent of the market) grew 21.9 percent and 21.8 percent. Cans — just a tenth of a share — grew by 59.9 percent and 128.9 percent in value and volume.”

What’s that grape? Wine drinkers are eager to explore all the world has to offer. We will see more and more consumers reaching for unique grape varietals, some unheard of by most, such as Picpoul, Tannat, Mourvedre, Vermentino and Aglianico.

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