Thursday, April 28, 2011

LESSONS LEARNED; Wine Educators Exam Update

"Do you know that my Mom paid for everything?", my wife offered. The bar had been set. With a Family Easter Brunch, followed by an even larger Easter Supper planned, consumption was to be the order of the day. And I knew that 'everything' did not include wine. "Can we bring the wine?", I replied modestly. She may have suspected that one of my favorite things to do was to value wine shop, and with her approval I made plans to go wine exploring later that week.  And, I was determined not to spend as much as my mother-in-law, bless her. My mixed case(12 bottles) totaled around $104, before taxes, and included the selection of best buys listed here:
  • Cristalino Extra Dry Cava NV
  • Domaine Laurier Los Carneros Pinot Noir 2007
  • Borsao Campo de Borja Garnacha 2009
  • Castano Yecla Monastrell 2009
An almost creamy texture followed its aromas of caramel baked apples and baked bread in the Cava.  This traditional method sparkling wine is the blended product of Spain's widely planted Macabeo grapes, having its bright character and streaming small beads the obvious benefits from the second fermentation in its bottle. The world of Spanish sparkling wine is centered around the region of Penede's in Catalonia, southwest of Barcelona.  Good quality traditional method sparkling wines blended from native grapes, and some Chardonnay, always representing a good value has become its hallmark.  It was perfect for Easter Brunch.

A consistent value producer, Bodegas Borsao in the Zaragoza region, north of Barcelona, specializes in local Grenache, or Garancha.  With its dark cherry color and rich aromas of berries, plums and coffee, its bright character is accented by a kiss of spice. Located in the autonomous state of Aragon, this world class wine growing region along the banks of the Ebro River has been an important crossroads of trade throughout the millennium. Today, Zaragoza produces quality wines from native grapes that pair nicely with roasted meats, rich cheeses, and even Spring lawn games!

Known by synonyms Mourvedere and Mataro, Spain's late ripening Monastrell grapes produce earthy and jammy fruit charismatics as a regional workhorse grape. With its wine history going back to the Phoencians,  Yecla in southeastern Spain, is one of the countries smallest wine growing regions. With is rich, opaque color, this varietal offers dark fruit flavors with a hint of herbal character.  Lamb or game dishes, and especially meats off of the grill have an affinity for the rich character of this impressive value wine. Perhaps even more impressive is the established quality track record of value from this distinguished, sustainably farmed Spanish producer.

California's North Coast Pinot Noir producers over the last decade have firmly etched their strong price points into the marketplace.  Appellation specific fruit sources, such as Los Carneros, the cool region that straddles San Pablo Bay across Sonoma and Napa counties, even more so. Domaine Laurier is an award-winning producer in the Bronco Wine Company family(i.e. Charles Shaw) with quality and value reflected in just about every vintage.  Their 2007 Merlot was an exceptional example. The Los Carneros Pinot Noir offered bright garnet color, with aromas of rhubarb and cherries, and had a weighted body echoing glorious red fruits.  If this quality wine were the North Coast barometer, then others may be simply charging too much!

On Easter Sunday my wife spent the day in the Kitchen.  First it was Brunch, then afternoon appetizers, and finally an early Supper for 25 guests.  I enjoyed the good weather, the catch-me-up conversations, and watching my value wine contribution to the day's events being savored. In retrospect, the satisfaction I enjoyed from the annual 'renewal' event celebration confirmed that this aspiring Wine Educator was learning something.  In spite of recently receiving disappointing results from my latest attempt to become Certified, I could still contribute to any celebration as one of the benefits of my growing world wine knowledge. It is, after all, that knowledge is power, especially in the world of wine!

"In Vino Veritas!"

Friday, April 15, 2011

WINE STUDY: A Taste at a Time

As a course of dedicated study goes, this is not too bad. One day it's sampling a Waipara, New Zealand Riesling with lunch, then a Sicilian Nero d'Avola with supper, and in between there were tastes of a high end Anderson Valley Pinot Noir.  For our lunch the next day we enjoyed a widely distributed Central Coast high acid Chardonnay with a deliciously egg-gooey Fettuccine alla Carbonara.  Our dinner of Grilled Ground Sirloin and mushrooms, tomato salad and sauteed winter squash was complemented by an expressive, but inexpensive Spanish Mouvedre. Such a dedication to the world of wine you might think is rewarded with some recognition.  Sampling international varieties is serious business for an aspiring Wine Educator, but for now, the reward is in the joy of tasting what the world of wine has to offer.  That's five(5) wines in two(2) days, and the quality wines beckoning in our future are sure to be almost endless. From here we go forward, one taste at a time.

North of the South Island's major city of Christchurch lies New Zealand's Waipara Valley. This fast growing, cool-climate wine region is promoting itself as the greenest of wine regions and becoming known for it's crisp Rieslings, its spicy Pinot Noirs, and the widely planted Kiwi Sauvignon Blancs. Rieslings from this part of New Zealand benefit from their situation; grown in cool vineyards, made in dry styles with bracing acidity and wonderful balance to any sweetness.  Our fresh selection offered a convenient screw-cap and a was a refreshingly great value, too.  As the respected International Riesling Foundation writer Dan Berger has announced, "New Zealand Riesling is a category to watch".

Often compared to contemporary Syrah, Sicily's full-bodied Nero d'Avola is among its most popular Greek-introduced grape varieties. Grown mostly in the broad viticultural region that predominates the West of Sicily, recent government subsidies, combined with improved growing and cellar practices have today given modern Nero d'Avola new life. This indigenous 'Black Grape of Avola' is more than ever perfectly suited to the dry and arid conditions of this large Mediterranean island and the grilled or roasted foods that make up a staple part of its native cuisine.

The Anderson Valley is an American Viticultural Area (AVA) immediately North of Sonoma, covering a cool, sparsely populated region of California's western Mendocino County. Alsatian varieties, like Riesling, Pinot Gris and Gewurztraminer are popular in this area, which also has a deserved reputation for its world-class sparkling wines.  As a result, distinctive Pinot Noirs have also found a home here, as have Roederer Estates and Scharffenberger Cellars.. Although it has a cool coastal climate that will offer challenges of ripeness or frost, the Valley's upper ridge-lands here are typically above the fog, dressed in sunlight where dry summer temperatures can be roasting. It is here, in cool pockets of this environment, Pinot Noir can shine, offering identifiably  bright fruit flavors and buoyant acidity. With its grape growing history of more than a hundred years, the Anderson Valley is today home to some of California's very best Pinot Noirs.

It is Mouvedre in France, known as Mataro in Portugal and goes by Monastrell in Spain, but in my glass it is dark and delicious. A bit wild, a bit gamey, Mouvedre proves to be a fine food wine of structure, fruit and balance. It's history stretches from the southern Rhone to Portugal, and has a legacy of being a rustic workhorse.  But, when produced with modern sensibility for the larger marketplace, it can be a perfect partner for lamb, grilled foods or provincial stews.  Speaking of Provence, one of Mouvedre's most celebrated homes is that of Bandol on the Mediterranean coast. Perhaps that bottle will be opened tomorrow.