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.

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