Month: February 2017

White Wines to Seek Out in 2017 – Part 2

Welcome to part two of White Wines to Seek out in 2017, a series intended to inspire a little adventure in your wine drinking life.  If you haven’t already, check out part one for additional suggestions.  Here we go…

Vinho Verde

imagesFrom Portugal, a place I am dying to visit one day, Vinho Verde translates to green wine; green in this case means young, as many of the wines are released just 3 to 6 months after the harvest.  Vinho Verde is both the name of the wine and the name of the region, the largest in Portugal and one where white wine is dominant.  The wines are often a blend of grapes, none of them very well-known other than Alvarinho (called Albariño in Spain) . These wines are vibrant, refreshing, low alcohol, often spritzy, and incredibly affordable.  The value proposition is hard to beat (It is very easy to find a bottle of Vinho Verde under $10!), but I am also recommending this wine because it is one of the friendliest matches for foods that can be difficult to pair with wine such as asparagus, Indian and Mexican cuisines, vinaigrette, and so on.  If you like to cook (or eat) Vinho Verde is an indispensable food companion.  Or, just crack it on a hot day by the pool.  That’s fun, too.

Try Quinta da Aveleda, a classic in the light, spritzy style that lends Vinho Verde such charm.  It should run you less than $10 and is widely available.

Orange Wine

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Warning:  I’m going into serious wine geek territory with this one.

I’m including this suggestion as much for myself as for you because Orange Wine is my blind spot; a category that I tend to avoid.  So what is Orange Wine, exactly?  In short, it is a white wine made like a red.  In typical white wine production, after the grapes are crushed the grape skins are immediately discarded leaving the juice to ferment alone.  In the case of Orange Wines, the skins are left in contact with the juice resulting in a darker color and also more weight, texture, and tannin. In reality, the color of these wines is not strictly orange, it ranges from golden to rosy to amber to copper depending on the grape variety and the length of skin contact. I’ve tasted many examples, and I’ll be honest I don’t really get them.  Some are like sour beer meets funky cider, others have flavors like smoked apricots and sandalwood. They can be quite pungent. They all have some degree of tannin that expresses itself as a dry sensation down the sides of the tongue.  To me they’ve always been more confusing than pleasurable.  However, in an effort to broaden my horizons, I resolve to turn up the volume on my curiosity when I come into contact with Orange Wines this year, to approach them with an adventurous, rather than critical, spirit.  And, I’m also going to seek out more opportunities to taste them with food, as that’s when the people I know who genuinely enjoy these wines think they really shine.

Georgia (the country, not the state) is the historic home of Orange Wines, having made them for centuries.  I recommend seeking out a Georgian bottle or two – look for a producer called Pheasant’s Tears – to get a sense of what traditional Orange Wines are like.  After that if you are still game, look to Italy, Slovenia, Croatia, Spain, California, or New York for additional examples.

Muscadet

img5OK, this is the one I don’t want to tell you about because I want to keep to myself, but that I have to tell you about because it deserves to be known and you deserve to discover it. I know that you probably looked at the word Muscadet in the header and your brain jumped to Muscat or Moscato and then it jumped to sweet.  Muscadet is not sweet.  Ever.  It has nothing to do with Muscat/o.  It is the name of a region on the western edge of the Loire Valley in France. The grape variety is something few have heard of called Melon de Bourgogne.  I’m convinced that the confusion over the region’s name and lack of recognizable grape variety have kept this wine under the radar, and because of that you can find excellent bottles around $15.  Muscadet can accurately be described as crisp and fresh but that’s not all there is to it.  It’s also has a creamy/silky texture you’d typically ascribe to full-bodied wines like Chardonnay.  That’s why I love it so.  It’s a seamless marriage of opposites.  It’s everything in one modestly priced package.  If you like oysters, this is the definitive oyster wine.  If you don’t, it pairs beautifully with a wide range of foods from sushi to cheese to veggie pasta to pork barbecue.  Muscadet is versatility in a bottle.

My all-time favorite producer is Domaine de la Pépière, which makes a number of different bottlings. The entry-level is around $17.  If you can’t find it in your area, choose a bottle that is from the Sevre et Maine sub-region, which is where the best quality wines come from and is always clearly stated on the label.  Important to note:  do not drink Muscadet straight out of the fridge cold.  Temperature matters.  Take it out about 20 minutes before you pour yourself a glass or risk missing out on the true nature of this wine.

I hope you’ll try one or two of these and let me know what you think in the comments. Happy drinking!

 

Why Is Champagne So Expensive?

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It’s Valentine’s Day.  Perhaps, like many, you’re planning on buying some bubbly to toast your sweetheart (or your singledom) tonight.  According to Bankrate.com, we’ll spend an average of $51.91 on a bottle of Champagne for Valentine’s Day this year. Given that a lot of people are prepared to spend more than $50 on a single bottle of wine for a Tuesday night, it’s obvious that we are in expensive territory.  But, why is Champagne so expensive? Before I answer, let me clarify that this discussion applies to wines labeled with the word Champagne that hail from the region of Champagne in France, not necessarily to sparkling wines from other parts of France or the rest of the world.

Now that we’ve cleared that up, there are two answers to this question:

First, the word Champagne alone is in itself a luxury brand; it’s an aspirational product, and the Champenois protect its status by pricing it accordingly.

Secondly, Champagne is arguably one of the most hands-on, labor intensive, and expensive wines in the world to produce.  The average cost of the grapes needed to make a single bottle is approximately $8.  That’s $8 per bottle in basic raw materials before adding the cost of glass, corks, labels, equipment (tanks, barrels, presses, etc.) and labor (vineyard, winery, marketing/sales) required to make and sell the wine, the winery facility in which it is made and aged, and the land upon which that building, and any vineyards the winery owns, sit.  On top of those costs, by law Champagne may not be released for sale until it has had a minimum of 15 months of aging.  This means that from the time the grapes are picked until the first day a Champagne is available for sale – at minimum – almost two years have passed with no return on investment.  And for the record, very few Champagne producers do only the bare minimum when it comes to aging.

Since we’re starting with a pretty high cost of admission, how do you get the most for your money, whether that falls into the high-end or average category?

At the High-End

Tip #1:  If you’re going to spend more than $150 on a Champagne, don’t go for the Dom.  I am asked quite frequently by customers if Dom Perignon is “worth it.”  For my money, no. Fortunate as I have been to taste Dom on many occasions in my line of work, I have always been underwhelmed by it.  If you have your heart set on  a high-end brand with a lot of cachet, spend the extra $25 – $30 bucks and buy Cristal (around $200).  Louis Roederer, the house that produces Cristal, has the largest share of organic and bio-dynamic vineyard holdings in Champagne so the quality of the fruit going into the wine is very fine.

If a big name isn’t important to you, seek out Laurent-Perrier “Grand Siècle” Brut (around $130).  While Laurent-Perrier is a well-known Champagne house, this particular wine is not produced in nearly as large quantities as are Dom Perignon and Cristal, so it’s more under-the-radar and thus less expensive.  It is an elegant Champagne that shows purity and depth as well as the chalky minerality that makes the region unique.  A classic.

For a richer take at the high-end try Krug Grand Cuvée (around $160), which is full of generous nutty, toasty, and creamy flavors.  An excellent choice to savor solo or to pair with a meal.

At $50 Give or Take

Tip #2:  One secret to finding really good Champagne well below Cristal pricing and often around $50 lies in two letters – RM. Every Champagne has a set of what looks like initials listed somewhere in tiny print, usually at the bottom of the front label.  The letters RM stand for récoltant manipulant, which translates to grower-producer, also known as grower Champagnes.  Chances are you won’t recognize any of their names or labels.  All the bottles you might recognize, like Veuve Cliquot, carry the letters NM.  NM stands for négociant manipulant.  These Champagnes are referred to as the “big houses.”  For most, the names and packages of NM Champagnes conjure up notions of luxury and class, which inspires confidence that we are getting something that is worth its high price tag. Grower Champagnes, in addition to being harder to find, offer no recognizable labels to reassure us of their worth.  That’s not because they are not as good as their NM brethren (Many are better for less money!), but because big houses have financial resources at their disposal to produce, advertise, and market on a scale that RM Champagnes do not.

If you are curious about grower Champagnes, I enthusiastically encourage you to seek them out, but I’ll be straight – your local grocery store, big box liquor store, or Costco is unlikely to carry any Champagne with RM on the label.  You’re going to have to go to a specialty shop, wine bar, or online retailer to find them.  One excellent online resource is Fat Cork, which specializes in grower Champagne and ships to about 30 states.

If you’d like names of RM or NM Champagnes to look for in your area and price range, please post in the comments or email me and I’ll be happy to offer some suggestions.