Piedirosso – think Pompeii
Piedirosso is an Italian grape that prefers volcanic soil and makes a wine called “Gragnano” so even before finishing this well-written article on Piedirosso, I needed to google where Gragnano is located and if it is close to Pompeii. Please see embedded map. Yes, right next to Vesuvius is Pompeii and right next to Pompeii is Gragnano, home to inky pastas and fizzy red wines. A short 39 minute drive down from Naples that requires driving around Vesuvius.

Volcanic Wine
Quite literally, when pairing that pizza at Motorino’s with Gragnano, you are drinking the volcanic fruits of an enormous eruption from nearly two thousand years ago (79 A.D. per helpful wikipedia). Fittingly enough, Vesuvius vino is fizzy. That bottle of red might look normal and dry but open it up and you’ll notice the bubbles raising to the surface, trying to find that cone of the volcano. Try shaking the bottle – will it explode all of your Pompeii doilies? An experiment still to be tested, perhaps in 2079 in memorial of the 2,000 year anniversary. That would be my 98th birthday and certainly seems permissible at the age of 98 to be as crazy as you like. Future nursing home – please consider yourself forewarned. I may bring Alka-Seltzer.

photo

Taste:
Slightly fizzy, bit mid body with surprisingly little fruit. Somewhere between Sangria and Lambrusco. Long and dry finish

Detail Up!
Piedirosso grape of Penisola Sorrentina “Gragnano”, Monteleone 2012 from Gragnano near Naples in Campania, Italy

Random Googles:
* Gragnano is the region in Naples province that makes this Piedirosso grape into the slightly fizzy Gragnano
* Gragnano is often cited as a fantastic accompaniment to pizza, one of the rare wines that Italians will actually drink with pizza. Beer is the more popular choice apparently.
* Piedirosso literally means “red feet”. Jancis Robinson points that that this is because the bottom of the vine of this grape used to have red feet that looked similar to the red feet of pigeons… perhaps the only cute thing about pigeons.

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00mbx2i1br5bs_375x5008 years a Life
Think of the difference of 8 years of life – what you were doing 8 years ago, how old everyone was in their professional 20s when you were a teenager, how a toddler imagines the 9 year cruising around the neighborhood on their bicycle without training wheels or fear. Try and construct that gap in the adult world and you’ll arrive at a loss – octogenarians and those in their 30s have more in common. Careers, language, shared memories and locations – nothing that you can bridge between a newborn and an 8 year old.

Ocho – the latin answer to Ohio
It is with great pleasure that I am happy to report that the gap is bridgeable, that 8 years is not sufficient to keep the toddler off the bike. Eight times this year, I will be visiting the crossroads of America – the part of the country that is Southern and Northern, East reaching to West, the part that spectacularly shoots the arch with imaginary planes and daytime fireflies. It’s a year that I relish and savor and anticipate – the year of the horse and the auspicious numero ocho, a sign of good luck, of fortune foretold, a year of the vine and the wonders unknown.

Ellipsis
But on to the details, the excuse to go blog. Lidia, oh Lidia.

Groucho Wine
The Lidia we know from excessive refrain and hyperactive eyebrows apparently originates from Moldova, one of the least appealing country names on earth. Little is known of the country apart from three critical facts:
1. Romanians dislike it and tend to view it like the New Jersey of Europe, as if Romania were somehow the Park Avenue of Europe, a doubtful conjecture
2. The Russian bear laps up its wine like an intoxicated infant, an unimaginable supposition for a country beset with alcoholism rates that bend the life expectancy toward countries with perpetual anarchy.
3. Moldovan wine is very sweet.

Moldova and the Bear
Lidia is a grape that Moldovans grow, principally for Russian extract (85% of total wine exports from Moldova go to Russia) but occasionally for smuggling to other parts of the world that appreciate it less and consume it a LOT less. Moldova happens to be the poorest country in Europe and wine is an enormously disproportionate percentage of the country’s livelihood, where some say that wine exports are Moldova’s most lucrative export outside of its less viniferous expat community.

Taste
Sweet smell, plums and strawberry taste starts sugary and then turns dental quickly. Very metallic and bloody – truly a trip to the orthodontic chair where you receive a raisin at the end for surviving the procedure. Different and worth trying.

imageDetail Up!
Lidia, Four Seasons Collection – Dionysos-Mereni Estate Bottled, year and ABV unknown even though definitely a dessert wine, from Moldova

Random Googles

* Lidia grapes are only grown in Moldova, although even the entity created to publicize the virtues of Moldovan wine (Moldovan Wine Guild) have not deemed Lidia significant enough to include on their list of Moldovan Grape Varieties
* Lidia wine can also be encountered in large-ish containers similar to the Carlo Rossi containers you may have found in your local wine haunt
* Dig into Moldovan history just an inch deep and be prepared to be amazed. Transnistria, for example – where one quote should whet the curiosity bug sufficiently for further exploration —- “Transnistria’s economy is frequently described as dependent on contraband and gunrunning, with some labelling it a mafia state. These allegations are denied by the Transnistrian government, and sometimes downplayed by the officials of Russia and Ukraine.”

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Fleur du Rhone 2010 13.5%, Valais petite arvine

Swiss Wine Region #1
Switzerland’s largest wine region is the Valais, basically producing 50% of all Swiss wine. Truth be known, that’s not a lot of wine volume compared to all of Switzerland’s neighbors but in relative terms, Valais is clearly the wino-spot of the Swiss slopes.

Swiss Grapes Aplenty
Which grape then would you try if you were into trying grapes? There are a few you could locate in Switzerland without too much trouble – your Chasselas (never heard of it), your Pinot Noir (thanks Sideways for making it unaffordable), Gamay, Petite Arvine, Syrah, Cornalin (also a new one), Humagne Rouge and quite a few more. But Petite Arvine appears to the favorite of the Swiss press, people of Valais and even the wine experts.

Wine Gurus on Petite Arvine
Wine gurus really ignore Switzerland for the most part and one can see why when you’re looking at dozens of regions and hundreds of grapes – it’s just a lot to put into a book. Take Karen MacNeil, for example. She wrote 901 page book called “The Wine Bible” that you’ll see fairly often in wine bars and it has a great introduction to the wine regions of the world. There is exactly 1 page dedicated to Switzerland, and Petite Arvine receives accolades such as – “intensely floral, exotically fruity” – and is even noted as “far more interesting” than certain other Swiss varieties. Pretty decent phrase when you’re considering that all of Switzerland fits on one page, and in fact, it’s the highest praise for a Swiss grape in the book.

Proud of the Petite
Jancis Robinson (my personal favorite and secret crush – pun now intended) barely notes the grape in her encyclopedic “Vines, Grapes and Wines,” including it on a list with other Swiss grapes, and Oz Clarke of much fame heaps praise on the grape (“high quality”, elegance, finesse, “unusual minerality” are some of the words he chooses) and noting that he has a bottle of 1969 Petite Arvine in his cellar. Perhaps a bit of showing of his cellar of course, but clearly he’s proud of this bottle and this grape.

Taste
Tastes like green. Green apples, some green lime and NZ Sauvignon Blanc. Tastes a little rounder with slight pear, peach and quince. Not much of a finish – some green apple but finish ends quickly.

Detail Up!
Fleur du Rhone 2010 Petite Arvine with 13.5% alcohol from Valais, Switzerland – never before reviewed on the internets

Random Googles:
* Petite Arvine received its name because there used to be a grape called Gross Arvine. Marketing people can tell you which grape has survived… even though Gross Arvine is still in grape stock libraries, just not in bottles. Nowadays, Petite Arvine is being positioned as just Arvine by the (surprisingly in-existence) Swiss Wine pushers.
* Petite Arvine might be the most frequently grown grape of the Valais but Chasselas is king when it comes to acreage planted in Switzerland. Being a sucker for pie charts (and pie!), have a look at the dominant 8.36% position that Chasselas has compared to the puny #4 position position that Petite Arvine has at 6.46% – it sets one’s heart aflutter. If only that pesky 56.65% of “Other Wines” could be eliminated from the pie chart, this would truly be an impressive display.
* The other place in the world where Petite Arvine grows is Valle d’Aosta in Italy, which is basically where you land when you step across the border from Valais in Switzerland. No doubt there is a Hemingway novel about this very trek.

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carlos vii pedro ximenez alvear

Mermaids
This blog rarely discusses mermaids, but that is changing right now. Somehow, as a native English speaker, I think of mermaids and sirens as two different sea creatures. Mermaids being the really hot, friendly companions of sailors too-long at sea that likely originated from manatees. Sirens are the mythological Greek creatures with beautiful, intoxicating voices but hideous phases that caused Odysseus to lash himself to the mast rather than being sucked into crashing his boat on the two rocks that acropophiles will probably know the names of.

Las Sirenas
In Spanish, there’s one word for mermaids and sirens – las sirenas – and apparently the connotation is more of the ancient Greek connotation, but with some kind of latter-day comely sea maiden overlay. Basically, it’s a lot of overlapping meanings, histories, sounds and sights layered onto a single word. Pretty fascinating how some words have that depth of meaning where they encompass 1+ words of another language.

Eureka!
Anyway, listening to an ambulance shriek by recently, it struck me that this ambulance “siren” probably comes from the original Greek “siren” of the mermaid/sirena type. Never really thought about how those words overlap but it’s one of those connections that seems so obvious in retrospect that it’s incredible it’s taken 30+ years to make that connection.

The same thing happened with this wine. Pedro Ximenez is a hugely undervalued wine that I think makes consistently great (and crazy sweet!) dessert wines from all over the world. I’ve seen them in Spain, Peru, the Canary Islands, Australia and California and looks like Argentina and Chile grow it too.

Selenhos with their Sherry Fetish
It’s no secret among the cohort of friends that sherry is a style the Selenhos adore and the rest of us are unsold on (most of the group) or generally regard with suspicion (me). Fascinating story on the solera and pretty awesome how palo cortado is made, and there is tons of history layered up on sherry, but it’s still a big gamble when ordering it. And, unless I’m with a connoisseur like Selenho, it’s unlikely a bottle will be ordered for my table. Fortunately, for this story, the Selenhos insisted and we ordered the bottle you see above. Sidebar – pretty amazing typewriter ring in the photo courtesy of Selenhos.


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Sherry from Montila-Moriles?
Circling back to the sirena-ambulance connection, this bottle of what I thought was sherry is made from Pedro Ximenez grapes. Thinking sherry, I checked out what Montila-Moriles DO, which turns out to be close to Jerez (land of sherry) but actually separate. Montila-Moriles makes its wines in the same stunning solera system of Jerez (google it – seriously), but the wines from Montila-Moriles are not fortified, unlike their names from the south.

Amontillado Wine
The wine itself is Alvear “Carlos VII” Amontillado Montilla Moriles DO NV, a name hard to remember even for those used to weird-sounding names from Spain. The key bit of that long name though is Amontillado. Amontillado is a style of sherry in the middle – darker than the lighest style (Fino) and not as dark as Oloroso (the dark, sweet style I prefer). It starts life as a Fino but somehow the yeast protector that usually allows Finos to deliver dies (or is killed off) and the winemaker generally fortifies the wine up in alcohol to keep it from turning too bitter (oxidizing too quickly in wine-speak). That’s the sherry style of Amontillado in a nutshell.

Amontillado, that aha! moment
Cue the ambulance and have a good look at the word “Amontillado.” Looks pretty similar to Montilla-Moriles DO, right? Bingo – apparently, that’s where this style of sherry originated. So even though I was dead wrong about this Amontillado bottle being a sherry now that we know it’s from Cordoba a bit north of Jerez, there’s a pretty strong linkage between these two regions and styles. And the next time I pull out Edgar Allen Poe’s creepy short story on Amontillado and basement terror, it will be thinking of mermaids, ambulances and Montilla-Moriles.

Taste
I don’t recall exactly as it was quite a long time ago but The Wine Advocate description struck me as the most accurate of the 3 descriptions on this website dedicated to this particular wine (copying the description below). I remember sharp smells and earthy taste, really good with the more biting or pungent food and only ok with the blander foods. Lots of nuts too, especially almonds, which again threw me onto the sherry trail.

“From a 25-year old Solera system, its medium to dark amber color is accompanied by a medium to full-bodied sherry revealing loads of pungent, earthy, nutty notes, a slightly oxidized character, and a long, persistent finish.”

Detail Up!
Alvear “Carlos VII” Amontillado in a 25 year solera from Montilla Moriles DO NV in Cordoba, Spain

Random Googles:
* Five main grape varieties are grown in the Montilla Moriles DO: Pedro Ximenez (the most common by far), Moscatel, Airen, Baladi-Verdejo (aka Cayetana and mostly grown in Southern Spain) and Montepila (almost nothing online about this grape)
* Pedro Ximenez (the grape) meet Pedro Ximenez (the wine). Apparently the wine is a dessert wine made from raisins, a fairly labor-intensive process from the sound of it. Sounds kind of similar to how dessert wines are made in Italy (Vin Santo) and Cyprus (Commandaria) with laying out the grapes in the sun so they shrivel up before being pressed.
* Citrus flavors are common in dry Pedro Ximenez styles (kinda surprised by that) and fortified wines are more figs, dates and molasses (which sounds consistent with the ones I’ve tried)

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airenNoche con Zapatos
The Zapatos family texted with a last-minute invitation to dinner yesterday, and when you get an invitation from the Zapatos, you go! Always good food, provoking conversations and the memorable evenings that stick with you. But yes, first wine out of the fridge was this bottle above. Nobody paid much attention to the bottle as we were mostly talking about the week and eyeing the meatballs simmering on the stove, at least at first.

Unknown label
Once the table was set and the wine was in hand (and mouth) though, curiosity overcame social protocol, and we all had a quick look at the bottle. Airen? What IS that? Nope, had never heard of it but seemed to be a Spanish white and flipping to the back the bottle noted its location in La Mancha.

Classic Quixote
Now, La Mancha has a soft spot in my heart going back to college when Mr. Higuita and I collectively owned one CD, the original Broadway production of Man of La Mancha. Don Quixote is, no surprise to anyone familiar with college students, a favorite of idealists and latinophiles. That was me and still is in a lot of ways. Anyway, there may have been a short rendition of Man of La Mancha in the kitchen with the Zapatos when we learned about the heritage of this bottle.


View Castile-La Mancha, Spain in a larger map

Popular, in an unknown kind of way
And it turns out that this particular grape, Airen, is unbelievably popular. As in, more acreage is dedicated to Airen than to any other white grape… more popular than Chardonnay, Riesling, Pinot Gris, or any other white grape anywhere in the world (and almost every red grape too).

Sancho’s Flask Unveiled
This, despite being planted really only in Spain and predominantly in La Mancha. So you better believe that when Sancho Panza was haplessly following around Don Quixote in the bleak La Mancha landscapes, what he was secretly swigging from that flask behind Rocinante’s skinny tail was copious quantities of Airen.

Taste
Quite a bit of fruit on the nose (even with an already-opened bottle!) but the really attractive part was the mild acidic bite and the crisp, really clean taste. Refreshing and a pleasant discovery.

Detail Up!
Fuente del Ritmo Airén 2012 with 11.5% alc. from La Mancha, Spain

Random Googles
* 14 entrepreneurs came together in La Mancha to create the Allozo winery that makes this wine and quite a few others (and a cognac) – yes, they are interested in elevating La Mancha’s status and yes, they seem certain to do that… even if because the baseline is so low
* 30% of all grapes grown in Spain are Airen – crazy to think about how much wine never leaves Spain
* Read about Airen’s dark past to becoming so profligate and what Franco and Francia had to do with it becoming the most planted grape of any grape anywhere in the world for quite a long time

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