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Minor Key of Grapes
Minor grapes are usually minor for a reason. Too acidic, too tannic, too sexy for your glass. Once in a great while, minor grapes also produce minor miracles. Think Cahors – a grape headed for extinction in France that takes an ocean voyage in its junior year of college to “discover itself” and ends up in Argentina. Goodbye Cahors, hello Malbec!

Petit Bordeaux
Petit Verdot is one such minor grape that gets buried at the bottom of the wine label, in the part that nobody reads except those really fastidious, tedious wine geeks searched for their pH buzz. Try and name the grapes that go into classic, famous Bordeaux. Cabernet – check. Merlot – check. Ummmmmm…. Cabernet Franc? Yes. And some others – correct. Turns out those “others,” at least in the red Bordeaux, are Malbec/Cahors and Petit Verdot (RIP Carmenere). Petit What? – correct.

Petit Out of Favor
Petit Verdot has that too _____ flaw. In this Mad Libs experiment, the ________ is “late-ripening” so it’s been falling out of favor in the old world faster than Greeks at a Central Banker retreat. New Worlds have new ways however, and the US, Argentina and Chile have taken up the banner of the crestfallen Petit Greek. California is one of the biggest producer since they’re big into Meritage wines that seek to replicate the Bordeaux blends and often do just that. 1976 – a great year for the California wine industry. Happy Birthday USA!

Taste
Minor no more, this is Petit Verdot in its 100% pure form. Ah-hem… this is rare. Not blended, not subsumed, this is Petit Verdot stepping out from the background. Ringo, please take this solo. We’ll manage the cymbal.

So, what’s Ringo do with his solo? He goes dark, very dark. Dark in the glass, dark in the mouth. Thinking blackberry and that black British currant jam they sell at overpriced supermarkets. Really pretty balanced and full… at least until you try tasting it after a couple California Cabs – then it feels thin and anorexic. Moral of the story – save your Cabs for another day and focus on the wine at hand. This one’s an impressive, rare example.

Detail Up!
100% Petit Verdot 2008 Ferrari Carano from the USA out in Dry Creek Sonoma, California

Random Googles
* Peh-teet ver-dough. Sounds way hotter (and more pastry-like) than it’s spelled.
* Keep an eye on Virgina – not just for all those presidents it turned out. It’s now looking to be a big Petit Verdot player.
* Ros̩ Petit Verdot Рapparently, it exists. And is even pretty good, according to this guy.

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Confusing Muscat
Muscat is really confusing. You think you know it because Muscat has that hear-me-roar smell that makes even aromatic wines like Gewurtz and Riesling bow in admiration. Truly, if there is a smelly wine king, Muscat is he.

Fecund as a Father, a Founding Father
Perhaps unsurprisingly for a king, Muscat is also incredibly fertile and has more offspring than Benjamin Franklin and Thomas Jefferson combined. And yes, this fecundity makes for very awkward family reunions. Worse still, Muscat is a mutant so image some shape-shifting virile Founding Father and you have an idea who this Muscat character actually is.

Someone told me there are nine Muscat families, presumably all somehow related and trading on Mr. Muscat’s namesake. On this blog, we’re up to Muscat #3 – Muscat of Alexandria. History buffs will already be able to tell where this grape comes from and which queen quaffed this grape before the asp had the last word.

Brewer in the Muscat Family
Muscat of Alexandria is apparently the unscented Muscat of the family who bathes often and refuses perfume like many of his brethren and sistern. He would be perfect to work at a sake brewery, where even the faintest hint of a smell gets into the sake. Muscat would not be in your sake.

No Mancloud of Muscat
As with most unscented men (Mr. Zapato excepted), he’s not that popular. Women like the tall, dark and scented men who wear Italian cut shirts and ferment each more in cologne. Men who love to ride elevators just to asphyxiate lesser mortals who haven’t yet developed the ability to travel in clouds of Acqua di Gio. Muscat of Alexandria spends most of his time at the table wine section, probably busing the tables of his more odoriferous Muscat relatives.

Allez cuisine!
Thankfully, with the right TLC from Mother Nature, there are regions where Muscat of Alexandria reigns supreme in regal dessert wine splendor. Setúbal, Banyuls and Malaga – three tiny regions that won’t be on your wine map unless your wine map is much better than the crayola-marked version hanging on my wall. Setúbal makes a dessert wine called “Moscatel de Setúbal” – spoiler alert, it’s Muscat of Alexandria. Banyuls is in France, literally spitting distance from Spain, and makes its dessert wine from Muscat of Alexandria – its wine’s name, being French, is the same as the location – Banyuls. Malaga takes its Muscat of Alexandria, swirls it with the sherry grape Pedro Ximenez, and punches out the third of the Muscat of Alexandria dessert wines. To the best of my knowledge, none of these have a picture of Cleopatra VII on their bottles.

Taste
This particular wine is from the Banyuls region and, true to form, is a sweet dessert wine. Thanks to the good folks at Claret Wine Bar in Sunnyside, Queens, which is easily the best wine bar in a three neighborhood radius, we know this featured wine is 70% Muscat of Alexandria and 30% Muscat Petit Grain (aka millions of other names). For this wine, we’re talking lots of apple smell, extremely sweet taste and a big taste of apricot and some other fruits that better tasters would be able to identify.

Detail Up!
Muscat de Rivesaltes “La Prieure de la Vin” 2009 from Banyuls in Languedoc-Roussillon, France

Random Googles:
* Muscat de Rivesaltes (confusingly made from two grapes also named Muscat) is a French dessert wine with an elfin cousin who only appears around Christmastime – Muscat de Noël.
* South Africans call this grape “Hanepoot” and somebody at Jo-burg thinks it’s a Pan-African panacea.
* Wisconsin, one of 50 states in the US to produce wine, puts Muscat of Alexandria at the top of its wine tourism blurb. Strangely, they fail to mention cheese.

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Denali in Italy
Italy is my Mount McKinley. I know I’ll never climb it and won’t ever have the view from the top looking down across the rest of the North American molehills. Most of the time it’s not even possible to see the top (only 10% of visitors to Alaska actually see it), let alone think what it’d be like to stand at the top of it. But on rare days, the clouds part and you can see the top of the mountain, what its side looks like and start to imagine what a model of it would look like. Yes, my parents just got back from Alaska and have lots of stories to share – especially about Mt. McKinley/Denali.

Confused? Join the Club
Italy is exactly that intimidating and obfuscated. Somewhere out there experts on Italy’s wines must exist but I’ve never met anyone who dares to claim that they’re an expert on Italian wines. That’s just outrageous given the hundreds of grapes grown around the country. Provinces, territories, and little towns all seem to have their own type of wine and grape that’s just grown in that area.

Wikipedia talks about 350 “authorized” grapes used in Italy’s wines and estimates another 500 grapes are unauthorized. No doubt each of those grapes has a history and culture associated with it, and it’d be many lifetimes to really conquer all that knowledge. Two of NYC’s more famous chefs have written a book on it and lived a good amount of wine indulging so maybe they’re experts. Me though, I’m just happen to get a look at the mountain on a clear day once in awhile.

Puglia Pleasure Pour
Today’s glimpse of McKinely is Negroamaro, a dark grape that comes pretty much exclusively from Puglia, the heel of Italy. Negroamaro showed up at a tasting of Puglia wines last weekend with my friends the Zapatos and a recent NY friend transplant who hails from Puglia, but sadly I did not show up at that same tasting. Friday night firedrills got the better of me so the Zapatos & Co. got all the Puglia pleasure pours. To grieve the lost Friday, this bottle was later ordered with friends to commemorate the night of Puglia.

Yanks of Puglia
Turns out – Negroamaro is not just a Puglian wine, it’s a new grape to me, and one that only the Puglians make. (Puglians? Pugliers? Pugilists? No idea) Earthy, rustic, and unknown – those are the words that I turned up the most looking through the internets. Best I can tell, it’s only in Puglia that people grown this wine but they make a lot of it down there. Primitivo (Italy’s Zin) takes some of the vines but Negroamaro is the Yankees in Puglia, and Primitivo is at best the Mets. Not that it’s bankrupt and finally at a break-even .500 winning percentage or anything – it’s just that it’s not as prevalent as the ubiquitous Negroamaro hats that all the celebrities wear in Puglia.

Latin-Greek Lovefest
Negroamaro – translated, somewhat strangely, as “black-black.” Negro is straight-up black in pretty much all Latin languages and amaro is actually “bitter” but the wine’s not bitter at all. Strange right? Right, except that Puglia’s about one trireme ride (thanks Civ 1) from Greece and the Greek word for black is “maru.” Hnce, in a rare application of Latin-Greek knowledge, Negroamaro breaks down as “black-black.”

Taste
No photo from me – just the notes scribbled on the crackberry before the food arrived and the wine disappeared. Strong nose, tobacco – taste of raspberry and black cherry, long finish with some tannins, not overpowering. Squid ink – guaranteed to spill on white shirts.

Detail Up!
Rocca Bella 2009 IGT from Puglia, Italy for $8-12. Sadly, nobody on the web has talked about this wine and the producer has no pics so next best thing is this really good blog that hits the 2007 version.

Random Googles:
* Puglia Pride runs deep with this guy – check out his Top 10 Negroamaro list if you like your wines squiddy.
* Negroamaro doubles as an Italian rock band that’s gaining mainstream popularity. Any guess where they’re from?
* Salice Salentino is Puglia’s most famous wine they say, and it’s a blend with mostly Negroamaro. Good value wine too.

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Third Grade is Tough
Sometimes it’s too easy. Last week you could have tricked me as easily as a second grader with 52 card pick-up or a third grader with the Pen 15 club. Maybe today’s kids are smarter (*shakes fist*) but back in the day, it was tough on the mean streets of suburban Michigan. You had to be ready.

Grape Confusion
But last week you could have tricked me. “What grape is in Prosecco?” Hmmmm… ummm… not really sure, maybe, some obscure Italian one? Bzzzz – wrong. Turns out Prosecco is made from… (wait for it)… Prosecco. Color me incredulous but wow, that’s just too easy.

Italy’s Bubbly
The Prosecco I thought I knew was this bubbly Italian wine that’s cheaper than Champagne, more straight-laced than Cava and loads up on the bite for winos (like me) who love the green apple tart. Prosecco’s the ultimate party gift – tasteful in every large gathering of humans (except the funeral). Even then, maybe you read the obituary with great pleasure. Sneak in a flask.

Señores Zapatos
Come last week though, it was birthday time. And the Señores Zapatos indulged, bringing with them a bottle of this obscure, never before known grape called — Prosecco. Sadly, we drank it almost before the sun left the balcony and another bottle is the one featured above.

Joan “Prosecco” Rivers
But about Prosecco and the fizzy, citrus-intense wine it produces. Up until 2009, you could go around calling the grape “Prosecco” to your hearts content and Europeans wouldn’t mind – they’d just think you were talking to yourself. Today, they mind. In 2009, Prosecco got a make-over in the Joan Rivers kinda way, going from a lovely classic figure to a mildly frightening Joker. Now, Europeans call it Glera, something more akin to paint thinner than a white grape that makes terrific bubbly wines.

Pen 15 Club
Fortunately, this blog isn’t subject to the whims of the EU or cosmetic beauty, and Prosecco still reigns as the name of the grape as it has since last Saturday when this wino discovered that the Pen 15 club is not an exclusive third grade club. In fact, 52% of the world at birth belongs to this “exclusive” club. Knowledge is power Reading Rainbow followers – Prosecco, Italy’s Pen 15 club.

Taste
Clean, crisp, green apples, white flowers – pretty much what you’re expecting when you head into a store looking for a Prosecco for your next wedding/birthday/Tuesday/Thanksgiving/quinceañera. Ok, don’t bring it to the quinceañera – even the kids know that uncle’s not cool.

Detail Up!
Dom Bertiol Prosecco from Treviso in Veneto, Italy

Google Randoms:
* Age Prosecco and shame yourself – this wine’s for drinking and drinking young.
* One bottle for $20 or two bottles for $10 – those are your choices when drinking Prosecco.
* Bellini? Mimosa? You’re drinking Prosecco. Only the chef gets champagne in her Mimosa. Nobody gets champagne in a Bellini – that one’s always Prosecco.

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Bual v. Boal – Nobody Cares
Bual or Boal, there doesn’t seem to be a wrong answer. Brits call it Bual, the Portuguese call it Boal, but since the Brits have been intimately involved with Madeira since about the time of the previous Elizabeth, people don’t seem to care much. Both names are used to identify the second-sweetest grape grown on the island of Madeira (#1 sweetest grape is here), which is off the coast of Morocco but is very much Portuguese.

Madeira off Morocco
Why is Madeira a part of Portugal? Partially due to Portugal’s glory days back in the 16th century when its caravels (thank Sid Meier’s Civilization for that term) roamed the world, dropping in on Goa, Angola, Mozambique, Rio and Malacca. Partially due to the same reason that England controls the Falkland Islands just off the tip of Antarctica – they’re willing to fight anybody (especially Argentina’s 1982 junta) to remain in control of those islands.

Confession Time
But back to Bual – it’s not exactly my favorite. There – it’s confessed. Despite making Madeira, which is categorically awesome and having loads of fans in the tiny world of Madeira lovers, Bual always seems to be too over-the-top to me. He’s the guy who responds to the email list after the conversation’s over with that one extra reply. Too much buddy – should’ve left it as it was.

My sister can corroborate this fact too, possibly because she’s the only other person who says “Too much buddy,” and also because she tried two of the Madeira grapes with me. Both the Boston Bual down below and the non-noble Tinta Negra. We both preferred the ignoble grape to the noble Bual, which I like to think suggests our American distaste for aristocracy.

Too Young?
Could be it’s a problem of young Buals (Madeira Maven thought the same till he tried really old ones), but of the couple of Buals that have reached my throat, they’re too much to handle on their own. They need the promise of dessert to calm them down and make them behave (think: children). Maybe it is a matter of youth after all.

Taste
Two different tastes of the grape and two pretty different yet somehow related impressions of too much acidity/structure. First up, the preferred of the two – Boston Bual Special Reserve. Carmel nose, apple taste, slightly sharp finish with lots of pear.

Then, the Cossart Gordon 5 year Bual. Smells like oranges and a little like pepper spice. Tastes very acidic with another shipment of oranges to the tongue.

Detail Up!
Boston Bual Special Reserve – one of the creative RWC Historic Series Madeira. Well worth checking out as the gateway to Madeira-dom (h/t for image).

Cossart Gordon 5 year Bual – oldest of the (small number of) Madeira houses and part of the same family that turns out Blandy’s and Leacock

Google Randoms:
* Malmsey > Bual > Verdelho > Sercial, the sweetness order of Madeira (“My Bottle Vesuviates Sweetness” is the mnemonic device).
* Bual is a white grape that turns out the darkest shade of all the Madeira wines. Strange to be sure.
* Bottle of 1834 Bual can be yours today if you have an extra $980 sitting around your den. To put it in perspective, Abraham Lincoln turned 25 that year.

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