February 2011

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Pride of Portugal
Touriga Nacional makes the Portuguese swell with pride, similar to helium in a balloon or the chest of a doctor’s grandmother when describing her granddoctor. Most famous as the lead singer in the Grapes o’ Port band, Touriga Nacional also shows up on its own in really dark, pretty heavy wines from the Douro (most famously) and Dão (better non-Port wine IMO). But really, if people know this grape it’s because they know Port. Should anyone’s eyes light up about Touriga Nacional, immediately become their friend and go port-tasting with them. They will know decades worth of useless trivia that only you, the imminent port connoisseur, will care about. Port though isn’t about impressing people. That was the 80s, with cigars, Gordon Gecko and other now-cliques. Now, port is about sharing a weird insider world with old men and lost knowledge. Expect to find it in a Paulo Coelho novel soon (pun not intended but reality trumps imagination this time).

Port, in a too-simple telling, is a fortified wine from Portugal, from Oporto Portugal to be specific. It’s up in the north, is absolutely gorgeous as a city and still has a whole port-producing neighborhood that deserves to be at the top of any European bound teenagers. These places have been around hundreds of years (this tasted wine is from Taylor’s – founded in the year of the Salem Witch Trials). Touriga Nacional is the bauble among the port-producing gems, and Catavino describes it really really well (as they do most things – go RSS them). It’s a vine that produces few grapes, really dark grapes and for the last few hundred years has been made into wine by the Portuguese with the help of the Brits. There’s likely a historical reason for this Portuguese-British history but that history book hasn’t made it into my field of vision. Kudos if you can recommend one.

This particular port was consumed in the Tokyo Airport, better spelled Tokyo Air Port (another example of reality winning the pun war), and is from one of the oldest and most famous Port Houses in the world. For whatever reason, this particular port only shows up in the Tokyo Air Port and several other Asian distributors. Taylor’s apparently has an Asian Port recipe they’re not sharing with the rest of the world.

Blueberry smell, violet and blueberry taste with a bit of cherry finish elbowing its way into the blue port world. Really smooth overall although that 20% alcohol does leave its business card on the finish.

Detail Up!

Taylor’s Fine Tawny Port (image from them too)

Random Googles
* Taylor’s Fine Tawny Port seems only to be sold in Asia and doesn’t show up on Taylor’s website. Light suspense ensues.
* Australians shorten the name to “Touriga” and make loads of quality Port-ish wines.
* More than 100 grapes can go into Port. Only 5 achieve stardom though: Touriga Nacional, Tinta Roriz (aka Tempranillo), Touriga Francesa, Tinta Cão, and Tinta Barroca.

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Thai Wine

Thailand has many vices (recounted in banned book splendor) and an equal number of virtues, most of which are left to the reader’s imagination. Wine, whether vice or virtue, will not appear on your mental spreadsheet but should according to the 5+ bottles of Thai wine at the Khao Lak mini-market. All wines in Thailand win gold medals, if the mini-market aisle is to be believed, and all wines in Thailand do not list their grapes on the bottles. Save one.


My featured bottle has no gold metal – aberration! – and sits on the bottom shelf of the wine and Chang beer aisle. Written prominently in small print on the back however is a grape pronouncement of Colombard and Syrah. Never heard of Colombard before so off went the 2007 dust and into the cart with the water and Strawberry Oreos.

Suprising to this uncultured drinker, Colombard is actually a high-class grape that’s allowed into the VIP ABC French parties. A. Armagnac, B. Bordeaux, C. Cognac. Each deigns to allow Colombard into their high-priced milieu. In North America, we make it into jug wine. We classy.

In Thailand though, they blend Colombard with Syrah to make a rose wine. And there are at least 3 wine regions in Thailand, of which Khao Yai makes the bottle you see above.

Thai Taste

So, Thai and Colombard pair up with a blush of Syrah to form wine. Taste? Loads of acid on the front with not many other smells, texture is stupendously flat in a very plateau-centric way, and there’s a one-note symphony of sweet lychee playing like a cello on that plateau.

Detail Up!
PB Khao Yai Reserve Rose 2007

Random Googles
* Australia’s 5th most planted grape is Colombard
* Khao Yai wine makers worry about things you don’t. Like elephants and gibbons.
* Brits recommend Spiced carrot & lentil soup for your Colombard. Thais recommend Thai food.

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Moscato d’Asti is a semi-fizzy dessert wine if wine shops and their 15% off sales on “dessert wines” are to be believed. In my opinion, it barely qualifies as either. The wine is barely fizzy, although it has a few bubbles that sneak to the top of the glass like rogue spies. Perhaps they call it a dessert wine since it’s a sweet wine, and yes, it is sweet. But when I think of dessert wines, I think of high levels of alcohol to kick the night into full gear and well out of second gear. This wine, clocking in at 5.5% alcohol, puts that pre-gaming rush into the pitstop. This should be a pre-dinner wine for chocolate and sweet lovers who are easing into their meal, not the last stop before $1 pizza cravings kick in.

Even with my gripe on the misnomer, this wine delivers in all kinds of ways. There’s the bit of fizz that’s barely noticeable in the deadly flirty way that hands touch hands in movie theaters, and there’s the taste of moderate, refined flavors. Peach, rose and pear sprout in the nose, then there’s a whole lychee swimming pool that shows up in your mouth and some sage and herbs sprout after the lychee lagoon drains away. None are too overpowering, they’re just really different flavors that somehow pull together into a wine that defines its “dessert wine” label.

Think of Moscato (or Muscat) as the Abraham of wines. Pretty much all wines started with Abraham and then branched off from there (Ur being Piedmont, apparently) into all kinds of crazy Muscat-type wines. This particular wine is Moscato d’Asti (Muscat from Asti, up in Piedmont), which is made from the grape Moscato Bianco (“White Muscat”). I’m confused myself with all these Muscat names, but looking at the color of this wine (white) and where it’s from (Asti), the names are starting to make sense. Anyway, there are all kinds of wines that come from this Jacob-branch of the family, even other sparkling wines made from Moscato Bianco like Asti Spumante. Plenty of other Muscats exist on the Esau-side of the vini-family tree but it’s best to leave them for another day. Today’s all about Jacob and his Moscato Bianco.

Detail Up!
Moscato d’Asti 2009 Vigna Senza Nome

Random Googles
* “Muscat Blanc a Petits Grains” is French for “Moscato Bianco.” It goes by at least 10 other names, the best of which is “Muskateller.”
* Moscato Bianco is the oldest grape in Piedmont (that hambone chunk in the NW that bumps into France and Switzerland).
* Moscato d’Asti – first made by a wine-loving jeweler in the 1500s. Fact.

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Oldest Wine in the World
Commandaria is a dessert wine from Cyprus that is the world’s oldest wine that you can still drink. At least since the time of Aphrodite, this wine has been inspiring poets with its amber color and high alcohol content (+15%). Crusader legends mention Commandaria as the wine that Richard the Lionhearted pronounced “the wine of kings and the king of wines” (it’s his seal on the red box above). The Ottomans supposedly invaded Cyprus for the sole purpose of capturing Commandaria, the area in Southern Cyprus that makes this wine.

Opinions vary on what this wine tastes like and tonight, I tried it for the first time and found a bit of hazelhut, some sweetness like dulce de leche and tons of raisin. It’s a strong one too, which is best served in the smallest cup you own. Like a thimble that you keep for tea with micefolk and for drinkers of raisin-like Commandaria.

Two grapes in 50/50 doses make the liquid that eventually becomes Commandaria wine, and both grapes hail from Cyprus. Xynisteri and Mavro are the names of the two, and Xynisteri is the white grape in the Commandaria duo, Mavro the ancient red grape that still grows on its original rootstock since phyllorexa never touched Cyprus during its 19th century trouncing of continental Europe.

Making Commandaria
Cypriots produce Commandaria in six basic steps.
1 – Overripen the grapes on the vine.
2 – Put the overripe grapes on your roof and overripen them again (legend has it this is done only to keep the livestock from eating all the grapes on the vine).
3 – age the wine in barrels for at least two years and sometimes for a decades-plus.
4- Take old wine out to bottle and drink.
5 – Replace that old wine with new wine in a solera-type process made famous by sherry producers.
6 – Kvell over your superior Commandaria to anyone who will listen.

Detail Up!
St. John Commandaria Keo – NV

Random Googles
* Commandaria grapes became those used in Port wine according to Cypriot legend.
* Four big acronyms (KEO, ETKO, SODAP and LOEL) dominate the Commandaria export market in Cyprus even as there’s no shortage of little guys.
* At least Xynisteri is used to make non-dessert wines on its own. Cyprus seems to like them, even if the rest of the world hasn’t been paying attention.

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Ortrugo must truly be an obscure grape, and I can prove it. First point, there are no good pictures of it on the internet, meaning it barely exists in the Web 2.0 world. Second point, the restaurant had only bottle of this stuff and said that it’s only grown in Piacenza, which is really far west in that shaded map above (seriously, no good pics). Third and most damning point, wikipedia had the name wrong (ortruga) on the Colli Piacentini page (“hills of piacenza”) that mentioned the various grapes grown in the region, of which only Ortrugo did not have a wikipage. If I’m the one fixing the wikipage, it’s really the apocalypse of the internet.

The restaurant wasn’t lying when they said it’s only around Piacenza. All the blogs that talk about Ortrugo grape discuss a foreigner stumbling across Ortrugo in bucolic Italy, discovering its slightly fizzy zest and having their (presumbly sun-drenched) afternoon be completed like Jerry McGuire in the elevator. My experience couldn’t have been more different. Restaurant called Uva on the UES, freezing cold outside, after work in a suit, sitting at the bar alone, waiting for a friend. Find the romance in that one, Italy. All mawkish-ness aside, this Kyle Phillips guy wrote one informative post on Ortrugo and he’d have made the RSS feed if his last post wasn’t from July 2010. Well-worth the read (ed. note: for those who read the link while it lasted), especially if you like getting an actual description of how the different types of Ortrugo taste.


At the basic level, Ortrugo can be semi-fizzy or still (frizzante or tranquilo, in what I presume is Italian). It can be straight (like all good alcoholic beverages) or blended (usually with Malvasia). My particular wine was fizzy and unblended, like a champagne gone right. I was thinking flowers and tart apple, maybe with a bit of rounder fruit like a peach, but mostly apple. Little fizzy, lot of tart, lot of apple and, not too rounded – this is definitely my style of wine. Not sure where you find this wine other than Uva.

Detail Up!
Cantine bonelli Ortrugo Fizzante

Random Googles

* Colli Piacentini wins the “Wine for Dummies” award for Emilia’s “most renowned wine district” (no really, it’s in the “Wine for Dummies” book)
* Trebbianino Val Trebbia is an important wine that only Italian wikiusers care about. It has Ortrugo and comes from Piacenza.
* Known aliases of Ortrugo include: Trebbiano Romagnolo, Altrugo, Barbesino and Vernesino Bianco.

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