March 2011

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Mocked Madeira
Madeira is a little known grape that still finds ways to be snotty and dislike even lesser known grapes. Tinta Negra Mole gets the designation of belittled wine reviled by little known wine. See, it’s a grape grown on Madeira, gets called Madeira in any wine shop, but somehow the Madeira wine lovers (all 3 of them) scoff at Tinta Negra Mole. It’s a shame too since there’s some incredible value to be found in Tinta Negra Mole – say the words out loud: “Tinta. Negra. Mole.” It sounds like a Mexican dessert from Oaxaca.

Rodney Dangerfield in Madeira
Tinta Negra Mole (mmmm… dessert) is a grape with little respect and (whoo hoo!) great value. They grow it on Madeira (the island), nominally in Portugal but really kinda like the Atlantic Madagascar, but don’t respect it on Madeira. Or anywhere. It’s the pariah grape of the Madeira grapes. Perhaps rightfully so since it will never soar to age for decades like many of the other “noble” grapes. Still, Tinta Negra Mole is now a “noble” grape and with that comes maidens, crowns and a modicum of respect.

Red Discrimination
Tinta Negra Mole is Madeira’s most planted grape and is treated like the Mission grape in California (dismissed) or the Airen grape in Spain (forgotten). Really though, it’s because Tinta Negra Mole isn’t at home on Madeira. It’s a red grape on a white island, and Madeira discriminates against red grapes. White grapes are part of the “system,” the Malmsey, Bual, Verdelho, Sercial system. Red grapes just don’t have a place.

Not a Marie Antoinette
Tinta Negra Mole though, can produce fine wines, perhaps not of the Marie Antoinette variety but certainly of the “WOW – what IS this variety???” So don’t tell people, it’s best they don’t know. 5 years of aging, some red blood tucked in with the white of the island grapes, and WOW – you have yourself a value wine that is basically indestructible. It is a Madeira after all, and if there’s a better wine, a more indestructible wine invented on earth, you haven’t brought it to my dining table.

Sweet nose, coffee taste, alcoholic finish with slight raisin. For $20, buy it at this place, the place that provided the photo above. It’s all Tinta Negra Mole.

Detail Up!
Broadbent Madeira, 5 year reserve – Tinta Negra Mole

Random Googles
* Tinta Negra Mole is a cross between a Grenache and a Pinot Noir – do people really dislike that?
* This Swedish guy runs a blog devoted to Madeira (mad respect!) and seems to think Tinta Negra Mole gets tossed to the chickens. Oh, to be those chickens.
* 15% is as close to labeled Madeira as Tinta Negra Mole gets. Labels: sometimes worth it, sometimes just Ralph Lauren.

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The Best Grape
There, I’ve said it. Riesling is just the best grape that exists. Maybe it’s my love for bone-crushing acidity. Maybe it’s that favorite jacket you have that pairs well with everything and manages to be classy without trying. Maybe it’s that thrill of walking to the airport to buy your ticket to somewhere you haven’t decided yet. Because it’s only Riesling that can bring you suck-your-teeth dry and rot-your teeth sweet. All grapes have a range in which they sing and you start to recognize their voices among the Sopranos, Altos, Tenors, and that Cabernet Bass.

Opera Star
Riesling though is a category unto itself. It’s SATB performed by a love child of Pavarotti and Joan Sutherland. The wine soars in the right hands and has a range unmatched by any other wine. It can age for over a decade (crazy rare for a white), makes dessert wines equal to any of the greatest dessert wines in the world (Auslese) and CAN command prices into the thousands of dollars. Of course, Riesling can also command prices of $10 and it’s easy to find great bottles at $10 and really excellent bottles for $15.

Remember the Riesling!
Personally, Riesling has always been a food and friends wine. Eat one and devour the other – it’s a simple recipe but Remember the Riesling. It’s easy to find too since Germany and Austria no longer have a stranglehold on the grape. Australia, New Zealand and the US (especially Finger Lakes, NY!) all produce wines that melt in your mouth or stab you with lime – up to you to figure out which is which. South Africa too seems to be entering the fray, and South America has started late to the game but has started its experimenting. Rather than just carpeting the world too, Riesling producers have managed to produce wines that smack you across the face with their true gravel. If you enjoy S&M diversity in your wine, you just found your grape.

This wine is one of many styles that Chateau Ste Michelle makes (one of which is called Eroica – sweet and worth the search; it’s two of the world’s best producers teaming up on Riesling). This particular Riesling shown above is the regular “everyday” Riesling that Chateau Ste Michelle make and I think it cost about $10 (which is what it costs at Jericho Wines, who get the h/t for the photo). Here’s what my tongue dictated to my fingers: Kinda fizzy, tart like green apples but with peach taste. Light wine. Very green apples and something fizzy extra.

Detail Up!
Chateau Ste Michelle Columbia Valley Riesling 2009

Random Googles
* Famed Riesling Maker Leo Buring (correctly) stated: “Winemaking isn’t a matter of life or death – it’s much more important than that!” The one wine I tried by him convinced me that my mid-life crisis will occur in Adelaide, Australia.
* Riesling regions to seek out: Clare, Eden and West Australia (Australia); Mosel, Alsace, and Wachau (Europe); Finger Lakes, Michigan and Washington (US); and Nelson (NZ)
* There’s a Red Riesling in Germany. Nobody’s quite sure if it’s the father or the son of Riesling Riesling.

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Hungry for Hungary
Eew – somehow the pun of Hungry and Hungary has managed to jump the couch, even for lovers of lousy puns like myself. Fortunately, the grapes behind this wine save the day. Furmint, the undisputed queen of Hungary is the famous partner in this duo, and Harslevelu is somehow forgotten, likely due to the unpronouncable nature of the grape. Hars-level-u. That’s how I’ll remember it.

Furmint though is the centerpiece of this wine, even though clocking in at only 50% of the grape content. Next to the Hungary Water Polo team, this could be the finest item to emerge EVER from Hungary. Tokaji isn’t this wine but you could be mistaken from the bottle since that Tokaj looks awfully like Tokaji.

Tokaji is rightly the pride of Hungary, so much so that it’s mentioned in the Hungarian national anthem. To quote: “On Tokaj’s vine stalks you have dripped nectar.” Rightly sung, Hungary. Rightly sung. This wine dates back to nearly the Hapsburgs and has produced exceptional wine ever since. Actually, ALMOST ever since since apparently there was a big Communist 40-year fling when all the grapes had to be blended together and the wine ended up mediocre. This being before my wine-drinking time, you’ll have to take the capitalists’ word for it.


Furmint gets talked about a lot with its dessert wines, and Harslevelu generally gets treated as the kid with the last name Zhang in elementary school. Last alphabetically and forgotten about by other (luckier) kids with more alphabetically-inclined names, Harslevelu is somewhat intriguing as being a crucial, if lesser known component, of the great Hungarian wines. Described by wikiwriters as “intense aroma of spice, pollen and elderflowers,” this wine pretty much hits all the big things that drew me to wine. Plus, it has a facebook page. 9 people even like it – that’s almost double digits. Still, if you ever see that there’s a 100% Harslevelu available, please mail it immediately. Post will be paid.

So, 50% Furmint, 50% Hars-level-u, from Hungary, from Tokaj. Smells and looks light but BIG peach with pear throughout and big sweetness that fills up the mouth. Long lasting sweet peach finish. Could be in Savannah with Ty Cobb sipping on sweet tea and spiked cleats.

Detail Up!
Hetszolo Tokaj Late Harvest 2007

Random Googles
* Only six grapes are approved for Tokaji: Furmint, Harslevelu, Yellow Muscat, Zeta, Koverszolo, and Kabar.
* Together, Furmint and Harslevelu constitute 90% of the wine in Aszu, fabled wine region of Hungary
* King Louix XIV incorrectly termed Tokaji the “Wine of Kings.” Catherine the Great led by example in sending soldiers to protect the vineyards. Hence, it’s the “Wine of Queens.”

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“Ma ma ma MY Madeira”
Malmsey holds a special place in my liquor cabinet. Hint – it’s near the front. It’s crazy sweet but isn’t at all cloying, and is pretty much indestructible (my bottle is 2 years old and survived life in a 95 degree closet in Panama). It works for pre-dinner, during dinner and (especially) after-dinner, and holds up against even the stickiest, gooiest desserts.

Still, there’s more to my infatuation, and that’s thanks to a nerdy love of history. Malmsey is a grape (the sweetest grape!) used in Madeira, quite possibly the finest and most unique style of wine in existence. Just ask that fired NPR guy his opinion on the matter – he knows.

Baked Wine
Madeira is baked wine, discovered when a case of regular wine accidentally got forgotten in the bottom of a boat that sailed from Portugal across the Atlantic, made its tour of several stops in the Caribbean and headed home to Portugal. Once back to the first stop home – the island of Madeira 500 miles off the coast of Africa – the Portuguese discovered their wine that had been sloshing around in the hold in 90+ degree heat for the last half year. Turns out, it was delicious.

No longer does Madeira make its trip through the tropics (except my Panama-purchased bottle, apparently) though. Instead, they’ve developed a process called “estufagem” that simulates a long, hot sea voyage minus the mermaid mirages. Essentially, they bake the wine – probably the single most important thing to avoid when you’re handling normal wine.

Matt Damon does Madeira

Heat and wine are like Sarah Palin and Matt Damon. It just seems wrong and really, it is. But then, wine surprises you. Out of nowhere, it starts ripping into heat for believing that dinosaurs roamed the earth 4,000 years ago and becomes something even more beautiful. That’s Madeira – Matt Damon heated up about Sarah Palin.

Malmsey is that present you give to people who had such sweet tooths that they lost their teeth and now have sweet dentures. This particular one lives up to the sweet hype with lots of raisin and burnt caramel, a tiny drop of coffee, some orange zest smells wafting in, and a really long finish of lots more caramel.

Detail Up!
Blandy’s Madeira – Malmsey Reserve 5 years

Random Googles:
* George Washington loved Madeira best. Other wines wept.
* Malmsey > Bual > Verdelho > Sercial, the sweetness order of Madeira (“My Bottle Vesuviates Sweetness” is the mnemonic device).
* People call anything Malmsey these days. The Malmsey Madeira grape is aka “Malvasia Candida,” one of 12 different types of Malvasia in Portugal.

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This grape tricked me. It shouted out from the menu and when it shouted, it shouted “New Grape!” Unfortunately, Cencibel is a grape that is already reviewed in a prior post (see if you can guess by the time the hyperlink shows up below).

Man of La Mancha
Coming from Spain, and from La Mancha, this grape promised to be as new as Don Quixote breaking into the chivalric romance genre in 1605 and 1615 (apparently, it’s two volumes). Turns out, this grape is as known as food to the mouth of Quixote’s erstwhile and gluttonous companion, Sancho Panza. Despite the tantalizing newness promised by the word “Cencibel” and its subsequent unmasking as another Spanish grape, it’s hard to dislike this Cencibel wine.

Here’s the joint description of the grape based on the hemming-and-hawing between my sister and I as we sat at the bar in pre-dinner, not-yet-hungry expectation.

Detail Up!
Cencibel from La Mancha – 2007 Pago Florentino Vino de Pago (h/t for the image too)
Light tannins, thinner throughout, some blueberry, bit sweet

Google Clues
* This grape is typical of Spain and might be its most popular grape, particularly in Rioja
* New world and old world makers now flock to this wine that means “little early one” due to the early harvest
* Cencibel also goes by the name “Temp…..

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