April 2011

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Political Wine
Politics pairs with wine about as well as mustard does. Best to keep it in the kitchen and add in little bits before the meal, never during the meal. A rare exception to the mustard rule though is found in the wine shown above. All Seyval Blanc, a prolific grape throughout the United States and Canada, one blog terms this the “Rodney Dangerfield” of wines, so you’re forgiven for not recognizing the grape name. It’s a blend of American grapes and European grapes, meaning neither continent really gives it much R-E-S-P-E-C-T.

Victory White
Thankfully though, somebody in the Blue Map part of the country decided to devote their vintage to the victory of Barack Obama and make this disrespected Seyval Blanc grape into something quite respectable. Not that the Victory Wine was without precedent – Clinton Victory 1992 and Clinton Victory 1996 also resulted in Victory Wines. Apparently, Bush Victory 2000 and Bush Victory 2004 didn’t sell well in New York.

Hardy Wine
Seyval Blanc, even without the NY brand of “I <3 Dems" politics, manages to grow pretty ubiquitously in this New World of ours, although probably more east of the Mississippi. 40 states apparently grow this unknown, un-respected grape, and still nobody’s heard of it. Wine growers do love its cold-weather hardiness, and it’s quite possible Seyval Blanc ice skates in the off-season with Vidal Blanc and Gretzsky.

Smells acidic so you’re thinking “mussels wine,” but tastes almost sweet and much much thinner than expected. Thinner not in an anorexic way but more in a healthy, girl-next-door way. Wine coats the mouth but doesn’t cling (think vee-OHN-yay, not chardon-NAY) – it just makes its mark and moves on. white flowers, peach and some fresh cut grass all come to mind, which is to say, the wine has a lot and i’m not entirely sure about everything that shows up but pretty confident peach is in the mix.

Random Googles:
* England, much in the news as of late for its bubbly, grows loads of Seyval Blanc.
* Blue cheese on a hamburger – take it from a chef and pair your Seyval Blanc up right.
* Home winemakers in North America seem to love this grape if their posting quantity is any indication. Maybe the commercials should take note.

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2011 Champion

Pinot Noir is the world champion of wine, it’s official. At least for 2011 that is. In a nerdily-awesome remake, somebody on twitter started Marc Madness, a competitive bracket mirroring college basketball for grape varieties. Whites on one side, reds on the other, and only in the finals do they meet (full bracket here). Riesling blew away the competition on the white side, trouncing everyone in its path (maybe Chardonnay was close) but then it hit the juggernaut of Pinot Noir. Luck ran out in the second half, and Pinot emerged covered in garlands as Riesling hit the showers and regrouped for next year.

Generational Revolt
Pinot Noir is that current sweet spot in wine-taster’s mouth. It’s red, it’s difficult (like all annoying winos) and it’s the opposite of all those big wines that people have loved and keep loving for years. Think big California Cabernets and bigger Chardonnays that coat your mouth in wine — soooo 1990s. Now it’s all soft, round, small, restrained fruit that grew up in France and went to boarding school abroad. It’s sophisticated, it sounds sexy and it probably wears a brooklyn fedora on the weekends. Call it a generational revolt or “these darn kids” (shakes fist) but it’s what’s in season.

Pinot and Jazz
Check your wine bar list and fax me if you find a list without Pinot. Just won’t happen. Most likely, they’ve got several – one from Burgundy, one from Oregon and one from California or New Zealand. That’s where the Pinot kids hang out. Burgundy – it’s the heartland and the soul of the grape, kinda like jazz and New Orleans. You can talk all you want about Dizzy’s, Chicago and Wynton Marsalis at Lincoln Center, but jazz is New Orleans. There’s no dispute. Then you get the newbies, the Oregons, the California hotspots and New Zealand’s Central Otago – all doing interesting and pretty cool things that nobody’s tried before. Oregon, always the hippest of any social trend, holds an annual Pinot Fest for “Pinot freaks.” Clearly not your grandfather’s wine festival.

Today there’s actually two options to check out, one from Burgundy and one from Austria. Why two? Parents – they come in twos and so should their wines. My dad mentioned that he liked red wines but not the heavy ones, which makes sense – he’s a light guy, both in humor and in weight. Also, he adores puns and somehow Cabernet seems way too serious for puns. So, I’d been saving this Austrian Pinot for a long time and thought it’d be perfect to try with them during a night of cooking in.

Turns out, it was way heavier than expected, although still in that medium-body range. Plus, it had all kinds of interesting, unexpected stuff along the side of the road – like driving through South Dakota. Not that everyone likes driving through South Dakota or stopping at the Corn Palace. So, between four of us, we came up with red fruits, dark finish and extremely smooth finish. 4 different votes though: 1 for magnificent, 1 for liked it, 1 for ok and 1 for didn’t like it.

Taste Too
Luck played a big hand in the second Pinot since our waiter pretty much insisted we try it at dinner the next night. The “Bourgogne” label threw us a bit but we managed to figure out that we were in Burgundy territory and the “Pinot Noir” on the label convinced us we were into a second bottle of Grape #29. Lighter body than the Austrian (or than almost every red – my dad approved; one could tell by his Groucho eyebrows at the use of the phrase “good body”) and really smooth, this wine got consistent voting – no magnificents, no oks, no didn’t like its. Just 4 liked it – perfect for the family dinner table.

Detail Up!
Austrian – Pinot Noir Gesellman Siglos 2004 from Bergenland, Austria
French – Pinot Noir Bonnes & Guerre 2009 from Burgundy, France

Random Googles:
* Pinot Noir = Black Pine(cone) – see a bunch, you’ll get it.
* Spätburgunder – the unpronounceable German name for Pinot and, consequently, the reason we call it “Pinot”
* Monks grew Pinot in Burgundy for about 1,600 years until they had their lands seized in the French Revolution – apparently, they still have a lot of monasteries among the vineyards.

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Blends Rock
For a blog that explores huge numbers of different grapes, it seems almost sacrilegious to mention a dirty secret. This wino really likes blends. Like a lot. Sometimes when drinking one wine, the thought of another wine jumps up and of course you’re thinking how amazing they’d be together. Usually this happens when one wine’s ok but could do a little better for itself by dating around a bit. Maybe that’s how wine makers think up blends, maybe not.

Social Butterfly
Viognier is one of those “date around” wines, and it’s really quite prolific, the social butterfly of grapes. Lots of wines mix it up with others of their clan: Sauvignon Blanc, Chenin Blanc, and Muscat show up quite a bit together, and Cab and Merlot do their dance every year at the Hong Kong Wine Auction. There are probably others that cross the Mason-Dixon line between white and red, but Viognier definitely shows up a lot at the Red parties. It’s Shiraz that usually invites Viognier, especially in Australia’s Barossa Valley.

But Viognier is more than a one-grape dallier. Take this wine from California that Clayhouse makes “according to a proprietary blend.” Presumably they also make software for Microsfot. The wine is 6 grapes with no majority shareholder. Viognier gets top billing at 22%, but Chardonnay and Roussanne and the three Blanc sisters (Sauvignon Blanc, Grenache Blanc and Chenin Blanc) are all there in at least 5% doses. Doesn’t seem fair to label this post “6 grapes for the Price of 1” so it’s limited to the main attraction of Viognier and the opening act of Princess.

Unrecognized Princess
Princess, like any good opening act, isn’t as famous or as appreciated as the star people actually pay to see. Princess, in fact, isn’t even on the label. The US doesn’t even recognize it as a grape that CAN be listed on the bottle, despite its parentage of Muscat (perhaps the first wine grape) and Thompson (those awesome big crunchy grapes that kids steal int the grocery store). Clayhouse, maker of this wine, are petitioning the government to allow Princess to appear on the label, and they’ll likely win. “US Government Rejects Princess” is not a headline bureaucrats like to see.

So, taste. Not sure who contributed what to this white wine potluck, but what I tasted involved peaches, lots of smoothness (like a skipping stone on a clear lake), a little Werther’s and medium grade oil on the mouth. Not light, not heavy crude – medium grade, straight into the motor.

Sounds like a really gross mix re-reading this description, so to clarify, this blend works in the way that long summer days work when you’re on summer break in high school. New motor oil in your car, fresh peaches from the roadside stand on your way to the lake and skipping stones in the afternoon until it’s dark, and you and your social butterfly head home. Wine for warm weather, definitely.

Detail Up!
Clayhouse, Adobe White Blend 2008, Paso Robles, CA (h/t to the linked guys for the image)

Random Googles:
* Princess probably won’t be a grape you’ll find alone on a bottle, even if the government allows it. She disappoints wine makers.
* Viognier almost went extinct back in the day (the hippie day of the 1960s) but stubborn Condrieu kept planting it on the banks of the Rhone River in France. Now it’s the only grape allowed in Condrieu wines and bottles start at $50. Viognier, like many a sketchy Frenchmen, now thrives abroad.
* “V-OWN-yay” – pronunciation for your favorite sketchy Frenchman

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Warning on Retsina
The waitress warned against this wine, saying that the wine, “Retsina,” was unlike any other wine. Most people send it back so she’d learned to caution those who ordered it from repeat rejections.

Vodka in the Dasani
Retsina really was unlike any other wine, just by smelling you knew something was different. Pinesol. Straight up Pinesol. No other wine smells (and tastes!) like Pinesol and unless you know what to expect, it’s like gulping vodka when you grab the water bottle after exercising only to discover that your roomate put the Absolut in the Dasani bottle. True story.

Love in the Time of Socrates
Retsina dates back to the time of Socrates, Solon and Pericles. In fact, it shows up in Plato’s Symposium, a fact noted in more than one academic publication. When Plato was sitting at Socrates’s knee, writing down the words of wisdom, Socrates was throwing back Retsina wine and burping up pine and eternal questions.

Different How?
Retsina wine predates barrels, so the Greeks made due with pine resin to preserve their grape juice and ferment it into wine. Already in the first century, the Romans were griping about the taste of Retsina and decrying the use of premium grapes in Retsina wines. Anecdotal history even says that when the Romans invaded, the Greeks intentionally put pine resin in their wines to avoid the Romans from stealing their wine.

Pinesol, straight up Pinesol with a hint of mint on the burp. Few outside Greece enjoy it but I’m a sadist who smells like a pinecone.

Detail Up!
Retsina – Ritintis Nobilis by Gaia Estate at their Nemea Estate in Peloponnese, Greece (h/t for the image to these guys)

Random Googles
* Lots of grapes can be made into Retsina. Roditis, Savatiano and Assyrtiko are the most famous.
* Roditis is a late-harvester but still retains high acidity levels, which is why the Greeks in the Peloppenesian islands, especially the northern islands, adore it.
* Every part of Greece is a productive winemaking region. Economists disagree.

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Merlot Coaster these last few years
Merlot brings out emotion in collective conscience like the latest scandalous pop star (Lady Gaga meat collection anyone?). “Love it” screamed the teenie boppers when it’s smooth, fruity taste first hit the international market, throwing California into a tizzy over whether Cabernet still reigned supreme (spoiler alert: it does). “Hate it” screamed the slightly more matured cognescenti in a moment that happened to coincide with the release of a certain Sideways movie seven years ago that dropped Merlot into the bargain bin. And now, quietly, without much fuss or notice, Merlot is once again regaining a certain “F.U.” cachet.

Merlot, it’s back to the starting rotation
Merlot is back to the big leagues and its time in Triple A has done it well. People who know about wines tell me the best values for American wines are in Merlot. People have hated on it so much, it’s become trendy to hate the haters. Is it too much to call Merlot the PBR of wine? Is PBR even the PBR of beer anymore?

Regardless, Merlot is headed back to its rightful place on the team. Sure, Merlot won’t be the Roy Halladay that will lead the Mets to win on opening day – that just doesn’t happen in Queens. But Merlot is back on the starting rotation, sandwiched in between Cab, Shiraz and Pinot.

Black fruit fruit with some plum marching in next. Nothing too heavy from the tannins but some weight and smoke that makes it seem deeper than it is. Pizza, movie and this wine.

Detail Up!
Bogle Vineyards, California – 2009 Merlot

Random Googles
* Washington, Long Island and Hawke’s Bay – those are the 3 locations to find great value.
* Merlot – etymologists trace it to French for “blackbird,” as in 4 and 20 blackbirds baked in a pie. Never understood how that song didn’t become the stoner mantra.
* In Bordeaux, more Merlot is planted than Cab but somehow Merlot manages to stay in the shadow. Ask Zeno to explain that one.

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