red wine

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salice salentino 2011Pizza is the Best Food on Earth
When people drink enough, they start to do stupid things. Like asking what one single food their friends would eat if they only had to eat one food for the rest of their lives (correct answer: pizza). Or, even worse, asking what one single wine their friends would drink if they only had to drink one wine for the rest of their lives (correct answer… pending).

No Place for Philosophy
Which raises the question, what is a wine? No, blog posts are not the place to discuss philosophical matters – that’s what bars, cemeteries and the DMV are for. But what is a grape? That seems less ponderous and maybe worth exploring in 1-2 paragraphs.

Malvasia Mutant
Take Malvasia – grape of the baltics (and the cherished island of Madeira). Malvasia tends to cover a whole lot of terrain – like a golf umbrella on Park Avenue annoying everyone in its path or the model in stretchy tights sporting it all at Walmarts in size XXL of course. Malvasia has one of those names that can mean any of a host of things – usually white, light and Italian as Michelangelo’s David, it can also be dark, toffee and island-loving as Jamaica’s better rums when grown on Madeira, possibly the world’s best place I have never visited (Sri Lanka may be close too). Sometimes it shows up in red, like a Jessica Rabbit in the 1980s or Dorothy’s shoes in an all-gray Kansas. And that’s where we arrive at Malvasia Nera.

Red Malvasia
Malvasia Nera is the rare red-headed child of the Malvasia family that emcompasses every child on earth. When Angelina gets around to adopting a red-haired child, it’s entirely certain that she will name it Malvasia (seeing as Nera has certain lazy/arsonistic connotations). While most of Malvasis shows up in Japanese funeral gear, Malvasia Nera is a red wine that tends to temper the harsher aspects of the big reds who truly strut their stuff in Maoist unity – Cabernet, Sangiovese, you know who you are. Malvasia is probably slightly out of step, even if in the area of the reds – maybe trying to tone down Stalin a little bit from the harsher edges in a Khrushevian way that (in this narrative) actually succeeds and leads to some positive result. One can dream – it’s what philosophy on a grape in a blog is about… if about anything at all.

Heavy body wine with somewhat fruity smell and dry, full-bodied taste that didn’t overextend. Rustic with a smoother finish.

Detail Up!
Salice Salentino 2011 by Masseria Parione in a DOC from Puglia (the boot), Italy

Random Googles:
* Salice Salentino is generally a Negroamaro wine – it is from Puglia (the boot!) after all. Malvasia Nera is the harmonizer on the wine to the Negroamaro melody.
* Salice Salentino – actually means “dark and bitter” in local Puglesquian parlance. Strange, as it was a pretty smooth grape that made it onto the menu I tried and the smoothing agent to the “dark and bitter” grape of Negroamaro (apparently, exactly the same translation – makes you question what life is like in Puglia).
* Apparently, a fairly cheap version of solid good wine. Most of the prices online I saw were in the $10 range. Not enough to stay in the Castello Monaci in Salie Salentino (highly recommended say the reviews) but enough to buy your bottle of wine from near the castle.

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Portugieser 2011 Villany

Portugieser – not from Portugal
Most surprising factoid about the grape called “Portugieser” is that it is found in many countries, none of which are Portugal. Neither is the grape from the Iberian afterthought. Somewhere in the Austria/Germany/Hungary/Slavic world is where this grape thrives and is probably indigenous to.

Famous as an overstatement
Villany in the Hungarian south is where this particular grape makes a bit of Hungarian splash (next only to the Hungarian water polo team of oft-golden Olympic fame). Close to the Croatian border, Wikipedia might call this town “famous” but it seems not to have caught on entirely in the rest of the world. Fortunately, Blue Danube Wine is pushing hard to change our West-o-oenophilic bias and is introducing all kinds of unpronouncable grapes to the Eastern seashore of the USA. Welcome Portugieser.

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Light body with little nose, bit harsher finish than pinot possibly due to higher alcohol (note- checked bottle and only 12.5% but tastes higher). Dark fruit taste, blackberry especially. Long finish with some tannins. Better with food than on its own.

Detail Up!
Attila Gere – Portugieser 2011 from Villany, Hungary 12.5% alc.

Random Googles
* Portugieser makes #6 on the Top Ten Hungarian Grapes List
* Villany, the town known for its red wine like this Portugieser, is a word derived from lightning.
* Kákoporto – the other name for Portugieser, seems to also have an identity crisis related to Portugual’s most famous Oporto city.

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Wine with a Warning
Trepat came with a warning from the waitress. “It’s really light, are you sure you’re ok with that?” We had just sat down at Boqueria, site of Spanish fried tapas, boisterous conversations from every table and pitchers of repeatedly-delicious sangria at many tables. But Trepat was on the menu, and it seemed just plain weird. Knowing nothing about Trepat, I said “Yes.”

Warning Received
Turns out, I wasn’t ok with it being really light. At first and without any food to accompany it, Trepat tasted too light, like somebody had thrown some H2O into the Barbera bottle. But with the arrival of the fried food, the Trepat managed to play off the different tapas plates we ordered fairly well. Still not sure it would rank on my Top Light Red list but with the right combination of green onions and lighter fare, Trepat could be a pretty understated and surprising pairing. Particularly for summer.

Warning Ignored
Apparently though, Josep Foraster – the producer of this wine – is one of only two producers to make a 100% pure bottle of Trepat. Because Trepat is typically used for cava, red cava. Strange on a number of levels, this Trepat opens its own rabbithole within another rabbithole. So, yes – there is red cava (who knew?). And Trepat is regularly grown for that purpose in the Conca de Barberà DOC in southern Catalonia, the area where the cava plants grow. Would definitely be up for trying a red cava someday (called “Rosado Cava”), and possibly trying out the Trepat once the weather warms up even more. Crazy how much you can learn from ordering one wine… and ignoring the warning.

Notes jotted down at the time of tasting – Extraordinarily light, smell of cherries and some raspberry. Hardly any finish. Pizza pizza. Barbera’s weaker brother. (And then, a few minutes later) Much better with food – like a chameleon wrapping around the food.

Detail Up!
Josep Foraster 2010 with 13% alc. from Conca de Barberà DOC in Catalonia, Spain

Random Googles:
* 1,100 hectares of Trepat grow in the world. 1,000 of them are in Catalonia. No idea where the others are located. Random guess – France? California?
* Rosado cava is made from four grapes: Garnacha, Monsatrell , Pinot Noir and Trepat
* Trepat is apparently #200 on the list of most commonly grown grapes. Seems remarkably high in my opinion.

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Grape 67: Gamay

Wine Importing Fantasies
Amateurs might fantasize about opening their own importing company, one where they enjoy a life of tasting amazing wines (for free!), traveling to all the best vineyards and bringing exciting new products to the market that eagerly awaits the next big thing in the wine world.

Few Importer Fanboys
Sadly, I get the sense that the day-to-day of wine importing is far from the fantasy. Not knowing any industry insiders, this is all speculation but have a look at the “List of Wine Personalities.” Zero wine importers listed for the US, and only one wine importer listed anywhere (Englishman Pat Simon, RIP). Fame and fortune? Maybe fortune, not fame.

Importing the Right Way
And yet, wine importers deserve respect and sometimes even receive it. Last year, the wine importer Joe Dressner (of Louis/Dressner) passed away and the outpouring of grief came from some of my favorite names in the wine industry: see here and here (and how he rocked my world with Vouvray). He was apparently a pretty atypical guy who cared enormously about the quality of his wines and cared a great deal about putting his name on wines, which is really what every importer should be striving for.

Stentor Lynch
Typically though, importers have their name in tiny font on the back label, underneath anything else that people will actually read. Surgeon general warning, alcohol content, long and boring description of the wine – oh, there’s the importer, right after all that. But then there’s Kermit Lynch. He’s an importer who’s not afraid to throw his name front and center on the FRONT of the bottle and announce with stentorian charm that “This bottle is approved by Kermit Lynch.” Kermit Lynch is a name worth paying attention to, not just because bloggers loved Kermit, but because he shows surprising, sometimes shocking wines.

Kermit Lynch Approved this Wine
Beaujolais is the wine of the day, and I’m convinced it will take years before I’ve mastered the art of spelling it correctly. Beaujolais is also a wine that Kermit approves, at least the kind of Beaujolais wine made by Domaine Dupeuble Pere et Files (Dupeuble Wine Estate, Father and Sons).

Light body, almost no tannins to annoy, round cherry taste, fun and fruity without being too sweet, slightly spicy on the end.

Detail Up!
2009 Beaujolais Domaine Dupeuble Pere et Fils from Beaujolais, France

Random Googles:
* Gamay’s full name is “Gamay Noir a Jus Blanc,” which means “Black Gamay with White Juice.” Surprising to no one, the grape is black and the juice it produces is white.
* Sparkling Gamay exists and is just as polarizing as the regular Gamay (h/t Beaujolais Nouveau hatred).
* Dukes are allowed to just flat-out ban grapes for being “a very bad and disloyal plant.” Imagine what they would do to disloyal duchesses.

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Plavac Mali – a name worth remembering
Some grapes just have it easy. Their parents named them with memorable, easy-to-pronounce names with just enough exotic edge to give them a chance as a mixed race supermodel. Adriana Gisele Pinot, please take the runway.

Liz Lemon, please stay off the runway
Most grapes have no such memorable moniker and have to rely on comedic controversy, word of mouth and/or cute labels to sear their imprint into a wine drinker’s mind. Yes, Liz Lemon – that cute alliterative label is working. We remember you from the cheese curl in the hair episode. Oh, and that disturbing photo on the cover of your new book.

Mainstream Eeyore

Plavac Mali seems to have wisely taken the Liz Lemon approach to fame and it’s only a matter of time before it goes mainstream. First, there’s the cute donkey on the label (see below) – interesting enough to stand out from the cursive letting on all the other bottles, happy enough to disassociate any sad childhood memories of Eeeyore and his dour nail-in-the-tail moping.

Incestuous Grapes
Then, we have a bit of word of mouth controversy about Plavac Mali’s family relations. No, no weird sex tape or anything – just a mix-up of parent with son, which is basically as incestuous as the wholesome grape community gets. See, for years, people thought Plavac Mali was Zinfandel, the famed grape of California and the grape that Ian, Mark and I kept trying to order the night we stumbled across Plavac Mali in the East Village. “Zinfandel = Primitivo = Plavac Mali!” went the cry among the tiny subculture of ampelographers. Sadly, only the first part of that transitive property holds up: Zinfandel = Primitivo.

Cousin Plavac
Plavac Mali is another grapey beast. But a RELATED grapey beast to Zinfandel and Primitivo. After some fancy DNA sequencing at UC Davis, the conclusion came back that Zinfandel is a parent of Plavac Mali, closely related but decidedly different. Now discovering a parent has to be at the top of the emotional scale. Somewhere just above turning a double play to end the inning or playing “Nexus” across three vertical columns of Scrabble tiles. Plavac Mali has definitely that emotional umph going for it.

Plavac Sighting in East Village
But Plavac (we’re already on a first-name basis) also has a surprise up its sleeve. It’s at New York’s hottest restaurant chain, or at least at their noodle bar last weekend. No, it’s not on their website yet and maybe never will be, but it’s on their written menu. Or at least last weekend it was, when Mark (a 9th place finisher in a national Magic tournament), Ian (a designer of less-stressful bridges who refuses to discuss his work with bartenders) and this wino (a blogger who once played “Yucas” on a triple word score yet lost when “Qi” was played in retaliation) walked into the noodle bar at 2am looking for 2nd dinner.

And when that 2nd dinner happened (because really it was too early for pizza slices and too crowded at The Immigrant) this Zin-Son was waiting with pork buns and pork belly ramen. As stated above, it’s just a matter of time before it goes mainstream.

Plavac Mali varies widely based on its location and alcohol levels, according to Those Who Know. Their conclusion seems correct to me based on an irrefutable sample size of one: “there isn’t any one way to describe it.” Ours happened to be from the southern tip of Croatia and on the lower end of the alcohol spectrum at 12.0%.

Now, these tasting notes might be swayed by being paired with excessive amounts of pork and it being 2am at the time, but our collective notes read as follows:
“Dry, muted fruit, berries, lot of fig, short finish, red aftertaste (strawberry or raspberry) with plum.” So yes, there isn’t any one way to describe it. But if you’re a Zinhead like Nathanimal, you’ll be happy once you’ve tried it.

Detail Up!
Plavac Mali 2009 Dingač Vinarija Winery with 12.0% alc. – PeljeÅ¡ac Peninsula, near Dubrovnik on the southern tip of Croatia.

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Random Googles:
* Plavac Donkey, the very wine tasted late that night at Momofuku, is listed as No. 1 Best Wine of 2011 by the energetic importer Blue Danube Wines. Not that we knew about the accolade at the time of 2nd dinner, but sometimes even Eeyores get luck.
* “Little Blue” is how “Plavac Mali” translates from Croatian when Nina is translating, which has a better ring than “Small Blue.” You can probably guess what color the berry is.
* Donkeys, in addition to being cute enough to attract wine purchasers, are useful in extremely steep regions when you want to harvest your grapes. The Pelješac peninsula, close to UNESCO World Heritage site Dubrovnik and the site of this Plavac Mali, is one such donkey-steep region.

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