white wine

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Piquepoul from Languedoc – not famous or spell-able
Piquepoul is the grape, but Picpoul de Pinet is the wine made from the grape if made exclusively from Piquepoul grapes. At least, that’s the rule in the really southern and untrendy part of France known as Languedoc. But then again, Piquepoul has a long history in the region, dating back to before there were monks and chateaus.

Minor Napoleon Love
Napoleon III loved this wine, but that was way back in the 19th century, and nobody is quite sure what Napoleon III did other than inherit a name. P.S. Was there even a Napoleon II? Ok, thanks wikiworld – there was a Napoleon II, who died of tuberculous at the legal age of 21 after calling his mother “kind but weak” so he doesn’t feature in the Piquepoul tale. Sorry little dude.

Round full body – long clean finish. Some acidity but supporting cast. Fennel smell says bartender. Perfect for barbeques says the well-known importer Kermith Lynch.

Detail Up!
Picpoul de Pinet 2010, imported by Kermit Lynch from Chateau Saint Martin de la Garrigue in Langedouc, France

Random Googles:
* Picardan, a historical sweet wine from the 17th and 18th centuries, was from Languedoc and Piquepoul was one of the grapes used to blend that sweet, extinct wine.
* Chateauneuf-du-Pape, the expensive wine from the Rhone, has Piquepoul on the list of 13 permitted blending wines. The last time anyone counted, in 2004, about 0.15% of the region planted Piquepoul.
* “Lip-stinger” is the original translation of the grape, referring to the high acidity of the grape in the Mediterranean.

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Confusion and More Confusion
When you name a grape “Melon de Bourgogne” you could at least make sure it is a grape from “Bourgogne.” But no, that’s what you call a grape from the Loire Valley, much to the west and to the north of the Bourgogne/Burgundy region. It’s no surprise then that people just refer to the grape as “melon” but again, confusion reigns. The wine tastes nothing like a melon – this grape is pure citric battery acid.

Memorable Melon – you wish
So, maybe the most famous wine made from this Melon grape would be somehow memorable or related to Melon. Again, no. “Muscadet” is the (somewhat) famous Loire wine that is made from Melon de Bourgogne, and pairs well with oysters and haters of etymology. In summary, (1) Melon de Bourgogne is from the Loire, (2) Melon tastes like limes, and (3) Melon plus oysters is a fantastic combination. Enough to baffle anyone trying to understand the grape.

Like brushing your teeth, this is the complete dental hygiene package. Smells like toothpaste, the kind with extra calcium – in wino lingo, “chalky.” Taste is rigid and acidic with loads of citrus – want to say lime and tangerine mostly. Pretty thin finish but on the clean side, so it really does feel like your teeth are clean, clean with a lime twist.

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2010 Biggio Hamina Deux Melon de Bourgogne from McMinnville in the Willamette Valley, Oregon ($17 at the vineyard)

Random Googles:
* Dutch traders brought the grape from its ancestral Burgunday home to Brittany, the part of the Loire Valley that meets the Atlantic. Yes, it once lived in Burgundy but got banned by Philip the Bold because it produced bad wines and took up permanent residency in the Loire Valley.
* Oregon produces a fair amount of the Melon. They were hoodwinked. Stewart Vineyard brought the plant in during the late 1970s, thinking it was Pinot Blanc and marketed it as such for a number of years. Only later was true Pinot Blanc brought to Oregon.
* Melon is a pretty neutral grape, compared to Palomino (the famous grape of Sherry), which allows winemakers a huge amount of latitude in forming the eventual wine. Sur lie, a production technique of leaving the wine on its dead yeast dating back to at least biblical times (Isaiah 25:6), is often used for Melon wines. Otherwise, do like the Dutch and burn your wine. Because “brandewijn” is literally “burnt wine” in Dutch – we shorten it to “brandy.”

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Thieving Sultana
You’ve eaten Sultana grapes before. Probably stolen them from your local supermarket too. They’re those enormous looking green grapes that children and degenerate adults love to pop into their mouths in the produce section when no one is looking and hopefully no cameras are pointing in your direction. We just call them Thompson Seedless, which is too bad since Sultana sounds way more regal, powerful and exciting.

California’s Most Planted, Least Known Grape
Sultana is far and away the most planted grape in California. One of every three vines in California is Thompson and the next most planted grape (Chardonnay) doesn’t even have half the acreage of Sultana.

California Raisins
And yet, we don’t see bottles of Sultana at our local wine stores, either under Sultana or Thompson Seedless. Why? Turns out Sultana can be made into wine and that wine is fine but pretty insipid if passable. A better use is turning the grapes into raisins. California Raisins – yes, that famous advertising icon begins life as a Sultana grape and ends life as a Saturday morning cartoon show.

Crisp with medium body for a white. Similar to Viognier in body and fruit but really different finish. Think Rkatsiteli on the finish – that’s the pretty obscure rape from Georgia (the country) that one should definitely try if one is ever lucky enough to be in the Finger Lakes at the vineyard of Dr. Frank Konstantin.

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Çankaya white wine by Kavaklidere Vineyard from Anatolia, Turkey. Available in tiny bottles on Turkish Airlines when you ask for the Turkish white wine.

Random Googles:
* Sultana is the father of a wine grape grown in California called Princess. Fitting that Princess is the daughter of Sultana – someone clearly had a lot of fun naming that grape.
* Narince can be thought of as a less oaky Chardonnay from Turkey. Probably impossible to find outside of Turkey but Kavaklidere has a bottle made only from Narince grapes.
* Emir grapes grow in really high altitude, cold parts of Turkey. With scant information on the grape available online, let’s leave it to a random tweet to tell us it has “great great potential.”

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Sicily as Soccer Ball of Italy

Image h/t to Italian Week

Saturday Morning Sicily
Sicily for me is the soccer ball that Italy is punting into Africa. The ancestral home of New York’s toughest mafiosos and not much else. With such a cartoonish understanding, it’s time to start with some color on Sicily.

Fun facts on Sicily. Wikipedia Style.
1) Largest island in the Mediterranean. Size-wise, it’s triangular Vermont sailing off the southern tip of Italy, close enough to Tunisia to take an overnight ferry.
2) Syracuse, that ancient Greek city that historians will recall from the historian’s historian tale of alliances in the Peloponnesian War, was actually a Greek colony that sat on Sicily.
3) Many of the Christian martyrs killed in the Colosseum were Sicilian as Christianity took hold in Sicily long before it became fashionable (or permissible) in Rome. Sicily had a long history of fighting back against their Roman leaders.
4) Agriculture is today the principal driver economically (volcanic soil’s really rich and Mt. Edna is as volcanic as it gets), with oranges, pistachios reflecting a hundred-year Arab rule. Apparently, the Vandals, Goths, Byzantines, Normans, Holy Roman Emperors and French all brought no fruit when they each ruled Sicily.
5) Sicily produces more wine than New Zealand, Austria and Hungary combined. Think about that the next time you see wines sorted by country in your local wine shop.

Wine Map of Sicily

Nobody makes better wine maps than this guy - click through for beauty incarnate

Nero’s from Sicily?
So what kind or wine does a triangular island version of Vermont produce? The only wine from Sicily I’ve ever really seen on Italian menus is Nero d’Avola, a red grape that sorta tastes like Shiraz. Thanks to Nero d’Avola we winos can take that enormous tome of Italian wines that nobody has any idea how to decipher, flip through some pages like we know what we’re seeing and select a red bottle of wine called Nero d’Avola. Hooray! Victory! The villagers cheer as we defeated the Italian wine list! Nero d’Avola has that great blend of fun, delicious and Italian enough to lend some credibility to the meal we’re about to eat.

Down the Sicilian Rabbit Hole
Sicily’s more than a one-grape wonder though. Inzolia, today’s grape of note, is just one of a couple dozen different grapes that Wine Virtuosity (the blogosphere’s Madeira Maven and extremely knowledgeable, amusing wine guy) sampled on his recent 21 part series on Sicilian wines. Correct – that is a 21 part series, that makes Ken Burns look like a dilettante. And there are still others that exist too! Fun sounding wines like Zibibbo, Grillo and Primitivo. Just saying them out loud will make a child laugh.

Inzolia – today’s grape – is a white wine that grows on the west side of Sicily (near where you take the ferry to Tunisia!). It’s not my favorite grape, much like Chardonnay isn’t my favorite grape, and it shares some of those similar round, oily characteristics that make the wine crazy popular. People with “I <3 Chard" shirts should be very about this grape when they can locate it in that enormous encyclopedia of Italian wines that comes with dinner. With my overriding bias for hugely lean, nearly anorexic wines, this grape had an uphill battle from the beginning. And if we're looking at a menu and Chardonnay and Inzolia are both listed, Inzolia's going to win (except maybe against Naked Chardonnay). This Inzolia’s got that citric promise that presumably comes from Arab oranges grown in Sicily.

My five second tasting notes said – Citrus nose of lemon and lime with some oily smell but round body of cantaloupe, mango and a little pineapple. Extreme acidity with a pretty long finish for a white (even though it’s a thin finish).

Detail Up!
Liotro Inziola 2009 from Sicily (the western part), Italy

Random Googles:
* Inzolia doesn’t leave Sicily much but when it does, find it in Tuscany under the pseudonym “Ansonica.”
* Pronounce it “In-SOUL-ia” with that extra umpf in the middle to make it sound truly Italian.
* Marsala (of famed Chicken Marsala) is a dessert wine made in Sicily thanks to a confluence of 18th century cultures (read its short genesis story here). Inzolia, along with Grillo and Catarratto, are the grapes that provide the Marsala building blocks.

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Undervalued White
Chenin Blanc might be the most undervalued white out there. It’s a grape that can age 100 years (no exaggeration), has amazingly complex flavors and has lots of great bottles for under $15. Trouble is, only a few regions grow this grape and they’re all huddled up together in northern France and are still 3 hours outside of Paris. Certainly not the easiest place to visit.

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Steen from Africa
Fortunately, South Africa and California are taking up the reigns so it doesn’t require a plane ride to Paris and a three-hour road trip through bucolic hills. Sounds awful, I know. South Africa especially churns out exceptional value under the label “Steen,” which sounds a lot more like a beer than a wine. Nevertheless, Steen = Chenin Blanc, and the Africans are doing wonders with it. Plenty of good ones exist right under your nose, such as one of my staples from Man Vintners that shows up on Fresh Direct for $7.

Welcoming Wine
Today’s wine properly clobbered Man Vintners in the complexity category, even though there’s plenty more Man Chenin Blanc to be purchased. It’s just that this French Chenin Blanc was the perfect occasion to celebrate a home-coming and a reunion of sorts.

See, last year on birthday #29, the Zapatos had brought a bottle of wine to the rooftop celebration. And this wine stood out in my mind so much that I saved the bottle, looked up Vouvray on a map and went around asking town asking for the wine. We may have even discussed purchasing a case that evening up on the roof. Regardless, the case never found its way to my cellar (read: plastic tub in the basement locker) and another year passed.

Best Borough in NYC
Then, the Zapatos move to the best borough in NYC and invited this wino over to the house because that’s what neighbors do, and we’re now one neighborhood away. So I stopped over and was treated to frisbee, Shaun Tan’s The Arrival (a great read if you have time), and a bottle of the Vouvray you see above.

Surprisingly sweet to the taste, there’s a lot of action happening in this wine. Starts off like green apples, but gets that sweetness in the middle like membrillo paste and then backs off the sweetness on the end. Sorta like Mohammed scaling his mountain and heading back home, never the same. Really delicious and complex.

Detail Up!
2008 François Pinon Vouvray “Cuvée Tradition” from Vouvray, Loire Valley in France

Random Googles:
* Vouvray, Savennieres and Montlouis – three of those places in the middle part of the Loire valley that made Chenin Blanc famous in France.
* The importer who brought today’s wine to the USA passed away this week. All the more fitting to be drinking his wine as a tribute.
* Some ampelographers think Chenin Blanc is one of Sauvignon Blanc’s parents.

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