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Toulouse Anderson Valley Pinot Gris 2010MC Pinot
Pinot Gris, you won the first round of Hide and Seek. Here I thought you were all original and unknown, like when my brother put on music by MC Lars, and it turned out to be this weird fusion of styles that jumbled up everything recognizable into a new kind of musical scrambled eggs that somehow made it new and better.

Pinot Gris/Grigio
But Pinot Gris isn’t MC Lars. Pinot Gris is just Pinot Grigio, not even MC Pinot Grigio. Yes, it’s Pinot Gris who makes that $5 Italian wine labeled Ecco Domani that lingers on the dusty bottom shelf at your supermarket. Pinot Gris, take off your mask. You won this round.

One Glass, Then Water
So should we flee from pee-no gree (actual pronunciation)? Probably not. Because realistically, Pinot Grigio can be great even though most of it is really terrible and leads to headaches that make people hate white wine – truly, a crime. So drink one glass of Pinot Grigio with dinner but no more. And drink lots of water.

Manorexic Wine
Because Pinot Gris isn’t Pinot Grigio – at least not in how it tastes. Pinot Grigio usually has that high acidity of a Sauvignon Blanc but no real body backing it up. Manorexia comes to mind when drinking Pinot Grigio – not so much with Pinot Gris.

The Depths of Pinot
Because Pinot Gris has lots more going on – you can talk to Pinot Gris and not just about male modeling. Luscious, rich, tropical – these are the words you see describing Pinot Gris, which aren’t exactly the same words you hear on the catwalk. On the catwalk.

Shapeshifting Mutants
Out in California, way up in the north part where these giant redwoods grow (see photo – that’s me at 6’2.25″ barely noticeable in the bottom left), there’s a small group of producers playing around with Pinot Noir, Pinot Gris and probably some other mutant pinots that Professor X has at the mansion. Because apparently Pinot Noir is a grape that keeps mutating (like the annoying shapeshifter from the old Commodore 64 game) and Pinot Gris is just one of those mutations from back in the day.

Goose Fetish
On perhaps the most relaxing vacation of 2011, Cristina and I stopped by northern California for some catching up with friends (thanks Begs and Jess), some redwood hiking and some mutant wine tasting. By far the prettiest of the vineyards we visited in the Anderson Valley near Mendocino was Toulouse, a family run operation with a strange affinity for geese in ridiculous postures. Really engaging winery with premium Pinot Noir and affordable Pinot Gris – you can imagine which bottle made it home.

Sunny Memories
Now, half a year later, it’s cold in November and time to break into those bottles of whites that bring back memories of summer, California and general lusciousness. Hola Pinot Gris – let’s see what your Too Loose bottle has to say.

Delicate, slightly tart, some peach, lots of flowers in mouth – light/medium mouthfeel with a lingering but not strong finish. Good acidity and balance – bit too heavy on the alcohol. Sunshine and outdoors warmth definitely recognizable.

Detail Up!
Pinot Gris 2010 from Toulouse Vineyard in Anderson Valley, California

Random Googles:
* Pinot Gris (France) = Pinot Grigio (Italy), except in style. Same grape, different wardrobe.
* Alsace, that French region up near Germany, produces the most famous Pinot Gris styles. Oregon, California and Washington produce pretty significant amounts too.
* Surprisingly, all Top 10 Restaurant wines in the US are white wines. Three are Pinot Grigio.

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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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Explanation Essential

Cserszegi Füszeres requires a lot of explanation. There’s one bottle and one bottle only that I’ve ever seen with this grape (yes, this is a grape, not a Polish hot dish). Might be the only bottle in the USA also as the importer shows up as hit #3 when you google the grape name.

Pronounce Please
So, first things first – pronunciation. Cserszegi Füszeres is “chair-say-ghy, foo-seh-resh.” Chair, say, ghy – foo, seh, resh. Even saying it out loud is on the difficult side. Personally, I picture a sage Ali G sitting on a chair saying “foo, seh, resh.” It’s the only way to remember this grape. Difficult, foo-seh-resh.

Ali G in a Chair
Then, where does this impossible to pronounce Ali G arrive from? Hungary, land of famed dessert wines and unknown white wines. This is one of those unknown white wines, much harder to remember than Furmint, that’s for sure. Chair, Ali G – Foo seh resh.

European Indiana
Hungary, though not a large country (it’s slightly smaller than Indiana), does have several wine regions. But then, the same can be said for Indiana. Hungary though boasts 22 wine regions dotted across its Indiana-shaped hide. One of those 22 regions even produces the most-awesomely-named wine: “Bull’s Blood.” If you ever find yourself in the Eger region of Hungary, ask for Bull’s Blood. Please report back.

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Today’s wine comes from Neszmely, better known as the region on the edge of Hungary that’s almost in Slovakia. Not Slovenia – that’s the other side. Slovakia, featured in Eurotrip as the country of post-Communist gloom and splendor. Next to Slovakia, one finds Neszmely, an hour’s drive north of Budapest that’s open for Hungarian wine tourism.

Detail Up!
2009 Hilltop Winery “Craftsman” Cserszegi Füszeres from Neszmely, Hungary

Full, round nose of peaches – smells like a big bodied white but *trickery* it tastes really acidic with grapefruit and lemon coming out swinging an enormous bat. Disjointed as it sounds, it’s great for that bait-and-switch shock that your wino-friend never expected. Well played, Cserszegi Füszeres, well played.

Personally, not my favorite white. I don’t like being tricked and this one sucker-punched me. Sure, I’ll go back for seconds and see if it’s just this bottle and not the grape. Might get punched again – we’ll see.

Google Randoms:
* Cserszegi Füszeres has Gewurtz as a parent – hence, the big Cyrano nose.
* Cserszegi Füszeres received the award for “White Wine of the Year“… in Britain… in 1998.
* Listen to the legend of Bull’s Blood – invading marauders and children be afraid.

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Confusing Muscat
Muscat is really confusing. You think you know it because Muscat has that hear-me-roar smell that makes even aromatic wines like Gewurtz and Riesling bow in admiration. Truly, if there is a smelly wine king, Muscat is he.

Fecund as a Father, a Founding Father
Perhaps unsurprisingly for a king, Muscat is also incredibly fertile and has more offspring than Benjamin Franklin and Thomas Jefferson combined. And yes, this fecundity makes for very awkward family reunions. Worse still, Muscat is a mutant so image some shape-shifting virile Founding Father and you have an idea who this Muscat character actually is.

Someone told me there are nine Muscat families, presumably all somehow related and trading on Mr. Muscat’s namesake. On this blog, we’re up to Muscat #3 – Muscat of Alexandria. History buffs will already be able to tell where this grape comes from and which queen quaffed this grape before the asp had the last word.

Brewer in the Muscat Family
Muscat of Alexandria is apparently the unscented Muscat of the family who bathes often and refuses perfume like many of his brethren and sistern. He would be perfect to work at a sake brewery, where even the faintest hint of a smell gets into the sake. Muscat would not be in your sake.

No Mancloud of Muscat
As with most unscented men (Mr. Zapato excepted), he’s not that popular. Women like the tall, dark and scented men who wear Italian cut shirts and ferment each more in cologne. Men who love to ride elevators just to asphyxiate lesser mortals who haven’t yet developed the ability to travel in clouds of Acqua di Gio. Muscat of Alexandria spends most of his time at the table wine section, probably busing the tables of his more odoriferous Muscat relatives.

Allez cuisine!
Thankfully, with the right TLC from Mother Nature, there are regions where Muscat of Alexandria reigns supreme in regal dessert wine splendor. Setúbal, Banyuls and Malaga – three tiny regions that won’t be on your wine map unless your wine map is much better than the crayola-marked version hanging on my wall. Setúbal makes a dessert wine called “Moscatel de Setúbal” – spoiler alert, it’s Muscat of Alexandria. Banyuls is in France, literally spitting distance from Spain, and makes its dessert wine from Muscat of Alexandria – its wine’s name, being French, is the same as the location – Banyuls. Malaga takes its Muscat of Alexandria, swirls it with the sherry grape Pedro Ximenez, and punches out the third of the Muscat of Alexandria dessert wines. To the best of my knowledge, none of these have a picture of Cleopatra VII on their bottles.

This particular wine is from the Banyuls region and, true to form, is a sweet dessert wine. Thanks to the good folks at Claret Wine Bar in Sunnyside, Queens, which is easily the best wine bar in a three neighborhood radius, we know this featured wine is 70% Muscat of Alexandria and 30% Muscat Petit Grain (aka millions of other names). For this wine, we’re talking lots of apple smell, extremely sweet taste and a big taste of apricot and some other fruits that better tasters would be able to identify.

Detail Up!
Muscat de Rivesaltes “La Prieure de la Vin” 2009 from Banyuls in Languedoc-Roussillon, France

Random Googles:
* Muscat de Rivesaltes (confusingly made from two grapes also named Muscat) is a French dessert wine with an elfin cousin who only appears around Christmastime – Muscat de Noël.
* South Africans call this grape “Hanepoot” and somebody at Jo-burg thinks it’s a Pan-African panacea.
* Wisconsin, one of 50 states in the US to produce wine, puts Muscat of Alexandria at the top of its wine tourism blurb. Strangely, they fail to mention cheese.

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Madness in Pie Slices
Trivial Pursuit leads men mad. Sure, it’s easy enough to get the Orange “Sports” pie slice. Random history learned in the fourth grade can net you the yellow slice but you’re still four away from victory. Plus, unless lightning strikes and Teddy Roosevelt appears with big stick in hand, it’s impossible to answer the Pink slice – “Entertainment.” Really, it should be re-branded as “Slice of Un-American Entertainment” and denounced for the pinko card-carrying it is.

Blue Pie Peaches
Fortunately, there’s now one slice that you’ll be able to answer – Blue. Geography. Because this slice will inevitably lead to the question of which state is also a country. And you’ll know – because you drink wine and remember Ty Cobb as the “Georgia Peach” from your Orange pie slice glory days.

Georgia – a country
Enter the country of Georgia. Nestled against the soothing belly of Mother Bear Russia and topping Turkey, that land of many grape vines (3X as many as South Africa!) and notably few wines (sigh….), this is a country. Not a country of ______ or a country known for _______. Just a country – and that’s enough because it’s had a hard enough time attaining even that title.

Tis-so-a-cow, Rhee
On top of that, Georgia is a country that makes wine from its grapes, like Russia and unlike Turkey. You’ll be a better man than I (more likely to garner the Pink pie slice for sure), if you know this grape name. In fact, I’d buy you a pie if you can pronounce it. Tis-so-lih-cow-ri? Who knows? Who would confirm it?

Old, Old Wines
Georgians will confirm it and they’re out in the tweeter-verse. They’ll tell you Tsolikauri is one of the most planted grapes in the country in a country has grown wine for over 8,000 years (not a typo). They’ll tell you it’s one of the highest quality grapes the country offers out of the more than 400 grapes it grows. They just won’t tell you that it was one of Stalin’s favorites because then they’d have to explain that Stalin was born in Georgia and that gets awkward because you already have your yellow pie slice and you know he killed lots of people. Not over wine or anything but still. It’s awkward.

The taste of Tsolikauri is pretty much different and different in a really good way from other wines this wino has tried. We’re talking peach with a sweet smell (ok, kinda similar), medium body with medium sweetness (still kinda the same) but then there’s the difference. This Tsolikauri seems like it’d be high alcohol since it’s riding around your mouth in a go-kart made from white port and summer riesling. You’re thinking it’s going down in high-alcohol infused blue flame but no – this wine brakes and clock in at only 10.5% alcohol. Slow, long victory lap featuring more peach and cries of joy ensue from the audience ensue.

Detail Up!
Marani 2005 of the Tvishi controlled appellation made in Racha-Lechkhumi region in Georgia – for a 2005 white, this bottle (surprisingly) had plenty of life too.

Random Googles:
* One blog, righteously called Fringe Wine, describes Georgia as its “first real discovery” – a pretty solid compliment from someone called Fringe Wines
* Tsolikauri is one of the big grapes used in Georgia, along with Rkatsiteli, Tsitska, Mtsvane, Tetra, Krakhuna and others (sidebar – it’s great fun saying these aloud and loudly)
* Those cool looking jugs on the label you see above is a big part of Georgian wine culture (yup, it’s way older than expected) – they stick that jug in the ground to keep the wine cool while it ages… for years. Called a “Qvevri

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