Friday, August 15, 2014

How-To: Tell What Wines are in a Blend

Americans like to know what wine they are drinking. While the Old World labels their wine based on region, sure in the knowledge that everyone knows the grape that ends up in a Burgundy or a Barolo, in the New World we want our wines to be labeled by the varietal.

In most cases, that's easy enough. But when it comes to blended wines, its not always so straight forward. A blend may be made up of a range of grapes, so the wine makers will often use a proprietary name useful for marketing, but not always informative. But there are tricks you can use to help pick out the grapes.

Look for typical styles: Bordeaux or Meritage blends are typical, made of Cabernet Sauvignon, Cabernet Franc and Merlot. Champagne will be made from Chardonnay, Pinot Noir and Pinot Meunier.

Labeled: Since Americans demand the info, many wine makers will include the list of varietals used. It may be hidden on the back label, but especially with New World wines it may be there.

Guess: If you know a bit about wine, you can start to guess what grapes make up a blend. In a red wine, soft red fruit flavors might be a high percentage Merlot or Pinot Noir, while a buttery white wine might be based on a Chardonnay.

Thursday, August 14, 2014

Quick Review: Castoro Cellars "East Meets West" 2012

US, CA, Castoro Cellars, East Meets West Reserve 2012

+ // Spicy // Clove, Old leather, Tobacco, Dried cherry // Cherry cola // Medium to full-bodied

Tuesday, August 12, 2014

Quick Review: Tess Winery Red & White Blend

US, CA, Napa, Tess Red&White Blend
++ // Spicy - Sweet // Maraschino cherry, Cinnamon, Nutmeg, Clove, Candied apple // Cinnamon, Cherry, Rose petals // Medium

Monday, August 11, 2014

Red Wine In Summertime

When the summer rolls around, we don't drink a lot of red wine. Red wines tend to be heavier in flavor and body, and often a little bit higher in alcohol content. On a warm day, we are usually looking for something a bit more refreshing. There are reasons to still enjoy red wines in the summer. With grilled meat, sometimes you need a big red wine. A nice sangria is great for a casual weekend afternoon. And sometimes, you can find a red wine that works well chilled, allowing you that cool drink you so desperately need.

We are told we should avoid chilling red wines. They say that the fruitier, earthier flavors in red wines become subdued when chilled, so you lose a lot of the subtleties of the wine. This is true. (White wine tends to be more forward with its flavors, and chilling can even reign in a more aggressive acidity.) But some red wines can stand chilling, especially ones with sweeter fruit flavors. Even better are blended wines that use both red and white varietals. Chilling that sort of wine will help the flavors from the white varietals "pop" to augment the smoother flavors of the red varietals.

Why does this matter? Sometimes when you are lounging around, you might want to drink something a little more substantial. White wines can be refreshing, but they often go down a little too easy: the glass empties too quickly. A glass of red wine might catch your attention a little more, and remind you to savor your drink while you savor the warm weather. The trick is to give your red wine just a slight chill; leaving it in the fridge 15-20 minutes should be enough. If it comes out a little too cold for your tastes, simply let it sit a few minutes or hold the glass by the tumbler to raise the temperature a little.  To each his own: this is one of those subjective areas where experimentation is necessary and there is no right or wrong in what you like best.

Friday, August 8, 2014

Did you know?.... What We Mean by "Hot" Wine

Sometimes, a wine is referred to as "hot". Unless you are drinking mulled wine, this isn't a reference to the wine's temperature, or even its spice level (which is common vernacular in the food world). Instead, "hot" wine is wine higher in alcohol content than normal, and in most cases means you can feel that alcohol in your mouth. The reason it is referred to as "hot" is both because of the warming effect of the alcohol, and the fact that the high alcohol content is due to grapes that were riper than usual, most likely from a hot summer.

Thursday, August 7, 2014

Quick Review: Albertina "Lorilai's Reserve" Merlot 2009

US, CA, Mendocino, Albertina "Lorilai's Reserve" Merlot 2009
+ // Fruity // Spice, Leather, Chocolate, Cherry  // Black pepper, Cherry, Savory // Medium

Hot. "Bigger" than preferred. Flavor dissipates quickly, but the hotness lingers.

Wednesday, August 6, 2014

Why are Red Wines Always So Old?

When you look at a restaurant wine list, it might strike you that the vintages on the white wines are much younger than most of the reds. This isn't because they've been sitting on the same bottles of red wine for a long time. Most white wines are ready to bottle within a year after harvest, so the available vintage will be recent. Many red wines, however, see a much longer aging process in barrels. White wines may rest for a few months before they are bottled, while red wines can spend up to two years in barrels before the bottling process. This means a white varietal harvested in 2014 will be ready to be sold in 2015, while the red might be ready in 2016, or even later. And while most wines are expected to be consumed right away, a higher percentage of red wines are made with the expectation that they will be given time to age in the bottle after they are sold, so a restaurant with a world class wine list will let those wines age accordingly. This is also the reason you might find one wine-maker's Merlot, for example, offered from different vintages. You get a different experience based on year produced and time aged.

Tuesday, August 5, 2014

Quick Review: Pellegrini Vineyards Cabernet Franc 2007

NY, Long Island, North Fork, Pellegrini Vineyads Cabernet Franc 2007
+ // Spicy // Blackberry, Cherry, Currant, Slate, Earth // Graphite, Black pepper, Hint of plum, Cinnamon // Full

Monday, August 4, 2014

Wishing for More Cab Franc

Why don't we see more Cabernet Franc? Anywhere you can get wine, you can find its more famous cousin, but Cabernet Franc is a nearly forgotten varietal. For us, that's a sad thing. It shows up in Bordeaux blends, but that doesn't show the true strength of the grape. Fortunately, winemakers--especially on the East Coast--are working with the grape.

Many wine-makers in New York work with Cabernet Franc, one of the few red grapes that thrives in cooler climates. It's seen frequently in the Finger Lakes, but some people feel that the temperatures are a bit too cool, and the wine can end up with the green vegetable flavors of an under-ripe grape. Long Island puts out some flavorful wines, so when we found a bottle from Pellegrini Vineyards at ABV on Manhattan's Upper East Side, we decided it was a safe bet.

We've found Cabernet Francs to be earthier wines, rounded out with a balance of red fruit and spice notes in the best cases. We find it a good wine for cold weather meals that are heavy on meat and root vegetables. With the restaurant's "Super Fries," the wine was a bit much, overpowering the complicated spices of the fries. With a short rib gnocchi, however, it was the perfect complement, bringing a blend of fruit, earth, and spice to the sweet and meaty sauce. On the other hand, the gnocchi with winter vegetables and mushrooms was obliterated by the wine. The Cabernet Franc definitely needed some bigger flavors to match up to it.

ABV was a good venue for us. It was a bit trendier and noisier than our usual haunts, but the waitstaff was friendly and helpful, and the wine and beer lists were interesting. Changing, seasonal, with an American bar food menu, it felt comfortable for a casual evening. We don't have much excuse to get to that neighborhood often, so we were glad when we had the chance. And it was a good excuse to order some Cabernet Franc.