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Tag Archives: Winemaking

Wine of the day – Shiraz

Shiraz – named after a city in Iran of all places. It’s also known as Syrah, which is the name of the grape. The name Shiraz is courtesy of our Australian friends and it used to be that they were about the only ones who used the term. But American vintners have seemed to have started riding the Australian coattails because they have been really successful in calling it Shiraz and we Americans certainly will ride any successful marketing coattails. So now you’re seeing such wineries as Beringer, Francis Coppola and Geyser Peak marketing their Syrahs as Shirazes. I predict that the trend will continue to accelerate. In fact, I think that Syrah will eventually be the rarity. The French refuse to budge though because they are known as the premiere bottler of Syrah in their Rhône region (named after the great river which runs through it). No new world marketing trend will change that fact.

The Aussies also pronounce Shiraz a little differently than the rest of the world. They pronounce it Shir- AZZ, whereas we pronounce it Shir-OZ. The latter is the more “correct” pronunciation, if you are trying to pronounce the name of the city. The latter is what you will hear mostly in the US unlike you’re like me, who likes to pronounce an Australian Shiraz the way the vintners pronounce it. I use the American pronunciation for Shiraz produced anywhere else. But that’s just me.

So, what is Syrah/Shiraz?

The grape comes from hardy rootstock which is late budding but doesn’t ripen too late.  According to The Oxford Companion to Wine, it is “conveniently late-budding and not too late ripening”. According to the same reference, “Its deep, dark, dense qualities are much reduced once the yield is allowed to rise and it has a tendency to lose aroma and acidity rapidly if left too long on the vine”. This explains the wide price variation between, say, Penfold’s Grange (at hundreds of dollars a bottle) and their Thomas Hyland Vineyard wine (which only costs tens of dollars). Another good example is Hermitage (please pronounce it air-ma-TAHZE, as the French do). This is one of the most expensive bottlings of the great Rhône region. It’s only a 311 acres region in the Northern Rhône and there are a handful of producers who produce it. However, Syrah is the predominate grape in all Rhône regions, from Côtes-du Rhône to Châteauneuf-du-Pape. You will also obviously find it in the famous “Rhône Rangers” of the West Coast, like Tablas Creek of the Central Coast.

So how would you describe Syrah/Shiraz? Well, to me, it’s similar to Cabernet Sauvignon in terms of body. Full-bodied and dark, it’s more fruit forward” and juicy. It’s usually firm and well-structured and not quite as tannic as Cab Sauv. It’s got lots of dark fruit, especially fruits like blackberry, plum and black cherry, and they tend to be fairly spicy. They can be peppery or chocolatey or both; they can have clove, licorice and vanilla. Leathery notes aren’t uncommon.

Cool climate Syrahs tend to be more “elegant” with a richer flavor profile (read Northern Rhone,  coastal and higher altitude California and the extremely rare Australian boutiquey vintner), while warmer climate-grown Syrahs are generally “bigger”, “jammier” with some “lighter” fruit flavors like blueberries and raspberries. This is the predominate style of Australian producers due to the fact that their growing regions tend to be hotter. 

West Coast producers have generally followed the australian model, since they are the most familiar to the US consumer, but there is an increasing trend to go after the Northern Rhône style. Since California has both types of climates available to it, the vintners there can produce according to their geographic and topographic constraints. Syrah works in both warm and cool environments, and each offers advantages that should be factored into the production. Cool climate Syrahs have been more of a challenge because US consumers have been conditioned by the success of the Aussies as well as the fact that more people can afford to drink wines from the southern Rhône and are more familiar with the style.

Australians probably grow the highest percentage of Shiraz to the rest of their output. It’s ubiquitous. This is both a good thing and a bad thing. It’s good because there is plenty to choose from. It’s bad because yields are often too high and the varietal loses some of its character and it can be flabby, “underspiced”, overcooked in hot years, etc. Look first to established producers like Penfolds, Wolf Blass and D’Arenberg. This isn’t to say that others aren’t good, but these producers tend to be pretty consistent within their various niches. However, if you want to hit a home run virtually every time, look to Mollydooker (usually one word but even the winemakers make it two words on occasion). The name is Aussie slang for a left hander (and can be used to describe a “left hook”) and that’s what the wine will give you. Big, juicy, spicy and never “flabby” or tired, the various bottlings have never failed to satisfy. They are certainly “in-your-face” but never in a bad way. The winemakers, Sarah and Sparky Phillips, they first became well-known outside of their home country with the famed brand,  Marquis Phillips. The Phillipses are clever marketers, creating memorable names for each of their specific blends, and they tie a cartoon version of the name on the label. Some of their most famous offerings are “The Blue-eyed Boy”, “The Boxer” (there’s that left hook thing working for them), “Two left Feet”, “The Maitre D’ “, and “Carnival of Love”. If you’d like more info on this up-and-comer, here’s their website where you can click on each of their offerings and the labels and bottles.

http://www.mollydookerwines.com.au/web/trade_info.cfm

They have various blends of Shirazes and Cabernets, so you might need to google the specific wine that interests you, since it’s hard to find specifics on some of the wines at the Mollydooker site itself.

So, what should we pair Shiraz/Syrah with?

Think Cabernet Sauvignon. You want to pair the average Shiraz or Syrah with fatty meats, stews, lamb, game, etc. Obviously, if you know your various styles, you can fine tune it even further. For instance, you might not want to pair a big jammy Australian Shiraz with a rare tuna steak, while you might handily recommend an Hermitage or Cornas (a region close to hermitage in the northern Rhône) because the jamminess won’t overwhelm the flavor of the tuna. I’m not saying that you can’t pair a warm climate Syrah with tuna. For instance,  Côtes-du Rhône is blended with at least 40% Grenache, which tends to soften and reduce the body of the wine.  Therefore, it can pair nicely with something like tuna or salmon.

But, in general, you should recommend Syrah/Shiraz as you would for any other full-bodied red. Believe it or not, it’s great “picnic wine”, especially if you’re eating BBQ, ribeyes or juicy burgers. Fat and Syrahs work well in concert with each other.

So go forth and sell Syrah/Shiraz with confidence. I’ve only scratched the surface, but I hope that I’ve given you the right thumbnail sketch to help you when someone is looking for a good red wine to go with their prime rib.

Wine topic of the day – Petite Sirah

Neither petite (in terms of body and color) nor syrah (often confused with Petite Syrah which is a small-berried syrah found in the Rhone), this grape was long thought to be a relative or variant of Durif, an almost extinct minor French varietal. According to Jancis Robinson, this has been disproved by modern DNA analysis, although this isn’t held universally. See this site for additional information about the parentage:

http://www.winelabels.org/artsirah.htm

And also see the comment section for a comment by Jo Diaz, founder of P.S. I Love You, an advocacy group for Petite Sirah, where she definitively states that Durif, the original cross between Syrah  and Peloursin done by Dr. Durif to try to eliminate powdery mildew in Syrah, is indeed Petite Sirah.

Petite Sirah has been an important blending grape for years, and recently has come to the forefront as a varietal worth bottling on its own, much as Cabernet Franc has become fashionable. For instance, Petite Sirah is useful for adding color and spine to weaker Cabernet Sauvignon vintages and it’s been used to add body and color to washed out Pinot Noirs. In fact, Petite Sirah has been planted in California since the late 1800s. If you’ve drunk Ridge’s Zinfandels, you have likely experienced Petite Sirah as part of the blend. They use Petite Sirah extensively to augment their excellent Zinfandel program. And, they bottle it independently as well.

However, it’s a very nice grape on its own. At its best, it produces an inky, almost black color and offers a reasonable alternative to Cabernet Sauvignon, offering a slightly lighter body and tannic structure. For someone who finds Cabernet Sauvignon too big,  Zinfandel too “earthy” and Pinot Noir too light, Petite Sirah can be a good offering. when I serve a Petite Sirah, I always mention that the color doesn’t betray the body, that its darkness and opacity isn’t a true indicator of its body. Sure, it’s full-bodied, but it’s generally more “drinkable” than a big, sandpapery Cabernet, at least for people who find them just too big. This means that you can pair it with large-flavored dishes, and, an additional advantage is that it’s somewhat obscure to the average wine drinker and it offers a different flavor profile.

The problem? Most wine lists don’t even have a Petite Sirah. And if they do, you’re usually stuck with just one or two choices. If you are interested in this wine, you might lobby your wine buyer to add one or two to the menu. Of course, if you do that, you’ll need to personally try to sell it because it’s not going to sell itself.

What are the general characteristics of Petite Sirah?

As I’ve mentioned, it has an extremely dark, black color. You won’t be seeing through it as you examine it in the glass. Some fairly frequent notes are similar to Cabernet Sauvignon –  pepper, cedar, coffee, plum, blackberries, dark cherry, i.e. “dark fruits”.

Some wine experts find it lacking in distinction, a little lacking in character. But that’s what makes it good as a bridge for the uninitiated. What it lacks in “character” it makes up in “drinkability”.

Bogle and Concannon are probably the best known of the California vintners. They offer low cost versions that are fairly reliable. Ridge, as I have mentioned, is a higher-end brand. Stag’s Leap has another bottling that will set you back some coin (I believe that they spell it with a “y”).

So what would you pair with Petite Sirah? Pretty much anything you’d pair with Cabernet Sauvignon, Zinfandel or Syrah. Big, meaty, fatty meats. Rich stews. Roasted meats. Game. In my opinion, it would be a better match with tuna and salmon than any of the aformentioned varietals.

If you google the name, you’ll find some interesting information that can not only help you navigate the “controversies” swirling around the grape, but you might also get a bit confused, but don’t let that stop you from exporing this nice alternative to Cabernet Sauvignon and Meritage and, yes, Syrah.

Photo by Jo Diaz, taken at Foppiano Vineyards

Cookbook of the day – Wine

Christian Callec

Wine: A Comprehensive Look at the World’s Best Wines

by Christian Callec

  • Publisher  (October 7, 2003)
  • ISBN 10: 0517221659
  • ISBN 13: 978-0517221655
  • This book is one of those books that was designed from the outset to be marketed as a “remainder”, those less expensive books that you find on the budget tables of bookstores. It’s a handy source of wine information, but its great virtue, and the reason that I’m specifically recommending it this morning,  is the copious amount of photos of actual bottles that illustrate the various winemaking regions. Using top producers as visual examples, you’ll get a look at the labels of many great  producers and the bottles that hold their product.  There are plenty of labels in lieu of bottles as well as the usual panoply of vineyard and “behind the scenes” shots.

    Visually, this is real blessing for any dedicated wine enthusiast and is worth digging around for. As of this posting, Amazon.com has about 15 copies in both new and used condition, and they range in price from .99 to $21.95.

    If you want a visual tour of the great bottles of the world, this is your round-trip ticket.

    Cookbook of the day – The World Atlas of Wine

    wine_atlas

    The World Atlas of Wine

    by Hugh Johnson and Jancis Robinson

    Publisher –Mitchell Beazley

    ISBN-10: 1840003324

    ISBN-13: 978-1840003321

    A confession – I’m a sucker for a topographic map. Perhaps this is a remnant of my backpacking days or my time in the military.

    So I’m a sucker for this book, especially since I love wine as well.

    Johnson and Robinson are leading wine writers and so, they are perfect for fleshing out the details behind the maps.

    And these maps! Some are detailed non-topographic but coded for vineyards, forests, etc.  Some have terrain features like hills and mountains airbrushed in. And some offer the detail of a USGS topographic map. Regardless of what type of map they use, there’s detail down to some of the smallest settlements and clearly defined vineyard areas.

    You also get detail soil analysis as well as climatic issues that impact the region. You get details on plantings and there are copious photographs that flesh out the life behind the bottle.

    This book should be part of any reasonable wine library, as it’s a valuable research tool.

    Johnson and Robinson

    Cookbook of the day – Sauternes

    1585_1

    Sauternes

    by Bernard Ginestet

    Publisher:Jacques Legrand S.A. Paris ©1990

    ISBN-  0-582-07544-0

    ISBN- 2-905969-39-3

    This is a book that you might have to dig for. It’s a mostly European-distributed book from the series Bernard Ginestet’s Guide to the Vineyards of France. It was translated by John Meredith and has a foreword by Nicholas Faith, who points out that, Unfortunately, the French edition went to press before Bernard could discuss the biggest single revolution in the history of the great sweet wines of the bands of the Ciron: the way in which the technique of cryo-extraction has swept the vineyard, even such vineyards as Chateau d’Yquem, in the past few years.

    Other than that topic, you’d be hard-pressed to find a better discussion of the wine history of the region as well as a rundown of the chateaux of Sauternes, down to a discussion of the soil composition . Most get at least a cursory examination, some very extensive discussions, and at the very least, a listing of the various statistics and whether or not they allow visits.

    There’s a great map of the region, color-coded according to soil type. The photo on the cover shows a typical bunch of grapes which clearly shows the contrast between “healthy” grapes and the raisinesque botytris-attacked “raisins”. There is a comprehensive discussion about botrytis and Ginestet would seem to hope that the popular term “noble rot” disappear from the lexicon. In fact, he points out that this isn’t what we normally would call “rot”, as it doesn’t attack dead tissue but living, healthy grapes. The grapes end up getting picked in two different categories of decrepitude, shrivelled and dessicated. This necessitates constant pickings, and the price of the product is a reflection of this reality.

    You get a detailed report on the meteorology of the region as you would expect from a book covering a French region, as dependent on terroir as they are.

    The language is what you expect from translated French, lugubrious and academic. It achieves this without becoming treacly or haughty. There are copious photographs, which give you a sense of the culture of the region. There are even 5 “savory dishes” recipes from regional chefs in French; recipes that utilize Sauternes in the dish.

    I don’t recommend this book for people only getting into wine. This is for the intermediate wine enthusiast or better. It’s not that it’s above the head of a beginner, it just goes into more detail about a small but significant region of French wine, a region that the beginner might not even encounter, as most restaurants don’t even offer a Sauternes on their wine list. Additionally, it’s not a common book and might be difficult to find at a decent price (I was lucky enough to find mine for $3.00 – would I have piad $20 for it? Probably not, although for a wine expert it would be worth the price).

    Botrytis

    Wine topic of the day – German wine regions – The Mosel pt. 3

    German wine has a bad rap among some of the wine-drinking public. “Too sweet”, they moan. “I don’t like dessert wines”, others declare.

    In a lot of ways, Germany only has itself to blame. Thanks to the popular brands like Blue Nun and Liebfraumilch, German wines were known as  cheap sweet white wines popular with unsophisticated young people and lovers of white zinfandel. Because of the high yield of Riesling and Müller-Thurgau, they were able to put those two brands in every cheap liquor store’s reach-in cooler.

    But in the 80s, they started to turn this around. And the Mosel region was typical of this German resurrection. Even though they weren’t guilty of the above two wines, they recognized that the easy large yields of Riesling-based wines, coupled with the use of ller-Thurgau and Elbing, diluted the great character that could be achieved in the region. As the wine-drinking public became more sophisticated and discerning in the 80s, this allowed the Mosel wine community to be able to justify pulling up Müller-Thurgau vines and replant with Riesling,while simultaneously thinning the existing vines to cut down the huge yields, all with the aim of increasing quality. Having several of the most recognizable vineyards in history help Mosel hit its stride with the increasingly sophisticated wine public.

    Vintners also started to produce Trocken (dry) styles as well as reducing the sweetness and trying to preserve the natural acidity that Riesling exhibits. They were also given a big shot in the arm by the incredible three years of ’88, 89, and 90.

    Today’sMosels have become far more consistent in their quality, although there are still some that pander to the old style of big, sweet and flabby. You don’t have to buy a Trocken style to get something that works well with food. If the acidity is there and the sweetness backed-off a hair, you can enjoy a Mosel with many dishes. It especially works well with shellfish. It also works well with cheese selections, creamy soups, glazed foods like ham or carrots, Asian foods with spiciness like Thai, Indian, Vietnamese, and certain Chinese dishes.

    Mexican food works somewhat well if you decide that you want to drink wine instead of beer or tequila, and salads but i find that the food is generally a little too heavy for Riesling to work well.

    Obviously most fish dishes work well, although I prefer to pair it with lighter, flakier white fish like grouper, halibut and sea bass, leaving such darker, steakier fish as tuna and salmon to pinot noir and chardonnay. This is just a personal preference though – Riesling works just fine with those fish. Fruit sauces and fruits incorporated in dishes work well, especially when you pair a Riesling with a certain fruit flavor like apple or peach with its corresponding fruit. I tend to avoid using anything less than a Beerenauslese with desserts. Some people like using Auslese with desserts, I’m just not one of those, unless I’m having berries. I just think that there are better choices.

    Avoid heavy meat dishes with rich veal stock-based sauces, but feel free to pair with grilled meats.

    I actually like to drink Mosels by themselves. If they have sufficient acidity, they can be very refreshing, especially in the spring and fall.

    In the next installment, we’ll list some specific wines to look for.

    I hope that these short essays give you the push to dig deeper into the world of wine. Obviously, they are only thumbnail sketches. And, don’t forget, if you’re just getting into waiting tables, or you’ve been in the business for years, your income can depend on how well you can describe and sell the wines that are available to you.

    riesling-and-asian

    Picture from the very good wine blog, Rambin’ Wino’s Wine Guide. You can find a well-worded entry from March 29th about pairing Riesling and Asian food here:

    http://ramblinwino.com/

    Wine topic of the day – German wine regions – The Mosel pt. 1

    map

    From http://www.winepage.de/

    Wine has been cultivated in Germany since the Romans left outposts of their advancing armies and created settlements in the Mosel River, Rhine River and Eifel Mountains region. As the vineyards of Germany are about the most northerly of the world’s vineyards, the varieties of grapes that can be commercially grown for wine are limited. This is also the reason why all of the regions are based on rivers, which act as moderating influences, adding humidity, reflected heat and helping to create a variety of micro-climates. There are 13 official wine regions (Anbaugebeit) of which 6 are consider primary, Nahe, Rheingau, Pfalz (formerly known as Rheinpflalz),  Mittlerhein (Middle Rhein), Rheinhessen and Mosel. The other 7 are considered “minor regions” (with the possible exception of Baden, which is, by volume, the third largest wine producing region in Germany), unless of course you’re a fan of those wines or you actually live there. The thing is, those of us in the Northern Hemisphere will rarely, if ever, see any product from those regions. 

    The Anbaugebeit is then divided into different Bereich, or districts. 

    The next official division down from Bereich is Grosslage, which is roughly similar to  the French appellation (although Bereich could also be called similar as well, with Grosslage being an even smaller sub-region such as a town name)  , followed by Einzellage (single vineyard) of which there are approximately 500, less than a fifth of which are of any real significance.

    While there are a few examples of red wine, the predominate grape grown in Germany is white. 

    During this month, we are going to concentrate on each wine-growing region (Anbaugebiete) in Germany, starting with the Mosel-Saar-Ruwer region, named for the three rivers that provide the slopes and banks for growing.

    The Mosel, known by the French as the Moselle is a river that runs north from the Vosges Mountains in southeastern France, forming the border between Germany and Luxembourg and finally emptying into the Rhine River at Koblenz.

    The Anbaugebiete Mosel is informally divided into thirds, the Upper, Middle and Lower Mosel, athough there are five official Bereich of which  the Bereich Bernkastel is the best known outside of Germany and of generally higher quality than the other areas . If you’re looking at a map, down is up – remember, the Mosel actually flows north to the Rhine. So, the Lower Mosel is actually at the northernmost part of the Mosel. while theUpper Mosel is at the southernmost German part of the river and also comprises the smaller Saar and Ruwer tributaries. Obviously, the Mittlemosel lies between these two regions, centered between roughly Trier and Zell, with Bernkastel about midway. This is where the Mosel is at its twistiest and carves its most picturesque landscape through the Eifel and Hunsrück Mountains.  This is also where its wines are the most magical. Due to the very steep, grey slate strewn slopes, the sun is captured at its most optimal and the best producers have set up shop there, growing on every patch of sun-soaked slope that it’s possible to get a row of vines planted (many of these slopes have a 26% grade).  This is a map of the section of the river where the greatest vineyards lie and the finest wines are produced:

    mapgermanymosel2Map courtesy of www.thewinedoctor.com  

    Here you’ll find such famous vineyard names as Doctor, Sonnenuhr, Himmelreich and Würzgarten. But don’t be fooled – a vineyard designation doesn’t necessarily mean that all grapes from that vineyard have the exact same characteristics or quality, as micro-climate is extremely important in German viticulture.

    While other varieties such as Müller-Thurgau and Grauburgunder are grown in the region, it’s Riesling that’s king of the mountain.

    In the next installment, we’ll talk about the characteristics of Riesling. Since Riesling is the predominate grape in all of the major regions in Germany, we’ll discuss it globally, i.e. we’ll address the main characteristics and then discuss the differening characteristics of Riesling in the varied regions, so we don’t have to repeat ourselves as we survey the various regions.

    mosel

    Wine topic of the month – the German wine classification system

    urzwurz

    Ürziger Würzgarten – Ürzig, Mittlemosel, Germany

    Germany’s wine classification is pretty straightforward, as you might expect from a society that prizes order. And yet, it can be a little confusing to the neophyte, especially if someone is acquainted with the German language. For instance, how is it that a Trockenbeerenauslese is sweeter than a Spätlese? (I’ll explain this in a minute) Doesn’t Trocken mean dry in German? How is an Auslese sweeter than a Spätlese, because, doesn’t Spät indicate “late” and shouldn’t a “late harvest” wine be sweeter than something that’s not indicated as “late”?

    Well, you’ll just have to put all that aside. The easiest way to remember how to think of the sweetness of German wines is to remember this sequence which is listed from less sweet to more sweet – Kabinett, Spätlese (late harvest), Auslese (select harvest), Beerenauslese (select berry harvest), Trockenbeerenauslese (select dried berry harvest), Eiswein (harvest of semi-frozen berries, i.e. “ice wine”).

    We don’t really need to know very much about the official categories Tafelwine (table wine) and Landwine (country wine),  because we rarely see these wines outside of Germany (and perhaps its immediate neighbors). Most of the wine that we see in the Western Hemisphere is Qualitätswein. This is divided into Qualitätswein bestimmer Anbaugebete (Q.b.A), quality wine from defined regions, and Qualitätswein mit Prädikat (Q.m.P) or more simply, Prädikatswein, wine with distinction.

    The first listing of Kabinett, etc. are considered “distinctions” of Qualitätswein. The difference between Q.b.A and Q.m.P. is that Q.b.A is allowed to have additional sugar added (usually from reserved unfermented grape juice). This sort of practice of adding additional sugar was abused in the 70s by wines claiming to be Prädikatswein and this diluted the German brand to the point where the Germans cracked down on the practice of letting wines claiming to be “the best” adding extra sugar. Doing so would drop the classification down a rung (like a British football team being relegated to a lower league).

    How are these “distinctions”  determined? They are determined by the measurement of residual sugar in the must (must being the fermenting mass of grape juice) as measured in Oechsle, a German method of determining the amount of residual sugar by measuring the volume of the liquid, which changes as the amount of residual sugar increases or declines. The amount of residual sugar remaining will determine whether a wine is a Kabinett or an Auslese, so the Germans confuse things even more by using a term like Spätlese, it’s its theoretically possible for a wine harvested earlier than another harvested later in another part of the country to end up as a Spätlese and the latter as a Kabinett, although this would be pretty rare, if not unrealistic. It’s all determined by the sweetness, not the actual date of the harvest. Except…

    Beerenausleses and above are always the latest of the harvest. This is the only way to get to the Oechsle levels required of wines above Auslese. Beerenauslese is basically “overripe” grapes that the “noble rot” Botrytis has started to attack. This concentrates the juice and makes it sweeter than normal. And now, as promised, we explain the Trocken (German for dry) in Trockenbeerenauslese. Trocken as used here refers to the state of the grape, not the sweetness of the wine. At this stage of harvest, the grape is almost entirely shriveled up, looking a lot like a raisin. so dry refers to the fact that there’s very little juice in the grape, which explains the very high price paid for the product. The last ‘distinction” and the sweetest, is Eiswine, the last grapes allowed to be harvested, grapes that are frozen on the vine. These wines are the most prized and are the equivalent to a great sauterne.

    Confusing the issue even more is the presence of Trocken and Halbtrocken wines. These wines are fermented in a way that keeps the residual sugar lower than their brethren. Therefore, they are done in a dry or half dry style. They are still going to be slightly sweeter than a dry California chardonnay though.

    There is also a way of indicating quality by capsule length or color, but this is a convention used by specific regions and/or Weingute and have no significance from a “classification” standpoint. There are also some famed vineyards like Doctor or the above pictured Ürziger Würzgarten. Discussing these, as well as regions, grape varieties (no, not all German wines are Rieslings, or even whites), specific vintages, or producers is beyond the scope of this post. Perhaps we’ll tackle them separately in future posts.

    Should you always choose a Q.m.P over a Q.b.A? Not necessarily. There are some really fine wines in the latter category and they are good values. You should generally pay less for them than for Q.m.Ps though. BTW, I believe that Q.m.P is being phased out in favor of Prädikatswein, so, you might not be seeing the longer term any more.

    In the meantime, here are a couple of links that go into more detail about German wines that you might enjoy:

    http://www.winepage.de/

    http://www.cs.utexas.edu/~walter/wine/germany.html

    http://www.germanwineusa.org/

    And here’s a compact dictionary page:

    http://www.thewinedoctor.com/regionalguides/germanydictionary.shtml

    label

    Wine topic of the day – Super Tuscans

    tignanello_super_tuscan_wineThis is a very misunderstood concept (as is Italian wine in general). I recently overheard it said that they were cabernets and cabernet blends, at which point another said, “No they are Italian varietals of very high quality” and the conversation touched on the “fact” that they were anything but sangiovese and that’s what made them “Super Tuscan”. All of this was both right and wrong.

    Super Tuscan is a marketing term attributed to Robert Parker back in the 70s after several Tuscan vintners brokered the concept of rule-breaking in the late 60s. Their original idea was to bring a Bordeaux sensibility to Tuscany, using some of the famed Bordeaux blending grapes to add additional body and structure to  sangiovese and other grapes used in famed Tuscan products and to try to expand the rather staid idea of what great Italian wine should be. At the time, the DOC (the Denominazione di Origine Controllata) and DOCG (the Denominazione di Origine Controllata e Garantita) laid out the structure of classification of Italy’s better wines, much like the French system of AOC (Appellation d’Origine Contrôlée).

    The grandaddy of all Super Tuscans is Tignanello, first bottled by Antinori in 1977. It introduced Cabernet Sauvignon as a blending grape, which excluded it from both of the previously stated categories (it couldn’t be called Chianti or Chianti Classico, for example). Because it didn’t fall into the specified parameters of the upscale classifications, it was relegated to the vino da taviola (table wine) category. Although it had been preceded by his relatives’ famous wine Sassicaia by a full 8 years, the Incisa della Rocchetta family usually doesn’t get the credit for creating the Super Tuscan category with Sassicaia. That seems to fall to Pieto Antinori, whose Tignanello’s addition of approximately 20% Cabernet Sauvignon to Sangiovese seemed to set the Italian world alight. Perhaps Sassicaia, with the 80% Cabernet was just too exotic and pricey to be revolutionary. Tignanello came in at a much lower price point and was closer to what most people thought of as “Tuscan” because it had a much lower percentage of outside grapes.

    In any case, this was all fortunate in several ways. First of all, these vino da taviolas that weren’t just “inferior” versions of better wines or “wines that the peasants drank” became a source of interest because they were actually more expensive than the standard “classified” wines and were more full-bodied and exotic. So, Super Tuscan came to be a nickname that separated these from what most people knew as table wines. It also caused a new classification to be created, so that it could be included in a category elevated it past mere “table wine” category (does one really call a $200 bottle of wine “table wine”)? This new category was called IGT (Indicazione Geografica Tipica) and is found as a subset of vino da taviola. It basically allows a previously non-standard wine to be promoted as having the same strict standards found in the other two categories.

    You generally don’t find the words Super Tuscan as a branding feature on the label. Sometimes you might find the importer using that term in the English back label. This is a category that you simply have to know about. It’s a fair bet that if the wine is listed as Tuscan or from Tuscany and it isn’t a “Chianti” of some sort or a Brunello or Barolo (the latter of which is actually from Piemonte but is sometimes confused with Tuscan), even if it’s 100% Sangiovese,  it’s a Super Tuscan. This is something that you almost need to know by brand name, or be told by your wine rep or your Keeper of the Wine List person.

    Here are some known trade names:

    Tignanello, Sassicaia, San Martino, Fontalloro, Il Bosco, Vigorello (sometimes called the very first super Tuscan), Centine and Cortaccio.

    This is only a smattering of the great names in Super Tuscans. It’s time to do your due diligence and hit the research road. I do hope that I’ve given you enough to give a concise answer to a guest who either asks, “Do you have any Super Tuscans” or “What does “Super Tuscan” mean”?

    New foodie show worth checking out

    diar_indiawithlogo_608

    So, yesterday as I was typing my rambling tribute to my chef’s knife, unbeknownst to me, my DVR was recording a show on PBS whose title I found intriguing while breezing through the program guide – Gourmet’s Diary of a Foodie. And this morning I got around to watching it. In an amazing bit of syncronicity, there were two segments on Japanese knives and the theme of the show was about an appreciation for the less-than-modern aspects of the culinary world. There was a segment on alambic pot stills in Napa, a bit on “heirloom” locally grown vegetables in Paris, a pottery maker in Italy who still collects his own clay from the mountainsides. And, lo and behold, an actual segment on the mortar and pestle, a subject of one my earliest posts!

    As it turns out, it’s not a new show. It’s in its 3rd season. I guess it’s new to this market. My local PBS station seems to be starting with the first season and the episode that I saw was The Hungry Luddite (episode 5). In looking at some of the shows, it looks like a permanent add to my “record every episode” list on my DVR.

    The show is produced by the two people who produce No Reservations and has much of the same aesthetic.

    So, better late than never, I suppose. Go see this show if it’s in your market. And if it’s not, you can watch it at Gourmet’s dedicated site for it:

    http://www.gourmet.com/diaryofafoodie