Greece & Italy

From our Hang Time tasting on Thursday, August 6, 2015…

Today we’ll taste wines from the two major peninsulas in the Mediterranean, Greece and Italy.  Both countries boast complex and varied cuisines, and in both cases, local wines are great partners for local foods.

Greece has a long history of winemaking.  The earliest evidence comes from tombs in Crete dating to 3000 BC containing grape seeds, sets of wine cups, and paintings of wine presses.  By the Mycenaean period (1600-1100 BC), the wine trade was sophisticated and well organized.  By the eighth century BC, Greece had introduced grapes to her colonies, and by the Golden Age, trade had expanded into northern Europe and the Black Sea.  It continued to flourish in the Roman and Byzantine eras, but declined seriously during 400 years of Ottoman rule.  Some of the islands escaped the Turkish military and cultural presence, continuing their wine traditions until Greece declared independence in 1821.  The return to the vine was halted by 20th century wars, resulting in both destruction and emigration.  Only in the 1960s did the Greek industry start to recover. The first modern laws were passed in 1971; since then, quality and quantity have improved. Greece has over 300 known varieties of indigenous grapes.

About 75% of Greek wine is white and a fine example is Mercouri Estate Foloi, an aromatic blend of Roditis and Viognier.  Roditis is a late ripening grape that keeps its acidity well.  Pair with cheese and fruit or seafood.  Thymiopoulos Vineyards Xinomavro Young Vines 2013 comes from Náoussa in Macedonia.  This up-and-coming winery specializes in Xinomavro (“dark bitter”) and farms biodynamically.  Deeply colored, with notable acidity and tannin, this is a good partner for grilled lamb.

The history of wine in Italy is long and varied.  We’ll visit the south, the Piedmont, and Tuscany.  Calabria is home to Librandi; the Critone 2013 is a modern wine made from Chardonnay and Sauvignon Blanc, dry and refreshing.  Pair with grilled vegetables, salads, and seafood pastas.  While the northwest is best known for Barolo and Barbaresco, the “other reds” are major players and are for more immediate consumption.  Mauro Molino Dolcetto d’Alba 2013 comes from a small family winery.  The grape is known for higher tannin (usually kept in check) and lower acidity, light, bright, and unpretentious, able to pair with many “white wine” dishes as well as rustic fare.  Pair with gnocchi in a tomato and cream sauce, lasagna, or lighter meats.

No tasting of Italian wines would be complete without some form of Sangiovese, preferably from Tuscany.  Poggio Anima Belial Sangiovese 2012 is just the ticket, with its label depicting one of the four princes of Hell.  The wine is a project of a Brunello winemaker and a US importer, and it strikes all the right notes with its floral nuances, red fruit, sweet tobacco, and herbs.  Sangiovese’s relatively high acidity and balanced tannin make it a good partner for rich, slow braises of all sorts, as well as tomato-based pasta and pizza, mushroom, risotto, even meatloaf.

–M.P. Rouse

Unusual Grapes, Particularly Delicious

From our Tasting on Thursday July 30, 2015…

Today we celebrate the inner wine geek in all of us with an exploration of esoteric wines.  Also called fringe wines, these are wines made from unusual grapes, or made in an unusual way (e.g. still wines when sparkling is expected or vice versa), or made from grapes not associated with the place they’re grown.  All three types are represented in today’s tasting; each of the wines is made from a single variety.

Whites dominate today’s line-up.  Chile provides one, Mayu Pedro Ximenez 2014.  PX, as the grape is affectionately called, is an offspring of an Arabic table grape grown in Spain; it’s famous for its use in sweeter sherry.  The grape is also found in Chile and Argentina, where it is an important component of pisco, an aromatic brandy.  This version comes from the extreme Elqui Valley on the fringes of the Atacama Desert (home of the world’s largest astronomical project, a massive radio telescope with 66 antennae; Mayu is the Inca name for the Milky Way). Expect a stylish wine with flowers, fruit, fresh acidity, and minerality, a good partner for seafood.

Italy gives us two wines.  Bianchello del Metauro is the name of both a grape and a DOC; producer Claudio Morelli is one of 25 growers of this ancient variety in Le Marche on Italy’s east coast.  The story goes that this wine saved Rome back in 207 BCE when Carthaginian invaders in the region drank so much of it they were unable to fight the Roman army the next day.  This full flavored wine is like drinking a fruit salad dusted with herbs, delicious alone or with salads and seafood.  Piedmont is the source of Ressia Evien Moscato Secco 2014, unusual because it is still rather than sparkling.  Although dry, it possesses the orange blossom, lemon rind, peach, and ginger notes associated with the grape, as well as moderate acidity.

France gives us a rosé, Dom. Pré Baron Pinot d’Aunis 2014 from Touraine in the Loire Valley. The grape, indigenous to the Loire, is also known as Chenin Noir; it’s used in still and sparkling rosé and red as well as the occasional white.  It offers notable acidity, white pepper, nettle, and cherry, strawberry, and raspberry fruit.  Try with grilled asparagus and goat cheese.

Our red today is a grape associated with cool, damp Bordeaux, but this comes from hot, dry Jumilla in Spain.  It’s a minor player in Bordeaux blends, but Bodegas Luzon Petit Verdot 2013 is an unblended, full throttle version of this dark grape.  When the grape ripens fully (rare in Bordeaux but the norm in Spain), it produces rich, spicy, tannic, age-worthy wines.  Open this early and pair with grilled steak or portobellos.

–M.P. Rouse

Five Ways to Beat the Heat

From our Hang Time Tasting on Thursday July 23, 2015…

 

 

It’s finally summer and things are starting to heat up.  After a slow start, gardens are finally making progress and local produce is increasingly available.  As the weather becomes more seasonable, we’ll need ways to beat the heat and partner summer’s lighter, fresher fare.  Here are some of Red Feet’s suggestions.

The northeast corner of Portugal produces Vinho Verde, a low-alcohol, lightly sparkling, citrusy white wine.  The Vera 2014 is a refreshingly grapefruity, minerally example of the genre, a fine aperitif or partner for seafood and salad.  It’s even better than a cold beer after hours in the garden or mowing the lawn!

New Zealand is particularly known for its vibrant Sauvignon Blanc; try the Glazebrook 2014, loaded with tropical fruit, white peach, and lime along with light dried herb and anise notes.  This is a wake-up-your-taste-buds kind of wine to pair with herbed goat cheese, baby veggies, tarragon chicken, or Asian flavors.

Few libations beat the heat better than rosé.  Those from Provence are perhaps best known, but Italy makes quite a few in a variety of styles.  Librandi Cirò Rosato 2014 comes from the toe of the boot and is made from the indigenous grape Gaglioppo.  This is a deeply colored wine with red berries, flowers and spice.  It can take on a platter of cured meats and cheeses, eggplant parm, grilled tuna, or spicy foods.

If red wine is your go-to, there are lighter versions that can help beat the heat, especially if the wine is lightly chilled (about 55°F).  A light Gamay from France is one of such varieties.  Not all Gamay comes from Beaujolais—the grape is also grown in the Mâcon, Savoie, and Touraine, for example.  Clusel Côteaux du Lyonnais Traboules 2014 comes from a small family winery in the northern Rhône.  Grapes are grown organically and fermented with natural yeasts.  This is a very versatile wine when it comes to food.  Pair it with sandwiches—BLT, turkey with avocado and Havarti, or roast pork with chutney. Take it on a picnic, with pâté, cornichons, crusty bread, and cheese.

Finally, cool yourself off with Cocchi Americano Aperitivo with a splash of soda and a twist of orange in a tall glass—simple and refreshing.  Americano is a chinato, the Italian name for a fortified wine containing cinchona bark (the source of quinine, with its slightly bitter bite).  Cocchi produced the original version back in 1891 and has been making it ever since.  Moscato wine is lightly fortified and aromatized with all natural herbs and spices—no artificial coloring, flavoring, or additives.  Get creative and invent your own cocktail!

–M.P. Rouse

The Rosé Parade

From our Hang Time Tasting on Thursday, July 16, 2015…

 

When some people see pink wine, they think sweet.  Some is, but most isn’t.  Rosés don’t come from pink grapes, as convenient as that would be, nor do today’s wines come from mixing red and white wine and shaking well (an approach not allowed in Europe).  Rosés are made from one or more varieties of red wine grapes. Their color comes from pigmented compounds (anthocynanins) contained in the grapes’ skin and pulp that transfer color during fermentation. The briefer the contact between juice/ skins and pulp, the lighter the color, although some varieties naturally provide more and darker color than others. Rosés can be produced by bleeding off free-run juice (the saignée method) or by gently crushing grapes after short (two hours to two days) skin contact and proceeding as if making white wine.  Rosés are delightful on their own, but they’re also great partners for summer foods, salads, vegetable dishes, fish (salmon is especially good), pork or chicken.

We have five wines from five countries, with 11 grape varieties in the mix; all wines are from the 2014 vintage.  Alphabetically by country, we’ll start with Austria.  Heidi Schröck Rosé Biscaya is a blend (the label names three grapes, but Ms. Schröck admits to using four more, in small quantities).  The grapes come from the sunny Neusiedlersee area, about five miles from the Hungarian border and are hand harvested. The wine is wild, spicy, high-toned, and food friendly.

Italy’s next.  Cantalupo Il Mimo Rosato is pure Nebbiolo, the grape of Barolo and Barbaresco.  Hand harvested fruit comes from three estate vineyards in the Colline Novaresi area of the Piedmont; juice and skins spend the night together before the juice is racked for fermentation.  This is a rosé with structure and red fruit, a fine candidate for the table. On to the south of France to taste La Croix du Prieur from Provence. Grapes come from sustainably farmed vines averaging 30 years old; they’re pressed and fermented in tank to produce a pale wine with exotic fruit flavor. Try this as an aperitif.

Our tour moves to the Iberian Peninsula.  Portugal’s Vinho Verde is usually a white wine, but it also comes in pink.  Cruzeiro Minhoto Vinho Verde Rosado has the expected light bubbles along with bright acidity, herbed strawberries, and lots of red fruit.  Its low level of alcohol makes it perfect reward for mowing the lawn!  Spain provides a deeply colored wine, Fontana Mesta Rosado, made from certified-organic Tempranillo grown at high altitude in the new DO of Uclés.  This is a hearty rosé, suitable for a barbecue or grilled zucchini and eggplant.

–M.P. Rouse