About The Author:

"Roger, The Wine Guy" is Roger Yazell, CWS. He is a member of the International Wine Guild and has had a long time admiration of wine. After careers in broadcasting, advertising and marketing account management, he explored his love of wine in hospitality, wholesale and retail sales. The intent of Roger's Grapevine is to share stories, history and information that will add to the reader's love, enjoyment and appreciation of wine and sake'.

Questions, requests for topics and comments are always welcome via email: rogerthewineguy@gmail.com.

(Note: The Wine Guy is currently undergoing chemotherapy and this blog will be on hiatus for the duration and into a recovery period. The Wine Guy is planning to celebrate his recovery with a trip to the two wine producing regions in Argentina and that should provide for some interesting new blogs. Meanwhile please enjoy the archives and feel free to email in the interim.)

Thursday, April 29, 2010

Acquiring new tastes in wine requires tasting new wines!

Wine is one of the loves of my life and that love is the primary reason I do this blog. My first and greatest love also gets mentioned here frequently and that’s the fetching Mrs. Wine Guy. (pictured above with The Wine Guy last fall in Queretaro Santiago, Mexico) Today I get to relate a story that combines both. It also serves as a reminder to The Wine Guy that no matter how much you know about wine, another person’s own palate is always their best guide to exploring and trying new wines.

The Wine Guy is fortunate enough to be one of those people who loves all kinds of wine. To date, my samplings range in the four figures and I can honestly say that of all those, I can count the wines I would never try again on one hand. While I have my favorites, I love them all! That’s not usually true for the typical wine drinker and it certainly wasn’t true for the fetching Mrs. Wine Guy when she first began to join me in my exploration of wines a few years ago. She was a dedicated and selective white wine drinker. Her preferences were mostly restricted to fruitier, lighter, softer and generally sweeter whites.

In an attempt to open up her horizons and get her to explore the wonderful world of red wines, I arranged for a custom tour of Russian River Valley wineries with knowledgeable tour guide Gene Warren of Healdsburg Area Winery Tours.
(For more on using a winery guide see the archived blog “Learn More Taste More” from July 19, 2009).
I had explained to Gene my desire to get my better half to “come over to the dark side” and enjoy the wonders of red wines along with her beloved whites. We planned a strategy of visiting wineries known for some fuller bodied whites, some great rose’s and, of course, some excellent Pinot Noir.
I assumed that I should “transition” her palate by exposing her to some softer, less bold selections in the new arena I wanted her to adopt. Although we succeeded in getting her to nod favorably to a couple of excellent chardonnays from Miramar Torres and Hartford, our efforts in finding a red wine she could warmly embrace fell flat.

The following day, we were on our own, revisiting some Sonoma wineries and picking up some favorites from a trip the year before. At one stop, I mentioned my desire to sample a Sangiovese (The Wine Guy has always been partial to a good Italian varietal). Mrs. Wine Guy uttered a simple “I’ll pass” but elected to have a sample of my tasting when I expressed my enjoyment of the wine. It took barely a sip for her to demandingly inquire “Why haven’t you told me about this wine before?” The following year, while in Italy, I marveled as she expressed her delight at the sampling of some of the great Tuscan reds she enjoyed, including a wondrously well-aged Brunello in the cellar at Il Greppo, the Biondi-Santi estate outside Montalcino. Today, she has truly “come over to the dark side”. The “then and now” list below of her most favored wines reveals the depth of that transition:

Mrs. Wine Guy’s five favorite “Go-To” wines seven years ago:
Schmidtt-Sohne Piersporter Michelsburg QbA
Husch Vineyard Gewurztraminer
Navarro Vineyards Edelzwicker
Dry Creek Vineyard Chenin Blanc
Casa Rondena Serenade

Mrs. Wine Guy’s five favorite “Go-To” wines today:
Castelli di Querceto Chianti Classico
Loacker Val di Falco Morellino di Scansano
Santa Ema Reserve Cabernet Sauvignon
Allegrini Palazzo Della Torre
L.A. Cetto Nebbiolo Reserva Privada

Wow, What a change that’s been! What’s marvelous is that Mrs. Wine Guy now enjoys many different styles of wine. Yes, she still returns to and enjoys some of her whites but she also appreciates many more. Today, we enjoy sharing our exploration of the world of wine in more ways than we ever thought possible. It also taught The Wine Guy some valuable lessons.
Among those are:

1. Never presume to “know” what someone else might enjoy in a new wine based solely on what they prefer today.
2. Recognize that palates can change and adapt to enjoy many different and unique flavors.
3. In wine, as with many other things, variety is the spice of life.

I hope you enjoyed the story. I shared it with my readers to encourage them to take risks and to occasionally try something unique and different as they explore the world of wine. A Master of Wine once told me shortly after my first certification that sooner or later, people would ask me “How do I tell when a wine is truly a great wine?” He suggested answering simply “When the wine tastes great enough to you to make you immediately say: “Wow, what a great wine!”… then it’s a great wine. Keep trying new wines and trust your taste buds. Sooner or later, they will lead you to some wonderful discoveries in the world of wine. And don’t be surprised if those discoveries are never-ending. There are thousands of different wines out there, each with a unique flavor to enjoy. Your possibilities for enjoyable discoveries are almost endless.

Here’s hoping your next great wine discovery is just around the corner!

Thursday, April 22, 2010

Cava, Spain's Sparkling Contribution To The World of Wine!

While not entirely inaccurate, referring to Cava as the Spanish Champagne is a somewhat unfair description. This widely distributed sparkling wine shares a common method of production with the renowned French bubbly but it distinguishes itself with the utilization of its native Spanish grapes, Macabeo, Parellada and Xarel-lo. In recent decades, it also occasionally utilizes some additions of Chardonnay, Pinot Noir and Suribat (a sub-varietal of Malvasia). There may be additions of Grenacha and Monastrell as well.

French Champagne traditionally relies on Chardonnay and Pinot Noir as its mainstays and traces its roots to a French monk. Dom Perignon developed the production methods while on assignment from his abbot to discover why bottles of the abbey’s wine frequently exploded in the cellar. For that reason, Dom Perignon is credited with being the founder of sparkling wine despite the fact that an English scientist ((Christopher Merrett) presented a paper on creating a sparkling effect in wine years before the French monk was sent downstairs by his abbot.

There are notes of Cava wine in Spain dating back to the time of Roman and Greek visitations to the Iberian Peninsula. However, those may be a reference to fine still wines that were stored in caves. Modern commercial production of Spanish sparkling Cava is generally accredited to Josep Raventos, a descendant of the Cordorniu and Raventos wine families. Their history in Spanish wine dates to the early 1500’s. Josep, after visiting France, applied the method champenoise to native Spanish grapes and today, Cordineau, along with Freixenet (also formed with the merger of two old Spanish wine families) have alternately laid claim to being the world’s largest producer of sparkling wines. Both have worldwide distribution and followings. Freixenet, through its acquisition of other Spanish producers including Rene Barbier and Segura Viudas probably offers a greater variety of products to choose from.

Spanish Cavas have a similarity in style to Champagne but because of the different mixture of grapes, displays some differences in flavor and structure. Good aficionados of wine will recognize that Cava and Champagne are different and celebrate what each has to offer in much the same manner as they recognize the differences and celebrate the separate offerings of Left Bank and Right Bank Bordeaux. Typically, Cavas are light and crisp in style with a tendency toward nuttiness and some light floral accents. It may well find its depths of flavorful expression in Cava Rose’. Cava also has an affordability factor that has lead to its wide popularity. Not unlike their Champagne cousins, Cavas are fanciful, festive, zesty wines. They make great aperitifs, delightful bases for wine cocktails and are ideal for celebratory toasting.

Here are a few suggestive hints from The Wine Guy if you have a yen to explore the world of
Spanish Cava:

Cordorniu Classico Brut:
This is a traditional blend of the three Spanish grapes Macabeo, Parallada, and Xarel-lo. Look for apple flavoring with hints of almonds in the bouquet.

Jaume Cordorniu Brut:
Here Chardonnay is added to Macabeo and Parellada. The result is the addition of biscuity notes to green apple flavorings. Look for some nuttiness and hints of honey on the finish.

Cordorniu Pinot Noir Rosado Brut:
This is 100% Pinot Noir, a fairly modern addition to Cordorniu’s lineup of products. It has great strawberry and raspberries flavorings in a dry, crisp sparkler.

Freixenet Cordon Negro Brut:
A traditional Cava and Freixenet’s first flagship export. Look for green apples laced with citrusy overtones and a crisp finish.

Freixenet Casa Sala Grand Reserva Brut Nature:
Well-aged and one of the driest Cavas (Brut Nature has no additional sugar included with the dosage utilized to initiate secondary fermentation)

Jaume Serra Cristalino Extra Dry:
Sparkling wine regulars know that Extra Dry is slightly sweeter than Brut (don’t let the name confuse you if you’re new to sparkling wine). This wine layers lemon-lime overtones on green apples and has a lingering finish. The Wine Guy usually suggests an Extra Dry as opposed to a Brut for making Mimosas.

Segura Viudas Brut Reserva:
Aged in the bottle for nearly three years, this wine has a light floral nose, a mineral, yet creamy, undertone to its dried apple flavor and is accented with a spicy finish.

Segura Viudas Reserva Heredad:
Noted for being an estate wine Cava and for only utilizing the first pressing of the grapes, this wine is aged up to four years. It has ripe apple flavoring accented with light citrus, peach and a sense of nuttiness on the lingering finish. It has a unique pewter edged and crested bottle, which makes it a favorite for gift giving. If you only try one Cava, make it this one.

A couple of final hints and notes:

As with all sparkling wine, the sweeter the wine, the cooler it should be served. The order of Cava from dry to sweet goes:

Brut Natural
Extra Brut
Extra Dry

Just as there pretenders to good Champagne, so are there for good Spanish Cava. 95% of Cava comes from the Penedes in Spain’s northwestern Catalunya region. Authentic Spanish Cava can be verified by the four-pointed star printed on the cork bottom.

While some Cavas are aged before release, they are very much meant to be drunk young. Do not hold for extended periods even if refrigerated.

Go ahead…find a Cava, chill it, pop the cork and enjoy the essence of Spain’s sparkling contribution to the world of wine!

Thursday, April 15, 2010

Nebbiolo: "A finicky grape that makes fabulous wine"

Wine consumers who have seen the movie “Sideways” may well remember Miles elaborating on the difficulty in growing Pinot Noir and the care needed in making a good Pinot Noir wine. There is, however, another grape that outdoes this popular grape in being “finicky” to grow. It also presents bold challenges in winemaking but it rewards the patient with some of the best aromatic and best aging wines in the world. That grape is nebbiolo.

Nebbiolo is principally grown in the Peidmont region of Italy but is also utilized in Italy’s Lombardy and Valle d’Aosta regions. In some parts of Italy, it also answers to the names Spanna, Picutener and Chiavenessa. There is some debate over whether the Nebbiolo name derives from the Italian word “nebbia” which means fog or the Italian word “nobile” meaning noble. Certainly the presence of fog in the regions where the best example of Nebbiolo wines comes from is a factor in the quality of grapes harvested (not unlike Miles’ beloved Pinot Noir!). There is also a milky clouding to maturing Nebbiolo grapes that could be described as fog-like. The noble connotation would certainly apply to the quality of the wines produced and to its historical regard, particularly by the British prior to the phylloxera epidemic of the late 19th century. Prior to that, many Brits had turned to Nebbiolo as an alternative to fine Bordeaux as their many conflicts with the French made them seek viable alternatives.

Today, however, Nebbiolo accounts for only single digit percentages of the vineyard grapes in its Piedmont homeland but it does produce some of its finest wines. Nebbiolo d’Alba, Barolo, Babaresco, Gattinara and Ghemme are among the wines that owe their strength and character to this grape. This grape produces lightly colored but bold wines that can be highly tannic (and, sometimes almost bitter in their youth). They are always aromatic, even more so with ageing and the wines can take on a uniquely characteristic reddish-orange hue at the edge as they age. Aromas and flavors that have been identified in these wines include, Roses, violets, tar, wild herbs, red fruits, truffles, tobacco and even rich prunes. The wines are often capable of developing after ageing for more than a decade.

The terroir in the Piedmont is very well suited to this grape, as it grows best in highly calcareous soils. It is a grape that is very early to bud but very late to harvest. Harvest occurs in mid to late October, when the weather is colder, not only challenging the harvest but the length of time required in fermentation as well. (Modern technology has helped address some of that difficulty but most Nebbiolo winemakers moderate the usage of technology controls during fermentation as it tends to weaken some of the stronger characteristics of the grape.) It also susceptible to buds not developing into fruit especially if exposed to a lot of wetness during the bud development stage. Excessive wetness during ripening can also have a negative impact on the quality of the grapes. Add to that a genetic instability that makes it prone to mutation and you’ve got a grape that is very challenging to grow and very challenging to make wine from.

Patience and effort are usually rewarded, however, with some of Italy’s finest red wine. The best Barolos can challenge Brunello di Montalcino for the right to be called the King of Italian wines. They are bold, expressive wines, with long, lingering finishes and rival Brunello in the ability to age and develop when properly cellared. Barollos must be aged a minimum of 1 year in oak and 3 years in total with 57 months required to achieve Riserva status. The lighter Barbaresco requires 9 months on oak with 21 months total aging with 45 months needed for a Riserva. The care and time needed in these wines plus their limited production does add to the cost. While many good examples can be found under $40.00, the cost of the very best of these wines rises rapidly and may reach into the four-figure range.

Italy is the primary source for Nebbiolo and certainly the dominant one in terms of both quantity and quality. Scatterings of Nebbiolo have occurred in Australia, California, New Zealand, Argentina and South Africa but with very limited acclaim as to the results. The most productive area for Nebbiolo outside Italy is Baja Norte in Mexico principally under one producer, L.A. Cetto. The Nebbiolo Riserva produced there is also quite singular in having achieved a consistent measure of critical acclaim. Many of my fellow bloggers have referred to it as the best Nebbiolo made outside Italy. I would concur. I also don’t mind its affordability when I can find it.

Here are a few other affordable recommendations from The Wine Guy for wines you may want to try if you’re interested in exploring Nebbiolo.

Michele Chiarlo Barolo Toroniano

Michele Chiarlo Barbaresco

Produttori di Barbaresco Nebbiolo Delle Langhe

Pio Cesare Nebbiolo d’ Alba

Fontanfredda Barbaresco Cuvee

L.A. Cetto Nebbiolo Riserva Privada

All are Italian with the exception of the last which is the Mexican wine I referred to earlier. That one may be hard for many of you to find. The Wine Guy always has a bottle whenever he travels to Mexico and I invariably return with one (Mrs. Wine Guy, who loves Italian wine, will always insist that I do). If you plan to travel to Mexico, it’s worth the effort to try to do the same.

One final tip: Nebbiolo is a very tannic wine when young, so be prepared to be patient and devote the appropriate decanting time to allow the wine to air and soften before consuming. At least an hour or more would be my minimum recommendation on most of the choices above. If you find one you enjoy, and you have storage capabilities, buy some for now and some to cellar. Then, continue to restock the cellar as you pull an older wine that has aged and further developed.


Wednesday, April 7, 2010

Torrontes: A cool little white that's about to get hot!

Wine production in Argentina is over 450 years old. Spanish Jesuits established its first commercial vineyard in 1557. Argentina is currently (2006 figures) ranked fourth worldwide in wine production, just ahead of Australia. It is in Argentina where you find the greatest concentration of high altitude vineyards in the world. The bulk of this country’s vineyards lie between 3,000 and 3,500 ft. (In comparison, French vineyards do not exceed 1,800 foot in altitude). Along with its neighbor, Chile, it has no problems associated with phylloxera. The infamous wine insect pest that nearly destroyed the world’s vineyards in the late 1800’s does not exist in Chile and the one variety that does exist in Argentina is so biologically weak as to NOT pose a threat to vineyards. Despite all these advantages, Argentina doesn’t rank in the top twelve countries for wine exports.

A high per capita consumption is one reason for the variance between Argentina’s world rank in wine production and exports. In 1970 Argentina led the world in annual per capita wine consumption at about 90 liters (roughly, a bottle of wine every other day). While its per capita declined to less than half that amount by 2006, it still consumed 90% of the wine it produced and its annual per capita consumption was still about 5 times that of the United States. Another issue impacting the exportation of Argentinean wine in earlier decades was the emphasis on high yields in the vineyards. This was required in order to meet the high domestic consumption demand and resulted in a sacrifice of wine quality.

Over the past few years, this pattern has changed. Argentinean reds, led by its dominant varietal Malbec, have shown a consistent improvement in quality and for the past two years have become a favorite for consumers to explore. Malbecs from Argentina have been extremely hot (in the sense of marketplace popularity…not taste) and are leading to significant growth in Argentinean wine exports. Over the past few years Malbec has become a signature wine for Argentina.

There’s also a white wine from Argentina that has the potential to also become a signature wine and that’s Torrontes. Unlike Malbec, it is not commonly found around the world. There are three varietals in Argentina and growers believe the grape originated in Spain. There is a Torrontes in a small region of Spain today but the name is used there as a synonym for the Granacha Blanco, a different grape. Torrontes is very uniquely Argentinean. Today, this grape is among the top four grown in Argentina and there is twice as much acreage in Torrontes as there is Chardonnay. It is produces the country’s most popular white wine

As a grape Torrontes generally produces wines that are pale gold in color with floral aromas and tropical fruit flavors touched with light overtones of apricot or honey and accented with a slight and subtle citrus acidity. They are dry, crisp, totally refreshing whites. If you live in a climate with hot dry summers (such as The Wine Guy’s home of Arizona), Torrontes could easily become your summertime favorite. Most Torrontes are single varietal and it is there you’ll find some of its best expressions. But it can also be found blended with Chardonnay, Sauvignon Blanc and Chenin Blanc.

Here are a few of the wines that you may want to look for and try if you’re curious about this great white wine from Argentina:

Notro Torrontes: from the Mendoza region, a good basic representation of this wine.

Urban Uco Torrontes: This is the value label of the renowned Fournier family that produces wine in Chile, Spain and Portugal in addition to Argentina. It offers the most citrus acidity of the list presented here.

Zolo Torrontes: From the Famatina Valley, this is one of most consistently high-rated Torrontes to come out of Argentina.

Crios Torrontes: From Cayfayate in Argentina’s Salta region and produced by Susan Balboa, this is probably the most floral and smooth finishing Torrontes on the list.

If you enjoy Chenin Blanc, Sauvignon Blanc, Dry Riesling, or Pinot Grigio, odds are very high that you will also enjoy Torrontes. Make an effort to try this crisp little wine from Argentina and don’t be surprised if it becomes the next South American wine to be highly sought after by consumers.

As my Greek friends would say: Vale krasi!