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Black and White and Red All Over

16 Mar

Recently, on the New York Times‘ wine blog, The Pour, asked “How Important Is It for a Red Wine to Be a Dark Color?” On the face of it, this seems perhaps to be a silly question, but it’s not.  Consumers notice, and are more often than not impressed by a wine’s dark color.  The reasons for this are not necessarily black and white, but winemakers know it, and it’s a big part of why they blend, say Grenache with Syrah or Zinfandel with Petite Sirah.  In both of these very common blends, the latter grape is much darker than the former.  An effort to achieve dark color is also why winemakers feel inclined to use extended maceration times because the longer the skins hang around with the juice, the darker the resulting wine will be.

Anyone who has ever provided wine in a service setting — restaurant, bar, winery tasting room — knows dark color matters, too.  Being a member of this group I can attest to this fact.  If I had a dollar for every time I heard a customer exclaim delightedly, “Wow!  Look at that color,” upon seeing a dark wine poured in his glass, I could buy myself lots of deliciously pale (and expensive) Barolo.

But, there’s proof that dark wine matters beyond observational experience and drawing conclusions about why winemakers do the things they do.  There is Alicante Bouschet.

Photo - corkd.com

Alicante Bouschet is a grape that is known as a teinturier variety.  While 99.9% of grapes have clear juice regardless of the color of the skin, tenturier varieties have red juice.  What does this mean for wine?  Darker color.  From the late 19th century up until the 1960s, a grape called Aramon was the most widely planted winegrape in France.  Aramon was good at some things.  It was very productive and naturally resistant to many diseases, but in terms of color and flavor, it was sorely lacking.  Enter an ancient teinturier variety called Teinturier du Cher, which is an ancestor (a grandparent, if you will) to Alicante Bouschet.  Not only was Tenturier du Cher blended with Aramon to boost its color and flavor, in 1824 Louis Bouschet crossed the two creating a new variety called Petit Bouschet.  Later, his son Henri crossed Petit Bouschet with Grenache and Alicante Bouschet was born.

Alicante Bouschet also made its way to California, but there’s not much to be found today, having been displaced in favor of more popular grape varieties and because we now have the modern technology to extract deep color from most any grape we want.  With the exception of Francis Ford Coppola’s Alicante Bouschet, which comes from Lodi, it’s now most often found in very small amounts in zinfandel blends that come from old vine vineyards in northern Sonoma County. Today, Alicante Bouschet is more a curiosity than a major player, but the mere fact of its existence is proof that human beings are attracted to dark colored wines.  Whether that’s silly or not.

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Ms. Drinkwell’s Top 5 – California Wine Edition

1 Sep

i heart wineIn honor of California Wine Month, I’ve put together a short list of some of my favorites, recent and perennial:

Best Chardonnay with the Worst Name
2007 Wind Gap Chardonnay Brousseau Vineyard

There’s a nice story on the Wind Gap website about how the vineyards are planted along wind gaps and how the wind shapes the flavors of the wines, and I’m sure this is all true, but the name is just plain bad.  However, the wine is so good that I developed temporary aphasia upon tasting it.  So what’s it like?  Marilyn Monroe in a bikini –voluptuously built with each curve counterbalanced by acidity so racy it’s practically electric.  And, there’s so much minerality in each sip, it’s like there’s a quarry in the glass.  In my opinion, no Cali Chard has ever tasted as Chablisienne as this one while still managing to capture essence of opulent California style.  

Best Version of a Variety No American Can Pronounce 
2007 La Clarine Farm Mourvèdre Cedarville Vineyard

It’s awkward that I never know how to say the name of this grape correctly (moor – ved, or  moor – ved – druh?).  No matter, I’ll just call La Clarine’s version good stuff.  It reminds me of a solid French country wine — not too fancy, not too polished, not too expensive — and best of all, not too over the top.  The kind of wine you keep reaching for again and again with pleasure.  It’s a much leaner rendition than you might expect coming from this notoriously hearty, big boned variety, and that’s probably why I like it so well.  It checks all the right boxes: violets, leather, dusty blackberry, savory spice, but it’s not heavy handed.  Rather, it’s like the fresh faced girl next door — pretty in its youth without a trace of makeup.

Best New Zin that Could Give Ridge a Run for Its Money
2005 Hunnicutt Zinfandel Napa Valley, Chiles Valley District

I’ll admit to being biased against Napa Valley Zinfandel.  For me, it just doesn’t possess the nuance or subtelty that can be achieved with a well made version from Dry Creek or Russian River Valley.  So when I bounded into work on a recent day to be met by a rep with a lineup which included Hunnicutt’s Napa Valley Zin, I felt pretty confident that an underwhelming tasting was to follow.  Ah, hubris!  I was wrong, of course, which is the great thing about great wine.  It kicks your ass back into line  in the most delicious way, which is exactly what  Hunnicutt did for me with its rose petal, bing cherry, and pink peppercorn potion.  It’s delicate without sacrificing lush texture or lusty fruit.  Quite the impressive balancing act.

Best and Most Thoughtful California Wine Blog
Tom Wark’s Fermentation:  The Daily Wine Blog

OK, OK so Tom Wark doesn’t write exclusively about California wine, but he’s located in California and his “day job” as I understand it is in Public Relations where he is responsible for promoting many California wineries large and small. If you’re not reading Tom Wark’s blog, you should be. Why? In addition to being a dependable (he really does blog everyday!) and articulate voice, Mr. Wark is honest and self-reflective in his posts.  He’s continually striving for ways to connect wine to themes larger than himself, and he won’t sacrifice this aim to cover the hot new trend simply because it’s timely.  This blog — unlike so many others — isn’t gimmicky; it doesn’t exist to gossip or break news.  Rather, it’s a meditation which if you let it, just might teach you something about yourself.  Fermentation is exceptional because its author is at once true to his subject and to us.
I think I want to be Tom Wark when I grow up.

Best Crazy Genius California Winemaker/Marketer
Randall Grahm of Bonny Doon

Clearly this is not breaking news.  Randall Grahm has been making and marketing wine since I was in grade school.  I will forget for a moment that the Bonny Doon website makes me a little queasy with all of its spinning, and that I once submitted my resume for an open position and never received a response.  Anyone who has the balls to sell off two of the most profitable divisions of his company in order to concentrate on producing bizarro biodynamic wines using grapes most California wine drinkers have never heard of (Erbaluce? Albariño? Nebbiolo? Dolcetto?) is impressive (and borderline insane) enough.  But, to sell those wines, lots of them, and make customers fall in love with them (and him) is unthinkable for anyone except Randall Grahm.  Combine with this a recent appearance on Oprah and a forthcoming book and there’s no single person out there who’s doing more to promote California wine than this guy.  Yeah, I know it’s been said before, but the truth is always worth restating.

Want to add to my list?  Bring it on in the comments!