Saturday, June 25, 2011

Great Whites!

It's officially summertime and I wanted to highlight some beautiful full-bodied white wines that deserve more attention. These wines are big, extracted and not oaky. The hot climates that these wines come from have the sunshine and heat to push the ripeness resulting in big forward lush fruit flavors. They are super expressive and really fun to drink. Let's go first to France for a look.

Pascal Marthouret Condrieu 2007 ($49.99) - Viognier is the grape here and Condrieu is considered it's best expression. The wine starts with white flower blossoms on the nose and moves into silky, honeyed apricot in the mouth. Very soft and elegant. Even with it's size, it's nicely balanced and not over the top, especially for viognier.

Prieure Saint-Jean De Bebian Coteaux Du Languedoc 2006 ($28.99) - A blend of predominantly roussanne with bits of picpoul, clairette, and grenache blanc this wine is rich and honeyed with nectarine and honeysuckle notes. Super complex with balanced acidity make it a joy to drink.

Chateau Pech-Redon Coteaux Du Languedoc "L'epervier" La Clape 2008 ($16.99) - The little craggy solid chalk mountain of La Clape receives more sun per year than any other place in France and the Romans started the winemaking here about 2200 years ago. This white is organic and made from grenache gris and bourboulenc. I get a spectrum of yellow stone fruits here; apricot, peach, nectarine and even some orange peel. A nice herbaceous anise overtone adds complexity as well, a great wine for the price.

Line Shack Roussanne San Antonio Valley, Monterey, California 2009 ($17.99) - Now it's time for a California wine! This is a style that is done very well on the west coast. White Rhone varietals, unencumbered by new oak, excel in the heat and long California growing season. The Line Shack has intense varietal character with a feeling of thick and rich honeysuckle apricot nectar. Impressive.

Thomas Coyne Viognier, California 2009 ($18.99) - This very well made viognier is super tropical, I get coconut oils along with the typical honeysuckle notes of the varietal. Very rich, heady and expansive in the mouth it's a great price for large scaled viognier.

These wines are plenty of fun to drink on their own but if you are thinking of some food pairings I have some ideas for you. One way to go is to try rich shellfish like scallops, crab, lobster, and grilled shrimp. Pork chops, pork tenderloin with a fruit glaze, chicken with a cream sauce all work well as does something rich like liver pate or foie gras.


Tuesday, June 14, 2011

Is it dry?

The motherload of all wine topics! The subject of dryness in a wine is the most misunderstood thing amongst customers so I thought I'd try to approach it in an intelligent way. First off let me state that whether a wine is dry or not is not indicative of it's quality! Okay, I had to get that off my chest, but it's true. Really, think about it, in a world where there are so many poorly made dry wines we as a staff wonder why, when recommending a wine to someone, do we often hear the question, "Is it dry?", as an inquiry to quality?

Let's look at this reasonably. There are two ways in which we can discuss dryness in wines. One is technical, the actual measure of residual sugar (RS) in the wine, with anything less than 10 grams per liter considered dry. The other is subjective, does the wine feel dry? Is there an impression of dryness or sweetness irregardless of what the RS actually is? I think this discussion is more important and something valid to think about is what people perceive as dryness or not when tasting wines.

The two things that come to mind for me are acidity and tannin. Acidity is tart and gives an impression of dryness, freshness, and crispness. My analogy is always lemonade so think about lemon juice with some sugar added to make it palatable, is it dry? A wine with super high acidity and RS under 10 grams/liter will always feel dry. Examples would be things like Muscadet, Chablis, Albarino, Rueda, and Sancerre. If there is a little more RS and the acidity is still high, like some chenin blancs and rieslings, the wine can still feel dry and crisp contrary to the technical number. Actually in that case you'd want a little RS because without it the wine would be overly acidic and austere. Some California wines like chardonnay and viognier, actually have high RS and low acidity which can feel dry to some people and sweet and flabby to others. Some dessert wines with very high RS have enough acidity to keep things balanced and not cloying. Go figure, this type of opinion as to dryness is like asking someone if the music is funky or not, it's well...subjective.

Tannins are the other issue here and when a customer asks for a red that's "not too dry", that's what I think they are referring to. Tannins in a wine are astringent and while giving structure to they also give an impression of dryness. Think of black tea with no sugar or milk, that lingering dryness is the tannin. Same effect in red wines, if a wine has substantive tannins we would use words like "chewy" and "muscular". There is some subjectivity here too as to what kind of wine you like or are in the mood for. On the other end of the spectrum, reds that are full-bodied, with low acid and low tannin, can feel smooth and silky to some folks and downright jammy to others. Another factor is that barrel aging in oak can also give an impression of sweetness, so even though a wine is "dry" it can be perceived as less dry with the creamy, toasty flavors of oak present.

I think the crux of the issue here is not to think that a "dry" wine is a good wine. There are well made and balanced wines all across the spectrum. Start with drinking quality wines in a style you like and branch out from there.