Wednesday, September 28, 2011

On The Alternative Side

Have you been drinking a lot of the same wines? Perhaps you're ready for a change of pace to get out of the rut of the ordinary and usual. Maybe you want to do a little upgrade to your regular selection or want something a little more special and unique? Here are some alternative choices to consider (click on the pictures for a better look):

Alternatives to Pinot Noir - Two reasons we love pinot noir are the light to medium body and the great aromatics. For another light red you could try Antoine Pouponneau "L'escale" Anjou 2009 ($14.99). 100% gamay from the Loire, it has great fresh red fruits with just a touch of tannin and mineral in the background. A great food wine, this will go with anything from sandwiches, to burgers, and fish. Additionally, a wine with superb aromatics is the Gumphof Sudtiroler Vernatsch Alto Adige 2009 ($17.99). From northern Italy, it's very light and pretty with an interesting savory overtone, a super wine with great interest at it's price.

Alternatives to Rioja - We can look to Ribera Del Duero for a darker and fuller version of the tempranillo grape, known by the local name tinto fino or tinta del pais. For dark berry fruit and balanced tannins, try a wine made from 60 year old vines, the Milcampos Vinas Viejas Ribera Del Duero 2009 ($14.99). If you'd like a little fresh plum/cherry fruit in a smooth package with a dab of toasty oak, try the Traslascuestas Ribera Del Duero Roble 2009 ($16.99). Both wines are great with red meat or chicken, especially if you are still cooking on the grill.

Alternatives to Cotes Du Rhone - This one is easy, like hitting an A.J. Burnett fastball in the 5th inning. There are a lot of choices here and two of my favorites are Chateau Massiac Minervois 2008 ($14.99) and Domaine De Nidoleres "La Raphaelle" Cotes Du Roussillon 2008 ($17.99). What they have in common is that they are from areas near the Rhone and use the typical grapes from the south of France: grenache, syrah, carignan, and mourvedre. While both are full bodied, the Minervois is more peppery and the Rouissillon is dense, earthy, and elegant. If we have a cool, autumnal evening it's great to try one with a slow cooked braised meat or stew.

Alternative to Chianti - Vercesi Del Castellazzo "Pezzalunga Rosso" Oltrepo Pavese 2010 ($14.99) is a great choice here. Made from a unique combination of barbera, bonarda, and the rarely seen uva rara, this has beautiful tangy cherry notes and a touch of menthol in the finish. It's interesting, different, and delicious.

Alternative to Barolo and Barbaresco - Do you love these two great wines from Piedmont? Do you desire that rare combination of elegance and grace, the ethereal aromas of roses and cinnamon kissed with ripe cherries? Well, from a little further north in the Valtellina comes a wine that can be had at a fraction of the price. Sandro Fay Sassella 2007 ($22.99) is 100% nebbiolo and has great typicity and complexity. Crisp fresh cherries are on the palate wrapped in hints of tarry earth, tobacco, and mint. This is a special wine at an affordable price.


Tuesday, September 6, 2011

Headaches, sulfur, and what's in my wine anyway?

Do you get get headaches from wine? If so, please read on. We have helped many of our customers and here is some information that can help you too.

Typically when someone gets headaches from drinking wine they look to sulfites as the culprit. This is probably not the reason for your headache. Sulfur is present in all wines at various levels. It is a by-product of the fermentation process and winemakers use it to help preserve the wine and to stave off bad bacteria. A tiny handful of winemakers make wine with no added sulfur at bottling. These wines can be very interesting and good but they are also very volatile and tend not to travel well. At any rate, very few people have a reaction to sulfur. If you are asthmatic you could be susceptible, and if you do have a reaction it is likely to be an allergic type of reaction rather than a headache.

A possibility is that you could be sensitive to certain types of grape varieties. Theories are that some people have a reaction to histamines or tannins. Both these substances are more prevalent in red wines than whites so try sticking to white wines to see if this is the case for you.

More important I think is the plethora of chemical additives that large scale commercial wineries add to their wine. There are chemicals that add color, artificially increase mouthfeel, enzymes that are supposed to release certain types of aromatics, soluble wood tannin for structure (and you get to choose your flavor too, try chestnut tannin if you don't want the oaky flavor). How about a silicone oil emulsion that reduces frothing? It's really unbelievable, there's even a pesticide called "Drop Dead" that companies can use at the winery to control fruit flies (so much for your organic wine). Why do they add these chemicals? Mostly to compensate for poor quality grapes and to cut costs. They also do it to fashion a wine in a style that receives high scores from some wine reviewers. There are no scientific studies here, but this type of wine making is highly manipulative and who's to say that these additives don't cause reactions in people when they ingest the stuff?

What I do know is that we have helped a lot of customers with their headaches by recommending small production, estate bottled wines. In a lot of cases these wines were made by the family that grew the grapes and were harvested by hand by the family and their team of workers and friends. To me, this is a much more honest method of wine making. There's less chemical intervention in the vineyard and in the winery, and generally less sulphur at bottling. There's also less manipulation of a wine "style" which I like. It's like your grandmother growing her own tomatoes and making homemade sauce. How's a big industrial winery going to compete with that? Try some of these wines and I bet your headaches will dissipate.