Wednesday, January 29, 2014

Terrace View - Tuscan Reds, It's Not Just Chianti

Tuscany, or "Toscano" in Italian, is the iconic home of cities like Florence and Siena. Also iconic are it's more famous wines like Chianti and Brunello di Montalcino. What some folks don't realize is that Chianti is a region, and that Chianti Classico, Chianti Colli Senesi, or Chianti Rufina are just more specific parts of the area. Montalcino is also a place, a small town on a hill, with it's wine being labelled Brunello di Montalcino or Rosso di Montalcino depending mostly on how long the wine was aged. Naming the wines by using the place of origin is a way of categorizing the wines and distinguishing where they come from without mentioning the grape varietals involved. What all these Tuscan reds have in common is that they are all based on the sangiovese grape. You will see some other red grapes in use here but the major player for most all is sangiovese, even if it goes by different local names like brunello, sangiovese grosso, morellino, and prugnolo gentile.

As for flavors, we usually find wines showing a range of bright to dark cherry and berry fruit accompanied by a crisp, tangy acidity. Sometimes there is a nice forest floor, balsam or underbrush note, like a walk in the woods. There is a tremendous amount of wine that comes out of the region and it's hard to generalize. Some wines are light and simple seeing only stainless steel tanks and others are more serious with aging in oak barrels being common. The percentage of new oak varies a lot as well and that means you will find a big variety in the oakiness of the wines. Bottles labelled Riserva see a longer time in wood and bottles before being released.

Another term to be familiar with is "Super Tuscan". This usually refers to wines that have a larger percentage of grapes in the blend that are not sangiovese, most often cabernet sauvignon, merlot, and syrah. Since these wines don't follow the rules for making Chianti or Brunello, they cannot be labelled as such. Some of these bottles are excellent, and a few have become quite famous (and expensive too).

So the next time you are looking at our Italian section, you'll notice a lot of different wines from Tuscany. I sometimes say that Italy isn't a nation, but really a collection of different regions. As for wine, you can think of Tuscany as it's own country, with it's own winemaking culture and traditions. Chianti is just a part of it.

Cheers,
Michael

Saturday, January 11, 2014

Terrace View - The Adventure

Wine is an adventure, one thing I love about it is that you can always learn and discover new things, no matter how long you have been drinking wine or how many wines you have tasted. Sharing this journey and spirit of adventure with customers is one of the best things about the job and it's fantastic when a customer is open and willing to get on board.

Here's a great quote from importer Kermit Lynch, "If you are looking for values, look where no one else is looking." Not just values in a cheap wine sense, if you look for the more uncommon things you'll find more distinct expressions of regional personalities and the quality to price ratio will be better because excellent wines from these places are less expensive than mediocre wines from famous grapes and regions. I mean, who wants everything to taste the same? Oh, and you will find deals too.

My advice is not to be locked into drinking the same thing or the same types of things all the time. It's not really that much fun. I say that if you like wine you should discover the undiscovered and have a sense of adventure! Here are a couple of strategies.

Try a wine from a totally unfamiliar country or region like a red from Austria, Croatia, or the Italian Alps. Maybe a wine from Uruguay?

Try an unfamiliar grape from an established region. I'm thinking of something like a grignolino from Italy or a lemberger from the Finger Lakes. Have you ever had a welschriesling, silvaner, or timorasso in your glass?

Try something you completely don't even know. How about a grolleau from the Loire Valley in France (or even a rare grolleau gris), maybe a blaufrankisch grown in southern Spain, even a carignane from California or  a malvasia frizzante from Italy?

Remember we taste everything before we put it on the shelf. We don't like to sell bad wine and if you can sense that we are honestly excited about a wine, even if you've never heard of it, go with it. Take the wine trip with us!

Michael