When Wine (and minds) Wander

There I was, minding my own in the driver’s seat after picking up my daughter from Pre-K when her sweet, innocent voice came from the back seat.

“Um...mom,” she built herself up.

“Yeah?”

“Um....where did I come from?” 

Unprepared, I said something about being from Florida - even though I knew she sought a more biological answer - and luckily something else caught her attention before she redoubled her inquiry. Whew. With that discussion tabled, my mind quickly wandered to wine.

Of course.

Here’s how the train of thought went: “She’s from here because she was born here, but it seems like the majority of people In Southwest Florida are from somewhere else. Wine is that way too. I mean, merlot is right bank Bordeaux, but it’s also grown everywhere and can taste completely different depending on where it’s made. I wonder how merlot came to be. I need to look that up...is that car going to stop or just cut me off?”

Turns out merlot is the offspring of cabernet franc and a decorative grapevine from Brittany named madeleine. It’s named after a local black bird called “merlau” who would eat the grapes off the vine before winemakers had a chance to harvest.

In Italian “merlo” also means blackbird, and its namesake grape merlot has been an important part of northern Italian and Tuscan winemaking for hundreds of years.

The first time I saw an Italian merlot I thought it was an attempt to capitalize on the well-recognized French varietal name. I couldn’t have been more wrong.

“The grapes traditionally said to be of ‘French origin’ have been grown in our area for at least more than 150 years,” says Angela Maculan of Maculan Family Winery in Italy’s Veneto region. “In 1855 in Vicenza (the main city of the area) there was a fair of all the products produced or grown in the area. The printed catalog of the fair lists more than 120 red grape varieties grown in the Vicenza area at that time. Cabernet sauvignon, merlot and pinot nero are on that list, and the same for the white grapes.” 

Maculan makes a number of wines from traditionally Italian verietals as well as French named grapes. Angela Maculan will be in Naples this Friday at a small, intimate tasting at Osteria Tulia where tasters will work their way through six wines including a chardonnay, a cabernet sauvignon, and a cab/merlot blend that scored 94 points with the Wine Advocate.

While most wine grapes have clearly branded points of origin (sangiovese = Tuscany, pinot noir = Burgundy, sauvignon blanc = Sancerre) there is value in trying these wines when made in different places. While cabernet sauvignon was born in a Bordeaux vineyard (to parents cabernet franc and sauvignon blanc) it has done quite well in its travels to Napa, Australia, and Chile.

This season the Wine Merchant in North Naples will offer a series of tastings featuring a given grape grown in numerous locations. Trying side-by-side pinot noirs grown in Oregon, New Zealand, Burgundy, and Sonoma will be an interesting study of the impact of geography. 

For more on the Wine Merchant’s tasting series, call 239-592-0000.

To learn more about the Maculan tasting at Osteria Tulia, call 239-213-2073.

Showing Some Love for Vermouth

Vermouth has gotten a bad rap, but the days of maligning this fortified wine are coming to an end thanks to the revival of traditional cocktails and a new-found love of artisinal producers.  

“But wait- this is a wine column,” you might say, “what are you doing talking about vermouth?”

Yes, I know vermouth is usually categorized with the hard stuff and it languishes in the liquor cabinet with the rest of the big boys, but therein lies part of the problem. Vermouth is wine based and should be kept in the refrigerator. That bottle that’s been collecting dust next to the sloe gin and chambord since 1985 probably tastes terrible. No wonder martini drinkers scoff at it in favor of iced gin or vodka.

Here are a few things to know about wine’s spicy sidekick:

Spiced and fortified wines have been around since the before the Romans. The ancient Greeks were flavoring wine with all manner of spices including wormwood as an aid to digestive ailments.

The presence of wormwood (Wermuth in German) was a key selling point for early vermouth as a medical curative for gastric issues. French royalty loved it, calling it vermutwein, and eventually its name was Anglicised to vermouth.

Many of the botanicals originally prized for vermouth were found in the alps which run along the northern border of Piedmont. These include hysop, quina bark, rose petals, chamomile, elderflower, thyme, and gentain to name a few. This is why the major industrial producers, Cinzano and Martini & Rossi, are based in that area.

The dawn of cocktails boosted vermouth’s popularity worldwide. It went from medicinal elixr to mixer in a New York minute. 

It comes in three major types: sweet (which is red), dry (which is clear), and Bianco or Blanc (which is also clear but not as dry or bitter).

 

While the sweet and dry are staple ingredients in Manhattans and martinis, the bianco/blanc should not be dismissed.  When it’s hot outside and I want something with ice, I fill a tumbler with white vermouth add some cubes and top it with a slice of orange or lemon. My favorite brand is Dolin blanc Vermouth de Chambery which is from France’s only AOC (appellation d’origine contrôlée) for vermouth. It is only slightly bitter, very herbal, and just sweet enough. Dolin has been making vermouth since 1821 and they still use up to 50 botanicals with their local fortified wine, which sets them apart from most major producers who tend to use extracts and pre-made infusions rather than actual plants.

Another newcomer to the Florida market (it arrives sometime this month) is La Quintinye Vermouth Royale. I was able to try it and there is a more pronounced spice and cardamom throughout the line, which is also made using real botanicals.

 

I welcome comments and questions at juliewriteswine@gmail.com. You can see more of my writing at www.julieglenn.com, and can connect with me on Facebook and on Twitter @mouthfeeler.

Buying wine for dad

From my father's day wine column:

Father’s Day is upon us and while traditional gift-giving may dictate bad ties or beer, I’d like to suggest a well thought out bottle of wine. OK, I’ll do the thinking for you. Here is a list of dad types and the wines those dads might appreciate.

Collector Dad: Barolo and Bordeaux are both age-worthy wines that a collector will have the patience to lay down until they reach their greatest potential.  If your dad is particularly nostalgic, try to find a vintage that is meaningful, like the year you were born.

International Businessman Dad: A world traveler might appreciate a bottle from a little-known wine region. China? Yes they make wine, but I’d stick with white. Meanwhile, the red blends from Lebanon’s Chateau Musar are an incredible wine adventure.

Camping Dad: To keep his backpack lighter, skip the corkscrew and get dad a screw-cap wine. Meiomi pinot noir is an excellent option since everyone loves it and it’d be great around a campfire. 

Sports Fan Dad: Major League Baseball has put out it’s own team-centric wines with 19 listed on the official MLB web site. Eventually all teams will have their own private label wine available for purchase on-line at MLB.com. 

Military Dad: Two former Marines created a line of wines called Jarhead including a red blend, a reserve red and a chardonnay. The proceeds from sales of Jarhead Red support the Marine Corps Scholarship Foundation which provides educational assistance to children of U.S. Marines, with special assistance to families of fallen Marines.  

Hip Dad: Only the coolest kids understand that dry rose is the wine for all Florida occasions. It brings the refreshing chill and lightness of white wine with the layers of flavor and depth of red. Any rose from France should be dry, but the granddaddy of French rose is Domaine Ott in Provence. 

Teddy-Bear Dad: Anything from the Rhone Valley will feel like a soft embrace if you have a big ol’ softie for a dad. Reds from this region feature velvety syrah blended with a few spicy counterparts. The whites are a varietal bouquet of marsanne, rousanne, grenache blanc, and viognier, all of which are beloved for their aromas of honeysuckle and jasmine.

Couch Potato Dad: Amarone is a good pick since it’s easy to drink and is one of those rare Italian wines that doesn’t require food to be enjoyed. Since couch potato activities take place in the comfort of air conditioning a big, juicy red like this won’t feel oppressively heavy in the summer heat.

Rock Star Dad: If you catch your dad doing air guitar or drumming his pencils all the time, his inner rock star may appreciate something from the “Wines That Rock” line. There is the Rolling Stones Merlot, Woodstock Chardonnay, Grateful Dead Red, and The Police Synchronicity, which obviously is a blend.

Chill While You Grill - Find the Best Temperature for your Red, White and Rose

From the fourth of July Column:

One of the great challenges of the Independence Day grill-fest is keeping beverages at the right temperature, which is probably why ice-cold beer tends to dominate since it can just languish on ice cubes all day. But if you're a wine fan and you want to pair up grilled meats, you need a plan. People like to say “room temperature” is how red wine should be served, but whoever came up with that was clearly standing in a 55 degree cellar somewhere in Bordeaux, not in my living room with a fourteen foot sliding glass door between me and the blast furnace of summer in Florida. If you are adding red, white or rose to your celebration of the red, white and blue; here are some tips to bring your wine temperature down from our 78-degree “room temp.”

Plan on pairing a hearty syrah with your burger, or a spicy all-American zinfandel with your ribs? These and other fuller-bodied reds show best at 60-65 degrees. Achieve this by putting your bottle in the refrigerator for 40-45 minutes. 

For lighter reds like dolcetto, grenache, Beaujolais, or some pinot noir you’ll want to chill them a bit more, down to 50-60 degrees; an hour to an hour and a half in the fridge.

More complex white wines like chardonnay, viognier, sauvignon blanc, Champagne and Oregon pinot gris could stand a solid two hours in the refrigerator to get down to 45-50 degrees. 

Simple whites like vinho verde, non-vintage sparkling, or easy-drinking pinot grigio can be served as cold as 40-45 degrees (3 hours chilling). They could bob in the ice bucket with the beers and sodas if you want.

I like to think of temperature and wine like this: would you like a bowl of ice cream completely melted and at room temperature? No. Why? It’s too sweet. But no one added sugar to it. When things are warmer we can taste more, especially sweetness. Giving your reds a little chill while you grill will give your wine some modesty. You’ll be able to sense the wine’s complexity which would otherwise have been buried beneath wide-open fruit and hot alcohol.

Conversely, over-chilling a wine will make any flavor inaccessible to your palate, so if you forget a bottle in the refrigerator or it spends too much time in the ice bath with the beer, set it out on your lanai for about one minute and it’ll warm right up.

I welcome comments and questions at juliewriteswine@gmail.com. You can see more of my writing at www.julieglenn.com, and can connect with me on Facebook and on twitter @mouthfeeler.

Don’t call it a comeback, Greek wine’s been here for years

As I walked into a Greek wine seminar at FGCU a few weeks back, I couldn’t help but wonder; what happened to Greek wine? I mean, Greece invented wine culture. It was the required beverage at philosophical discussions which brought us democracy, stoicism, and the Socratic method. The Greeks introduced wine to Egypt. They vinified Europe. So what happened? Where did Greek wine go? 

The host of this seminar, Greek wine importer Ted Diamantis of Chicago based Diamond Importers, Inc. says it’s been there all along, just at varying levels of success. “Greek wine is currently having its renaissance,” he says, “It’s an exciting time now, but history was not always on Greek wine’s side.” As the rest of Europe was  enjoying its renaissance, Greece was under Ottoman rule, which wasn’t particularly wine-friendly. Later, after World War Two, cities swelled and vines were left untended when Greeks abandoned the agricultural life for prosperous city jobs. But now going back to the land is in vogue and Greece’s new wine movement has revived long forgotten varietals for the wine world to rediscover.

My favorite is Domaine Sigalas’ assyrtiko from the island of Santorini. Almost nothing grows on this windswept pile of volcanic ash where temperatures often top 100 and only 8 inches of rain fall per year. The vines are trained into little round spirals which create a basket to protect the grapes from brutal elements, making it one of the most expensive cultivations in the world. Still, the resultant wine is only around $20 and brings a nose of lemon merengue with a bright, minerally palate. Use it in place of Sauvignon Blanc and say goodbye to grassy grapefruit and hello to rich tropical notes along with lean acidity.

In the reds the grape xinomavro is interesting in that, like Piedmont’s nebbiolo, it has four seeds rather than the usual two which adds to its tannic punch. It would rush to sugar-ripeness with too much heat, so at Alpha Estate in northwestern Greece it’s planted at a 2600 foot elevation to prolong its hang-time. The wine is floral and herbaceous on the nose to the degree of smelling of incense. On the palate it is slightly viscous with tart blueberry flavors, earthiness, and long tannins. Alpha Estate xinomavro retails around $30.

Both are distributed locally- if you don’t see it on the shelf, it can usually be special ordered.



The Beginning of the Naples Daily News Column

For the past few years I have written a bi-weekly wine column in the Fort Myers News-Press, but now I have moved south where I write a weekly column about wine for the Naples Daily News. In early June I wrote the following introduction:

There is no place in the world that can compete with Naples in terms of its wine scene.

I once owned a wine shop in a midwestern town where I never met a winemaker, saw a salesperson only occasionally, and was thrilled if they ever brought a sample bottle. 

My first day selling wine in Florida I had a bag of six sample bottles and their creator, Napa winemaker Bob Broman in the car with me. 

“This,” I thought, “is where I need to be.” 

And now, eight years later, I get to write about it for the Naples Daily News. 

This is the first of what will be a weekly column featuring everything about wine. I will talk grapes, regions, business, events, personalities, history, and most importantly taste.  Before I expect you to take my word on anything wine related, let me tell you a bit about myself.

Professionally I began as a TV news reporter and anchor in Quincy, Illinois where I befriended a wonderful French woman whose wine shop became my second home. She and her husband were responsible for shaping my 20-something appreciation for the culture and history of wine as my taste gradually progressed from Riesling to Barolo. 

I left TV news to go to Italy and earn a master’s degree in communication from the University of Gastronomic Sciences. I studied the history, culture, economics and evolution of traditional food products. My wine professor was Jancis Robinson. It was my favorite subject.

After that glorious year I returned to the US to begin my freelance writing career. Starting over always takes a while, so I picked up a wine sales job which was an education in itself. Driving up and down US 41, I learned volumes about the business of this most romanticized commodity. I chatted about winemaking with dozens of international winemakers, brainstormed pricing strategies with importers, and crafted wine lists with restaurant entrepreneurs. Of course, I tasted thousands of wines. 

It’s said that one learns by doing, and that’s what I did; but I am by no means finished learning. In this column I will take readers on a journey of discovery about wine that will not intimidate the newbie, nor bore the aficionado. 

I welcome comments and questions at juliewriteswine@gmail.com. you can see more of my writing at www.julieglenn.com, and can connect with me on facebook (https://www.facebook.com/pages/Julie-Glenn/154259314643131) and on twitter @mouthfeeler.

The Horoscope of Wine

As a wine nut and an avid horoscope devour-er it seems natural I'd make some correlations.  I began my series on the Zodiac of wine grapes a few months ago in my column for the Fort Myers News-Press and thought I'd share them here.  First up is Virgo, which bears a striking resemblance in attitude and structure to Cabernet Franc.  

To see other Zodiac signs and their varietal match click here.

Here is the first in the series:

    I love wine, obviously, and I love the grapes so much I feel like they have their own little personalities. They’re almost as predictable as the signs of the zodiac. For example if Virgo were a wine grape it would be Cabernet Franc. Virgos are hard to get to know, coming across as stoic perfectionists with a cool calm exterior. But when you delve deeper you find a hard-working, loyal friend who in spite of the placid demeanor can be filled with nervous energy.  They work very well in groups as they don’t demand the spotlight but can excel independently because they expect so much from themselves.

    Likewise, Cabernet Franc has supported and rounded out Merlot and Cabernet Sauvignon (Franc’s love-child with Sauvignon Blanc) for centuries in Bordeaux. But when devoted winemakers put this grape center-stage, as they traditionally have in Loire, France, the resultant wine is stellar. It is lighter than Cabernet Sauvignon in body but is aromatically complex with tobacco and peppery spice offset by violet and bright raspberry. Just as a Virgo can sometimes come across as harsh; the adverse characteristic of Cabernet Franc is its harshness when it’s picked too early or vinified poorly. Think green bell pepper with no fruitiness at all.

    Like the Virgo has an air of nobility, so does Cabernet Franc. It will not partake in the sordid fruit-bomb style of winemaking that is currently going out of style. nor will it sway toward watery overproduction. It is one determined, traditional, hard working grape that, once you get to know it, may just be your new best friend for life.

    Try: Reserve des Vignerons Saumur Champigny, 2012 for a light take on Cab Franc from the Saumur Champigny region in Loire, France at Total Wine for $12.99.

    Or Try: Domaine Catherine & Pierre Breton Bourgueil “Franc de Pied” 2011 for an extremely rare experience of Cabernet Franc grown on European rootstock- an anomaly since the Phylloxera epidemic of the 1800’s required grafting of American rootstock to all European vines. Available in limited quantities at Bleu Cellar in Naples for $29.99.

 

Mouthfeel, by Julie Glenn