Filtering by Tag: wine

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.

“,” she built herself up.


“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 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 You can see more of my writing at, and can connect with me on Facebook and on Twitter @mouthfeeler.

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 You can see more of my writing at, and can connect with me on Facebook and on twitter @mouthfeeler.

a la Francaise

Coteaux d'Ancienis "Cour de Rohan" Gamay Rose 2012

Coteaux d'Ancienis "Cour de Rohan" Gamay Rose 2012

I don't know who invented rose wine, but I believe the French have been the first to give it a big ol' bear hug of acceptance. Ok, maybe a peck on the cheek- but that's huge love from the French. Provence (with its hot summers) is the epicenter of rose in France but it is everywhere- even Bordeaux (try Clarendelle from Chateau Haut Brion's second line @ $15-20- affordable awesomeness). 

For affordable French one must go to Loire, which is where we find Coteaux d'Ancienis Cour de Rohan. I don't know if the store I was at got a screaming deal on it or what, but I got it for $8.99. I am finding it on line for $12 ish. So I'm guessing my low price was not the usual. It's made from 100% Gamay grapes which makes it a pretty blu-ish pink color. Its strong color gives away the fact that it is a very powerful rose with tons of strawberry flavor and a bit of earthiness to soften its acidic punch. This one goes perfectly with salami, pates, and prosciutto- a.k.a. charcuterie. 

M. Plouzeau "Rive Gauche" Chinon Rose

M. Plouzeau "Rive Gauche" Chinon Rose

Next I went to Chinon which is in the Loire region as well to find the M. Plouzeau Chinon Rose "Rive Gauche." Chinon is the land of Cabernet Franc, and that is the grape employed for this bottle. It is light on the fruit, more young strawberry than jam and has a finish that reminds me of men's cologne. It is about 100 times more complex than the Gamay I tried earlier so would be better with first courses like pasta and peas, bean soups, or cooked seafood dishes. Of course, with a name like "Rive Gauche" it's made for parties Matisse or Hemingway would have frequented in the Parisian heyday celebrated by the term. Coming in at under $20 and organically made, it is worth a toast for sure.

Of course no discussion of French rose is complete without pointing to the cradle of French rose: Tavel in the Rhone.  You can hardly go wrong with any rose from Tavel. Grenache and Cinsault are the grapes here, and the wine is considered the "rose of kings" as it was the favorite of Louis the 14th. It was also the go-to wine for the papal court in nearby Chateauneuf du Pape.  

P.S. In France it is illegal to make rose by adding red wine to white (except in Champagne). It is always to be made in the saignee method which means they "bleed" off the juice from red grapes, varying the amount of time they allow the skins to remain in contact with the juice. Longer contact means more color, tannin, and tartness for the wine. Some grapes need little to no contact as they have so much going on in the pulp. Others need more as the "meat" of the grape doesn't yield so much flavor.



Rosato- Rose Italian Style

Rosato e Salumi

Rosato e Salumi

In Italy, Rose is called Rosato.  And because the world is finally waking up to this finer shade of wine there are more of these beauties gracing American wine store shelves. I found the Sicilian to the right in a cute little shop called Prima Vini in Walnut Creek, CA. The producer is Tenuta Delle Terre Nere and while the wine itself is great, the winemaker's description of why he made it made me love it even more. Check it out here. Spoiler: it's because his three year old daughter loves pink. Can there be a better reason to make a rosato?

The winery is near Mount Etna, the wine is organic, it's a D.O.C. wine (for more on that click here) , and it is salmony-pink made from Nerello Mascalese and Nerello Cappuccio grapes. Nerello Mascalese makes a super-tannic red wine due to its thick skins, and Nerello Cappuccio is a bit more velvety in its red incranation. They grow well together and play well together in the bottle as the Etna red wine. Made as the rosato (with the skins yanked out before they impart too much redness) these two grapes are just a delight. So easy to drink it could be dangerous.

Worth seeking out and worth the $23 price tag, it plays well with salumi (my favorite is Fra Mani which is becoming more and more widely available, much to my delight.)  The producer is Tenuta Delle Terre Nere and when the weather cools down I will definitely try their red wines.  

Tomorrow we go to France! Until then- drink your pink. 

Happy Rose Week!


Few things make wine nerds happier than an opportunity to chat up the awesomeness of Rose wine, and this is the week for loving Rose. I don't know who deemed this week to be a celebration of Rose, but I did notice that my fave blogger #grapefriend indicated thusly- also the wine shop at Walnut Creek, CA called Prima Vini had no less than an entire rack loaded with pinkness front and center.  I'll call that second-sourcing.  

In honor of this auspicious week, I'll show a new one every day.  This first one is a Pinot Noir rose from the Anderson Valley of California.  It comes from the boutique winery called Toulouse which is known for making pretty amazing Pinot Noir (the straight-up red version). Their rose is an excellent example of how much power is on the fleshy insides of this grape.  Pinot Noir is not known for having a thick skin to begin with, so toss it aside in the winemaking process for rose and you still have quite a bit of yum factor to work with. The former wine growers who started Toulouse in the early 2000's made 430 cases of the 2011.  It costs $20-24 a bottle.


Happy Fourth!

Let's drink to America's contribution to the wine world- This week's column looks at the history of wine in North America: from the days when Scandinavians called it "Wine Land" through Chateau Montelena Chardonnay's defeat of the French in 1976. 

Check it out Here. 

Chateau Montelena's Battle of Paris winning 1973 Chardonnay alongside the current 2010 release

Chateau Montelena's Battle of Paris winning 1973 Chardonnay alongside the current 2010 release

Mouthfeel, by Julie Glenn