Wilde About Rosso di Montalcino

D842E4C0-DC27-43C0-A951-6A130A7F7DAD“It is absurd to divide people into good and bad. People are either charming or tedious.” – Oscar Wilde

My daughter recently moved out on her own. I’m very excited for her. It’s an exciting time of life. In her words;

‘Little update on living on my own: 1. The neighborhood isn’t bad, but it’s just sketchy enough for me to feel on edge at night. My neighbors are a little odd. 2. Butter is expensive! 3. This transition feels really natural and I’m really, really happy about it!”

My daughter is charming!

Perhaps I am a wine snob, but I find over manipulated wines, the wines that are under $10 and taste like cough syrup, quite tedious. I won’t drink them even to be polite. And I’ll never tell a customer that I like it or even that it is a good wine. I’ll say it’s very fruit-forward, a crowd-pleaser, well-priced, but never that it’s charming.

Charming wines are fun, they’re interesting, they’re playful They have a lot to say and are vibrant on the palate.

Rosso di Montalcino, the younger sister of Brunello, is made from 100% Sangiovese and aged a short 12 months in neutral oak. From the Montalcino region of Tuscany, she is the light, bright version of her brooding older brother, Brunello.  Renieri’s Rosso di Montalcino is a charming wine! Plump with bright red fruit, and elegant savory notes, it is a playful, vibrant and harmonious wine.

It is absurd to divide wines into good and bad. Wines are either charming or tedious.

For the Glory of Grapes

“I’m thinking of going back to being a wine ass.” I texted a friend.

“Do you mean wine ass or wine assoc.?” he asked

“Both.” I said

The other day as I drove home from work I was listening to a woman on NPR explain why the new policy on overtime would hurt certain types of employees. “There are several jobs where people have management titles and duties but aren’t paid management wages.” “That’s me!” I shouted at the radio.

“It’s especially true in retail,” she continued

“Me again!” I said

“For example a front end supervisor.”

“And is her name Linda?!” I asked, expecting a direct answer.

Last year I agreed to go from selling wine to managing the front end, a promotion of sorts. Operations isn’t new to me. I was a retail manager for several years before I became a SAHM. And I thought being in the wine shop would be satisfying enough. I didn’t have to actually work with the wine I’ve come to realize that it’s not and I do. I miss talking to people about wine, teaching wine classes, merchandising wine… heck, I miss filling the bins. There’s something almost joyous about walking the aisles and knowing exactly where each wine should be because of its region. That’s what we study. That’s our wealth of information. It’s really why I re-entered the workforce, to be involved with wine.

For most of us jobs in wine don’t pay very much or bring us fame or glory. But these low level jobs satisfy a need, a passion. We are all in one way or another evangelists in the service of wine. It is all for the glory of grapes.

Spoofing and Truth in Labeling

My phone was recently spoofed, not hacked, but spoofed. That’s where a caller (aka criminal) uses my phone number, not my phone, just the number to send out those horrible robocalls. Your car warranty is about to expire, you owe the IRS hundreds of dollars, you didn’t call your brother on his birthday…wait, that one was mom. We all get them. We all hate them.

I was at the gym the other day when I got an angry call from a stranger living on the other side of the country in a place called Georgia. ‘Stop calling this G@# D@#4 number. Stop f@#$ing harassing me! I’m tired of all you G@# D@#$ M@#$%# F@#$^&$%.’ ‘But, sir, ‘ I tried to interject, ‘I’m just a middle-aged white woman listening to Taylor Swift while working out at a gym in Reno Nevada.’ I couldn’t get out the complete thought before he interrupted with some more choice language. To be honest, I’m with him 100% I hate those phone calls, too. I think they make us all a little angry. But the point is he was reaching out to the wrong person because the phone id was mislabeled.

Because wine production is regulated by the TTB, Alcohol and Tobacco Tax and Trade Bureau, under the department of Treasury rather than the FDA, Food and Drug Administration, under the Department of Health and Human Services, there is no truth in labeling. In other words, wine makers are not required to list the ingredients on their labels even though wine is, when at its best, a consumable product. All wine is grape juice and alcohol. But there are many other additives that may or may not be in the wine such as oak chips, egg whites (for fining), PVPP, ascorbic acid and many more which can be found on Alice Feiring’s website. And we will never know. Is that acid natural to the grape or was acid added to the wine? Did this wine undergo long maceration with very ripe fruit or did the wine maker add mega purple?

Karen McNeil’s rule of thumb is that if a bottle of wine is under $20 and has oaky aromas, they probably used oak chips rather than barrels. Those barrels are expensive! $20 is a good cut off for other expensive processes. Good fruit is expensive. Long hang time is expensive. In other words, a flavorful, well-structured, oaky wine for $7.99 is more than likely relying heavily on corrective additives. Is that a bad thing if you enjoy drinking the wine? At some point it stops tasting like wine and tastes more like a processed beverage. It loses it’s ‘interesting-ness’, it’s complexity, it’s depth, it’s character. A good wine taster can tell the difference between a pleasant beverage and and well-made wine.

While a spoofed wine doesn’t make me as mad as robocalls make my friend in Georgia, there’s some trickery to them that leaves me feeling duped and unsatisfied.

Albarino for Thanksgiving? Yes!

img_3851Albarino, the grape of the Rias Baixas region of Spain is not always a simple grape. It can be complex; it can be fruity, it can be earthy; it can even be sparkly!

In a live-stream Albarino tasting with snooth.com led by Lyn Farmer, a WSET educator and Albarino enthusiast, we tasted through five different, and I mean different, Albarinos. There was something for every food on the Thanksgiving table.

The Santiago Ruiz is a blend of mostly Albarino with some Loureiro, Treixadura, Godello and Caino Blanco. It is very fruity and floral with some nice citrus; a lively, aromatic wine that would pair well with root vegetables like carrots and parsnips. It would also go well with roast turkey.img_3854

Pazo Pondal is 100% Albarino and has an earthiness to it that gives it elegance. It is biodynamic, kosher and made from old vines. This wine would be fantastic with creamy soups and rich cheeses.

After tasting the Altos de Torona, 100% Albarino, I licked my lips and tasted fresh lemon and salt. This wine would be great with oysters and any creamy seafood dish.

For Black Friday brunch after shopping, Marques de Frias would be perfect, especially with a Spanish omelette or Linguisa. It would also go well with nuts and cheese.

img_3852But for something that pairs with everything on the holiday table, through the holiday week-end, the Sensum Laxas is perfect. It is a sparkling Albarino made in the traditional Champagne method with 9 months of lees aging. It’s salty froth bubbles up like sea foam full of citrus and yeast. Rias Baixas has been a DO since 1986. They have been making sparkling wines since the late 1990’s. What a treat! And it pairs well with roast turkey, green bean casserole, oysters, stuffing, and makes a great mimosa for Black Friday brunch.

“I never saw a moor. I never saw the sea. Yet know I how the heather looks, and what a wave must be.” – Emily Dickenson

img_3645We waited outside the Marcus Whitman hotel in Walla Walla Washington, having been separated into groups. It was a Wine Bloggers’ Conference dinner expedition. Each group was picked up by different cars. A caravan of 1950’s cars picked up one group. A caravan of limousines picked up the next group. Next we saw a late model, maybe 20 year old unmarked van pull up. That was our ride.

As we drove through winding roads and up hills further out into the country, there were some nervous jokes about perhaps we were being kidnapped. The young man driving the van assured us we were not being kidnapped. Then he introduced himself, Jason Fox, owner of Lagana Cellars. He was driving us out to his vineyards.

img_3664The outskirts of Walla Walla are still quite rural, true farmland. When we reached the Lagana Cellars vineyards we were awestruck by the beauty of the land, and greeted energetically by Heinie the vineyard dog.img_3647

Some writers believe passionately that they can only write about what they have seen and what they have experienced. The tactile, physical details must be experienced in order to be recorded. Some writers believe passionately that writing requires empathy; the ability to understand the experience of another without actually experiencing it themselves. Does imagining lead to inaccuracies? Are they justifiable inaccuracies? Or in order to write well, should one be tied only to his or her own experiences?

img_3671After visiting the vineyard we were whisked away by our hospitable kidnappers to a Lagana wine dinner which opened with a butternut squash bread salad paired with Lagana Sagemoor Vineyard Roussanne that was floral and round and perfect with the salad. Our entree was steak au poivre paired with the Breezy Slope Vineyard Pinot Noir. Pairing a Pinot with a steak is a bold choice, but the Pinot was bold and ripe with enough structure to stand up to the steak. Dessert was really elegant, a cheese plate served with Seven Hills Vineyard Cabernet Franc, a Franc with all the inorganic earthiness you’d expect from Washington state.img_3675

Jason Fox fell in love with wine after a taste of 2005 Chateau La Croix de Gay Pomerol and moved out to Walla Walla to study enology. After learning and working as a winemaker, he has opened his own winery. The courage and the passion that must take is incredibly admirable. He cannot know all the details of what he must do. There’s a certain faith, a certain element of imagination required and yet, there is a lot of tactile knowledge and experience required. Good wine making, like good writing takes both actual experience and deep imagination.

Lugana, a Lovely White Wine

Near the banks of Lake Garda along the 100 mile coastline in both the Veneto and Lombardy regions of northern Italy grows a grape that is not terribly well-known.  There are so many grapes grown in Italy, they can’t all be famous. Everyone knows Pinot Grigio, the distant relative of Pinot Noir. Many have heard of Trebbiano di Soave of the Veneto region and Verdicchio of the Marche region. But not many have heard of Turbiano. It is related to both Trebbiano di Soave and Verdicchio di Marche and makes up 95% of the vineyards of Lugana along the banks of Lake Garda.

A young Turbiano has a lively acidity with aromas of orange, almond, herbs and spice. The flavors will change as it ages. Yes, it can age. After two years of aging, the Lugana Riserva takes on more pronounced spicy characteristics. The late harvest Lugana has more candied fruit flavors. The sparkling Lugana is very floral.

From the young to the aged to the spumante, Lugana wines are crisp, vibrant and complex; a symphony of citrus with varying degrees of spice, dried fruit and floral notes.

In Defense of Sherry

Founded in 1896, Bodegas Lustau of Jerez de la Frontera Spain is on a mission. That mission is to bring a knowledge and love of Sherry to the world. Part of their mission implementation is a traveling Sherry certification program. From the outset the message was clear; Sherry comes in many styles and is meant to be enjoyed with many types of food.

Sherry can be made from three types of grapes, Palomino, Moscatel and Pedro Ximenez. But 95% of sherry is made from Palomino grapes. All sherry must be produced in the Andalusian region of Spain, specifically in the sherry triangle where it is fractionally blended in a solera system. Because of this, a vintage sherry is very rare. Most sherries are blends of many vintages.

It is really the aging process that gives sherry its character. A sherry wine can be aged biologically or oxidatively. The biologically aged sherries, Fino and Manzanilla, are aged without oxygen under a blanket of a native yeast called flor. The flor yeast consumes oxygen, alcohol, sugar, acid, and glycerin. It eats everything! This is what makes the Fino and Manzanilla sherries so very dry and acidic. And it is the very crisp acidity that makes these wines so food friendly. Fino and Manzanilla will be aged for an average of five years often near the sea, so they will take on salty aromas. That along with the almond flavor that comes from the acetaldehydes that are produced during biological aging give these wines a very distinctive flavor that pairs really well with seafood and cold soups.

Oloroso is aged oxidatively, that is without the flor yeast and with oxygen. These wines will be aged an average of 12 years, long enough to develop rich, nutty flavors that pair well with roasted meats and rich soups.

There are hybrid Sherries, that is Sherries that begin with biological aging and then undergo oxidative aging. They are aged an average of 8 years. These wines, Amontillado and Palo Cortado, are both acidic and rich. They pair well with Asian foods, grilled meats and risottos.

Then there are the sweet Sherries; pale, medium, cream and Pedro Ximenez. Pedro or PX is made from dried grapes, that gives it an extra rich intensity. All these Sherries are blended with sweet wine and are great with desserts, figs, walnuts, ice-cream and chocolate.

It really is quite a range from the very driest to the very sweetest wine; from very acidic to very rich. None of these wines are light. They are all fortified, that is, grape-based spirits are added to the wine. The alcohol by volume level of Sherry ranges from 15% to 22% . Because of fortification, most Sherries will keep in the bottle after it is open. For Oloroso it will last for three months after opening. For Pedro Ximenez, it will still be great one year after opening. Fino and Manzanilla are more delicate and should be consumed within a few days of opening the bottle.

Sherry is not just one wine. It is many wines and many different styles. It is meant to be enjoyed with many different foods and can pair with each course of the meal.