Archive for November, 2011

If it’s Thursday, it’s Beaujolais Nouveau

November 19, 2011 Leave a comment

It’s the third Thursday in November, which means Thanksgiving is near and Beaujolais Nouveau is here.

It’s hard to miss notice of the arrival of Beaujolais Nouveau, the vin de primeur that French law says can only be released at 12:01 a.m. on the third Thursday of November, and so renown it has its own coming out parties, sort of a Fat Tuesday (on the third Thursday of November) for wine.

Noting the success Beaujolais Nouveau producers have had with their up-front “How do you like me so far?” introduction, other wine regions now have similar introductory celebrations but none have enjoyed the mystique or international popularity of Beaujolais Nouveau.

Much of that you may lay at the feet of one Georges DuBoeuf, the French wine producer whose fertile mind first conceived of selling the mass markets on a young, fruity wine that’s both affordable and fun to drink.

DuBoeuf , now 78, is a French farm boy who grew up to be one of his country’s largest wine producers, annually shipping out to 120 countries about 30 million bottles of wine with his name on them. And while he’s not the only Beaujolais on the market, his is the best-selling brand in the U.S.

And that’s saying a lot, considering it’s estimated 65 million bottles of Nouveau will be consumed this year plus the Beaujolais Crus, which won’t appear for another year. Nouveau means new, which means young, which means these grapes were picked in early September and in your glass by mid-November.

Beaujolais Nouveau originally was made to serve the harvest workers at the end of harvest, not simply to celebrate but to give them a literal taste of their efforts. To do so, it had to be made quickly so the grapes are not fermented in the traditional style but rather using whole-berry carbonic maceration. No crushing; simply pour the grapes into whatever fermenter you’re using and let the juice ferment inside the berries.

The juice is put in tanks briefly to finish (today it’s stainless steel, wood is to slow and too costly) and soon you have Beaujolais Nouveau. Light, fruity, with just enough tannic structure to add a comfortable edge to all that fruit.

DuBoeuf says this year’s Beaujolais Nouveau “2011 will be a great millésime in Beaujolais – complex, serious, solid and rich in delicious flavors. There is something divine about it.”

He’s said something similar about the last few vintages but he insists this one is better than the previous releases.

“After having tasted several hundred samples of the wine, I am astounded by this terrific vintage,” DuBoeuf said in a statement. “It looks like it will top every excellent year in the Beaujolais wine hall of fame.”

Maybe it’s climate change, maybe it’s just the nature of the Gamay grape, but millions of Beaujolais Nouveau drinkers will again prove him right.

The wine is available just about everywhere, and for $10 it’s a good choice to decorate your Thanksgiving table.

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Holding out hope that Prosecco won’t change (more)

November 15, 2011 Leave a comment

OMG, I’m so torn about this: According to some friends in Italy, Wine Enthusiast magazine has dubbed that country’s lovely Prosecco DOC as that fish wrapper’s magazine’s “Wine Region of the Year.”

Can you say “kiss of death”?

Don’t get me wrong, I love Prosecco. I enjoy savoring it, I admire, respect and appreciate the people who grow, make and supply us Prosecco and I don’t even mind too much someone bestowing another of the never-ending Italian DOC classifications on the area. I even order it in restaurant, just to see how many wine stewards are aware that Italy, too, makes a lovely sparkling wine.

But hearing that noise of WE jumping on the Prosecco bandwagon (where have you people been all this time?) only makes me wonder what the future holds for Prosecco in general.

Some people consider this announcement a great thing for Prosecco, and maybe if I were a advertising type I would also. A press release today (Tuesday) says the award will be bestowed Jan. 30 in New York City, but already the Italian apparatchiks are basking in the heat-ray glow of Prosecco’s newly bestowed fame.

Here’s what the Italians are saying (and saying and saying):

“The Wine Enthusiast’s award provides recognition for the hard work of a small community made up of 15 communes in the hilly area between Conegliano and Valdobbiadene, where the people have shown constant faith in a single wine, Prosecco,” said Innocente Nardi, president of the Conegliano Valdobbiadene Prosecco Superiore D.O.C.G. “This area still has an important role today in setting quality standards. Here, in fact, quality reaches its utmost expression, as is also demonstrated by the excellent results obtained in the Italian wine guides, which have bestowed their highest accolades on some of our wines.”

And wait, that’s not all:

Fulvio Brunetta, president of the Prosecco D.O.C., gushed, “Obtaining this award bears witness to the correctness of the choices we have made. The reasons for the prize, in fact, can be ascribed to the ability of the production system to take courageous decisions like those of limiting the production area and raising quality standards, in the knowledge that to compete on international markets one has to be able to offer volumes that are consonant with the demand”.

Hmmm. Sorry, Fulvio, but I thought you guys jumped on the DOC train because other producers outside the area were “offering volumes (of Prosecco) that are consonant with the demand.”

You know, sometimes not getting high numbers or international recognition might be good, if for no other reason it allows winemakers to continue to make their wines as they have for years, rather than stumble trying to meet someone else’s expectations. Or trying to meet a rising demand. A rising tide might mean a tsunami, you know.

My friend The Italian Wine Guy has blogged/written about this a couple of times and if I can find the links I’ll post them here.

In the mean time, “Congratulazione, Prosceco, e megliori auguri.”

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Heading into the holidays with winter wines

November 14, 2011 Leave a comment

Suddenly November is half over and winter wines are transitioning to dominate dinner tables and wine bars. Winter wines, those medium to full-bodied, rich reds (and whites, if you find the right ones) that stand up to the hearty stews and meat-centric dishes of the dark season.

Here is a mixed list of a few of my latest, all of which would find balance on any Thanksgiving table:

Plum Creek Cellars Palisade Red – a well-done blend of cabernet sauvignon, merlot, cabernet franc and sangiovese. As are all Plum Creek wines, this is 100 percent Colorado grown fruit.A medium-bodied red wine, soft tannins and lots of fruit. A friend and I enjoyed it at Inari’s Bistro (970.464.4911) in Palisade along with items off the new fall menu: a lamb burger and a Colorado Red Bird chicken breast with Palisade pears in gorgonzola sauce. It paired very well with the medium-rare lamb. $24 off the wine list.

Montinore Estate Reserve Pinot Noir

Hermosa Vineyards late Harvest Rkatsiteli – Hermosa Vineyards owner Ken Dunn enjoys aging some of his white wines in oak (“I love what a little tannin does to white wine,” he affirmed) but missed the opportunity and happily so with this 2006 Rkatsiteli, a cold-hardy white grape from Georgia (think Soviet Union, not Atlanta). This wine is fermented to off-dry (he says sweet) with enough acidity to balance the high residual sugar. $15 at the winery.

Bennett Lane 2006 Maximus Napa Valley – This latest version of winemaker Grant Hermann’s full-throated red (it’s subtitled “Red Feasting Wine”) initially was dense, closed and awfully tight, refusing to show its flavors and depth, when first opened. I kept it open on the counter overnight and the next evening it began to open; by the third day it finally was approachable and I wish I had decanted the whole thing earlier. Full of deep dark fruits, a hint of chocolate and coffee encased in soft tannins. Knock out your holiday guests with this blend of 65% Cabernet Sauvignon, 20% Merlot, 10% Syrah, and 5% Malbec. A bargain at $35.

Montinore Estate 2009 Willamete Valley Pinot Noir – Affordable pinot noirs generally have been a real disappointment recently but this delicious medium-bodied selection from Montinore Estate is rich with ripe cherries, red raspberries and plums with a hint of spice and mocha. $20.

Montinore Estate 2009 Estate Reserve Pinot Noir – Oregon’s Willamette Valley steadily produces outstanding pinot noirs and this offering from Montinore Estate is an outstanding example. Flavors of bright red and black raspberries, Bing cherries, red plums and spicy-mocha comfortably supported by smooth round tannins. $28.

El Coto Rioja – This DOC crianza (two years aging, at least six months in oak) is reminiscent of the fine and very affordable reds I sampled on a whirlwind tour of Rioja this summer. Aged in American oak for added spice, the wine’s chewy tannins and red fruit flavors paired well with a pot of chicken-tortilla soup. $14.

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Parker makes call on the future of wine

November 9, 2011 Leave a comment

Well-known wine critic Robert Parker, speaking this week at Wine Future Hong Kong 2011, foresees the steady decline in corks as wine stoppers, the continued rise of Spain as a key wine-producing country and bidding wars becoming common-place for the higher-echelon, collectible wines.

The much-heralded Parker, who might have as many fans as he has detractors in the wine world, played his role as Oracle to the hilt. Among his other predictions: The “total collapse” of the three-tier distribution system in the U.S.; the mainstreaming of wine-oriented online sites; France getting squeezed by the globalization of the world wine market; unoaked wines will continue to grow in popularity (this from Parker??); and “once-backwater Italian viticultural areas such as Umbria, Campania, Basilicata and the islands of Sicily and Sardinia will become household names by 2015.”

Read the rest of his predictions here.

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Oh, Susannah, you’re so right

November 8, 2011 Leave a comment

Where now, Italy? The national economy is in turmoil, the politics are in turmoil, the future of the euro is in turmoil.
Sadly, Italians – sincere, hardworking, always eager to share their joy in life – are watching their country become the laughingstock of the Eurozone.
Perhaps Susannah says it best: “the times they are a-changin’.”

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Tackling a grape even the winemaker doesn’t like

November 5, 2011 Leave a comment

Ken Dunn laughs when you ask him about rkatsiteli, the curious white grape he grows in his Hermosa Vineyards on East Orchard Mesa.
He pours a glass of the pale-gold wine but refrains from one himself.
“I’m not a big fan of rkatsiteli,” he says with a shrug, happily admitting he prefers red wine. “I can’t stand it but the customers seem to like it.”
A bit of a lukewarm endorsement for this ancient grape whose roots go back more than 3,000 years to ancient Greece.
It’s a cold-hardy varietal, popular in the Northeast and a subject of speculation in California and Colorado, where some winemakers are looking at winter-hardy grapes to replace the popular but less cold-tolerant vinifera grapes such as cabernet sauvignon, cabernet franc and merlot.
In spite of his antipathy, Dunn makes a delightful rkatsiteli wine, with floral notes on the nose and hints of almonds, dried fruit and herbs and a bit of spice on the tongue.
It’s reminiscent of gewurtztraminer and viognier, two other floral-spicy varietals Dunn grows among the 17 he has scattered across his two vineyards east of Grand Junction,Co.

Winemaker Ken Dunn of Hermosa Vineyards shows a 12-gallon oak barrel of cabernet franc, the sum of his 2010 vintage which was limited by the vine-killing deep freeze of late 2009.

His latest rkatsiteli is the 2006 vintage ($15) vinified to what I guessed was off-dry (Dunn patiently insisted it’s closer to the sweet level) to balance the grape’s natural high acidity.
According to the Oxford Companion to Wine, rkatsiteli was the most planted grape variety in the pre-break-up Soviet Union and once may have been the most-common white wine grape in the world. It’s also found in China, where it’s known as baiyu.
So why does Dunn have rkatsiteli?
“When we first planted this (in 1993), we weren’t sure what would grow here,” he said, leaning comfortably against the well-polished bar in his cozy tasting room that doubles as his winery and barrel storage off C Road. “That’s why we have 17 varietals.”
For the first eight years or so he supplied grapes to commercial and home winemakers but that changed abruptly shortly before the 2001 harvest.
“Two days before harvest I called the guy who was to buy my grapes and he said, ‘Oh, I forgot to tell you, I can’t take them this year,” Dunn said with a laugh and shake of his head. “I didn’t have much choice. Two days later, my (application for a winemaker’s license) was in the mail.”
The grapes needed to be picked, so Dunn picked and crushed the grapes and stored the wines “in every used chest freezer I could get my hands one.”
When his license finally arrived in late December, it was in time for that frozen juice to become Hermosa Vineyards’ 2001 and first-ever vintage.
The years haven’t all been easy. He dodged complete destruction during the vine-killing deep freeze of Dec. 2009 but the damage was enough there wasn’t much hanging for the 2010 vintage.
“That’s it, all of it,” said Dunn, pointing at a small oak cask of cabernet franc perched atop two of the regular-sized 60-gallon barrels lining the walls of the converted garage. “Twelve cases plus three gallons.”
He laughed again, as if amazed at the good fortune that allows him to make and sell good wines, even in the years when nature isn’t cooperative.
“There are a lot worse ways to spend your time,” he said.

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