It’s September; it’s back to school… and it’s not just for the kids. We’re hitting the books too! We’re offering you a well-rounded education and a crash course in geography with this month’s Pick 24. Don’t even think about skipping, or putting your head down on the desk, this is one class you want to take and unlike polynomials and quadratic equations, you’ll actually find this information handy… and for nothing but pure enjoyment! So sit up straight, put the spit-balls away, be the teacher’s pet for the next few minutes, and supplement your college knowledge with V&T’s practical version of Back to School.
The Spanish Indecision…
We start in Spain in the area of Rioja, (pronounced “ree-OH-hah”) a dynamic wine producing region 100 miles north of Madrid where the Tempranillo (“tem-prah-NEE-yoh”) grape is king and where the mountains dictate the grape’s, aka the wine’s characteristics. Bodegas Lan Rioja Crianza 2006 reflects the area’s rugged characteristics in the form of bright cherry fruit flavors and its critical acclaim at receiving spot #44 in Wine Spectator’s Top 100 list of 2010. A little farther to the west is the area of Rueda. It is closer to the Atlantic so it is maritime conditions, rather than mountains that influence the wines. The cooling effects of the ocean and the local soils rich in lime and iron make this region ripe for the production of high quality whites such as Oro De Castilla Solo Verdejo 2011 whose fresh minerality recalls the very best of Sauvignon Blanc from the Loire. Continuing further north and west to the coast is our next A+region in Spain, the Rías Baixas (REE-ahs BAH-shas), which is the only white wine region in Spain. Here in the granite soil the Albariño (pronounced “ahl-bah-REEN-yoh”) grape is queen and Columna Albariño 2010 is the wine to turn to when serving classic Mediterranean seafood dishes, sushi, or Indian and Thai cuisines. Three areas of Spain producing three completely different wines; it would not be a heresy to love all three.
Regions of Independence – not all cool climates in California are created equal.
California’s Central Coast has a cool climate and the vine ripening process here is substantially slower giving the grapes extra “hang time” on the vine. We hold this truth to be self-evident, but how does this make a difference to the flavor profile? Raise your hand if you know. Answer: it makes it “Juicy!” The extra time on the vine creates concentrated fruit weight in the mid-palate – a density in the center of the flavor profile. Following this Law of Nature is the Hannah Nicole Cabernet Franc 2010 as it is chock-full of mouth filling, deep black cherry flavors.
Carneros is at the southern end of the cool Napa and Sonoma Valleys where there is less fog, but the wind is the key influencer and what makes this area renown for the production of exceptional Pinot Noirs. In the high wind, the underside of the vine leaf shuts down in order to retain moisture and it stops metabolizing… sugars stop rising and acid is retained resulting in a unique signature ‘strawberry-like’ fruitiness; witness Saintsbury Pinot Noir with its soft, spicy red berry fruit aromas.
Compare this to what is coming out of St. Helena AVA of Napa which has a ‘warmer’ cool climate, less fog and less wind due to the greater protection from the western hills: a beautiful grapefruit and lime Sauvignon Blanc 2011 and a chocolate covered cherry Merlot 2009 from the Charles Krug winery. Both of which will assist in to your unalienable right to pursue Happiness.
French Class…flash-card memorization
We’ll spare you the Viva la’ France version of French wine, as you could stack all that has been written on the subject and it would stand taller than anything Monsieur Eiffel ever built. Rather let’s do this in flash cards… French wines are classified not only by - flash- geography but also by – flash - grape varietal. So just memorize your grape varietal to a location on the map and you’ll know what you’re drinking. End of lesson. Ok, for those of you who want a little extra credit… Bordeaux wine is usually a blend of several grapes but there is always one primary varietal. To keep things simple we’ll split Bordeaux into two areas separated by the Girond River. Repeat after me, “The left bank is known for Cabs; the right bank is fit for Merlot.” From the right bank comes Château Lescalle 2006, a Merlot blend; and for your homework, you are to open a bottle and write 100 times “The left bank is known…etc…
Very good, now applying the same methodology further south and east along the Rhone River Valley, most Rhone wines are blends but the North is dominated by the Syrah grape, famous for their strength, complexity and intensity of fruit. The south, a hotter rockier climate, serves up some of the most robust Grenache you’ll find, and that pair easily with food such as pizza, kebabs, roasted meats and salads. Two such Southern Rhone splendors are Domaine Rouge-Bleu Mistral and Château Pesquie Terrasses Rouge 2010, which get an A in our book. End of lesson.
Taboo…Mama Mia, you can’t teach that in class!
Like banned books that reveal controversial moral subjects there is always something that is off limits and just a little too risqué to be discussed in the classroom. Hence, we’ll have to call recess and let you spend a little time with our street smart, presumably ne’er-do-well, class rebel and get his take on this last subject.
Before we ring the bell here is your official Italian wine lesson: The Veneto wine region is… Does Anyone know? in the north-eastern corner of Italy, protected from… What? Class?… the harsh northern European climate by the Alps and well suited for… Anyone? …white wines. Travel further south, centered on Rome is Lazio where the famous grape is… Anyone? Anyone? Monte-pul-ciano.
Now exit the school and move into the school yard with our class rebel. So this is what our little dissident would say: “Dude, choose a red from the Veneto region… the ripasso Valpolicella, Tedeschi Capitel San Rocco 2009; it has structure and with 13.5% alcohol is equally great chilled or at room temperature – convenient, eh? And as far as the Roman goes, the real red stars of the Lazio wine region are Merlot and Cab, and so like Aerosmith in “Devil’s Got a New Disguise” all this rock n’ roller has to say is If You See Kay…
Principle’s Disclaimer: If You See Kay is a 2010 Red Blend wine. If you thought you heard differently, the Mondegreen, the mishearing or misinterpretation of a phrase to create a double meaning, was first used in James Joyce’s 1922 novel Ulysses and now Vintage Point turns up the volume again with this bold, seductive, adventurous packaging and wine style that is aimed squarely at today’s young, irreverent wine drinkers.
“Oh man, I think the clock is slow” “I don’t feel tardy”