Monday, September 13, 2021

Chateau Saint-Sulpice Red Bordeaux

Last week we got in a case of the 2018 Saint-Sulpice Red Bordeaux.  We had tasted it the previous week and were so impressed we jumped on it.  Sulpice is classy in the way only Bordeaux can be.  Its birthright endows it with a credibility the new world can only dream of.

Saint-Sulpice is located near the village of the same name, more or less equidistant between the town of Bordeaux and the hallowed Saint Emilion district.  The area Sulpice calls home is Entre-Deux-Mer which means "between two oceans" and refers in this case to the Dordogne and Garonne Rivers.  It's a sizable wine growing region that is sadly undistinguished for its reds.  The Entre-Deux-Mer name actually only applies legally to the white wines of the region.  

Reds from this region are either considered to be generic Bordeaux or, if the quality merits it, Bordeaux Superior.  Yields must be lower and sugars higher to get the Superior label.  Our Chateau Sulpice is simply labeled "Bordeaux."

Saint Emilion is home to the finest (and most expensive) Merlot on the planet.  A typical blend of the region would include 60%+ Merlot with Cabernet Franc as a secondary grape.  Saint-Sulpice, located just south of Saint Emilion, is 75% Merlot, 15% Cabernet Sauvignon and 10% Malbec.

Chateau Saint-Sulpice is owned and operated by the Duberge family who have invested in modern temperature controlled stainless steel tanks while maintaining hand harvesting and other traditional winemaking efforts.  They believe their efforts reflect the style of the classified growths.  

Duberge's Sulpice contrasts with the great Cabernet-based wines of the Medoc.  The local Entre-Deux-Mer microclimate offers an extended growing season resulting in a softer fruitier style wine.  In fact, the wine displays typical right bank fruit/spice complexity and balance wrapped in a ruby red color.  One commentator called it "ripe black fruit, plums, toast, spices and a rich, smooth and soft finish."

Friday, September 3, 2021

Tail Gate Red

 Dateline: Gainesville, Georgia; September 1, 2021; 12:15pm

Text of phone call:

Georgia Winery: Hello, Georgia Winery, this is ______ speaking.

Me: Hi, I'm Don Waara.  I'm a retailer in Gainesville and I'm also a blogger.  I just bought a case of Tail Gate Red and I'd like to write about it.  Can I speak to someone about the wine?

GW: I can help you.  There isn't much to say about it really.  It's sweet red wine.

Me: What else can you tell me?

GW: It's very popular.  We sell a lot of it.

Me: What else?

GW: Just a minute I'll get the bottle.

Me: (Thinking - Didn't I just say I bought a case of the stuff?)

GW: (Proceeds to read the label to me as I look at it myself.)

Me: Please don't take this the wrong way.  Is there anyone else there I could talk to?

GW: Just a minute. (talking in the background)  It's mostly Concord grape with some De Chaunac.

Me: I'm not familiar with De Chaunac.  

GW: There's just a splash of it in there.

Me: Is the winemaker available?

GW: He's too busy.

Me: What about your website.  More information there?

GW: You can look.

Me: My problem is I try to string together four or five paragraphs in my posts.

GW: You won't get that.  It's sweet red wine. 

Me: What about residual sugar?  We all judge sweetness differently.  Do you have the percentage of sugar in the wine?

GW: Wait a minute.  (more background talking)  The wine goes with milk chocolate.  And you serve it cold.  And it tastes like Welch's grape juice.

Me: Thanks for your time.

Thursday, August 26, 2021

Chilean Pinot Noir

Let's cut to the chase.  We all know how good Chile's everyday wines are.  You name it, whatever grape variety you like, they are all more than decent as everyday fare. 

But what's better than the everyday stuff from Chile?  Well, Carmenere for sure.  But we're a pinot guy.  And we're downright snobbish about it.   Good pinot is fine, thank you very much, but great pinot is truly exceptional; that is, if you concede that ninety percent of pinots on the market are disappointing, which is why when you get a good one, it's memorable.  How's that for circular logic in a run-on sentence!

So we started this post thinking, if everyday Chilean pinot is as good as it is, just how good could the superior stuff be?  And why haven't we tasted any of the super-duper stuff that we assume is out there?  Are the locals holding it back for themselves?

In fact we have tasted higher tiered pinots from Chile in the past and they haven't been anything to write home about.  Pinot Noir was a latecomer to the Chilean wine scene and it is very much a work in progress.  The changes that are now happening there reflect the difference between Chile and say, California, which seems content to supplement ordinary pinot juice with a goodly dollop of Syrah and then marketing it as superior. 

What Chile is in the process of doing is reassessing clonal varieties of Pinot Noir, searching out cooler microclimates and reducing yields, all in an effort to drive quality up.  

If you look at the Chilean wine map there is no set pinot appellation.  it's not like Oregon.  Pinot is everywhere up and down that ribbon of a country and that actually explains a great deal.  Chile is bordered on the left by the Pacific Ocean and the right by the Andes.  That framework serves to moderate vineyard temperatures greatly.  Now all they need to do is fine tune things a bit.

(Having the right volcanic soils doesn't hurt either.)

Yesterday we ordered the Vina Leyda Lot 21 Pinot Noir.  It was on a short list of high quality pinots.  Vina Leyda is located in the Leyda Valley, a sub-district of the San Antonio appellation fifty miles to the west of capitol city Santiago.  The Leyda Valley is formed by the Acongagua River which extends from the Andes to the Pacific Ocean.  During the day the vineyards are cooled by the ocean breezes while at night the cold water from the Andes does likewise.

Vina Leyda markets a lower tier Pinot that also gets high marks from the critics.  What separates the Lot 21 from the regular pinot is the human element.  Not only are the grapes hand-harvested (not a minor task in itself) but then those grapes are de-stemmed and further pared down bunch by bunch on the winery sorting table.

Sixty percent of the berries get a soft crush, the rest are fermented as whole berries after a six day maceration.  During the seven day fermentation the mass is punched down 3-4 times a day.  The wine is then aged ten months in French oak with malolactic fermentation before its release.

We can hardly wait to taste this one.

Wednesday, August 18, 2021

Champagne Alternatives

Cheap sparkling wines are fine.  They may even be surprisingly decent.  So we got nothin' against 'em.  But the good stuff is a-l-w-a-y-s so much better.

That said, with real French Champagne starting at forty dollars a bottle, unless it's a special occasion, I'm of a mind to look for one of those higher quality alternatives that approximates the real stuff.

This kind of search for me usually starts with Spanish Cava where they have a certain earthy sparkling wine savoriness down pat.  That savory character is something we really like.  In recent years if we want something a cut above regular Cava we have learned to look for terms like Reserva or Gran Reserva on the label.  Now we have it that the term Paraje Calificado is even more to be desired.  It is a single vineyard Cava.  Now that's special!

Real French Champagne of course comes from a delimited region in northern France and that in a nutshell is why the stuff is so expensive.  Cremants are French sparklers from outside of that district.  Those from the Loire Valley, Burgundy and Alsace share a similar northern climate essential for high quality sparkling wine acidity.  These three can even show the same almond and toast savoriness essential to real Champagne.

Italy's champagne-approximate is called Metodo Classique and unsurprisingly the three exemplars are all from the northern portion of that country.  Milan's Franciacorta along with Trento and Oltrepo Pavese are all from Lombardy and they too offer the almond and toast of real Champagne.  Millesimato and Riserva are key label words to look for on those labels.

As you might expect the new world is abuzz with their own very special sparklers.  South Africa is known for their white wines and Cap Classique is what they call their premier sparklers.  Napa and Sonoma offer up some of America's best sparklers but for true value look to New Mexico. 

Before we wrap up this post two regions need special mention.  With the planet warming England has become the exciting new frontier for champagne quality sparklers.  They are supposed to be quite good...but pricey.  Finally the French Limoux region deserves a nod here also.  After all, Limoux is where it all began.  They were making sparkling wine a hundred years before Champagne and they still make a fine product at a bargain price.  So check out a Limoux!  

And New Mexico!  And Cava!  And...

Friday, August 6, 2021

Champagne & Fried Chicken

First off, let's credit for the inspiration for this post.  Check 'em out if you like real straight forward, down to earth wine info. 

That said, we've known for some time about the magic of sparkling wines with heavy greasy foods.  Think about it - What do you need when your mouth is coated with the kind of stuff your doctor warns you against?  You need a palate cleanser, if for no other reason than to atone for your sins before ingesting the next mouthful.  So it's redemptive.  Which sheds light on the value of including champagne on holidays in general.

But we digress. Back to business...  

What do you have in fried chicken that lends itself to champagne?  You have oil, salt, and fat.  We're in the cheese business here so we have explicit knowledge of salt, fat and oiliness in cheeses.  Acidity and effervescence are the perfect chaser for a mouthful of this kind of licentious love.

Complementary flavors are always nice too.  If you perceive your meal to be fruity in character try an Italian Prosecco.  If you want to go upscale in this vein, just avoid any sparkler labelled brut.  If your chicken is spicy, try a rose sparkler.  If it's extra spicy and you're expecting gustatory carnage, get a darker rose or a sparkling red.  But if your bird is more or less standard issue, Spanish Cava at the low end pricewise is always to be recommended.  Any brut cremant in the intermediate price ranges would work also and of course, if the occasion warrants it, real French Champagne.  

Hell, if you're serving a few people get a couple of bottles and drink the first one before getting into the bird!

Friday, July 30, 2021

Nino Negri Quadrio

Quadrio. Nino Negri Quadrio.  Or Nino Negri Quadrio Valtellina Superiore.  However you choose to identify it, this one is special.  Just a week ago the Fredrick Wildman rep was here tasting me on a few from his massive portfolio when I asked, "What's the best bang for your buck in your book?"  I expected nothing.  After all, these guys are paid to sell what they are paid to sell.  To my surprise he said, "Quadrio."

He went on to say the wine was a Nebbiolo-based red sourced from the slopes of the Alps in Lombardy of north central Italy.  He also said it shared much of the same character of similar wines from the nearby Piedmont region, the finest wine region of Italy.

The Nino Negri estate in Valtellina, Lombardy, Italy was established in 1897.  Prior to that establishment, the property was called Castello Quadrio di Chiura after a fifteenth century castle there.  Hence the current name, Quadrio.  The old castle now houses the company and the winery.

Lombardy has a thousand year history with the Nebbiolo grape, reason enough to expect quality there.  Nino Negri has four hundred acres under their control and a star winemaker in Casimiro Maule, the Gambero Rosso 2007 Italian Winemaker of the Year.

DOCG reds from Lombardy must be 90% Nebbiolo by law.  Quadrio is not a DOCG wine yet maintains that 90%.  If it were a DOCG you could bet its moderate price would be a several dollars higher.  

Quadrio spends twenty months in Slavonian oak, then four months in the bottle before it is released.  It exhibits a nose of dark berry fruit and baking spice with licorice and mint.  On the palate it shows the same flavors sheathed in a smooth and savory body with fine grippy tannins leading to a long dry finish.  The licorice and berry flavors linger to the very end.

Friday, July 23, 2021

Galea Sangria

We got to taste the wines of Galea of Spain a couple months ago.  The dry red dinner wines were great but a little too dry for local tastes.  The Sangrias, on the other hand, were true charmers.  Not only were they yummy on the palate but their crock-looking packaging practically screams, "Buy me!"

When you consider what passes for Sangria in the chain stores, offering Galea here was a definite no brainer.  It shouldn't even be considered to be in the same category as the mass marketed concoctions.  Galea uses legitimate certified organic vinifera wine grapes made in a less sweet style than the average marketplace plonk.  It even tastes fresh.

Galea Red is sourced from the Barcelona region.  The blend is Tempranillo-based with Merlot and Syrah.  It is organic, as we have already said, with dominant natural orange and cassis flavors.  And as you would expect, it is frizzante.

The white uses the historic grapes of Cava; Xarello, Macabeu and Parellada; sourced from Catalonia. The added flavors include passion fruit and citrus.  It tastes like white peaches.  Between the wine grapes, fruit and effervescence, this one is a real palate cleanser.

The rose features Tempranillo and Bobal grapes with tangerine and lemon and a little vanilla flavoring added.  This one is somewhat candied in character and seems less dry than the others.

All three Sangrias are 7% alcohol.  The red is recommended to be served with an orange and basil garnish.  Both the white and rose are recommended served over ice; the white with berries, lime and fresh mint; the rose, with a lemon twist and strawberries.