Tuesday, October 15, 2019

Mimolette

Mimolette is one of our most popular cheeses here at the store.  For the uninitiated it's appearance is what intrigues us.  It's round, for one thing.  Why that is is something I will never understand.  Imagine trying to cut into a bowling ball!

 If it's aged, Mimolette resembles a cantaloupe, complete with pockmarks from the mites that are used to aerate the interior of the cheese.  Yes, you read that correctly.  Bugs are used to burrow through the rind of the cheese to provide fresh air into the interior and that action is what gives the cheese its mellow nuttiness.

That is also why the FDA banned the cheese for a number of years because bugs burrowing into cheese to be fed to Americans just didn't seem right.  Specifically, the concern had to do with an allergic reaction to the mites.  No such reactions in Europe were ever in evidence.

"Mi-mou" is French for "semi-soft" and young Mimolette is semi-soft in texture, creamy and light in color.  Its flavor is Parmesan-like.  With age the cheese turns more orange and hardens.  With a lot of age Mimolette becomes very dry, hard and brown.  It's flavor seems to sweeten with age but surprisingly it's hazelnut flavor never becomes strong.

Most Mimolette is some shade of orange in color and that is due to the natural dye, Annato, that is used to color the cheese, which brings us to our history lesson for the day: Louis IV was King of West Francia (936-954) at a time of discord with Holland over land proprietorship.  West Francia included much of northernmost France along with some of the modern day Netherlands and Belgium.  Much of the area at the time was called Flanders and the cultural ties for many were to Holland.  Many people actually spoke Dutch.  Louis the IV thought he would drive nationalism by banning the ultra-popular Dutch Edam and replace it with a new creation, Mimolette.  He had it colored orange to further distinguish it from Edam, which is also, interestingly, round.

And the rest is history!


Please join us this Thursday after 5pm when Adam Bess leads us in a tasting of four wines from Testamento of Argentina.  The wines come from the high altitude Mendoza region and include a red blend, a sparkler and two estate reds: Cabernet Sauvignon and Malbec.  Please join us!

Tuesday, October 8, 2019

Cremant

Cremant is the French term for high quality sparkling wine produced outside of the Champagne district.  In 1905 when Alsace became a part of France its sparkling wine was christened Cremant.  The region had been German and the product had been called Champagne but since France already had a Champagne district that had to change.

In 1975 the term was expanded to refer to sparkling wines made in any of the French AOC's, (appellations d'origine controllata) or protected designations of origin.  Today there are 300 French wine AOC's.  Most of them were around in '75 so there was no shortage of Cremant back then.

Back in 1993 when the European Union took over, Champagne was facing a lot of competition from other Euro-nations and across the globe.  Within France, Cremant, which was always an esteemed product, became streamlined.  In 1996 it was codified to mean "high quality sparkling wine produced since 1986 from just eight AOC's.

Those eight AOC's in relative descending order of importance are: Alsace, Burgundy, Loire, Limoux, Bordeaux, du Jura, Savoie, and de Die.  The largest producer of Cremant in France has always been Alsace. 

The 1996 law says all Cremant must be made according to the extensive Champagne method.  Moreover, the grapes have to be hand harvested and "whole cluster pressed with a limited must extraction."  The wine also must be aged for nine months.

The grape varietals are determined by each appellation. Once they are ascertained, they too are then written into law.  The Cremant regions of production within the appellation are also codified.  In most appellations the regions and allowable grape types are broadly defined.


Please join us this Thursday October 10th when David Hobbs leads us in a tasting of three from Del Rio Vineyards of Rogue Valley, Oregon.  Specifically we'll be tasting the Sauvignon Blanc, Pinot Gris and Pinot Noir.  Also on the tasting table will be the Vino Robles Red 4, a Paso Robles Rhone-style blend of Petite Sirah, Syrah, Mourvedre and Grenache.   We taste from 5 to 7pm.  Please join us for the event.

Tuesday, October 1, 2019

Wine in the Can

Lettie Teague, wine writer for the Wall Street Journal, took on this subject last month in an article titled, "Is the Wine Bottle Over?"  As my canned wine vendor brought in my order, she paraphrased Lettie by announcing, "This is the future of the wine industry!"  Before we accede to that verdict though we should acknowledge both the historic wine standards and the ethics and acumen of professionals in this industry.  The only obvious conclusion - bottled wine is not going anywhere.

In fairness wine in the can shouldn't be considered in the same light as bottled wine or even boxed wine.  All canned beverages have to be sent for testing to the Ball Corporation just to be sure there is chemical compatibility with the can liner.  All canned beverages also must have a dosage of liquid nitrogen added before the can is sealed so all canned wine ends up being slightly bubbly.  No matter what the preparation is though, the first sip still tastes metallic.  Or is that our imagination?

Wine in the can seems to be meant for outdoor activities.  If you're hiking, boating or poolside there is something to be said for the convenience and against having to deal with stemware.  And since wine is about three times more alcoholic than beer, if you've already had a couple, even more so!  So let's get down to it and pass on the proprieties: Ice down your cans (whites, roses, and reds), sacrifice the aroma afforded by stemware, and if you are a wine snob at all, check your standards at the back door!

In fairness the canned wines we sold here this summer were perfectly fine and even better than we expected.  The wines were 14 Hands from the always reliable Chateau Ste. Michelle brand and Oregon which we were told was made by Stoller, another reliable producer.  We consider ourselves fortunate to have tried these two.  Teague says a wine that is unsatisfactory to begin with will be worsened by being canned.

So, is canned wine viable going forward?  Sales are just a blip on the screen compared to bottles and boxed wines but they do show growth.  This industry is innovative and what works is sometimes surprising.  If pricing is fair then why shouldn't canned wines sell.  Will they supplant bottles?  Uh-uh!


This Thursday October 3rd from 5 to 7pm, Brian Espanol offers us a tasting of Rutherford Ranch Napa Valley wines.  On the 10th David Hobbs presents the wines of Vina Robles of Paso Robles and on the 17th Bob Reynolds tastes us on Willamette Valley Vineyards Oregon wines.

Wednesday, September 25, 2019

Dry Riesling?

We all know Riesling, don't we?  It's that sweet stuff that has a pretty good flavor but it's really the sweetness we remember.  Wines that aren't sweet are remembered for other qualities usually having to do with their flavor profiles and therein lies the rub for Riesling.  With its peach and melon flavors, Riesling wines with minimal residual sugar may still give an illusion of being sweeter than they are.

Sweet Rieslings are great wines, by the way.  Some of the finest in the world.  But lets put our cards on the table: If you like sweet wines, you like sugar.  Sugar dominates in Riesling the same way oak does in a really oaky California Chardonnay.  Now if you remove the oak or sugar you then appreciate what the wine grape, itself, brings to the table.

Before we move on to dry Rieslings though there is a balance in oaky/sweet wines that shouldn't be minimized.  That balance is achieved by the acidity of the wine.  If the oak influence in a wine is moderate then it takes on an earthy dimension that doesn't clobber you with that one heavy flavor.  It's kind of like feeling the rhythm section of a band instead of having that dimension dominating the music.  With wines with moderate sweetness (or oakiness), if that sweetness (or oakiness) is in balance with the wine's acidity, then it's kind of like honey and lemon in tea.  They sort of cancel each other out and the result is rather nice.

Anyway, back to dry Riesling...  What makes this wine so desirable is its aromatics and food-friendly acidity.  Think light meats, seafood, and salads of all types.  After going through the torrid summer just past, wouldn't a glass of this stuff have been a nice afternoon cocktail!

Wines comparable to dry Riesling include Albarino, Chenin Blanc, Torrontes and Loureiro but in all honesty they don't measure up to the complexity of good Riesling.  Riesling may very well be the great white wine grape of the world.  The finest Riesling comes from Germany where the grape originated but exceptional Riesling also can be found in New York and Canada, Austria and Alsace, and in South Australia.  Wines from these locales may deliver more exotic flavors like jasmine, beeswax, apricot, lime, or petrol.

Two sources for this posting: Wine Folly and Lettie Teague (WSJ).


Please join us this Thursday the 26th when Dominique Chambon leads us in a tasting from his fine French wine portfolio.  We go from 5 to 7pm.  Dominique is both teacher and entertainer in our humble setting.

 

Monday, September 16, 2019

Whole Cluster Fermentation

We've all heard the term, haven't we?  Willamette Valley Vineyards even markets a Whole Cluster Pinot Noir and that name has probably worked quite well for them.  It sounds, well, wholistic.  The most popular whole cluster wine historically has probably been the the one we'll be vending here in a couple months, Nouveau Beaujolais.  That one has been popular for a very long time.

So what is whole cluster fermentation?  Well, it's just what it sounds like.  Whole clusters of grapes are fermented as a unit.  The fermentation tank is filled with these grape clusters before carbon dioxide is pumped into it.  There is no pressing of the grapes.  The weight of the grapes does that on its own.

No oxygen exists in the tank and no yeasts are added.  This anaerobic environment provides for an intracellular metabolic reaction converting sugar into alcohol.  Fermentation of this type breaks down malic acid leaving more fresh fruit and residual sugar in the wine.

Make no mistake - whole cluster fermentation includes stems in the winemaking process and anyone who has tasted green vegetation in wine should be shuttering about now at the thought.  But this brings up an entirely different issue - does a wine really have to be all about fruit (and maybe a little earthiness) or can steminess be an asset?

Methoxypyrazine is the fifty cent word for the greenness in flavors and aromas brought on by the inclusion of unripe stems into fermenting wine.  When it predominates it's a flaw.  Machine harvesting grapes is responsible for much of that.  So the hand harvesting of grapes done by smaller estates shouldn't be minimized.

What also counts is having a long growing season and a cooler climate environment that will turn green stems brown.  Then those ripe stems add tannins and other hearty flavors.  Some green stems are alright according to David Ramey of Ramey Wine Cellars.  Maybe as much as 50% in a cool climate environment.  They bring out the Syrahness of a wine adding peppercorn, bacon fat and green olive flavors to a wine.


Please join us this Thursday after 5pm for our weekly wine tasting and check out all of the new foods here!

Sunday, September 8, 2019

2017 Stoller Chardonnay

I'm not good at describing wine.  I just know what I like and I r-e-a-l-l-y liked this wine.  But why?

Just a short read of Eric Asimov's New York Times wine article from a year ago clarifies things quite well.  The name of the article was "Chardonnay, the Oregon Way" and in it Asimov determines the key to good Chardonnay starts in the vineyard, specifically, at harvest time.

Until relatively recently Oregon had a troubled history with the grape.  One that was complicated by winemakers wanting to copy what California was doing.  That's never a good idea.  David Harris, who made the best Georgia wines at Blackstock Vineyards, used to say wine is made in the vineyard.  Trust that vineyard to produce the quality necessary for winemaking and then allow the process to unfold with minimal interventions.

Trying to make California-styled Chardonnay disregarded an important element - acidity.  Too many California Chardonnays are flabby and lack a structural continuity from start to finish.  Asimov says an over-correction occurred when some Oregon winemakers opted for a more French style.  That didn't work either.  Now grapes are being harvested at the correct acidity for what appears to be a uniquely Oregon Chardonnay style.

Acidity enlivens a wine.  It gives it a tension, a thrust, energy and momentum.  All of those terms depict movement and if that movement is constant then that churning, that vibrancy, becomes a backdrop for the herbs, flowers and discernible minerality the 2017 Stoller displays.


Please join us this Thursday, September 12th after 5pm when we'll taste the Stoller and others here at the store.


Saturday, August 31, 2019

Garrigue

In southern France it's called garrigue (gar-eeg).  In California, it's chaparral.  In Chile, it's matorral.  In South Africa, it's fynbos and in Australia it's called mallee.  Terms like these in wine parlance are either nouns or descriptors depending on their usage.  Garrigue and all of the others above are names given to the vegetation common in their wine regions.  When describing a wine they refer to the influence of the terrain on the grapes growing in the vineyards.  In short, it's about terroir.  What garrigue imparts to a wine is an herbal character.

Southern France, including the Rhone, Provence and much of Languedoc, has a hilly scrubland terrain with isolated thickets of small oak trees, bushes and herbs.  Four thousand years ago this region was heavily forested with rich topsoil but deforestation for agriculture resulted in the garrigue landscape today.  Herbes de Provence, strictly speaking, would include all of the minty and floral herbs that thrive in the region.  Sage, rosemary, thyme, juniper and lavender all contribute to that pungent bouquet which is evident in the air.

Today the garrigue of southern France is protected by law.  Over the course of centuries the soil of the region has become a chalky lime alkaline clay.  It has a high pH, low infiltration capacity and a hard calcareous crust.  The plants that have thrived there in the long term show an allelopathy, a unity of purpose with each other which disallows newcomers to the area.  Many emit an oil into the soil that asserts their dominance and maintains the open spaces around the plant clusters.  That oil becomes part of the soil and eventually internalized by grapevine roots.


Please join us this Thursday between 5 and 7pm when Cheri Rubio presents a tasting from her fine wine portfolio.  That evening we'll be tasting Lurton White Bordeaux, The Crossings New Zealand Pinot Noir, Villa Pozzi Sicilian Nero d'Avola and Kunde Family Estate Zinfandel.  Please join us.