Wednesday, August 12, 2015

The Paradigm Shift

Watching Ken Burns' 2001 PBS Jazz series back in the day turned out to be a major game changer for me. Without the paradigm shift in musical taste I got from tuning into that singular series, I wouldn't be the jazz fanatic I am today.  But Burns, as good as he is at what he does, sometimes relies unduly upon certain points of view for constructing his narratives.  In the jazz series, recurring feature performer Wynton Marsalis colorfully makes Burns' case for Louis Armstrong being the central figure of twentieth century jazz.  That's a stretch-too-far for me.  It does, however, serve as an  example for my own assertion that Bordeaux Clairet is the central wine in the overall history of wine.  The paradigm shift brought about by that wine forever changed the way we appreciate the product today.

Courtesy of modern archeology we now know a lot about wine in ancient times.  Written references in scripture and elsewhere date the beginnings of wine consumption conservatively to around 10,000 BC and that wine whether red, white, or rose, was always sweet.  Comparing all early middle eastern cultures, sweetness was consistently the common denominator for ancient wine lovers and that focus lasted for millennia.  If the truth be known, for most of the chronological history of wine, the stuff has been sweet.

Now to keep things in perspective, the dry wines we love today are purely the product of industrialization as applied to this industry.  Ancient wine presses (foot stomping?) could not begin to extract all of the grape skin qualities we so cherish in the modern era much less control for everything else modern science now regulates.  If the truth be known, excluding the modern era, wine history is really a history of white and rose wines, which brings us to Bordeaux Clairet.

Historically Bordeaux Clairet was a middle ages red wine rock star.  Not only did the French love the stuff but more importantly the economic powerhouse to the North, Britain, adored it.  International trade, of course, was nothing new to Europe since the existence of the vineyards themselves was the result of trade, but this new kind of enthusiasm was of the degree that would kindle large-scale investment in the industry in Europe and then later in the new world and the wines would be decidedly drier than what came before.

Bordeaux Clairet is a Merlot-based Cabernet blend that has its origins in Quinsac in southeast Bordeaux.  Today Clairet is one of seven Bordeaux AOCs and it is sourced from all over the region.  Clairet is its own category also, being neither red, as it was considered to be pre-industrialization, nor rose.  In this modern era its dark hue is the result of an extended maceration (up to 72  hours) followed by a cool fermentation (15 degrees centigrade).  The wine is then bled off (Saignee) leaving the must to be used to further deepen another modern red wine.

The 50% Merlot/50% Cabernet Sauvignon 2014 Chateau Maison Noble is the Clairet example we have in the store at this time.  With a deeply tinged red currant/raspberry color, this wine is rich, soft, and round in the mouth with aromas and flavors of strawberry and spice.  There is no astringency or tannin in Bordeaux Clairet.  Expect it to go with everything from salads and picnics to barbecue and grilled meats.

Please join us this Friday after 5pm when David Hobbs of Prime Wines joins us with a tasting of reds, whites, and roses from France, Spain, Chile, and Napa Valley.

Saturday, August 1, 2015

White Wine Grapes, Part 10: Godello

Once again the dilemma, whether to title the post according to the summer "white wine grapes" theme or to call it what it is, a report on a particular white wine from Spain, Castelo do Papa Godello.  This time we'll go with the theme.

Godello (go-DAY-oh) is another European grape that is mostly obscure historically but has now become quite fashionable.  Indeed this one was almost extinct in the 1970's when bulk wine producers saw the more prolific but low quality Palomino grape as the order of the day.  The 1980's saw the beginning of a Godello resurgence followed by decades of refinement as viticulturalists strove to compete with the then "best white grape of Spain", Albarino.

Godello is planted primarily in the Galicia district of northwestern Spain which is also where Albarino finds its fame.  The primary Albarino DO is Rias Baixas on the Atlantic coast.  Godello finds its finest expression in the Valdeorras DO, a hundred miles to the east.  Twenty-five miles east of Valdeorras in the beginnings of Duero River Valley lies the Bierzo DO where Godello is also highly acclaimed.  In northwestern Spain the locals pair their Godello with seafood, pork sausage, veal, tapas, herb pesto, pasta with cream sauces and aged cheeses.

Chardonnay is considered by many to be the finest white wine of all.  In specific venues like Burgundy and Sonoma the claim seems to be justified.  Chardonnay, however, is essentially a neutral but versatile wine making grape that can be manipulated by the skillful wine maker to achieve its utmost potential.  Godello has been compared to Chardonnay in its essential pliable character but has yet to demonstrate the huge profile Chardonnay has.

Valdeorras means "valley of gold" and two thousand years ago Romans mined the stuff there.  Today those same soils retain a high mineral content while being composed mostly of granite, slate, and clay.  The Godello that comes from these soils surpasses Chardonnay in minerality and that component eclipses the fruit and spice in the wine's flavor profile.

The 2013 Castelo do Papa Godello in the store at this time is probably our best white wine under twenty dollars.  The wine is made from the finest 20% of Godello grapes in the Ladera Sagrada estate vineyards in Valdeorras.  The vineyards are organically farmed; the grapes are handpicked; and after an eight to twelve hour maceration, the wine is fermented in stainless steel tanks using indigenous yeasts.  The resulting wine has aromas of rosemary, thyme, and oregano and flavors of lime zest, quinine, ginger, nuts, and apple and citrus, along with the overriding minerality.