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!