Suffering from empty wine glass syndrome? We can treat that, no problem. This month we put forth our best effort to drink up and make a dent in our rapidly expanding wine collection by sampling one wine every single workday. As a result, we tried a little bit of everything, from German sparkling wine to Central California Riesling. Even though we managed to scale back our overwhelming stash, there is still more (much more!) to try; we'll continue to bring you more reviews, but for now, here's a glimpse at each wine we tried last month.
White-wine drinkers: ever heard of Torrontés? If you've never tried this varietal, you will soon. Torrontés — a South American varietal being hailed as the "new Pinot Grigio" — has experienced more than 50 percent growth each year for the past several years. It's known for being floral and fruit-forward yet dry, and the 2011 Doña Paula Torrontés ($15) is a good example of that.
"Tastes like flowers," one sipper said, and the comment was right on the nose (no pun intended). We came up with a laundry list of descriptors for the bouquet, as there were so many: apricots, fuzzy peaches, lime; honeysuckle, jasmine, rose; toasted hazelnut. The dry white's full-bodied mouthfeel almost had me thinking I was drinking a Pinot Gris, only this had a long, bracingly crisp finish that made it more refreshing than its counterpart.
Next time you find yourself on the hunt for a Pinot Grigio, go out on a limb and try a Torrontés instead; pair it with nutty crackers and a rich, semihard cheese, and you'll be more than picnic-ready. Have you ever tried this varietal?
The fertile area of Marlborough in New Zealand is known for its Sauvignon Blanc wines, and the 2011 Nobilo Sauvignon Blanc ($13), which comes out of a winery in the region that's been around since the 1940s, is a great representation of it.
I tried this bottle in the middle of the day, when the tropical aroma and perspirating label enticed my palate. I opened the twist-off bottle to find that recognizable passion-fruit scent released into the air; the flavor mirrored the bouquet. Like a tall, chilly glass of lemonade, this Sauvignon Blanc finished tart, crisp, and refreshing, with a numbing spiciness on the tongue that reminded me of fresh pineapple.
I tend to prefer a rich, oaky, and buttery Chardonnay, but this particular Sauvignon Blanc has my vote for patio drinking, on those days when the temperature remains high in the triple digits even into 8 p.m. Its dry, tart notes are stimulating and won't leave you in a heady wine fog. I'm apt to pair the wine with just about any cuisine calling for an acidic wash-down, from sticky, sweet Hawaiian barbecue to spicy Indian food.
I prefer buttery, rich Chardonnays over acidic, zesty ones, and this 2009 Layer Cake Virgin Chardonnay ($14) has me giddy and excited, even after all the wines we've tried during wine month. The story behind this Central California Coast wine is a precious one. On the back of the label, winemaker Jayson Woodbridge explains the inspiration for the winery's name: "My old grandfather made and enjoyed wine for 80 years. He told me the soil in which the vines lived were a layer cake. He said the wine, if properly made, was like a great layer cake . . ."
This 2009 Chardonnay is a layer cake indeed. Aged in stainless steel tanks, rather than French oak barrels, the aroma of the Chardonnay is clean but also distinctly buttery. On the tongue, vanilla, tart lemon, and frothy meringue come to mind, and it swallows with a roasted flavor like popcorn and a hint of a warming spice, such as nutmeg. On a hot day, I'd pair this wine with a lightly sautéed white fish. However, I'd love to store a few of these bottles for the Winter, when I'm making creamy, rich fettuccine alfredo.
There's arguably no better drinking wine for this weather than Vinho Verde, the sprightly Portuguese white that's young in both age and spirit, and recently, I tried one of the best renditions of this wine that I've ever tasted. This bottle, the 2011 Adega Cooperativa de Ponte de Lima Vinho Verde Adamado ($10), was gone in mere minutes. Vinho Verde translates to "green wine," and this wine literally tasted like green fruits, with notes of tart green apple on the nose. As promised (adamado means "sweet-tasting" in Portuguese), the wine showcased an off-dry, kiwi-flavored finish.
Vinho Verde often has a little bit of prickliness to it; because the wines are young, Portuguese winemakers pump carbon dioxide in the bottles to keep them fresh. This was no exception: it was effervescent in a thirst-quenching, Sprite-can-opening kind of way. It didn't go straight to the head, though, like its bubbly brethren are wont to do. I enjoyed it solo, but dreamt of sipping it on the hottest of days, outdoors at a late-Summer music festival like Lollapalooza. Now if I could just nab a ticket . . .
When one of country's top sommeliers invites you to a tasting of little-known Champagnes, how do you say no? That's the predicament I found myself in yesterday, when Eugenio Jardim, wine director of Jardinière, invited us to join a tasting with Champagne importer Esprit de Champagne. Thankfully, I had no reason not to accept.
Photo: Susannah Chen
Although certain brands, like Moët & Chandon or Perrier-Jouët, are prevalent in America, there are thousands of wines from the region of Champagne that have never made their way stateside. Wine importer and Esprit de Champagne founder Neil Michael Dixon saw this gap and, in an effort to bring high-quality labels to the United States, spent years honing relationships with growers across the region. "It was quite a lot of hard work," Neil said of getting his foot in the (famously tight) Champagne door. There, most business is conducted locally, and many excellent producers don't even ship to other parts of the country, like the South of France.
Photo: Anna Monette Roberts
One prime example of this is Eric Isselée, a domaine out of the village of Cramant that produces a style of Champagne that's starkly different from what's available on shelves now. The 2009 Cuvée des Grappes d'Or Blancs de Blancs ($35) is more creamy than crisp, thanks to a secondary process of malolactic fermentation. Rather than the yeast-tinged bouquet that so many classic French Champagnes offer, this bottle possesses a certain quality that can only be described as a deep earthiness, followed by a minerally, almost salty finish. Since it's currently sold only at a handful of retail stores and restaurants on the West Coast, this vintage Champagne is still relatively scarce. If you see a bottle of this, hop on it.
Beaujolais Nouveau — that fruity red juice that shows up on shelves the third Thursday every November — doesn't get a lot of respect in the wine world, as it's aged little more than a month after harvest. Yet it's still pretty hotly anticipated, and sadly, in America, the real Beaujolais is not. It's my hope that one day very soon, this will change, because the French region of Beaujolais does a wonderful job of producing Gamay, a light-bodied red wine varietal that's got a fruit-forward punch.
Those who are intent on getting to know Beaujolais should explore various wines from the region's 10 different 10 crus (areas), all of which have been known to produce serious, ageworthy wines. But if you're looking for something that's lighthearted with a Summer-spirited personality, then reach for Beaujolais-Villages, a wine that falls between the more serious crus and the less-than-mature Nouveau variety.
Beaujolais-Villages is usually released the following March after a harvest; it's usually not aged in oak, and released rather quickly (well under a year). The Georges Dubouef ($10), with its nose of raspberry and plum, is the epitome of such a wine: it has less weight and body than most reds, which means it's perfect for foods like Summer cheeses, pasta salads, and chicken salads. I'm looking forward to enjoying it on my next picnic. Have you ever had Beaujolais-Villages?
When the mercury rises, it's so easy to turn to the usual suspects — in my case, Sauvignon Blanc, Pinot Gris, Portuguese Vinho Verde, or any sort of French rosé — that it's easy to overlook other refreshing contenders.
Case in point: Moschofilero from Greece. If you've never enjoyed Greek wines before, then know that the varietals can be a mouthful (Agiorgitiko and Xinomavro, anyone?), but the pronunciation is totally worth the payoff. Aegean whites have a thirst-quenching acidity, and Moschofilero is known for its pale straw color and botanical bouquet. I spotted this once-obscure varietal on the shelves of my local Whole Foods, which means only one thing: Moschofilero (and wines of Greece) have truly hit the big time.
The Kyklos Moschofilero ($10) was memorable and lovely; its tart finish makes it ideal for seafood salads and raw tomato pastas. With a nose of oregano herb and lavender, it reminded me of a Summer garden. And, well, I can't think of anywhere else I'd rather be this time of year. Have you ever come across Moschofilero?
Photo: Anna Monette Roberts
Ramato translates to "coppery," and this Attems Cupra is categorized as an orange wine, a style of wine made by leaving dry white wine varietals (in this case, Pinot Grigio) to macerate with their skins for a prolonged period of time to achieve a golden orange tone.
The Cupra Ramato consummates its signature color with a distinct flavor. On the nose, I got a bouquet a roses — the recognizable floral scent that comes to mind with Pinot Grigio. This taste-bud-awakening wine is thirst-quenching, with bright green apple and a slightly grassy wild lavender aftertaste.
With a bolder palate, this bottle is an ideal fit for late Summer evenings rather than the high daytime heat. Pair the chilled bottle with light Italian fare, like polenta with grilled shrimp, or a bowl of handmade fettuccine and mussels.
It's often said that dry, rocky terrain contributes to the best grapes, full of concentrated, ultra-jammy flavors. Such is the case for the 2009 Las Rocas Garnacha ($15), which stems from Aragon, the northeastern region of Spain. Garnacha, although not familiar to many US wine drinkers, is one of the most commonly planted red grapes in the world, because it has the ability to withstand intense heat, is easily fermentable, and its signature flavor is widely liked.
On the nose, Garnacha has a sweet and sour quality like blackberries or cranberries. The extremely warm and dry weather conditions contribute to the wine's slightly higher alcohol level, which is certainly felt upon first sip. The wine is most notable for its tart, peppery, and spicy flavors that seem to linger after swallowing. As the wine trails down, it warms the chest, and an instant-gratification buzz takes effect. Spanish cuisine is often fatty and rich, and this wine would help cut through the grease. Cheese like Manchego or tapas including chorizo, croquetas, or patatas bravas would work well with this dry yet crisp Spanish wine.