Riesling- One Grape, Many Personalities

A few weeks ago I was hanging out at the Total Wine tasting bar on a wintry night when a gentleman walked by and was asked if he would like to try a glass of wine. The poor unsuspecting soul replied that he didn’t like wine. There are few challenges I like better in this world then helping someone understand that “wine” is not a single drink, or grape, or flavor. There are more than 10,000 grapes that can be used to make wine, and depending on how they are grown and how they are made, they can taste completely different. I told him all this in my scarily enthusiastic way as he warily sought an escape route from the table. Then, I put it all on the line- I told him, “I tried Budweiser in college, hated it and thought it meant I hated beer!” Suddenly he stood up straight and said “That’s crazy- there are all kinds of beers with different tastes!” And I had him- He tasted 4 wines and went home with two bottles of a fantastic California Cabernet Sauvignon that is aged in bourbon barrels. A job well done.

My first realization of how different a single wine grape variety can taste so different depending on producer came at a wine tasting about 4 years ago. I was passing a table where a vendor had 14 bottles of wine lined up and was asked if I wanted to try a Riesling. I immediately thanked him but replied that I don’t like sweet wine. He gave me a look that said “Game On” and began telling me how not all Riesling is sweet. What followed were 20 minutes that changed my whole perception of wine.

Riesling is a white grape that originated in the Rhine Valley in Europe. Depending on how it is made, it has flavors of apple, peach, apricot and citrus. A defining characteristic of Riesling for you blind tasters, is the smell of petrol in the wine.

Riesling is also well known for its super strong acidity. This acidity gives Riesling another distinct characteristic- it is one of the few wines, especially white wines, that age for very long times. In fact, the oldest drinkable wine in the world at this time is Riesling. Finest and Rarest tells the story:

The city of Bremen owns the famous Ratskeller or town hall, underneath which is a legendary cellar known as the Schatzkammer (treasury cellar). In here are 12 very large elaborately carved casks of wine dating from the 17th and 18th century, named after the 12 Apostles. The oldest dates from 1653, but the wine is no longer drinkable. The most famous is the Judas cask, containing Rudesheim wine of the 1727 vintage, by repute the greatest vintage of the 18th century. Wine from this cask has never been sold, but periodically very small quantities have been bottled as civic gifts from the Bremen municipality to important dignitaries, visiting heads of state, royalty etc. When any wine has been drawn off like this, the cask (about 3000 litres + in capacity) has been topped up with young Rudesheim wine of the finest quality. In this way the barrel has been refreshed, as the old wine 
feeds on the sugars in the younger one. But only a handful of half bottles have ever been drawn off at one time, and so this top-up wine only constitutes a tiny percentage of the overall volume, the vast bulk of which is still the original 1727.


This is, quite simply, the oldest drinkable wine in existence.

http://finestandrarest.com/german.html

So, if Riesling is so acidic, why are most bottles of Riesling sold in the US so sweet? Because US palates prefer sweet to dry. Prior to WWII, most Riesling was made to be very dry. However, US wine consumers liked sweet wines and in the 1970’s these consumers began buying larger quantities of sweet wine like White Zinfandel (cringe). (I am sure all of us who grew up watching television in the 1980’s remember Reunite and those beautiful Gallo commercials. Unfortunately I do have to thank White Zinfandel for getting Americans to actually try wine, which helped locations like Napa Valley get started growing grapes and making wines that eventually became world class.) German Riesling producers took note of American tastes and began making sweet Riesling wine that appealed to consumers- wines that went from sweet to very sweet to “say goodbye to your donut” sweet.

And thus even today, Riesling in the US is assumed to be a very sweet wine. And this isn’t all bad! Sweet wines pair great with spicy food. If you are eating rich, spicy Thai, Chinese or Indian food, a sweet Riesling will balance that spiciness and create a gorgeous experience. Plus, there are people who cannot tolerate bitter flavors. I have a friend who doesn’t like beer, coffee, nuts- nothing bitter and yet she does like super sweet Riesling wines.

However as American wine tastes have expanded over the last few decades, dry and very dry Rieslings are gaining a following in the US. My friend at the Riesling table had lined up his bottles from various producers in a line from “make your teeth hurt” sweet to bone dry. He gave me a taste of the bone dry and I have never forgotten the moment the apple and citrus sprang on my tongue. The wine was so vibrant and bright it made me smile. It tasted like the moment you jump into a cool lake on a hot summers day….just…wonderful! In addition, the vendor brought out a sparkling Riesling that was dry, extremely fizzy and yet had beautiful tastes of apple and peaches. The Riesling I love comes from the Alsace region of what is now France and is known for their dry apple and citrus flavors.

Whenever I hear someone tell me they don’t like wine I flash back to that wonderful moment. Wine is not one thing, one taste. Wine is an art form. It starts with a grape variety, is developed by where the grape is grown under what conditions, is tailored by the artistry of a wine maker, and then left to become its own in a bottle. Wine is amazing.

(Oh, last thing- for those of you keeping score at home, Chuck’s thesis is up to 56 pages….and growing. It’s like a baby- it grows a little everyday! :))

Mourvedre

Chuck is heads down working to complete the next chapter of his doctoral thesis so I (Kimberly) am going to hold up the Wine Nerdiness in our household and write about Mourvedre. Aside from being a superlative superhero name, Mourvedre is a red wine grape known for its red, ripe fruit flavors and earthiness.

While you may not have heard of Mourvedre, you may have heard of wines from the Rhone Valley in France, especially the Cotes du Rhone. The Rhone Valley is famous for many of the wines it produces, including one of my favorites known as a “GSM”. GSM stands for “Grenache, Syrah & Mourvedre”. These three grapes are grown and mixed in the Rhone Valley to create spectacular wines with a balance of earthiness (think leather or mushrooms) and red fruits such as strawberries, cherries and raspberries. The most famous GSM wine comes from an area called the Chateauneuf du Pape.

History sidebar- Chateauneuf du Pape means “the Popes new castle”. In 1308 Pope Clement V, the first French (as opposed to Italian) pope, decided to stay in Avignon, France rather than moving to Rome. Not surprisingly, this caused a great deal of turmoil but we don’t have to get into that here. Just know that after about 70 years everybody worked things out and we’re back to having one pope, living in Rome. However, the story is still alive and well on a bottle of Chateauneuf du Pape. Every bottle will still have a Papal symbol on the neck. I’ve you’ve ever been to the Vatican and seen the Pope’s mitre and St. Peter’s keys, you know what we mean.

Another little known fact: In the 1950s, the villagers passed a law that made it illegal for unidentified flying objects to land in or around any vineyards near Chateaneuf du Pape, supposedly to prevent damage to the grapes. That law is still on the books and effective today! To date, there has not been a documented case of any UFOs landing anywhere near the village. (Whew! We know you were just as worried as us!)

In the late 1800’s, Mourvedre production went down as the grape did not grow as well on American root stock as other grapes after the phylloxera outbreak. However grape growers around the world have rediscovered its elegant taste and in the last 30 years have increased plantings and production. One such grower was Fred Cline from Cline Cellars Winery in Sonoma, California.

Chuck and I enjoyed this beautiful bottle of wine at Cave Vin in Edina, MN. The smell of this wine made you think of strawberry fields on a warm summer evening- the red fruit jammy and ripe with a fresh, clean earthy aroma. Warm red fruits dominated the flavor but were balanced with tannins and acidity to create a dry wine that complimented our flank steak and pistachio crusted pork chops.

Whether you decide to enjoy the elegant fruit of Mourvedre as a single grape or mixed as a GSM, I hope you will try a bottle of this lovely wine.

Tokaji – Furmint fur sure

Food and wine are a cultural bridge. Every culture has food that is made from the plants and animals that thrive there and beverage traditions that support and exemplify the flavors, textures and experience. One of the reasons I love tasting wines from new grapes and new regions is that I get a small window into a place and culture I have never experienced.

Tokaji wine is a wonderful example. Tokaji (pronounced TOE-kay) is from a region in Hungary that is known for sweet wines. Tokaji wines vary from very sweet dessert wines to sweet table wines. Our example, “F” is a table wine made with a grape called “Furmint”, a white grape with a thick skin that grows in loose bunches. This is important because it makes the Furmint grape susceptible to a fungus called Boytritus Cinerea or, more common in wine circles, Noble Rot. You probably associate fungus and rot with negative images and smells. However this fungus can do amazing things to a wine grape. The fungus infects the grape and absorbs water through the skin. This means that the juice left in the grape is more concentrated and can be sweeter and more flavorful. Tokaji wine gets its sweetness and flavor as a result of this Noble Rot.

The back label of our bottle is super interesting. Take a look at the sugar at harvest vs the residual sugar. Remember that yeasts eat sugar and turn it into alcohol. Yeasts will eat sugar until it’s gone or until you stop them. If you let yeast eat most of the sugar, you get a dry wine with high alcohol (Malbec, Carbernet Sauvignon, etc). If you stop the yeast early you get sweeter wine with relatively lower alcohol. You can see on the label, the yeast was stopped early leaving 112.4 grams of residual sugar and the alcohol content is only 10.5%.

Chuck and I served our Tokaji ($15 at Total Wine) with a dinner of BBQ Pork sandwiches. The color of the wine is deep golden, the color of honey. Our example smelled faintly of golden apples, white flowers and honey. I have read that Tokaji can have tastes of apricot, apple, even peach and apple blossom. Our example was all apple, with a nice balance of sweet and tart. If you gave me a dixie cup of this Tokaji and store bought apple juice I would not be able to tell them apart. The sweet apple paired well with our spicy BBQ to make for a great dinner.

Overall, we liked the wine but would like to try other examples. I have been reading that I shouldn’t pay more than $20 but maybe we should look for a blend of grapes with the Furmint. Let us know if you find a variety you enjoy!!

Cheers!!

Orange Wine?

Grape wine, yes. Peach wine, maybe. Pineapple wine, okay. We’ve even heard of dandelion wine but we’ve never had any. But wine made from oranges? WRONG! This is not what we’re talking about. Think “color” not “made from”.

Not long ago, we were in Houston for a conference. After Kimberly consulted the wise and powerful Google, we decided to go to Nancy’s Hustle. To say it was outstanding would not do justice. (Note: Currently this is an uncompensated plug but if anyone reading this could get a message to Nancy…) Their wine list was wino heaven.

So, to understand orange wine, you really need to understand how wine is made. Typically in a white wine, the grapes are pressed and the juice is collected in a separate container where it is vinified (the name of the process of “turning the juice into wine”). Preventing the juice from being in contact with the skins preserves the bright color and creates a light, refreshing wine. To make red wine on the other hand, you press the grapes but leave the juice in contact with the skins much longer, often for several weeks. Red wine’s tannin (think of the mouth drying bitterness when you drink hot tea that went cold) as well as body and some flavors come from the grape skins. Next time you’re eating a red grape, peel off the skin and taste the flesh and the skin separately. You’ll understand. There about a million and one other factors contributing to wine but this is the fundamental difference between red and white.

Rose is a bit different. It’s typically chilled, very refreshing, and hits many of those flavor profiles that white wine does. Rose is essentially red wine that hasn’t had nearly as much skin contact. Typically, the juice sits on the skins for only a few hours. Longer soaking means redder wine with more body, more tannin, and more like a red wine. If you haven’t figured it out from our description by now, you should understand that nearly all juice is white when it comes out of the grape. Red grapes make white juice, white grapes make white juice.

Now…what is orange wine? Orange wine is similar to a rose but made with white grapes. In other words, the juice sits on the skins for several hours to a few days. Yes, the juice comes out of the grape white but then it picks up this delightful orange color and aromatic bouquet from the skins. Orange wine is still pretty rare and is kind of a fad right now however, the process has been around for thousands of years. What’s old is now new again.

So…what does it taste like? Like any other wine, there are variations as wide as your imagination. Short soak orange wines will be light, crisp, and refreshing just like a white wine. Long soak wines smell like a cross between a perfume store and a florist shop – lots of violets, orchids, and “funk”. Orange wines will have a fuller body and “weight” on your tongue. We’re hooked.

We tried two orange wines at Nancy’s that night:

Image result for Troupis "Hoof & Lur" Moschofilero

Troupis “Hoof & Lur” Moschofilero 2016, Arcadia, Greece – a delightful shorter soak wine that went perfect with the croquettes
Cantina Giardino Vino Bianco

Cantina Giardino “Vino Bianco” Coda di Volpe blend, 2017, Irpinia, Campania, Italy

Brachetto Wine – A New Years Surprise

Chuck and I are passionate about food and wine.  Our romantic evenings often include leisurely strolls through Cub foods where we find ingredients and get excited thinking of dishes and desserts to cook.  (I usually also go home with a bouquet of flowers in the cart too!)  Other date nights bring us to wine retailers where we can easily spend hours exploring grape varieties, wine regions, wine makers and talking with other “winos” about taste, smell and quality.  

Chuck and I also love to cook together, and cooking is always more fun when accompanied by a bottle of wine.  On New Years Eve we were cooking Beef Wellington with Pesto Mashed Potatoes and Cauliflower with Hollandaise when we pulled out a wine we knew nothing about and had never tried – Brachetto d’Acqui.

The Brachetto grapes are grown in northern Italy in the Piedmont region.  When I think of Italian wines I think of heavy, tannic, strong, alcoholic wine.  The Brachetto d’Acqui wine is NOTHING like those Italian wines.

First, the Brachetto d’Acqui is a frizzante or slightly fizzy wine.  It has a caged cork like a sparkling wine.  The bubbles are pleasant – they don’t go up your nose and make you want to sneeze but they kinda dance on your tongue as you drink.  The wine is chilled so the initial aroma is mildly of red cherries and strawberries.  The color is a bright, ruby red that lets enough light through to make this a beautiful glass of wine.  Finally, the taste was delicious- sweet red cherries, raspberries and strawberries with just a little tartness to keep the wine balanced and not overly sweet.  Combined with the bubbles, the overall wine was light, easy to drink and delicious.  It reminded us of a fizzy sangria.

When I say easy to drink, I mean it!  Chuck and I finished off the bottle while cooking.  Fortunately this wine is typically lower in alcohol, with contents around 5-7%.  However, beware- the wine goes down so fast it can catch up with you.  Julius Cesar and Marc Antony brought Cleopatra Brachetto wine which was said to unlock her passions.  Unlock with care, my friends!  😉

Brachetto d’Acqui wines are fairly inexpensive- expect to pay between $12 – $17 per bottle.  While availability in the US has been low in the past, Total Wine had about 9 feet of shelf space devoted to these wines over the holidays.

And now we are off to the grocery store for another romantic stroll through the aisles, dreaming of what we will cook and the wine that will keep us company!  Cheers!

Brachetto – purchased at Total Wine for about $15
Brachetto Grapes

An introduction to your winos…

We are Kimberly and Chuck, two Minnesotans who love wine. We find wine fascinating; from the grapes and where they are grown to the laws around how they are sold.

One of the things that amazes us about wine is the many varieties of grapes used to make wine- there are more than 10,000 known varieties. And yet most of us cannot name more than a few major grapes. Our goal is to introduce you to wine made from grapes you may not have known existed. We will share history, information on how the grapes are grown, insights to the wine making process and , most importantly, what you can expect to taste!

We are excited to start our journey with you- Cheers!!