Tuesday, January 28, 2020

Archive for May, 2010

Identity Crisis: Marselan

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Posted by Burke Morton On May - 27 - 2010

Humans and beavers are the only two mammals that alter their environment to suit their needs. Humans are the only ones that do it, on a large or small scale, out of curiosity AND necessity. Marselan, a hybrid-crossing of Grenache and Cabernet Sauvignon, is one of those environmental tweaks that hasn't had much impact on the world, but it looks like it may actually be catching on. Hybrid grape varieties are genetic oddities created to result in a grape with specific characteristics. Playing with Mother Nature in this usually just results in an identity crisis of the Hermaphroditic sort.

An Unlikely Union
Marselan was created in 1961 in France. You might be wondering why such a variety doesn't fit into the realm of genetically engineered grains that Europeans so famously calumniate (is dwarf wheat really so different from a man-made crossing of two grape varieties? Grenache and Cabernet Sauvignon are not native to the same regions, and so would never have reproduced with each other on their own). Not that Marselan is so warmly embraced by French growers, though there is no suspicion surrounding it in comparison to other more genetically modified plants. Grape varieties naturally procreate through cross-breeding: a strapping and multi-faceted grape like Cabernet Sauvignon comes from the union of Cabernet Franc and Sauvignon Blanc in what I hope was a particularly torrid affair. Marselan is a botanical researcher's attempt to combine the breadth and heat-tolerance of Grenache with the lithe but muscular and well-structured qualities of Cabernet Sauvignon. Oh, and they wanted the vine to yield heavily at harvest...my favorite thing. As never fails to be the case, things didn't go as planned.

The Main Character
I've now had four wines made of Marselan (one of which was a blend), which is a relatively wide sample in the scheme of Marselan. They each have a few characteristics in common: Marselan is a medium-bodied wine that lacks the sense of an endoskeleton that Cabernet almost always has (unless it's been heavily manipulated), it's fruit is not so cherry-oriented as Grenache commonly is, and the vine does not yield any heavier than either parent variety. Or looking at it with a less Socratic eye, it has Cabernet Sauvignon's fruit expression with Grenache's easy, open feel. In other words, almost the exact opposite of the initial goal. You can try for it yourself, because it has been imported into the U.S. for a couple of years now, and it makes good wine.

A New Red for Your Glass
Since Marselan didn't turn out the way growers had wanted, nothing really happened with the vine commercially. Marselan has been grown in the Languedoc ever since it was first crossed, and over the course of four decades, some estates made single-variety Marselan with leftover fruit, but these weren't made for commercial release. In 2002, Domaine Devereux made the first one I'd ever seen (a gift from a friend from France), and it was pretty good. Château Camplazens 2006 Marselan is widely available and delicious, if a little too polished (it strikes me as having an 'international' character, and is therefore less distinctive), but the Domaine de Couron 2006 Marselan is first rate, with brilliant black fruit and a pure, unfettered expression. The one I found most interesting, however, was a blended wine from Domaine de la Mordorée, the great southern Rhône Valley producer: 2007 Re:NAISSANCE, which was fifty-fifty Merlot and Marselan. The soft-core luxury of Merlot gave the Marselan a velvety richness that prompted me to buy another bottle. I would've bought a case of this one, but I was in Paris, and schlepping that across the Atlantic wasn't my idea of fun. Yeah, the Mordorée was good...but not that good.

Popularity: 20% [?]

Strange Partners

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Posted by Burke Morton On May - 23 - 2010

I've been drinking a fairly old wine this evening--middle-aged would be a better description, as it is but 14 years old, in its prime, and not likely to improve further: the Château de Beaucastel 1996 Châteauneuf-du-Pape. It is really quite beautiful, and as this wine is unlike most Chateauneuf-du-Pape anyway (it is mostly Mourvèdre while the preponderance of Chateauneuf is principally Grenache), its silken expression is not entirely a surprise. It has a lovely and much lighter texture than it did when it was young, but that is not uncommon with mature wine. The aromas and flavors have clarified themselves over the years, simplifying the experience of the wine while showcasing and magnifying its complexities. It has become an open transmitter of the growing season and the efforts of the people making the wine. This wine has entered a fascinating phase: there are some notions that swirl in and out of the overall picture of the wine, while other elements--expressly the gossamer luxury of its red fruit qualities--are constants. Its character is volatile (though not scary volatile) and exuberant, yet mature and graceful. Think Cuba Gooding Jr. as he ages--that'd be this wine.

Matching for Dinner
So I've got an unusual food pairing here, one I chose based on having tasted the wine first. I made grilled butterflied chicken alla Diavola, which was an even better match than I had hoped. That might give you some indication of the "weight" of this wine--it feels like (but does not remotely taste like) a fine Pinot Noir at its peak, and this opened the door to the pairing with the grilled chicken. The essence of lemons inherent to Chicken alla Diavola united the flavors with such succulence that dinner seemed to fly by. It was like a ray of sun through the experience, lifting our spirits, which we needed because...

Matching with Entertainment
...as we ate our late dinner, we watched Children of Men, which isn't necessarily (if you knew nothing about the film) the feel-good movie that the title might imply. I had seen it before, but my wife had not, so I soldiered on. It turns out this wine was an excellent pairing for the movie, too!

Popularity: 13% [?]

Clumsy Wine Tasting

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Posted by Burke Morton On May - 16 - 2010

I wish I'd thought of this, but then again, no sane retailer would play this kind of joke on his customers....

Popularity: 5% [?]

Wine Region Once Removed

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Posted by Burke Morton On May - 15 - 2010

In the Loire Valley, the appellations are mostly dispersed along the banks of the Loire River, and some of its tributaries. There are a few curious regions that are generally included under the administrative umbrella of the Loire Valley that have about as much in common with the Loire as a cygnet does with ducklings. In fact, I have heard some Loire Valley producers refer to one of these regions in particular, Châteaumeillant, as the ugly duckling of the Loire.

Châteaumeillant is a young appellation, raised to AOC status in 2007. Only red and rosé wines are permitted under AOC rules, and the two grapes responsible for its wines are Gamay and Pinot Noir. The wines in Châteaumeillant are quite distinctive and have shown consistent and excellent quality in recent years, so some of them are now showing up on shelves in the United States. I recently bought a bottle each of two '07s from the same estate--Geoffrenet-Morval's Version Originale, and Extra-Version. Calling them fascinating is an understatement. I wonder how well they will sell? They are not geared toward what is often perceived as an "American" palate, but neither are they difficult to appreciate. Is this the kind of wine that retailers will balk at because they'll have to hand sell it? Well, we'll see.

The Wines--With & Without Food
The Version Originale is 100% Gamay, and was delicious and vibrant--heady blue fruit aroma and a light body with a lovely black currant tint to the flavor. Beautiful color--dark heliotrope, catches the light like crystal. Wow. A tricky wine for usage, because tannins are initially sleek but build steadily. It's great depth of flavor and slight salinity steered me toward tuna tartare, and that worked beautifully. Had a small plate of charcuterie to start, and the combination was dynamite with it (except for the chicken liver mousse, but that's no surprise). Spanks every other Loire Valley Gamay I've ever had (and that's actually saying something).

The Extra-Version, a name no doubt filled with double meaning [it both capitalizes on the French word for extroversion (extraversion) and because it is another version of Châteaumeillant, because it is atypical], is 80% Pinot Noir and 20% Gamay, an unusual blend, as Châteaumeillant is generally Gamay-based with no more than 40% Pinot Noir. Soaring, edgy aroma that is full of rhubarb, blackberry, and lavender. Lithe but not flexible, this might be controversial for someone expecting it to be more "Pinot Noir"--the vivacity is quite rotund, but it comes through a fairly light-body. I loved it with a napoleon of capicola, frisée, Cherokee Purple tomato, and classic southern mustard sauce between flats of jicama. I imagine it would also be quite delicious with trout.

Popularity: 12% [?]

Giving Wine a Pop Quiz

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Posted by Burke Morton On May - 14 - 2010

Wine, even basic-yet-tasty wine, really fascinates me. This is why I loathe the 100-point scale for assessing wine. Scoring wines in this way is…you know, I can’t actually say what I’m thinking, because I want this to remain a family-friendly site.... Okay, how's this: giving wine a numeric score is the crowning achievement of the boundless limits of superficiality. Before someone raises the alarm and I have to start stuttering and backpedaling, I should say that those who engage in this practice are not themselves superficial (to my knowledge). My issue is that, even if you read the tasting note (which is supposed to illuminate the score), grading a wine so specifically is a perfunctory way of taking stock. Sounds like a paradox, I know, considering that spending the time and mental energy to award a score ought to allow you to get lots out of the wine, but it fails to take contextual usage into account. Does anyone--other than a wine critic--drink wine with a mind to a hierarchical score? Even wine critics (well, most of them, anyway) don't do this for pleasure. I can tell you what we (since I suppose I’m one, too) do is compartmentalize: we taste through a whole lineup of wines as a part of the job, little sips and sniffs at a time, no food, except for the occasional piece of bread or a cracker. For good old fashioned joy, however, we just pop the cork and go. Wine is (and has always been) meant for that much nobler pursuit.

Wine is part of a larger "something" than simply tasting through a group of wines. Certainly we drink wines without food, but in those situations we are--ideally--having a larger experience not fully dependent upon the wine. Wine is an obvious partner for food, but it is even better when shared communally, food or no. Scoring creates a hierarchy, placing some wines over others and pushing people to buy the “best”--which in the case of wine, is not only an extremely subjective notion, but is, more importantly, dependent upon the circumstances surrounding its consumption. Here you find a limitation on the relevance of such a detailed assessment of a wine’s quality based on its own merits (especially in relation to its peers). Speaking of peers, here's another problem that often arises with wine judging: how do you grade a sweet Riesling against a dry one? Why would you do that? The sweet wine's peers are other sweet wines, yet they are often the highest scoring wines out of a lineup of Rieslings that range from dry to sweet.

Score Your Wine with Thought for Your Food
You're not going to use a dessert wine with your chicken Tetrazzini, but you might be delighted by an off-dry German Gewürztraminer, especially a Spätlese. Is that twenty-year-old dry Riesling great with your steak? Believe it or not, of course it is! But the Riesling Kabinett from Germany is...well, not the right wine for a hunk of beef. What do you do with that Pinot Noir that is a little too acidic to drink on its own? Do you not buy it because it got an 84? No! Make the purchase and serve a crab salad powered by celery root and radishes! It'll be an absolutely sublime pairing, but the 92-point Pinot Noir that you may want to buy (for no other real reason than that it got a 92) is probably going to clash with the same salad. Judged by its own charms, “free” of outside influences the 84-point wine suffers, but if you serve it with food, it might taste like a wine which, at that moment, is so great that you can't imagine anything better. If that's the case, shouldn't it get 100 points? Oh, but you'd have to specify that it was only that way for the crab salad. Which is what should be said every time someone publishes a score for a wine, because it's only a 92-pointer (and then it’s actually only a 92-pointer for the critic writing about it) when you drink it without unusual external influences--the air quality in the room should be normal, there are no ancillary odors like mildew or a piece or Parmesan on the counter, and of course there can be no food.

Putting Points in Practice
That 92 is not real (oh, but is it ever seductive…). For argument’s sake, let's try to warm up to the 100-point system by applying it in (an imagined) real-time. Think of it as a pop quiz for your wine. Let's say that 92-point wine is not a Pinot Noir but a Côte Rôtie (Syrah-Viognier blend) from the Rhône Valley--Yves Cuilleron’s Terres Sombres, a very fine example from that appellation. However, you’ve chosen to have it at your favorite restaurant with sable in a white truffle nage, which is not a good pairing, so tragically, it'll only get an 81; move on to the leg of lamb with lavender jus and it jumps up to an 88; but with the venison steak and blackberry beurre rouge--it's a 96! But then you catch the eye of Jensen, the chump from your spouse’s office (every office has one) who just walked in the door right as you put a glistening morsel of venison in your mouth, and he decides to come join you, uninvited. You coolly take a sip to still your inner assassin and--oooh…I’m afraid that taste of wine is only going to get a 73…even a great wine can’t wash away the bitter taste of jackass.

Now who is constantly scoring their wines like this, really? I'm sure someone does. It's probably Jensen.

Wine Assessment that Makes Sense
I don’t find anything wrong at all with tasting wine critically. I enjoy it very much, and do it as often as I can. It is stimulating and engaging, and can even offer marvelous emotional rewards. My view is simple: I don’t think that giving wine a numeric grade is a good idea. Perhaps there is a need to use some kind of system to readily communicate the quality of a wine. There are plenty of ways to do it, but I’m not sold on most of them. There is the commonly found 20-point scale, which I find only slightly preferable to the 100-point approach. I’m amused by the people who try to convert the score someone gives in the 20-point system into the 100-point system, as if that would actually tell them anything. A wine that gets a 16.5 would work out to about an 83. Usually the 16.5 is a pretty good wine, but an 83…well, I wouldn’t have wanted to get that score on a test (although, I got plenty of them)! I’m a bigger fan of the zero to three stars approach, because there is much more room for interpretation in this scheme. Of course, some will suggest that this is nothing more than a four-point scale, but that’s only true if you need to see wine assessments in point form.

In the end, I’d just as soon recommend a wine straight up, no ratings. I share how I experienced the wine and try to guide a customer based on their personal tastes, if I happen to know them. Wine is so useful, and even soulful…it seems shameful to me to place it in the straightjacket of a point score.

Popularity: 12% [?]

Drinking Scheurebe on May 5

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Posted by Burke Morton On May - 8 - 2010

A couple of days ago, Cinco de Mayo to be exact, I drank a Scheurebe--a classic if obscure wine from Germany. Seems ludicrious, I know, when you consider that I had cooked honest-to-goodness Mexican food, and had even prepared the story of Cinco de Mayo for my kids. Turns out they learned about the Battle of Puebla in school, so once robbed of a tentpole for the evening, I figured that it didn't matter than I didn't have a Mexican beer or Tequila.

But Scheurebe? Many of you may be saying, "What the %#&! is that?" Well if you are unfamiliar with Scheurebe (SHOY-ray-beh), it's time to change that. Not that Scheurebe is easy to find, because too many outlets for wine retail don't carry one, or have never even heard of it themselves, but Scheurebe is available, and you can ask them to order one.

Anyway, since it seemed like the right time, I popped open the Lingenfelder 2001 Großkarlbacher Burgweg Scheurebe Halbtrocken from the Pfalz region of Germany. And it was good. [NOMENCLATURE: Lingenfelder is the producer; Großkarlbacher Burgweg specifies the vineyard known as Burgweg in the town of Großkarlbach; Scheurebe is the grape; Halbtrocken literally means 'half-dry', but for purposes of American drinkers, it equates to 'dry']

Scheurebe is a hybrid crossing of Riesling and Sylvaner [a common hybridization--other results of this cross include Ehrenfelser (a great but nearly impossible wine to find), Müller-Thurgau (completely uninspired in Germany, but tasty from Italy), and Rieslaner (which can be fabulous)] perpetrated by one Georg Scheu. Thank goodness this guy came along, because he gave us one of the lustiest wines around. How lusty? There are some versions of Scheu (shoy) that if you put it in a black glass, you'd think it was red wine, as the aroma is often dominated by black currants. The range of aromas for Scheu is quite wide, though: the Lingenfelder I drank with my chicken in red mole effused a beautiful, angelic scent dominated by candied pink grapefruit. It was a marvelous pairing.

I find Scheurebe--burlesque grape that it is (I say that because it strikes me as having a queen's bearing and stripper's sensibility yet has a rather gender neutral appeal)--so lip-smacking and tantalizing that I spread the word about it as much as possible. Have fun drinking it...or perhaps I should say don't have too much fun drinking it....

Popularity: 17% [?]

Video Today

You don't need to speak French to know that the iPad can double as a Champagne Sabre.... Happy New Year!

Popularity: 83% [?]


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