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Archive for the ‘Featured’ Category

Franco-Italian Wine

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Posted by Burke Morton On July - 8 - 2010

I apologize for the infrequency of posting of late, but summer break from school keeps me occupied with my kids, and much as I love writing about wine, they deserve better than an absentee father, which is what I'd be otherwise. However, greater frequency is imminent. Speaking of patriarchs, yesterday I was drinking a lovely glass of '09 Domaine L. Chatelain Chablis when my father, a bottle of '08 La Toledana Gavi in hand, topped up my Chablis, thinking, not unfairly, that Gavi already occupied my glass. I'm game for this kind of thing (there was more Chablis to be had, so it wasn't a big deal), so I drank--with some relish as it turns out--what was roughly a fifty-fifty blend. We were having swordfish steaks (from the USA of course...gotta be sustainable about your fish), and while neither the Gavi nor Chablis had been particularly scintillating with the fish, the combination was, as you have probably guessed, spot-on.

The Chablis on its own was crisp and lively, with a brilliant texture that seemed lighter than usual. The Gavi, conversely, came across as more intense and robust than I consider typical. This combination was singular and really quite fun. It yielded something more akin to a Marsanne from a cooler vintage. A marriage of Chardonnay and Cortese (the two grapes involved in the impromptu blend) cannot be a common one, but the result was enlightening, and in the event that I had forgotten, it would have been a reminder to keep experimenting--even in some unusual ways--with wine and food.

Any experiments and discoveries of your own?

Popularity: 20% [?]

The Dog-Days: 2003 in Europe

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Posted by Burke Morton On June - 18 - 2010

The dog-days of summer are relieving themselves on my front door. I hurried into the house just now, trying to elude the heat, and started thinking about the 2003 vintage in Europe. I don't want to sound like I think fondly of it--no one should, given the humanitarian toll exacted upon Europe, France in particular. Although many fine, idiosyncratic wines emerged that year, it was a tough vintage overall, as Europe hadn't experience that sort of heat in anyone's memory. More than a week of over 100ºF across a mostly non-air condidtioned continent...this wasn't good for anyone.

The wines of this vintage are difficult to read in a long-term/short-term sense, but the conventional wisdom is that the best made wines from '03 are still not worth keeping for an extended period (20-30 years--or more), because the acid levels never had much of a chance to build up, as grapes ripened quickly and were only minimally exposed to the cool temperatures of autumn that encourage acid development. Pundits got hold of this and pronounced that these wines would have unbelievably short lives, sounding more like a doctor telling a cancer patient how long he has to live. However, conventional wisdom regarding deleterious weather effects on wine is, at best, shoddy, and the generalized prognostication is thrown off a bit by those who dealt well the vintage conditions. However, there were a few European producers whose are always reliable that didn't get the vintage right, and what with all the heat and dryness coming out of nowhere, they're hardly to be blamed.

The 2003 vintage was relatively successful in Spain, the Rhône Valley, Languedoc-Roussillon, Provence, Puglia, and Sicily--all places that are used to hot summers. The main worries of '03 for me were Austria, middle-to-northern France (especially Burgundy, Loire, Champagne, and Alsace), and Germany. And to narrow it down further, two varieties concerned me: the Pinot family and Riesling, which don't generally perform well in oppressive conditions without some extraordinary and prescient vineyard management. Because of the heat, the 2003 vintage produced wines that were larger-than-life with ridiculously thick textures and dense fruit profiles. German Rieslings were unbelievably full-bodied, like Barry Bonds between 1998 and perjuring himself. Burgundy seemed to suffer the most as far as reliability (I know, I know, those of you who follow Burgundy will say that this true in any case): there were far too many jam-on-toast, indistinguishable-from-one-another Red Burgundies from 2003 to permit much plauditory locution. These jam-on-toast wines were actually not bad, but if wine from one Cru tastes exactly like those from another Cru, then one of the principal and most compelling reasons for buying Burgundy is gone. However, the good Burgundies--red or white--possessed both some measure of subtlety and an impertinence that reminded you that they were from a normally cool climate.

Flash forward to now, and the well-made '03 Rieslings from Alsace, Austria, and Germany presently seem to have more acidity than they did through most of 2008. I have had many within the past year that have a surprisingly fresh acidity, such that I now wonder how much longer they'll make it. The 1973 vintage in Germany produced wines that few thought would live long lives, but here they are, still full of vividness and youthful vigor. The weather wasn't so extreme in 1973 as it was in 2003, but we might see a similar evolution (however, I'm not suggesting that you test this out, because if the wines are good now, there is no reason not to drink them). The well-made '03 Burgundies have also proven resilient. The '03 Bourgognes (entry-level wines) that I bought are still a bold and assertive smash, and even continue to have that saucy character I mentioned. This element usually mellows over the course of five years or so in the lower-end wines, but here we are after six years in the bottle and they're still motoring.

Why am I writing about this today? I see many 2003s still in the marketplace. I wonder why that is? I went to four different wine shops today, doing a little survey, and there are many wines from the south of France (mostly Gigondas and some upper-end Côtes-du-Rhônes, but also a few Châteauneuf-du-Papes), the Loire Valley (mostly Vouvray and Savennières, and some sweet wines, but a couple of Sancerres from the cousins Cotat, which are unusually long-lived...for Sancerre), Alsace, Burgundy, and Germany.

Do you still have '03s left in your cellar? Are you seeing them on shelves? I'd snap them up, particularly if you have some idea of quality, because the wines from this vintage may be extreme, but if they were well-made, then I don't doubt they'll be good.

Popularity: 7% [?]

World Cup of Wine

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Posted by Burke Morton On June - 11 - 2010

What to drink during the World Cup.... Does soccer immediately suggest beer the way that baseball does (or football, or hockey for that matter)? Not really, though now that I think about it, I have noticed that in England there is much imbibing of beer during soccer matches. I suppose this is what usually leads to the tragic stampedes at stadia around the U.K. that we hear about every so often. Let's hope no one gets trampled, but I guess you can--to quote one of my rugby-loving friends--"give 'em a beer afterwards and they'll shake it off." Clearly beer and soccer do have a history, but what about all the cross promotion with wine that has been going on in South Africa? I've never seen anything like it. I don't remember it being such an important facet of the marketing blitz when it the World Cup was in Germany four years ago, and I was just as rabid a consumer of soccer then as now.

Clearly I'm going to be guided by a glass of wine as I negotiate the games of the World Cup (when work doesn't interfere, of course), so I already plan to have some fun. A plan for wine consumption occurred to me as I was drinking the marvelously delicious Ridge 2007 Zinfandel Carmichael (which BTW, makes an excellent pairing for Oreos with the green mint creme): each of the Groups, save one, have at least one major wine-producing country, so you could, were you so inclined, drink wines associated with each group. People often ask me how should they go about learning about wines from other countries, so here is a great way to get to know the wines of the world, and at a minimum, it would be lots of fun. So when you watch a game in Group play, you might drink a wine from one of the sources in that group. Here's the breakdown:

Group A
France
South Africa
Uruguay (a younger, usually forgotten sibling of its South American neighbors, Chile and Argentina)
Mexico (produces a fair amount of wine that makes it to the States, and even England)

Group B
Argentina
Greece (Skip the Retsina...there are many other excellent Greek wines in the market--have fun with these)

Group C
United States of America

Group D
Australia
Germany

Group E
SAKÉ!!!! Japan's rice wine (I know, it's brewed like a beer, but has more in common with wine) that is not just for sushi, and it shouldn't be served hot. Or you could skip saké and get a beer--The Netherlands puts out plenty of it, as does Japan.

Group F
Italy
New Zealand

Group G
Portugal (There are plenty of table wines that you can drink besides the more famous Port, or you could open a bottle of port and call up your inner-Robin Leach and break out the cigars, Stilton cheese, and walnuts and pretend you're living someone else's dream)

Group H
Chile
Spain
Switzerland (Swiss wines are hard to find, but Chasselas is a great white alternative, if you can locate one)

I hope that you watch the World Cup, whether you drink any wine or not. I'll probably be drinking an obscene amount of rosé (stretched out over many days, not all at once...I hate being drunk), and that'll be as fun as the soccer.

Is it me, or does Wayne Rooney play like someone used his head for a soccer ball? One minute he's an incredible player, another he's doing things that'll get him arrested. I'd just as soon he wait until AFTER the match with the USA to get arrested, because I would prefer the U.S. to beat England WITH him, then I could really pour some high-acid Riesling in my Brit friends wounds....

Popularity: 8% [?]

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: 17% [?]

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: 11% [?]

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: 10% [?]

Video Today


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

Popularity: 65% [?]

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