Sunday, January 26, 2020

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 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% [?]

Selene Wines

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Posted by Burke Morton On April - 21 - 2010

In this profession, I meet many suppliers as they travel around the country, and it is particularly nice to see them again (provided I found them scintillating on the first go round). I saw one of my favorite people again a few weeks ago--Mia Klein of Selene Wines. Her wines could be lame and I would still look forward to seeing her, because she is candid in her assessment of wine (her own wines included), generous with her time, and a very thoughtful force in California winemaking (she is the wisely-chosen consulting winemaker at many estates in Napa). As it is, her wines are exceptionally beautiful, individualistic, and user-friendly.

Mia was in town for a winemaker dinner at one of Ohio's coolest (and best) restaurants, The Winds Cafe (thirty years ago, this restaurant was twenty years ahead of its time, so far in the vanguard of the locavore movement that not only was "local" not yet trendy, it was alternative, which--at the dawn of the Reagan Era--was not a compliment; they've been making extraordinary food since the late Seventies, and if you haven't been you should go). I didn't make it to the dinner, tragically, but I did have the wines.

And On to The Wines
Mia presented four current releases, made of varieties one expects from Napa Valley, and here is how I found them, for what it's worth:

Selene 2008 Sauvignon Blanc Hyde Vineyard
Broad and elegant aroma, more perfumed than SB normally is--musqué clone? (I neglected to ask this...)--fluid and fresh with excellent fruit and wonderful body. Not straight-up mouth-searing, but plenty of acid, mitigated by its corpulence, as though it was aged on lees, which I don't doubt that it was. I'd love to have some shellfish right now!

Selene 2007 Merlot Frediani Vineyard
A beefy, serious Merlot. Great flesh and bit of youthful tannin--it has a broad, fairly bright, sweet fruit that is quickly subsumed by the structural elements, only to reemerge as the perception of the acids fade. This wine is in a very cool state presently, and while it could use some time, it is really marvelous. This is a pretty flexible wine food-wise, too...anything with strong proteins--beef, blue cheeses in particular.

Selene 2005 Cabernet Sauvignon Napa Valley
This one is five years in, a beautiful Cabernet Sauvignon, but not "complete" in the stereotypical way of California...thank goodness! It has all the components you'd expect from fine wine, along with a good lance of a tent post, but it's so full of fruit that it screams California. With five minutes of non-stop swirling, the tannin yields some, fruit is even bolder--stash this one away for another five years, or have it with dinner--it'd be excellent with leg of lamb. CS from Stagecoach Vineyard is 90% of the blend, and CF from Frediani Vineyard is the balance.

Selene 2004 Chesler Napa Valley
Beautiful--aromatic and long, a great sense of allure. Aroma of lilacs, but it's like you're on the other side of a hill from them. This is so graceful--soft and curvy, feminine and suggestive--hard to beat good Cabernet Franc for that, I guess, but this character seems more amplified than I recall from the '03. The Franc and Merlot were co-fermented (they rarely ripen at the same time, so this is usually impossible), and MK thinks this is what made it so wonderously smooth. Still, it's got plenty of tannin. I think she said 60% Franc, and roughly equal parts of Sauvignon and Merlot (I forgot to write what and which, but it doesn't really matter). It'd be nice to have a roast duck with this one.

Popularity: 13% [?]

Why Should We Avoid Red Wine with Fish?

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Posted by Burke Morton On October - 26 - 2009

Red & Fish (photo: stevegarfield)Long has there been a stigma against drinking red wine with fish. I doubt this is rooted in a James Bond sort of snobby disdain of an incorrect wine choice, though I have heard many suggest this. It is simply a practical consideration for enjoyment (it's just the cultural elite who regard it as outré). The fact is that a red wine can often make even the freshest fish smell and taste exceedingly "fishy"--a magnification of that decaying smell that should warn you off buying a fish from the market. Most every time I have had this combination, I felt not only did the fish taste awful (if I could even taste it at all), the wine suddenly had a metallic taste: sapped of fruit almost entirely. I would gather that this metallic flavor is a magnification of a wine's iron content. I usually remain sensitive to iron in wine, especially reds, for long periods after such an encounter, as iron (or whatever it is that tastes like it) seems to attach itself to the tannins present in most reds.

This iron-ic transformation happens most obviously with Pinot Noir and Smoked Salmon--this is a dreadful combination, which prompts the most tooth-shocking metallic flavor you would never want to experience. Imagine someone filing madly on your teeth, getting dangerously close to the root, and then deciding to scratch his fingers along a blackboard just for kicks. It's that unpleasant. Actually, pairing Pinot Noir and smoked fish of any kind is usually bad, though lean fish (a speedy swimmer like bluefish) seems to be better.

This same disastrous vinous metamorphosis happens with non-smoked white-fleshed fish and robust red wines, though lighter reds like Pinot Noir can often be just fine. Particularly egregious in this metallic offense are Cabernet Sauvignon, Cabernet Franc (which is usually even worse), Syrah, and Nebbiolo (which can be so bad that one needs no further evidence as to why you might want to avoid the red wine and fish combination). The obvious conclusion is that this means that there is some type of fat that iron latches on to, but I know next to nothing about chemistry, so someone else will have to illuminate this aspect of the issue.

I would imagine that this effect is not so bad in wines with very little iron content, a measure that would vary based on the amount of iron present in the soil on which the vines are planted. However, I have never done (and will probably never do) a study to find out. Sounds like a good idea for a science project--too bad science projects are the province of high school students who are underage.

If you are intent on having red wine with fish (which is just fine with me), go with a wine possessing low tannin: Beaujolais would be ideal. If you are having a more robust red-fleshed fish, by all means, have a red wine. Not that red would naturally be my first choice (it depends upon the situation), but there are many fine combinations here. Tuna, salmon, and brook trout can be quite delicious with Pinot Noir, Beaujolais, and a few less common grape varieties, including one from the heel of the Italian boot, Negroamaro (though it can be quite alcoholic, which can hamper its usefulness), and the famous (if widely considered ignoble) German red Dornfelder (which can actually be a wonderful wine for this purpose, if you can find a good one).

There are exceptions to all of this of course, and I would urge you to experiment with red wine and fish if it intrigues you. I am still intrigued by this to the extent that it happens to come up, but I no longer seek this one out.

If you are seeking good pairings for your fish, there are many, many options listed in the Wine Pairing Search, both white and red wine. As an alternative, you could go do some experimenting as a part of the Wine Pairing Course, and report back your experiences.

Popularity: 15% [?]

The Importance of Good Glassware

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Posted by Burke Morton On September - 10 - 2009

Wine GlassesI cannot express fully the import of good glassware for wine, because you'd realize that you would rather be a test subject in the NIH Toe Stubbing study than read on. But this website is, in part, about getting "more from your glass" (see above), so breathe easy--and read on!

You may think this some bit of snobbery, but I assure you, it is not. Wine deserves good glassware. This is hardly an original position: I'm just another in a myriad of voices adjuring wine lovers to graduate up. Clearly this is catching on, though, as the 99¢ glass from your local mass-merchandiser has become sufficiently insufficient that Target now carries Riedel crystal stemware in several shapes.

If you drink a wide variety of wines, it is worth investing in more than one glass shape. I have four that I use with regularity: two of these stem shapes are excellent "all-purpose" glasses; two are key for making some wines better, and if you drink the wines suggested below, they will be come important glasses to you, too.

My Stemware of Choice

My all-purpose glass #1: the red wine glass from Riedel's Overture series of glasses. Almost every wine tastes great out of this glass, but another "all-purpose" glass may be even more appropriate (see below for more). More specifically, I would choose this one for:
Whites: Gewurztraminer, richer-styles of Chardonnay, Marsanne, Muscat, Viognier
Reds: Cabernet Franc, Grenache, Nebbiolo, Pinot Noir, Tempranillo

My all-purpose glass #2:
Initially designed by Riedel for Zinfandel, Chianti, or Dry Riesling, I use this one as often as the preceding glass. In addition to the aforementioned wines that inspired this glass, Champagne from this stem is WAY better than out of a traditional flute, and I also us it for the following:
Whites: Albariño, Auxerrois, Chablis (or similarly ringing Chardonnay), Chenin Blanc, Grüner Veltliner, Riesling (across the range from dry to sweet), Pinot Gris, Pinot Blanc, Roussanne, Sauvignon Blanc, Viura
Reds: Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Malbec, Petite, Sirah, Sangiovese, Syrah, Zinfandel

Important Glass #1
The Riedel Vinum Burgundy glass looks like a brandy snifter on a tall stem. If you drink lots of Pinot Noir, Grenache (Côtes-du-Rhône), or Nebbiolo, then you should get this glass. Its shape allows an aromatic wine to bloom and then retain the aromas until you get your nose into the glass. This glass is excellent for:
Whites: Chardonnays of a majestic style (i.e., White Burgundy and the like), Viognier is lovely from this glass as well.
Reds: Pinot Noir, Nebbiolo, Grenache, Beaujolais (Gamay), Pinot Meunier, Counoise, among others.

Important Glass #2
The Bordeaux glass from Riedel's Vinum series is a very aggressive glass that is designed to tear through tannic structure so that one can appreciate the wine faster than having to let the wine mature for several years. Wines that perform well from this glass are, as a rule, youthful reds: Bordeaux; Cabernet Sauvignon; Syrah; Merlot; some more strident Cabernets Franc; some stiffer kinds of Malbec; Mourvèdre; gripping, young Tempranillo. I've never enjoyed using this glass for white wine--the wine becomes too diffuse.

What does this have to do with Wine & Food Pairing?


Wines chosen for specific foods are, one hopes, selected to enhance the way a diner experiences the flavors within a dish, as well as between the food and wine. If you really intend to capitalize on this (and if you love food, I suspect you'd agree that one should do this), the way a diner perceives the wine should not be inhibited the glass.

Some of this sounds fussy, I know, but it really isn't much trouble, and it can make a huge difference. If one goes to the trouble of getting a good companion wine for their food, then--unless financial considerations preclude the purchase of new glassware--it would be a shame to be half-assed about its presentation.

Other Choices

As far as good values go, and I'm all for good values where something as fragile as a wine glass is concerned, you might also try Riedel's 'O' series, stemless tumblers (great glasses that also do fine in the dishwasher) that are inexpensive and come in bargain-priced sets. If it turns out that you were wronged in a previous life by a Riedel ancestor, or if you simply want to try something different, you might try Spiegelau, another excellent crystal company whose stemware I own and admire (it's just less easy to get). I shouldn't forget another crystal maker I'm partial to, as well: Schott Zwiesel makes some wonderful, sturdy glasses out of titanium crystal, which I have used in a restaurant setting with excellent results.

Popularity: 22% [?]

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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