Saturday, April 29, 2017

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% [?]

Writer Stabs Self with Corkscrew, Staph Follows

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Posted by Burke Morton On April - 1 - 2010

Wine writer Burke Morton, jack of all trades, master of two (according to him), narrowly avoided a date with the undertaker after opening a bottle of wine. He stabbed himself with the worm of his corkscrew while trying to remove a stubborn cork from a bottle of '97 Marcel Deiss Engelgarten Riesling. His sixth and final bottle of Engelgarten almost turned out to be his last bottle ever.

"The damn cork on that wine...I've never gotten one out without it breaking. Spongy and brittle from the very beginning--worse than the cork on an old bottle of Chateau Musar!" Morton said from his hospital bed, clearly expecting me to know what he is talking about. "It made me so mad that I stabbed myself when I tried to slam the corkscrew back in to get the rest of the cork, but I missed the bottle and got my left index finger. That's what I get for being so hot-headed."

When Morton struck his finger, the corkscrew didn't go all the way through the skin, but only got the top layers. Apparently that was the problem. "A staph infection got in between the layers of skin, and...well, my wave is now one finger shy of a hand."

Morton, a classically trained musician, was remarkably sanguine about losing a finger, but the percocet may have been helping to dull more than just the pain: "Well, I wasn't a very good pianist anyway, though I sure will miss shredding like Hendrix." Even so, he manages to look at the bright side, "I like to learn, and now I'll have to relearn the home row."

Speaking with Morton's doctor, it becomes clear just how confused Morton has become. "A staph infection? Could be, but what makes him think that, I wonder? Does he think he lost his finger because of Impetigo? I haven't seen an adult with that in ages. He had a Felon infection, which I can tell you is quite painful, but we don't know what caused it. It could have been Staphylococcus aureus, but since we cut the thing off, we didn't bother to culture it--couldn't afford to because of cut backs from his insurance company."

Aside from the snarky doctor's breach of HIPAA laws, perhaps that's the bigger story here.

Popularity: 13% [?]

Wines for Thanksgiving

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Posted by Burke Morton On November - 19 - 2009

Wild Turkey (photo: Alan_Vernon.)There is only a week remaining until one of the most important events on the food/wine pairing calendar! I have always looked forward to this time of year, and when I was a wine retailer it was especially invigorating, because sales were excellent and it was fun to get excited (and get customers excited) about wines for the holidays. Time to spread the joy once more!

Dealing with Thanksgiving Food
The flavors of the foods on the Thanksgiving table are so disjointed that one would almost be better off having a companion drink for each dish rather than a single libation. Or just have water (which is asinine unless alcoholism is a factor, so we'll set THAT idea aside). Back to the food and what's often on the table...turkey (relatively bland); stuffing (rich taste made all the more intense if sausage or oysters are added); green vegetables (green beans are the norm at my house, typically hard on wine); sweet potatoes (rich flavor and welcoming of many wines); cranberry sauce (exuberant flavor, not all that wine friendly); and these are just the basics! Obviously there are too many dishes to even consider multiple wine pairings, so let's look at this a bit more nonchalantly: if you want to taste your drink with your feast, you'll need something with bold flavor. If you want to taste your feast with your drink, you'll need something with some grace. My favorite wines with Thanksgiving are not-necessarily full-bodied, but are somewhat warming, even if normally served cold.

An Opening Consideration
Let's go ahead and eliminate big, fat, oaky wines (this means Chardonnay and Cabernet Sauvignon in their typical guises). Heavy oak treatment generally inhibits a wine's utility with food. There are obviously some Chardonnays and Cabernets Sauvignon that would work fine with Thanksgiving fare, but these will be out of the ordinary. Wines with other stylistic extremes like those with high alcohol levels are fine (as long as they are not too much about themselves (i.e., like the overripe swamp juice out of Australia)), as are those with low alcohol (so long as they still have vivid character). Wines intended for the Thanksgiving table should also have enough zip to pull through the fats in the food, but not so much that your mouth puckers (nor should they be so devoid of "zip" that they seem flabby).

If any of the following suggestions make you think, "What is that wine?", "How can I find that?", or "Now I'm even more confused!", then you should talk to your local retailer. They can help you find the best option for you.

Here are some of my favorite wines for Thanksgiving:

Rosé
How can you go wrong with rosé? The answer is, YOU CAN'T!!!! If you have any left over from summer, now is the time to drink it, and you'll be glad you did. I particularly like rosés made of Pinot Noir, Grenache, Syrah, or Cabernet Sauvignon (here's a good place for Cab Sauv!). Rosés from the Sancerre region of France's Loire Valley are exceptionally good, as are the famous rosés of the Rhone Valley's Tavel region. I just tried a rosé from Oregon--the Big Fire Rosé from R. Stuart that would be perfect.

White
The white wines I am particularly drawn to for Thanksgiving include Gewurztraminer, Riesling, and Grüner Veltliner, but there are many others that I find just as scintillating. Gewürztraminer is a mighty, intensely aromatic wine and it can be like a warm blanket for your palate. In my retail days, I sold more Gewurz at Thanksgiving than at any other time of the year because it is so wonderful with the feast. As for Riesling, if you choose off-dry, I prefer Spätlese or Auslese in ripeness, but there are many Kabinett-level wines that can have just as much depth (this is where you'd ask your retailer). If you want a dry Riesling, a big serious wine from a great growing site works best, and usually these wines get better and better with aeration, so if you don't finish it, drink the rest the next day (there's hardly a more soul-stirring experience than this). Grüner Veltliner is glorious here, and you'll be happy you tried it, because it has the staying power to work with the food (surprisingly seamlessly across the table), and is qualitatively superior to it's peers at a similar price point.

Red
I'll also be drinking some Zinfandel. Skip the White Zinfandel, and go for Red. Some like to point out that this is "America's Grape" and what could be more appropriate than that for Thanksgiving? I like to point out that it is genetically identical to European grapes with names like Plavac Mali and Primitivo, so let's drink it for it's merit, shall we? And it has plenty of merit: this year I'll be drinking the Seghesio Home Ranch Zinfandel, and I drank the 2002 Ravenswood Dickerson Zinfandel last year and loved it. A well-made Red Zin has good balance of acidity and fruit and pulls so much of the food on your plate together that it is in the same league as the whites listed above for harmonious food:wine rapport. Another option--a sensational one at that--is Grenache. I like it in the form that is found in the Rhone Valley regions of Chateauneuf-du-Pape and Gigondas. These velvety wines are so gratifying and emotive that they'll make you think of home, and what could be more appropriate than that for Thanksgiving?

For some other suggestions, go to the Wine Pairing Search and look under "Turkey"

Popularity: 10% [?]

Riesling

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Posted by Burke Morton On September - 16 - 2009

RieslingThe jewel in the crown of any growing region where it may thrive (and like Pinot Noir, that is a narrow range of places), Riesling is the world's finest white wine grape. Okay, in the interest of equanimity, it is arguably the world's finest white wine grape. Certainly it is responsible for the finest white wines in the cool-climate regions of three of the world's great wine-growing countries--Austria, Germany, and France.

Riesling has suffered at the hands of bad wines made in its name, and suffers still from a bottle shape that also reminds consumers ineluctably of that too-sweet wine that they thought they had left behind. Over the years of rehabilitation, Riesling has proven that--while great--it is certainly not for everyone, and it is still fabulously unfashionable in the minds of drinkers who haven't yet been willing to let go of what they "know" and approach Riesling without prejudice.

Misunderstood though it may be, this statement cannot be gainsaid: based on the kaleidoscopic flavors it can present, along with the incredible sense of fathomlessness (if you want this to be a more dispassionate statement, you may substitute "along with numerous indescribable qualities") it can achieve, whether bone dry or super-sweet, a well-made Riesling has no peer. I'll give Chenin Blanc a close second, a grape is possibly even less fashionable than Riesling lately (given the rate with which Chenin is being pulled up in South Africa).

Riesling has a soaring aroma and intense flavors, and usually a lower alcoholic content, especially in Germany, where after fermentation, unfermented grape juice (usually called süssreserve) is added to the wine in order to balance out the high acids that are routine in the cool-climates of the Mosel River and its tributaries, the Ruwer and Saar Rivers. Alcohol levels of 8% are the norm, but in Austria and Alsace, the wines are much more potent at 12%. They are also generally made in a dry style.

I have poured many a BONE DRY Riesling to customers who will insist that it is sweet after they've tasted it. This happens less often if I can pour it in a blind-tasting. That it continues to happen even in a neutral setting is attributable to the simultaneous purity and depth of fruit inherent to Riesling that Chardonnay, for example, doesn't have. Tasters expecting the relatively fruit-poor expressions of Chardonnay, Sauvignon Blanc, and to a certain extent Pinot Grigio, will no doubt perceive sweetness in a dry Riesling. The irony is that a dry Riesling almost surely possesses less sugar than any of these others.

Food and Wine Harmony

Riesling is among the most useful of wines at the table. Residual sugar is, up to certain limits--a non-issue. Savory food tends to like sugar mixed-in, making Riesling an obvious choice for a mellifluous pairing. It would almost be better to say what it DOES NOT go well with, as that is a much shorter list. Some obvious choices, though, are:
Dry: Asian cuisine, beef (can be a revelation!), cheese, chicken, Choucroute, ham, duck, goose, onion tart, rabbit, salmon, trout
Off Dry: apples, Asian cuisine, chicken, crab, mild curry, roast duck, fish, fruit and fruit sauces, pork, smoked salmon, scallops, roast turkey, Vietnamese food
Sweet: dessert (except chocolate, depending on the wine), foie gras

Unless you want to go deep with Riesling, you may safely stop here without missing a thing.

The natural disposition of Riesling is so fine--provided it is planted in the proper regions--that it can continue to ripen for many weeks after initial ripeness is attained. The natural relationship between the grape's sugars and acids can be maintained while the grape has an opportunity to develop more flavors. This is seen most clearly in Germany, with designations for different ripeness levels that are dictated in several cases by the number of days between harvest (i.e., Kabinett wines may be picked no earlier than two weeks after the first picking of the basic "Qualitätswein")

Riesling from Alsace is not particularly similar to German Riesling, though occasional similarities can be seen with the Trocken (dry) Rieslings from the Pfalz in Germany. German Riesling, especially those from the Mosel area are low in alcohol and can seem to be born out of the ether.

Riesling is a particularly hardy vine, and this is especially helpful in cooler wine regions where other grape varieties might succumb to frost damage. Riesling's springtime bud-break is later than most, and ripening comes earlier than other famous varieties, but achieving full-ripeness in cooler regions can stretch well into Autumn--late October or even late November.

Popularity: 8% [?]

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:
...is 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?

Plenty.

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: 20% [?]

Video Today


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

Popularity: 64% [?]

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