Well, it’s certainly been a while, hasn’t it? I know you’ve been wondering where I’ve been and what I’ve been doing, because, well, I don’t know how to put this, but I’m kind of a big deal. People know me. I’m very important. So obviously you’ve been dying since June for an update. Well, here ya go! For the past 7 months my life has revolved around one thing and one thing only: wine. Since June, I’ve done nothing but think about wine, read about wine, and drink (and spit out) wine…and I’ve loved every second of it! I’ve taken both the intermediate and advanced WSET courses and tests with the amazing Mimi Martin at the Wine and Spirit Archive. To be honest, I can’t believe she put up with me for that long – I’m submitting her for sainthood. So now I’m certified. Certifiable? Anyway, I have pieces of paper that say I know things, and what better way for me to use that knowledge than to share it!
After a very scientific Facebook poll, I think the place to start is with grapes… I mean when it comes to wine, that’s literally where it all begins, right? This can be a huge topic – there are what, a bazillion different varietals at last count? (I may have rounded…) Yeah, so let’s start small and go with the Noble grape varieties. Yes, they’re Noble, which I guess makes these the elitist grapes that think they’re better than everyone. I mean, they’re kinda right. Noble grapes are varietals that are grown internationally, but generally each has a home where they best express their individual characteristics. There are 7, but I believe there are a few others that deserve an honorable mention. Like, they married into the family so they’re not true nobility, but you still have to invite them to the family reunions.
The 7 noble grape varietals are as follows: Chardonnay, Sauvignon Blanc, Riesling, Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Pinot Noir, and Syrah. Quick digression: you may note that I said black grapes and not red. That’s because the grapes are in fact black, the wine they produce is red. It’s insanity. It’s also confusing because white grapes aren’t white… sooo double standard. Dumb.
We’ll begin with the white grapes. For those of you who “only drink red,” it’s time to broaden your horizons! You’ve probably only had Kendall-Jackson, 14 Hands, Yellow Tail, or 2 Buck Chuck whites – those low quality, mass-produced monstrosities would turn anyone off of wine, so it’s time to try something a little better. Also, stop doing all your wine shopping at Albertsons, Grocery Outlet, or Target. It’s time to be a grown up and go into a wine shop!
The King of Grapes! The most planted grape in the world, Chardonnay is so versatile that it’s grown in every wine growing region on earth. When in doubt, plant Chardonnay – it’ll grow, and people will always drink it. Chardonnay’s home is in France: in Burgundy, where it’s called Bourgogne Blanc (White Burgundy), and in Champagne, where it’s one of only three grapes permitted to make the delicious, sparkly nectar of the Gods. Premium quality Chardonnay also comes from Australia, New Zealand, and California.
Chardonnay flavor characteristics will vary greatly depending on their climate: warm climate Chard is dominated by tropical fruit characteristics (pineapple, mango, guava), while cool climate Chard will have more bright citrus (lemon, lime, grapefruit) and green apple notes. Other factors that greatly influence the flavor profile of chardonnay included the dreaded Oak Monster (duh duh duuuuuhhhhhhhh!) and Malolactic Fermentation (ML). Oak is such a divisive topic: people either love it or hate it and I feel the only way to do the topic of oak justice is to talk about it later; otherwise this is going to get long. But for now, know that oak can be amazing or terrible, and the only way to know what you like is to taste! Malolactic Fermentation (ML) is the conversion of malic acid (the acid that naturally occurs in grape juice) into lactic acid. All red wines go through ML, but it’s up to the winemaker whether or not whites will go through this process. Once ML has occurred, the wine will have a buttery, cheese, creamy characteristic that can be quite lovely!
In summation, take everything you thought you knew about chardonnay and forget it – it’s an extremely versatile grape, and I guarantee there’s one for everyone!
Some of my favs:
Chehalem INOX Chardonnay (OR)
Tamarack Chardonnay (WA)
Gabrial d’Ardhuy Bourgogne Blanc (FR)
Olivier Morin Chitry Constance Blanc (FR)
Sauvignon Blanc is an amazing grape that has a wonderful knack for pairing with impossible foods like salad and asparagus. It’s crisp and refreshing, and frankly just wonderful! (To paraphrase the unendingly annoying Anastasia Grey – after 3 books she still never managed to become a character that I didn’t want to punch in the face…) Sauv Blanc hails from a few places in France: In Bordeaux, Sauvignon Blanc is blended with Semillon and aged in oak to create a smooth, creamy, ageable wine with notes of lemon, honey, and beeswax. In the Central Vineyards region of the Loire Valley, Sauvignon Blanc most famously comes from the appellations of Sancerre and Pouilly-Fumé. Here, the wine is traditionally fermented in stainless steel and has herbal and vegetal notes with an intense steely-minerality. These wines are meant to be drunk young, and pair well with some of the region’s delicious stinky cheeses. Finally, we have the New World – New Zealand and California. New Zealand Sauvignon Blanc is synonymous with cat pee – but in a good way! In the Marlborough region of NZ, Sauvignon Blanc doesn’t hold anything back… and I mean anything! It has bracing acidity and intense notes of grass, green bell pepper, jalapeño, gooseberry, passion fruit, grapefruit, and yeah, cat pee. One winery even changed the name on their label from “Sauvignon Blanc” to “Cat’s Pee on a Gooseberry Bush!” Doesn’t it make you want to rush out and buy a bottle? Yeah, me either – someone should have a discussion with their marketing department. Honestly, the aroma and flavor aren’t overly pungent (a lot of people don’t even pick up on it), and it shouldn’t hold you back from trying one – they’re pretty dang delicious. In California Sauvignon Blanc is produced in the Napa and Sonoma AVA’s, and can be made in either the French style or the New Zealand Style… or a mix of both. Copycats.
Sauvignon Blanc is one of those wines where, to me, you can really see the difference in style between New World and Old World. Just compare a Sancerre or Pouilly-Fumé with a New Zealand Sauvignon Blanc and you’ll see. Both are 100% Sauv Blanc, but they’re completely different. The French versions are more reserved, they have finesse and show restraint. New Zealand Sauv Blanc doesn’t, it’s a totally in-your-face wine. Both styles are delicious, but I think this really demonstrates the versatility of the grape. Soooo go get some. And drink it. Immediately, if not sooner.
Some of my Favs:
Kim Crawford Sauvignon Blanc (NZ)
Cottat Sancerre (FR)
J. Christopher Sauvignon Blanc (OR)
I’m not even going to hide how much I freaking love Riesling. It’s amazing. My first glass of wine was a Riesling… I regretfully admit it was from McMenamins, but hey, it got me on the right path so whateves. It’s always super fruity and delicious, and it’s made in every style from bone dry to sweet to dessert to sparking. It’s most at home in Germany, Austria and France, (Specifically Alsace, which used to be Germany, then France, then Germany, and is now France again.) but some truly amazing Rieslings are made in Australia, Washington, and New York. Riesling is also confusing to talk about – when I say a Riesling is bone dry, most people imagine a wine like a Chardonnay or Sauvignon Blanc. Riesling has so much fruit and floral character that it almost tastes like there’s residual sugar when there isn’t – it’s kind of sweet without being sweet, if ya get my drift. Rieslings also have amazing acidity and minerality which makes it one of the most ageable white wines on earth. Plus, for those who don’t like sweet wines, the acidity and minerality in Riesling balance out the residual sugar making “sweet” wines taste not-so-sweet. Riesling is a master of disguise – is it sweet? Is it not sweet? You may never know! (Unless you look at the back label where it usually tells you how much residual there is, but that’s no fun!) In Alsace, things get a little easier – the wines, for the most part, are dry with high acid and minerality. Here, hey are also labeled as Riesling, the only place in France where you’ll see the grape on the label rather than the location. Finally, they’re stinking amazing, probably some of my favorite wines in the world. Although, let me throw something crazy at you: Australian Riesling! So good – who knew? They come from Clare Valley and Eden Valley in Southern Australia, and they’re high in acidity and minerality, fruit forward, and dry. And off-dry. And delicious. In New York, Riesling grows especially well in the Finger Lakes region. I’ll be honest, I haven’t had any New York Rieslings, but I hear they’re great so if you have the chance to try one, go for it!
If you decide to go looking for a German or Austrian Riesling (which you should) you’ll probably run away as soon as you hit the German/Austian Wine section. Here are a few quick tips to get you through: Kabinett = dry, Spatlese = dry/off-dry, Auslese = off-dry-medium sweet. These are generalizations, but they’ll get you started. Rieslings pair well with almost everything, but they’re especially great with spicy cuisines like Asian and Mexican. And, they’re pretty affordable – you can get really decent wine for around 12 bucks.
Some of my favs:
Dr. Loosen Dr. L (GR)
Fritz Haag Riesling Kabinett (GR)
Pewsey Vale Eden Valley Riesling (AUS)
Domaine Schlumberger Riesling Prince Abbes (FR)
Okay, seeing as how this thing is longer than most of the papers that I wrote in college (I was a music major, leave me alone), I’ll go ahead and call it a day. Besides, I gotta go to CrossFit so I can hate life – man, that ish is hard! So go drink some white wine because it’s amazing a delicious and it’s just the right thing to do! Don’tdrinkanddrive.