“Mostly Harmless” Wines

A corkscrew, it says, is about the most massively useful thing a wine-drinker can have …

More importantly, a corkscrew has immense psychological value. For some reason, if a bourb (bourb: a non-wine-drinker) discovers a wine-drinker has his corkscrew with him, he will automatically assume that he is also in possession of a wine glass, a decanter, corks, hors d’œuvres, apertifs, viticultural guides, root clippers, champagne stoppers, tea towels, tasting notes, sommelier certification, etc. etc. Furthermore, the bourb will then happily lend the wine-drinker any of these or a dozen other items that the wine-drinker might accidentally have “lost”. What the bourb will think is that any man who can drink his way through the mags and casks of the world, rough it, slum it, occasionally open a corked bottle, win through, and still know where his corkscrew is is clearly a man to be reckoned with.

– Double-glass Adams, Wine-Drinker’s Guide to the Graperies

In a revelation that may come as a shock to a few of you, I spend a lot of time thinking about wine. I work in the industry six out of seven days of the week, I’m constantly trying new wines, I need to be able to distinguish between several hundred wines at any given time–it is, in fact, my job.

And as anyone with a job can tell you, sometimes that job can get tiring. And sometimes, even if you love your job and are good at it, you’d like to stop thinking about it for just a bit. Not necessarily completely shutting that part of your brain off, but at least have it chilling on a burner several rows back (side note, kitchen ranges with 6+ burners rock).

Problem is, at least for me, it can be really difficult to stop thinking about wine in a professional way. Moreover, there can also be pressure to leave that part on, because people bring wine to parties, and, ‘oh, hey, you do wine! what do you think of this bottle?’ And don’t get me wrong (especially people who have brought me wine before, please keep doing it, I really do enjoy it and it’s very kind of you)–that’s fun to do with a wine you didn’t pick out yourself for once.

But there’s a certain category of wine that I buy for myself occasionally that is not necessarily … the best wine. It’s not wine that I’d bring to impress someone. It’s not bad, by any stretch of the imagination, but it’s not the most amazing wine I’ve ever had, either. Their primary characteristic, of course, is that they are Mostly Harmless.

“… all that’s left is me and the words, Mostly harmless.”

What exactly do I mean by that? Here’s a (somewhat) succinct list of adjectives I associate with “Mostly Harmless”.

  • unobjectionable
  • inoffensive
  • innocuous
  • quaffable
  • agreeable
  • polite
  • not terribly interesting
  • un-challenging
  • tasty

These are wines that, simply put, don’t offer enough interest for me to have to think about them. Pinot grigios often fall into this category, as well as rosés. They are wine that is meant to be gulped, at some point, not to have an exhaustive list of their tasting notes written down and transcribed. At the end of the day, these are wines that are created for pure enjoyment–and to help everyone drinking them get a little fuzzy around the edges.

And to be one-hundred-percent clear, I really don’t think that a wine like that is inherently worse than a ‘prestigious’ wine–they’re just trying to do very different things. Think of ‘enjoyable’ and ‘interesting/challenging’ as the x and y axes. There are wines that are both uninteresting and un-enjoyable ($8 mag of moscato from the gas station) and wines that are both interesting and enjoyable. Mostly harmless wines fall into the ‘uninteresting but enjoyable’ category, and that is a lovely space to occupy.

The reason I drink them is so that I don’t have to think so critically about a wine for once. Even with more complicated wines I know well–like sau blancs from the Loire Valley–I still have to think about them. I’m still comparing them to other examples of the same, to the jacquere I had earlier that week–with the Blanc Pescador, none of that really happens. Have you ever heard someone described as ‘nice’? It doesn’t really mean anything. Most people are ‘nice’ the first time you meet them. That’s what the Pescador embodies–it’s nice. Does it really get my gears cranking? No, but I’d drink it over some other bottles I’ve had–and I don’t hesitate in pulling it off the shelf. Pretty dry, good fruit, just a touch of bubbles. Reminds me of the sea and the old Spanish fishermen who drink barrels of this on their siestas. Lovely.

~~~

With apologies to Douglas Adams.

Pinot Grigio and Ice Cubes; or, How to Frustrate Your Wine Friends

Hey all! Happy New Year! Hope you had a lovely (and warm–it was about 10º over here in Brooklyn!) New Year’s Eve.

Since the days immediately following New Year’s (and to a lesser extent, Christmas) are very very quiet, I figured I could spend some time this afternoon discussing everyone’s favorite wine to bash on: pinot grigio.

Why does everyone like to make fun of pinot grigio? In short, like malbec, it’s kind of the uninteresting background noise of wine. Every country does a little bit of it, and while some Italian vineyards are terribly proud of their pinot grigio, it’s not too much to guess that a pinot grigio will likely be some variant of, “crisp, slightly fruity, mineral and generally dry”. And while I’m broadly pretty down with consistency, the consistency of pinot grigio is like the consistency of a coffeeshop that rhymes with ‘jar’s stuck’: you don’t go there to get your socks blown off, you go there because you know exactly what you’re getting.

Pinot grigio’s strength is also its downfall.

As much as I want to write a trite post mercilessly making fun of the grape, I’ll actually pull the best bottle of pinot grigio I can find, and then we’ll go into the Great Grape Grimoire and see what we can’t find.

I guess I’m drinking this now. Soon, my dear Sancerre, I promise.

So, a couple of choice quotes from the entry (which is actually on pinot gris, which is the French name for the grape) and then I’ll do a bit of synopsizing:

“Full-bodied and aromatic at its best but much usually encountered enjoying international fame if not glory as anodyne [“not likely to offend or arouse tensions”] Pinot Grigio.”

“… in the mass-market arena, the name Pinot Grigio seems enough to guarantee sales of even a tart, neutral, almost colourless and flavourless white wine.”

“Italy’s Pinot Grigio has been the somewhat unfathomable success story of the early twenty-first century.”

Minor tangent: it was at this point I started questioning myself about the capitalization of grape varieties, and stumbled upon this terribly geeky (and funny!) article about that very subject.

It’s a relatively old French Grape (thus the gris as opposed to grigio in the entry), with debatable references appearing as early as 1238, and the first confirmed reference to the grape specifically being in 1711. Almost every wine-making region has some acreage of pinot gris; it’s one of those grapes that can grow in a huge number of agricultural regions, and tends towards a high degree of return-on-investment.

But, as the book makes clear, it’s not a terribly ‘prestigious’ grape. There’s not much glory to be found in a grape described as anodyne.  And that, I think, is the root of pinot gris’ less-than-stellar reputation among snooty (well, and not snooty) wine people. There are so many examples of merely ‘okay’ pinot grises that sometimes it’s hard to remember that the wine can have a very distinct and lovely flavor profile. I would certainly argue against it in a risotto, or being drunk anytime between the months of October and April, but nevertheless, a well-executed pinot gris brings more to the table than grape-flavored alcohol.

Why the ice cubes, though?

Well, simply put, ice cubes dilute things, right? It makes it a bit colder, and a bit easier to sip–whiskey on the rocks is a thing, because many whiskeys struggle with being drunk neat.

However, if you take a wine best described as ‘innocuous’ and then add the dilution of ice, you’ve got a perfect storm of cold, alcoholic, totally-inoffensive liquid. The objection that most wine snobs make to this is that if you’re going to drink wine, it better well be actually interesting. And that one should never put ice cubes in wine. Essentially, it’s insulting to wine as a whole that you would a) drink a wine that’s uninteresting in the first place, and b) worsen that by putting ice cubes in it.

I would argue that it does have a place, however. It would definitely be an unusual choice for me, personally, to grab a pinot grigio off the shelf. Buuut, like perhaps a Grüner, it has a certain fruitiness-mixed-with-mineralness that can be quite charming. As for the ‘$9 bottle with ice cubes in a punch bowl’ variant … sometimes you just need something to cool off.

~~~

But yeah. If you’ve a wine friend who needs to take the snobbery down a bit, or just want to have a bit of fun at their expense, stop by their shop, browse a bit, and casually ask: ‘hey, do you have like, a cheap pinot grigio? And do you guys sell ice?’

That’ll do.

~~~

And because I simply couldn’t show a wine without at least touching on it:

Full name: Kettmeir, Pinot Grigio, Denominazione Alto Adige-Südtirol Controllata, 2016.
Grape(s): Pinot Grigio (100%).
ABV: 13.5%.
Price (to the nearest $5): $20.

Yup, that is in fact a pinot grigio–brighter fruit and a touch of slateiness on the nose. Tart, bright fruit on the approach, mellowing out to yellow fruit in the mid-palette. Dry, mineral finish with good acidity. Not the most interesting wine I’ve had–and certainly not at this price point. But hey, that’s Pinot Grigio, right?

~~~

Bibliography

Robinson, Jancis, et al. Wine Grapes. HarperCollins, September 24th, 2014.

“Anodyne.” Merriam-Webster.com. Merriam-Webster, n.d. Web. 2 Jan. 2018.

‘Champagne’ vs. ‘Sparkling’–What Even Is a ‘Blanc de Blancs’, Anyways?

The tinfoil hat is only the beginning.

So, it’s 8:45 on the 31st, you’ve been sent to fetch a bottle of ‘champagne’ for New Years. You’re standing in front of the shelves of the wine shop, wondering why some labels are in Spanish, why some of the bottles proudly proclaim, ‘blanc de blancs’, why are those French ones $15 and those $95?

Well, let’s start with the most basic clarification, and a misconception I run into a huge amount:

All Champagne is white sparkling wine, not all white sparkling wine is Champagne.

In the same way that ‘Kleenex’ has become another term for ’tissue’, Champagne has become the catchall term for white sparkling wine.

This is not actually the case, of course. Champagne is a region in France–in fact, an AOC. Which, in short, means that any wine labelled ‘Champagne’ must come from Champagne, France. You will occasionally see ‘méthode Champenoise’, or ‘méthode champagne’, which is a reference to how the wine itself is made–not where it’s from.

The reason that this distinction is important is that les viogniers Champenoise have–not without reason–capitalized on the region’s reputation, and will charge accordingly. One can find perfectly lovely sparkling wine for mimosas and such at $15. But most people balk a touch at the price of Champagne proper, which generally starts around $40.

Is that price difference worth it? I mean, you’re asking a wine person. I’d say yes, course–if it’s a special occasion, nothing really does fit the bill like bona-fide champagne. We’re playing into the cultural perception of champagne being the ‘proper’ thing to do at a celebration (like the New Year), but the reputation of Champagne as the preeminent sparkling white wine is not wholly undeserved.

Champagne, as a region, draws on hundreds of years of winemaking experience, as well as soil that is ideally suited to, as the Wikipedia article rather eloquently puts it, ‘making wines of a incomparable finesse and lightness’. Chalky and mineral soil absorbs heat and lets it out slowly over the course of the evening, as well as encouraging good drainage. This results in grapes that create sparkling whites that are hard to compete with. Sometimes, when the situation calls for Champagne, there’s simply no substitute.

That is not to say that other regions don’t make good sparkling wines, though.

Other French sparkling whites.

Most regions in France generally have at least one example of a sparkling white–or a sparkling rosé! Some regions even enjoy making sparkling ciders (such as Normandy), which are an essential competent of any fall wedding.

They often can be found to be of comparable quality to the lower half of champagnes, though some of the truly exceptional examples can command similar prices to champagne. Should they be, they will boast of being blanc de blancs or méthode champagne–these are good ways to get ‘something Champagne-ish’ at half the price.

Prosecco.

Perhaps the second-best-known sparkling white wine, prosecco is another AOC, located in the far North of Italy. Surprisingly, it produces sparkling (‘spumante‘), semi-sparkling (‘frizzante‘), and still (‘tranquillo‘) wine. Of course, when someone says ‘prosecco’, one’s mind goes immediately to the fully sparkling version.

In contrast to Mimosas, which generally specify champagne, prosecco is the wine specified in Bellinis. They generally have ‘sharper’ bubbles to better cut through the heavier peach purée.

That’s not to say that it can’t be drunk on its own–and it would make an admirable (and much less expensive!) substitute for champagne at any celebration.

Keep in mind they tend to be just a touch sweeter than champagnes as a whole–but there are exceptions to every rule, as always.

Cava.

The Spanish throwing their hat in the ring, cava originally hails from the Penedès area in Catalonia–though several other regions in Spain make it in much smaller amounts.

To be a true cava, the wine must be made using the méthode champenoise. Interestingly, this led to the wine running afoul of champagne’s AOC–it used to be referred to as ‘Spanish champagne’ before the producers in Champagne made sure that practice stopped. It’s still colloquially referred to as such in Catalonia, however.

Cava also makes use of different grapes than champagne: Macabeu, Perellada, and Xarel-lo are numbered among the key varieties. Incidentally, since those grapes are all white grapes, cava made from them can correctly be labelled blanc de blancs.

It can be either white (BdB or BdN) or rosé–and either dry or semi-sweet. Like its cousin prosecco (and originator champagne) lovely examples can be found at just about any price point.

New World sparkling whites.

Many wine-making regions of California, Washington, as well as some (limited) sections of South America make sparkling whites. Simply because the tradition has not had as much time to develop, they often lack the distinct regional characteristics that their European counterparts have cultivated. That’s not to say there aren’t fabulous examples from those regions–I recently had an excellent sparkling Muscatel from Brazil, of all places–but they lack an identity as distinct as champagne, prosecco, and cava.

Blanc de blancs is white sparkling wine made exclusively from white grapes.

While I stand by the idea that ‘blends are friends’, there is a certain cachet in a varietal wine (for clarification, a ‘varietal wine’ is any wine made from only one type of grape). Some people would argue it gives sparkling wine especially a certain specific clarity and flavor profile only achievable with a pure white wine. It also allows for a slightly higher margin, as the wine is considered a more selective distillation of true white sparkling.

Blanc de blancs is compared with much-less-well-known term blanc de noirs, which, predictably, is a white sparkling wine made with a mix of white grapes and ‘black’ (i.e., red) grapes.

The three primary grapes that make up Blanc de noirs (and the only grapes allowed to be included in true champagne), are chardonnay, pinot meunier, and pinot noir. The two pinots serve to give a champagne (or whatever sparkling white they happen to be in) a softer, ‘plushier’ fell, as well as adding some fruity notes and aromatics.

Should you care? It’s hard to say. If you’re drinking sparkling once a year, I would be hard-pressed to argue that one needs to drink a blanc de blancs. As with many of the distinctions in wine, they’re there for people who often drink exclusively that type of wine. Unless you were to sit down with a blanc de blancs and a blanc de noirs from the same region, and compare notes, there’s not much reason to lose much sleep over it.

Unless someone explicitly specifies blanc de blancs, or really, really hates chardonnay (at which point you’re better off with a sparkling that excludes it entirely), blanc de blancs versus blanc de noirs is not something I’m going to let my decision making affect too too much. It’s nice, I guess, but hardly a deal-breaker.

You can find good sparkling for $15. Good champagne starts at $40. How much is ‘real’ champagne worth to you?

Admittedly, my locale (NYC) may increase these prices a bit, but unless someone clearly states that they want champagne, and isn’t too too picky about their sparkling wine, I would definitely just try to find a solid bottle of sparkling at a more reasonable price point.

If I were going to a fancy party and they asked me to bring a bottle of champagne, I probably wouldn’t skimp out–or I might just get a decent bottle of another French sparkling and sell it a bit. I would argue that there is no situation where champagne proper cannot be substituted for; it’s merely how much you enjoy the specific taste of champagne.

That being said, the New Year is a special occasion (and it will be nice to see the incredibly awful 2017 go), so maybe just grab a step up from your normal Sunday-brunch-sparkling? You can justify spending $25 on a nicer bottle once a year!

Regardless of your sparkling choice, I wish you and yours all the best in the coming year–may it be better than our last!

Serendipitous Wine Find!

I once wondered why folks from the West Indies are always about purchasing rum from their island.

Right! So, I’m not going to hassle you all with a review of yet another French sau blanc, but! I wanted to mention this one in particular because I find this bottle totally neat (besides it being good wine–that’s my first glass up there).

The reason that the wine caught my eye (besides being a French sau blanc, I know, I have a type) is the ‘Chenonceaux’ on the label. My brain threw up a little flag there, and said, ‘hey, you recognize that!’

After some searching, I realized that I had actually been to Chenonceaux, the tiny little village in the Loire Valley in 2013. The reason, alas, was not for wine, but to see the spectacular Château de Chenonceau. The reason that got me excited was to compare one of the photos on the Wikipedia page:

The castle actually spans the Cher River. It’s really stunning.

And my own photo from the day I visited:

A few more flowers–but wow, how totally cool is that‽

Honestly, this wine really kind of clarified for me why place is so important. I immediately felt a connection to this wine because I had (presumably) been near its vineyards, once. Can you imagine how important having the rum from the right island–the island you grew up on–is?

Hell, just this afternoon, I was looking for a certain gin from Vermont (I’m from Vermont)–I apologize if this seems like a really basic understanding, but, man, place is super important. Having alcohol stuff that’s from where you stuff is from makes a huge difference.

~~~

Now, I couldn’t possibly post a wine and say nothing about it–but very quickly:

La Renaudie really reminds me of the other Touraine I reviewed (with a touch more fruitiness reminscent of the Moulin des Dames), if a bit more well-executed. However, it’s a little different (which is really why I would draw a comparison to Moulin): really good fruit and honestly almost a touch of sweetness. Still though, that fruitiness is balanced out by some perfectly-pitched acid. Mouth feel is really lovely and silky smooth. But it’s got a touch of that grassiness that I’m beginning to think is characteristic of Touraines. And don’t let me get you wrong–still pretty aggressively dry. Remind me to write an article about the difference between dryness and fruitiness.

Regardless, very happy with this bottle.

~~~

If I don’t get around to it (lots of work this week), I do wish you all a very Merry Christmas, and a spectacular New Year.

Thanks for reading–and may your glasses always be full!

Peter

“Auspicion”; Chardonnay; Napa, California; 2016.

There are some wines that are exactly what you’d expect them to be.

Yeah, I’m not gonna lie, this wine did not exactly knock my socks off. But I think that’s more a function of I’m–really broadly speaking–not a huge California chardonnay drinker. I often find that the makers will fetishize the oak, resulting in a wine that is simply that. Chardonnay, as one of the ‘classic’ white wine grapes, deserves more and better than being drowned in oak.

Auspicion doesn’t do that, fortunately.  While certainly it doesn’t shy away from the oak, it’s not all the wine has to offer.

Some pertinent information:

Full name: Auspicion Vineyards, Auspicion Chardonnay, Napa, 2016.
Grape(s): Chardonnay (100%).
ABV: 13.5%.
Price (to the nearest $5): $15.

~~~

Tasting Notes

Color/Nose
– Even, medium yellow. Ears of corn, perhaps?
– Oaky, round … toasted meringue? Definitely a Cali chardonnay …

Approach
– Pretty straightforward. Smooth, un-challenging. Lots of oak, surprise!

Mid-palette
– Silky, smooth. Coats the tongue. You need some serious food to cut through this wine.
– It’s pretty balanced, honestly. Like not bad acidity. And the oakiness, while definitely upfront, isn’t overwhelming, per se.

Finish
– Vanilla (almost creamy), though can almost discern some of the grape through the oak notes!

~~~

Yeah, I mean … it’s not an actively bad wine. It’s fine. If you like oak, you like chardonnay, you’ll like this wine. It’s pretty typical, honestly. It doesn’t shatter my world, but it’s drinkable. Maybe the right food pairing would help it shine a bit more.

Final verdict: ¯\_(ツ)_/¯.

“Viñátigo”; Listán Negro; Tenerife, Las Islas Caranias; 2016.

One of these days I’ll learn how ‘á’ is actually pronounced.

Whoo, boy. Hope you all are ready for a … strange? Awesome? Cool? …. regardless, totally neat wine. I’m gonna fiddle with the format a bit, and toss the pertinent information at the top of the post. There’s a lot of things I want to discuss about this wine. Grab a glass, find a seat–we’re going on a voyage of discovery!

Full name: Bodegas Viñátigo, Viñátigo, Tenerife, 2016. Denominación Islas Canarias Protegida.
Grape(s): Listán Negro (100%).
ABV: 13.5%.
Price (to the nearest $5): $20 (if I recall correctly; apologies).

There’s … a lot to talk about. This wine is weird and cool in a lot of ways.
But first, let’s start talking about place.

~~~

Going to be a little bit too honest here … I had heard of the Canary Islands, sure, but beyond, ‘well, they’re islands, right?’ I couldn’t tell you much about them.

So I headed over to Wikipedia, which, contrary to every high school teacher’s testimony, is actually a great place to fetch a quick overview of a subject.

Said quick overview:
The Canary Islands (Las Islas Canarias, Spanish) are a set of seven large islands and several much smaller islets about sixty miles off the coast of Morocco.
They are an “autonomous community of Spain”, and considered to be one of the most outermost reaches of the European Union proper. Apparently, 2.1 million people live there, which is fun.
The vast majority of the economy is based on tourism, and with good reason: The Canaries are bona-fide gorgeous. White beaches, lovely climate, endless horizons … it’s all there.
For most of its history (as far as we know) it was largely unpopulated. It had been explored by peoples as diverse as the Greeks, Phoenicians, and Carthaginians. When Europeans began to record the history of their exploits there, it was populated to some degree by “several indigenous peoples living at a Neolithic level of technology”. Of course, this meant nothing to the Europeans, and being European, they promptly started colonizing in 1402. Since then, it was a tumultuous series of conquerings and re-conquerings, as the Islands swapped hands from the Spanish, to the British, to the Dutch, and back again. In 1982, after the Franco Regime in Spain, a law was passed granting Las Canarias autonomy. Since then, the Islands have flourished as an a sub-community of Spain.
Las Islas are notable for another reason: like its larger Eastern cousin, Madagascar, the Canaries boast incredible endemic biodiversity. Due in part to its placement within throwing distance of both Africa and Europe (as well as being eminently accessible from North America, if you’re a swimmer!), its flora and fauna reflect a broad background, which in some cases blends to a remarkable number of endemic species. Charles Darwin, a minor scientist known for some small contributions to the field of evolution, was so struck by this biodiversity that the Canaries were the first stop on his perspective-forming voyage on The Beagle. Said biodiversity is aided considerably by the relative ‘isolation’ of the Canary Islands–an important aspect of why I’m lecturing you about them!
The climate, as I mentioned in passing, is lovely, though I would likely think it a bit hot and dry (or ‘tropical’ and ‘desertic’ to use official terms). It is moderated a touch by “trade winds” which are “the prevailing pattern of eastern surface winds found within the tropics”. Cool. Anyways, yeah, hot! Specifically, Tenerife (the island this wine is from) has temperatures between roughly 60º and 85º, though the mean temperature sits pretty around 70º. On to more detail about Tenerife, the island of our main concern.
~

Thanks, Wikipedia.

So Tenerife is the largest island of the Canaries, and one that posses a “subtropical humid climate”–sounds like a good place for grapes, right?
Our wine in particular hails from La Guancha, a small (5,000 people or so) town about ten miles to the east of Puerto de la Cruz on the map above. As Tenerife is a volcanic island, the soil that the vines grow in is volcanic (go figure!). Grapes from volcanic soil, as is also the case with say, Etna Bianco/Rosso, tends to have a certain stony clarity to them; Viñátigo is no exception.

Before I get on to a description of the grape itself, I’d like to point out something really important about the vines themselves. The following information (and excerpt) is from Karen Macneil’s stupendously well-regarded (and repeatedly published) The Wine Bible. It’s a fundamental text for anyone looking to get into wine, and can be found in both wine and book stores across the world.
But back to the vines: these vines are not the same vines that are found everywhere else in the world. These vines are endemic to the Canary Islands, because they literally could not survive anywhere else.
To explain a bit more, I’ll turn it over to Ms. Macneil:
“In the latter part of the nineteenth century, phylloxera … spread throughout Europe, destroying vineyards in its path. … Originally named Phylloxera vastaterix (the “dry leaf devastator”) and now specifically identified as the insect Daktulosphaira vitifoliae, phylloxera feeds on a vine’s roots, ultimately sucking life out of the vine. … Indeginous American vines belong to several species that are tolerant of the insect. Native European vines, however, belong to the species vinifera, which is suspectible to the pest” (Macneil, 25-6).
There was another outbreak of Phylloxera in 1983, which destroyed almost 2/3rds of the New World’s vineyards. By now, most of the world’s vines are grafted to rootstocks that come from the resistant American vines (and, increasingly, vineyards make use of a broader range of rootstocks, as to prevent any given over-enthusiastic insect or fungi from wiping out all of the viable grapes).
That’s not the case with Viñátigo, however.
As their website is eager (with good justification!) to point out, their vines are not of the same rootstock as the rest of the world. While they fail to specify whether or not they are pre-nineteenth-century rootstock, I find it likely, as pre-1983 rootstock sounds much less impressive–and would help explain why I have such a hard time placing this wine. But another part of that is the grape itself.
~
All of my information on Listàn Negro comes from Wine Grapes, by Jancis Robinson, Julia Harding, and Jose Voillamoz. To say that the book is exhaustive comes off as a bit disingenuous; within its covers is described 1,400 wine varieties, ranging from the well-known Pinot Noir to grapes endemic to one island: Listàn Negro. While their commentary can be a bit … dry at times, it is incredibly informative in the way only an rigorous scientific endeavor can be. While I would not suggest the book is necessary for anyone below the level of ‘writes a wine blog’ (a physical copy tends to run about $150), if you ever get the chance to peruse it–take some notes, find your favorite grapes!
But on to the relevant things they have to say about Listàn Negro:
“… a recent study has shown that Listàn Negro has a distinct DNA profile that does not match any known variety …
Vigorous and productive …
On the grey volcanic soils, individual vines are planted in man-made, partially-walled craters or hollows to capture moisture and break the prevailing winds from the Sahara” (Robinson et. al.).
‘Winds from the Sahara?’ you say, ‘I thought they were protecting themselves from winds from the Atlantic? The trade winds, right?’
First off, excellent recollection! I forgot what they were called. But, yes! Tenerife is subject to a fair number of winds, including both the aforementioned. However (I swear, I’m going to write an article about ‘however‘s in wine), Wine Grapes focuses on where the majority of plantings are–on the south side of Tenerife. As Viñàtigo comes from the north, it is more subject to westerly trade winds than it is to easterly desert winds! Microclimates are cool.
~
So, we’ve covered place,  viticulture, and  the grape … shall we get on to the actual wine?

Just as a point, my tasting notes are essentially directly transcribed from my loopy cursive with minimal editorializing. Thus the tonal shift.

~~~

Seeing wine spread out in a decanter can often give you a better idea of the color. Maybe a better camera would help, too.

Tasting Notes

Color/Nose
– Wicked light. Ruby. Pinot Noir-like in body. Very clear. No sediment.
– Herbaceous. Fennel … maybe? It’s a savory kinda … yeah, it’s an herb or something I can’t place. Spicy herbs, I guess?

Approach
– Yeah, I’ll admit, this is really pushing the limits of my ability to describe. It’s pretty subtle on the front of the tongue, but once it transitions to the …

Mid-palette
– … it gets really interesting. The ‘savory-ness’ gets a bit more pronounced, though it starts getting balanced out with some the red fruit? Or is it currants? Seriously, I’m having a tough time getting a grasp on this.

Finish
– Peppery, though at the very back of the throat, there’s this stewed, almost mulled-wine kind-of taste. Kinda like … cardamon or something?

~~~

“Woah.”

That’s honestly where this wine has me at. I think all of the things we discussed above–the location, the vines, the history of the land–really contribute to a wine that I would describe as singularly unique. I certainly don’t have a great depth of experience with Canary Island wines specifically, but this wine really stands out as distinct with the (large) number of wines I’ve had. It’s one thing to to create a ‘strange’ version of a well-known grape, it’s another to use a grape that is completely unique.
That is not to say that Viñàtigo‘s only strength lies in the fact that’s unique. I actually do like the wine. It’s got a certain charming lightness and spiciness to it that makes it eminently suited to cold winter nights. In some sense, knowing where the wine comes from really makes me think of the wine in that context. It’s … warm. Laid-back. Intimate. Just a really lovely sipping wine. What’s more, it’s no lightweight at 13.5%–and I honestly never even noticed. It’s taken me a few hours to finish this review, and this bottle; I’m feeling both the 1,800 word count, and the five glasses. It’s really lovely, I gotta say.

Is it an everyday drinker? I mean … I feel like a better way to describe it is: it’s a wine that I would always want to be able pull off the shelf. It’s a very specific–and excellent–experience, but I’m not sanguine that I’d necessarily want to drink it everyday. I dunno. Maybe if I was on Las Caranias. I think I could probably deal with that.

Thanks for reading.

~~~

Bibliography

Macneil, Karen. The Wine Bible. 2nd edition. Workman Publishing Company, October 13, 2015.

Robinson, Jancis, et al. Wine Grapes. HarperCollins, September 24th, 2014.

Wikipedia contributors. “Canary Islands.” Wikipedia, The Free Encyclopedia. Wikipedia, The Free Encyclopedia, 14 Dec. 2017. Web. 15 Dec. 2017.

Wikipedia contributors. “La Guancha, Tenerife.” Wikipedia, The Free Encyclopedia. Wikipedia, The Free Encyclopedia, 14 Dec. 2017. Web. 15 Dec. 2017.

Wikipedia contributors. “Tenerife.” Wikipedia, The Free Encyclopedia. Wikipedia, The Free Encyclopedia, 11 Dec. 2017. Web. 15 Dec. 2017.

Wikipedia contributors. “Trade winds.” Wikipedia, The Free Encyclopedia. Wikipedia, The Free Encyclopedia, 14 Dec. 2017. Web. 15 Dec. 2017.

The Absolutely, One-Hundred-Percent, Completely-and-Totally Must-Have Tools That Every Wine Drinker Needs.

The only reason mine is this fancy is because I open cases and bottles all day.

As with any rabbit hole, the world of wine paraphernalia is deep and prodigious. There are endless lists of the appropriate decanters, rants about how the wrong glass will turn the wine into swill, screeds written over the best wine refrigerators.

But finally, I’m here to provide you with the definitive, exhaustive list of what every true wine drinker needs to really enjoy wine as it should be enjoyed.

~~~

The List of Absolute Must-Haves For Any Real Wine Drinker

1) A corkscrew.

~~~

That’s it.

Seriously. All you need to enjoy wine is a way to open the bottle. And half the time the corkscrew isn’t even necessary! Even on more expensive bottles (a particularly stunning California Cinsault springs to mind), screw caps are becoming ever more common!

Chug it from the bottle. Pour it into your soup mugs. Use the aluminum carafe you got from the department store clearance section.

With any bottle under, say, $30, there is no argument to be made that anything *needs* to be done particularly fancily with it. Wine is wine is wine–and that’s something that’s often lost in the societal perception of aqua vita. While it’s certainly eminently suited to classy occasions, wine is not by default this hyper-rarefied esoterica that must always be treated with the utmost respect.

Wine can be just a merciful cap at the end of a long day. While I love talking about wine, sometimes all I want is something to fill my mouth and make everything a little less stressful. And that’s okay.

And while I advocate for these methods of wine drinking purely on principle (and personal practice), there are a ton of things you can do to make your wine drinking experience way better, too!

~~~

The Absolutely Optional List of Things That Will Make Your Wine Taste Better, and Probably Make You Feel Classier, Which is Nice

[This list goes in decreasing order of importance.]

1) Glass wine glasses.
It’s funny, because this is actually one of the few things I’m a stickler about: I really can’t stand drinking out of plastic. While plastic wine glasses have a number of benefits–machine-washibility, relative impervious-ness to breakage, etc.–they just feel *wrong* to drink out of to me. Definitely a personal preference thing, but yeah–I invariably tend to drink out of glass of some variety.
Stemware versus stemless? That’s an article in itself, but, broadly speaking, I use stemless for everyday drinking and tasting (as is easy to see in the wine reviews I post); stemware is when I am drinking something more expensive or want to feel fancy. It’s a day-by-day kinda thing, not a hard-and-fast rule.
And you can totally find affordable glassware at pretty much any home goods or kitchen store (ooo, or a secondhand store!). Even if you just have a pair of them, it’ll make your wine-drinking experience so much better.

2) A way to chill wine.
Since that wording is a touch ambiguous, let me clarify: your normal refrigerator is totally fine. You don’t have to change the temperature or anything, just toss the bottles in there. While debates rage about the absolutely correct temperature to serve white wine, for anything under $50/bottle, cold-as-the-fridge is just fine. As is the nature of thermodynamics, the wine will warm up a bit in the glass, and will sit cheerfully in the ‘Goldilocks zone’ for a good while without you having to worry about it!
Red wine is kind of interesting case in terms of chilling, because most of it should be served at room temperature or a few degrees below. However (there are endless ‘however‘s in wine), with some, like Blauer Zweitgelt, they should be served in the same range as white wine.
To be perfectly frank, sometimes I’ll even grab a juicy Cab Sauv in the height of the summer and drop some ice in it. Scandalous, I know!
Don’t even to get me started on Pinot Grigio and ice cubes.

3) A decanter.
So the purpose of decanter is pretty straightforward: it enables the wine to ‘breathe’–i.e., oxidize a proper amount. The shared trait between all decanters is that they maximize the surface area of the wine, to accelerate the oxidization of the wine. I will eventually edit this post with links to both my discussions of decanting and oxidization once they get written, but in the meantime: they’re good things.
Decanting is a holdover ritual from when efficient filtering systems didn’t exist. Essentially,  decanting prevents any sediment from going into the glass. With unfiltered wines, sediment tends to settle at the bottom of the bottle. By pouring the bottle carefully into another container (the decanter), you can keep most of that sediment in the last couple ounces of wine. Traditionally, one holds a candle behind the neck of a bottle to see when the pour becomes mostly sediment. The flashlight from a phone should suffice in this modern day and age, however.
Decanting is largely reserved for red wines, as they benefit much more from ‘breathing’, but ostensibly, one can decant a white. It’s simply that they won’t benefit as much from doing so.
At the end of the day, anything that expands the surface area of the wine will suffice. With parties I’ve thrown, I’ve decanted wines in bowls, wide-mouth mason jars, the stand-mixer bowl (scrubbed to within an inch of its life, of course)–anything that succeeds in giving the wine a surface area roughly 9″ in diameter totally works.
I do my damnedest to make sure any bottle I open has at least fifteen minutes to breathe, cork out/cap off, white or red. Wine really does so much better if it can get out of the stifling conditions of the bottle. Even with those wines that have a second aging in-bottle, they are much happier with some time to breathe.
Unless it’s sparkling. In that case, yeah, drink immediately. Also, please don’t use bona-fide champagne for mimosas.

4) Thoughtful quaffing.
Listen, you don’t need to start a wine blog. But, thinking just a touch more about the wine you drink–whether it’s on the first sip, or how it makes you feel after three glasses–makes a world of difference in how you go through a bottle. No question, some wines don’t have all that much in the way of depth (see my article on “Thoughtless Wines”), but when you’re having a glass with dinner, take a moment to think about what you smell, to think about what you taste–how the wine makes you feel. Good wine is wine you enjoy–and you deserve to have good wine. The best thing you can do to get more good wine is to remember wine you liked (take pictures! it helps), and find someone who can recommend similar bottles.
And to tell you the truth, my conscious appreciation of the bottle really only extends to the first couple of glasses–by the point of the third glass, my conscious appreciation takes a backseat to ‘wow, this is really lovely to drink’. Drinking wine isn’t a job–but treating it with that kind of care will make you appreciate it that much more.

~~~

And that about concludes the list. Honestly, on a desert island (that had an inexplicably good wine cellar), all I need is the corkscrew and glassware. The rest is nice to have, but hardly necessary.

And while it occupies the last place on the list, I would argue that Thoughtful Quaffing may also be a good thing to place as a priority. Even if you don’t particularly like a wine, understanding why you don’t like that wine can be a wonderfully useful exercise.

Think about things, right?

“Touraine”; Sauvignon Blanc; Touraine, France; 2016.

Pronounce the 'gn' like you do in 'Sauvignon'.
The kind of wine that I’d tour-and-yell about.

Hah, okay, I promise that the next wine I do will not be French. I’m not about to go re-branding this place as La Bouteille Vide. But, I mentioned this AOC in my discussion of the Bergerac Moulin des Dames, so it seemed remiss not to have at least a bottle up on the site. It also serves another informing purpose:

Touraines are essentially why I have such a love affair with both French wine and Sauvignon Blancs.

It’s just … they’re really just what I look for. I’m not gonna make you read the tasting notes twice, so check down below for me waxing poetic over this wine.

The Loire Valley is a lovely place in Central France, low-lying and mild in climate. It covers a fairly large region, about 300 square miles, along the central corridor of France. The vineyards and Chateaus in particular gather around the Loire River (surprise!), where the drainage and moisture is best.

Its climate is, as I mentioned, quite mild–with winter lows rarely dipping below freezing and summer highs rarely breaking 80º. It can be a bit rainy during the summer, but otherwise, the precipitation is neither too much or too little. The river brings the average temperature up a few degrees, but that’s hardly a deal-breaker.

In short, it’s what you want for growing grapes and making wine.

I’ll let the notes speak for themselves, but here’s some pertinent information:

Full name: Caves de la Tourangelle, Touraine, 2016. Appellation Touraine Contrôlée.
Grape(s): Sauvignon Blanc (100%).
ABV: 12%.
Price (to the nearest $5): $15.

~~~

Tasting Notes

Color
– Like its cousin Moulin des Dames, a pale straw color. I want to say there’s a hint of green, but that may be me looking a touch too hard.

Nose
– Fresh sort of grassiness on the nose; not overwhelming or overpowering by any means, but certainly lovely and fresh.
– Subtle yellow fruit, apples and perhaps apricots? Maybe even a touch of pear. But they take a back seat to the grassiness regardless.

Mid-palette

– So beautifully subtle. Like … silk on the tongue. A bit of grassiness, a bit of fruit–wonderful wonderful integration. Lovely balanced acidity.

Finish
– Again, lingering fruit, just those very subtle apples and pears. Like the last faint breath of apple blossoms on the wind. Just delightful.

~~~

Yeah, I mean. This bottle–and bottles like it–are why I love French Sauvignon Blancs. It’s just this intensely drinkable experience. Because everything is so lovely and balanced, I never have to worry about, ‘do I need some cheese to balance this out?’, or, ‘is it so dry that I’m going to evolve gills just to take in enough water to keep from being parched?’. And that’s the thing–it is certainly a dry French Sauvignon, but it’s not a wine that is dry and nothing else. While I harbor no great affection for sweet wines, there are cases where a wine is simply too dry. With this Touraine, the complementary grassiness, freshness, and dryness all work in harmony. On top of Sauv Blanc being one of my favorite grapes, the terroir of the Loire Valley (or should I say, terloire?) produces a superbly balanced, wonderfully integrated, alarmingly drinkable bottle.

This is pretty close to one of my favorite white wines, overall. The only one I can think of giving the edge over this is, in fact, another Touraine. When I get my hands on Vallée des Rois again, perhaps we’ll do a comparison post! That could be super fun.

~~~

I also feel as if it’s worth noting that there is a much-better-known sibling of Touraine: Sancerre, which is another AOC famously known for its Sauvignon Blancs. The reason I went for Touraine, besides the ‘obscurity’-cred, is that I actually (broadly speaking) prefer Touraines over Sancerres. I find Touraine produces consistently more interesting SBs than Sancerre–if only because Sancerres tend to be very heavily invested in making sure that the wines are as stony, dry, and mineral as possible.
Don’t get me wrong, I adore Sancerres, but for me, there’s just something about Touraine that I really fell in love with.

“Irancy”; Pinot Noir; Irancy, France; 2014.

Not to be confused with Iraqcy.

One of my favorite things about being ‘the wine guy’ in my group of friends and family is that often people will save a glass–or a whole bottle!–of  a wine they’d like you try. I love wine, but the fact that someone is willing to save wine, specifically for me, so they can hear my opinion on it … it really tickles me, and I appreciate it a great deal.

But, moving on to tonight’s wine: Irancy, produced by Benoît Cantin.

Irancy is a small AOC (Appellation d’Origine Contrôlée, as you’ll recall from the Moulin des Dames. Also, I’m going to toss up a Glossary some time in the next week) a little bit north and east in France. As my father relayed to me (and so kindly left me the half bottle), Irancy is one of the regions farthest north in France that can still grow red wine grapes (specifically, Pinot Noir) and still have them yield a usable harvest.

The growing area of the AOC is specifically centered in a valley that is covered in vines and cherry trees–which will become important later. That same valley helps shield the vineyards from the worst of the winter weather, enabling the grapes to die less in the cold season.

On to the tasting notes! But first some pertinent information:

Full name: Benoît Cantin, Irancy, 2014. Appellation Irancy Contrôlée.
Grape(s): Pinot Noir (100%).
ABV: 13%.
Price (to the nearest $5): $30.

~~~

Tasting Notes

Color/Body
– Very light, thin garnet. Red cherry, but in like liquid-glass-form.

Nose
– Wow! Holy heck, that is a lot of cherries! Very bright red fruit (and here we see why the cherry trees in the valley were important!).
– The sweetness almost … synergizes with the (perfectly normal) alcohol content? It reminds me somewhat of a sour cherry liqueur–but not at all in a bad way.

Approach
– The sweetness on the nose essentially ends up being tartness on the tongue. It’s like you’re making a transition from sweet cherries to sour ones in a sip.

Mid-palette
– Really where the cherries come into their own. It’s actually very drinkable mix of the sweet and sour aspects of cherry, and a little more nuance in terms of other red fruits like strawberries and raspberries.

Finish
– Super super dry, but still … just a faint rêve of those cherries.
– Acidity makes itself remembered, too.

~~~

So, in case it’s not clear, my tasting notes are sequentially written: I’ll pay attention to–and write down–every specific aspect of the wine in the order you see.

Irancy, it seems, is a wine defined by cherries.

Now, I don’t actually think this is a bad thing; in my experience, one of the best things about Pinot Noir is really cranking out some super fruity, light wines. There’s a term that’s often thrown around vis à vis fruity Cabernets: jammy. It really describes wines that revel in being fruity, but also tooth-achingly sweet. Irancy is not jammy, and that’s a godsend. I think its saving grace is in that while the cherry profile is definitely its most significant characteristic, it has enough interest in that cherry to keep it from being overly sweet, or worse: boring. While I would never pair Irancy with basically anything that had cherries in it (it would likely make the meal become overwhelmingly cherry-y), it remains a charming and distinct bottle of Pinot Noir.

Would I buy it again? If I were looking for something specific, or I was trying to prove a point about being able to distinguish certain fruits in wine. This wine is a great choice for ‘proving a point wine’, wherein you hold it up as a example purely of what a grape or a region can do. Is it an everyday drinker for me? No. But, hey, if you really like cherries, boy do I have a bottle for you!

“Moulin des Dames”; Sauvignon Blanc; Bergerac, France; 2013.

I’m not totally sure what ‘parcelle nºA296’ means, but maybe it’s the … cask number?

Let’s start off on a high note, shall we?

It’s worth noting that since this is kind-of the prototype for wine reviews going forward, the format may change a bit going forward … but, enough with the lolly-gagging!

Without further ado, Moulin des Dames, a Sauvignon Blanc from the south-west of France–specifically, Bergerac! It’s an AOC (Appellation d’Origine Contrôlée; roughly, ‘controlled name’–only things from there can be called that, like Champagne!) adjacent to Bordeaux, and shares Bordeaux’s long history of wine-making.
Its soil is a mix of clays and sands, with pebbles strewn throughout, resulting in light brown, acidic soil. Drainage is good, due to the proximity of the Dordogne River.
Climate is relatively mild, with wet, cool winters, and dry, warm summers–archetypal “Oceanic Temperate”. It’s worth noting that Bergerac is not at all far from the Atlantic Ocean.

Bergerac is known for producing dry, but still notably fruity white wines. Moulin des Dames no exception–but first, some pertinent information!

Full name: Chateau tour des Gendres, Moulin des Dames, 2013. Appellation Bergerac Sec [dry] Contrôlée.
Grape(s): Sauvignon Blanc (100%).
ABV: 13.5%.
Price (to the nearest $5): $35.

~~~

Tasting Notes

Color
Light straw, on the yellow-er side.

Nose
– Subtle yellow fruit, apples and apricots. Perhaps a touch of honey?
– The alcohol (surprisingly high for a white), while certainly present, doesn’t burn like many ‘high-alcohol’ wines. It’s noticeable, but emphatically smooth.

Approach
– Tart. Not overwhelmingly so, but definitely a more concentrated fruit experience.
– Said tartness is still very smooth.

Mid-palette
– Even expression of the tartness transitioning into a more rounded yellow-fruit body (the aforementioned apples and apricots).

Finish
– Lingering fruit, and just a hint of that honey-sweetness from the nose.

~~~

I think the best way to describe Moulin des Dames is either nuanced or well-executed. So often, with any of the characterisitcs that I described in the tasting notes–i.e., high-alcohol, fruity–the story is that the wine is only that. With Moulin des Dames, it’s more that all of those things contribute to the coherent whole. While fruitiness and tartness make up a significant part of the experience, it’s not the only thing you notice about the wine.
Moreover, the wine, despite its certain fruitiness, is definitely dry. It is not sweet, by any stretch of the imagination. It doesn’t reach Sancerre’s levels of stony minerality, but I don’t think it’s trying to.
Overall, a really lovely wine.

Would I buy it again? Maybe, if I was trying to impress someone. Bergerac lacks a certain amount of name-recognition in the broader world, so that’s automatically points in its favor. But, I’m not sure that I prefer the flavor profile (specifically, the fruitiness, however well-executed) over, say, a Touraine. While I appreciate Moulin des Dames for being a well-made wine, at the end of the day it’s simply not my absolute preferred style of Sauvignon Blanc. I can get a Touraine that I will enjoy more, and at half the price. That being said, if you like fruity, dry wines, this is your bottle.