The black wines of Cahors…

This Friday at Parker & Otis I’ll be tasting the original Malbec from southern France.

Most Americans know Malbec as an Argentinian wine and it’s become their signature grape. But it originated in France… thank you very much. For my money this is a much better wine, with far more polish and finesse than those cowboy wines from Argentina.  The Chateau Armandiere Ancestral Cahors I’ll be tasting on Friday also doesn’t come with a headache – its just 13% alcohol.

cahors wine Lets skip the flowery wine descriptors, that’s like telling the ending of a good movie, come and taste for yourself. I will tell you the wine insiders explanations for the relative obscurity of the black wines of Cahors. In days past it was not unheard of for Chateau in Bordeaux to add some of the richly color wine of Cahors to their blend to add color to their wines in poor years. These same winemakers, in cahoots with wealthy merchants who controlled the ports and employed assorted monkey business to keep the black wines of Cahors from being exported from France. Today is a different era, in fact our importer, Bruno Arricastres’s family live close to the Chateau.

As always, I’m in search of wine that taste more expensive than it sells for and this is a hell of a value for under $20. Come and see me on Friday.

I love Sangiovese!

126_terre_di_corzano_2009If someone were keeping count of the wine I select when I go to the cellar to pick one for the evening, they would find that most often I come back with a bottle where the predominant grape is Sangiovese. This Friday at Parker and Otis I’ll be pouring tastes of a Chianti I am particularly enjoying these days. I’ll tell you about the wine later, but first a couple of stories.

I saw a friend, Grant Tenille (an awesome wine sales person at 3Cups), not long ago and told him that I figured out the answer to steak. Grant’s specialty at 3Cups was pairing food and wines. Upon asking which wine I was thinking of I told him “Sangiovese!” He said “Hell, I think Sangiovese might be the answer to life!”

CHIANTI ACCORDING TO LEX

Chianti is a geographic area synonymous with Italian wine. A red wine that comes from Tuscany, it is made primarily from the quirky Sangiovese grape. Chianti became THE spaghetti red in the U.S… known to be the perfect wine to drink when eating anything Italian, or anything with a red sauce. As the popularity grew, the wine became more and more disappointing.

Traditionally Chianti was a blend of grapes, some of which were white. Chianti’s “recipe” – its blend of grapes – was developed in the 1800s by a man named Baron Ricasoli. His family had been making red wine in Tuscany since the 12th century. He felt that Chianti would become a more alive and vivacious wine with the addition of some white grapes. But after WW2, with Chianti’s popularity soaring in the US fueled by every town’s Lady and the Tramp – style Italian restaurant, two things happened… wineries began adding too much white, and Sangiovese vines were planted in less desirable vineyard sites to meet demand for production. The wine that folks were so fond of for its easy drinking and food friendly style became a thin, lightly colored disaster. The quality of Chianti collapsed and by the late 60’s – with Italian romance and the straw covered bottles, Chianti became a cliché.

Meanwhile, in 1963, the Italian government instituted regulations (DOC), patterned after the French system, to control how wines were made in many regions of the country. Tuscany had such regulations. You had to follow the rules in order to label your wine Chianti. Italians do not like rules and winemakers began to get restless. Even though the wine had to be labeled “Table Wine”, Vino di Tavola, if they didn’t follow the regulations, many independent wine makers decided to make the wine using their creativity and take the consequences. The new wines from Tuscany labeled Vino di Tavola were made from primarily Sangiovese, the way Chianti always had been, but used Cabernet and Merlot grapes in the blend. The wines were good and the media began calling them Super Tuscans. Wild success and expensive retail prices followed. The government has since changed the rules to allow many of the innovations pioneered by the Super Tuscan wines. Today the question to ponder is… if you were a wine maker in Tuscany would you rather make a traditional Chianti or a Super Tuscan?

Today, young, proud and hardworking Italian winemakers are making fantastic traditional Chiantis like the one I will be pouring Friday.

THE WINE

When I select the wines to pour on Fridays one big question I always ask myself is “does this wine taste more expensive than it is?” or “Does this wine deliver a lot in the glass for the price?” The answer when I tasted the Corzano e Paterno 2009 chianti was “WOW!”. The wine is delicate, complex, and has that beautiful cherry-like earthy flavor with the finishing acidity I love in a good Chianti. This wine, imported by friend and former colleague Jay Murrie of Piedmont Wine Imports, is a triumph in my book. I don’t think you’ll find a better wine for under $20 than this one.

161_Arrianna_Gelpke2Arianna Gelpke is the winemaker at Corzano e Paterno. She has been helping her uncle Aljoscha in the cellar for over 10 years. She was born on the farm, which her father bought it in the late 1960s from the Marchese Nicolini and the Machiavelli family. Arianna’s brother, Tilio, takes care of the 650 sheep on the farm and their abundant pastureland. The family has 4000 olive trees and makes excellent monovarietal certified organic olive oil and organically produces a variety of cheeses. This family farm is truly fascinating … to read more about their history and wines check out their website at http://www.corzanoepaterno.com/index.php#

 

 

Take a stranger home for dinner.

Kremstal VinesI’ve always loved the big liter bottles from Austria, and today I will have two strangers to most American wine drinkers … a white (Gruener Veltliner) and a red (Zweigelt). Both wines come from the Berger estate in the northeastern Kremstal region of Austria. The grapes are farmed according to organic principle and the family uses natural winemaking techniques in the cellar. Berger familyWhen I am ordering wine at a restaurant and I can’t find anything that I know I often ask if they have any Austrian wine, knowing they are generally family-estate wines made from native grapes. Austria is not favored by the agro-business and factory wine-producers because of the country’s climate, land and labor costs.

Berger Gr Veltliner 2012Gruener Veltliner is a white grape native to Austria that produces bright, refreshing and satisfying wine. Because Berger’s Gruener is aged in stainless steel rather than oak there is no ‘oaky’ flavors to get in the way of the clarity of the natural flavor of the grape.

Zweigelt is a soft red that is low in tannins and slightly spicy yet light on the palate and perfect when you want a light red. Zweigelt is great for the warmer weather ahead as it is light and ideally served slightly chilled (58F).

Berger Zweigelt 2011With both of these wines at only 12,5% alcohol you are certain to want a second glass and when family and friends descend on the bottle wanting a second I am always relieved it is a big bottle so there is plenty to go around.

I hope you will stop by Parker and Otis between 4 and 6 this evening and take a stranger home for dinner. Both wines are $14.99 for a 1L bottle or grab one of each for $24.99.

Beaujolais

 

Jean-Paul-Brun_2

Jean-Paul-Brun

When I have been away traveling and return home there are certain tastes that I am eager for. At the top of that list would be Annie’s roast chicken. The perfect wine to pair with this dish is a bottle of Jean-Paul Brun’s Beaujolais. The wine has depth and beautiful clarity of flavor and it has been fun to enjoy it in many vintages, always with satisfaction. It was one of the wines I was happy to see on the shelves at Parker and Otis, and at $18.99 it represents a great value.

Jean-Paul Brun is somewhat of a hero amongst natural wine advocates. Brun’s Beaujolais is labeled “L’Ancien” because the grape grows on his oldest vines with the greatest concentration of flavors and Brun follows traditional techniques in the way he makes the wine.

Authentic Beaujolais and the Gamay grape are underappreciated in America, where most people associate the word Beaujolais with Beaujolais Nouveau, the November extravaganza, which began innocently enough as a way to celebrate the fall harvest.  In past times when the population was more directly involved in agriculture, it was important to gather as a community and toast the end of the growing cycle.  For years and years casks of freshly made wine was sent on paddleboats from Beaujolais to the thirsty folks in Lyon for this harvest celebration.

Oz Clarke sums up what has happened with Beaujolais Nouveau when it exploded into an international phenomenon:

“Beaujolais Nouveau, what a stroke of genius. Beaujolais has been drunk as young as possible in Lyon since the vineyards were first planted. But first the Parisians caught on to the idea, in the 1950s, then the British joined them in the 1970s, then the Americans, then the Japanese – the world. By the 1980s Beaujolais Nouveau had been relentlessly sold and oversold as a concept of the first wine of the year’s harvest released on the third Thursday in November- gushing, purple-pink wine hardly old enough to have forgotten the flavor of the grape on the vine.”  Oz Clarke, Wine Atlas

Beaujolais Nouveau can be fun, but the other wines of Beaujolais are so much better.  Nouveau overshadows the other wines and represents one third of yearly sales.  And its commercial success has created mass produced Beaujolais that threatens the reputation of authentic Beaujolais.  Because of the over hyped Nouveau, and often innocuous bubble gum flavor of these new mass produced wines, most people disregard authentic Beaujolais, one of the most pleasurable and reasonably priced red wines.

Decades ago most of the Beaujolais was authentic, but many growers have taken short cuts to keep up with the demand for Nouveau.  Below is a comparison of authentic Beaujolais vs. mass produced Beaujolais.

Mass-produced…the wines are made from vineyards which have stretched yields to the maximum. The grapes are picked early before they have ripened to develop sufficient sugar. To make up for this shortcoming the wines are chaptalized, a quick fix that adds cane sugar during fermentation to boost sugar and therefore the alcohol in the end product. Industrial yeast, which speeds up the fermentation process, is used and makes many of the wines taste the same. Finally the wines are stripped of their flavor when they undergo severe filtration in preparation for shipping.

Authentic…the wines are made from vineyards with yields kept to 20 – 30% below what is regulated. The grapes are often organically grown and hand picked. The wines are made from indigenous yeast naturally present in the grapes. There is no chaptalization, and the wines are minimally filtered or not filtered at all.

THE BASICS

Brun_Ancien

1.  The place…In the east central part of France, just south of Macon and just north of Lyon, lies Beaujolais.  It is an area of low granite hills that stretches 35 miles north to south and is about 9 miles wide. It is located in the southernmost part of the Burgundy region.

“For French administrative purposes, Beaujolais is considered part of Burgundy even though, aside from proximity, the two regions have almost nothing in common. The climates are dissimilar, the grapes are different; the way the wines are made varies radically. Even the spirit of each place is singular. Beaujolais is as lighthearted as Burgundy is serious.”  Karen MacNeil, The Wine Bible

2. The history…Beaujolais is named after Beaujeu the 10th century town in the western hills of the area. Because the area was on the trade route through the Rhone and Saone valleys in ancient Roman times, there have been vineyards on this land for a long, long time. In recent centuries the region has made a living providing everyday wine for Lyon, France’s second largest city.

3. The grape…98% of the region’s wine is red, and all the red wine is made from 100% Gamay. Gamay is king in Beaujolais.

4.  The appellations…French law defines three categories of Beaujolais. Nouveau can be made from any of the following categories. In ascending order of quality they are:

Beaujolais…the basic stuff from the southern lowlands

Beaujolais Villages…from the 24 villages in the midsection of the region

Beaujolais Cru …from 10 special villages on the steep granite hills. They are listed below from north to south. These wines often do not have the word Beaujolais on their label. Instead they list the name of the Cru and the producer.

St. Amour

Julienas

Chenas

Moulin-a-Vent

Fluerie

Chiroubles

Morgon

Regnie

Brouilly

Cote de Brouilly

5. How the wine is made…the tradition of carbonic maceration is in part responsible for the character of these wines. Here’s how it works: whole clusters of grapes are loaded into the tank without crushing, so the fermentation takes place inside each grape. In 4-7 days the grapes burst and the juice runs forth. Because the tannin from the skins does not get mixed into the juice, the process is really successful in expressing the character, the perfume, and the fruit extract of grape.

6. The flavor…the Gamay grape grown in this part of France has unmistakable flavor. The combination of Gamay being so low in tannin and the way carbonic maceration maximizes the clarity of the fruit flavors go together to make these wines supremely fruity. What I love is the fruit driven nature of the wine comes with a lightness and elegance that make them such a pleasure to drink.

7.  Negociants…most of the wine is sold by middle folks called negociants. They do not grow the grapes or make the wine. They select, blend, bottle and sell. The most prominent names in the Beaujolais are negociants like George Duboeuf and Louis Jadot.

8 More Things About Beaujolais

  1. Chill it…this is a wine that the French drink chilled! Not 38 degrees but 55…Beaujolais in buckets of cold water under a big tree in the center of the village on Sundays is a tradition in the region.
  1. Bistro beginnings…the popularity of Beaujolais in French Bistros is well known. There are two reasons for this; the first Bistros started in Lyon the gastronomic capital of France and close to Beaujolais. And the wine goes so well with the traditional dished of the French bistro; roast chicken, pork sausages, coq au vin, stews and other simple dishes.
  1. George Duboeuf…is a wildly successful businessman. Beautiful labels and all the marketing materials you can imagine are hallmarks of his company. His wines sell well but wine purists find his wines over manipulated. Industrial yeasts used for fermentation often create over the top aromas and flavors which compromise the authenticity of the Beaujolais.
  1. Moulin a Vent…is one of the Cru wines said to be the most serious, and along with Morgon and Fleurie the most long-lived. It is named for a 300-year-old windmill in the village.
  1. January 1… much like the fashion police have a date when you are supposed to stop wearing linen clothing, the wine cops say that January 1 is the date to stop drinking Beaujolais Nouveau. Many believe the wine last through the winter but you might not want to order a bottle of Nouveau at a restaurant in April.
  1. 2007… when all California wineries must stop using the word Beaujolais on their labels of the wines made from Gamay clones.
  1. Red wine objectors… some say Beaujolais is the only white wine that happens to be red. Because of the low tannins and light and refreshing body many folks who say they do not drink red wine might enjoy Beaujolais.
  1. Cru labels…the labels on bottles of Beaujolais Cru will have the name of the producer and the name of the Cru.

“If one single name stands for uncomplicated and satisfying red wine it is Beaujolais. “  Hugh Johnson, The World Atlas of Wine

Today’s wine

Leitz OutThis week hanging around with Jennings at the Parker and Otis wine department was more than I could have hoped for. I was able to sell a few bottles of wine, one transaction my dream scenario … the customer said “I’d like to buy a nice bottle of wine for my friend who drinks $4 spanish reds” … now that’s an easy proposition! I got him a bottle of Andre Tamers’ Mencia, a red from Galicia that I love, and Jennings had a new shipment of the Biga Rioja that I sampled last week – he bought a bottle of that too – but even better was getting to attend three or four meetings with wine-reps to see what they had new and taste their wine.

 

You see, I am still so curious about wine and want to keep learning about it. Here’s the biggest surprise … I really liked three wines, all from America … and that’s unusual for me as I am usually a curmudgeon for only old world wines.

Main-BanyanGew

Probably the most surprising was the Gewürztraminer from The Hobo Wine Company’s Banyan Label. This Traminer was restrained and very tasty and shockingly only had 12% alcohol. The Hobo Wine Company’s owner and winemaker grew up in a family where one of his parents was from Thailand … he had Thai food in mind when he made this wine … when this wine comes into the shop I look forward to buying a bottle and having it with Thai food.

While I am not certain that the Banyan Gewürztraminer will be in the shop today, I do know  there will be several bottles of Johannes Leitz’ Leitz Out Riesling. Joni is a rockstar in the world of Riesling and Riesling lovers adore his wines. As a service to the Riesling-grape he produced a deliciously dry entry-level Riesling from the Rheingau, affordable enough allowing Parker and Otis to retail it for $14.99 – a real deal!

I believe these estate wines from Germany and Austria represent some of the best wine values available today, and I’m on a mission to get people to try them and take a bottle home. These wines suffer in sales because everyone thinks German wine is sweet, which is not true. This wine has a whisper of sweetness, which is just right, especially with spicy food or as an aperitif before dinner. The wines have a beautiful transparency of flavor and are low in alcohol, which is something I appreciate since they don’t come with the headache many new world wines bring.

I have another story about a man whose family vineyard is Melsheimer. Thorsten Melsheimer visited 3Cups several years ago and told the story of the Mosel valley families where his family’s vineyard is located. Where years ago there were 23 family-vineyards growing Riesling grapes along the banks of the Mosel, today the Melsheimer vineyard is the only remaining due to the dramatic drop in sales of Riesling. The American market is one of utmost importance to the continued existence of the German estate Riesling, but unfortunately has been dwindling at the hands of Yellowtail, Three Wishes or 2-buck-chuck   which have given Riesling a bad name associated with cloyingly sweet grape juice.

Somehow it has become terribly uncool to like anything but bone-dry wines, and I can’t tell you how many times people have said “I like really dry wine”. But America is a nation of ice-cream lovers, we like margaritas and coca-cola, which has a residual sugar of 112g per liter, but when a wine has just a few grams of residual sugar people will often run the other way – I think that’s a grave error! I’ll have a few things open that I love, including the Leitz Out Riesling so come see me today between 4 and 6 and give it a taste.

Strawberry-Rhubarb Preserves

In Jennifer H. Lang’s book Tastings: The Best from Ketchup to Caviar Thirty-One Pantry Basics and How They Rate With the Experts, the category I remember most clearly is one in which she discusses jams and preserves. In it the author concludes that there are more bad examples in this category of pantry staples than the rest of them, and I would concur. Why, you might ask, are there so many bad jams and preserves?  I do not have time to tell you all of the reasons, but here are a few of them.

Most product is made with the cheapest possible fruit with a high water content so both the flavor and the texture are compromised requiring copious amounts of pectin to arrive at the final product. Then there is the debacle of “fruit spreads” which are proclaimed to be sugar-free but instead sweetened with grape juice concentrate which then requires so much pectin to make it a non-liquid product that you can’t distinguish one fruit flavor from the next. The overriding issue is the factory-made nature of American jams, which are produced in giant batches with frozen fruit ordered over the phone from the cheapest source without any attention to its quality or variety.

This leads to an expectation that the price for a jar of jam ought to be $1.99, similar to that raised by Jimmy John’s, Subway, Quiznos and the perfectly awful Panera Bread that AmericanSpoonStrawRhubsandwiches should cost $5.00 and no more. Most of what I’ve learned about Jam in my life was in Europe, specifically in German and France. When you tour a european jam production facility you see the kettles and the cooling tunnels, but the crux of what they want to tell you about is the freezer where they store all of their really good fruit that they spend all summer procuring and preparing to use throughout the year to make their jam. Even though these producers make jam all year around, they work hardest during the fruit growing months when they are out making sure they have really good strawberries, raspberries, apricots, etc. to use during the rest of the year when they make their jam.

In the same way we are lucky here in Durham and Chapel Hill to have Neal’s Deli, Toast and Sandwhich to make exceptional sandwiches that cost more than $5.00, we are also lucky to have April McGreger at Farmer’s Daughter in Hillsborough to make exceptional preserves that cost more than $1.99. April only uses fresh local and seasonal fruit, so if you hanker for some strawberry jam this time of year or a more eclectic flavor combination like Wild Thimbleberry or Blackberry and Elderberry, I’ve got the answer for you.

I’ve known about and promoted American Spoon products for 25 years, selling them first in the original Wellspring store in Durham. American Spoon is a small family run operation in Michigan which works every angle of preserve and jam making to arrive at an exceptional product; in fact its a beauty at $8.99! American Spoon cooks all of their preserves in small batches, using copper kettles and wooden paddles, similar to the way the french do it. They use only Michigan fruit known for its depth of flavor. Like the french, American Spoon gathers high quality fruit during its local growing-season such as Early Glow Strawberries, which are known for their intensity and low water content, allowing the jam maker to use little or no pectin. For their Strawberry-Rhubarb Preserves, which I will have open for you to taste at Parker and Otis on Friday, they do not use any pectin as the Rhubarb helps ‘gel’ the preserves.

I was happy to see a shelf with American Spoon jams and preserves at Parker and Otis, and when I mentioned how much I liked the product to Jennings she told me it was her absolute favorite – what she brings home to put on her toast in the morning. While you may not want to invest $9.00 on a jelly for your teenagers’ PB&J, a high-quality and flavorful preserve such as these can turn your morning toast-ritual into a beauty!