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February 2013

How to get a Great Bottle of Wine every time! General Wine Geekery 6

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As a professional Wine Geek I constantly get asked "How do I pick out good wines that don't taste like Mike n' Ikes left in a car in August?"  Looking for my little purple Devenish sticker on the back of the bottles or reading my blog (wines;tasted on Typepad) is a pretty good way, but while you will get good wines you won't get wines that are precisely chosen for you.  That's a problem if you unwittingly pick up a good pizza wine but are having mussels and it makes the mussels taste like mud.  Luckily there is a trick to always getting the right wine!  It's not a crazy new app, nor is it a personal wine steward (although that would be really cool).  The trick to always getting the right wine is simple: shop at a store with a good wine selection and a staff that will recommend wines based on what you like!

Getting great wines is easy if you go to a shop with knowledgeable staff and talk to them.  Don't be intimidated by asking about wine; wine retail jobs aren't exactly high paying so most staff are there because they want to be and enjoy talking about it!  There are plenty of good wine stores around Portland: Aurora Provisions, Oh No, Rosemont, Bier Cellar, Browne Trading, Old Port Wine, Downeast Bev, RSVP, and Whole Foods are just some of them.  Once you start going to a shop and giving the staff feedback about their recommendations they'll be able to make more accurate recommendations; they'll also turn you on to wines that you wouldn't have found otherwise. 

The number one concern I hear in response to my advice is that shops like that are more expensive.  In fact most small shops are very conscious of that image and try to sell their wines at lower margins in order to compete with the big super markets.  Shops that take wine seriously pride themselves on having better selection and better values, otherwise why would anyone shop there?  So you can always just tell the staff what your budget is and the staff will recommend the best wine at that price.   

I would argue that you actually get a better wine value shopping at a serious wine store.  Look at it this way: you can go to a big grocery store and pick up a generic $9.99 bottle of wine, but it may taste like microwaved fruit roll-ups.  If you're buying wine with no idea what it will taste like it's your own fault if you get microwaved fruit roll-ups.  Buying wine based on a knowledgeable person's recommendations will drastically increase your enjoyment and reduce the possibility that you're wasting your money on microwaved fruit roll-up wine and you'll have more fun learning about wine!


Pairing Food and Wine (Specifically Muscadet and Mussels)

This is the fifth installment of my General Wine Geekery articles in the Portland Daily Sun.  Pairing food and wine is really tricky, but there are some great traditional pairings that are a good place to start.  Muscadet and Mussels (or most shellfish) is a great classic pairing.

I consider trying to pair food and wine as being like black magic! Think about it; not only do you have to accurately imagine what a given recipe and wine will taste like, then you have to imagine how the wine and all the flavors will change when they interact! Ideally when you pair food and wine the combination becomes more than the sum of it's parts and both are enhanced. Sometimes you come up with a great combination through contrasting flavors and other times complimentary flavors work best. Luckily for us people have been pairing food and wine for thousands of years so there are some good traditions to help point the way.

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A good place to start with food and wine pairing is your recipe's cultural background and what kind of wine would traditionally pair with it. In the old world wine producing regions cuisine and wine evolved together so you're usually pretty safe using that as a guide. A good example is shellfish (mussels, oysters, shrimp) and lighter white fish like sole and dabs. That kind of seafood is a standby on the Atlantic coast of France; an area that just happens to produce Muscadet, a white wine that's fantastic when drunk with them! Unusually for French wines Muscadet is both the name of the wine and the type of grape that it is made from; my favorite in particular is the Chateau Moriniere Muscadet.

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Moriniere's vineyards are close enough to the sea that they get a lot of fog and weather off the water and the wine has a distinct fresh sea air quality to it that I love. Some Muscadet is too light and simple but Moriniere's Cuillard family ages theirs for longer to let it get a bit richer and thicker. Still, the Moriniere isn't a heavy white wine. It has soft, pretty, white wild flower aromas but the real show is the taste of fresh apple, peach, and lemon zest followed by that mineral salt sea quality that makes it fantastic with light fish. I drank a bottle of Moriniere the other night with local dabs and mussels and the with was soft enough that it didn't overwhelm the fish but also complimented the mussels with it's saltiness. It's a tradition that's hundreds of years old and it's affordable at around $13.


General Wine Geekery: Terroir

This is my fourth article about wine in the Portland Daily Sun.


Terroir is a word that gets thrown around a lot in magazines and at wine shops, but the word, being French, can be intimidating to people just getting into wine.  Terroir doesn't have a good simple English translation. So I'm going to take today's column and explain what terroir is.

Terroir is the concept of an agricultural product expressing the unique qualities of the environment that created it. It applies to not just wine, but other foods such as cheese too. So everything in the environment that influences the way the vine grows and the resulting wine's taste counts as terroir. The type of soil, terrain of the vineyard, grape variety, weather, sun, and culture can all play a part in it. Take for example one of my standby table wines: the Clot del Pila Roussillon.  Roussillon is a region down on the Mediterranean border with Spain in southwest France. Clot del Pila comes from right by the Spanish border where the Pyrenees come down to the Mediterranean. The vineyard of Syrah, Grenache, and Carignan grapes faces the ocean and soaks up a fantastic about of sunlight from both the sky and sea. The hills are hot and dry everything seems to happen a slower pace. It's also a place where the Catalan culture of northern Spain spills across the border.

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All that matters because you can actually taste it in the Clot del Pila It's big, juicy, and envelopes your palate with this really ripe, warm, sunny fruit.  Behind the fruit there's a slightly peppery dried out earthy taste that's totally a product of that sun dried soil and the wild rosemary and thyme that grow in the hills. The clot del Pila is so bight, sunny, and laid back tasting that it doesn't taste completely French to me. If I didn't know and just tasted it a glass of it I might mistake it for Spanish; that's more of the terroir: the Catalan wine making culture!  It doesn't taste quite like other French wines because the people that make it aren't quite French and speak Catalan!  It's got so much terroir that it's like a little piece of the Mediterranean in a bottle. That's terroir!! And it's about 12 dollars.


Agricola Campogrande Rosso

Elio Altare is one of the old men of Barolo; one of the people that were there before Barolo was known around the world and was part of the evolution that made Barolo into what it is now.  In the same spirit that drove Altare to look towards Burgundy back in 1976 he decided to start a new project in Cinque Terre working with the traditional local grapes.  He and a local wine maker, Antonnio Bonnani, rebuilt this 5 acre vineyard and are making beautifully traditional wines from the absurdly steep vineyards.  You don't believe me when I say absurd?

Cinque terre vineyard
I stole this picture from the website, but really, look at that!  Working those vineyards would be so hard!

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Cinque Terre is famous for complex, thick, powerful, mineral whites.  This is red.  The whites may be more famous, but the reds are even rarer!  Campogrande made 1500 bottles in the 2011 vintage.  That's 125 cases.  125.  This is because they believe in it.  No one's going to get rich on 125 cases.

Grapes: Caniaolo, Bonamico, Ciliegiolo, and a touch of Sangiovese.

Aroma: The aroma is pretty, relaxed, and floral.  The Campogrande smells like a great flower shop in early spring.   I smell fresh lilac and rose, also fresh raspberry, and....a hint of thyme.  Really it's the barest hint, but it gives the aroma another slightly spicy dimension.  The Campogrande Rosso is lighter but very pretty and endearing.

Taste: The Campogrande Rosso's taste matches it's aroma with a smooth bright taste that's got clean fresh raspberry to it and a feminine refinement.  The acidity is just enough to make the wine bright and fun seeming but not too much.  This tastes like spring to me; it's fresh and clean and has pretty young fruit.  The Campogrande Rosso is a medium to light bodied wine, but that's fine, it's really engaging and entertaining to drink.  The brightness, purity, and hint of spice make the Campogrande an excellent red for fish.

18 bottles came into Maine.  Want one?  Thanks to it's unusual-ness it's only about $22 retail.


General Wine Geekery #3

This is the third installment of my weekly piece in the Portland Daily Sun: General Wine Geekery.  This week I address Valentines day.

Valentines Day is about a week away and I know that a many people will be looking for the right wine to make the evening a little more special. To save you all some trouble here's my number 1 pick for Valentines Day, my fail safe sure to be awesome pick: whatever you really like! Think of the best bottle of wine that you had in the past year, preferably something that you shared with your significant other. That way you get a wine that you know you like and it will have that positive association from the last time you shared it.

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That's kind of a cop out the on my part, though. I'm supposed to be an Expert Wine Geek so here's what wine I'm personally going to have for Valentines. Terres Blanches Sparkling Cabernet Franc. It's a full on red Cabernet Franc that's bubbly! Not only that, it's biodynamically farmed, made by a young couple in the middle of nowhere in the Loire valley, and it's absolutely delicious. It's very smooth, well balanced, has lovely fresh berry fruit up front, tiny soft bubbles, and no: it's not sweet. The Terres Blanches is a lot of fun and since it's a light bubbly red it goes with most foods from salad, to salmon, lamb or pork.

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I went over and visited the farm and young couple that make it last spring; they're very humble passionate people living out there dream. If that's not romantic I don't know what is. The wine is about 20 dollars retail.

Ned Swain is a professional advocate for excitement and fun of the vinous variety  More info is available at devenishwines.com

Domaine Laguille Gros Manseng demi sec 2011

Laguille Gros Manseng is one of the more exciting, unusual, and under-appreciated wines in the Devenish stable.  We have tons of wines that I think are under-appreciated, but the Laguille is so delicious and fun and surprising that I feel particularly bad that more people aren't familiar with it.  Laguille is a family winery located in Bas Armagnac Gascony.  Armagnac is famous for it's spirits made from distilled wine and the Laguille family does plenty of distilling, but they make wine as well, both for distilling and for general consumption.

Gros Manseng

Disclaimer: The Laguille Gros Manseng isn't easily classifiable; it's not dry, but it's also not too sweet (to my taste).  The Gros Manseng also has a nice spice to it that reminds me of the spice of Riesling or Gewurz.  The Laguille has residual sugar, but the sugar doesn't define it.  It still has fresh acidity and the finish isn't sweet-the sweetness doesn't linger.

Varietal: 100% Gros Manseng

Aroma:

Intense ripe fruit.  Lots of fresh peach, golden raisin, some hay, serious ripe pineapple, and slight fresh spring honey.

Taste:

Pineapple! Honey, mango, bright fruit at first, then the Gros Mansneg gets deeper and juicier, The tropical fruit is followed by a bit of spice and the peach lingers after the finish. The Laguille is a giving, lush, rich kind of wine; opulent and luscious come to mind. It kind of blows up your mid palate with all that fruit and spice, then fades in a nice clean bright way.  This Gros Manseng is very lively with bright acidity inter-wound throughout it. 

This is a great cheese for rich creamy cheeses, or to pair with a dessert fruit tart.  The awesome thing though is that this Gros Manseng pairs really well with rich greasy food!  The sweetness is a good counterpart to salty and the spice and acidity cut through the fat.  So the Laguille is fantastic with cheeseburgers, reubens, braised short ribs, buffalo wings, or even spicy chinese foods!  It's a lot of fun and available for about $13 at Aurora Provisions, Rosemont in Yarmouth, Rosemont on Munjoy Hill, The Bier Cellar, and Local in Brunswick.


Forlorn Hope Suspiro del Moro

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Vintage 2010

This is something different, even for Devenish!  And it says it right on the label, up at the top: "Another Rare Creature".  Forlorn Hope is a project created and run by Mathew Rorick.  Rorick had formerly been at Elizabeth Spencer wines in Rutherford making very sought after and well know Cabernets, Chardonnays, and Pinot Noirs; in short exactly what you imagine when you think of Rutherford.  Click on this link and look at the winery, it beautifully looks like something out of a Napa promotional magazine!  There's nothing wrong with that I guess Rorick eventually got tired of it and made a 180 degree turn.

So named as an acknowledgment that risky ventures that are prone to failure are also the ones that sometimes succeed fantastically, Rorick decided to start making tiny amounts of wine from rare grapes to experiment and see what they could do in CA.  Forlorn Hope makes about 1,500 cases total per year of over 15 different wines.  That's less than 100 cases for some.  As much as possible Mathew Rorick tries to use natural yeasts and is reputed to crush all grapes by foot.  He must have gnarly feet.  The bottom line though is that Rorick is making these wines because he's passionate and he believes these grapes can yield amazing wines, if only people would pull their heads out of the Cabernet and Chardonnay barrels and give them a chance.

Varietal: 100% Alvarelhao, or by it's Galician Spanish name: Brancellao

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Aroma:

Super aromatic and powerful!  There's a lot of fruit!  I get pomegranate, fresh strawberry, raspberry, and......a little bit of candle wax.  The Suspiro seems floral too, but like really big psychedelic flowers on a tropical island; so basically I can't nail it down. The Suspiro del Moro has a really cool aroma!  It's very alive and bright.  It persistently gets into my nose and won't let go.  Oh, wait, add good fresh strawberry jam to that milieu as well.

Palate:

Bright fresh spring time-y berry fruit with lively acidity up front.  The fruit up front is very juicy, but then it fades into a slightly tart kind of tiny red berry currenty taste.  The Suspiro is interesting; it tastes well made and all the components work together, but it's an unusual combination of components.  The ripe berry fruit, fresh acidity, reasonable integrated tannin, that hint of pithiness, a hint of spruce, the polished texture; it's a very tasty but unique experience.  I feel like over all the wine has this tough kernel of tannic and acidic structure and then around that you have this lush suave fruit that makes it so seductive.

Devenish got 5 cases.  We sold the 5 cases.  You can grab some for under $25 at the Blue Hill Wine Shop, Browne Trading, The Rosemont on Munjoy Hill, and Oakhill Beverage or you can try a bottle of it at Caiola's or Bresca.