MWWC 36: Environment

3

Life is funny.   Recently, I went back home to Texas for a visit, which conveniently coincided with Jeff (having won last month’s challenge) setting this month’s challenge as Environment.  Hailing from the Texas Hill Country Appellation, I mentally began creating bullet points about the environment of the Texas Hill Country Appellation and which wineries I was going to feature–debating if I should focus on one or several.  While I was at home, I did quite a bit of tasting in preparation for this wine writing challenge (I’m thorough like that).  Although ironically most of what I was tasting were Hill Country wineries using grapes from the Texas High Plains vineyards, but I digress.

wine stain

Then it happened.  After departing Texas, I went back to NYC via an extended stopover in Minnesota.  On Day 2, April took me to a little town on the St. Croix river called Stillwater.  We were there for the tacos (that’s a story for another time)–but after lunch we wandered down the main street of the town, poking around the boutique shops in search of a brewery/winery/distillery (Stillwater has some of each and long ago, April learned long ago that a happy Shez is a Shez plied with alcohol and coffee and food).  We saw the Northern Vineyards Winery and headed inside.

img_7746

They offered tastings and, well, why not?!?  I figured it would be great feature for a future-topic-not-yet-determined MWWC and then the tasting began.  I was introduced to 3 new grape varietals, which I had never heard of before and upon asking about them I was told that they were developed by the University of Minnesota (Go Gophers!).

img_7751

Well shit.  Of course, after hearing that I realized that what better way to incorporate ENVIRONMENT into my wine writing like discussing grapes developed specifically for growing in a particular region.  Since I was only on my second taste, I knew it had to be fate rather than the alcohol talking.

So without further ado, I’d like to introduce you to the following grapes developed by and/or with the University of Minnesota (Go Gophers!):

  • Frontenac (red/rosé)
  • Frontenac Gris (white)
  • Marquette (red)
  • Edelweiss (white)

Northern Vineyards uses all of these grapes and other varietals, like Le Crosse and St. Croix, which were developed to withstand the hearty Minnesota (read: cold) environment, basically “varieties adapted to severe winters and short growing season are chosen.”  For all the grape varietals suited for growing in Minnesota, visit the University of Minnesota (Go Gophers!) Fruit Research website.

And now on to some tasting notes.

The first thing I sampled was the Prairie Smoke, made with La Crosse grapes.  I’m not a big fan of fumés in general, however, this one was light and fairly crisp for a fumé. In addition to the smokey nose, there were also ginger and hints of grapefruit.

Probably one of my favorites that I tasted was the Main Street Rosé.  A dry, crisp blend of La Crosse and Frontenac grapes.  This wine is very fruit forward with lingering strawberry both in the finish and on the nose.

They also have a semi-sweet blush, Lady Slipper, made with Frontenac Gris grapes.  Before tasting I was worried I had just been poured something akin to Strawberry Hill, however, the Lady Slipper was medium bodied and not overly sweet which I think would pair nicely with a cheese & fruit plate.

Of the reds I tried, I think the Downtown Red was my favorite.  A blend of Frontenac and Marquette, it was smooth.  It had a hint of blackberry and white pepper on the finish and reminded me of a light cabernet sauvignon.

I have to confess I was surprised not to find a dessert wine offered–I would think that the early frosts would lend itself to naturally sweeter wines, alas Northern Vineyards did not offer any.

It was a fun tasting–our hostess seemed to have a good handle on the wine grapes of Minnesota, I got to taste some varietals I had never even heard of before, and learn more about wine!

So much emphasis is placed on the environment in which grapes grow–and for good reason, terroir is one of the most important factors in the world of wine. We often talk about how this region or that region is perfect for growing grapes, but what about the areas that are not?  Hybrid and indigenious varietals catering to the less than perfect environment–be it Frontenac in Minnesota, Black Spanish in Texas, or even Roobernet in South Africa– seem to be the solution for sustainable grape growth and wine production.

Now if only one could be developed for the environs of a New York City window sill…

Cheers!

Advertisements

Poems

0

To help get you in the romantic spirit, I found this….

…which is TOTALLY my kind of poem 😉
poems

MWWC #17: Epiphany

11

This month’s wine writing challenge is Epiphany, as selected by last month’s winner John, The Wine Raconteur.  The first thing that came to mind was The Burgundy.  But I feel quite certain you are sick of hearing about it….so, I thought I’d be bold and try something else.

wine-stain1-3

The second best thing about working in a wine tasting room is proving people wrong helping people try new things they were sure they hated.

BTW, I’d like to insert that if you didn’t know the best thing about working in a wine tasting room is drinking wine, then get out of my life–I don’t need that kind of negativity.

But back to proving people wrong helping people try new things they were sure they hated.  It’s something I’ve always enjoyed doing.  When it comes to wine, this is a rather fun challenge.  I don’t do it to be cantankerous. I do it to prove to everyone I meet that there is a whole big world of wine out there–why limit yourself to just pinot noir or white zin or only true French champagnes [please hear that with all the snobbery it was intended] or only reds or whites or sweet or dry?

We all have a preference but to me there was nothing more satisfying than seeing a look of epiphany on someone’s face who bravely let me lead them out of their comfort zone and realized that they liked it out there.

What led me on this path to wine-enlightenment was that I started working at a wine shop that only sold Texas wine–this was back in the early 90s when nobody was talking about Texas as a wine producer.  During my time there, I had many epiphanies there–but none more so than my first day.

On Day #1, I was told that being able to speak about the wines we offered and make recommendations was the most important part of my job, so my first task was to taste every single bottle on the bar that we had available for sampling. Whaaaaat??  There are 1, 2, 3…33 of them!  Since that moment in time, I have found this to be THE BEST advice I’ve ever gotten in the world of wine (and it easily applies to most things in life):  don’t judge, just try everything.

I’m not going to lie, I was not excited about trying the whites and rosés–I was a red wine drinker.  And by red wine, I mean cabernet sauvignon and tempernillo.  But I hated, hated, hated white and rosés–because my initial introduction to these wines were uber-sweet (of the added sugar variety) or mass produced (aka tasteless) pinot grigio or (shudder) white zinfandel or over-oaked California chardonnay .

Before you hit comment to defend your beloved [insert wine I just insulted here], KEEP READING!

Over the course of several days, I tried every single bottle that was available for sampling.  And I’m not going to lie, I did not like 50% of it, but I did find some unexpected hidden gems, such as dry riesling, gewürztraminer, viognier, and French colombard.  Suddenly my wine palate opened considerably!  With these varietals and styles, I found fruity, but not sweet, flavorful white wines.  Then I discovered dry rosés and French oak and realized that oak could lend itself to creaminess–not just tasting like I was chewing on a bark.  So I revisited my arch-white wine nemesis: chardonnay.  This time, I started with the French stuff, which had more fruit and just enough oak to get me used to the flavor.  Eventually, I even found (gasp!) a few California chardonnays that I like.  Of course, my hate also spilled over (pun intended!) into some of the red wines as well (**cough**merlot, pinot noir**cough**), but I now always try them because I have found some of each that I adore (think Russian River Valley and, hahaha, surely you had to know I was going to find a way to mention The Burgundy).

So it was in this spirit, that I would try to help customers who came into the wine shop with their broad-stroke declarations, like “I don’t drink Texas wine.”  Of course not, because until two seconds ago you weren’t even aware that Texas wine existed….so you tell me what you like to drink and then hold on to your glass because I’m about to show you what’s been missing in your life!

IMG_3008

Cheers, ya’ll!

Family Tradition

6

This month’s wine writing challenge is Traditions, and I can’t think of a better way to honor tradition than to tell you how I got into drinking wine. Really drinking wine, that is–not the sneaking sips out of everyone’s glass when nobody was looking drinking wine…

wine-stain1-3

Picture it: Holland 1994 (and before you write in correcting me that it should be The Netherlands, please know that I lived in the province of Zuid-Holland, so…Holland).  I was a Rotary International exchange student. Even though “no drinking” was one of the five major rules of being an exchange student, I had the great fortune of having host families who took that to mean no excessive drinking when they were not around. Nearly every evening meal included libations of some sort (beer was an equally popular choice). My counselor’s family preferred beer and sweet sherry. My first host family loved white wines, especially white Burgundies.  My second host family prided itself on serving the appropriate drink for whatever dish or course, such as the occasion required. For the record, I never appreciated this until our 12-course Christmas dinner, with–oh yes!–12 different wines and apperifs! But it was my third family who taught me about wine and thus, my third host family is why we’re here today.

When it came to wine, my third host family only drank two kinds: Champagne and wine from the Rioja. My first night in the house, my host father took me to the wine cellar and asked me to pick something to drink with dinner.

I was at a loss. First of all, I am from a family of beer and whiskey drinkers. The wine drinkers (at least when I was growing up), leaned heavily towards the sweet stuff and I certainly didn’t see anything that looked like it was sweet. Secondly, I was wracking my brain to remember everything my second host mother lectured me about in terms of pairing wine with food, but I COMPLETELY forgot to ask what was for dinner. However, both of those were trumped by my awe of staring at the most wine I’d ever seen in my life outside of a wine or liquor store.

Uhhhhhh……

Uhhhhhh……

Uhhhhhh…..

Finally, I grabbed the nearest bottle to me and held it up for inspection. Hmmm…it was red and from Spain and I was quite sure I wouldn’t like it, but I was committed to my choice.

I held it high, like a trophy I had proudly won!

My host father asked why I picked that one.

I hung my head and lowered the bottle.

Ik weet het niet.

I don’t know. I shrugged, he chuckled, and we went back upstairs with my prize bottle, where he made me open it so it could decanteren.  What?  So it could…what?  More chuckling.

Breathe!  It needs to breathe!

At this moment, I was starting to panic that I selected a $300 bottle of wine.  My host mother sensing my panic, assured me that I made a good choice, as it was the house favorite and not to worry, she was sure they still had 5 or 6 cases left.

I’m sorry, 5 or 6 what?  Yes, yes, I knew what a case was, but the thought that anyone would have multiple cases of wine at one time and then have numerous cases of THE SAME WINE…and then to think to that they had a particular amount left, but not even be sure?!?

I was stunned.  I was flabbergasted.  I.WAS.SPEECHLESS!

My host father decided that he would take me under his wine wing and teach me all there was to know about wine.  He and my host mother patiently answered a plethora of questions about wines and grapes and buying and collecting and serving and tasting and on and on until finally I asked about their wine room and how they kept it so well stocked.

Oh you know, we make a trip to Spain every year.

He said it with such aplomb and nonchalance that I was picturing all of Europe flocking to the south to stock on on wine. I was–at that very moment–planning my move to the continent!

So you just drive the car to Spain, load up, and drive back?

Well, we stop in Champagne on the way back as well.

I’m sorry.  You drive the car to Spain, load up on wine, swing by Champagne buy a bit more and then come back?

HA HA HA HA…of course not.  We take a trailer, otherwise it wouldn’t be worth it.  That’s why we have the big BMW.

So let me get this straight.  You hook a trailer up to the car, drive to Spain, load up on wine.  Drive to Champagne, get more wine and then drive back?

More or less, yes.  We love Spanish wine–and well, who doesn’t love champagne?

You are certainly right about that [champagne].  Wait, wait, wait.  Start from the beginning, alstublieft.

Well, it started over 30 years ago–on our honeymoon.  We drove to Spain and just fell in love with the wines from Rioja.  On that trip we came back with a couple of cases of tempranillo, and since it was our honeymoon, we stopped in Champagne on our way back and got a few bottles of champagne as well.  We loved that trip so much, we decided it would make a great yearly trip.  So, every spring on our anniversary we would get in the car and head to Rioja for wine.  Soon it became our little tradition.  Every year , however, we came back with more and more wine.  Finally, we just stopped pretending and stressing about getting it to fit in the car and bought a trailer.  Of course then we needed a bigger car to be able to pull it back through the mountains.  Now there’s no stress, a lot of room and we are able to purchase enough delicious reds, whites, and bubbly for the whole year, and in the process, get a vacation.  Beautiful country, beautiful wife, beautiful wine–life doesn’t get any better than that.

No…no, it certainly does not.

t_ca850580-b31e-11e1-8d33-673417400001

Jazucci Wine

2

Drink what you like.

I’ve said it so many times in my wine career, I’ve lost count.  Well into the millions, if not billions.  I’m not going to lie and say that I didn’t inwardly cringe a bit whenever a customer just loooooooved their $5 bottle of cloyingly sweet because 500lbs of sugar were dumped into the barrel red wine.  Do you have something else?  Just like it, but in white or blush?  A nice crisp sparkling muscato hinting of peaches and apples?  A beautiful rosato bursting with so much fruitiness that you don’t realize no sugar has been added?  Nope.  They were all about the $5 bottle of sweet red.   They liked the taste and they loved the price point.

And red wine is good for my heart, right?  Well, maybe not that red.  It has too much added sugar.  Let me introduce you to something my cousin likes to call jacuzzi wine.

Jacuzzi wine? They were hooked simply on the moniker.  Something fun.  Absolutely no trace of snobbery that the wine world has projected as it’s façade for decades.  Plus it wasn’t White Zin.  They didn’t know a lot, but they knew to stay away from white zinfandel–at least in a fancy wine shop.  White zinfandel was for purchasing at the grocery store where you could hide it in the bottom of your cart and drink it at home without judgmental eyes watching.  No this was a much more sophisticated choice in wine: it was a Cabernet Blanc. Granted, it too was sweet, but not quite so cloying.  However, it had something that the sweet red didn’t: it was light and delicate and offered flavors other than “sweet”–like peaches.  It was light and fun and peachy and wha–$16 a bottle?

Silence.  Of course, you can always buy a glass of it for $5–walk down the street, do some shopping.  Think about it for awhile.  Buy a glass and then buy a bottle of sweet red to take back to your hotel.

You see, what I learned very early in my wine career is that wine can be scary and it can quickly get expensive–and thus those in the wine world quickly learn what their wine values are.  Are they a $300 bottle of Dom?  Or a bottle of 2 Buck Chuck?  The truth is, they’re both.  To my palette, it’s definitely a bottle of good quality French champagne, but I don’t need Dom Perignon–Bollinger or Krug will do nicely thankyouverymuch!  Or a bottle of Artemis.  Or an elusive cabernet franc or petite verdot.  But to those just starting out, $5 bottle of sweet red is everything to them.  I know.  I’ve seen their faces alight with glee as they walked out of the wine shop.  They want so badly to like wine but big-buttery California chardonnays and spicy-in-your-face Australian shirazes and dry-despite-saying-semi-dry French champagnes don’t taste good.  And they’re expensive and why throw $20, $50, $100+ down the drain when it tastes disgusting?

They want to like wine…and they don’t want to spend $100 a bottle.

A fair assessment. I love wine and I don’t want to spend $100 on a bottle. I mean, I will splurge from time to time, but not often–not when you can spend much less and still get a great bottle. So to me, values in the great big world of wine come down to two things: do you like it and can you afford to drink it whenever you like?

Everyone is entitled to their own wrong opinion and that is blatantly obvious when dealing with wine. Otherwise, there wouldn’t be so many varietals or styles of wine available. But the one consistent is that we are all seeking that holy grail of wine that is the perfect combination of delicious and affordable. So you when you find yourself introducing people to wine, you suggest Muscato and Riesling and Gewürztraminer and then fall back to Jacuzzi wine and sweet red.  And when you set aside your values and focus on their values, they leave happy.  Sometimes it was with a case of Jacuzzi wine; other times with a glass of reserve Cabernet Sauvignon. But they were happy. They fell in love. They found their wine values and victory was oh-so-sweet…or spicy…or buttery…but always delicious.