MWWC 36: Environment

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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.

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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.

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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!).

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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!

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MWWC #30: Obscure

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This month’s wine writing challenge was picked by…well, me!  As last month’s winner for my glass-shattering tales in my Winestory, I got the honor of picking this month’s theme: OBSCURE.

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For full disclosure, Jeff helped me pick OBSCURE–and he was right, it was the word I was looking for in my quest to hear about the often-forgotten grapes.  What I sent to Jeff was a long rambling email about how I was enjoying Lori and Mike of Draceana Wines posts about Cabernet Franc and their push for #CabFrancDay.  I love Cabernet Franc, from the moment that I tasted it!  But a lot of people have not heard of this delicious grape and even fewer know of other Cabernet grapes, like Ruby Cabernet.

Side note: Grape Creek makes a delicious blend of these three Cabernet grapes, Cabernet Trois, which I highly recommend if you’re in Texas and/or can get your hands on some!

This got me thinking: I wanted to hear from everyone that one varietal that they love that perhaps few outside the world of wine have experienced.  Everyone (wine drinker or not) has heard of Chardonnay, Shiraz, the main Pinots (note: any snarky comments about me lumping Noir and Grigio into one will be ignored!), Rieslings, Cabernet, Merlot, and even (shudder) White Zin, but there are thousands and thousands of varietals out there–what about them?

Btw, this was all pretty much in my nebulous (his word, not mine–ha!) email to him.  Thankfully, he recently moved to Texas and was able to decipher my ramblings and come up with a–in my humble opinion–great word.

So it is in that spirit that I wanted to tell you about my favorite OBSCURE wine, actually wines.  There are four in fact, because well, go big or go home.

Gewürztraminer, Viognier, French Colomabard, and Dry Riesling

ANOTHER SIDE NOTE: I know Rieslings are not obscure and were in my list above, but DRY Rieslings are a bit harder to find…that is my story and I’m sticking to it.

At the time I introduced to each of these wine I was working at the wineshop.  I was very leery of white wine because I lumped them all (I know, bad Shezza!) into two categories: Chardonnay (gag!) and exceptionally sweet Rieslings (not so much gag as too sweet to drink more than a ½ glass!).

But as I worked my way down the tasting bar, my tastebuds discovered there was actually a wide variety in flavors and sweetness levels of white wines–far more than I ever imagined!  Along the way I found four wines that not only stood out, but that I would actually consider drinking–a HUGE feat at the time because, honestly, if it wasn’t red or bubbles, I did not drink it!

ONE MORE SIDE NOTE: I pulled the first three pictures from each winery’s website, as 20 years ago I never dreamed I needed pictures!

Bell Mountain Dry Riesling  /  Fredericksburg, Texas

bell-mountainWait?  There is such a thing as Dry Riesling?  Growing up in a German town, I was exposed to Riesling very early in life.  Not that I was drinking it, but it was the very first wine varietal that I knew existed (not that I even knew what “wine varietal” meant at that time!).  My first tastes of Riesling were Spätlese and Auslese, so I was delightful surprised when I tried the local Dry Rieling from Bell Mountain (exceptionally local, as the vineyard butts up to the part of the ranch!).  What surprised me was the fruitiness of the wine without the sweetness.  This wine, like many grown in the area, has very peachy overtones–both in the bouquet and the finish, which is dry and crisp.  It pairs well with lighter foods and soft cheeses, but can be enjoyed all by itself.

For the trivia files:  Being the star of German wines, there are many different ways to classify Rieslings based on region and sweetness at the time of harvest.  Wine Folly does a great job of explaining it, if one was interested in jumping into the deep end of the Riesling pool!

Llano Estacado Gewürztraminer  /  Lubbock, Texas

lew-gewurztraminer-webAs you may or may not know, gewurz means spice in German and this wine is perfect for spicy foods or heavy cheeses.  It has a very floral bouquet, with a medium mouthfeel, and tastes of honeysuckle with a bit of warm spice on the finish (allspice, perhaps?).  Personally speaking, I think it is delicious but is on the sweeter side, even for a Gewürztraminer, and best paired with food.

For the trivia files:  Gewürztraminer grapes are actually pink to red in color not white!

 

 

 

Becker Vineyards Viognier  /  Stonewall, Texas

becker-viognierI think it took me three glasses of Viognier to be able to properly and without hesitation say Viognier (as opposed to my German heritage which allowed me to say Gewürztraminer without any issues the very first time!).  What I found in this Viognier was a dry wine that I could truly enjoy without all the oaky/buttery flavors that are synonymous with Chardonnay.  While you would expect to find peach, this Viognier smells of apricot and honeydew.  It is full bodied, with a honeysuckle and apricot finish.  I think this a perfect wine for red wine drinkers who hate Chardonnay but are looking for an occasional white wine to enjoy.  Honestly, I can’t say what food this pairs well with because I usually just pair it with a glass 😉

For the trivia files: Viognier is genetically related to Nebbiolo and was nearing extinction in 1965 when only 8 acres were planted in the Rhône.

Dry Comal Creek French Colombard  /  New Braunfels, Texas

IMG_0993-1Like Viognier, French Colombard was a wine I had never even heard of prior to tasting it.  I was actually introduced to Dry Comal Creek’s French Colombard several years after I started working at the wine shop, but given its obscurity in the wine world except as a blending grape, I thought it worth a mention.  Dry Comal Creek make two versions of this, although I believe the Bone-Dry isn’t always available.  What I enjoy about the French Colombard is the long lingering flavors of tropical fruit.  It is medium-to-full bodied and has a touch of sweetness while drinking.  However, the sweetness does not linger–just the fruitiness (which probably doesn’t make any sense until you try this wine).  The Bone-Dry version is just that: less sweetness while drinking and a much drier finish with less fruity lingering.  Both versions are very mild and easy to drink.  I think they both pair well with light snacks, appetizers, fish/seafood (especially the Bone Dry) and just drinking on the back porch.

For the trivia files:  It was traditionally grown in France to distill into Cognac and Armagnac and because of its natural sweetness is used to sweeten baby food (presumably before it’s distilled…)

So that’s my tale of venturing into the world of the more obscure grapes, and in so doing, I even learned how to enjoy white wine.

Cheers y’all!

 

MWWC #17: Epiphany

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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.

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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!

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Cheers, ya’ll!