Examining the Evidence: Part I – On Appearance

Many wine drinkers find themselves in a situation in which they have just tasted a fantastic wine but are at a loss as to how to express in words the attractive color, heavenly aromas and the beautiful complexity (sometimes cacophony) of tastes on their palates.

Let’s start with appearance. Some will say, “The wine is white”. While we establish that a white wine swirls in front of our eyes, a

Color can vary from Straw to deep Garnet

Color can vary from Straw to deep Garnet

wine’s appearance may offer important clues as to the wine’s method of production, its age and its élèvage (post-fermentation care).

Clarity, intensity, and color, better yet, its shade, offer us a few ways to describe a wine’s appearance and determine part of its character. I have broken down these categories and compiled a list of vocabulary to inspire the poet within you the next time you imbibe. See if you can use some of these descriptors when sharing your experience with your friends.

Clarity: is the wine clear?

-clear, clean, bright, shiny, lively, luminescent, brilliant, transparent, dull, hazy, cloudy, dense, dirty, foggy, opaque,  impenetrable

Intensity: how intense is the color?

-pale, light, medium, dark, deep

Color: what color(s) do you see?

White-water white, straw, greenish yellow, canary yellow, golden, tawny, caramel, copper, chestnut, amber, brown

Rosé – light salmon, (yellow) onion-skin, fuchsia, cherry, pink, orange rose, apricot

Red – Violet, ruby, garnet, mahogany, mauve, brick red, scarlet, vermilion, coffee, pomegranate, ochre

Additional impressions: do you see bubbles, legs, sediment, crystals?
Cheers,
Agi

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Karma Vista’s Award Winning NV Syrah Reserve

If you are looking for a deeply colored, spicy and full flavored wine, than you need look no further than your own back yard. Karma Vista Vineyards, located in Coloma, has produced an award-winning Syrah that is ready to drink now. Being a Syrah lover myself, I was delighted to discover the character of this Lake Michigan Shore wine. Syrah (also known as Shiraz), is a very old grape variety which first earned its status as one the world’s highest quality wines in the Rhône region of France, namely Hermitage. It re-discovered its potential in Australia where, due to the warm climate, wines are lush, robust, and very full-bodied. The Rhône Rangers brought Syrah from relative obscurity to fame in California. Today when you peruse the aisles of your favorite wine store, you will find not only one hundred percent Syrahs but blends, or cuvees, from winemakers as far away as South Africa and Washington State. Now Lake Michigan Shore can boast its own version.

Award-winning Syrah Reserve

Award-winning Syrah Reserve

According to Joe and Susan Herman, the owners of the winery, karma means the great things that happen from the little things you do. Well, they had karma on their side when they made the non-vintage Syrah Reserve! Known for making a range of wines, both dry and sweet, the Hermans saw gold when this red wine recently won a gold medal at the 2014 San Francisco Chronicle Wine Competition. A rich ruby in color, spicy black pepper aromas jump right out to greet you along with ripe blackberry, smoky plum, and sweet vanilla from the French barrels that were used for aging. Smooth and pleasant on the palate with a persistent finish, pair with grilled meats (maybe add a little mushrooms) or your favorite barbecue.

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Around the Bend cont’d.

Also located in the Michigan Lake Shore appellation is Domaine Berrien Cellars. Owned by Wally and Katie Walsh, their love of Rhone wines inspired them to plant traditional Rhone varietals including Marsanne, Roussanne, Viognier and Syrah.

The 2011 Marsanne and 2011 Viognier were both fermented in stainless steel (no cask) thereby showcasing the fruit and terroir. The Marsanne was clean with crisp acidity, a predominance of green apple on the nose and palate.  Perfect with oysters on the half shell.  True to its aromatic character, the Viognier displayed floral notes as well as mango and pineapple.  Compared to its Rhone counterpart, I found the Michigan version to exhibit a higher level of acidity giving the wine a more steely character. All in all these white perfect pairings with seafood, chicken, salads or on their own.

Matt Moersch, Katie & Wally Berrien

Matt Moersch, Katie & Wally Berrien & Me

On the red side, the 2010 Syrah, Abigail’s Vineyard presented the lush, dark ruby-red hue that we expect from the grape that has more coloring matter than any other.  The winemaker shows to add complexity and structure by ageing the wine in French oak barrels (both new and old) followed by ageing in bottle for 16 months.  I immediately noticed evidence of oak ageing when nosing the wine: smoky cherry and vanilla unveiled their aromas along with red and black fruits including plum and blackberry.  Truly accessible on the palate.

Michigan is predominantly growing the vitis vinifera species of grapes from which so many of the world’s most revered wines originate.  It is impressive that so much care and attention is being invested by people who  vow to carry on the tradition of quality wine-making right here in the Midwest. The winemakers and vineyard owners I have talked with so far are not interested in copying the old World, but rather prefer to take what the old World has given them and  see what their terroir will bring to them.  They are visionaries looking to carve out their own niche and call it their own.

Go Michigan wines!

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Around the Bend in Michigan

Domain Berrien & Free Run Cellars (photo by Steve Salisbury)

Domain Berrien & Free Run Cellars                                 (photo by Steve Salisbury)

Just around the bend, skirting the tip of Lake Michigan, travelers winding their way north into the state of Michigan expect to see the famed fruit orchards lining the roads spreading out for miles on either side.  Imagine you are in a convertible on a Sunday afternoon with the warm sun on your face and shiny red apples, crimson cherries and juicy plums enthusiastically bobble in greeting as the breeze blows effortlessly through their tree branches. Take a few detours off of Highway 94, however, to Union Pier Road, Red Arrow Highway or Lake Street, and you will find  a number of micro climates beautifully suited to the production of grapes.  These are not the table grape varieties destined for jam; you know the one..it starts with a “W”…, but the kind every hopeful viticulturist and winemaker envision as flowing out of a bottle, a perfect accompaniment to food.

I confess that, until a few short months ago, I had not tasted any wines from Michigan. I have tasted wines from other parts of the Midwest, but  with mixed results.  Part of the challenge for a wine professional is the ability to stay open-minded when the opportunity to try something new presents itself.  Normally, trying something new translates to a wine from a producer, a region or a grape we already know. I am disappointed with some of my colleagues’ dismissive attitudes who automatically assume that outside California, Washington, or Oregon, quality wines are not to be found in the US.  I was determined not to be hailed as another wine snob; and so, a very enthusiastic Michigan native convinced me that I need not go far from Chicago to find wines that are indeed not only worth tasting myself, but that others just might enjoy as well.

For those of you unfamiliar with Michigan’s wines, here are a few facts from Michigan’s official wine industry website, http://www.michiganwines.com:

  • Michigan has 15,000 acres of vines, making Michigan the fourth largest grape producing state in the nation.
  • 2,650 acres are devoted to wine grapes, making Michigan the fifth state in wine grape production in the United States.
  • Vineyard area has doubled over the last 10 years.
  • Michigan’s 101 commercial wineries produce more than 1.3 million gallons of wine annually, making Michigan 13th in wine production.  The vast majority of production is from Michigan-grown grapes.
  • Wineries attract more than 2 million visitors annually

Recently, atop the Willis Tower at the Metropolitan Club, a group of fellow wine lovers spent an evening with Wally and Katie Maurer, owners of Domaine Berrien, and Matt Moersch, winemaker at Round Barn Winery.  Both of these wineries are located in the southwest appellation of Lake Michigan Shore.

The Round Barn label has developed several different brands (including a brewery and distillery) with Free Run Cellars representing the premier wine category.  First in the lineup, the 2012 Riesling, a 100% varietal wine. The first whiff of fragrant floral and citrus aromas assured me that I had indeed met with a Riesling true to its character. Bright, straw-colored with a tinge of green on the rim, the wine was very clean, dry (.5% residual sugar), a bit broader in style than its German counterparts.  The wine making techniques of whole cluster press and stainless steel fermentation at a cool temperature belie the winemaker’s vision of creating a fresh, aromatic style of Riesling with mouthwatering acidity.

The 2012 Gewürztraminer, Fox Hollow Vineyard followed.  The word “Gewürz” in German translates to “spice” in English, and, again, after assessing its brilliant appearance, my nose twitched in appreciation of the familiar lychee and rose wood aromas. More golden in hue than its Riesling counterpart, this medium-bodied dry wine certainly dispelled any doubts that Michigan is not capable of producing quality, complex wines.

Finally, the 2011 Cabernet Franc, rounded out the list.  The most widely planted red wine grape in Michigan, Cabernet Franc (one of the parents of Cabernet Sauvignon) manages to ripen in the cooler climate of Lake Michigan Shore and the sandy loam soil native to the area. Matt decided to add 5% Cabernet Sauvignon to the blend which added complexity and color to the finished product.  Lighter in color than your Napa Valley counterparts and more like its Loire counterpart, this Cabernet Franc was  medium ruby in appearance and was fermented and aged in oak for about 18 months.  Black cherry, vanilla and a soft, supple texture invites the imbiber to drink now and enjoy.

Lest I forget, in case you are hankering for a creamy delight, Round Barn makes a DiVine Black Walnut Creme “wine” from grape wine, walnuts and creme. Similar to a Baileys in style, add to a crème anglaise and you have a decadent dessert topping or substitute in your favorite cocktails for a new favorite.

Stay tuned, and I’ll introduce you to Domaine Berrien in my next blog post.

Cheers,

Agi

 

 

 

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Tasting On the Circuit

ImageWhenever I step into a room with wines stretching from one end to the other, I know good wines are waiting to be tasted. Not only will I enjoy seeing old familiar faces, but I always feel a real sense of gratification when I try something new, a yet undiscovered gem to add to my repertoire of terroir.

I was not to be disappointed.  Mr. Ramzi Goshn, one of the owners of Massaya Winery in the Bekaa Valley, Lebanon, introduced me to his family of wines.  The 2012 Massaya Blanc proved to be a conversation starter when he described the blend.  In addition to Clairette, Sauvignon Blanc and Chardonnay, Obeidi was a part of the blend.  Believed to be an ancestor to Chardonnay, it is also used in the very traditional and aromatic aniseed-flavored spirit, arak.

Ramzi GhosnOne cannot help but be in awe when drinking wine from an area that has a 5,000 year-old history of wine making.  We know that the Phoenicians made wine in this area possible because of the long dry sunny summers and mild winters.  Not as susceptible to rot and mildrew as our Burgundy counterparts, sunshine and dry heat offer a longer growing season providing riper grapes. Many of the grape varieties used in Lebanon and the Mediterranean region in general are familiar: Syrah, Cinsault, Grenache, Mourvedre, Cabernet Sauvignon.

Following a refreshing Rose, I delved into the three reds: the 2011 Classic, 2010 Silver Selection and 2008 Gold Reserve, all reds.  Overall , they expressed a lean, minerally style more in line with their French counterparts in the Rhone rather than Napa Valley or the coastal US. Whenever a winemaker offers a taste of an older vintage, one should not miss it.  As we know, a good quality wine almost always benefits from age, and the 2008 Gold Reserve was no exception.  Fuller-bodied than the Silver Selection, wonderful tertiary aromas of dried plum, cherry, leather, graphite enrobed in an exotic layer of smokiness.  After a meal with this wine, a hookah is in order….Cheers.

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Grand Cru Chablis: The Finer Side of Chardonnay

Les Bougros, Les Preuses, Vaudésir, Les Grenouilles, Valmur, Les Clos, Blanchot: these are the seven Grand Crus of Chablis. Adjacent to one another, covering about 250 acres, these vineyards of northern most Burgundy represent the pinnacle of quality that can be achieved with Chardonnay in this northern wine region of France.

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Domaine Laroche Grand Cru

I recently went to a tasting sponsored by the L’Union des Grand Crus de Chablis to taste the 2012 vintage (mostly tank samples). A particularly hair-raising vintage due to a long frosty winter, I can only imagine how winemakers must have paced back and forth at night supplicating to St. Vincent, the venerable patron saint of winemakers, for sun and warmth. Midnight scampers into the vineyard in a vain attempt to keep the smudge pots emanating their smoldering heat so as to prevent the onset of frost. The cold dragged on with brief, hopeful hints that Spring might come after all (does this seem familiar??). In the end, even with approximately 30% of the crop lost, 2012 produced good age worthy wines with their characteristic minerality and mouthwatering freshness.

Chablis has a terroir all its own. The soil is classified as kimmeridgian, a gray-colored limestone found also in Champagne and the Loire, made up of tiny fossilized oyster shells formed over millions of years. It is this soil, along with the climate, that marries so well with the Chardonnay vine that gives us the steely, firm and complex whites that beg sip after sip.

The tasting covered wines from all seven GC sites. I began with Les Grenouilles (frogs), the smallest of the Cru, and couldn’t resist asking how the name came about. Not surprisingly, the vineyard site, or climat en francais, is located close to the river Serein, which was home to a large congregation of frogs. The number of frogs have dwindled, but Chateau Grenouilles continues produce low yield, high quality wines fermented in both stainless steel and oak barrels aged slowly on the lees “…parce que élèvage donne la personalité..” (because ageing gives personality…) according to the winery rep. I found the 2012 vintage to be refreshing and youthful, but, comparing it with the 2010 after that, I could begin to see the promise of the texture, structure and polish the wine was beginning to take on. It will be a fine day in 10 years when I pop the cork on another bottle of 2012 (or even 2010, for that matter!).

I could easily continue on describing all the wines and how I anticipated each sip of a new bottle, but, in the interests of space and time, I will end with the wine of the day, the 2006 Chablis Gran Cru Moutonne, produced by Domaine Long-Depaquit. Here, the winemaker has a “non interventionist” approach, a philosophy of sustainable farming that encompasses the environment. A beautiful golden color, it had a dominant earthy, mushroom aroma described as “mousseron”. A warm vintage producing wines with slightly less acid, this wine was worth the wait as the persistent finish carried me off to visions of fresh oysters on the half shell.

Cheers!

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A Note on Zinfandel

zinfandel photo: Ridge Lytton Springs Zinfandel 2003 ridgelyttonspringszinfandel2003.jpgWhen we hear someone ordering Zinfandel we thing “ah, another California wine lover”. Prevalent in California’s Sonoma, Napa and Mendocino counties, Zinfandel has been growing in our country for hundreds of years.

When the Italians immigrated to America, they tended the vine in Northern California and many thought that “Primitivo”, grown in Puglia (the heel of Italy), was Zinfandel’s original home.  Thanks to DNA testing, we find that Zinfandel is also known as “Crjlenak Kastelanski”, a red variety grown even today in the small country of Croatia just East of Italy.

Notorious for uneven ripening and rather thin-skinned, Zinfandel is California’s little darling. Making robust, fruit-forward, and full-bodied wines, Zinfandel can reach alcohol levels of over 16% due to the warm and sunny climate of California. Most Zins are at their best in 6-8 years, but producers such as Ridge and Storybook are raising the bar.  More care is taken with the handling of the grapes, triage (selective harvesting) is practiced, and, once oak barrel ageing was introduced, the love affair began adding complexity to the aromas, flavors and textures.

Of course, Zin’s sister wine, White Zinfandel, must be given the credit it is due.  Made from the same grape but lighter in color and body, not to mention sweeter, it was this wine that clinched Zinfandel’s rise to fame and its success in becoming a household name selling many times over its higher quality more expensive sibling. 

Pass the Ridge, please.

It was once said: In victory you deserve Champagne, in defeat you need it - Napoleon Bonaparte

 

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