Vin Gris (n.) Winemaking Term

This is part of a series called Wine Words, a glossary in the works that breaks down the barrier between those in the wine know and those who have no idea what the hell everyone's talking about. A new word posts once a week, covering everything from a grape name or region, to a winemaking or tasting term. 

Vin Gris (v.) Winemaking Term

A rosé is a rosé is a rosé. But they get there by different paths. Vin Gris, like the Robert Sinskey Vin Gris of Pinot Noir, is a method most commonly and historically practiced in France's Loire Valley, and made from light skin red grapes like gamay. It's typically more pale than other rosés, which is a direct result of the winemaking choices. Here, the wine is made as if it were a white wine, where the juice is racked from the skins immediately after pressing, extracting very little color from the berries. Most rosés are made by macerating the juice on the skins, maybe a week or so, allowing it to develop far more color, like the Akakies sparkling rosé and Clendenen Family Vineyards Mondeuse rosé

Vin Gris, though translated as gray wine, is not the least bit pallid, as the name might suggest. Vin gris wines are usually elegant light-hued pinks with light, lean body and nuanced flavors, making them easy to pair with many kinds of food and people. 

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Robert Sinskey Vin Gris 2015

Wine: Robert Sinskey
Vintage: 2015
Country: USA
Region: Los Carneros, California
Grapes: Pinot Noir
Vines: Biodynamic
Production: Small
Price: $30

Robert Sinskey's Vin Gris of pinot noir has been in my life for over a decade, since the 2004 vintage arrived in the T. Edward Wines New Jersey warehouse. It was love at first taste, and for as long as I was a Manhattan sales representative with the company, I grabbed as much of this gem as I could get my hands on. It was an icon of California pink that sold with the power of a single pre-sale email; it went out the door before it came in. I shipped upwards of 100 cases of the '04 to a handful of customers, which in retrospect was a tad greedy. If my memory serves, the next vintage was allocated to accounts and reps alike. This bottle of 2015 was one of two allotted to me by my good friends and Vine Club collaborators at The Carriage in Florence, Alabama. Their own allocation was a brag-worthy two of the seven cases available in the whole state of Alabama. Poor Louisiana got zero bottles. Don't you love it when I write about hard-to-get treasures? 

Rob Sinskey began converting his Los Carneros and Stags Leap vineyards in Sonoma and Napa to organics in 1991 and is today biodynamically certified. They are not a small production winery, with 200 acres of vineyard land and 23 different cuvées, but they've scaled in an environmentally conscious way without losing one bit of the romance, and that makes all the difference. Well, that and the wines are freaking delicious. 

The Robert Sinskey Vin Gris of Pinot Noir 2015 is as elegant and lush as ever, with strawberry and peach notes, citrus twist and gorgeous acidity and texture. In perfect balance and perfectly matched with a sunny late afternoon Sunday. This is one of those wines that will change your mind about how you think of rosé. Whether you're new to the game or accustomed to drinking the under $15 bottles, this one will shift your view and bump up your wine mojo. 

 

Thank you for reading. I appreciate you! If you enjoyed it, I'd be super stoked if you shared it with someone.

Clos Cibonne Côtes de Provence Tibouren 2014

Wine: Clos Cibonne
Vintage: 2014
Country: France
Region: Côtes de Provence
Grapes: Tibouren, Grenache
Vines: Lutte Raisonnée/Sustainable
Production: Small
Price: $30

There are two things I've noticed about the wine market since I first fell in love with rosé, somewhere back in the late aughts. First, most people now understand that not only can rosé be dry, but dry and slightly off-dry are the norm. Their high school memories of candy-sweet California jug blush have been replaced with quality cuvées. Kudos to all the good wine biz folk for making this happen. The second thing I've noticed is that the quality has dropped. As consumer's palates for dry pink has grown into something of a movement, at the least a long trend, the quantity of wine available stateside has gone up, but quality hasn't necessarily followed. This is more an observance than a complaint. I'm thrilled to see all the pretty pinks in so many glasses, it's just that so many glasses (too often my own) are filled with one-dimensional patio quaffers, fair-priced juice that gets the job done, but has zero interest in elevating the experience. I want my palate blown and my wine brain entranced. The highly allocated Robert Sinskey Vin Gris and Ameztoi 'Rubentis' Txacolit are two that over-deliver vintage after vintage, for example, and of course Clos Cibonne Tibouren Côtes de Provence, which just might be the best damn rosé you've ever tasted. 

I picked up this bottle at Bacchanal on the late side of a Monday night and paired it with a Sweet Grass Dairy 'Green Hill' double cream cheese. My default pairing is always cheese. But I'm trying to get back into cooking, so I leafed through The Joy of Cooking for something seaside to better match the beauty in my glass. I'm still dreaming about what I might (doubtfully) make for the next bottle. A bouillabasse maybe. 

The Clos Cibonne Tibouren Côtes de Provence 2014 is one of the 18 cru classés of the region and made with 90% tibouren and 10% grenache. Tibouren is a rarely seen grape that the late Clos Cibonne proprietor André Roux believed was perfectly suited for the region, its native home. The winery dates back to the late 18th century and came under Roux's deft hand in 1930. He received special permission from the AOC to list tibouren on the label, a practice otherwise prohibited. The vineyards sit on a bowl-shaped hillside facing the ocean, about half a mile from the coast. Adding interest to intrigue, the tibouren rosé is aged one year under fleurette, like Sherry's flor, in 100-year old 500 liter foudres. Roux's grandaughter Bridget and her husband, Claude Deforge, have not deviated from the original recipe. We are so fortunate. 

It's a true salmon color with orange reflections, melon, herbs and spice on the nose, subtle fruit on the palate with mineral notes and layers of flavor, texture and nuance. It's round yet lean, unique and mesmerizing. It's a truly special wine that, while technically a rosé, is altogether different, a wine in its own class. 

Thank you for reading. I appreciate you! If you enjoyed it, I'd be super stoked if you shared it with someone.

Varietal vs. Variety (n.) Winemaking Term

This is part of a series called Wine Words, a glossary in the works that breaks down the barrier between those in the wine know and those who have no idea what the hell everyone's talking about. A new word posts once a week, covering everything from a grape name or region, to a winemaking or tasting term. 

Varietal vs. Variety (n.) Winemaking Term

You are undoubtedly aware that there are many different varieties of wine grapes, just as there are different varieties of tomatoes and oranges, coffee and roses. Each variety falls under the same species, which all share a genus. The vines that typically produce wine grapes are of the genus vitis and the species vinifera. After that, every grape is its own variety: chardonnay, pinot gris, pinot noir, cabernet sauvignon, syrah, etc. Jancis Robinson's book Vine Grapes details 1,368 different varieties, though she states in the preface there are an estimated total of about 10,000 varieties from six different species, including the wine grape varieties native to North America, vitis labrusca (concord, niagra) and vitis riparia (baco noir).

Also stated in Vine Grapes is an impatience for the misuse of varietal in place of variety. This likely got started when California began labeling their wines with the grape name, aka variety, making the final product a varietal wine. Robinson writes, "Varietal, incidentally, is an adjective and is most logically applied to a wine or the way it is labelled. The associated noun is variety, which applies to the particular sort of vine used to produce a wine. There has recently been a  tendency, regretted by those of us who treasure precision, to describe plants as varietals. it may be so widespread as to be unstoppable, but not for want of trying on our part." 

Even the Oxford American Dictionary gives varietal two entries, one an adjective, the other a noun. And so the lexicon evolves, or de-evolves, depending on how you see it. All the same, the significance of varietal wines are namely for the marketplace. It's far easier to recognize and remember a grape name than to memorize the grapes legally delineated for wines named after origin, like Chinon, Volnay, Rioja and Barolo. I do find it curious that it's made such a difference given the number of drinkers I've encountered who don't realize - or seem to care - that chardonnay is a grape. They just know they like it. I suppose it's easier to pronounce than Meursault or Chassagne-Montrachet, both wines made from chardonnay, and in the eyes of many Americans, less "pretentious". We are so proud of our ignorance. 

In short, Variety is the type of grape or the grape name, and Varietal is an adjective that describes a wine so named for the grape used to make it, as opposed to naming it for the place it was grown. 

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Forchir Pinot Grigio 'Lamis' 2014

Wine: Forchir 'Lamis' 
Vintage: 2014
Country: Italy
Region: Grave, Friuli
Grapes: Pinot Grigio
Vines: Sustainable
Production: Large
Price: $15

The Forchir pinot grigio is a classic example of Friuli's pg style grown on the flat valley floors of Grave [GRAH-vey] and vinified in stainless steel tanks. It's a very mechanized production, the way the area has been doing it since the 1960s and 70s. Check out this video of Forchir's winery and bottling line.

It's a family-owned estate with a sustainable mindset. As I've written about before, sustainable can be a catchall phrase when it comes to farming and winemaking. Forchir uses tractors in the vineyards, and there's no mention of not using chemical fertilizers, herbicides or pesticides. I'm not saying we should assume they do, just that we don't know that they don't. But they do have a new winery in production that will run on solar energy and a geothermal boiler, making it "completely carbon free." They also boast no sulfur at bottling, which according to Vino Italiano: The Regional Wines of Italy, that's pretty much standard practice in that part of the country. Gravity fed and centrifugal pressing keeps the grapes clear of oxygen until you pull the cork on the bottle and pour the wine into your glass. Nothing is stated about using sulfur in the vineyard or at picking. The pinot grigio machine in all its industrial glory has dominated the cheap white wine market for the last several decades and become its own brand, much of it insipid swill. But for $15 this bottle is a pretty solid example of higher quality juice.

The Forchir Pinot Grigio 'Lamis' 2014 is harvested from a small plot, a micro-climate if you will, from the estate's vineyard and shows aromas of melon and orchard fruit with a richer, broader weight than a typical pinot gris from Oregon or Alto Adige, a subtle nuttiness and enough acidity to keep it interesting and quaffable. It's exactly what I think of when I think of pinot grigio. You could match it with a creamy risotto sprinkled in cheese and a selection of cured meats, and have a perfectly fine evening. 

Thank you for reading. I appreciate you! If you enjoyed it, I'd be super stoked if you shared it with someone.

Domaine de l'Enchantoir 'l'Amarante'

Wine: Domaine de l'Enchantoir 'Amarante'
Vintage: NV
Country: France
Region: Saumur Le Puy-Notre-Dame, Loire Valley
Grapes: Cabernet Franc
Vines: Organic
Production: Small
Price:  N/A

I feel a little badly telling you about this wine. It's hardly my intention to torment you with something you will likely never have - no one likes a tease - but this wine made such an impression on me that I feel compelled to write about it. It's like a mysterious woman of incomparable and unusual beauty - way out of your league - who begins inexplicably to flirt with you. Do you walk away? Do you abandon all hope of it becoming anything more? Okay, perhaps I'm getting a little too poetic about a weird wine from the Loire Valley, it's just that too few wines make me want to profess such adoration. 

You see, there's not much of it around. Maybe none at all, because it's a DI only from Daniel Johnnes, meaning unless his national distributor, Skurnik Wines, specifically orders it, this elevating experience in a bottle will remain in France. Maybe it's better off, more appreciated over there, but I think my mind isn't the only one potentially blown by this Lambrusco-like treasure. (Maybe if we all email & call Skurnik and ask them to bring it back...) Actually, I'm a little surprised it hasn't been billed as an allocated cult bottling, sold out every year. New York somms love that shit.

There's more to this story than gushing over an elusive bottle of red bubbly. On one side, it's from an incredible producer not long on the scene. I've written about vignerons Pierre & Brigitte Van den Boom's Domaine de l'Enchantoir before. The 'Terres Blanches' Saumur, made with 100% chenin blanc, is one of those wines that etched a deep sense-memory of joy and comfort into my brain. And for the price, it's so freaking delicious that it can do no wrong. 

If the 'Terre Blanches' is the blonde bombshell, the 'Amarante' is her dark beauty cousin. It's a vin mousseux, which is another French term for sparkling wine (in the simplest comparison, crémants by law must be made by the Champagne method where mousseaux can be made in the Charmat method). Made from 100% organically grown cabernet franc in the méthode traditionnelle, the 'Amarante' spends two weeks with its skins, which gives it the rich plummy color, and is fermented with native yeasts, then aged in bottle for one year.  

It's labeled demi-sec, with only a hint of sweetness that intermingles with herbs and blackberries and cabernet franc's calling card aroma of bell pepper. I've read a few positive reviews across the interwebs calling this a drier version of Lambrusco. Yes and no. Too many consumers think all Lambrusco is all sweet when there are many dry versions out there of admirable quality. Actually, the dry versions are the traditional wines of Emilia-Romagna, their high-acid frothy personalities pair nicely with the region's hearty cuisine. There used to be  - and perhaps there still is - an Italian restaurant off Union Square in NYC, on 5th Ave I think, maybe around 22nd street, that served the region's classic dishes and offered a wine list of Lambrusco and Lambrusco alone, most of it dry. That's the other side of this story; red sparkling wine can be a friendly, approachable option to pairing with tomato dishes and cream and hard salty cheese. I drank this one with my friend Kristy, paired with a mushroom brie and dry Italian sausage that carried a hint of spice. It was late afternoon on The Carriage patio in Florence, Alabama, perfect weather and the best company. You don't have to be a wine geek to get this wine, or most dry Lambrusco for that matter. So shoot Skurnik a note about this princess in the tower and let's make the daydream a reality. 

Thank you for reading. I appreciate you! If you enjoyed it, I'd be super stoked if you shared it with someone.

Wine Pairing (v.)tasting term

This is part of a series called Wine Words, a glossary in the works that breaks down the barrier between those in the wine know and those who have no idea what the hell everyone's talking about. A new word posts once a week, covering everything from a grape name or region, to a winemaking or tasting term. 

Wine Pairing (v.) Tasting Term

This past weekend, I taught a wine and food pairing class in Florence, Alabama through the University of North Alabama Continuing Education program and The Carriage Wine & Market, with delicious small bites by Chef Josh Quick of Odette to pair with the wines. Preparation for the class got me thinking more deeply than usual about wine and food pairing, and as a result I've found myself paying even closer attention to what I'm consuming.

 Wine is food, designed by nature to be consumed with food, and when well-matched, the two can entice flavors not easily detected on their own, taking us through a sensory experience that improves mood, makes amends, closes business deals and keeps families together. While the potential to be intimidating is ever present, the practice of pairing wine and food is essential and common, even if we're not actively pursuing a match. There is a celebrated approach to food and wine pairing - drink what you like - and of course you can do so. But it's a lazy route and, more important, pretty much nixes any opportunity of reaching that exalted state of culinary perfection, that ethereal ecstasy which can change lives. Or at the very least, a glorious moment in time etched into memory.

Wine and food pairing is kind of an American thing, if only because our wine growing years are relatively young and our cuisine widely varied. In European wine growing countries, the match is dictated by the traditional foods of the region. What grows together, goes together, as the saying goes. And since so much of what we eat at home and in restaurants are derivative of those Old World cuisines, it's not a bad mantra to live by. 

Wine pairing can be approached by matching texture and weight, complimenting or contrasting flavors and even by age. I could write for pages on each of these, but for the sake of space and attention spans, I've condensed and organized it into a lovely little PDF for you to have and to hold, forever and ever.

Click the button below, enter your email address and I'll zip you an email ASAP with the download link. Cheers!

 

 

Thank you for reading. I appreciate you! If you enjoyed it, I'd be super stoked if you shared it with someone.

Domaine du Possible 'Le Fruit du Hasard' 2014

Wine: Domaine du Possible 'Le Fruit du Hasard'
Vintage: 2014
Country: France
Region: Côtes du Roussillon
Grapes: Carignan
Vines: Sustainable
Production: Small-Medium
Price:  $20

Winemaker Loïc Roure makes small lots of fruit-driven wines that retain a distinct minerality and sense of place through natural winemaking in Southern France's Côtes du Roussillon. He grows mostly carignan and grenache, though small plantings of syrah, mourvedre, grenache gris and macabeau exist. Most of the wines are at least partcially foot trodden in lieu of pressing for juice, and the rest if not all the grapes are thrown in whole cluster to undergo semi-carbonic maceration. All of his wines have nicknames, cheeky euphemisms and clever nods to French culture. 'Le fruit du hasard' translates most closely to "coincidence." There's gotta be a story there, but I don't know what it is. One of my other favorites of his is the 'C'est pas la mer à  boire' which I wrote about nearly a year and a half ago. 

These wines are juicy and earthy and interesting and easy. They're everything you could want in a friend, a lover, and a wine. The Domaine du Possible 'Le fruit du hasard' 2014 is 100% carignan and, as mentioned above, partially foot-stomped, partially whole cluster fermented. Both of those processes heavily influence the overall texture of the wine: velvet. Beautiful bright red fruit, iron and earth with luscious velvety tannins and long, satisfying finish. It's a mid-week afternoon picnic wine, grass between the toes, lucid dreaming, and nowhere to be. 

Thank you for reading. I appreciate you! If you enjoyed it, I'd be super stoked if you shared it with someone.

Les Capriades Pét-Sec NV

Wine: Les Capriades 'Pet-Sec'
Vintage: NV
Country: France
Region: Touraine, Loire Valley
Grapes: Chenin Blanc, Cabernet Franc
Vines: Organic
Production: Tiny
Price:  $20-$25

Pét-nat, abbreviated from pétillant naturel, is the original sparkling wine that came about quite by accident. It translates to 'naturally sparkling' and is also known as the méthode ancestrale. In the Champagne or Traditional method, still dry wines that have  finished fermentation are dosed with a mixture of yeast and sugar, then sealed under bottle cap, trapping the byproduct CO2 as the yeasts eat the sugar and turn it into alcohol. With pét-nat, the first fermentation is the only fermentation. Any residual sugar is natural grape sugar, as opposed to the added sugar that gives most sparkling wines their hint of sweetness. As a result, these wines are lighter in alcohol than Champagne or crémant, cava and other sparkling wines. Les Capriades is considered among the best, which is evident upon first taste. It's damn delicious. 

Best buds Pascal Potaire and Moses Gaddouche make a handful of these sparkling gems - about 3,000 cases annually - in the Touraine region in the Loire Valley, next door to Anjou. Grapes are hand-harvested and carefully sorted, discarding any fruit that isn't pristine. While most pét-nats have some sweetness to them, this one does not, hence it's a pét-sec, sec meaning 'dry' in French. 

Les Capriades Pét-Sec NV is made from chenin blanc and a touch of cabernet franc, pale yellow in color with soft mousse and beautiful nose of fruit and stone. More mineral and orchard fruit with hints of honey on the palate and an incredibly long, tasty finish.

Thank you for reading. I appreciate you! If you enjoyed it, I'd be super stoked if you shared it with someone.

Tenuta Olim Bauda Grignolino d'Asti 2014

Wine: Tenuta Olim Bauda 'Isolavilla'
Vintage: 2014
Country: Italy
Region: Asti, Piedmonte
Grapes: Grignolino
Vines: Sustainable
Production: Small
Price:  $18-$20

Grignolino [gree-n'yoh-LEE-no] isn't a grape we see very often, no doubt because it's an ancient variety that has become nearly extinct. It produces a very pale red wine, as you can see here, the base of the glass visible almost as if it were holding water not wine. It's planted mainly and almost exclusively in northwest Italy's Piedmonte, region. It can be a problematic grape to grow, susceptible to various fungal afflictions known to wine grapes, like powdery mildew and bunch rot. It has also an unusually high ratio of pips to berry, with 3 to 4 times as many seeds as most other varieties. To make a wine as soft and feminine as this one, the Bauda family takes extra care to gently press the grapes before fermentation, avoiding excess tannin extraction from the pips. 

The fourth generation of Baudas are now running the estate, with brothers Dino and Gianni, and their sister, Dina. They practice sustainable viticulture that falls in line more closely with organic practices than the umbrella term often dictates, as they have banned all chemicals in the vineyard except when absolutely dire, and even those are of the less offensive kind. All fruit is hand-harvested and fermented in stainless steel tanks. Barbera appears to be their prized bottling, but I'm a huge fan of the grignolino and it's light hue, high acid and earthy character, and sheer authenticity. It's not trying to be anything other than exactly what it is. Bravo. 

The Tenuta Olim Bauda 'Isolavilla' Grignolino 2014 shows dried cherry and fine ground pepper, iron and earth aromas followed by more mineral and pepper and soil on the palate. The tannins are present but so well integrated, so light, that you almost feel as if you're drinking a rosé. In fact, a little chill on this beauty enhances her poise. 

All the better that I picked this up at Bacchanal in the Bywater here in New Orleans. It's a restaurant experience like no other, with an unparalleled upbeat vibe that evokes time and again that sincerest of compliments, from revelers both virgins and veterans alike, "It's magical!" Indeed it is. It's pretty damn magical to work there, too, and I am beyond excited to have recently become a member of the Wine Room team. If you haven't been, hurry down, then relax, take it easy and drink in the goodness. 

Thank you for reading. I appreciate you! If you enjoyed it, I'd be super stoked if you shared it with someone.