Jan 15, 201409:54 AM
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12 Wines You Should Try
Take a break from your usual Chardonnay and expand your wine knowledge.
The one word that has never been used to describe wine or the wine business is "friendly.'"
There are a lot of reasons this is so. The industry and its “insiders” 1) incorporate a number of chemicals and processes that laymen are forbidden from understanding under penalty of having their taste buds burned out with a hot poker; 2) extol the use of raw materials unfamiliar to mere mortal souls; 3) have no shame in tossing around terms like malolactic and brettanomyces, and they work into casual conversation observations about tight grain oak staves from Nevers, France; 4) make all manner of embarrassing noises while slurping, swirling, and (gasp!) spitting it right out in the open with ladies present.
Yes, you have observed these odd and/or lewd behaviors. You have likely even seen worse.
And yet, despite barriers to easy entry, the consumption of wine in America, a country with very little heritage in wine appreciation, has grown every year for 16 years. A lot of people have been willing to put in the time and the effort to fully understand and appreciate wine.
We may, in fact, be on the brink of an explosion in wine drinking, and I'm thinking it has nothing really to do with wine itself. The two big gorillas in the room are cocktails and craft beers. Cocktails have, in fact, been picking up supporters for a number of years. These newest members of the spirits society are not at all from the same cloth as your parents, or maybe even you.
These are “youngsters” at both the professional and amateur levels who can go on for hours about the advantages of a liqueur made from the annual bloom of Alpen flowers, or they will rhapsodize about a tincture created with fresh pine fronds gathered from around Lakeview. They are not only well-versed in the history of the ingredients of most cocktails, they know in great detail how the liquid came to possess its aromatics and its essence and they properly incorporate the ingredients into fantastic drinks.
By the same token, the craft beer crowd is no less esoteric, a $20 word meaning "out there." Craft beer lovers would like nothing better than to regale you with tales about their favorite hops, grown only on a unique plot of land on the island of Corsica, and harvested solely during the first appearance of a crescent moon following the second night of the fall full moon.
The point is that these two groups of adult beverage enthusiasts are incredibly curious and adventurous at attention levels almost never before witnessed by mere mortal drinkers such as you and me.
And I am suggesting it's just a matter of moments before all of these new beer and spirits tribal members start the crossover journey into other previously well-traversed beverage territories, like wine understanding and appreciation.
To help you get a head start in being cutting-edge and esoteric (wow, used that word twice in one column. A new World Record!), here are some wines that are well-known, but in this context not necessarily from the usual areas of origin. Familiarize yourself with these possibilities and your geek-factor will soar. Okay, so that’s not much of an accomplishment but it is something, yes? And maybe even better at party conversation than finally figuring out what is making those noises in your attic.
Here are some wine suggestions that can expand your knowledge, empty your pocketbook, and/or bring you pleasure. Sometimes you hit the jackpot and light up all three.
Sauvignon Blanc, Russian River, Sonoma County, California
This area of an almost perfect grape-growing region is better known for Chardonnay and Pinot Noir. Yet I have found a few Sauvignon Blancs that can give them both a run for the money. The SB’s from Russian River are layered with citrus, tropical fruit, herbaciousness on the nose and acids at the finish. I love these wines.
-Mara White Grass Sauvignon Blanc
-Hanna Sauvignon Blanc
-Rochioli Sauvignon Blanc
Malbec, Washington State
We’ve come to expect Malbec from Argentina. They are value-priced and have edges or short sensations in flavors. Washington Malbecs are more rounded, with more elegance. They also come with higher price points. So even if you see a Washington Malbec with a low price point, I would counsel you to return to Argentina. But at $20 or a little more, Washington State can deliver deeper fruit and softer tannins. They are not in big supply so they are likely to be found only at larger retail outlets.
-Martino Old Vine Reserva Malbec
-Doña Paula Malbec
-Canoe Ridge Malbec
This Spanish grape has found a home in an American Spanish place. Actually, the San Joaquin Valley, east of San Francisco (but then everything is) is better known for Zinfandel. While there is a city in northern Italy of the same name, Tempranillo is doing the job here better than any Italian varietal.
Creedence Clearwater Revival may have had the hit about the bad fortune of getting stuck here, but I’ll wager they never had Tempranillo from America this good.
-Ripken El Matador Tempranillo
-Harney Lane Tempranillo
-Bokisch Liberty Oaks Vineyard Jahant-Lodi Tempranillo
Cabernet Franc, Virginia
I keep waiting for Cabernet Franc in America to take its rightful place as a respected wine made as a single varietal, rather than the minor role it plays in Bordeaux Blends. I love Cabernet Franc.
And even Founding Father Thomas Jefferson had it slightly wrong. In his brave attempts to establish an American wine industry in his beloved Virginia, he put a lot of emphasis on the Norton varietal, also called Cynthiana. Right in front of his eyes was Cabernet Franc, and it is wonderful. The 200 year wait was worth it.
You can reach Tim McNally by email at email@example.com.