Jul 30, 201411:01 AM
Happy Hour

All there is to sip and savor in New Orleans

Strange, Wonderful and New Wines

New wines to try.

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Chances are if you are wine drinker, you are mainstream, which is nothing like that whole red state/blue state political definition/limitation. Nothing like that at all.
 
Wine mainstream is when you regularly enjoy a grape varietal that is defined as “classic vinifera.” Do you like and always drink chardonnay, cabernet sauvignon, pinot noir, merlot, sauvignon blanc, and so on, which are grape varietals that originated in the Old World? These and many others are basic varieties of wine grapes and they are, no doubt, the core ingredients of the wines you probably drink on a regular basis.
 
The grape classification is known to scholars and geeks as vitis vinifera, and their historic origins are rooted (sorry, could not resist) all around the Mediterranean Basin, central Europe, and southwestern Asia. Most of these grapes’ ancestors go back a very long time, some over 6,000 years, when they were domesticated practically at the birth of agriculture, humans planting and harvesting all manner of fruits, vegetables and grains. Human civilization and society began with the hunters and the gatherers. Grapes were there. Cable television and cell phones came later. We will discuss whether that truly represents “progress” later in this lecture. (Not really. You don’t read down to find that reference.) 
 
We can pretty much date the domestication of grapes that far back because domesticated grapes have different shaped seeds than wild grapes, and archeologists/scientists have found grape seeds in many old pieces of pottery at various sites in the Ancient World. And we know that our ancestors had knowledge of beer and winemaking by the residues found in ancient bowls and mugs. Did not take long, evidently, for our ancestors to find excellent uses for fresh fruits and grain. Beverages from fermented fruits made living conditions tolerable. Not great but tolerable. 
 
The challenge to growing these classic grape varietals was that they are pretty finicky as to where they would grow and what quality of fruit they would produce. While grapes are prolific, they like what could be considered for most plants, bad growing conditions. They like stress. They like temperature swings, within a range. They like rocky soils. They don’t like water all the time. And they like the definition of the end of growing season, such as the onset of cold weather or rain. If you are wondering why Louisiana does not grow fine grapes, review the last several sentences. We literally don’t offer much that grapes like. Consumers, yes. Grape growers, not so much. 
 
To overcome the shortcomings of weather and soils, scientists have created a whole line-up of grape varietals specifically designed to work within the prevailing conditions. Hybrids take the better part of a certain varietal and combine those plants with some local grape with the goal of creating a grape that yields good juice for winemaking in a place where it never could support such activity before. And now you know what the hell Luther Burbank was up to all those long nights in his lab. You thought he had some foxy assistant. Maybe, but that information is lost to history.  
 
Anyway, hybrids are really something very cool. These are wines with which we are likely not all familiar (now really, when was the last time you had a beautiful Chardonel?) but they are pleasurable, interesting, and deliver qualities on the nose and the palate that are worthy of discussion and enjoyment. Hybrids could be that wine that you bring to the party to trick up your insufferable snob friends.
 
The answer to why I am bringing this up now is that I’ve just returned from judging the Atlantic Seaboard Wine Association competition, and am on my way to Purdue University to judge Indiana International, then on to East Lansing, Michigan for that state’s wine competition.
 
Here are a few suggestions on some new wines to try, all hybrids. These wines are award winners from various competitions mostly staged east of the Mississippi River, which is also where many of these grapes have been developed: 
 
Blanc du Bois – Created in 1968 at the University of Florida, this hybrid is a blend of Golden Muscat with a few Florida varietals. The goal was to create a grapevine resistant to Pierce’s Disease, a condition rampant all along the soggy Gulf Coast. The grape is grown at Pontchartrain Vineyards on the Northshore in Bush, and all along the Coast from Houston to Florida. Actually named for Emile du Bois, an influential winemaker and grape grower in the Tallahassee area.   
 
Chambourcin – Recent development, 1963, using French Rhone varietals. Red in color, with spicy notes, herbaceous, low tannin
 
Chardonel – Frost-hardy grape, a mix of Seyval Blanc and Chardonnay. Has not proliferated as expected with the “change” of Chardonnay grapes to make certain strains better resistant to quality development in cold temperatures. 
 
Diamond Muscat – Prolific cross-bred cultivar that yields sweet, white juice even while ripening early in the season. 
 
La Crescent – Also romantically known as MN 1166, this German hybrid is absolutely winter-hardy. Can achieve excellent sugar levels while maintaining fine acidity. 
 
Müller-Thurgau – We are starting to see more of this white wine in our stores, thought to be a cross between Sylvaner and Riesling, but there is some considerable school of thought that the real base of the grapes is Chasselas de Courtiller and Madeleine Royal. Discuss among yourselves. 
 
Niagara – An American creation, a cross between Concord and Cassady, this fruity white wine has a “grapey” flavor (odd, isn’t it, that as a wine term “grapey” is not a compliment). Niagara does make for some excellent table grapes. When it comes to making wine, this hybrid is best when blended with neutral white wine. 
 
Noiret – Pronounced with a French finish (no “t), this hybrid actually was developed in that most French-American community of Geneva, New York. Ripens early. Steuben was the main cross-grape. Likely on the road to improving after a very difficult start in 1973.
 
Seyval - A French-American white hybrid that sometimes shows a bit thin in the finish. Solution: oak barrel aging. Loves cold-weather, which means acid levels are usually respectable. 
 
Traminette - Quite new, 1966, found a home in upper New York but is now moving south to Virginia. Blend of several strains of Traminer (German white). Grapes are slightly green and produce well-balanced white wines, where sugars, acids and tannins are pleasant and enticing. 
 
If you are truly an adventuresome wine lover, or are merely curious about these wines (and I am not certain how many are readily available locally), pick up a copy of Karen MacNeil’s The Wine Bible, and a few bottles of these discoveries. Sounds like a fun evening. 
 

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Happy Hour

All there is to sip and savor in New Orleans

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In New Orleans, when the subject is wine and spirits, it is very difficult to leave Tim McNally out of the discussion. He is considered one of the “go to” resources in the Crescent City for counsel and information about adult beverages and their place in the fabric of life in this great city.

 

Tim is the Wine and Spirits Editor, columnist and feature writer for New Orleans Magazine; the Wine and Spirits Editor and weekly columnist, Happy Hour, for www.MyNewOrleans.com; the Executive Editor and monthly features writer for Gulf Coast Wine + Dine Online; creator and editor of his own website, www.winetalknola.com; all in addition to his daily hosting duties on the radio program, The Dine, Wine and Spirits Show, on the air at WGSO – 990AM, every weekday, 3- 5 p.m, and streamed live on www.wgso.com.

 

Over the years, Tim has proved to be an informed interviewer, putting his guests at ease, and covering tactile and technical information so that even a novice can understand difficult agricultural and production concepts. Tim speaks with winemakers, wine and spirit ambassadors, distillers, authors, people who stage events and festivals, and takes questions from listeners and readers, all seamlessly blended together in a program that is unique in America.

 

Tim’s love of wine actually came about many years ago from his then wife-to-be, Brenda Maitland, a noted journalist in her own right, and together they have traveled to the major wine producing areas in the US and Europe, seeking first-hand information about beverages that give us all so much pleasure.

 

They were instrumental in the founding of the New Orleans Wine and Food Experience, a major national and international well-regarded festival of its type. They both continue to be involved with the planning and staging of this multi-venue, five-day event now over twenty years old.

 

Tim is also considered one of the foremost professional wine judges in the US, being invited to judge more than 11 wine competitions each year, including the San Francisco Chronicle Wine Competition (the largest competition of American wines in the world, with more than 6,000 entries), the Riverside, CA International Wine Competition, San Francisco International Wine Competition, Atlantic Seaboard Wine Competition, Indiana International Wine Competition, Sandestin, Florida Wine Festival Competition, the State of Michigan Wine Competition, the U.S. National Wine Competition, and the National Wine Competition of Portugal.

 

Tim is a guest lecturer to many local wine and dine organizations, and speaks each year to the senior class in the School of Hotel and Restaurant Management at Auburn University, Auburn, Alabama.

 

Staying abreast of the news of the wine and spirits world is a passion for Tim, and he is committed to sharing what he knows with his listeners and readers. “Doing something I love, with products that I truly enjoy, created by interesting people, coupling the experience with culinary excellence, and doing it all in the greatest city in America,” are the words Tim lives by.

 

It’s a good gig. 

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