Category Archives: grape varieties

Explore Italy’s wines beyond Pinot Grigio and Chianti

Italy is the second largest and in some years largest, wine producing country in the world. With 20 regions, 97 provinces, over 2,000 grape varietals and a classification system that is complicated, to say the least, Italy is the go-to wine for many wine lovers both novice and pinky up.

For many, Pinot Grigio and Chianti are their limits for this wine region but there so, so many more regions to explore.  Gargenega, Gavi di Gavi, Amarone di Valpolicella, Montepulciano d’Abruzzo, Nero d’Avola, Prosecco, Fiano de Avellino, Frascati and Soave are all wonderful if not familiar to the average American.

But everyone has heard of Tuscany, where there are six distinct Denominazione di Origine Controllata e Garantita (DOCG for short) regions for a sea of red wine. Chianti, Brunello di Montalcino, Vino Nobile di Montepulciano, Morellino di Scansano, Carmignano and Bolgheri all have one grape in common – Sangiovese.

Despite the recent changes in regulations to include international grape varieties, Italian wines for the most part are bonded to the traditional, indigenous varieties which are estimated to be around 2,000. Of those many grape varieties, Sangiovese takes the cake for the most widely planted in all of Italy.

Tuscany or if you’re Italiano, Toscana, is the most beloved region in Italy. Not only for wine but as the birthplace of language, arts (the Uffizi Gallery has masterpieces of Michelangelo, Botticelli, Rubens, Caravaggio, Rembrandt and more), sciences and literature. All under the patronage of the Medici who followed in the Roman footsteps of planting vineyards everywhere they ruled.

Tuscany is an undulating landscape with hillside vineyards surrounding hill topped towns that supply the vast majority of the best wines. Sangiovese vines are widely planted in Tuscany and have been as far back as three centuries ago. There are a plethora of Sangiovese clones, some are known by their place name and have local names such as Brunello or Prugnolo Gentile.

You’ll find it in places such as Vino Nobile di Montepulciano, Chianti, Brunello di Montalcino, Maremma, Morellino de Scansano, Carmignano and Super Tuscans.  It’s the mainstay of Toscana wines with other grapes playing a supporting role only in Chianti and Carmignano. Bolgheri DOC, home to the first Super Tuscan, is more international in its regulations.

For the most part, Italian wines have place names on the labels unlike New World wines with grape names on the label. For example, Chianti is a place within the borders of Tuscany in Central Italy. In the Chianti region, DOCG regulations require that seven Chianti zones be composed of at least 70% and could be up to 100% Sangiovese with no more than 30% other grapes that could include traditional red grapes, Canaiolo and Colorino and/or International varieties Cabernet, Syrah and Merlot. White grapes, Trebbiano and Malvasia, may not exceed 10% of the blend and Cabernet Sauvignon and Cabernet Franc may be 10% separate or together. These regulations are more stringent and mind boggling for the eighth zone, Chianti Classico.

Surrounding the hill top town of Montalcino are the vineyards of Brunello di Montalcino and Rosso di Montalcino. Brunello, which translates to little dark one, is the local name for the large berried Sangiovese Grosso clone used for these wines.

Winemaking in Montalcino dates back to the 14th century but it wasn’t until the 1870s when Ferruccio Biondi-Santi isolated the Sangiovese Grosso grape and made a particularly wonderful batch of wine from his grandfather’s Il Greppo estate. At a time when most wines were white and sweet, this was pretty daring. He also went further to limit yields and extended the maceration process for more concentrated and intensely colored wine.

One hundred years later, Brunello was named one of the first DOCGs and with that came the regulations. Only one grape, Brunello is allowed, age it for four years with at least two in wood. For Riserva, it’s six years with at least 2 in wood. As you can imagine, all that time drumming your fingers, waiting for the Brunellos to mature could make one very thirsty. There is a solution to that dilemma. It’s the Rosso di Montalcino or red of Montalcino. This baby Brunello has more relaxed regulations and only needs to be aged for one year.

Two DOCG regions that allow grape varieties other than Sangiovese clones are Carmignano and Morellino di Scansano. Carmignano is located northwest of Florence on the north bank of the Arno River. Here, Sangiovese has been blended with Cabernet since the 18th century. Today’s regulations allow 10 to 20% Cabernet or Cabernet Franc, up to 20% Canaiolo, up to 5% Mammolo, up to 5% Colorino as well as up to 10% white grapes. Carmignano can be released two years after the harvest with one of those years in wood. Riservas require 3 years with half spent in wood.

Scansano is another hilly Tuscan region located in the Maremma region on the coast of Tuscany. It achieved DOCG status in 2007 and now must contain at least 85% Sangiovese and the balance can be – get this – any red varietal approved in Tuscany. That opens the blend up to include the Cabernets, Merlot and Syrah in addition to the traditional grape varieties.

Morellino di Scansano does not require wood ageing and can be released the first May after harvest. Riservas on the other hand will not be release until the January two years after the harvest. One of those years must be in wood.

Tuscany also has offers an amazing array of culinary dishes like fresh Ricotta from Siena, panzanella salad, tomato bruschetta, olive oil, truffles, Zuppa Toscana, Pizza Margerita, cannelloni, gnocchi and Salame di Cinghiale (wild boar sausage).

Tuscany is truly a culinary adventure. Go forth and explore!

Spring’s Eternal Blessings

Spring celebrates traditions and cultures and new beginnings. This month’s celebrations include the Passover, Easter and a  birthday. Happy Birthday, Mom!

Easter and Passover are time honored traditions filled with family, friends and feasting. At the Passover Seder, people of the Jewish faith celebrate their freedom from Egyptian slavery and Christians rejoice at their savior’s resurrection. Pagans had their own springtime traditions that involved Ēostre, a Germanic goddess of fertility, bunnies and eggs.

All this celebrating begins as Mother Nature sheds the cold, wet blanket of winter and displays the many shades and hues of green and the occasional clump of sunny daffodils.

Spring brings verdant fare with fresher, lighter dishes and wines on our tables. From appealing asparagus wrapped in prosciutto, to fresh sliced radishes on buttered toast points or crackers, lemony sorrel, the zingiest garden green ever, sautéed leeks and morels, roasted spring lamb with fresh peas, new potatoes with chive butter, juicy, sweet strawberries and tart rhubarb, and the emergence of abundant mint family, there are many refreshing ways to celebrate spring.

Below are some adventurous wines that play nicely with spring’s bounty. But first, my “Spring Wine Rules.”

  1. Spring wines can be complex wines. Color outside the lines with wines that are not your usual fare. Resist the urge to be safe! Be daring! Be adventuresome!
  2. The delicate flavors of spring wines have notes of herbs, grass and slightly tart fruit which are the perfect match for spring vegetables. The brighter the wine, the better the match.
  3. No new oak. These wines should be herbal and crisp; it’s lighten up time! Stainless steel fermentation insures a crisp and fruit forward flavor. Oak does not.
  4. Kosher wines are fairly plentiful and very good. They can range from big and hearty to lower alcohol, fruity Moscatos. From Italy to Israel to southern California, winemakers have been making these wines for decades.
  5. It’s not the perfect guideline for spring wines but wines that will age usually have a cork. Times have changed; screw caps do not necessarily mean bulk wine any more than corks signify high quality wines.
  6. No Chardonnays or Pinot Grigios.

Here are my plucky proposals for spring whites. These are not the easiest wines to find, so go with the region or the grape.

PINOT BLANC – This grape is a member of the mutant ninja Pinot family. Being a mutant ninja has to do with the ease that they can change skin color. The red skinned grapes are Nero or Noir and Meunier and the gray skinned grape is Gris or Grigio. White is Blanc or Blanco depending on where in the world it is made. Today, Pinot Gris or Grigio is more fashionable than Pinot Blanc.

But Pinot Blanc has the body of a Chardonnay and an easy drinking style that is likely to surprise and delight. And it does not see oak! Instead, it spends time in a great big barrel that is more often than not, lined with centuries of tartaric crystals. I often recommend an Alsatian Pinot Blanc as a choice for seafood, vegetables and roasted chicken salads.

As the third most mountainous country in Europe, Greece’s distinct topography enables the cultivation of 350 indigenous cool weather varietals in a warm weather climate. Somewhat unexpected after seeing all those movies of very sunny, sandy beaches in Greece.

One of Greece’s greatest white wines comes from the MOSCHOFILERO (Mohs-koh-FEE-leh-roh) grape. The wine is super dry but has an aromatic and floral nose. It’s a great wine for spring entertaining. Most Moschofilero can be found in Mantinia, a region in the middle of the Peloponnese Peninsula.

ALBARIÑO is native to Spain’s Rias Baixas region. It’s crisp, refreshing and reminds me of a blend of Riesling and Sauvignon Blanc. Albariño can be lovely with an exotic aromatics and crisp citrus character. That makes it great with fish with a sorrel sauce or ham and pea salad. Zingy in style, it has enough fruit for great balance.

GROS MANSENG is a country white from Gascony, in southwestern France, and it delivers a terrific bang for buck. The Gros Manseng grape is filled with fresh, clean, herbal flavors and Armagnac brings more weight than most simple table wines. It’s hard to find a more versatile spring – or summer – wine.

MENETOU-SALONS made from Sauvignon Blanc are in the grassy, minerally flavor realm.  Its racy acidity is ideal for the tender spring vegetables.  Hailing from the Loire Valley, where Sancerre and Pouilly-Fumé set the bar, the appellation of Menetou-Salon is just west of Sancerre. The chalky soils are similar to the vineyards of Chablis and the resulting flinty minerality of those wines. Pair it with asparagus and scrambled eggs or a pea risotto as a spring treat.

VINHO VERDE is a fizzy Portuguese white. The fresh citrus and-herb packed flavors, low alcohol and fizzy personality make it the perfect spring wine. The lighter alcohol content is perfect for a light spring brunch of frittata, fresh fruits, and hot cross buns.

PICPOUL, native to the Rhone Valley and Languedoc, tends to be crisp and green similar to a Sauvignon Blanc.  Picpoul de Pinet from vineyards overlooking the Mediterranean Sea can show richness that makes them one of the best value choices out there. Use it to begin dinner as it pairs especially well with clam linguine, barbequed oysters or crab cakes.

VERDELHO plays nicely with spring fare with scents of chervil and thyme and lots of citrusy brightness. It has sweet peachy flavors that add a bit of weight to the mouthfeel. The grape is Portuguese, but it has found home in California, where its ability to hold acidity in the heat make Verdelho a winner. It also shines Hunter Valley where it is blended to brighten up the mellower Semillon. Chill it up and pair it with sardines, olives or a chicken salad.

Another grape to consider is the CHENIN BLANC grape from France, South Africa or Washington. It has a steely, aromatic profile with ripe peach flavors that pairs well with the season’s flavors. Consider a bottle of this with your smoked trout or fresh fruit salad.

May your springtime celebrations be sunny with lighter fare and adventuresome wines!

Happy New Year! Again!

It’s almost lunar New Year, which finds revelers around the world ushering in the Year of the Rooster.  And with any cultural celebration of this kind, you will need friends and family, food and wine.

My favorite rooster is pictured on a bottle of Chianti Classico, the gallo nero or black rooster. The black rooster on that bottle of Chianti Classico is one of the most widely recognized emblems of a quality wine. But that wasn’t always the case.

Back a century or two, winemaking in Chianti was pretty much a free for all.  Canaiolo was the main grape variety with lesser amounts of Sangiovese, Mammolo and Marzimino in a supporting role.  Somewhere along the way, Malvasia and Trebbiano, both white grapes, were added to the mix to soften the wine and make it more drinkable.

The region really didn’t have any guidelines for the “recipe,” so in the early 1900s, the government stepped in to help by classifying the area to decrease the huge amounts of faux Chianti produced.

They did this by acknowledging Chianti as both a wine region and a “recipe”.  Then as all governments are wont to do, they passed many laws requiring winemakers to meet certain criteria if they want to put the name Chianti, Denominazione di Origine Controllata (DOC) or Denominazione di Origine Controllata  e Garantita (DOCG) on the label.

In 1996, another major regulation modification brought about colossal change to the grape varieties permitted. The minimum percentage of Sangiovese increased from 75% to 80% and could be as much as 100%.  In addition, the other twenty percent could be other native red grapes, such as Canaiolo, Mammolo, Colorino or even non-native varieties, such as Cabernet, Syrah or Merlot.  As of 2006, white grapes are no longer permitted in a Chianti Classico.

Those stringent regulations included minimum alcohol levels, any new vineyard may only be used after its fourth year, yields must be less than 3.34 tons per acre, production is limited to 6.6 pounds per vine , seven months minimum barrel aging, for Riservas, 24 months minimum maturation with at least three months bottle aging and the most interesting and perhaps comforting, before bottling, the wine has to pass a chemical exam and approval by a tasting panel. Makes one kind of feel like royalty.

A few years ago, the Consorzio Gallo Nero organized the Chianti Classico 2000 Project to modernize viticulture and improve quality. This was sorely needed because during the 20th century, clones of Sangiovese, of which there are a boatload, were planted more for quantity than quality.  When replanting, many growers planted whatever was available not taking into account the extreme soil and climatic differences around the region.

The project took 16 years to complete, 16 experimental vineyards, five research cellars; ten meteorological stations installed to track micro- and macro-climate patterns.

Hundreds of clones were identified. A few Sangiovese, Canaiolo and Colorino clones were chosen because they were less susceptible common viral diseases, had smaller berries, thicker skins, and more open bunches.

Those clones are now producing some delicious Chianti Classicos. Look for the 2013 vintage to accompany your next plate of pasta. Or Sausage Pizza, or Spaghetti and Meatballs, or Rigatoni with Bolognese Sauce, or Wild Mushroom Risotto or Potato Gnocchi with Gorgonzola Sauce.

Chianti Classico refers to the oldest area, the classic region. It’s located between Florence and Siena and is the hub of the Chianti region within the larger Tuscan region.

Like spokes surrounding the hub, are seven other Chianti zones, each with its own particular soil, climate, and regulations. They are Colli Aretini, Colli Forentini, Colli Senesi, Colline Pisane, Montalbano, Montespertoli and Rufina. On their labels are their Chianti names such as Chianti Colli Senesi (the hills of Siena) or Chianti Colli Forentini (the hills of Florence).

But enough of Italy, let’s talk about Washington State. There were about 400 tons of Sangiovese harvested in 2004. It’s a prolific but difficult vine, likened to Pinot Noir.  Through the years planting increased and by 2015 tonnage was up to 1, 300.

It’s planted in some of the best vineyards in the Wahluke AVA, Red Mountain AVA and scattered around the Columbia Valley AVA.

Cavatappi’s with its red wine stained label, to the best of my recollection has been around the longest, some 30 years. Leonetti, Walla Walla Vintners, Five Star, Tagaris, and Kiona have also been producing for some time with at least 75% being Sangiovese and perhaps a touch of Cabernet in there as is done with the Super Tuscans.
Smaller, newer wineries fermenting Sangiovese in no particular order are Sequim’s Wind Rose Cellars, Vino la Monarcha from Victor Palencia who also fashions Jones of Washington’s Sangiovese, Latah Creek out of Spokane, Brian Carter’s has a little Cab and Syrah added to his Sangiovese, Helix by Reininger, Maryhill Winery along the Columbia River sources Sangiovese from Elephant Mountain Vineyards in the Rattlesnake Hills AVA, and Walla Walla’s Five Star Quinque Astrum, which is Italian for five star.
The Rosé of Sangiovese by Barnard Griffin has won gold numerous times and Waterbrook makes a pretty rose colored tasty one too.

Interesting note, the origin of the word Sangiovese is Latin for the blood of Jove. Jove or Jupiter, the king of the Roman gods, is best remembered for the exclamation of “By Jove! I think I‘ve got it!”

Garlic, Vinegar and a Whole Lotta Black Pepper

Pairing Filipino cuisine with a beverage that is heavily influenced by the Spanish who brought tomatoes, sausages, peanuts and wine; and the Chinese with their fish paste, soy sauce, rice, noodles and spring rolls is a bit of a challenge.

Many dishes are made with tart tropical fruits, pickled in vinegar, steeped in garlic and soy sauce. And let’s not forget the salted dried fish. Ingredients that are not exactly easy to pair with say a Northwest Syrah or Chardonnay, right?

The quintessential Filipino signature dish is Adobo. It has plenty of garlic, black pepper, vinegar and soy sauce. The former two are fairly easy to pair with most wines. The latter two are trickier, especially the soy sauce.

With this classic dish, the basic rule to remember is no tannins and lots of fruit for contrast to the tart, salty flavors of the Adobo. Here is what comes to mind.

Filipino tradition dictates a San Miguel or a sweet, cold fruit drink sometimes made with vinegar. These are quite popular in this tropical climate. The popular Lambanog is an alcoholic beverage described as coconut wine distilled from the sap of the unopened coconut flower.

Drinks from tropical fruits, mangoes, bananas, limes, coconuts and oranges would also be refreshing. Spanish Sangria is a popular drink. It’s a red wine made with a dollop of simple syrup and lots of fresh tropical fruit floating on top for a thirst quenching drink to pair with the vinegary, salty, spicy Adobo.

Here in the northwest, there are many beautiful fruit forward wines. Let’s explore some of the more exotic wines available here.

First though, my go to book on pairing, What to Drink with What You Eat by Andrew Dornenburg and Karen Page, suggests that the best wine with a soy-sauced dish is Gewürztraminer followed by fruity wines and then sparkling wines.

The Kitsap Wine Festival introduced me to a few new wineries that make beautiful Gewürztraminers. First was Naches Heights Vineyards. This Gewürztraminer with its lovely fragrance of lychee fruit and apricot, tangerine and green apple flavors has an off dry style that makes this a superb match with both the Adobo and Lumpia.

Masquerade Wines 2011 Columbia Valley Gewürztraminer has that typical floral, spicy Gewürztraminer fragrance and tropical fruit flavors in a slightly sweeter rendition of the grape, a nice contrast to the pepper and soy sauce.

For red wine, I highly recommend the Baco Noir grape. This is a hybrid that is prevalent in both Michigan and British Columbia. Being half American and half vinifera grape, it can survive those blustery cold climates. Stina’s Cellars in Lakewood Washington has a 2010 Baco Noir that is all blueberry, plum and pepper with a smooth and supple mouth-feel. Highly recommended.

Two Mountain Winery doesn’t make a Baco Noir but does make a wine with similar smooth and supple characteristics. Lemberger is a relatively obscure European vinifera grape known as Blaufränkisch, the blue French grape. Their Lemberger from Rattlesnake Hills with flavors of boysenberry, fig and white pepper would be another perfect wine with the Adobo if only it were available! Be on the lookout for their soon to be released 2012.

Kiona was the first winery in the United States to produce Lemberger way back in 1980. Their Lemberger is a consistent award-winner. It’s bright black fruit and pepper flavors and smooth medium-bodied texture would pair very well with the Adobo.

But enough about wine, let’s talk about beer. As you well know, there are many, many beer styles and with this vinegary, black pepper, soy sauced dish, the same guiding principle: No over the top bitterness.

With beer, bitterness comes from compounds in the hops. International Bittering Units scale (IBUs) measures how much bitterness is absorbed during brewing. And, of course, the hundreds of different hops have differing levels of bitterness.

For local beers, try SilverCity’s Clear Creek Pale Ale. It’s a blend of three lightly toasted malts that add a mild caramel character to the flavors. This beer has mild Centennial and Amarillo hops and then a bit of time in the conditioning tank so it is mild and refreshing.

Poulsbo’s Sound Brewery’s Koperen Ketel Belgian Style Pale Ale has 18 IBUs, relatively low on the IBU scale. For instance their Reluctant IPA is an American Style IPA at 52 IBUs. This copper colored ale has an herbal, fruity aroma and a clean dry finish.

And then there is the idiosyncratic Slippery Pig Brewery also in Poulsbo. Their Curly Tail Stinging Nettle Pale is flavored with Cascade hops and Stinging Nettles so the resulting IBUs are quite low. I think it would be a great match for the Adobo.

 

 

Tomatoes and Barbera

Tomatoes are such a versatile fruit of the vine. It’s the tomatoes high acidity that really sets it apart from the rest of the vegetable crops. With tomatoes, I like reds with equal parts acidity, fruit and tannins. Those favored reds to have with tomatoes all have their roots in Italy, Barbera, Chianti and Sangiovese.  barbera
Chianti is a blended wine with a preponderance of Sangiovese. Sangiovese is Italy’s most widely planted grape with vineyards in Tuscany being the most heavily planted to the grape. There you can drink Chianti, Brunello, Vino Nobile and Super Tuscans, all made with Sangiovese.
But with tomatoes, I reach more towards Barbera. Second only to Sangiovese in production and versatility, it’s naturally high in acidity so it does very well in warmer climates, like Italy, California and Eastern Washington.
Barbera reaches its zenith in the Piedmont region where you can find labels stating Barbera d’Asti and Barbera d’Alba. It also does best on the well-drained, limestone slopes of Asti and Alba in northwestern Italy.
Even the warmer sites in Eastern Washington, Sonoma Valley and the Sierra Foothills produce some fantastic Barberas. This acidity complements the fruit flavors and the wines are ripe, bright and tangy, a perfect match for Ann Vogel’s Tomato Tarte Tatin.
Barbera is a dark-skinned variety found in several Italian wine regions, including its native Piedmont, Emilia-Romagna, Puglia, Campania, Sicily and Sardinia. Barbera can be both on its own or blended, usually with that other Piedmonte grape, Nebbiolo.
Like so many Italian grape varieties, Barbera has an interesting history. It was recorded in the cathedral of Casale Monferrato archives where leased vineyards were planted to Barbera between 1246 and 1277. Barbera was well regarded for its “rustic yet generous” character.
It was a favorite among army officers, who considered the wine a “sincere companion” and helped them maintain their courage in battle. Also cited in a Società Agraria di Torino document in 1798, there you can read the first definitive list of Piedmont’s grape varieties.
This varietal’s bright and cooperative nature has made it equally popular in California. Barbera is the sixth most planted red grape in California, but is rarely bottled alone. Loved for its color and acidity, Barbera is usually blended to tame other varietals into better balance.
So where to start with Barbera? I would highly recommend Italy’s La Spinetta Barbera d’Alba or d’Asti, Prunotto Barbera d’Asti Pomorosso, Sandrone Barbera d’Alba, Seghesio Barbera d’Alba, Vietti Barbera d’Asti Tre Vigne or d’Asti, or Voerzio Barbera d’Alba.
Early California planters and producers of Barbera were Martini, Seghesio, and Sebastiani. Sebastiani was winning awards for his Barbera in the 1930s.
But in this century, I’d choose a Montevina Amador Barbera, Sobon Estate Amador Barbera, Seghesio Alexander Valley Barbera, Shenandoah Sierra Foothills Reserve Barbera or Renwood Amador County Barbera.
Cavu Cellars Barbera Rose, Facelli, Maryhill Winery, Stomani Cellars, and Wind Rose Cellars all produce Barberas from Washington grown grapes.
Bon Apetito!

Barbera with BBQ

Summer is officially here and the season of picnics, BBQ and outdoor cooking begins in earnest. What drink to pair with grilled salmon, smoked chiken or roasted tomatoes?

Barbera! This prolific vinifera grape orginates from the Italian Northwest in the Piedmonte. It produces a wine low in tannins, and high in acidity even when fully ripe; so it is prized in warm climates like Piedmonte, Eastern Washington and the San Joaquin Valley. In Italy, if it’s a DOC or DOCG then Alba, Asti and Monferrato are the names you’ll find on the label after Barbera.

To me, Barbera is the wine to have with fresh tomatoes sprinkled with Gorgonzola, balsamic, olive oil and torn basil.

It’s also a magical BBQ moment especially with most cuts of meat that have a sweet, smoky tomato based bbq sauce like ribs, chicken, and juicy burgers.

Pairing Sauvignon Blanc

My favorite go-to wine with vegetables, especially the green ones in Ann Vogel’s Leek and Spinach soup, is Sauvignon Blanc. In many ways, it’s more like a red wine than its white sisters. Which isn’t too surprising considering it’s one of the parents of the Cabernet Sauvignon grape.

Sauvignon Blanc can be highly aromatic, with herbs, minerals, and citrus. It’s pungent, grassy, citrus flavors can be minerally, grassy, hay, green pepper, lemons, lime, grapefruit and/or gooseberries and refreshingly acidic. It all depends on how and where it is grown.

Sauvignon Blanc also has a tendency to overwhelm or clash with more delicate dishes that pair well with other less assertive wines. But Sauvignon Blanc’s herbal aromas and racy acidity harmonize with vegetables very well, and the pairing is a bright and fresh on your summer table.

Sauvignon Blanc is also a great match for foods with high acidity and herbal tones. Sauvignon Blanc’s brisk acidity makes it the perfect partner for tangy goat cheese, tomatoes, spinach salads or most any green vegetable, even asparagus

And tangy citrus notes in the wine also make it a delicious pairing for dishes that need a bright note of citrus like a shrimp salad or Leek and Spinach soup. The bracing acidity of the wine also makes a perfect match to cream soups or other dishes that lean towards the thick, rich side. Each taste of wine cleans the palate for the next sip of soup.

Highly recommended Sauvignon Blancs include:

Brancott 2013 Marlborough Sauvignon Blanc is a classic New Zealand Sauvignon Blanc with ripe bell pepper aromas and hints of gooseberries. The rich fruit and crisp mouthfeel make this a winner with Ann Vogel’s  Sautéed Leeks and Carrots. Around $11.

Chateau Ste. Michelle 2013 Horse Heaven Hills Sauvignon Blanc wine offers fresh aromas of herbs with a beautiful floral note. A touch of Semillon and partial stainless fermentation makes for a more complex, rich wine. It’s fresh and lively, with apple, citrus and a bit of herbs in the finish. Around $13.

Geyser Peak 2012 California Sauvignon Blanc has that bracing acidity with flavors of limes, lemons, and hay. The lime note in Sauvignon Blancs is distinctly New Zealand wines but perhaps the Australian wine maker knows the way to get it in American wines?

Honig 2012 Napa Valley Sauvignon Blanc is a crisp little number with citrus and herbal tones. This medium-bodied wine is blended in the traditional Bordeaux manner with a little Semillon and Muscat. $12

Waterbrook 2012 Columbia Valley Sauvignon Blanc, a long time favorite winery with big production and excellent quality. This wine is 100% Sauvignon Blanc fermented in stainless steel for a wine that is all citrus and little herbalness to it. Around $12.

Springtime Wine

chivesSpring brings out the fresh herbal dishes in my kitchen. When the bright green sorrel, pungent chives, lemony lemon balm and asparagus have sprung up in the garden, it’s time for my favorite go-to vegetable wine, Sauvignon Blanc. Having oysters, goat cheese or roast chicken? Try a Sauvignon Blanc. Grilled seafood, smoked salmon, vegetarian dish? Sauvignon Blanc.

Sauvignon Blanc is an aromatic, herbal, citrusy and refreshingly acidic. These components pair well with seafood with lemon, goat cheese and strongly flavored vegetables. It’s pungent, grassy, citrus flavors range from grass, hay, green pepper, lemons, grapefruit to gooseberries. It all depends on how and where it is grown.

The vines are more apt to concentrate on leaf and shoot growth so a stern canopy management plan is needed to achieve balance between the green and the fruity parts of the vine.

Most Sauvignon Blancs are fermented in stainless steel at low temperatures to enhance and preserve every bit of fruit and tame the acidity. The wines are best drunk young.

Two classic, high-end Sauvignon Blancs come from two appellations on the banks of the Loire River in Central France, Sancerre and Pouilly-Fumé. These wines have a minerality that distinguishes them from counterparts on the west coast and New Zealand.

But if you’re looking for a good value, the Loire’s less famous appellations of Touraine, Menetou Salon, Reuilly and Quincy are delicious.

A white Bordeaux is a blend of crisp Sauvignon Blanc with the much fatter, less acidic Semillon. In the value conscious Entre-Deux-Mers appellation, as well as Graves, it’s blended with Semillon in varying proportions and produces a great dry wine.

Some of the world’s most famous Sauvignon Blanc is grown in New Zealand. Vines were first planted in the early 1800s, but it wasn’t until the late 1980s they burst onto the wine scene with an lavish, fruity style that put New Zealand wines firmly in the forefront. The cool maritime climate and dry gravel soil of Marlborough are perfectly suited for this grape.

Sauvignon is the name seen on Chilean labels. Planted in the cool wine region of Casablanca Valley, Sauvignon is clearly in an ideal spot in Chile. Always a wine value.

Many of our west coast vineyards are too hot for Sauvignon Blanc. In the cooler vineyards of Santa Barbara, Oakville Bench and the Mayacamas Mountains, a California style of full-bodied, slightly sweet Sauvignon, often oak aged, are produced. Some labels may say Fumé Blanc, a term coined by Robert Mondavi in the late 60s.

Washington State makes some fine, racy Sauvignon Blancs in cooler vineyards like Horse Heaven Hills and Yakima Valley with an average elevation of 1,000 feet.

Suggested taste tour of Sauvignon Blanc:

  • Babcock Vineyards, Santa Barbara
  • Chateau Ste. Michelle Horse Heaven Hills Sauvignon Blanc
  • Henri Pele Menetou Salon, Loire
  • Kim Crawford, New Zealand
  • Les Gourmets Touraine Sauvignon, Loire
  • Veramonte Vineyards, Chile

Weekly Wine Defined – Macabeo

This is a white grape variety widely planted (32,000 hectares) in Spain. If you’ve ever had a Cava from Catalonia, you’ve had Macabeo (traditionally blended with Xarel·lo and Parellada).   2_18876750_2

Macabeo is also the main grape in a white Rioja, where it goes by the name of Viura. Its natural acidity makes it a good candidate for the required extended ageing in Reserva and Gran Reserva wines. It is also found in the Valencia, Yecla and Jumilla regions of Spain.

In France, Maccabeu’s use is limited to the Languedoc-Roussillon region of southern France where production has pushed it into eighth place in the most widely planted grape varieties of that country.

For the most part, Macabeo makes a crisp little white for early consumption. Macabeo can be crisp with citrus and floral highlights when picked early on and fermented and aged in stainless steel, but when harvested later and aged in oak, it takes on a heavier weight with honey and almond flavors. In Roussillon, late picked Macabeo is made into a vin doux naturel or fortified dessert wine.

It’s a favorite blending grape in both Spain and France. In Rioja, a small amount is allowed to be blended with Tempranillo and Garnacha. It’s popular in Rioja because the grape has high level of the antioxidant resveratrol. This is important where barrel ageing for six or more years is required for Reserva and Gran Reserva wines.

Weekly Wine Defined – Gavi

Gavi is a full bodied Italian white made from the Cortese grape. this grape has been around for some time, it’s roots can be traced back to the 1600s.

It is produced in the vineyards surrounding the town of Gavi in the Piedmont region. It was given DOC status in 1974 and production more than tripled in the next 25 years.

What makes this grape unusual is where it’s grown. Piedmont is red wine country, home to big Barolos, Barbaresco, Gattinara, Dolcetto and Barbera. And yet, the region boasts two of today’s most popular white wines, Gavi and Moscato d’Asti.

Gavi’s aromatics are floral with a bit of lemon and apple. The fruity flavors are crisp green apple and melon with mineral notes and tangy citrus finish. It’s  best served chilled with a broiled red snapper with an orange-fennel garnish or fillet of sole with sautéed zucchini and almonds.