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4th of July Picks: Charles & Charles Rose and Red Wines

Charles and Charles Rose 2010It was June of 2009, Al and I were in the midst of a road trip across the country (10,000 miles to be exact) on a venture that would end in our new home – Naples, Florida. Along the way we had stopped at multiple vineyards, wine stores and wine bars doing ‘research’ for our new business venture…Decanted. We found hundreds of great small production gems and value wines along the way in Napa, Sonoma, Oregon, and Washington. But we never expected to find our favorite wine of the trip – Charles & Charles Rose (2008) –  in Louisville, Kentucky.

We stopped in Louisville for the weekend to meet up with my sisters and her boyfriend at the time (will be become her husband this weekend!) After some research, we decided on an impromptu gourmet dinner at the highly recommended Proof on Main. It was hot and we were all tired from a day at Churchill Downs, so we decided on a crisp and light rose to start the evening. The waiter’s suggestion turned out to be a good one, and four bottles of it later we had bought out the restaurant of its supply.

Charles & Charles is a joint venture between two of our favorite wine makers – Charles Smith and Charles Bieler – made from 100% Syrah grapes from the vineyards of Columbia Valley, Washington. Smith has described the wine in past vintages as a “crisp, jolly rancher.” This vintage? Smith says, “Remember Jolly Ranchers? Hold that thought…grab a bottle of this wine, open, pour, sniff, swirl, taste. Now…dontchya think that this wine is the way-evolved, been-around-the-world-a- few-times, insouciantly hip, cool-as-the-other-side-Charles & Charles Red 2009of-the-pillow, casually bad a** son of Jolly Rancher? Yeah, we thought so, too.” We don’t think there is a better way to describe the wine, or the winemakers. That refreshingly bad a** approach to a style of wine that has maintained an inferior reputation for a number of years in the U.S., gives us hope for the future of rose.

I often tell people there are a lot of things that go into how good a bottle of wine is. And for those bottles of 2008 in Louisville it was a combination of discovering something new, a great wine, great winemakers…but most likely it was the situation and the people. In 2009, we were slightly disappointed by the wine not living up to our insane expectations (how could it?) However this vintage, 2010, is our favorite to date.  Complex yet crisp, I haven’t found a domestic rose that can top it. Al and I actually fought over the last glass the other night, which rarely happens. Oh yeah, and if I forgot to mention…it’s only $13.

And for those non-rose believers, we have a new addition to the store…Charles & Charles Red. A blend of Cabernet and Syrah, the project uses some of the very best grapes from the Wahluke Slope and delivers a slamduck table wine at an affordable pricepoint ($13).

Outside my box: pairing zinfandel with humidity

I stay in the same box all the time: chardonnay, cabernet and occasionally get crazy with some pinot noir.  But lately for some reason all I want to drink is zinfandel.  It’s so god damn good!  And no, it doesn’t matter that we’re heading into the unbearable hot  summer in Florida.  Apparently zin pairs perfectly with humidity.

Last Wednesday was my blue collar day.  A full day of manual labor, I packed and shipped around 125 cases of wine.  At the end of the day most people crave a beer…all I wanted way a cheeseburger and a glass of zinfandel.  Maybe it stems from my recent memory of heavy wine and burgers.  About a month or so ago, a friend suggested a bottle of 1997 Guigal La Tourque with a Five Guys, not your typical pairing but I was up for it.  Turned out to be both a brilliant and delicious idea.

Unfortunately, since then I haven’t been able to replicate that bottle of Guigal but have found that zinfandel pairs equally as well with burgers (Five Guys or not).  Some recent finds include Martinelli Giuseppe and Luisa and for those ‘everyday drinking’ bottles Klinker Brick.  So for me, put those summer whites and roses away.  Just hand me a big, bold, kick you in the teeth wine and a juicy burger and I’m all set.

Mendoza Magnifico

Harvest and a backdrop of the Andes

Argentina has multiple wine growing regions, but Mendoza is the shining star, producing more than 60% of Argentina’s wine. Argentina itself is the 5th largest wine producing country in the world and they have been making wine since the 1500’s. Up until the 1990’s Argentinians have been more focused on quantity rather than quality, with 90% of wine produced being consumed inside the country.  A shift in thinking and desire to capture a lucrative export market has driven many wine makers to begin producing quality wines at higher price points. With the devalue of the Argentine Peso in the early 2000’s, tourism has increased due to the country’s affordability for Americans and Europeans. This has allowed wine tours to become increasingly popular and has created a growing awareness of Argentina’s wine region.

Mendoza lies 500 miles Northwest of Argentina’s capital city, Buenos Aires. The region is tucked up against the dramatic Andes Mountain Range. Due to high altitude and low humidity of the region, the vineyards in this region rarely face issues with fungi, mold, insects and grape diseases that other countries deal with. This allows for little to no pesticides for the majority of the vineyards and offers ease of producing organic wines…good news for the sustainable wine enthusiast!

A Typical Argentine Bodega

Another aspect that the vineyards at the base of the mountains have in their favor is the use of spring run-off. Dating back to the 1500’s the Argentinians began building complex irrigation canals to channel snow melt from the Andes to sustain the vineyards and agriculture. Once the irrigation systems are in place, the grapes have a metered water supply.

The most common grape you are likely to find when shopping for wines from Mendoza is the Malbec. Malbec was introduced from France and has been found to thrive in this particular region. Other popular varietals is the Italian Bonarda grape, Cabernet Sauvignon, Syrah and Chardonnay.

What may come to a surprise is actually how large of a region Mendoza is, meaning they have micro climates, just like Napa and Sonoma. You can get a good idea of what characteristics your Malbec is going to have by where it came from. Agrelo and Lujan de Cuyo are located in the warmer Northern region of Mendoza, producing Malbecs with rich, muscular profiles and black fruits. In the South, areas of the Uco Valley such as Tupungato and La Consulta are cooler and tend to produce Malbecs with vibrant fruit and minerality. Remember, when you move North within the country, you are heading to warmer climates, South is cooler. The Argentine snowbirds head North for the winter!

If you visit Mendoza, keep in mind that the growing season is opposite than the Northern Hemisphere. Grapes are starting to bud in October with harvest usually beginning in February. That means the best time to see the grapes, green leaves, warm weather and jump into the tasting rooms is during summer, Oct-Feb.

Now that you are probably thirsty, here are some delicious thirst quenchers straight from Mendoza.

Nieto Senetiner Bonarda Reserva 2007 – $35

Lujan de Cuyo – Bright, saturated ruby. Brooding aromas of crushed blackberry, leather, tobacco and smoky oak. Sweet and primary, with nicely concentrated flavors of crushed dark berries. Finishes with ripe, fine tannins and a note of dark chocolate.

Antigal Uno Malbec 2007 – $20

Tupungato Valley – Intense fruits with significant hints of oak. Silky but concentrated with a balanced and elegant finish.

Domaine Jean Bousquet Malbec 2007 – $15

Tupungato Valley – Made with organically grown grapes. Opaque violet, almost black in color. Ripe plum and chocolate flavors with a soft, supple mouthfeel. Voted a Wine Spectator Best Buy.

Buy these wines at http://www.decantedwines.com and receive a 10% discount on a case! Or shop in-store at Decanted Wines, 1410 Pine Ridge Rd, Suite 21, Naples FL 34108.

A Value in France: The Rhone Valley

Rhone Wine Region

 

In the current economy there are deals everywhere, even in the wine world.  But France, the one region in the world where the deals are sparse, value is hard to be found.  Blame it on the declining dollar (although the Euro is starting to take a fall), pretentiousness, or just the fact that the French make damn good wine.  So it has become my quest to find a value in France. 

Situated in the southeast corner of France, just north of Provence and just south of Burgundy, lies the Rhone Valley.  The Valley runs along the course of the Rhone River providing beautiful views and scenery.  The Valley is divided into two distinct growing environments heavy with their own micro-climates and traditions in winemaking. 

The Northern Rhone 

The Northern part of the valley is characteristized by a continental climate experiencing cold winters and warm summers, much cooler than its southern neighbor.   The cool climate lends itself to grapes that survive and flourish better in these conditions.  The only red varietal permitted to be grown in the Northern Rhone is Syrah.  As for white varieties, wines can include Viognier, Marsanne, or Rousanne.  The Northern Rhone produces unique red wines in which the red grape (Syrah) is often blended with the white varieties of the region.  Produced in the same manner as most French wines, Northern Rhones are terrior driven meaning they are made to showcase the land that the grapes were grown on.  The Syrahs of the region are much different from the sister Shirazs produced in Australia, these wines display strong characteristics of earth, green vegetables, and often bacon. 

Hermitage, provided by wikipedia.com

 

As with all French appellations, the AOC  (Appellation d’origine contrôlée) designates which grapes can be grown in the area in order to obtain a certification to be sold under the appellation name.  All French AOC wines are named for the region they are grown in, rather than the grapes themselves.  Within the Northern Rhone, the AOC designates eight different sub-appellations and therefore eight distinct wines.  The sub-appellations (and the grapes in those wines) are: 

Cote-Rotie:  Red – Syrah and up to 20% Vigonier
Condrieu:  White – Viognier
Chateau-Grillet:  White – Viognier
 

Saint-Joseph:   Red – Syrah and up to 10% Marsanne or Rousanne; White – Marsanne or Rousanne
Crozes-Hermitage: Red – Syrah and up to 15% Marsanne or Rousanne; White – Marsanne or Rousanne
Hermitage:  Red –  Syrah and up to 15% Marsanne or Rousanne; White – Marsanne or Rousanne
Cornas:  Red – Syrah
Saint-Peray:  Sparkling – Marsanne or Rousanne 

Southern Rhone 

With a dominant mediterranean climate, the Southern Rhone experiences mild winters and hot summers.  The region often endures drought conditions but very cool nights.  Much of the southern valley is divided into even smaller microclimates due to the rough, almost pebble like soil in some areas in addition to the strong, dry wind that may affect some areas and not others. 

The diverse climate in the southern Rhone allows many different varieties of grapes to thrive in the environment.  The most common red grapes produced in the region are Grenache, Syrah, Mouvedre, Carignan, and Cinsualt.  White varieties include Ugni Blanc, Rousanne, Roussanne, Bourboulenc,Picpoul, Clairette, and Vigonier.  The different climates also produce distinct flavors in the wines.  Reds from the left side of the valley are typical to display flavors and aromas of chocolate and rich black fruit with heavy tannins in youth; while right side wines are much lighter, and fruit forward. 

In all, there are ten sub-appellations of the Rhone.  However the two most recognizable and famous of the regions are Chateaneuf de Pape and Cote du Rhone. 

Châteauneuf-du-Pape, roughly “The Pope’s New Castle” in French, can be made in a white, rose, or red from up to eighteen different varietals as of this past year.  Red varities include Cinsaut,  Counoise,  Grenache Noir,  Mourvèdre,  Muscardin,  Piquepoul Noir,  Syrah,  Terret Noir,  and Vaccarèse (Brun Argenté); white and pink which are allowed are Bourboulenc,  Clairette Blanche,  Clairette Rose,   Grenache Blanc, Grenache Gris,  Picardan,  Piquepoul Blanc,  Piquepoul Gris,  and Roussanne.  There are no specifications on the percentages that must be used, so it is possible to have a Châteauneuf-du-Pape with all eighteen varieties, however Grenache is usually the dominant grape in this wine.   The reds from this area are characterized as strongly tannic in their youth developing into spicy, full-bodied, dark fruit wines.  Whites range in flavor and aroma from lean and crisp to strong, silky and heavy. 

By definition a wine from Cote du Rhone has no specific sub-appellation thus can be made from any grapes within both the northern or southern regions.  In actuality, most Cote du Rhones are a blend of grapes from the southern region dominated by Grenache on the red side and Grenache blanc on the whites

Discovering the Rhone  

Here are some suggestions to get your travels started to this Southern French region.Whites

Ferraton Pere & Fils Cotes du Rhone Samorens Blanc
Flavor : nicely balance wine. Clairette brings the freshness and white Grenache body and softness
Grape : White Grenache (50%) and Clairette (40%)
$14

Reds  

Ferraton Pere & Fils Crozes-Hermitage La Matiniere
Flavor : very aromatic attack, aromas of ripe fruit (cherries, raspberries). Round wine with smooth tannins
Grapes: Syrah
$19.50Domaine Monpertuis Cote du Rhone
Flavor:  Dark purple, spicy, dense, and strong.
Grape:  Grenache (90%), Syrah (10%)
$20
Best Buy

Domaine Monpertuis Châteauneuf-du-Pape
Flavor:  Mineral and earth aroma that lingers on the aftertaste with ripe fruit and faded flower notes.
Grape:  Grenache (70%), remainder from Syrah, Mourvedre, Cinsault and other varieties.
$55