Wednesday, August 28, 2013

Get to Know a Grape: Chenin Blanc

This week, we're looking at a grape that's maintained popularity in Old-World France while also becoming a major player in New-World South Africa: Chenin Blanc! 

We've used the word 'workhorse' to describe grape varietals in the past (our article on Grenache comes to mind), but it's hard to find a better contender to the title than Chenin blanc. Used in making some of the longest-aging sweet wines as well as dry whites in France, table wines in South Africa, sparkling wines in various regions around the world, and even in fortified wines and spirits, Chenin Blanc is one hardworking grape!

So, where do we start? Well, how about Chenin Blanc's homeland: France's Loire valley? Here, Chenin blanc is made in a few different varieties. The first, and perhaps most approachable, is in dry, crisp white wines, particularly from the appellation of Anjou. These are usually vinified as 100% Chenin blanc, although occasionally blended with another white grape, such as Chardonnay or Sauvignon Blanc, to add structure. These wines tend to be crisp, light, and refreshing, with notes of honey and flowers on the nose. Slightly to the South-East of Anjou, we find Vouvray, where Chenin Blanc is often used to make slightly sweet (or off-dry) white wines. In addition to making dry and off-dry wines, Chenin Blanc is also used in making sparkling wines (crémants) and dessert wines throughout the Loire valley.

Leaving the Loire Valley (and France) behind, there is no shortage of regions where we can find Chenin Blanc. It is often used in inexpensive white wine blends in Argentina to make wines that are refreshing and easy-to-drink. Califronia used to have more Chenin Blanc than France in the 1980s, and, although the state's white wines have since become dominated by Chardonnay, Chenin Blanc is still used in various parts of Califronia's central valley to make ripe, ready-to-drink white blends, as well as some noteworthy single-varietal wines that often display melon aromas.

Finally, we arrive in South Africa, perhaps the region most strongly associated with Chenin Blanc today. South African chenin blancs can range in flavours from fruity (such as the melon notes noted earlier) to floral and even herbal. Many South African producers are now also oak-aging their Chenin blancs, causing them to develop butfoie gras, salmon with dill sauce, or quiche. Non-oaked, dry Chenin blanc is great on its own, or paired with a Greek salad or cold cuts. Off-dry Chenin blanc is best paired with slightly spicy dishes, such as mild curries, or a rich dish, such as carrot risotto. 
tery flavours and textures. These pair particularly well with rich dishes, such as

Wherever it is planted, Chenin blanc often produces high yields, but ripens late, which can be problematic in cooler climates where snap frosts or (as has happened recently) hailstorms can hit towards the end of summer. Winemakers must also control yields to avoid producing 'watery' or 'bland' wines. So, this 'workhorse' grape does require quite a bit of work! Because of its popularity around the world, Chenin blanc is an excellent grape for exploring a previously unfamiliar region. So the next time you're shopping for wine, why not take a look at what sort of Chenin blancs are on offer?

The Short Version
Names: Chenin Blanc, Pineau (Loire), Steen (South Africa)
Flavour Profile (Dry, Unoaked): Aromas ranging from floral to herbal on the nose, sometimes with notes of honey. Nice crisp acidity.
Flavour Profile (Dry, Oaked): Fruity and spicy notes on the nose, with buttery aromas and flavours.
Flavour Profile (Off-dry, Unoaked): Aromas of peaches or acacia on the nose, with nice acidity and sweetness on the finish.
Food Paring (Dry, Unoaked): Greek salad, cold cuts, bruschetta.
Food Pairing (Dry, Oaked): Quiche, salmon with heavy sauce
Food Pairing (Off-dry): Mild-to-medium curry, carrot risotto
Best-Known Regions: France (Loire), South Africa, California, Argentina
Price Range: $10-$30

Wednesday, August 21, 2013

Get to Know a Grape: Counoise

This week, we're in the Rhone Valley, looking at a lesser-known, 'peppery' grape: Counoise!

The Rhone Valley is home to some of France's best red blended wines. From the Cotes du Rhone Villages, to the appellations of Ventoux and Gigondas, up to the prestigious plantings of the Chateauneuf-du-Pape, this French region produces world-class Grenache, Syrah, and Mourvedre blends.  But Grenache-Syrah-Mourvedre (or 'GSM' for short) aren't the only wines grown in this beautiful region. Indeed, the region also grows some fantastic, if lesser-known grape varietals, such as the soft, 'peppery' Counoise.

Counoise (pronounced "Coohn-waaz") is a red grape varietal that has traditionally been used mostly in blends in Cotes du Rhone's most prestigious appellation: the Chateauneuf du Pape. Although not as well-known as Shiraz, Grenache, or even Mourvedre, it is prized by many winemakers for its ability to 'soften' the tannins produced by other red grapes, which makes the wine more approachable and easier to drink. Counoise also adds a trademark 'peppery' or spicy note to blended reds, as well as having flavours of plum or wild raspberries.

In addition to its use in the Chateauneuf du Pape, it is also sometimes used to produce red wines in southerly Languedoc and it makes for some interesting rosé wines in Provence. Outside of France, Counoise has recently gained popularity in Washington State and California, where it is often made without blending and bottled as a varietal wine. As with blends that use Counoise, these 100% Counoise wines tend to have spicy, peppery notes as well as hints of vanilla and raspberries on the nose and deep, earthy flavours. The best food pairings for Counoise wines tend to be dishes that compliment its peppery notes, such as Peppercorn New York stirploin stake, sausage jambalaya, or rosemary chicken w
ith red potatoes. 

Counoise grapes tend to ripen late and give off only moderate yields, making them poor value-propositions for winemakers looking to get the most for their space and work. However, its versatility in complimenting the biggest red grapes in the world as well as producing interesting and complex single-varietal wines is unmatched. So, the next time you're looking for something different or picking up a bottle of Chateauneuf-du-Pape for a nice dinner, ask if it's made from Counoise -- if it is, you may be in for a treat!

The Short Version: 
Names: Counoise, Counoise noir, Damas noir, Moustardier
Flavour Profile: Peppery and wild raspberry notes on the nose, with earthy flavours on the palate.
Main Regions: Cotes du Rhone, Washington State, California
Price Range: $15-$30

Wednesday, August 14, 2013

Get to Know a Grape: Sylvaner

This week, we're exploring Northern France and looking at a unique Alsatian white grape varietal: Sylvaner! 

As with many other grape varietals, Sylvaner is called slightly different things depending on where you are. It is usually spelled 'Silvaner' or titled somewhat more elaborately as 'Grüner Silvaner' in Germany and Austria. Conversely, in France's Alsace region, it is almost always referred to as Sylvaner, and in Croatia, it goes by the name of Silvanac Zeleni. Regardless of its origin (or its spelling), Sylvaner is responsible for some fantastic, full-bodied, and nicely-structured white wines.

Sylvaner tends to ripen early and is a productive grape, meaning that yields can be quite high. However, winemakers must trim their grapes and reduce the yield sizes in order to ensure that the resulting wines are flavorful and distinct, rather than bland and watery. Also, despite its popularity in colder-climate countries such as Germany and Austria, Sylvaner is somewhat sensitive to frost, and snap frosts can be devastating for a harvest. Despite these risks, well-made Sylvaner will usually have a fair amount of freshness and structure on the pallet and a nose ranging from herbal to floral. Some winemakers prefer to leave some residual sugar in their Sylvaner, making it slightly sweet (or demi-sec), but most Sylvaners today are made dry.

If you do have a demi-sec Sylvaner, however, it can make for fantastic paring with spicy Asian cuisines, such  as thai curries, spicy General Tao chicken, or Teriyaki ribs. Dry Sylvaners are best paired with more traditional seafood dishes, such as sole or salmon, cold cuts, or drunk on its own as an aperitif.

The Short Version
Names: Sylvaner, Silvaner, Gruner Silvaner, Silvanac Zeleni
Main Regions: Germany, Austria, Alsace (France), Croatia, Switzerland
Flavour Profile: Most often with herbal and eucalyptus notes as well as floral aromas. Fresh, well-balanced and structured pallet.
Food Pairings (Demi-Sec): Thai curries, Spicy chicken, Sweet and Sour fish or ribs
Food Pairings (Dry): Baked salmon, cold cuts
Price Range: $15-$30

Wednesday, August 7, 2013

Get to Know a Grape: Malbec

This week, we're taking a look at an Old World grape that's gained a name in the New World -- Malbec!

Although Malbec is now probably best-known for making affordable and approachable wines in Chile and Argentina, this black grape varietal was once most-planted in France's prestigious Bordeaux region. Indeed, Malbec continues to serve as an important grape in Bordeaux's Cahors appellation, as well as in parts of Burgundy and the Loire Valley. Mostly, though, it can be found on the lush mountains of South America.

South American Malbecs generally exhibit lush, ripe, fruity flavours, with powerful aromas and a smooth, easy-to-drink palate. Conversely, Malbec wines from Cahors (often labelled simply as 'Cahors wine'), traditionally have powerful tannins that require proper aging to soften and 'open up'. Today, however, many Bordeaux winemakers have begun making Cahors wine that is a little bit more approachable, often with notes of plum and chocolate on the nose and a smoother-drinking style. In Cahors, Malbec wines are often grouped into three categories: Tradition, Prestige, and Spéciale, with the complexity, intensity, aging potential, and price increasing as you move across the categories. Outside of Bordeaux, Malbec can also be found in the Loire Valley, where it is known as Cot and is often blended with Cabernet Franc and Gamay to make approachable, inexpensive wines.

Malbec is not easy to grow. Indeed, one of the reasons behind its decline in France is likely its sensitivity to frost, mildew, and rot. In this, it is similar to Merlot, but often produces smaller yields and less complex wines. Perhaps that is why most of Bordeaux has moved to a Merlot, Cabernet Sauvignon and Cabernet Franc blends. However, no matter what it's origins, a good Malbec can serve as a great, easy-to-drink wine that pairs very well with a variety of foods. For South American Malbec, open with lamb shanks, pulled pork or BBQ ribs. If you've got a Malbec from Cahors or elsewhere in Bordeaux, try it with beef stew, blue cheese, or a new juicy steak. Better yet, grab a bottle of Malbec from Argentina and one from France and see the variety of wine that this grape can produce! 

The Short Version:
Names: Malbec, Cahors (Bordeaux), Cot (Loire), Auxerrois (Burgundy)
Primary Regions: Argentina, Chile, Bordeaux, Loire
Flavour Profile (New World): Smooth, easy to drink, with notes of ripe red fruits
Flavour Profile (Old World): Intense nose, sometimes of plum or chocolate, with strong tannins and complexity.
Food Pairing (New World): BBQ ribs, pulled pork, lamb
Food Pairing (Old World): Steak, beef stew, blue cheese
Price Range: $15-$30

Wednesday, July 31, 2013

Get to Know a Grape: Melon de Bourgogne

This week, we're exploring the West end of France's Loire Valley region and looking at a grape with a checkered past: Melon de Bourgogne.

As the name suggests, Melon de Bourgogne hails from France's famed Burgundy (Bourgogne) region, where it was banned in the 16th and 17th centuries. Fortunately for winemakers (and wine-drinkers!) the grape proved able to survive a particularly harsh winter in 1709, which caused a proliferation of 'Melon' plantings in the Nantes region. Today, it is primarily found in the western part of the Loire Valley, near Nantes, where it is used to produce Muscadet. Indeed, Muscadet continues to be the top white wine in the Loire Valley by volume. 

Not to be confused with the often-sweet and always aromatic Muscat, Muscadet wines are normally dry and exhibit a strong, pin-pointed acidity with nice minerality and fruity-ness as well as elegant aromas ranging from fruity to floral. Dry Muscadet wines are also typically on the lower end of the alcohol spectrum, rarely exceeding 12% alcohol, which may make them appealing to those who prefer fresh, lower-alcohol wines that have a good amount of finesse.

Outside of the Loire Valley, Melon de Bourgogne is also planted in California, where it was confusingly called Pinot Blanc (not to be mistaken for Pinot Blanc from France or Pino Bianco from Italy). Indeed, in order to avoid confusion with E
uropean Pinot Blanc wines, many Californian wineries have started labeling their Melon de Bourgogne wines with the simpler, if less romantic name of 'Melon'. It has also recently seen some plantings in Argentina and Oregon State. Despite it's ability to survive a frost in 1709, Melon de Bourgogne is actually rather sensitive to cold weather, and winemakers must be selective in choosing where to plant the vines.

When it comes to pairing Melon de Bourgogne wines, perhaps the most classic example is pairing with oysters. However, it's minerality and acidity also make for a great pairing with spicy chicken dishes and even tacos. It also makes a great companion to more traditional white-wine-friendly dishes, such as sole, bass, scallops, or light pastas. So, the next time you want to try something a little bit more obscure while shopping for a white, why not give a Melon de Bourgogne wine a try?

The Short Version
Names: Melon de Bourgogne, Melon, Muscadet, Pinot Blanc (in California), Gamay blanc
Flavour Profile: Notes of white flowers and/or apples and pears on the nose, with good acidity and minerality.
Best-Known Regions: Loire Valley, California
Price Range: $12-$25

Wednesday, July 24, 2013

Get to Know a Grape: Verdicchio

This week, we're looking at one of central Italy's classic white wine grapes: Verdicchio!

Primarily grown in four regions of central Italy's Marche region, Verdicchio's name derives from the Italian for green (verde), due to the light yellow and even slightly green colours that often characterize Verdicchio wines. Despite the similarity of the names, Verdicchio is a largely Italian grape and shouldn't be confusvinho verde!
ed with Portugal's 'green' wine,

Wines made from Verdicchio often have aromas of green apple and citrus, as well as a good amount of acidity and minerality with notes of almonds on the finish. Some Verdicchio wines, particularly those made in the Castelli di Jesi area, tend to be lighter and cleaner, emphasizing the grape's natural citrus aromas and easy-drinking style. Others, such as those from the Matelica DOC, tend to be somewhat softer and rounder, trading some of the grape's high acidity for notes of flowers and almonds.

Although usually meant to be consumed quickly, when aged, wine made from Verdicchio can develop a very luxurious velvety feel. Verdicchio is usually vinified on its own, although it is sometimes blended with Gargenega in making white wines in Italy's Veneto region. It is also sometimes used to make spumante, or Italian sparkling wine. Wherever it comes from, though Verdicchio wines make a great aperitif or pairing for sole, mussels, oysters, or gnocchi.

Verdicchio grapes tend to ripen late into the harvest season and is often harvested in mid-to-late October and is susceptible to fungal diseases, but can produce large yields. Because of this, you don't need to spend much to get a great Verdicchio white and some great expressions of this wine can be found under the $15 mark, although you will also be rewarded if you're willing to splurge for a higher-end bottle. So the next time you're thinking about pairing wine with oysters, or just enjoying a nice evening in the sun, try a bottle of Verdicchio!

The Short Version:
Names: Verdicchio, Trebbiano di Lugana, Trebbiano di Soave, Giallo, Maceratese
Flavour Profile: Notes of green apple on the nose, with good acidity and hints of almonds in the mouth.
Best-Known Regions: Marche, Veneto
Price Range: $12-$25

Wednesday, July 17, 2013

Get to Know a Grape: Seyval Blanc

This week, we're looking at a lesser-known white wine grape that's popular in Eastern North America and in England! 

I recently had the opportunity to chat with a winemaker from upstate New York who made some interesting wines, including wines from a grape named Seyval Blanc. As I'd never heard of this varietal before, I couldn't resist learning a bit more about it. In her Oxford Companion to Wine, Jancis  Robinson refers to Seyval Blanc as a "useful" grape varietal, largely due to its high productivity and its ability to ripen early. Seyval blanc is also resistant to cold climates and can survive the harsh winters of Canada and the North-Eastern United States.

In Ontario and New York, Seyval blanc is often blended with Chardonnay or other white wine grapes, although it is possible to find wines containing 100% Seyval blanc. Wines made from Seyval blanc tend to have a nice touch of minerality (not unlike a Chardonnay), and grassy or melon-like aromas on the nose. However, wines made exclusively from Seyval Blanc can sometimes lack character and complexity, which makes blending with a more powerful varietal like Chardonnay a popular choice. Aging in oak barrels is another way to add complexity to the wine, although given the price of barrels and their limited re-usability, this is a rather costly endeavour.

If you travel across the pond to the United Kingdom, you might be surprised to find Seyval Blanc being used in sparkling wines. Usually blended with Chardonnay and Pinot Noir or Pinot Meunier, Seyval Blanc sparkling wines have a nicely crisp and clean palate with a good amount of acidity.

Food pairing with Seyval Blanc can be a slightly tricky affair, as it can be difficult to ensure that the food does not overpower the fairly light wine. Most Seyval blanc wines are great on their own, or can be paired with cold cuts, mild cheeses like Havarti, or salads. Light fish, such as sole, can also work well.

The Short Version
Names: Seyval Blanc, Seival, Seyval.
Best-Known Regions: Ontario, New York State, United Kingdom
Flavour Profile: Aromas of melon and hay, crisp and clean on the palate.
Food Pairings: Salads, sole, cold cuts
Price Range: $10-$50

Thursday, July 11, 2013

Get to Know a Grape: Gros Manseng

This week, we're exploring south France with a very unique grape varietal: Gros Manseng!

Unless you're a connosieur of armagnac or wines from South France, you may not have heard of this 'big' grape varietal. Grown primarily in South-West France and Gascony, Gros Manseng is part of a family of three wines, which also includes Petit ('small') Manseng and Manseng Noir ('black Manseng'), which is a red wine grape. As the name suggests, the main difference between Gros and Petit manseng is the size -- Gros Manseng usually has significantly larger berries and berry clusters than it's 'small' cousin. Also, while most Petit Manseng wines are sweet, many producers make dry or semi-dry wines using Gros Manseng.
Gros ManseUgni Blanc in making brandy in France's Armagnac region. In addition to its usefulness in producing brandy, however, Gros Manseng is also used to produce table wines, either as a blend with another grape, such as Sauvignon Blanc, or on its own. Wines made from Gros Manseng typically have good acidity and pleasant floral and apricot aromas.When blended with Sauvignon Blanc, Gros Manseng's acidity helps balance the intense floral notes of French Sauvignon Blanc. When vinified on its own, the high acidity retains its usefulness, usually acting to balance out the sweetness in an off-dry or medium-sweet wine.
ng is often used alongside

Despite being thick-skinned, Gros Manseng requires good timing and care when harvesting. Picking the grape too early will not allow its full flavours and intensity to come out, while waiting too long will lead to 'flat' wines that lack flavour and are 'short' in the mouth. Additionally, if a winemaker is too rough with the berries, there is a risk of the wine developing excess tannins, making it difficult to drink.

Gros Manseng really shines when it comes to food pairings. It's sweetness-acidity balance lends itself well to a variety of dishes, particularly foie gras, smoked turkey sandwiches, or Indian dishes, such as Chana Masala. It's also a great ac
companiment to Thai curries and spicy sushi. So the next time you're getting take-out, pick up a bottle of Gros Manseng to accompany it!

The Short Version
Names: Gros Manseng
Popular Regions: South-West France, Gascony, Armagnac
Food Pairings: Foie gras, thai curry, Chana Masala
Price Range: $15-$25

If this article has got you thirsting for a bottle of Gros Manseng, try Domaine de Papolle's medium-sweet Gros Manseng, available at an LCBO store near you!

Wednesday, July 3, 2013

Get to Know a Grape: Mourvedre

This week, we're completing our look at Grenache-Syrah-Mourvedre (GSM) wines by looking at the last of the three grapes in this powerful red blend: Mourvedre! 

In past articles, we've looked at Grenache and Syrah (or Shiraz, as it is now more commonly known), mentioning that these two grapes are often blended with Mourvedre to make a 'GSM' or Grenache-Syrah-Mourvedre blend. So today, we'll be looking at the last of these three grapes and exploring just what makes this red blend so interesting and popular around the wine world.

Mourvedre is a warm-climate red grape varietal, traditionally popular in south France (such as in the Rhone, Provence and Languedoc regions) and in Spain, where it is often called Monastrell. It has also recently become more popular in Australia and California, where it sometimes goes by the name of Mataro. In a 'GSM' blend, Shiraz typically adds good tannins and Grenache adds an 'earthy' flavour, while Mourvedre creates good structure and intense fruit, making for a nicely balanced but still approachable blended wine. It is sometimes vinified on its own (mostly in Spain), which creates heady wine with strong flavours and tannins. In France, Mourvedre (alongside Grenache and Syrah) is perhaps best-known for its use in making wines in the prestigious Chateauneuf-du-Pape appellation.

Mourvedre can be difficult to grow, with its small, thick-skinned berries susceptible to mildew and sensitive to low winter temperatures. It ripens late and its leaves must be cut often to ensure that the leaf-to-fruit ratio remains low, lest the grapes fail to ripen or produce watery wines. Once the grapes to ripen, winemakers generally have only a short window before it begins to lose it's acidity and develop undesirable prune-like flavours. When all goes well, however, Mourvedre can produce excellent, well-structured wines with good tannins and acidity.

When it comes to food pairings, Mourvedre wines tend to require intense dishes, such as barbequed ribs or steaks, lamb, game, and veal. It's a great accompaniment to dishes that traditional Provencal spices, such as lavender, rosemary, or thyme. The next time you're getting out the barbecue, give a Grenache-Syrah-Mourvedre wine a try!

The Short Version
Names: Mourvedre, Monastrell, Mataro
Flavour Profile: Structured wines with good tannins, fruity flavours and aromas of blackberries.
Best-Known Regions: France (Rhone, Languedoc, Provence), Spain, Australia, California
Food Pairings: Barbecued ribs, steak, game, veal
Price Point: $15-$50

Wednesday, June 26, 2013

Get to Know a Grape: Marsanne

This week, we're going to the South of France to learn about a popular but perhaps lesser-known white wine grape, Marsanne.

The Cotes du Rhone is where we began our agency in 2004, so it remains a special appellation for us here at Nokhrin Wines. Although it might not have the prestige of Bordeaux or the 'terroir' of Burgundy, it remains an amazing appellation for good quality, well-priced wines, and Marsanne is certainly part of that story. This grape can make for some wonderfully full-bodied white wines with notes of honeysuckle, almonds, and spices. It is often used to add spice and body in blends and is often blended with other white wine grapes, such as Roussanne and Viogner. Despite this, it is possible to occasionally find 100% Marsanne wines.

Marsanne vines are vigorous, meaning that vines and leaves tend to grow quickly and large. Partly due to its vigour, winemakers have to control Marsanne yields, keeping them fairly low and harvesting early in order to ensure that the end result has good acidity and is not 'flabby' or 'watery'. Marsanne grapes are also picky -- if the climate is too hot, they will over-ripen, leading to 'flabby' wine. If it it too cold, they will not ripen properly, also leading to wine that lacks flavour or aroma. Despite this, it has proven to be a popular grape in numerous big-name wine regions, including the Cotes du Rhone, other sections of Southern France, as well as Australia and California.

Pairing for a Marsanne (or Marsanne blend) wine tends to be similar to other white wines, although Marsanne wines can have more body to them than your average white. This makes them good pairs for dishes like chicken with cream (not tomato) sauce, richer foods such as duck or lobster, and, of course, foie gras. And, of course, Marsanne makes an excellent choice for a fish course.

The Short Version
Names: Marsanne, Avilleran, Ermitage Blanc, Rousseau, Hermitage.
Flavour Profile: Rich body, aromas of honeysuckle, spices, white peaches
Best-Known Regions: Cotes du Rhone, South France, Australia, California
Food Pairings: Foie gras, duck, fish, chicken
Price Range: $15-$25