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

Wednesday, June 19, 2013

Get to Know a Grape: Mauzac

This week, we're looking at an aromatic French white wine grape: Mauzac!

Unless you happen to be a sparkling wine aficionado, you may not have heard of Mauzac before. Popular with winemakers in Southwest France in the 1970s and 1980s, Mauzac has since become supplanted by the better-known Chardonnay as the leading white wine grape for the region. Nevertheless, many wineries in parts of Languedoc and Southwest France continue to use Mauzac to create fantastic still and sparkling wines.

Wines made from Mauzac tend to be highly aromatic and have unique flavours of dried apples as well as a good amount of acidity, particularly in dry sparkling wines. Mauzac grapes ripen late in the harvest season, making them sensitive to early frosts. Traditionally, winemakers would harvest Mauzac grapes in late September or early October, giving them time to undergo additional fermentation on the vine. Today most prefer to harvest Mauzac earlier in the season to maintain the grape's natural acidity. The grape is also susceptible to rot due to its high fertility and the dense structure of its fruit.

Mauzac is often vinified on its own, particularly when winemakers make use of more traditional vinification methods, such as methode ancestrale or methode gaillacoise (these are usually demarcated on the wine label). However, some winemakers prefer to blend Mauzac with Chardonnay and/or Chenin blanc in creating their sparkling wines. In addition to Languedoc and Southwest France, Mauzac is sometimes used in making still white in Bordeaux.

Pairing a sparkling Mauzac wine depends largely on whether the wine is sweet or dry. Sweet Mauzac sparklers pair best with foie gras, light seafood dishes, and Cantal or goat cheese. Dry sparkling wines made from Mauzac pair well with fish or berries or can be consumed as an aperitif.

The Short Version
Names: Mauzac, Mauzac Blanc, Blanquette, Caspre, Gaillac.
Flavour Profile: Highly aromatic nose of apples and candied fruit with a nice bit of acidity.
Food Pairings (sweet): Foie gras, goat cheese, Cantal, Brebis
Food Pairings (dry): Fish and light seafood dishes, strawberries.
Price Range: $15-$35

Wednesday, June 12, 2013

Get to Know a Grape: Touriga Franca

This week, we're going back to Portugal to explore one of the country's most exciting red wine grapes: Touriga Franca

Despite the name, Touriga Franca (also known by the slightly more flowery monicker of Touriga Francesca) has no connection with France or with French wines. Instead, it makes do with being the most widely-planted grape in Portugal's famed Duoro valley. It's popularity comes from its consistent yields and resistance to pests, making it a safe bet for winemakers. I is also a versatile grape, and, much like Touriga Nacional, can be used in both table and port wines. Winemakers often blend Touriga Franca with other grapes, such as Touriga Nacional and Tinta Roriz (Tempranillo), which help to balance out its fruity perfume and dense colour with stronger tannins and higher acidity. Indeed, as with most Portuguese grapes, it is quite difficult to find unblended Touriga Franca in the LCBO. However, it's worth noting that there are few Duoro or port wines that don't contain this wonderfully fruity grape! 

In addition to being popular in the Duoro valley, Touriga Franca is frequently planted in other parts of Portugal, such as Ribatejo, Terras do Sado, and Estremadura. It has also been used in fortified wines in both Tasmania and California. Food matches for table wines made with Touriga Franca include pork and beef stew, pork, and lamb stuffed with vegetables. When it comes to fortified (ie. port) wines made with the grape, stilton cheese and dark chocolate tend to make good dinner-table companions. The next time you pick up a bottle of Duoro red, see if you can spot the notes of wildflowers and red fruits that make up the trademark Touriga Franca perfume!

The Short Version
Names: Touriga Franca, Touriga Francesca,  Rifete, Esgana Cao
Flavour Profile: Notes of red fruits and wildflowers, with elegant structure and strong tannins. 
Best-Known Regions: Portugal (Duoro in particular), Australia (Tasmania), and California. 
Price Range: $15-50
Food Pairings (table wine): Stew, wild game, lamb
Food Pairings (fortified): Stilton, Gorganzola, dark chocolate

If this post has made you thirsty for some Duoro red, you might want to try the award-winning Quinta de Lubazim's Grande Reserva 2008, now available at a Vintages section of an LCBO near you!

Wednesday, June 5, 2013

Get to Know a Grape: Barbera

This week, we're looking at Piedmont's 'people's grape', Barbera!

Ah Barbera, the people's wine of Piedmont, renowned for its versatility, high acidity, and beautifully dark ruby red colour. It is currently Italy's third most-planted red grape varietal, after Sangiovese and Montepulciano and, although some have traced its origins to Lombardy, Piedmont is usually considered this red grape's spiritual home. Despite being a tremendously popular Italian grape, Barbera's history is not without controversy. In 1984, a scandal broke out when over thirty people died after drinking cheap Barbera wines that had been adulterated with Methanol. This caused a sharp nosedive in the grape's popularity and significant new restrictions were imposed on winemaking with the grape, particularly in the country's DOC (Denominazione di Origine Controllata) regions, such as the DOCs of Alba and Asti.

Barbera vines have large leaves and tend to ripen late, allowing them to develop a high level of acidity. It's versatility allows it to be used in both young, inexpensive, and easy-drinking wines as well as in powerful, intense, and high-end bottlings. Traditionally, wines made with Barbera grapes tend to be full-bodied, light on tannins, high in acidity and dark red in colour. Some winemakers have recently begun to experiment with aging their Barbera wines in oak barrels before bottling. This adds spicy notes to the wine, as well as softening the acidity and adding tannins. Barbera wines can be paired with a large variety of dishes, including braised chicken, lasagna, barbecue ribs, and cheeseburgers.

In addition to Piedmont, Barbera today can be found in a significant number of other wine regions. It is very popular in neighbouring Lombardia, as well as in Emilia-Romagna. It is also grown across international lines in Slovenia and has been introduced to Argentina and the hot Central Valley of Califronia. So, the next time you're looking for a big red wine to go with your week-end barbecue, give a Barbera a try!

The Short Version
Names: Barbera, Lombardesca, Barbexinis, Perricone
Flavour Profile: Dark ruby red colour, high acidity, low-to-medium tannins, low tannins. Notes of cherries, raspberries, and vanilla.
Food Pairing: Barbecue ribs, chicken, lasagna
Price Range: $15-$75