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