Earlier this week, we discussed some trends in wine and wine making. Today, I have a couple examples to accentuate what I was talking about, particularly with harvest methods, but I’m also going to go into a couple of popular wine styles right now and try to tie it all together for you.
First, lets address this sweet wine business. There are a lot of wines out there, and a lot of drinkers to enjoy it, but obviously different palates enjoy different styles. One style that gets a lot of ribbing from self-titled connoisseurs are the late harvest and sweet wines. Now, these wines rarely tend to suit my palate personally, but I can certainly appreciate their appeal. As we talked about early on, the flavor that humans can pick up the most is bitter, and some people can easily be sensitive to that quality and turned off by it. Sweet wines, whether the grapes used are naturally of a sweeter variety, are made to quit fermentation early, or have sugar added to them after fermentation, appeal largely to this crowd. However, many people will seek them out to pair with certain foods. As grills come out, and garden plants shoot up, things like homemade hot sauce and pepper laden dishes become more popular. Surprisingly, the combination of sweetness and acidity found in many crisp, sweet whites pairs beautifully with these spring and summer dishes.
One example is the Villa Riesling’s Spätlese Riesling from Mosel, Germany. This wine has an almost clear water like complexion, with a nose of floral and peaches. It is sweet on the palate with good, mouthwatering acidity to keep it balanced and notes of yellow stones fruits and orange blossoms.
German Rieslings are very heavily classified, and names can tell you a lot about the wine’s qualities, down to when it was harvested and how sweet it will be. Riesling does’t always have to be sweet, in fact, their are quite a few fantastic dry Rieslings coming from all over the globe, but it is probably the most well known on American soil. The classification Spätlese means late harvest, meaning that they left the grapes on the vine to ripen for an extended period of time, increasing the natural sugars. Now the alcohol in Rieslings usually sits around 12 to 13% ABV on the high end, so with an increase in available sugars for fermentation they have to forcibly stop the fermentation process to prevent surpassing those levels, allowing for the higher residual sugars. These wines are definitely on the sweet scale but they also have enough flavor and acidity to keep it balanced and refreshing, which is key, because these wines also pair beautifully with spicy foods like Thai and Indian curries. The dryer styles also pair well with heavy dishes like risotto or mac and cheese.
Another popular style this time of year is Vinho Verde. This style is also a region, so don’t get confused. They both originate in Portugal, and the region is named for the style. Vinho Verde literally means green wine, and is made from grapes which are harvested before they are fully ripe. This means its has less natural sugars with which to create alcohol. Wine makers also stop the fermentation early allowing some natural sugars to remain creating a low alcohol wine with a kiss of sweetness, which also encourages a secondary fermentation in the bottle. This results in a crisp, refreshing wine with a slight bubbly quality, also known as petillance in the wine world. Another nice bonus about Vinho Verde is that it usually fall right around $10 a bottle give or take $5. Look for Terra Antiga’s Vinho Verde, it falls right around $8 a bottle, and has a bit more alcohol and flavor than some of the others I’ve tried. I get lemon and pineapple with great acidity.
Speaking of great price points, let’s not forget the infamous “two” buck chuck from the Trader Joes stores. Anything under $5 usually gets a scrutinizing eye from me, however, I have found that you can find fantastic buys for cheap and terrible buys for high-end dollars, so price tag usually doesn’t imply much. This line in particular has gotten a lot of attention and having tasted them I understand why. They are jammy, rich, and exhibit nearly zero tannins, which appeals to a wide array of wine drinkers.
I still don’t like them.
To me, this line exemplifies all that is bad with over produced wines. There have been other articles that talk about the way they harvest their grapes, and I touched on this a bit earlier this week. They mechanically harvest all of their grapes at the “technically” correct time, not to say they don’t apply science, I’m sure they do. However, when they harvest those grapes with their machines, they do not sort them, they dump all of their grapes in to one presser; stems, seeds, tree bits and all. Occasionally this “all” also includes under ripe, over ripe, and rotten fruit, along with living bugs and birds that could not escape the on-coming machinery, or dead bugs and birds. Then they under-ferment the wines so they retain some of the natural fruit sweetness, and add stabilizers so the wine doesn’t re-ferment in the bottle. They end up with a tasty product, for right under $4 after inflation, but not necessarily a high quality wine. Trader Joe’s contracts with a vast number of wine makers and distributors who produce fantastic wines that are sold within the same price range. I recommend checking out the Italian line, Grifone.
Something I do like: Argentine Malbec. (I don’t think I’m alone here, and a 60% export rate from Argentina to the rest of the world confirms that.)
To be specific the Lagarde Altas Cumbres Malbec. Every wine from this vineyard is entirely hand picked using a combination of intuition, science and 100 years of experience. The Altas Cumbres line is the company’s entry level line, designed to be true to the characteristics of the varietal, while remaining approachable for learning palates, and they definitely hit the mark. I use the Malbec as my house wine, because its fruity enough that my sweet-palated friends can enjoy it, but dry enough to appeal to the other side of the fence, and still exhibits both the meaty and floral qualities of more complicated and more expensive Malbec creations. Coming in at just under ten dollars, this wine is a steal. (The grapes for this line are grown on vines between 5 and 50 years old or a mean average of 27.5 years old.) Malbecs are great with grilled meats, or pastas with a red sauce, however I most often find myself drinking them by the glass with good friends,good conversation, and maybe some cheese if I’m lucky.
Tune in next week when we look into how or if color and varietal are tied together!
As always if you have any questions or recommendations please include it below!