WINE SAVVY: If you like this, try this

David’s article as prepared for the Duluth News Tribune for the column which ran on 2/17/2016:

If you like this, try this.

Last weekend Sara was having a clothing exchange. This is when a group of friends get together to swap clothes that they are tired of or that no longer meet their expectations. She made banana bread and asked me to choose some wine that they might enjoy. I knew our friend Amy was coming over and that she’d probably like a sauvignon blanc. The bottle I chose was one from Washington state that I knew was ever so slightly sweet and fruity.

My hunch was that maybe the sweetish wine, which smelled like topical fruit, would pair well with the banana bread. Sara had added pineapple and coconut to the mixture, so maybe it would work. That afternoon, after most of the ladies had gone home with their new to them clothes, Sara, Amy, and I sat around chatting. After a sip of wine and a bite of bread, Amy smiled and she said to me, “How do you do that? Choose just the right wine every time?”

Sometimes I don’t. It really is just an educated guess. To help you make some good guesses here are three “if you like this, try this” recommendations.

If you like lemons or butterscotch try this:

Chardonnay is the most popular white wine grape in the world. It is also the most chameleon-like grape. It expresses itself differently depending on how it’s aged and where it’s grown.

To taste two different styles, try both oaked and unoaked chardonnay. Chablis or Petite Chablis (these are French wine regions, available locally should cost around $25) are lemony, racy and made without the influence of oak. The opposite style is an oaked wine. This style is buttery with aromas of coconut and pineapple and make for a great cocktail. Most California chardonnays taste like this. A sure fire example is Toasted Head (also available locally and should cost around $10).

If you like blackberries, pepper, or bacon try this:

If you are looking for a blended red wine that is rich in black fruit aromas and smooth on the pallet and that pairs well with barbecue, roasted meat, or any day after work then try a GSM. This stands for the grape varieties: grenache, syrah, mourvèdre. You can find these wines from France labeled as Côtes du Rhône. I always enjoy anything produced from the Michael Chapoutier vineyards and his wines cost between $10-$18. Spanish GSMs are also stunning deals but my favorite is Can Blau which uses the mazuelo grape rather than mourvèdre. Available locally for around $15. When it goes on sale I buy it by the case.

If you like the smell of a cedar chest, pencil shavings, or the aroma of wet pine forest try this:

After the movie Sideways came out the perception of merlot took a cultural body blow. The movie made out that only idiots would drink merlot while those in the know drink pinot noir. This is totally undeserved and if you’d try a glass of Expedition merlot from Canoe Ridge Vineyards produced in Washington’s Horse Heaven Hills I think you’d agree with me. This merlot is absolutely stunning. Intense flavors of ripe blackberries, smooth velvety tannins, dark black in color and mysterious, it clings to the side of the glass like good memories and once swallowed your mouth will beg for another sip. Available locally for $18 but can often be found on sale for around $12. I try to buy this by the case when on sale but it goes so fast that I usually get just a few bottles.

Email pairing questions to david@savvynomad.com. He’ll try to answer those queries in upcoming columns.

David Devere is a certified specialist of wine. He writes wine articles for the Duluth News Tribune, teaches wine education classes, and leads wine adventures in France. Contact him at david@savvynomad.com.

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WINE SAVVY: Corks vs. Screw caps

David’s article as prepared for the Duluth News Tribune for the column which ran on 2/3/2016:

Corks vs. Screw caps

A few months ago I received an email from a reader asking about the difference between screw caps and corks. In the past, a wine bottle sealed with a screw cap indicated low quality, but not anymore. There are currently five different ways wineries seal a wine bottle. They are natural cork, synthetic cork, screw caps, Vino-Seal and Zork. Here is your guide to each one.

A natural wine cork is made from the bark of the cork oak tree. This tree is native to Spain, Portugal, North Africa and the western Mediterranean Sea basin. The tree has a life span of 150 to 250 years and harvesting the bark does not damage the tree. A tree can first be harvested at age 25 and then again every 9 to 12 years throughout its life span. Harvesting is done by hand and is considered a skilled job. Portugal produces about 50% of all the cork in the world.

French winemakers first started using cork as a closure once glass bottles became a cheap and popular way to store wine in the mid 1600s. They discovered that the cork would compress and then swell when moistened by the wine creating a liquid tight seal. Unknown to the French at the time, the cork did allow an extremely small amount of air to pass through the cork cellular structure and this air slowly aged the wine. Until the invention of plastic, natural cork was the preferred method of sealing a wine bottle and it still is for many wineries that make the finest wines.

Synthetic corks are made out of plastic and have all the properties of cork except they are more resistant to the effects of cork taint and they aren’t biodegradable. Cork taint comes from a chemical known as TCA (tricloranisole) that taints the wine when a naturally occurring fungus interacts with natural cork and makes the wine smell musty. This smell is called cork taint and synthetic corks are not susceptible. If a winery was having a problem with cork taint they’d most likely switch over to synthetic corks until they have an opportunity to throughly clean every surface in the winery to rid it of the fungus. Synthetic corks are also cheaper to buy but they are not readily recyclable and they allow for a large amount of air exchange which will more rapidly oxidize a wine.

If you are a winemaker and you are making young fruit forward wines and you want to preserve the freshness then you’d use a screw cap. Wine is very susceptible to the decaying affect of oxygen, which is why an open bottle won’t last very long. A wine which has gone off can also be called rotten. Remember, wine it is a fruit based beverage and all fruit goes from green to ripe to rotten. Screw caps completely seal a wine from the outside air and this is their greatest benefit. The caps are made mostly with aluminum and a small plastic seal and are recyclable.

Vino-Seals were first introduced in 2003 and are glass stoppers that have a plastic gasket that hermetically seals the bottle. This eliminates the influence of oxygen into a wine, it reduces the chances of cork taint and it is perceived as a luxury closure when compared to a screw cap. The down sides is that they are relatively expensive when compared to cork and must be applied by hand rather than machine.

Zorks were introduced in 2010 and are manufactured by an Australian company of the same name. The all plastic closure has outer cap providing a tamper-evident clamp, an inner metal oxygen barrier similar to a screw cap, and an inner plunger which ‘pops’ on extraction and then reseals the bottle after use.

Long gone are the days when you can judge a bottle simply by its closure. Now you have to assess the quality of a wine based on the liquid in the bottle rather than the stopper in the bottle.

David Devere is a certified specialist of wine. He writes wine articles for the Duluth News Tribune, teaches wine education classes, and leads wine adventures in France. Contact him at david@savvynomad.com.

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WINE SAVVY: Cooking with Wine

David’s article as prepared for the Duluth News Tribune for the column which ran on 1/20/2016:

Preparing dinner with wine.

Preparing dinner with wine.

Cooking with Wine

I wasn’t always knowledgeable about wine. I had to learn about it, study it and taste it. There are a few things we all do naturally, breathing and swallowing come to mind, everything else we have to learn. Learning about food and wine is a constant endeavor and one way I enjoy expanding my knowledge is by watching cooking shows.

As my knowledge of wine has increased I’ve developed a pet peeve while watching these shows. It’s when the show host says something like, “now add a cup of white wine.” This drives me absolutely crazy because there are so many styles of white wine that certainly the one chosen will affect the flavor. Do they want me to add a cup of sweet riesling, or a dry sauvignon blanc, or an oaky chardonnay, or doesn’t it really matter? Should it just be any old rot gut laying around in the bottom of the cupboard or do I use something of quality? Maybe they mean a cup of what I’m drinking while I’m making dinner? If so, shouldn’t they say?

Julia Child wrote her recipes with a certain flair that acknowledged the adult in her readers. What I mean is that she wrote them in such a way that if you didn’t know what white Burgundy is then you’d better figure out that it’s chardonnay from Burgundy if you wanted to complete the recipe properly. And Julia named the wine because it did matter which white wine was used to complete the recipe for the desired flavor. She really was that good and that is why she is in the Smithsonian.

Julia knew that food tasted best when recipes include specific ingredients and that wine has extremely nuanced flavors. Current food personalities seem to think that we don’t need to know which wine and that all wine is the same and only the color is different. Well, it isn’t and here is some advice on what to do with the current generation of recipes that say to add a red or a white to the dish.

Add a cup of white wine. Whites come in three basic flavor profiles: sweetish, tart and buttery. Adding a wine with one of these characteristics will enhance that flavor in the dish. For example, a California oaked chardonnay has a buttery flavor so this would be great to add to cheese sauce or to deglaze a pan after sautéing shrimp because these ingredients are complimentary to the butteriness of the wine. A sauvignon blanc is tart and herbal so it would match well with dishes in which you wanted to increase the lemon-like acidity while also adding some nuanced herb flavors.

Add a cup of red wine. Reds are a little trickier because some reds are soft and fruity while others are bold and tannic. The easiest thing to do is to select a red that is from that region. For example, if you are making a spaghetti sauce choose a Chianti (a sangiovese based Tuscan blend). If you are making Boeuf Bourguignon then choosing a French pinot noir, or one made in a similar style, would be the perfect choice.

This does mean that you are going to have to learn. You are going to have to take an interest in how things are made, what those things are called, how they taste and how they go together. Unless the recipe states the preferred wine to add you are going to have to use your own knowledge, intuition and be bold enough to experiment.

Don’t shy away from this task. Learning about food is incredibly satisfying both physically and mentally. Now pick up a recipe, gather your ingredients, pour yourself a glass of wine, and go make dinner.

David Devere is a certified specialist of wine. He writes wine articles for the Duluth News Tribune, teaches wine education classes, and leads wine adventures in France. Contact him at david@savvynomad.com.

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WINE SAVVY: Pairing Wine & Cheese

David’s article as prepared for the Duluth News Tribune for the column which ran on 1/6/2016:

Smoked Salmon

Gorgonzola and Smoked Salmon decorated with Violas. Cute.

Pairing Advice: Wine & Cheese

Wine and cheese are an iconic pairing but choosing correctly is daunting. Here are three simple concepts to help you make a pairing and advice on what wines goes with what cheese.

The first thing to remember when pairing any wine with any food is to match the intensity of the wine with the intensity of the food. A big bold Australian shiraz goes great with smoked meat and barbecue because both are rich, spicy and have strong mouth filling flavors, while a crisp light sauvignon blanc goes great with a summer salad, dressed in olive oil and lemon because both the wine and the salad have light high-acid tart flavors. Pairing the intensity of the food with the boldness of the wine will often be enough to make a competent choice.

The second thing to remember is that foods that grow together, go together. Italian food tastes best with Italian wine – honest I’m not making this up. How simple is that? Cooking a German inspired meal? Buy German wine. Looking to pair a French sauvignon blanc from the town of Sancerre with a cheese? It helps to know that the cheeses from the region around Sancerre are mostly goat cheese, called chèvre. Goat cheese and sauvignon blanc are a perfect combination. A knowledge of geography and an interest in where your food was produced will help you make delicious pairings.

The third and final thing to remember is to match the age of the cheese with the age of the wine. This doesn’t mean that you need to eat 12 year old cheddar with a 12 year old cabernet sauvignon. It means you consider how the cheese was made and if it was aged before pairing it with your wine. A Sancerre is a wine designed to be consumed young just like goat cheese which is soft, fresh and tangy. An aged cheddar with a bit of roundness to its flavor would favor a bolder more mature wine such as a Napa cabernet sauvignon. When assessing the age of a cheese remember that hardness equals age. Thus parmesan (aged 12 to 36 months before release) is older than brie (aged 5 to 6 weeks).

Wine and Cheese Pairing suggestions:
Fresh and soft cheeses such as ricotta, mozzarella, burrata, chèvre, feta and camembert love crisp white wine, sparkling wine, dry rosé and light-bodied, low-tannin reds. Best pairings for these cheeses are riesling, gewürztraminer, moscato, champagne, unoaked chardonnay, sauvignon blanc, beaujolais and fino sherry.

Semi-hard and medium aged cheeses such as swiss, gouda, young cheddar and monterey jack have a firmer texture and pair best with medium bodied whites and fruit forward reds such as oaked chardonnay, viognier, pinot blanc, gewürztraminer, pinot noir, zinfandel, merlot, amontillado sherry and port.

Hard cheeses such as aged cheddar, aged gouda, manchego, asiago and parmesan love full-bodied whites and tannic reds. These cheeses also have a nuttiness to them that works well with sweet dessert wines. Best pairings are aged chardonnay, sweet riesling, vintage champagne, pinot noir, cabernet sauvignon, Barolo, Barbaresco, Amarone, petite sirah, syrah, zinfandel, Rhone red blends, red blends, oloroso sherry, madeira and Sauternes.

Blue cheese needs wine with boldness and sweetness to balance the intense flavor and often salty rind. Pair with oaked chardonnay, California red blends, port, oloroso sherry and Sauternes.

Stinky, runny cheese, such as brie, pairs best with aromatic wine that compliments earthy flavors. Good pairings include chenin blanc, cabernet franc or pinot noir.

Exploring the world of wine and cheese pairing offers a lifetime of culinary adventure, embrace the journey and have fun in tasting the process.

David Devere is a certified specialist of wine. He writes wine articles for the Duluth News Tribune, teaches wine education classes, and leads wine adventures in France. Contact him at david@savvynomad.com.

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WINE SAVVY: Champagne survival guide

David’s article as prepared for the Duluth News Tribune for the column which ran on 12/23/2015:

Sparkling wine

When Champagne corks fly, watch your eyes.

Champagne Survival Guide

Every year, people buy bottles of Champagne, or other sparkling wines, with the intention of popping the cork on Christmas or New Year’s Eve. Nothing says celebration like the pop of a Champagne cork. Champagne bottles ooze luxury, charm and tradition. The bottles are made of heavily colored glass and adorned with multicolored metallic labels with raised lettering and strange French names like Moët & Chandon, Veuve Clicquot and Ruinart. They come with a special cork, a funny wire cage that suggests something inside needs to be contained, and the liquid is both festive and intoxicating. Champagne is the drink of kings, celebrities and champions. If you want to celebrate, you toast with a glass or spray the crowd from the podium.

Popping a cork across the room might seem like a fun thing to do, but accidents caused by Champagne-propelled corks kill about two dozen people each year, according to dailymail.co.uk. A study done on eye injuries in the United States found that 20 percent were from sparkling wine corks, according to reviewofophthalmology.com. Of these, 54 percent resulted in permanent vision loss and 17 percent in legal blindness.

A typical bottle of Champagne contains 90 pounds of pressure. This is three times the amount of a typical car tire. This is enough pressure to propel the cork at speeds of up to 60 mph. Ophthalmologists report that eye injuries from corks include: retinal detachment, blow out orbital fracture, dislocated lens and corneal abrasion, just to name a few. Obviously, there is a right and wrong wayt to open a bottle of bubbly.

Here are the steps to safely opening a bottle of Champagne, or any sparkling wine.

  • Chill the bottle for 15 minutes in an ice bucket (ice and water) or about three hours in the refrigerator. A chilled bottle will have less pressure than a warm bottle. This is because at lower temperatures the CO2 — which we recognize as bubbles — is more soluble in the liquid. If it’s in the wine and not in gas form in the bottle, the cork will exit with less force. So, if your wine is colder it’ll be under less pressure than a warmer wine.
  • Never shake the bottle, because we all know what happens when you shake a bottle of carbonated beverage. If you want to spray your adoring fans from the podium, shake the bottle after the cork is removed — never before.
  • Remove the foil covering the cork and remove the wire cage. Immediately place your hand around the neck of the bottle with your thumb over the top of the cork. At this point, you should consider the bottle armed and ready to pop.
  • Hold the bottle at a 45-degree angle, away from people, and grasp the cork with one hand (you should already be doing this). With the other hand, hold the bottom of the bottle. Gently twist the bottle, not the cork. It is important to twist the bottle because you have more control over the bottle than the cork. Done properly, you should feel the cork start to move in your hand, and it will pop nicely into your fist. Don’t pry up the cork, don’t try to use a corkscrew, just gently twist. I’ve encountered stubborn corks before, they will come off.

If you follow these steps, no one should get hurt, the bottle should make a nice festive popping sound and you shouldn’t spill any of that delicious bubbly liquid. Happy holidays!

David Devere is a certified specialist of wine. He writes wine articles for the Duluth News Tribune, teaches wine education classes, and leads wine adventures in France. Contact him at david@savvynomad.com.

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WINE SAVVY: Wine for dessert

David’s article as prepared for the Duluth News Tribune for the column which ran on 12/09/2015:

Everyone has probably tasted a sweet wine. White Zinfandel comes to mind. These are wines that have the principle taste as sweetness and that’s about it. These wines are sticky sweet and are not really interesting. They lack complexity, one of the key components of quality wine.

Complexity is the thing that makes wine interesting. It is that thing that makes your eyes pop open and brows lift after the first taste. It’s that thing that makes people look at each other with delight just before another sip.

If you’ve only ever tasted sweet simple wines, you’d probably think that any wine marketed as dessert wine will be overly done with sweetness. This is generally true when you encounter a wine with the word “dessert” on the label but, if you know what you’re looking for, true dessert wines are tiny little expressions of divinity in your mouth. Nothing in the world of wine can compare with the cornucopia of complex flavors found in true dessert wines. For the uninitiated, the best two examples to start with are Sauternes and Ice Wine.

Sauternes is a region in France just south of Bordeaux. Following the French practice of naming wines after where they grow, Sauternes comes from Sauternes. The wine is made primarily from the sémillon grape. The land in Sauternes slopes gently down toward the Garonne River. This makes for cool, foggy mornings that develop into sunny, clear afternoons. This is the perfect condition for growing a fickle fungus called Botrytis cinerea, more commonly known as noble rot.

The fungus attacks the outside of the grape berries, sucking water from the fruit to feed itself. The fruit shrivels, turns black, grows a white hairy mold and looks awful. The berries are reduced in moisture content but not flavor as the fungus doesn’t effect the remaining juice. This juice is subsequently highly concentrated in flavors and sugars.

The winemakers harvest the infected sémillon crop at the very end of the season and add a touch of sauvignon blanc to make their wine. Sauternes is often aged in oak for two to three years before bottling and can age for more than 100 years.

The wine is golden in color and aged examples take on the color of an old copper penny. A Sauternes can reward a drinker with flavors of honey, honeysuckle, honeydew, pineapple, mango, papaya, almond, hazelnut, fig, maple syrup-covered French toast, creme brulee and salted caramel — all in the same sip.

Ice Wine is Germany’s Sauternes. It uses Botrytis-infected riesling for its base. But the Germans also wait for the temperature to get below freezing before they harvest and press the fruit. With frozen fruit, the remaining water has turned to ice. This results in a very small amount of extremely concentrated nectar.

Ice Wine is luscious and intensely flavored. The wine has the flavors of honey and apricots with strong aromas of ripe tropical fruits such as mango, papaya and pineapple. While sweet, it has a firm backbone of acidity making it perfectly balanced.

Both Sauternes and Ice Wine are sold in half-sized bottles (375 ml) and cost a minimum of $20. Ice wine is more common but is often more expensive. Sauternes only comes from France while examples of Ice Wine can come from Germany, New York, Canada and Minnesota. Canadian and German examples are the most highly prized.

These wines are sweet, complex and refreshing. Serve them well-chilled and serve them instead of dessert.

David Devere is a certified specialist of wine. He writes wine articles for the Duluth News Tribune, teaches wine education classes, and leads wine adventures in France. Contact him at david@savvynomad.com.

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WINE SAVVY: Best Wine for Thanksgiving

David’s article as prepared for the Duluth News Tribune for the column which ran on 11/25/2015:

One wine for Thanksgiving

If I had to choose just one wine to pair with Thanksgiving dinner it would be Alsatian gewurztraminer. I can hear you tripping over the word. Let’s take it in pieces; gewurtz means spicy in German, and traminer is named for the northern Italian town and historical birthplace of the local wine called Tramin. In German if you place an “er” on the end of something it means “from that place.” So the translation of the grape variety we call gewurztraminer is literally “spicy wine from Tramin.”

All of this German wording for a wine from Italy would make some sense if Alsace was in Germany but, as the geographically astute readers already know, Alsace is part of France. Alsace is in the very farthest eastern part of France right next to Germany on the western side of the Rhine river. This region is the most culturally German part of France and the French and Germans have sparred over this territory for centuries. In the twentieth century the province changed hands four times.

All of this cultural blending has lead to a funny, long, sometimes difficult to say grape name, gewurztraminer. But remember traminer is the name of the grape from the Italian town of Tramin and the grape they grow in Tramin is an oddity called called savagnin blanc (this is not to be confused with the very popular and much more common sauvignon blanc). This means that gewurztraminer is actually spicy savagnin blanc. The reason we can buy Alsatian versions and not Italian ones is because of terroir. Terroir is the soil, the river, and the mountains. In Alsace the terroir conspires to make savagnin blanc struggle in such a way that it produces the perfect wine for Thanksgiving.

The cultural mish-mash that is gewurztarminer; Italian grape, German name, grown in France and served at an American holiday is perfect for representing the immigrant heritage of America. Thanksgiving is a day when we give thanks to those who struggled to get us here and to those who struggled to feed us once we arrived. And it is the mish-mash of dishes that make up Thanksgiving dinner that makes gewurztraminer the perfect pairing. Gewurztraminer pairs perfectly with roast turkey but also many kinds of stuffing from cornbread to jalapeno. It pairs well with all the side dishes like green bean casserole, sweet potatoes with marshmallows, garlicky mashed potatoes, cranberry salad, pumpkin pie, apple pie and just about anything else.

The reason Alsatian gewurztraminer does this so well is because it is a white wine (actually the color is a very slight pink) with a high level of acidity and a heady amount of alcohol at 14%. The acidity and alcohol strip the compound fats and flavors from your mouth with each sip. This allows you to taste each bite independently and to truly savor the compound flavors. Gewurztraminer has intense aromas of tropical fruit, nutmeg and cinnamon. The wine smells sweet but tastes rich and luscious with a dry finish.

Two good locally available Alsatian versions are Trimbach and Hugel both available from Fitgers Wine Cellar. Alsatian gewurztraminer should retail for around $20 a bottle and should be served chilled.

It is also possible to find gewurztraminer from California, Washington and South Africa but I caution you on reading this column and then thinking that all gewurztraminers are the same because they are not. Often the Californian and Washington examples lack acidity and can be too sweet.

The terroir of Alsace and their signature wine, the multinational hybrid that is reflected in its name, makes Alsatian gewurztraminer my one wine recommendation for Thanksgiving. Cheers.

David Devere is a certified specialist of wine. He writes wine articles for the Duluth News Tribune, teaches wine education classes, and leads wine adventures in France. Contact him at david@savvynomad.com.

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WINE SAVVY: Warm up with Port, the fortified wine

David’s article as prepared for the Duluth News Tribune for the column which ran on 11/11/2015:

Warm up with Port, the fortified wine

An English winter is dark, wet, and cold. The options for an indigenously produced warming drink is very limited. While the English can make many fantastic beers, their climate can’t grow grapes and grapes are needed to make many warming beverages like Brandy. But they do live next to two of the finest whiskey producing nations on the planet, Ireland and Scotland. But their contentious historical relationship means that acquiring whiskey can be problematic.

When the French, Irish and Scottish aren’t being neighborly what’s an Englishman to do to warm himself on a drab winter day? This was the problem confronting two enterprising merchants from Liverpool in 1678. So they set out to see what northern Portugal had to drink. It was here that they discovered a “very agreeable, sweetish and extremely smooth wine.” And when a tax treaty with Portugal in 1703 made Portuguese wine cheap to import, many British merchant houses set up shop and started to import what they called Port.

Port is a fortified wine. This means that during fermentation a grape spirit, brandy, is added to the wine boosting the alcohol content to over 15%. Yeast can’t live in liquid at more than 15% alcohol so the added spirit stops the fermentation. Stopping the fermentation allows for some of the grape sugar to be retained in the liquid and this makes for a sweet tasting beverage. It also makes for a beverage that travels well and keeps well, both great qualities if you need to transport your cargo home in a sailing ship.

The grapes used to make Port are all indigenous Portuguese varieties with some Spanish plants thrown into the mix. There can be more than seven grape varieties in each bottle. Calling it a mix is actually very accurate as the very best Ports still come from specific fields where the composition and blend of the grapes is unknown to even the producer. Historically, Port has always been made with a field blend. Now most of the blending is done at the winery.

Generally Ports are high in alcohol, sweet, and rich in complex flavors and aromas. There are two main styles: Ruby and Tawny.
Ruby Port is vibrant in color and youthful in its fruit aromas of blackberry, raspberry and chocolate. This port is aged for 2 years in large oak barrels and is a blend of vintages.

Tawny Ports are aged much longer. A minimum of 6 years in oak gives this wine the aromas of caramel, hazelnut and fig. Tawny Ports can also be vintage blends often marketed as 10, 20, or 30 year old. These vintages are averages so some of the wine could be considerably older in a 30 year vintage.

Confusingly, you can also find Port labeled Reserve, Late-Bottled Vintage and Vintage. A Reserve is a Rudy Port aged for 4 to 6 years. Late-Bottled Vintage means the wine is from one specific year, therefore not a blend, and then aged for 4 to 6 years, filtered and bottled. These wines are designed to be consumed upon release. Vintage is a wine from a specific year that was considered to have the conditions to produce an excellent wine. Vintage wines are not blended, they spend two years in an oak cask, then are bottled and cellared. Vintage Ports can be aged for 25 to 100 years but once opened they should be consumed the same day. All other port styles will last one to two weeks in the bottle before they degrade into tastelessness.

The English found Port to be just the thing to take the chill off a drab winter day. I suggest you try it after dinner instead of dessert. It’ll warm you up and make your day seem just a little bit sweeter.

David Devere is a certified specialist of wine. He writes wine articles for the Duluth News Tribune, teaches wine education classes, and leads wine adventures in France. Contact him at david@savvynomad.com.

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WINE SAVVY: Glassware

David’s article as prepared for the Duluth News Tribune for the column which ran on 10/28/2015:

Glassware

A few years ago I was in Paris with few a friends. We had spent the entire day walking around the city and were in dire need of sustenance. It was Saturday evening and we were leaving in a few hours on the sleeper train to the south of France. We thought that it would be fun to have an impromptu picnic along the banks of the river Seine.

We purchased some sandwiches from a small deli along with a hunk of cheese and a bottle of right bank Bordeaux (this is a red wine blend with merlot at its base). We found a spot long the river wall and with our feet dangling over the river we set out our picnic as the sun was just beginning to set behind Notre Dame Cathedral. I fished a corkscrew out of my bag and opened the wine. The setting was complete.

Wine, food, good friends, a perfect late summer evening in the heart of Paris with a sunset illuminating one of the most iconic buildings in western Europe. Everything was perfect, I had even remembered to bring a corkscrew. It did not take me long to notice my obvious mistake. We didn’t have any glasses.

In the world of wine, a wine glass can really help make the experience much more enjoyable. While you can drink wine straight out of the bottle, doing so skips the fundamental tasting opportunity afforded by wine and that is to enjoy the aroma or bouquet. Tasting is 80% smelling and if you can’t smell something then the only thing your tongue can tell you is: salty, sour, sweet and bitter. This is why, when you have a cold and your nose is stuffed up, you can’t taste anything because tasting is actually smelling.

A wine glass is a purpose-made vessel for smelling. The bowl is round and the lip tapers inward. They are made this way because a round bowl is good for swirling wine which introduces oxygen, stimulates evaporation, and promotes small aroma molecules to be released from the liquid. These molecules, called esters, rise in the glass where they are somewhat trapped by the tightening diameter of the lip. The aromas linger here and when you take a sip of wine you inhale them and they form the basis for the taste.

The stem of a wine glass is also a deceptively simple thermal insulating device because the temperature at which you serve your wine is also important to the taste. Serve a wine too cold and the aromas will be numb. Meaning they are too cold to evaporate in the glass, leading to a bland tasting wine. Serve the wine too warm and the most volatile compounds will evaporate first. Alcohol is the most volatile compound and this leads to a wine that smells hot and burns the nose and throat. If you hold a wine glass by its stem you won’t warm the liquid with your hand, helping you enjoy the wine at an optimal temperature. If the wine is served too cold you can cup the bowl with your hands and warm it up quickly, releasing the esters which will noticeably improve the smell and thus the taste.

Back on the banks of the Seine my traveling companions and I were in a quandary. We had everything for a nice picnic except drinking vessels. In the end it didn’t much matter, we just passed the bottle around taking swigs from the neck. But I’m sure if we had some wine glasses we could have appreciated the full complexity of our Bordeaux. When traveling you learn to make do, and that wasn’t the last time on that trip we’d share a bottle of wine by passing it around. I’ve now updated my overseas travel kit to include not only my trusty corkscrew but also a small plastic glass for me.

David Devere is a certified specialist of wine. He writes wine articles for the Duluth News Tribune, teaches wine education classes, and leads wine adventures in France. Contact him at david@savvynomad.com.

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WINE SAVVY: New World vs. Old World

David’s article as prepared for the Duluth News Tribune for the column which ran on 10/14/2015:

Wine style: New world vs. Old world

Wine is notoriously difficult to make consistent. This is because grapes are fruit that produce juice based on what the weather and the land give them each year. In a good growing year the wine could be fabulous and in a bad year, mediocre. To help the wine drinker understand the difference, a year is placed on the bottle and this is referred to as vintage.

There are other clues that can help the consumer determine what’s in the bottle. One of the most helpful is understanding the style. Understanding how a wine is styled is as important as understanding the grape variety in the bottle. Established wine producing regions have a distinctive character and almost follow a recipe for producing a reliably consistent product. This formula is sometimes referred to as old world wine but I like to think of it as style.

Broadly speaking, wines from Europe follow a historical style and wines not from Europe, called new world wines, either follow the Europeans or make their own way and come up with something entirely new.

This system of styling a product to a historical standard is pretty easy to understand because once you become familiar with the style you can more easily predict how wine might taste. The only problem with this is when winemakers move away from the standard, then the predictive qualities of the wine come into question.

Since the French make so much wine and their native grape varieties form the backbone of the international wine market, understanding their style is a great place to start. This is because new world producers either copy French style or they are influenced to make a new style of wine.

This concept of styling shouldn’t be confused with the concept of a noble grape. A noble grape is a grape variety that can express where it’s grown differently. As an example, let’s look at three different sauvignon blancs. One of the best sauvignon blanc styles is from the small hilltop town of Sancerre in France. They make a light, crisp, slightly herbal, dry white wine. It is made in a stainless steel tank and bottled in a bottle with low sloping shoulders (known as a Burgundian bottle) and is made without the influence of an oak barrel. This is the historical standard. Think of this as the baseline.

New Zealand makes most of its sauvignon blanc the same way and bottles it in a similarly shaped vessel. But the wines from New Zealand can have the aromas of lime, lemon and grapefruit. This is the same grape, made the same way, bottled the same way, but it tastes different. This is because the grape expresses the land in France different from the land in New Zealand and this is why sauvignon blanc is called a noble variety. This would be considered a new world wine made in a French style.

But if we look at a California Fumé Blanc we see something similar but different. In the 1960s, Hibbing, MN native, Robert Mondavi, was experimenting with new ways to make sauvignon blanc. He decided to age his wine in oak barrels to add a deeper gold color and a bit of richness to his wine. The result was that a new style was born. Oaked sauvingon blanc is a purely American innovation. This would be an example of a new world wine not following the style.

Luckily for us Mr. Mondavi was not only a talented winemaker but also a master at marketing. For his new wine he made up a completely new name. He called it Fumé Blanc and we are lucky because if we like oak in our sauvignon blanc we can easily find a Fumé Blanc on the shelf as many other wineries in California have copied this technique.

The difference between old world and new world wine might seem slight and sometimes it is just the addition of an oak barrel or planting the grape in a different place but that small difference can make a big change in how a wine will taste and feel.

David Devere is a certified specialist of wine. He writes wine articles for the Duluth News Tribune, teaches wine education classes, and leads wine adventures in France. Contact him at david@savvynomad.com.

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