The best kind of fog, Nebbiolo

It’s a particularly ugly day in Boston from a weather standpoint. It’s been raining and snowing at the same time, a fact that meteorologist describe as “wintry mix” which sounds like a cereal brand or a granola bar. Rain, snow and fog don’t make for a great early Spring. Actually, fog might help. If you translate fog into Italian, you get Nebbiolo which is way more fun to be around than fog.

So, Nebbiolo is an Italian red grape variety from the Piedmont region (Northwest Italy, capital Turin).


It is considered the noble grape of the region, which I guess makes Barbera the bourgeois grape and Dolcetto the peasant grape. That’s actually a pretty accurate comparison because Nebbiolo is a really fussy and temperamental grape. Seriously, it makes Pinot Noir look easy to grow in comparison. Nebbiolo is extremely fragile, needs constant care and takes forever to ripen. It is also very particular about the type of soils and climate it needs to grow properly and thus, can only be cultivated on the very best tracts of land. All those factors contribute to its rarity and its “nobility” status.

Nebbiolo Grapes

Nebbiolo Grapes

Why do people bother growing it then? Well, it produces spending wines. That might have helped. Wines made from Nebbiolo have extremely high acidity and tannins level. Often they are way to tart to be drunk early. Most high quality Nebbiolo requires oak aging and then a few years in the bottle to reach its potential and be enjoyable. A peak Nebbiolo makes me think about a tighter, denser Pinot Noir where the gamey, Fall-like notes of Burgundy would be replaced by more peppery, spicy notes. That’s my own experience however, generally accepted descriptions of Nebbiolo insist on aromas like roses, liquorice, mulberries or even tar.

The most famous appellations for Nebbiolo are the Barolo and Barbaresco DOCGs in Piedmont with high reputation and price both. Other DOCGs for Nebbiolo include Gattinara and Ghemme. There is also a DOC, Nebbiolo d’Alba. Outside of Piedmont the grape is not widely planted even so there are Nebbiolo wines from California and Australia.

I’ve been drinking a few Nebbiolos recently and I was I could drink some more because it is usually great stuff. But the relative rarity, high reputation and necessary ageing makes it an expensive passion, especially for Barolos and Barbarescos. Other DOCGs and DOCs are more affordable and they tend to be easier to drink young. It’s usually a good bet if you can find one of these at your local wine shop.

Weekly Ramblings : MWWC8 & Possible blog changes

It’s time to be true to the name of this blog and ramble a little bit, just a few quick items that do not warrant a full post.

Voting for the latest Monthly Wine Writing Contest is on. The theme was “Luck” and my entry was “A Tale of two Harrys”. Go check the other entries and vote. There is some great stuff in there as always.

I have been busy with work and life and stuff and so I haven’t been posting as much as I want. Being busy is one thing, but, more sadly, another reason I haven’t been posting much is because I haven’t drank much wine lately! I know, scandalous, but also, I assure you, circumstantial. It will be back to normal very soon. I have several dinners, trips and tastings where wine will be prominently featured.

I’m also thinking of doing some maintenance on the blog, changing the layout, creating things, more links… I want to make it better and get more traffic so it’s something I’m researching right now. I’m trying to find some best practices, make the blog better.

Hopefully you’ll see changes very soon. And hopefully, they’ll be good ones.

That’s all for now, some tasting notes to be published next week along with more theory posts and some ramblings. Le vin est tire, il faut le boire !

Monthly Wine Writing Challenge #8: Time to Vote!

Monthly Wine Writing Challenge: the Vote! (Almost)

the drunken cyclist

Over the weekend, The Sweet Sommelier, the host of this month’s Monthly Wine Writing Challenge (#MWWC8) let me know that she was having some trouble getting a survey to embed on her blog. She asked me if I could walk her through how to do it. Her blog is over on Blogspot, however, and I can barely figure out WordPress, so I knew there was no chance in Hades that I was going to be of any assistance.

Instead, I offered to hold the vote over here. Now some of you might be crying foul since I also entered the challenge, but I can assure you that I will not fudge the results. (After all there is no money involved–if there were, well–OK, I would still be honest about it. Now if there was a bottle of Salon Champagne awarded to the winner, let’s just say I would be…

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Crash course in Rioja : Bodega Pecina

There is a wonderful place in Boston that organizes free wine tastings every Friday afternoon and early evening (and then goes ahead and offers a significant discount on tasted wines). I went there last Friday for a tasting entirely devoted to wines from not only a single region, but a single producer.

The Bodega building

The Bodega building

The region was Rioja and the producer was Bodegas P.Pecina. Rioja is probably the most famous wine producing region of Spain, it’s in Northern Spain, the main grape used is Tempranillo and what makes Rioja special is a very codified use of ageing in oak. Basically depending on how much time your Rioja spent in oak barrels before being bottled, it will be classified into a specific category. Ageing in general is very important for Rioja wines, Tempranillo is a grape that ages well and that conditions the way Rioja wine is made and sold.

–          Joven : no oak ageing at all

–          Rioja : less than a year in oak

–          Crianza : at least 2 years of ageing including at least one in oak

–          Reserva : at least 3 years including at least one in oak

–          Gran Reserva : at least 2 years in oak and 3 years in bottle

The tasting took us through those nuances, five different wines, from the same producer, with the same variety breakdown (95% Tempranillo, 3% Graciano, 2% Grenache). As you can see the Tempranillo proportion is rather high, a traditional Rioja usually is aroung 65% Tempranillo. This particular Bodega was fonded in 1992 as a family operation and it has been growing organically ever since. Onto the wines now

Pecina Joven Cosecha 2012 ($15)

No oak ageing, very fresh and vibrant, lots of cherry and plum flavors

Pecina Crianza 2007 ($20)

2 years in American oak barrels, already smoother and rounder with tobacco and vanilla notes starting to appear

Pecina Reserva 2005 ($30)

The main wine of this producer, 3 years in oak. The wine feels broader and has more depth than the Crianza. It is more concentrated but remains fresh. I loved it and bought a couple bottles after the tasting.

pecina reserva

Pecina Gran Reserva 2003($50)

Only made in great vintages and spends 3 years in oak and at least 5 years in bottle before being sold. Very special stuff. Extremely concentrated with toffee notes. It would be interesting to see how it is in 10 years.

Pecina Vendimia Selecctionada 2006 ($50)

A wrinkle from this producer, a selection of the best old vines at harvest time during exceptional vintages. It is not aged as much as the Gran Reserva but it feels even more concentrated while remaining fruity.

Overall a great introduction to what Rioja is all about and an interesting take on how winemaking techniques make a difference. I wonder what kind of tasting this little shop will have next Friday, and the Friday after, and the Friday after…

Listen all y’all it’s a Pinotage

Chenin Blanc might be the most planted grape in South Africa but the true “native” South African variety is Pinotage. Why? Because it was invented in South Africa, back in 1925, and because it is hardly ever planted outside of the country, making it quintessentially South African. It doesn’t hurt that it’s a great wine for barbecuing, a staple of the South African way of life.

Pinotage was invented, the correct word is bred, in the XXth century in order to try and solve a problem. South African winemakers wanted to plant some Pinot Noir.  A fine idea, except Pinot Noir is a temperamental, hard to grow, fragile grape. Results were not good. Enters Abraham Izak Perold, professor of viticulture at Stellenbosch University (Stellenbosch is the premium wine growing region in the Cape). Mr Perold decided to tackle the Pinot Noir fragility by crossing it with Cinsault, another French grape, known for its robustness.

Mr. Perold, notice the hipster moustache

Mr. Perold, notice the hipster moustache

The idea was to keep some of the Pinot character while making the vines sturdied. The result was something completely new. Another happy accident if you want. Instead of blending characteristics from two French grapes, Perold ended up creating a new, distinct variety that had nothing to do with its parents.

Since Cinsault was called Hermitage in South Africa then, the portmanteau word Pinotage was created to describe this cross of Pinot and Hermitage. It is the signature South African grape, used in a lot of red blends but also to make varietal wines.

Pinotage grapes

Pinotage grapes

Pinotage has high acidity and strong tannins which gives it potential for ageing. Pinotage has somewhat of a bad reputation because it can easily develop unpleasant flavors, mostly acetone. Normal and more pleasant flavors include smoke, bramble fruits or even banana. It’s an earthy wine that goes well with grilled meat.

I only tasted some recently and I quite liked it, finding it very distinctive. I bought a couple bottles and I will try to form a more informed opinion.

MWWC8 : A tale of Two Harrys

MWWCHere is my entry for the March edition of the Monthly Wine Writing Challenge. The previous winner was The Sweet Sommelier with a post on the them of Devotion. This month’s challenge theme is Luck. Hopefully i will be more inspired than last month !

Without further ado, here is my Luck entry for the MWWC8 :

Liquid Luck or a Tale of Two Harrys

In one of the Harry Potter novels there is a potion called Felix Felicis that characters describe as “liquid luck”. Now I love the Harry Potter books, but I have to say it right there, liquid luck already exists; it’s called wine, check it out.


I could go down the easy road and just say that wine can get you drunk, sometimes drunk enough to make questionable choices and, in a certain acceptation of the term, “get lucky”. But I will not do that. I mean, I can’t really reach my punch line 6 lines into the contest right? No, I will have to take my time, work it slowly, I don’t care if it is getting late, I could be up all night (to get lucky).

Wine is quite literally liquid luck. In each bottle there is a special wine that only can be made once. Earth, Heaven and People have worked together to produce something that cannot be identically re-created. “Earth” would be the terroir, and granted, you can say that terroir doesn’t change. “People” means the winemaking process, the techniques used, and again, it can be a constant. But Heaven is the weather, and we can all agree that there is a significant amount of chance involved in that variable.

Any wine is a one-time chance encounter between those variables to produce something unique. That’s pretty lucky. Now there’s even more luck involved since another chance encounter has to happen for wine to become a real magic potion. There is an expression, “Lightning in a bottle” to describe the idea of something extremely unlikely happening. In that case, isn’t all wine lightning in a bottle?

The bottle has to meet its drinker. Once again, there are a lot of parameters to consider: how old is the bottle? What conditions was it kept in? Will it be served with food? What food? What mood is the drinker in? It is impossible for the same magic moment between a wine and a drinker to happen twice. In fact, just by drinking a wine, the drinker will change, the experience of this wine making him more educated, never will he be the same person than he was before his first sip.

Luck, or happenstance is also the original reason for some wine production methods. Noble rot for instance, or ice wine, or even champagne were all unforeseen consequences or miscalculations. The fact that champagne wine was sparkling was actually a bad thing as it lead to bottle breaking and exploding, people getting injured and wine getting spilled. Shame. Then someone goes along and invents the muselet and all is well again. Those techniques still came up as accidents but let’s call them happy accidents, shall we? Once more luck is here to provide the unexpected (and the delicious), thank you luck.

Muselet et sa capsule

Muselet : small but important

Sometimes, it even goes beyond luck. Sometimes there is a meet-cute between you and a wine and lucky doesn’t even begin to describe how you feel. Quite possibly, you feel like you have been struck by lightning (the one that was in the bottle). I can recall a couple wines that did that to me. A Chateau Latour 1982 and a Corton-Charlemagne 1978, I should be so lucky (lucky, lucky, lucky) to ever try them again.

I think what it all comes down to is the attitude you bring to your meeting with a particular wine. Do you just go through the motions? Do you expect something to happen? Are you ready to be wowed? What kind of genie will come out of the bottle? To put it in simpler terms, let me let another Harry, not Potter, but Callahan, AKA Dirty Harry provide the moral of this story: “Do I feel lucky punk? Well, do ya?”

Oh, and I do, I really, really do.

Wine Music : Vouvray

I think it is overdue for a new Wine Music post, and since I did a couple of recent posts on Chenin Blanc in general and Vouvray, in particular, I think I might as well complete my work and provide an appropriate musical match.

Let’s see, a song for Chenin Blanc has to be refreshing, to reflect the trademark acidity. It also needs to be at least a little sweet, to show that Chenin Blanc can be made in an off-dry style. I started my research with those guidelines in mind, and then, I found that there is an actual French band called Chenin Blanc,… The trouble is, well, it’s kind of a white supremacist, skinhead, hardcore punk band. You know people with shaven heads, bombers and baseball bats who like beer, fighting and not much else. I’m being quite literal here, their main song is called “Fight and Get drunk”. I guess they chose the band name because of the “Blanc” rather than the “Chenin” part.

I think pretty much everything about this band disqualifies them from being a good match. Now, I actually like punk music, I’m a big fan of the Clash, but I don’t think any wine can be expressed through a racist song. I don’t think I’ve seen a wine with a political agenda yet. So, back to searching for a Vouvray song then!

So, refreshing, sweet, spring-like… I think I have it! The song that goes with Vouvray is… Bubble Toes by Jack Johnson.

The sweetness is there, I’m a sucker for artists that express feelings through simple words. Metaphors are nice and all, but poetry is more touching when it feels real. The song is also refreshing, its part delivery of the lines, part melody and part pure gleeful singing of the chorus. Also, the name is Bubble Toes and Vouvray can be made as a bubbly, and yes, I’m aware I might be grasping at straws here.

Now, you may not agree with my choice, but I can tell you with certainty that it is still a better choice than a song, than any song, from the Chenin Blanc band…

Greengages, it’s a Vouvray thing: Marc Bredif Vouvray AOC

Marc Bredif Vouvray Classic 2012

Region: Vouvray AOC, Loire Valley, France

Grape: 100% Chenin Blanc

Price: around $20

vouvray classic

Sometimes, things work out. Last Friday just a few hours after I had written a post on Chenin Blanc, I went to have dinner with some friends. As I took a look at the wine list, my eyes got caught on a bottle of Vouvray, probably the most famous Chenin Blanc AOC in France. I thought this was 1) a sign, and 2) a pretty damn good occasion to illustrate what I had just written about. Also, the bottle was pretty cheap for a restaurant, around $30 I believe. In short order, the bottle was ordered, opened and laid to rest in an ice bucket.

As I started to give some Chenin Blanc background to my (American) friends, I realized something. It would be difficult explaining Chenin Blanc without mentioning greengages given the fact that this is often the main aroma of the variety. I have never seen greengages in US grocery stores, even though they are pretty common in France. They’re a small, green variety of plum (called reine-claudes in French) so I had to give that bit of information. It was more useful than I thought since the wine turned out to be very greengagy indeed.

So, they look like this...

So, they look like this…

Eye: pale gold

Nose: Clean, medium intensity, stone fruits (greengages), citrus and flowers

Palate: Off-dry, high acidity, medium body, long finish (grapefruit)

Considering I drank this wine the evening after I wrote my Chenin post, I kind of went for a mental checklist while tasting it. Style? Off-dry. Acidity? Very high, mouthwatering even. Greengage aromas? Yes sir! On the nose, and on the palate both. It is a refreshing, medium body wine that checks off pretty much all characteristics of a Vouvray. The final is pretty long too and there are notes of grapefruit and white flowers to complement the greengage.

Food pairings: I had it with fried chicken. Given the high acidity of the wine any fatty dish would make for a good pairing. I think creamy cheese for instance would be a nice match.

Overall opinion: Good example of a classic off-dry Vouvray with a vibrant acidity for a reasonable price. I’d strongly recommend it if you want to get a good idea of what a French Chenin Blanc should taste like (or if you’re curious about the greengages thing)