Wine Music : Cabernet and Nebbiolo

Wine Music is a series of posts where I try to match wines with famous songs.  I feel like wine and music go well together as they are two matters that can be studied both technically and emotionally. Simply put, I want to match some wines with songs that they make me think of.

Previous entries include:

Chablis and Meursault

Gewurztraminer and Beaujolais

Vouvray

I love writing those Wine Music posts but they can be hard sometimes. It’s not necessarily the writing in itself, it’s the research and the whole finding a song thing that can take time. I used to go at it in a carefree way, waiting for a match idea to strike me as I perused songs.  I realized that I needed to change methods and use the approach I use to blind taste a wine, a structured, sequenced approach.

Since we are taking about structure, let’s match Cabernet Sauvignon with a song. Structure is one of the defining characteristics of the wine, what are the others? Acidity, tannins, a bit of an unforgiving side, potential for ageing, full bodied, dark, those are a few of the Cabernet things. From that, I can tell that I will need an older song that stood the test of time, it should not be an easygoing happy song about rainbows, there should be some darkness in it and finally it will need some “body”, some staying power, I can’t go with a breezy, light summer tune.

At first I considered some Bach pieces as, like Cabernet, it emphasizes structure but I thought it was a cop out and it lacked the darkness I wanted. Bach to the drawing board I guess (one day I’ll be able to stay away from puns). Cabernet Sauvignon’s music match is: Paint it Black, The Rolling Stones, 1966

The darkness is right already in the title, it’s definitely a classic song, there is structure and staying power and for added bonus, the use of the sitar gives oriental notes to the song that mirrors cedar aromas some Bordeaux can have. Done.

Now, onward to Nebbiolo. What am I looking for here? There is a reason I lumped Nebbiolo in the same note as Cabernet Sauvignon. Many characteristics are the same: potential for ageing, structure. Acidity, tannins,… Where Nebbiolo differs, in my opinion is that it is lighter (without being light), more elegant and can be more surprising than Cabernet.

I considered staying with the Rolling Stones with this one; maybe Sympathy for the Devil would have had that funky element I’m looking for. In the end I decided to go with another great song : Wish you were here, Pink Floyd, 1975

I feel it’s a good match, definitely a song with structure and layers, serious without being dark, elegant to a fault and with moments of grace to mirror the joy of drinking an old Nebbiolo.

Thoughts? Did I miss the mark on these ? Any alternative pairings ?

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A wise choice : Badger Mountain Riesling

Badger Mountain Riesling, 2013

Badger mountain

Region: Columbia Valley, Washington State, USA

Grape: 88% Riesling, 6% Muscat Canelli, 6% Muller-Thurgau

Price: around $12

My last post about the Riesling variety was prompted by the wine I’m writing about today. I had a friend over and I wanted to flex my cooking muscles which resulted in Chicken Grandee and macaroons for dessert. Thus I ended up looking for a wine that could go well with that meal. I started thinking I had two options, either go big and bold with an Aussie Shiraz to try and match the dish, or go fresh and acidic to try and complement it. Unable to reach a decision, I got both and let my date decide. She chose the fresh option, she chose the Riesling. She chose wisely.

choice

This bottle comes from the Columbia Valley, the biggest growing region in Washington State. It is known for having a variety of micro-climates and the ability to produce wines with “European-like” complexity, especially in comparison with the more fruit-forward wines of California. This is the common word, I don’t necessarily agree with that.

Eye: medium lemon

Nose: Clean, medium plus intensity, candied apples and tropical fruit

Palate: Off-dry, medium-plus acidity, medium body.

It’s a very refreshing wine with nice acidity. Strangely this wine made me think of apple cider on the nose. Very nice aromas of tropical fruits, like kiwi or mango. It should be noted that this wine is organic and made without any addition of sulfites. Those traits are heavily promoted by the winery so I thought I’d pass them along. I’m not sure how I feel about Organic growing. I’m definitely not against it, I’m just not sure it brings more to the table.

Food pairings: Worked well with the New-Orleans dish I had made: Chicken Grandee, roasted chicken with potatoes, sausage, garlic and peppers with a lot of rosemary. It was fresh enough to stand up to this rather heavy dish.

Overall opinion: Good value for the price, cool looking bottle, easy to drink, good example of a slightly off-dry style of Riesling. I think it’s a winner and a go to bottle if you’re invited to dinner during Spring or Summer.

Versatile and aromatic : Riesling

Pinot Noir, Chardonnay, Cabernet-Sauvignon, Sauvignon Blanc, Merlot, Syrah… Most of the international grape varieties originally came from France. I can think of only a couple that are from other countries, Grenache from Spain (Garnacha) and Riesling from Germany. Since I’m all for reconciliation, and because I had a very good one last weekend, let’s take a look at Riesling.

Riesling is from Germany, from the Rhine region to be more precise and it’s been there for a while with first records of the grape dating back to the 15th century. It’s a pretty easy going grape as far as growing it goes and, most importantly, it’s more than capable of surviving long and cold winters thanks to the fact that it ripens late. And a good thing that is because German and Alsatian winters are indeed long and cold. Ironically, Riesling doesn’t do as well in warmer climates where it tends to produce flat wines without much interest.

riesling

Like Chardonnay, Riesling is known to be a grape that reflects the terroir in which it is planted, with different aromas and characteristics depending on where the wine comes from. We’ll go through those in a minute but let’s first see what the common characteristic of most Rieslings is. At the core of Riesling, you’ll find a high acidity that gives it both a refreshing feeling and the ability to age long and well, especially for a white wine. To preserve that freshness, Riesling producers rarely use oak or malolactic fermentation and tend to favor a “clean” style to better express the characteristics of the grape.

Riesling aromas can vary a lot depending on the terroir. It is a fairly aromatic variety that gives off strong aromas that can range from tree fruits notes, like apples, in colder climates whereas Rieslings from warmer regions can summon peach, or even tropical fruit flavors. Depending on the ripeness of the grapes when harvested, the level of residual sugar in the wine will vary.

Another factor in the wide variety of Rieslings is that several winemaking techniques can be used. Riesling can be made as a dry white wine or as a very sweet dessert wine, and also as pretty much any style in between. Various levels of residual sugars can be achieved through various techniques, late harvesting, noble rot, ice wine, which gives even more potential style for Riesling. The Germans have a classification system for the sweetness of the wine, it starts with the dry Kabinett and then in increasing order of grape ripeness (and by consequence, residual sugar) Spatlese, Auslese, Beerenauslese and Trockenbeerenauslese.

I don’t think this variety is used in blends; it is mostly made as a varietal. Germany is the main home of Riesling, especially in the Mosel and Rhine regions. Riesling is also the main grape in the German sparkling wine Sekt. Across the French border, Alsace is definitely the second home of the grape. Alsace Rieslings are usually more acidic than the German ones and have longer life expectancies. Outside of Europe, Riesling is a grape growing in popularity in regions like Australia, New-Zealand and especially Washington State in the United-States.

To sum up, Riesling, is versatile and has high acidity like Chenin Blanc, reflects the characteristics of its terroir like Chardonnay, thrives in cold to moderate climates, can age beautifully and has a wide range of possible aromas.

MWWC9 : Fear and Loathing in wine tasting

wine-stain1-3

Here is my entry for the new Monthly Wine Writing Challenge. The theme, chosen by last month’s winner Jeff from The Drunken Cyclist is : FEAR

Fear and Loathing in wine tasting

I am actually a Political Science major, so I read, learned and studied many a political quote, I especially love the ones that have crossed over to the mainstream and routinely appear in pop culture, like JFK’s “Do not ask what your country,…” and FDR’s “We have nothing to fear but fear itself“.

fdr

It’s a great quote, it’s symmetrical and yes, it makes you want to start digging yourself out of economic depression. The problem is, I totally disagree, there are a lot of things to fear! Just look at nature, there are thousands, literally thousands of animal species who could end you in an instant. The sole existence of Australia is a reminder that nature is scary and not to be trifled with. And it doesn’t have to be the big beasts too. Even small animals like snakes or spiders should be respectfully feared.

The point is, from clowns to scorpions, from tigers to IRS collectors, life is filled to the brim with scary things. My personal fear? Heights, deadly scared of heights, even looking at a picture of an alpinist makes me uncomfortable. To be honest, just now, writing about looking at a picture of an alpinist made me vaguely uneasy.

Damn-Nature-You-Scary

But fear in the context of wine? I would not associate those two at the drop of a hat. Part of it comes from the fact that I associate wine with friends, family, dinners and lunches. Wine is what I have with my dad, what I talk about with my uncle, it’s comforting, it rhymes with good times, bonding and being with people I love. Granted, there are some scary people in my family, but they are not so scary when I’m armed with a nice bottle of Ladoix. And I don’t intend the Ladoix to be used as a weapon.

And that is the thing, on a purely physiological level, wine gives you courage. Call it beer goggles or liquid testicles, you are more likely to be bold with after a few glasses of champagne than after a cup of tea (or I’ve been doing tea the wrong way all this time). Wine is the cure for fear, not a cause of it. Many a guy who was afraid to talk to women has found courage in a glass. In vino veritas, sure, but, more often than not In vino animus (veritas: truth, animus: courage).

Then, why did I have that feeling, ever since Jeff chose this theme, that there is a connection? I sense that yes, I should fear wine, I should be afraid, even if I do not know why. I’ve been thinking, I’ve been researching. I drank a couple of very serious bottles, wine that should not be trifled with, wines that should be respected but I did not feel fear as I opened them, I felt elation, impatience. I did not feel fear as I tasted them, I felt pleasure, enjoyment. Where does that fear of wine come from?

After a while it finally hit me. Like many a guy breaking off a relationship, I could tell wine: “It’s not you, it’s me”. I am not afraid of wine, I am afraid I am not good enough to enjoy it properly. I’m scared I do not have the nose or the palate, or the sensibility to drink great wines and taste them to the fullest. I am scared that I am inadequate, a fraud, a poseur. I am afraid to say something when I go to tasting with friends or acquaintances that know more than I do (which tends to be most of them). I’m scared I am going to say something dumb or miss the point. You cannot understand the sheer, unaltered panic of not knowing if this Rioja has medium or medium plus acidity, or if these are really cherry aromas you are tasting.

Worst of all, I think the best way to express my fear, is that I am scared that I do not deserve great wines, that they are wasted on me. The idea that something exceptional is happening and that I can’t appreciate it the right way makes me anxious, and I mean stay awake and freak out about it anxious. I want to work in the wine industry and as I consider my current life, my current job and the life I want, I am scared, scared that I am not going to make it.

But, silver linings and all, things are not so bad! It really helps that I am a huge nerd, whenever I get scared, I recite the litany of fear from Dune:

“I must not fear.

Fear is the mind-killer.

Fear is the little-death that brings total obliteration.

I will face my fear.

I will permit it to pass over me and through me.

And when it has gone past I will turn the inner eye to see its path.

Where the fear has gone there will be nothing….only I will remain”

dune

It always calms me and allows me to think rationally about my fears. Then, I can remember that fear is not necessarily a bad thing. Fear is a sensation that warns you that something is important, that you are in danger. People do not usually fear missing the bus, unless they have to go to an important meeting. Fear shows you that you care about something, that it is important to you.

As long as you use the fear as fuel and motivation, fear can be a good thing. I definitely plan on using mine that way. When I’m afraid I’m not worthy of wine, I just take it as a chance to re-commit myself to become better. I will face my fear, and it will be delicious.

Serious but not austere, Pecina Rioja

Bodega Pecina, Rioja Reserva 2005

Region: Rioja Alta, Rioja, Spain

Grape: 95% Tempranillo, 3% Graciano, 2% Garnacha

Price: around $22

I bought that bottle a month ago after a tasting of the various products of the Bodega Pecina, and I brought it to a friend’s house for our regular tasting session. I was never a big fan of Rioja in the past but I remembered really liking this wine during the tasting, that’s why I bought a bottle, I mean, I can be logical sometimes.

Rioja classifications (Joven, Crianza, Reserva…) are based on wine ageing. To qualify as a Reserva, a wine has to be aged at least 3 years (including at least 1 year in oak barrels) before being sold. This particular wine has spent 3 years in oak barrels and 2 years in bottle afterward. As you can see, the producer went well beyond the mandatory requirements for a Reserva. A word about the producer would be a propos right about now I think: the bodega was founded in 1992 as a small family operations and has been growing ever since. They are starting to be recognized in the US for the quality of their products, hence the tasting at the wine shop.

Pecina 3

Eye: medium garnet

Nose: Clean, medium plus intensity. Notes of dark plums and prunes, cooked fruits. Leather and gamey aromas.

Palate: Dry, medium-plus acidity, medium-plus body, well rounded tannins, great structure and complexity, long finish with coffee and tobacco notes

Composed, collected elegance, that’s what this wine felt like to me. Sure, there are fruit notes, mostly dark plums and even prunes but you never feel overwhelmed by them. The oak aromas give the wine complexity with notes of coffee and tobacco, a toasty, smoky quality that blends well with the fruit. It is definitely a serious wine, not a playful, fruity one. You have to pay attention to the body, the tannins, the smoky, gamey aromas from the oak… I think serious but not austere would be a good tagline for it.

My friend tasted it blind, went through a series of logical assumptions and ended up with two final choices: Rioja or Nebbiolo. Unfortunately she chose Nebbiolo, but she was close.

Food pairings: I had it on its own, it would work well with red meat I think.

Overall opinion: It’s a very good wine, well made, very complex and structured that gives a good insight of what Riojas should be like. And the price is pretty good too. I’ll definitely put it on my recommendation list.

More affordable Nebbiolo ! Petterino Gattinara

Petterino Gattinara 2000

Region: Gattinara DOCG, Piedmont, Italy

Grape: 100% Nebbiolo

Price: around $35

I spent last weekend in New York City and, while taking a walk in the East Village, I came across a wine shop. Well, this being a wine blog, you probably know where this is going right?

I went in, browsed a little bit and then found a pretty well stocked Italian section. I had a pretty good Gattinara recently and so, when I saw another wine from that DOCG I was intrigued. When I saw the vintage and the price I was more than intrigued, and after that it was a matter of paying, going home and getting a couple wine glasses.

I wasn’t going to let an occasion to drink some good Nebbiolo pass, especially an older vintage. Nebbiolo is a wine that tends to ages beautifully and reveal itself more and more as time passes. I was excited to try it for myself. In terms of ageing, this particular wine spent 3 years in oak barrels, pretty much on par for the course.

Petterino

Eye: pale garnet, orange- brownish rim, typical of older Nebbiolos

Nose: Clean, intense, red fruit (raspberries, cherries) with a distinct tar smell and some pot-pourri like flowers.

Palate: Dry, medium-plus acidity, medium-plus body, very soft and smooth tannins, long finish with coffee notes

The contrast with the Travaglini is immediate. I described Travaglini as a denser, more intense Pinot Noir, this Petterino is nothing like that. There are still red fruits aromas, raspberries and dark cherries but all is underlined by intense earthy flavors such as leather or tar. The tannins are present but extremely well rounded which makes the wine extremely easy drinking. Even 15 years in, the acidity is still there. The final is very long and offers notes of coffee. It’s incredible to see how different 2 two wines from the same town can be. Of course the age (2007 vs 2000) might be a factor, but it remains such a huge gap. Two completely different experiences.

Food pairings: I had it on its own but it would work well with any meat dish or even game. It would definitely hold its own. Some of the aromas might seem a bit funky to pair with food (tar for instance).

Overall opinion: Once again, Nebbiolo doesn’t come cheap and even if Gattinara is an affordable alternative, I was still surprised to get a bottle this old for this price. I’d say it is closer to the traditional image of a Nebbiolo with the pale garnet color and the strong tar notes on the nose. I would also recommend trying it if you can put your hands on it; it gives a totally different perspective on the grape than the Travaglini.

Bacchus and Me, a book review

Recent conversations with friend have put a nasty doubt in my mind. Am I a one trick pony? Is wine all I “do” in my free time? I mean, I learn about wine, I talk about wine, I write about wine, I drink wine. It doesn’t help that last week I also read about wine, finishing “Bacchus and me” by Jay McInerney. Basically it is a compilation of his essays on wine published in House & Garden Magazine in 2000.

mcinnerney

McInerney is a bit of an unusual wine critic in the sense that he is first and foremost a novelist, a fiction writer who developed an interest in wine. His most famous novel is Bright Lights Big City and he is loosely associated with the New-York city writing scene (think Brett Easton Ellis and friends).

I must confess I only read Bacchus and me: Adventures in the Wine Cellar, none of his fiction works. The book is extremely interesting. It’s an easy read with short chapters dedicated to a grape, a region, a producer or even a wine in particular. Of course it’s filled with information for wine fans, but the interesting thing is that it’s information useful for beginners and connoisseurs both.

Wine novices will learn what are the varietals used in Burgundy and how and why they differ from the ones used in Bordeaux. More advanced drinkers can learn about advanced techniques or legendary year so there are interesting layers of knowledge for all wine lovers.

To me, a couple things stood out (other than the overall usefulness of the book). First of all, it is extremely well written, as could be expected from someone who is, well, a writer. The metaphors to describe certain grapes or certain wines use everything from rock bands to paintings and make for a very vivid impression. The book is thus very easy to enjoy (even when you read it while riding a busy Red Line train through Boston). The best, or at least the easiest to remember is the way the two main Bordeaux varietals are presented “Cabernet-Sauvignon was Lennon to Merlot’s McCartney”.

Image from Amazon.com

Image from Amazon.com

The second thing is that the book will make you thirsty. Descriptions of great and legendary wines will do that. It will make you wish you had more money or that you were a professional wine critic. What really made it for me is one of the last chapters detailing a series of New Year’s Eve dinners that McInerney had with Julian Barnes and Stephen Fry (among others). I would have wanted to be at that dinner even if they had served water. But they didn’t, the wine line up is nothing but serious : Krug, Lafite, Latour, Yquem, and a vertical of Hermitage La Chapelle from Jaboulet,… You know, nothing special really.

If you haven’t already I’d recommend reading this book. It’s easy, it’s interesting and it’s extremely well written. Oh and it’s funny too. That never hurts.