How could a 5-second clip from a tawdry 2004 movie devastate an industry? But it didn’t. We just missed the point.Continue reading
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How could a 5-second clip from a tawdry 2004 movie devastate an industry? But it didn’t. We just missed the point.Continue reading
In a way that no one could have ever predicted, rosé has become a cultural symbol of “the good life.”Continue reading
Long gone are the days of tin cans, housing questionable brew, twanging with metallic sadness.Continue reading
Syrah is a wild thing, and needs to be discovered on its own terms.Continue reading
It’s never been easier to buy organic wine. We’ve never had such a wide selection of varieties and styles from so many places at our fingertips—and it’s never been more confusing.Continue reading
The Lie: Sulfites are bad for you.
Talking about sulfites in wine is like talking about politics: it’s uncomfortable, confusing, and sometimes it gets people a little too riled up, but it’s important. And although you’re your own person and you should make up your own mind about these things, isn’t it better to be as informed as possible before making yourself a martyr to NSA wines for the rest of your life?
I’m beyond (nervously) excited to write this post—sulfites in wine is a topic I’ve wanted to write about for years. I have a family member who is sensitive to sulfites, and it’s been an adventure figuring out which wines are safest to bring for Thanksgiving and Christmas. And if I had a nickel for every time a concerned customer asked me why they got headaches, rashes, and hives from certain wines (and they’re sure it’s because of the sulfites), I’d have enough money for med school.
I know how hard it is for wine lovers to navigate the murky (sometimes literally) waters of organic, biodynamic, “natural,” and NSA (no sulfites added) wines to fit their health restrictions. It takes a lot of time, willingness, and patience to learn about what sulfites are, why they’re used, and why everyone is so scared of them, but it’s worth it to try to understand! No one has all the answers and I’m certainly no doctor; and you are the only one who knows what your body likes and what it doesn’t. If this is your first time delving into the mysterious world of sulfites, may it be only the beginning of your journey towards greater knowledge!
Sulfites vs. Sulfur Dioxide
This is an important distinction, so listen up! Sulfites are a naturally occurring byproduct of the process of fermentation. Along with tannins, alcohol, sugar, and acidity, sulfites are an important part of preserving wine. Sulfites also protect wine from harmful bacteria and premature oxidation. Without sulfites, your wine would be downright disgusting, and probably dangerous to drink! But most times, sulfites on their own just aren’t enough, so the vast majority of winemakers worldwide will add sulfur dioxide, usually in the form of powder. This is done (either) right when the freshly-picked grapes enter the winery, and (or) just after the grapes are crushed and are beginning to ferment.
Sulfites are No Fad
Sulfites weren’t something suddenly invented by cut-rate California winemakers in the ‘80s, or by Australian winemakers wanting to make an easy buck with their critter wines. Ever since humans had a rough knowledge of the principles of alcoholic fermentation and how to make wine last longer than a few days (and believe me, this wasn’t the case for a good chunk of winemaking history), they’ve known the benefits of sulfites and used sulfur dioxide to their advantage. The Germans caught on early, and were the first (in 1487) to issue a decree permitting use of sulfur dioxide to help preserve their glorious (white) wines for years to come, thus revolutionizing the German wine trade in the 15th century. And you know what? It’s not just wine that contains sulfites—you’ll find them in ridiculously high amounts in your dried fruit, bottled lemon and lime juice, and sauerkraut, and in moderate amounts in a plethora of other foods and drinks.
The Boogeyman in Your Bottle
So, if sulfites are naturally occurring and sulfur dioxide has been around for centuries, why is it that people are scared to death of them today? Let me introduce an important character in our sulfite discussion: Strom Thurmond, former U.S. Senator of South Carolina. Whatever you may think of this stalwart public servant, he has several lasting legacies that persist well beyond his grave, with his most well-known bequeathal consisting of only two words: “Contains Sulfites.” Mr. Thurmond was, among other things, a staunch teetotaler. In fact, he was the head of the NAIII (National Institute of Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism) in the 1970s—during the wave of so-called “neo-Prohibitionism.” In an effort to deter people from consuming alcohol, he succeeded in getting a ruling from the Senate stating that sulfite warnings were required to appear on all bottles sold in the U.S. To be clear, this wasn’t to make people aware of the health issues surrounding sulfites (which we’ll get to in a minute)—it was a fear tactic used to make people stop drinking alcohol. That’s the real reason we still have those two unfortunate words on all our wine labels.
Now, let’s get one thing straight: all wines contain sulfites. Remember, they’re naturally occurring—and there’s no magic machine to extract them. Therefore, you won’t find a single label in the United States that doesn’t bear “Contains Sulfites” on the back. (International winemakers are all required to stick this extra warning on shipments headed to the U.S., even though there’s no requirements to do so in their own country!) But here’s the kicker: to 99% of the population, sulfites are completely harmless. The only downside to extremely high amounts of sulfur in wine (which doesn’t happen often) is that it smells pretty rank when you open it—like a freshly struck match, or maybe rotten eggs. Only about 1% of people have a legitimate allergy to sulfites, and these people are more often than not severe asthmatics. Also more often than not, these people well aware of their situation and stay far away from wine. Reactions to sulfites in these situations usually include problems with breathing—shortness of breath and wheezing—not headaches, redness or itching.
What’s Really In a Glass?
So if you’re not a severe asthmatic and you haven’t been given a doctor’s note to swear off wine, what are all those headaches, rashes and hives after just one glass of wine all about? Truth be told, there’s a lot more in a glass of wine than just sulfites! Be aware of the levels of alcohol, sugar, and tannin in your wine. Especially if it’s a hefty wine with high levels of these components, make sure you’re eating food while you’re drinking, and above all, hydrate! Down a glass of water first before you reach for the bottle again! This is one of the most important factors in how wine will affect you, but also one of the easiest to forget. Of course, these are basic rules that we’ve all heard a million times and hate to hear again, but being conscious about these things saves you a heck of a lot of pain and misery later.
Some other things that could diminish your wine drinking experience include the proteins and histamines found naturally in a lot of wines, as well as other additives that some producers put in their cheaper wines to make them taste more appealing. Oak substitutes, Mega Purple grape juice concentrate, tannin powder, and specialized enzymes and compounds can help correct a lot of faults in a poorly made wine and make it taste pretty good, but the ugly truth is this: the more you mess with a wine, the more it can mess with you. And above all else, it’s absolutely worth it to have a conversation with your personal physician about what to avoid and what’s okay.
In plain English, what all of this means is that if you really want to get to the bottom of why you’re reacting to certain wines and would just like to find a few reliable wine choices that won’t make you rue the day, you’ve gotta do a little research. It also means you’ve probably got to start shopping the middle shelves instead of the bottom ones. I’m not saying well-made, cheap wines don’t exist (look for a post on that soon!), but many of those bottom-shelf wines are cheap for some not-so-glamorous reasons.
Wine is meant to give you pleasure. We live in a vinicultural age where almost anything is possible, and that has given us a multitude of delicious experiences to choose from. But because we have all these options, this requires us to be more knowledgeable about what we’re drinking. Sulfites are definitely there in your glass, but for the overwhelming majority of wine lovers, they’re not the culprit of your ills! Think of them as little helper compounds that only want you to enjoy your wine to the very last drop—whether it’s fresh from the bottling line or twenty years down the road.
Finally, one of the most pleasure-giving things about wine is the knowledge we can gain from it and about it. Knowledge is power, and knowledge will lead you to delicious, inspiring, well-informed wine experiences… with fewer regrets the next morning.
Three cheers for sulfites!
Resources for this post, plus more reading for you!
The Sommelier Prep Course by Michael Gibson
The Wine Bible by Karen MacNeil
A History of Wine in America, Vol. 2 by Thomas Pinney
Inventing Wine by Paul Lukacs
“The Truth About Sulfites” by Lettie Teague for the Wall Street Journal (March 13, 2015)
By Bennett Porter, Certified Cicerone®
The fourteenth day of February each year is naturally polarizing, often celebrated and often feared. Many of us call it Valentine’s Day, some call it Singles Awareness Day, an offbeat few probably actually celebrate the Feast of Saint Valentine. Whether you are reveling in love or independence, you should have a beer in hand. With a vast sea of beers from which to choose, you can assuredly find the perfect brew. I have selected some thematic and especially delightful beers that will suit the occasion.
For the Inseparable Pair: Evil Twin ‘The Perfect Matcha’ Berliner Weisse – $9.49/22oz
Matcha tea – nutritious and delicious! This powerful powdered tea is jam-packed with antioxidants and is thought to enliven the spirit. This Berliner Weisse style beer is brewed with matcha and pineapple, adding a sweet, caramelized herbal layer on top of the tart, salty, and crisp base. Drink it as an aperitif before the romantic dinner!
For the Happy Parents: Boulevard Love Child No. 7 Barrel-Aged Sour Ale – $17.99/750ml
A beer so good, well-behaved, and intelligent that it could be your new favorite child. Other siblings watch out! Better do extra dishes and shoveling to keep up. Love Child No. 7 is a complex blend of a Flanders-style sour red and a Quadrupel Ale aged in both red wine and bourbon barrels. Aging on lactobacillus and brettanomyces has added elements of refreshing acidity and funk. Red fruit aromas hint at a flavor profile of juicy berries, apple cider vinegar, plum, brown sugar, acidity and funk. Despite all the complexity, it retains excellent balance. Pairs well with funky blue cheeses, fruity desserts, and vinegar-based salads.
For the Dazzling Date: BauHaus Über Düber Sparkling Ale – $10.99/750ml
Good on ya’, mate! Über Düber takes inspiration from the Australian sparkling ale and turns it up a few notches. Boisterous Aussie hop varieties lend a sweet, fruity white grape and banana aromas. Grainy, sweet malty feels are elevated by a brisk carbonation, leading to a warming alcoholic finish. The perfect finish to a night on the town.
For the Sweetest Smoocher: Ducato Baciami Lipsia (‘Kiss my Lips’) Gose Ale – $10.99/11.2oz
Literally means “Kiss my Lips” in Italian, could it be any easier? Baciami Lipsia is a blend of 9 month oak-aged sour ale with a young ale brewed with Himalayan pink sea salt. The beer is then aged for a short time longer prior to bottling. Super crisp and citric with a soft saltiness. This harmonious interplay tastes quite unique!
For a Trip for Two: Indeed LSD Honey Ale – $10.99/4pk
This is indeed a mind-altering beer experience. Lavender, Sunflower honey, and Dates combine to craft a uniquely delectable brew. Take a whiff: lavender, rose petal, fig, and limey citrus aromas will transport you to another plane. Flavors reminiscent of biscuits, dates, honeycomb, and spicy botanicals bring you back to earth. Feel the flower power! … Are you experienced?
For your Spicy Cider Connoisseur: Left Foot Charley Cinnamon Girl Hard Cider – $7.99/500ml
Is your bae not that in to beer? Possibly cider is more their flava’. Cinnamon girl brings together the classic combo of apples and cinnamon. Northern Spy, Golden Delicious, and Ida Red apples from Michigan are allowed to age off the tree prior to pressing, concentrating sugars and softening starches. Fermentation is halted early, retaining some residual sugar to balance the spicy cinnamon. Of course, this drinking experience can only be completed by pulling out your trusty axe from high school and strumming out some Neil Young to your love. “A dreamer of pictures I run the night, you see us together chasing the moonlight, my cinnamon girl.”
For the Final Goodbye: Badger Hill Traitor IPA – $10.49/6pk
Maybe things have turned south in your relationship. You need something bitter and honest to take the pain away. It is time to move on to new beginnings, and a new tasty India Pale Ale in your rotation. Badger Hill Traitor IPA will ease your pain, there are more fish in the sea. Betray your traditional IPA, try one that defies convention. Punchy hop aromas from the C’s and Galaxy hop varieties. Tropical mango, papaya, orange, and caramel flavors segue into a minty, piney hop resolution. It’s time to turn over a new (hop) leaf!
For a Name-Specific Gift: Your special someone possibly shares a name with a quaffable brew. Following are some options on hand.
Sweet wines are for 21-year-olds who are still wet behind the ears—along with the uncultured, the inexperienced, and the crass. And because of this, Riesling should be avoided like the plague.Continue reading
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These are the oft-used descriptors for one of the world’s most popular grapes: Sauvignon Blanc. Bold, ostentatious, and never one to hide in the shadows, this wine is the life of the party. But think about it for a second: what do you feel when you indulge in a glass of Sauvignon Blanc? Refreshed. Energized. Awake. The aromas are in-your-face, the flavors are bold and zesty. The etymology of ‘sauvignon’ comes from the French word ‘sauvage,’ meaning “wild.” (Sometimes the French aren’t so confusing after all!) But like all of the other grapes we’ve deconstructed so far, Sauvignon Blanc reflects the soil and climate it’s grown in, which makes complete sense when you taste a Sancerre next to a Marlborough. That being the case, this Deconstruction is going to be set up a little differently, so as to highlight why it tastes different in various locales. Suit up for France, California, and New Zealand!
Sauvignon Blanc finds its home in one of France’s white wine heartlands: the Loire Valley. Like Pinot Noir, Sauvignon Blanc is as old as the hills. But it didn’t really find its foothold in wine drinkers’ hearts until well into the 20th century. The wines of the world-renowned region of Sancerre were heralded from the 12th century onward (Legend has it that King Henry IV, upon sampling the local libations while his army camped in the nearby hills, proclaimed, “By God, this wine is the best I have ever tasted! If all in the kingdom were to drink it, there would be no more wars of religion!”), but they were red wines. Pinot Noir was king for centuries in Sancerre, until the dreaded Phylloxera wiped out every single vineyard in the late 19th century. This gave vintners a chance to experiment with other grapes, and Sauvignon Blanc came out the winner.
The absolutely-most-important thing about why Sauvignon Blanc tastes the way it does in Sancerre is because of… oysters. Seriously! Sancerre started out submerged under the ocean just a few (hundred million) years ago. You can still find oyster shells, beach cobbles, and maybe even some plesiosaur fossils littered throughout various parts of Sancerre. The two major soils to remember are Oxfordian limestone and Kimmeridgean clay. Throw those terms around (along with methoxypyrazines) at your next dinner party and watch your guests’ eyebrows dance. The oyster shells, the limestone, the clay, and the flint (the 3rd important soil type) all add to the smoky, stony aromas and flavors Sancerre has become so known for. Take a dip into our first wine:
Domaine Paul Cherrier Sancerre—Sancerre, Loire Valley, France
SIGHT: To be completely honest, these wines are all going to look ridiculously similar: clear and watery. We’ll see a little variation as we get on to the New World styles, but if you hold this wine up to a bright light, you could fool yourself into thinking that it’s vodka.
SMELL: This Frenchie has a surprisingly muted nose. Delicate scents of lemon peel and fresh lime peek out from behind the strong presence of chalky minerality. If you have some of your kids’ sidewalk chalk handy, rub some between your fingers and see if the aromas have any resemblance of what’s in your glass.
TASTE: If the nose was less than exciting, the flavors of this wine definitely make up for it! That mouth-puckering, gum-clenching sensation you might be feeling is the full force of the acidity present in this Sauvignon Blanc. The midpalate and finish soften out with nuances of fresh white flowers and acacia.
Domaine Cherrier’s estate lies mainly on rocky Kimmeridgean clay, which produces wines with a little more body and texture and a pronounced floral note. Limestone typically produces wines with a fresher, fruitier character. Like most Sancerre producers, Cherrier blends Sauvignon Blanc from different vineyards together, in order to create a well-balanced, layered Sancerre that has characteristics from all soil types.
While the wines of Sancerre have always been well-respected in France, there wasn’t much to be shared beyond French borders. It was grown in small plots in various winemaking countries, but no one else had latched onto it. But there was one enterprising individual in California who thought it was a shame to let such a firecracker grape like Sauvignon Blanc lay by the wayside. His name? Robert Mondavi. You may have heard of him.
Robert Mondavi knew how easy it was to grow Sauvignon Blanc. It grew almost too well in a warm, temperate climate like Napa, and needed a little extra attention so it didn’t become Jack’s California Beanstalk. But it gave great yields and bold flavors, and Mondavi knew that the wine drinking public would go nuts over this wine—they just didn’t know it yet. In fact, they’d convinced themselves that they “hated Sauvignon Blanc!” It was too green, too vegetal, and tasted too much like green bell peppers and watery asparagus. But with proper vineyard management and a touch of oak barrel aging, Mondavi crafted a style of Sauvignon Blanc that stole the hearts of everyone who drank it. He only had to get people past the notion that it was a grape they said they hated, so he simply renamed it: Fume Blanc, a completely made-up term that sounded just sophisticated enough to trick people into drinking his glorious new creation!
Honig Sauvignon Blanc—Napa Valley, California, USA
SIGHT: If you hold this wine side by side with the Sancerre, you’ll see a tiny glimmer of lime green around the edges. Otherwise, this Napa Sauvignon Blanc is clean, clear, and sunshiny-bright. Sauvignon Blanc is nearly always meant to be drunk young and fresh. It can occasionally see some extended oak aging, but this is fairly rare. Even with some extra barrel aging, it rarely lasts beyond 5-6 years—it just doesn’t have the stuffing to last much beyond that. So if you come across a Sauvignon Blanc that looks yellowed or even brown around the rim, send it back!
SMELL: The aromas here should be a little more familiar if you’re an avid Sauvignon Blanc fan. It has a bolder nose than the Sancerre, with more tropical fruit than citrus. Chop open a honeydew melon if you have one handy (and then eat it later with some prosciutto and balsamic). Any similarities? There’s also a faint aroma of gooseberry and kiwi. That “gooseberry” aroma (such an esoteric term! Who eats gooseberries anymore? They’re delicious, BTW) is sharp, pungent, and is the euphemistic name for the unfortunate “cat pee” descriptor.
TASTE: Flavors of juicy, ripe tropical fruits explode on the palate. The astringency of the Sancerre is nowhere to be found here—instead, we get lemon/lime flavors and ripe kiwi. The texture is different, too: perhaps this wine is a little rounder than, and not quite as thin as the Sancerre. (Think skim milk vs. 1%.)
True to Mondavi’s original form, Honig’s Sauvignon Blanc sees 8 months aging in neutral oak. This method rounds out the acidity and calms those harsh edges down. Napa’s temperate climate and warm-to-hot August harvest temperatures give the grapes a plump, ripe quality that seems a far cry from what we tasted in the first wine.
About the same time that Mondavi was having grand thoughts about Sauvignon Blanc in California, a few forward-thinking Kiwis began conniving in a similar fashion. Sauvignon Blanc was not the natural choice, though: vintners first experimented with Riesling and Muller-Thurgau before they happened upon Sauvignon Blanc. The first Sauvignon Blanc vines were planted in Marlborough on New Zealand’s South Island in 1973, and before those poor Kiwis knew it, the nearly-tee totaling country became a world player in wine production and the sheep population cried out in protest.
New Zealand has a lot going for it in terms of growing wine grapes: it gets a lot of sunshine but not much heat, keeping the sugar and potential alcohol levels in check but allowing the grapes to become fully phenolically ripe. The phenols in a grape are what give those potent aromas and deep flavors, and the more time a grape has to develop them, the bolder the wine is.
Whitehaven Sauvignon Blanc—Marlborough, New Zealand
SIGHT: This wine definitely has a green hue to it! Lively and vibrant, it seems to shimmer with what’s going to come on the nose and palate.
SMELL: I’ll bet you smelled the wine before you even looked at it, right? You can’t help but get a huge whiff of those gnarly methoxypyrazines (scientifically speaking, a class of chemical compounds that produce odors of green, herbaceous notes). Bring your cat’s litter box over. That’s right, set it right down next to your fancy Riedel glasses. Better yet, bring your cat over too and see if he’ll provide a fresh sample.
TASTE: Don’t worry—you don’t need to taste the cat pee. There’s a ton of fruit on the palate here instead: grapefruit juice, candied lime and sharp citrus oils burst on your tongue with just a tiny hint of fruity sweetness hanging out on the finish.
Sauvignon Blanc grows too well in New Zealand. Winemakers went through some long, hard years of wines that were diluted, leafy and thin because the vines never had to work hard at producing fruit. But with careful canopy management, vine training and selective thinning, winemakers learned how to make the vines concentrate their energy to the grapes, instead of to the leaves which end up shading the fruit too much. And from sheep to Sauvignon, the rest is history for New Zealand!
Whether you enjoy Sauvignon Blanc or not, it’s a great grape to practice on for wine identification and blind tasting. Not every party girl is going to be liked by everyone, but she sure gets noticed in a hurry! Sauvignon Blanc will never disappoint in terms of audacious flavors and assertive aromas, and the world seems to agree that this is one grape that will always be welcome at any affair.
A textbook Pinot noir will have a medium body (think skim or 1% milk), medium-low tannins, medium-high acidity, and medium alcohol (usually around 13% ABV). Pay close attention to any mouthwatering sensations in order to gauge the acidity levels in each wine. Also note what the textures of the wines feel like—especially compared to what you thought of Cabernet in one of our previous Deconstructions.
Wine #1: Domaine du Prieure “Moutier Amet” Savigny-les-Beaune 2013—Burgundy, France
SIGHT: We’re starting off with a classic! This wine was grown in the heart of Burgundy—the motherland of Pinot. Note how clear and bright the color of this wine is: brilliant ruby with a soft pink rim. A swirl of your glass will show little to no staining—a great sign that this wine was made from grapes with rather thin skins (a telltale sign for most Pinots), and clocks in at a pretty moderate alcohol level.
SMELL: Give this wine about 10 minutes to air out, and it will reward you with delectable candied cherry, red licorice, and strawberry aromas. Give it 5 minutes more, and you may start to notice some non-fruit aromas: there’s a gentle mineral element here, along with a soft hint of rosemary or sage, a fresh red floral smell, and delicate suggestions of sautéed mushrooms, new leather, and forest floor.
TASTE: Let’s talk structure first: This wine isn’t thick or heavy, but it’s not watery either; we’ll say it has a medium body. Now swallow a sip, and note how quickly your mouth starts to water immediately after. When a wine has that sort of impact on the finish, we can be sure it has dominant acidity. But what about those tannins? They’re barely there—maybe just dancing along your cheeks before disappearing. The wine also doesn’t burn on the way down, and is more refreshing than it is weighty. This is further confirmation that the wine has moderate alcohol, and therefore comes from a moderately cool climate. The flavors seem to match what we got on the nose, with perhaps some additions of rhubarb and a hint of fresh parsley or tomato leaf on the very end.
This is a perfect example of a young, vibrant red Burgundy. The fruit is pure, the acidity is fresh, and the mineral element in the wine isn’t shy. Be sure to pick up a second bottle of this wine or one similar to it so you can squirrel it away for a few years, because soon it will start to develop a whole new set of aromas and flavors: the fruit will fade gently into the background, while tertiary aromas of earth, mushroom, leather, and herbs will start to peek out. It takes patience (we’re awful at that), but it’s worth it!
Wine #2: Arterberry Maresh Dundee Hills Pinot Noir 2013—Oregon
SIGHT: This wine is from the same vintage as the Savigny-les-Beaune, but it’s seemed to age a little quicker. Note the more delicate color in this one as compared to the Burgundy, and take a look at the rim: it fades to a gentle garnet color with a little hint of orange. That’s evidence of a slightly aged wine. You’re in for an olfactory trip!
SMELL: You know what? You have a few bottles of wine open… you may as well open up that sour cherry lambic beer that’s in your fridge, too. Take a whiff of that, and then go back to this funky little Oregon Pinot. Same? Same. Hibiscus tea, ground sage, perhaps some dried cilantro and basil, freshly dug mushrooms with the mud still caked on, rose petals… this wine is rife with crazy smells. Oregon Pinots are known for having a deeper, darker, earthier smell than a lot of Californians, and this one is no exception. There’s definitely some red fruit in there, but it’s hiding behind that note of fresh blueberry skin.
TASTE: The acid is screaming in this wine! Do you feel it in your cheeks? The tannins are barely there, and the alcohol seems to be just above a whisper. Flavors of tart cherry, under-ripe blueberry, and tea leaves come through on the palate. This small-production Dundee Hills wine is lithe and ethereal with a “wispiness” on the finish.
It’s hard to characterize Oregon Pinot in one sentence, but they will generally be lighter in body and higher in acidity than most California Pinots. A lot of wine drinkers will peg Oregon Pinot as a good “middle ground” style, taking notes from both France and California. Arterberry Maresh is a pretty small producer, and they don’t fine or filter their wines. This leaves you with a pretty unique, characterful expression of Pinot, yet still falls firmly within the Oregonian style.
Wine #3: Cultivate Pinot Noir 2014—California
SIGHT: Hold this wine next to the first two—there should be a markedly deeper hue to the Cultivate. You might see a touch of staining and some noticeable tears falling down the side of your glass, too. This tells us, of course, that this wine will probably have a higher alcohol content, and most likely saw a little more extraction during the winemaking process than the first two. This also tells us that the climate this wine is from is quite a bit warmer than Oregon or France!
SMELL: Whereas you turned to your savory herbs and spices with the Oregon Pinot, here you should be opening your sweet baking spices. Beyond the fresh, juicy red fruit notes of cherry and strawberry, see if you can pick out clove, nutmeg, cinnamon, and even garam masala if you have that available. Finally, a very common aroma in California Pinots is that of cola. Crack open a Cherry Coke—any similarities?
TASTE: The intensity of flavors in this wine make the other two seem flighty and delicate. The body is fuller (think 2% milk here), but still with decent acidity and tannins. Does the back of your throat feel nice and warm as you swallow? The alcohol level here beats out the first wines by a long shot! Ripe black cherry, raspberry, cherry cola and a hint of strawberry jam do cartwheels around each other, and the wine finishes with a hint of fruity sweetness.
This Pinot is a spot-on representation of what to expect out of a good California Pinot. Rich and ripe with red fruit notes, it has that nuance of cola and a whole spread of baking spices. The alcohol level is over 14%, which accounts for that hint of sweetness on the finish, as well as the fuller body.
We’ve explored some fairly youthful, fruit-driven expressions of Pinot noir in this Deconstruction. They represent the style so many people are familiar with, and it explains why the grape is so dang popular. It’s important to understand this young stage of Pinot, because you have to know how a wine starts off in order to understand where it’s going. The Arterberry Maresh from Oregon led us to see how Pinot can progress with age—sometimes it takes up to 10 years, sometimes it only takes 3-4. To many Pinot lovers, this is the “real Pinot”—when it starts to morph into layers of humus, flowers, fungi, and savory dried herbs. When I get these things in an aged Pinot, there’s a sort of sweet melancholy that seems to surround the wine. It’s at the same time both comfortably familiar and wondrously complex.
If you ever fall in love with a particular Pinot, be it from Oregon, California, Burgundy, or elsewhere, be prepared to embark on a lifelong journey of pain, regret, and heartache. But you won’t care, because you know there’s always a slim chance that you’ll come across another bottle that will bring you back into that ethereal, otherworldly state that only Pinot can do. It’s unlikely, but somehow it’s always worth another shot.
Cheers to Pinot, the most maddening grape in the world!