Rosé is French for “pink.” Rosé wines have experienced a real renaissance in the US recently as more and more producers have been offering them, and the wine consuming public has realized that pink wine doesn’t have to taste like sweet White Zinfandel, and this would be a good place to tell you about how the whole White Zinfandel craze happened. In the 70‘s Sutter Home in Napa was producing dry red Zinfandel wine. In order to increase the depth of their wine, they siphoned off liquid in the vat so that the remaining wine would be more concentrated. The juice they siphoned off was fermented to create a pink wine. That wine was dry. One day, in 1975, the winemaker discovered that the pink wine got stuck in the middle of the fermentation stage. This meant that the yeast didn’t convert all the sugar to alcohol. The result was a low-alcohol, sweet wine that he thought was pretty darned good. The American public agreed, and sweet White Zinfandel was born. Many serious wine drinkers didn’t embrace it, and still don't, but a whole new segment of the population got turned onto wine. At about $3 a bottle, it still sells well.
Well made dry rosés are some of the most elegant wines on earth. There are three major ways to produce rosé wine: skin contact, saignée and blending. When rosé wine is the primary product, it is produced with the skin contact method. Red grapes are crushed and the skins are allowed to remain in contact with the juice for a short period. Most of the time the skin contact period is from one to three days. The grape skins are then pressed. At this point, the skins are discarded rather than being left in contact with them throughout the fermentation process as would normally take place when making red wine. The longer the skins stay in contact with the juice, the darker the wine becomes.
Rosé wine can also be produced as a by-product of red wine fermentation using a technique known as Saignée, which is the French for bleeding. When a winemaker wants to make a wine with more tannin and color, he or she can reduce the volume of the juice in the fermenting tank early on. The red wine remaining in the tank becomes more intense as a result of the bleeding off of the juice. The pink juice that is removed can be fermented separately to produce rosé.
Finally, Rosé can be made by blending together red and white wine. This method is discouraged in most wine growing regions, especially in France, where it is forbidden by law, except for Champagne.
Rosé is an easy-drinking wine, with the chillability of a white, the bright fruit flavors of a red, and soft tannins that make it refreshing. The flavors of rosé wines tend to be more subtle than versions of their red varietal counterparts. The fruit expectations lean towards strawberry, cherry, watermelon, raspberry and sometimes citrus. Rose wines are made from a wide variety of grapes including Pinot Noir, Syrah, Grenache, Merlot, Malbec, Cabernet Sauvignon, Tempranillo, Sangiovese and Zinfandel. They are also made in a number of styles. There are rosés to please every wine lover and to match with a wide range of foods. The paler versions of Rosé are well-suited to drinking by themselves or with lighter foods while the saignee versions are usually better with food. Rosés are produced throughout the world, and some of the best rosés come from France — from Tavel (which makes only rosé wines) in the Rhone region.
Rosé wines can be found with a number of different names. Rosado is a rosé from Spain. Rosato is a rosé from Italy. Vin Gris (“gray wine”), from France, is a very pale rosé made from very lightly pressed red grapes. Many rosés are produced right here is California, and those that come from Santa Barbara County are often fantastic. Very good rosés can be had anywhere from $10 a bottle like the Muga Rosé from Spain, which is very highly rated, to almost $100 a bottle like the Chateau D’ Esclans Garrus from Cote de Provence in France. I brought the baby brother to this wine from Chateau d’Esclans to try. The Grand Daddy of all pink wines is the $500 a bottle Rosé Champagne from Krug.
For the most part, only place in California that can begin to rival Napa Valley as a source for Cabernet Sauvignon is its neighbor to the west and north, Sonoma County. Of all the California regions, Napa by far has the most Cabernet Sauvignon planted, with over 17,000 acres. Sonoma is second with about 12,000 acres, yet when most people think of Sonoma, it almost never in connection with Cabernet.
Eric Asimov, the well-respected wine journalist for the New York Times, pointed out that while it’s not particularly prudent to make sweeping generalizations, it would be fair to say that Sonoma Cabernets do taste different that those from Napa. They tend to be leaner than those out of Napa. Napa Cabs have a reputation for being plusher, powerful, and concentrated than their neighbor to the west. Sonoma Cabs are typically less tannic and have more acidity than those from Napa as well. Sonoma Cabs are also usually lower in alcohol than their sometimes overripe, often sweet tasting Napa counter-parts. While Sonoma Cabs often have more spiciness to them than those from Napa, they also tend to have less fruitiness to them.
Another way to describe their difference is that Cabernet from Sonoma County has shown a tendency to feature anise and black olive notes while Napa County Cabernets are characterized by their strong black fruit flavors. Winemaker David Ramey characterized the difference between Cabs from these two counties by saying that “Sonoma Cabs have more treble notes, while Napa Cabs have more bass notes.”
Some of the greatest distinctions between Cabs however, come not from which county they are produced from, but from where in their respective counties the grapes are grown.
In California, the main stylistic difference in Cabernet Sauvignon is between hillside/mountain vineyards and those on flatter terrain like valley floors or some areas of the Central Valley. In Napa, the hillside vineyards of Diamond Mountain District, Howell Mountain, Mt. Veeder, Spring Mountain District have thinner, less fertile soils which produces smaller berries with more intense flavors, reminiscent of Bordeaux wines that require years of aging to mature. Wines produced from mountainside vineyards tend to be characterized by deep inky colors and strong berry aromas. In a 2008 article in the Wine Spectator, Jim Laube quoted Michael Honig of Honig Vineyard and Winery, which happens to be on the floor of Napa Valley, and in the Rutherford district, as saying “Mountain wines are bigger, with more alcohol and more tannin. Valley floor wines are softer and a little rounder.” Jim Laube himself put it this way; “Napa Valley is a great place to compare mountain wines with valley floor wines because Cabernet Sauvignon is the preeminent grape both on the valley floor and the mountains that rim the valley: Mount Veeder, Spring Mountain, Diamond Mountain, Howell Mountain and Atlas Peak. Each of the mountains produces a distinct sort of wine, but they share similar qualities when compared with valley floor wines from Rutherford or St. Helena. The gently sloped transition between the valley floor and steeper mountainsides is usually called the ‘bench.’ Bench land vineyards, usually only a couple of hundred feet in elevation, offer something of a hybrid of valley and mountainside fruit character.”
It has often been said that Cabernet Sauvignon that comes from mountain vineyards take longer to express themselves at their best, but that one is rewarded by waiting for the right time to enjoy it.
Whether you like Sonoma or Napa Cabs better; whether you like Cabs that come from mountain or valley floor vineyards, or even from the bench land in between, you can always be assured that you’ll be able to find many different expressions of the Cabernet grape here in California. So please, go out and try a few. You may just find a nice surprise in your next bottle of California Cabernet.
In the simplest terms, the Burgundian wines are Chardonnay and Pinot Noir. They are different from most other varietals in that these two grapes are nearly perfect canvasses with which to express a sense of place. They produce some of the most profound wines on earth.
A few years ago there was a movie out called Bottle Shock. This is the story of an event that took place in Paris in 1976 that rocked the wine world. A wine merchant named Steven Spurrier put on a competition in France, pitting California wines against their French counterparts. Until 1976, France was the center of the wine universe. The competition had two parts, a red contest, and a white contest. The whites were all Chardonnay wines. It was California Chardonnay-vs-Burgundy. The top wine chosen by the French judges was a California Chardonnay from Chateau Montelena.
What do these terms “Burgundy” and “Burgundian” mean?
- A wine growing region in France that has been producing wine since the 2nd century AD. If you look at the map of the Burgundy region you will see that Burgundy is divided into a number of sub-regions. Those regions are Chablis (located between Paris and Dijon), The Côte d'Or (The Golden Slope) which itself is divided into a northern and southern half known as the Cote d'Nuits and the Cote d’Beaune. The other regions are The Cote Chalonnaise, the Maconnaise, and Beaujolais (which is technically part Burgundy, but only for administrative reasons). All these regions are yet divided again into communes or villages. When classifying wine from Burgundy, there are yet two more very important classifications, and they are based on the quality of the vineyards producing the wine there, and hence the quality of the wine. The AOC (Appellation d'Origine Controlee) in France closely controls this categorization. For comparison purposes, the size of the Côte d'Or is 3 miles wide buy 30 miles long. This is approximately the same dimensions of Napa Valley. Burgundy has about 74,000 acres of vineyards. This is only about half of 142,000 acres California has planted to Chardonnay and Pinot Noir grapes alone.
- Look at Burgundy like a pyramid.
- The bottom of this pyramid is Bourgogne. Wines classified this way mean it is a regional wine. This category represents 54% of all the wine produced in Burgundy. The grapes can come from anywhere in Burgundy. The label must just list only Bourgogne as the place it is from, along with the name of the producer. This is generally the least expensive of the wines from Burgundy. Say $10 -$15 a bottle.
- 34% of Burgundy wine is called Villages (emphasis on the “a”, and the “s” is silent), and corresponds to a particular village like Volnay or Meursault. The label always lists the name of the producer and the village it is from, and is the next higher in price point. You can find decent village wines in the $15-$50 range.
- 10% is known as Premier Cru, and the label has the name of the producer, the name of the village, and the vineyard the grapes are from. Good wines at this level are often in the $50-$150 range.
- The top remaining 2% is known as Grand cru, and the label has the name of the producer and the name of the vineyard only. The French call the vineyard designation a “Climat”, because of its specific individual microclimate or terroir. Grand Crus will go for anywhere from $75 to between $6,000 and $10,000 for a bottle of recent vintage Domaine Romanee-Conti, and over $30,000 a bottle for some older ones, making it most likely the most expensive wine on earth.
- A wine generally made from Pinot Noir and Chardonnay, with two exceptions. Those are Gamay, the grape of Beaujolais, and Aligote a grape used in the Cote Chalonnaise.
- A wine made in a particular style similar to those produced in the Burgundy region of France. Burgundian wines have a real sense of place, or as the French like to call it “terroir.” These wines have a signature that most often has a strong mineral backbone. The Chardonnays of Burgundy are often aged ‘sur lees’ meaning that the yeast that was used to make the wine remains in the barrel for aging, giving the wine an added dimension.
How does Pinot Noir from Burgundy (or those done in a Burgundian style), differ from that of typical California new world style? While there are certainly many times when California Pinots are done in a restrained manner, as well as red Burgundy wines that have been produced on the “big” side, you can use the following comparison of styles as a general description of the differences between them. Pinot Noir wine from Burgundy tends to be light in color and texture as opposed to many California Pinots which are often deep colored and bigger bodied.
- Burgundy Pinot is expressive of lighter fruits like raspberry, strawberry, and tart red cherry. California Pinots are more black cherry and other dark berry flavored.
- Burgundy Pinot is generally low in alcohol, while California Pinots are higher in alcohol.
- Burgundy Pinot is higher than California Pinot in acid, which makes the Burgundy taste a bit more tart.
- If it were a painting, Pinot from Burgundy might be a Monet. California Pinot can often be more like a Peter Max.
- If these wines were music, think of Burgundy as a Mozart concerto, and California Pinot as the end of Tchaikovsky’s 1812 overture.
Much has been written in the past 90 years about biodynamics. The biodynamic movement is actually older than the organic movement. Presented here are a few basics about biodynamics and how and why wines made with this approach differ from other commercially made wines. Biodynamic wines don’t necessarily equate with better tasting wines, nor do they guarantee that they are high quality. The subjects of both taste and quality have been written about and debated about for centuries. Biodynamic wines however, are different. It's just that those differences sometimes require the wine drinker to think outside the box to appreciate their differences.
Clearly there are some superior biodynamic wines as evidenced by our event recently that highlighted Ampelos Cellars. Peter Work, Ampelos’s co-owner and winemaker, led a very informative discussion of biodynamic wine. We are very appreciative to him for both coming down and speaking to us, and his generous gift of two cases of wine for the evening.
It is helpful to think of biodynamics not primarily as an agricultural system, but rather as a philosophy or worldview that then impacts on the practice of agriculture in various ways. In other words, to farm biodynamically, first you have to think biodynamically.
Biodynamicism has its roots in a series of lectures delivered by Austrian philosopher–scientist Rudolf Steiner in 1924. Steiner’s life mission was to bridge the gap between the material and spiritual worlds through the philosophical method. To this end, he created the “spiritual science” of anthroposophy, which he used as the basis of the Waldorf school of philosophy that persists to this day.source
Some scholars, however, have criticized biodynamic agriculture as pseudoscience, contending that the same results can be had with the application of organic farming principles and the high-level of care that usually accompanies biodynamic agriculture. Many of Steiner's practices have produced unconvincing results under scientific study, although many of the tenants of biodynamicism do not easily lend themselves to the formation of hypotheses which to test.source
- There are over 450 biodynamic vineyards in the world today – Approximately 55 are in the United States.
- According a 2004 wine tasting conducted by Fortune magazine, 9 out of 10 biodynamic wines tasted won over the conventionally made wines.source
- Biodynamic vineyards must adhere to a strict regimin of herbs, minerals and an astrological biodynamic calendar – leading some critics to dismiss biodynamic products as mystical superstition, but many winegrowers swear by these practices.
- A growing niche culture of high-profile commercial growers have turned to this practice.
- Some winegrowers claim that biodynamic practices have saved their vineyards from disease and pestilence. These same winegrowers have gone on to produce high-quality, award-winning wines today.source
- In addition to organic certifications, vineyards must follow even stricter regulations conforming to the standards established by the Demeter Biodynamic Trade Association in order to classify their wines as biodynamic.
- The vineyard is treated as a self contained unit. Nothing is brought in from other areas and nothing is taken away from the area. Even the area’s own waste is turned into energy.
- Everything within the area like insects, animals, weeds, soil nutrition, are taken into consideration — giving each vineyard its own game plan. Light, airflow and the timing of planting are all calculated.
- Livestock are handled very carefully – they must remain cage free, receive holistic vaccinations, no antibiotics, no clipping of wings or cutting pigtails. Special care is taken to treat all animals humanely to ensure high soil quality.
- There are 9 specific ingredients (including “horn-manure”, quartz, yarrow, chamomile, stinging nettle, oak bark, dandelion, valerian and snake grass, among others) that go into specially-formulated field sprays and composts, and these are applied at the appropriate times dictated by biodynamic practices.
- Land may not be grown on for more than two seasons in a row. The assertion being that this “off-time” allows the vineyard to “rest”.
Other works cited:
Spain confounds most wine people, experts and novices alike. It is the country with the most acreage of vineyards in the world, yet only the third largest producer of wine. It has produced wines for centuries, much like its neighbors to the north (France) and east (Italy), yet somehow produced only middling quality wines for generations. Of all the countries in Europe, Spain was the first to enact laws defining quality, yet its entry into the international quality wine market is less than fifty years old.
However, over the last few decades, Spanish wines have come into their own in terms of quality, and now stand shoulder to shoulder with many of the French and California wines that form the world's vanguard. Sadly, this effort has gone largely unrecognized outside of Spain, and by American consumers in particular. The main appeal of the Spanish wines on the foreign market is their amazing price/quality ratio. You'll often find the “excellent value” racks of retailers filled up with Spanish wines. This initial advantage shouldn't, however, overshadow the broader commercial potential of other unique (non-bargain) wines.
Modern enological doctrine has slowly worked its way into the fabric of wine production on the Iberian Peninsula, with introduction of such concepts as effective harvest control, structure in the bodegas (wineries), and meticulousness in the production procedures. The results are there for all to see, or rather, taste. There are interesting cavas (Spanish sparkling wine) in Navarra; aromatic white wines springing up in Castile and rising from the volcanic ashes of the Canary Islands; fruity rosés in Jumilla; and some remarkable reds from the Somontano region in Aragón, to give just a few examples.
Along with Cabernet Sauvignon and Chardonnay vines, originally brought from Médoc and Burgundy, the world can witness the resurgence of traditional Spanish grape varieties.
Albariño is a small grape, which doesn't give as much juice as others: this is the secret of its concentration and density. In the Ribeiro area, the Lado grape is as subtle as it is scarce.
The most-used varieties for cava - Macabeo, Xarello and Parellada - are harvested in that order.
Tempranillo, the principal grape of Rioja, is the noblest of the Spanish red grapes. It lends elegance, aroma, concentration and complexity of flavor to the wines. There are some other equally typical varieties sharing the Riojan landscape: the almost-disappeared Graciano, with its fruity taste; the Mazuelo or Cariñena, which produces strongly-colored, tannic wines; or the Garnacha, which supplies body, acidity and degrees of alcohol. It was with the Garnacha grape that vineyards were replanted after the phylloxera disaster at the beginning of the century.
The key wine regions of Spain are Rioja, Priorato, Penedés, Ribera del Duero, Rueda, Jeréz and Valdepeñas.
Periodically, I am asked about the amount of wine that I own and where do I store it. Although I recently built a 350 bottle wine cellar in my home, previously my storage was far more spartan. While the actual amount of wine varied from month-to-month, on a given day, I had approximately, 8 cases of wine (96 bottles). I will admit that that is a lot of wine for most but far less than many wine collectors that may have anywhere from 500 to 10,000 bottles of wine in storage.
However, unlike those serious wine collectors that utilize specially designed wine storage units, that can hold anywhere from 30-1,500 bottles, or rent locker space in a wine warehouse, I stored all of my wine in a hallway closet. Now, I am sure that those of you who are serious connoisseurs are probably shaking your heads in disgust. Some may say that I am tempting fate but the bottom line is: 1) I have never had a bottle “go bad” and become undrinkable, 2) with one or two special bottle exceptions, I drank it all relatively quickly; and 3) reality is that my budget couldn’t afford a storage unit.
For us “regular folk” or those of you just beginning to appreciate a good bottle of wine and your purchases are small, your storage needs can be as modest as mine were. You need only find a dark, cool place in your house to keep your bottles. Just make sure that it is far from the kitchen. Although many home builders and kitchen designers now include an open wine rack in their kitchens, you’re well advised to pass on this nifty looking piece of lattice work and replace it with open shelving for your cookbooks or another cabinet.
Unless you plan to drink the wine right away or want the bottles just for looks, the kitchen is the worst place in your house to keep wine. The quickest way to ruin a good bottle of wine is to expose it to heat for any period of time and the kitchen is the hottest room in the house. The dishwasher and stove put out heat when they’re turned on; a frost-free refrigerator belches it continuously.
Heat ruins wine because it speeds up the chemical reactions within the bottle, causing the wine to age prematurely. Too much heat will make wine undrinkable, in extreme cases turning it into vinegar. The sunlight streaming through big kitchen windows to create a cheery atmosphere -- another thing you probably want in your new house -- also affects wine adversely; In fact, that’s why the bottles are usually dark glass.
Like me, a hall closet will do, but make sure it’s not next to a heating duct, hot water heater or a dryer. Since the temperature at the floor level is always cooler, you should put the wine on the floor of the closet rather than an upper shelf.
To keep the corks from drying out, the bottles should be stored on their sides. The easiest way to store them this way is to repack your bottles in the type of wooden cases they were originally shipped in. You can usually get these for free at most wine stores, especially during the holiday season.
If your interest in wine has clearly grown and your wine supply has increased from five or six bottles to two or three cases, you may want consider a wine storage unit. Wine storage units come in many sizes from under-counter units about the size of a trash compactor that will hold 30 bottles to 50 bottle units about the size of a dishwasher. If your needs are bigger than that, you can buy units that hold anywhere from 100 to 1,800 bottles. These units can be of furniture quality or utilitarian and better suited for the garage.
If spending $1,000 - $5,000 on a storage unit does not fit within your budget but you still want to protect your wine, there are many places that rent wine lockers.