Browsing the archives for the Sauvignon Blanc tag

Midwest Wine School Experience – WSET Intermediate Level – Class 7

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Midwest Wine School Experience

Rendell Thomas led the seventh class of the WSET Intermediate Level course,   The topic for this session – Sparkling wines and sweet dessert wines!  Admittedly, I have a weak spot for Champagne and sparkling wine so this was a particularly fun class for me.  The addition of the sweet dessert wines made for a fun night!

Rendell started the evening with a brief rundown on the history of sparkling wine and its origin, now believed to be from southern France (What? It wasn’t invented in Champagne?!). We also received a primer on the proper terminology with regards to sparkling wine and its production.

Many times we hear the terms Champagne and sparkling wine used interchangeably.  This has always been a point of contention, especially for the French who guard the term Champagne like it was their first born child, and rightfully so.  For centuries, France has pioneered and perfected the methods used to make Champagne.  From the vineyard to the cellar, painstaking and labor intensive process are used to make the so called “drink of kings.” They have the right to protect what they have worked so hard for.  Just to be clear, if it’s not from the Champagne region of France it is a sparkling wine.  There are many alternate terms used around the world.  In Spain, they call it Cava.  In Germany they call it Deutscher Sekt (or just plain Sekt in rest of the European Union).  In Italy you’ll hear it called Proseco or Asti. Within France it’s called Crémant when it comes from outside of the Champagne region.  In the US and most of the English speaking countries it’s called sparkling wine with just a few legal exceptions.

The primary grapes used to make sparkling wines are chardonnay, pinot noir and pinot meunier, especially in France.  However there are variations, such as, muscat, riesling, macabeo or shiraz, just to name a few.

The labor intensive process used to make Champagne and top quality sparkling wines is called the méthode champenoise (“Champagne method”) or méthode traditionnelle (“traditional method”). Even this terminology is closely protected by the French AOC laws and can only be used sparingly.  There are other processes that are less labor intensive, such as the tank method or transfer method, that create lower quality sparkling wines, but the upside is that they are more affordable for the average consumer.

The last part of the evening was spent discovering sweet wines, such as Eiswein and Sauternes, just to name a few.  There are so many different types of sweet wines (and I’m not talking about white zinfandel) it’s hard to describe them all.  To make things simple, Rendell broke them down into three broad categories:

  • Interrupting the fermentation process (Vin Doux Naturels, etc.)
  • Adding a sweet component to the blend like unfermented grape juice (Oloroso sherries, etc.)
  • Concentrate the sugars in the grapes, either through drying or noble rot (Tokaji Aszú, Sauternes, etc.).

The styles vary greatly but you can guarantee they are all very rich and decadent.  Like Champagne, the processes used to create many of these liquid treasures are laborious and expensive.  Luckily many sweet wines, like late harvest rieslings and gewürztraminers, are affordable and easy to enjoy as or with any number of desserts.

Jessica Bell returns next week for our final class…Fortified wines & spirits!

Wines Tasted (Class 7):

  1. Gruet Blanc de Noirs NV (New Mexico)
  2. Jaillance Crémant de Bourgogne NV (Burgundy, France)
  3. Marqués de Gelida Cave (Catalunya, Spain)
  4. Taittinger Brut NV (Champagne, France)
  5. Robertson Winery Special Late Harvest Gewürztraminer 2008 (Breede River Valley, South Africa)
  6. Château Haut Mayne Sauternes 2006 (Bordeaux, France)

Midwest Wine School Experience – WSET Intermediate Level – Class 4

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Midwest Wine School Experience

The fourth class of the WSET Intermediate Level course delved into the world of cabernet sauvignon, merlot and sauvignon blanc. Covering three different varieties in one class made for a whirlwind session.  Jessica started by describing the three varieties and reviewed some of  the regions that produce some of the best and most age-worthy wines in the world.  We also covered the stylistic differences between wines from different regions, France and the US being a good example.  

For a good portion of the class Jessica reviewed the classic red Bordeauxvarieties (cabernet sauvignon, merlot, and a little about cabernet franc, malbec and petit verdot).  She explained the differences between “left bank” and “right bank”.  The wines from here are blends of these varieties, with cabernet sauvignon being the primary grape in blend for “left bank” wines and merlot taking the lead in “right bank” wines.  This led into an informative discussion of the France’s AOC system and the Classification of 1855.  We also spent a good deal of time going over the how these varieties are being used in new world wines from places such as the United States, Australia, South America, and South Africa.  Many of the emerging wines from these areas are rivalling the quality and ageability of classic old world wines.

Sauvignon blanc also played an important part of the evening’s discussions.  This variety is a major player in the Loire Valley in the appellation of Sancerre.  It has a supporting role in Bordeaux, especially in southern Bordeaux, where it is blended with semillon to create the famous sweet wines of Sauternes and Barsac.  This popular variety is also being grown in many new world regions where is does quite well in cooler latitudes.  On New Zealand’s south island, Marlborough is quickly emerging as one on the best regions for sauvignon blanc.

Next week’s session will be led by Jaclyn Stuart, co-author of The Complete Idiot’s Guide to Wine & Food Pairing, who will guide us through the wines of Italy, Spain and Portugal.

Wines Tasted (Class 4):

  1. Apaltagua Reserva Cabernet Sauvignon 2006 (Colchagua, Chile)
  2. Chateau Reignac 2003 (Bordeaux, France)
  3. Zulu Cabernet Sauvignon 2004 (Stellenbosch, South Africa)
  4. Rutherford Hill Napa Valley Merlot 2003 (Napa Valley, CA)
  5. Domaine Fournier Sancerre Les Belles Vignes 2007 (Loire Valley, France)
  6. Hunters Sauvignon Blanc 2007 (Marlborough, New Zealand)

Varietal Voyage No.11 – 2008 Domaine de Gournier Viognier

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Varietal Voyage

The next wine on the list is from France’s southern Rhône valley.  Domaine de Gournier is a very small winery located near Cévennes, between Avignon to the east and Nîmes to the west. Gournier’s Viognier is classified as a vin de pays, or country wine. According to France’s classification of wines, this one is somewhere in the middle in terms of quality.  For this leg of our journey this wine is a little unusual, because it is not 100% Viognier.  It is a blend of primarily Viognier with a little Sauvginon Blanc and Chardonnay added to round things out.

Maurice Barnouin and his family started Domaine de Gournier as a nursery, growing and cloning vine stock for other vineyards. Several years ago they decided to start making their own unique style of wines.  Gournier now produces several wines including: Merlot, Cabernet Sauvignon, Grenache, Syrah, Cinsault, and Mourvèdre, as well as Chardonnay, Sauvignon Blanc, and Viognier. The 200 hectare estate (about 500 acres) is situated on a plateau of limestone rich soil with little vegetation to prevent the warm Mediterranean sun from ripening the fruit to its fullest.

The 2008 Viognier is a good example of a simple country wine. If you are expecting a big, fruit-forward expression of the Rhône valley, think again. This is a very simple, everyday wine that doesn’t overpower your palette or your pocket book.  It has pleasing, but delicate floral and peach aromas that work together with light, herbaceous apricot flavors.  The addition of Sauvignon Blanc brings a pleasing balance of mineral flavors and fresh acidity that seems to dance around on your tongue. Serve this one slightly chilled for a great summer refreshment.

2008 Domaine de Gournier Viognier ($11)

Varietal Voyage – See how it started…

Wine Selection Tips for Thanksgiving

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The Thanksgiving holiday is a special time for friends and family break bread together. The traditional Thanksgiving feast has a large selection of foods, all with their own unique flavors and textures. Selecting a wine or wines to go with this wide variation of dishes can be a daunting task. One thing is certain; there is no right or wrong answer. If you and your guests enjoy the meal (and the wine), that is all that really matters!

Sparkling Wines

Sparkling wines are a popular choice for most holiday meals. Crisp acidity, bright fruit flavors and yeasty undertones help make these wines extremely food-friendly. A good Blanc de Noir (a sparkling wine or Champagne containing Pinot Noir) pairs well with many courses, from cheeses to salads to turkey and potatoes. The bubbles, combined with the natural acidity, work to cleanse the palate for each course.

White Wines

Fruity white wines with lively acidity work well with any number of dishes. Sauvignon Blanc’s herbal aromas and flavors of tropical fruit, apples and pear compliment everything from butternut squash to the turkey and stuffing. Chardonnay, on the other hand, with its richer flavors and fuller body, goes better with creamy dishes. Gewürztraminer has an inherent spiciness that begs to be paired with cranberries or spicy pumpkin or squash soups.

Red Wines

Pinot Noir is probably one of the most versatile wines for the Thanksgiving meal. Flavors of tart cherries and strawberries, along with a nice balance of acidity and tannins, supports most courses without overpowering them. If dark meat is on the menu, consider a Zinfandel or a Grenache/Syrah/Mourvedre (GSM) blend from the Côtes du Rhône. Their ripe, dark fruit flavors and rich tannins work well with fat in the meats.

Dessert Wines

Selecting a dessert wine can be a little problematic. Depending on the level of sweetness in the dessert, some wines may or may not work. If the dessert is not too sweet, consider a sweet wine like Muscat or an effervescent Moscato d’Asti. If your dessert is very sweet, look for a Port (ruby or tawny) or a late-harvest Riesling. These wines are very sweet and rich and will stand up to the sugar in the dessert. Of course all of these wines could be considered “dessert” just by themselves.

These are just a few hints and suggestions to help select a wine (or wines) that will compliment your Thanksgiving meal. The best part is that there is no right or wrong answer when it comes time to choosing a wine. If you like the wine, and it enhances your dining experience, that’s all that matters! The important thing to remember is that Thanksgiving is about friends and family. They are the ones that truly make Thanksgiving great!

Varietal Voyage No.3 – 2007 Domaine Claude Riffault "Les Boucauds"

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Varietal Voyage

Our third wine on the Varietal Voyage brings us to France, specifically Sancerre at the western end of the Loire Valley. This wine was recommended by our favorite wine merchant, Ben Christiansen, the owner of the Waterford Wine Company in Milwaukee.

From the Atlantic coast to the mountains of central France, the Loire Valley runs east to west for some six hundred miles. The Loire is France’s third largest appellation d’origine contrôlée (AOC) and the top producer of white wine. This is the definitive home of Sauvignon Blanc.

Sancerre is one of the most well-known wine regions in the Loire. The village of Sancerre is surrounded by several wine producing communes such as Sury-en-Vaux, the source of this week’s wine. Domaine Claude Riffault grows their sauvignon blanc on the limestone hillsides of Sury-en-Vaux, northwest of Sancerre proper. The cool continental climate combined with the chalky, flinty soils make this area ideal for fresh, fruity Sauvignon Blancs. The grapes are hand picked and fermented in stainless steel tanks to preserve the freshness and fruitful character.

Of the three Sauvignon Blancs we tasted, Sue and I agree that this was our favorite. The light straw color was a little darker than the previous two wines we sampled. The grassy, herbal aromas accompanied flavors of fresh citrus and nectarines. A pleasant mineral quality tied everything together. Well balanced acidity, and herbal notes carried on through to a clean finish. This wine should pair wonderfully with seafood. We tried it with steamed mussels and found the mineral qualities of the wine and the shellfish to be a good match.

This wine was a great finish to this leg of the journey. We now head off into the world of chenin blancs to explore what this varietal has to offer.

2007 Domaine Claude Riffault “Les Boucauds” ($26)

Varietal Voyage - See how it started…

Varietal Voyage No.2 – Wairau River Sauvignon Blanc 2008

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Varietal Voyage

From the California we make our way across the Pacific Ocean. Six thousand six hundred miles southwest of the Central Coast AVA lies New Zealand’s Marlborough region. Marlborough is on the south island and is home to some of the world’s best Sauvignon Blancs.

The vineyards of the Wairau River Winery, as the name suggests, lie on and around the Wairau River. The maritime climate makes for long, temperate growing seasons and the shallow, stony soils intensify the fruit flavors and mineral characteristics.

The style of this Sauvignon Blanc is quite different from the 2005 Tres Hermanas sampled last week (see Varietal Voyage No.1). This wine is pale yellow, almost colorless. What it lacks in color is made up for in the wonderful floral aromas and tropical fruit flavors. Slightly sweeter than the Tres Hermanas, its crisp acidity felt more balanced on the palette. The finish is short and clean leaving you with notes of pineapple. If this is any indicator, I can see why New Zealand Sauvignon Blancs are so revered.

The next stop on our trip takes us to France. Stay tuned.

Wairau River Sauvignon Blanc 2008 ($14)

Varietal Voyage – See how it started…

Varietal Voyage No.1 – Tres Hermanas Sauvignon Blanc 2005

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Varietal Voyage

The first wine on our journey takes us to the Central Coast of California and the Tres Hermanas Vineyard and Winery. This winery, located between Los Olivos and Santa Maria focuses mainly on French and Italian style wines, but makes a very nice California syrah.

The 2005 Sauvignon Blanc proved to be a great pairing to the shrimp and wild rice we had for dinner. The pale yellow color, almost clear, was deceiving. Based on the color, I expected a light bodied wine, but the floral and citrus aromas with hints of fresh herbs were striking. The flavors were equally as bold. Crisp, grapefruity acidity with lots of alcohol (14+%) reminded me of a dry German Riesling. The flavors and aromas carried through with an extremely long finish revealing lemons and pears.

A great start to the voyage. Next stop: New Zealand…

2005 Tres Hermana Sauvignon Blanc ($16)

  • 100% Sauvignon Blanc
  • Central Coast, California

Varietal Voyage – See how it started…

Varietal Voyage – The Beginning

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Varietal Voyage
For sometime now, I have wanted to expand my knowledge of the vast viticultural world of wine. I have tasted a fair share of wines, but always seem to gravitate to the same familiar varieties. Not that there is anything wrong with liking a few good wines, but there is so much more to experience!

I recently read in Karen MacNeil’s “Wine Bible” about a plan for expanding your knowledge of wine. She spoke of a systematic plan, sampling different wines over a six month time frame. This was exactly what I was looking for. With a little research and some consultation with Sue, the plan was hatched!

Over the next six months, Sue and I will partake in a voyage of varietal discovery. The first three months focuses purely on white wines. The following three months are devoted to reds. Throughout each trimester we will explore four varieties and three different regions for each.

Month 1-3: The Whites

  • Sauvignon Blanc (US, New Zealand, France) – VV1, VV2, VV3
  • Chenin Blanc (US, France, South Africa) – VV4, VV5, VV6
  • Chardonnay (US, France, Australia) – VV7, VV8, VV9
  • Viognier (US, France, Australia) – VV10, VV11, VV12

Month 4-6: The Reds

  • Cabernet Sauvignon (US, France, South America) – VV13, VV14, VV15
  • Merlot (US, France, South America) – VV16, VV17, VV18
  • Syrah/Shiraz (US, Australia, France) – VV19, VV20, VV21
  • Petite Sirah (US, France, Australia)

So that’s the grand plan – twenty-four wines over the next six months. Stay tuned. This blog will be the travelogue of our adventure!