I’ve been thinking a lot about Greatness in food and wine this year. Mostly about how overrated and irrelevant the idea of Greatness usually is when it comes to what we eat and drink. Take Thanksgiving dinner. If we look at the actual dishes served, Thanksgiving would rarely be considered a five-star meal. And who really cares?
The truth, in most families, is this: Thanksgiving is a team effort, prepared by cooks of varying abilities, and which appeals to a common denominator of taste. No matter how far in a foodie direction you want to push the meal, some relative is going to bring a green bean casserole made with cream of mushroom soup, or the sweet potatoes with the marshmallows, or the canned cranberry sauce. Deal with it. Thanksgiving is big and inclusive enough for everyone. With the Thanksgiving meal, as with so many other things in life, it is simply better to be good than great.
I’ve always felt a little sorry for Beaujolais and the gamay grape from which it was made. Beaujolais sits just south of Burgundy, where the oh-so-popular pinot noir is king. If I think of gamay as a person, I picture someone who’s got the worst frenemy — the popular cheerleader, the star quarterback, the supermodel mom, the successful Internet billionaire — living right next door.
I mean, everyone loves their pinot noir, don’t they? Pinot noir is, like, the greatest wine ever! Remember that movie Sideways? If we’re being super honest, it was a pretty lame movie, but remember how much everyone started loving pinot noir after that? Boy, suddenly that pinot noir started to get really expensive, didn’t it? And there’s no better pinot noir than what comes from Burgundy, right? Growing Burgundy pinot noir must be like printing money! I picture gamay sighing heavily and her shoulders slumping when she thinks about pinot noir.
Tempranillo, garnacha and albariño. You’ve heard these bargain buzzwords whispered before. They’re the Spanish wines already synonymous with good value. But as their popularity continues to rise, they’re slowly disappearing from the bargain category. And finding an enjoyable one priced under $10 has become nearly impossible.
Luckily, there are still a few corners of Spain where you can easily discover pockets of great deals — like the places that grow monastrell. Although not exactly a household name like tempranilllo or garnacha, monastrell is quickly redefining what value means in Spain. Forget the Spanish wines you already know — it’s time for you and your wallet to get acquainted with this native grape.
You probably don’t even need a full introduction to monastrell. In countries outside of Spain, it wears another hat and goes by the better-known alias, mourvèdre. It’s with this different name that monastrell has achieved its greatest fame. The grape is most famously grown in France, where it’s used to make pretty rosés in Provence and powerful Châteauneuf-du-Pape wines in the Rhône Valley, home to the esteemed “GSM” blend. The prominent “M” part of the blend, winemakers in regions all over the world blend mourvèdre with grenache and syrah to make wines that are both juicy and savory.
I am hopeful that Portuguese wines will take off in the United States one day and I eagerly await the meteoric rise of Portugal’s great-value reds, either from a famed region like the Douro Valley or from lesser-known regions such as the Alentejo or Dão or Setúbal. My wait has been very much in the vein of Waiting for Godot, and it has been going on two decades now. I remain patiently optimistic.
I’m always speaking with people who are fixated on a quixotic quest to find that “great bottle under $10.” I often get frustrated with this mythical idea of the under-$10 bottle, because it’s actually so rare to find one that offers quality and drinkability, let alone complexity. I’m almost always advocating that people bump up at least a few bucks into the $12 to $15 range. A $9.99 wine can just as easily offer bad value as a $29.99 wine can.
Portugal, however, is one big exception, one country that actually produces wines under $10 that offer honest-to-goodness value. Which is why their lack of presence in the U.S. continues to surprise me. MORE
Sweet wines. Just hearing those two words being uttered is enough to prompt an obligatory eye roll from almost any wine drinker. Sweet wines? What kind of unsophisticated person drinks those?
Certainly not me. Well…I never used to, at least.
It wasn’t even that long ago that I rejected the idea of sipping on anything remotely sweet. One night my friend brought over a bottle of her new favorite wine, moscato, for me to try. I wasn’t too surprised. Almost every twenty-something I knew desired a glass of the sweet wine. But I was used to drinking the big, bold reds of Spain and affordable sparklers like prosecco, and sweet wines like moscato remained far off my radar.
“It’ll soon be one of your favorites, too,” she told me. I wasn’t so sure.
Now, I’m not one to ever turn down anything complimentary, especially if it’s wine, but I was disappointed in her latest obsession. At the time, we were in the middle of a moscato boom, the result of influential hip hop artists like Kanye West, Drake, and Lil’ Kim endorsing the slightly fizzy sweet wine. References of it in lyrics like “still over in Brazil sippin’ moscato,” and “lobster and shrimp and a glass of moscato,” caused its popularity to surge. According to a Nielson study, sales of moscato rose 73 percent in 2011. And that’s on top of the 100 percent spike the category saw in the year before.
So this is how the Summer of Riesling ends: With the leading American importer of German wines scolding the Germans themselves over the type of riesling they prefer to drink in Germany.
Last month, in the New York Times, Terry Theise (the importer whom the Wall Street Journal referred to as “near the pinnacle” of wine “hipness”) expressed his displeasure that his beloved low-alcohol, sweet styles of riesling are being usurped in Germany by dry, or trocken, riesling — what Theise called “a highly invasive species that wants to swallow up every other style.”
Table Matters and Drexel University are proud to announce the launch of Planet of the Grapes, a new series of quarterly digital wine guides. Volume 1: Alternative Reds explores off-the-beaten-path red wines that offer a wine lover — whether a newbie or an experienced connoisseur who’s stuck in a rut — a different path into the world of wine with over 140 recommendations. In this excerpt, author Jason Wilson discusses carménère – lost in France, mislabeled in Chile, and found again. Read on below, and get Alternative Reds today from Smart Set Press.
During my post-undergrad years in Boston, in the early 1990s, I drank a lot of New World red wine. Most of it was purchased in large bottles for very little money, and it was generally taken to the kind of dinner party where someone had made a bad vegetarian lasagna and someone else had tried to make tabouli, and we all crowded onto a musty couch and ate off mismatched plates. The host might have had to borrow a corkscrew, and it was inevitable that one person would have to sip wine from a coffee mug.
I teetered on top of the enormous tractor, careful not to lose my balance as it shook from side to side. The vibrating machine hovered over a single row of vines at a time, shaking their perfectly ripe grapes free into the large bins below. I turned around to glance into the dark rows of vineyards lit only by the moon above.
“Why are we harvesting the grapes in the middle of the night, again?” I asked over the roaring sound of the tractor. “Is everyone here just nocturnal?”
“No, not exactly,” said Juan de Benito Ozores, director of the Alvarez y Diez winery, who was seated beside me. “You see, the fresh juice from the grapes, it would oxidize too quickly in the heat. We don’t want them to lose the perfect sugar and acidity levels they have right now.”
It was just past midnight in Rueda, a small white wine-producing region just a two-hour drive from Madrid. Though the timing was a bit odd to me, I had ventured there to watch the winery’s annual grape harvest, which started at ten o’clock at night and would finish just before sunrise.
When we talk about bubbles and wine, the conversation inevitably always begins with champagne, heralded by many as the greatest sparkling wine in the world. I’m talking about the real deal, of course — the fancy, elegant, complex sparkling wine that can only come from Champagne, France — not that $6 bottle of flavored Andre or $8 Korbel labeled as California “Champagne.”
In August, Table Matters will be launching a series of digital wine guides called Planet of the Grapes. Stay tuned for updates.
I have been trying to spread the good word on Soave Classico for the past few years, and reactions divide squarely along generational lines.
Most people under 35 give me blank stares. “Soave?” they ask. “Like Rico Suave?”
Meanwhile, when I mention it to those of my parents’ generation, Soave brings a distinctly negative response. Baby boomers remember the cheap, pitiful product that flooded our shores in the 1970s. When I told my father I would be tasting Soave for my next assignment, he looked at me like I was crazy. “Soave Bolla?” he said. “Good luck with that. Isn’t that on the same shelf as Blue Nun and Mateus?”
Floral. Earthy. Honeyed. Jammy. Tropical. Spicy. Herbal. There are infinite descriptors that wine professionals love to use when describing the way a wine smells. Some might sound a bit abstract, but you can actually find all of these aromas — and about 793 more — pouring out of almost any glass of wine. MORE
In August, Table Matters will be launching a series of digital wine guides called Planet of the Grapes by Jason Wilson, award-winning columnist and author of Boozehound. Stay tuned for updates via Twitter and Facebook, and sign up here for sneak peeks and our latest news.
Planet of the Grapes is now a series of digital wine guides from award-winning author Jason Wilson and Table Matters. Check out Volume 1: Alternative Reds today at Smart Set Press, and use the code MUSCADET for 50% off.
There are powerful wines and hedonistic wines. There are oaky wines and wines bursting with fruit. There are thrilling wines and profound wines. There are wines with beautifully-designed labels and wines with cute, easy-to-read labels. There are expensive wines and wines you keep in your cellar for decades.
Muscadet is absolutely none of these. MORE
I recently received a sample of a rather eye-catching bottle of wine. Included in the shipment was a news release. It invited me to celebrate the wine’s “bold new label,” which was “sure to grab attention at the next summer barbeque.” It also informed me that the wine was both “fun and unconventional” and that it “reflects the Wild West experimentation of the Paso Robles AVA.”
Few things are lovelier than ending a meal with a spot of cheese. The French have done it for years without any trauma to their collective girth, which suggests that indulging in a morsel or two of cheese after supper, instead of a brownie sundae, just might be better for all of us. In fact, eating cheese at the end of a meal is supposed to be good for your teeth. Thank you, food scientist Harold McGee, for that important dental insight.
For after-dinner inspiration, try ordering a cheese course for dessert next time you go out. The Fountain Restaurant in Philadelphia is famous for its cheese cart, which is wheeled to each table like an elaborate pram; the Gramercy Tavern in Manhattan offers an impeccable assortment which sits, veiled, on a slate in its tavern dining room, so that’s it’s impossible not to steal furtive glances. Cheese after a meal should be so exquisite; it should arouse desire. MORE