Recent Columns

26 Apr

Sweetness

Wine label and wine experts contend this is dry wine, but it tastes sweet to me. What is going on?

Sensation of sweet comes from multiple sources. The most likely suspect is your nose. Nose alerts palate before wine touches tongue and continues to influence experience when wine is in your mouth.

Your nose picks up cherry jam, banana yogurt, blueberry pie or some other “here comes sweet” clue, and your palate responds like Pavlov’s dog. In addition, your palate—influenced by nose—can interpret fruitiness as sugar sweetness. Ripe fruit is sweet according to your conditioning.

Almost every bottle of quality red table wine you buy is dry, with less than 10 grams of residual sugar per liter (g/L). There are truly sweet reds—plonk bulk wines and mevushal wines such as Manischewitz are sweet. If you follow this column, you likely do not voluntarily drink those.

Many white wines, too, are dry, but off-dry white wines (11-35 g/L—very slightly sweet) also are popular.

U.S. has no regulations for labeling dryness or sweetness, but most European wine laws mandate red wine must be less than 4 g/L, making them dry. When you drink an Old World wine that says it is dry, it is dry no matter what your nose and your palate tells you. BTW, “bone dry” means no measurable residual sugar at all.

Our mouths are dumb. Wine with high acidity and/or some bitterness easily masks the sensation of sweetness. Some wines with higher residual sugar—German riesling, for instance—do not taste sweet for this reason. On the other hand, lower acidity, fruit-forward dry wines made from floridly ripe grapes—California and Australia, for instance—give the illusion of sweetness. Don’t trust your stupid mouth.

Tasting notes:

Barefoot Chardonnay NV: Drinkable off-dry easy drinker. $6-7

Vera Vinho Verde Bianco 2015: Off-dry, great fruitiness, fun summer sipper. $10-12

Château de Berne Côtes de Provence Impatience Rosé 2015: Bone dry, liltingly light, fruitiness, superb summer or anytime sipper. $20-21

Last round: I got some fruit juice out of the fridge, and I swear I heard the bottle of dry white wine next to it screaming “what the heck is this?”

Email Gus at wine@cwadv.com. Facebook: Gus Clemens on Wine. Twitter: @gusclemens. Website: gusclemens.com.

19 Apr

Texas wine

Even to flamboyantly braggadocian Texans, ascendancy of the Texas wine industry is a surprise.

Texas wine production may never rival California, Washington, New York, and Oregon—those four states produce 96 percent of American wine—but Texas has a flourishing wine industry that ranks in the top 10 in production in the U.S., some claim fifth.

The Texas Hill Country American Viticultural Area (AVA), largest of Texas’s eight AVAs, is nation’s second-most visited AVA, behind Napa Valley.

Thank Hill Country beauty, Austin and San Antonio population centers, Texas pride from all over Texas, curiosity seekers from all over the world, and vastness of the AVA. Texas does things big. Napa Valley AVA is barely 225,000 acres. Texas Hill Country AVA is nine million acres.

While the Hill Country has go-to wineries, the Texas High Plains AVA—the state’s second biggest with eight million acres around Lubbock—is heart of Texas grape growing. Hot days, cool nights, dry climate, wine vines love it.

In the beginning, Texas grape growing focused on cab and merlot and chard, but it quickly became evident grapes that work in Texas come from places with terroir and climate similar to Texas, not northern or central France. Imagine that.

Grapes defining Texas wine today:

Tempranillo. Rustic Spanish red—tobacco, sour cherry, strawberry, blackberry, red fruit flavors and aromas. Touriga nacional, the tempranillo of Portugal, also is in the game.

Sangiovese. Tuscan star—robust flavors, red currant, roasted tomato, cherry, mild tannins.

Mourvèdre. French Rhône—earthiness, plum, blackberry, soft red fruit. Great blending wine.

Vermentino. Sardinian white—white flowers, lime, grapefruit, mango, pear notes.

Viognier. French Rhône—orange, pineapple, apricot flavors and flamboyant honeysuckle aroma.

Roussanne. French Rhône—brings bright acidity and minerality to white blends.

Texas up. Toast the 181st anniversary of San Jacinto victory with a Texas wine this Friday.

Tasting notes for widely-distributed Texas wines:

McPherson Sangiovese 2014: Palate-pleasing easy sipper. $12

Duchman Family Winery Vermentino 2015: Tart, delicious, works with variety of foods. $14

Becker Vineyards Texas Tempranillo 2014: Very drinkable, easy-to-like, priced nice. $14

Pedernales Cellars Texas Tempranillo 2014: Seriously good at a fair price. $17

Last round: The best thing about wine is it makes you like everyone more, including yourself.

Email Gus at wine@cwadv.com. Facebook: Gus Clemens on Wine. Twitter: @gusclemens. Website: gusclemens.com.

12 Apr

When to drink

With a special bottle of wine, there is ample opportunity for angst about when to open it.

On the one hand, an expert pontificates wine will be best in five years. Do you really have that much patience? What is the harm if you dare open it “early.” Likely answer is no harm at all.

Wine evolves, and a wine expert may believe it will continue to evolve, eventually reaching a plateau where it will not get better. That is the expert’s recommended drink date. That does not mean the wine is not drinking well right now. If an expert was rapturous, he tasted before you bought and long before drinking-best date.

There are exceptions—high end Bordeaux and Italian Barolos often are so tannic, rigidly structured, tight they can be almost undrinkable young. Barolo may have to age in bottle for 10 years, but wineries hold back bottles before sale for most of that time. If you are buying in those categories, you either know wine or you should seek expert advice.

Other side of this coin is what if you don’t open until bottle is past its prime? If you hold a premium bottle for years, there is great reluctance to part with something so embedded in your wine fantasies. The joy of seeing that special bottle in your stash may be greater than drinking it. You are not a bad person if you leave it there.

Good news: almost all wine you buy today is good to drink today. You can let it settle for a couple of months or a couple of years and it may or may not get better—it also is unlikely to get worse. Don’t over-think this. Pull cork or let it lie. Wine is joy, not angst.

Tasting notes:

Cosentino Winery Cigar Old Vine Zinfandel 2015: All you expect from big juicy zin. $20

Chateau Ste. Michelle Cabernet Sauvignon Columbia Valley 2013: Seriously good, outstanding price.
$14

Les Dauphins Côtes du Rhône Villages Puyméras Rouge 2014: Fruit-forward pleaser; decant. $15

Last round: I finally did my taxes last night and drank three bottles of wine. When I went over paperwork this morning, I saw I had a three million dollar refund. Wine is so great.

Email Gus at wine@cwadv.com. Facebook: Gus Clemens on Wine. Twitter: @gusclemens. Website: gusclemens.com.

05 Apr

Wine myths

Exploding some of wine’s most flagrant myths:

What grows together, goes together. Often true, but there are many exceptions. Thai food goes great with German riesling—they are half a world apart. Yes, Italian food goes great with Italian wine, but that is nowhere near the whole story. If you want to explore wine, experiment, blaze new trails, embrace adventure.

White wine–fish, red wine–red meat. As a general, very general rule, this works, but as iron clad rule, no way. Pinot noir pairs wonderfully with salmon, shrimp pairs with barbera, there are many other examples. Bold steaks pair with bold reds, delicate white fish pairs with delicate whites, but everything in between is wide open for adventure.

Rosé is only for summer. Oh, please, no. Rosé stands shoulder-to-shoulder with reds and whites. There are three colors of wines, and rosé is one. Some rosé wines are treacly sweet plonk—so are some red and whites—but there are so many rosés that are so much more. Explore rosé.

Expensive wine will be better than wine that costs less. Not even close to true. Wine that costs more gives you better odds it is superior, but there is absolutely no guarantee. Joy of wine is discovering nice bottle, nice price.

Boutique wineries make better wines than big corporations. Small producers produce splendid wines, that does not mean mass-market winemakers cannot produce quality wine. Small producers hit exceptional highs when they know what they are doing and all goes right—key, when all goes right. Mass producers consistently produce quality year over year at affordable price points—that is their mission. Appreciate each for what they do. Kendall-Jackson may not soar to Olympian heights, but KJ delivers good wine year after year. So do other mass market makers, and you are much more likely to be able to find them.

Tasting notes:

Il Bastardi Rosso di Toscana Sangiovese 2015: Pizza night fun pour. $8

Browne Family Vineyards Tribute Columbia Valley 2013: Consistent higher scorer, loads of fruit. $30

Chateau Ste. Michelle Ethos Reserve Cabernet Sauvignon 2012: Power, finesse, balance. $40

Last round: I read that if you drink wine every day, you are a wino. Thank goodness I only drink wine every night.

Email Gus at wine@cwadv.com. Facebook: Gus Clemens on Wine. Twitter: @gusclemens. Website: gusclemens.com.