Posts Filed Under Tales of the Purple Monkey
Another exciting edition of Tales of the Purple Monkey, in conjunction with Wine Blogging Wednesday? Why the hell not, baby!
WBW #55 has an interesting theme, chosen this month by Rémy Charest over at the Wine Case Blog. The theme is North vs. South, and while it implies a battle of epic bloody proportions with fundamental winemaking beliefs at stake, it’s really just meant to highlight the different wine styles that can result by cultivating the same grape in different regions, weather, and growing conditions. For example, arid and hot (South) vs. temperate and chilly (North).
But since I’m incorrigible, I tried to line up an epic battle, and I failed miserably. For starters, the wines I chose have a price point differential of about $50 USD. Not a good start… So, my contribution to this month’s WBW is more like an educational minor skirmish played out by a Cival War reenactment than it is a battle to the death. Just as well I suppose, since the Purple Monkey is a child’s toy, so best we keep things PG…
Anyway, let’s get this party started.
I raided the sample boxes for this WBW and they yielded a great grape comparison (if anyone knows of a synonym for “comparison” that begins with the letter “G” please let me know immediately… thanks…). Having a sweet tooth, I decided to compare late-harvest style Rieslings from the icy Great White North (Canada’s Niagara Peninsula) and the much warmer conditions of Chile’s Curico Valley. I figured that I couldn’t get any more extreme, at least in terms of winemaking geography, anyway.
Let’s start with the North, since, as I love to remind all of the relatives and in-laws from the South, deserves respect as the winning side in our little Cival War engagement. I went with Canada’s most luscious of bounties, icewine – specifically, Inniskillin’s 2007 Riesling Icewine.
This is a wine driven by citric acidity, but saying it’s nuanced is sort of like saying that Niagara Falls is a small leak. The Inniskillin is a bit like some sort of not-too-alcoholic, crystallized-sugar-coated candied apricot that you wish you could pop into your mouth and savor all night long. If you were offered sex while in the middle of a glass of this, you would pause at least momentarily to ponder whether or not you should finish the glass first. Icewine is more or less a late-harvest concoction, the grapes achieving concentration on the vine in the winter months through periods of freezing and thawing. Once it gets cold enough, and the grapes are more or less frozen, the labor-intensive work of picking the grapes starts, usually in the middle of the freezing cold night. Because the ice draws out the remaining water in the grape, you’re left with some very concentrated stuff at press – about 15% what you’d normally get if harvesting a dry table wine from the same amount of grapes. All of this means that icewine can get very expensive – upwards of $100 per half bottle. If it’s any consolation to your wallet, 2007 marked one of the best Niagara icewine vintages in recent memory.
A few thousand miles of southbound travel from Niagara will get you to Curicó, Chile, the home of our next wine: the 2007 Miguel Torres Vendimia Tardia Riesling. Like it’s icy northern counterpart, this Riesling is also the result of late harvesting, but the primary means of concentrating the flavor of this wine comes via the help of the Botrytis fungus that raisins the grapes while on the vine. It’s a deeper gold color than the Inniskillin, and it’s a damn sight cheaper as well. It’s nowhere near as nuanced a wine as its northern relative, and it’s several degrees higher in alcohol, but it offers floral aromas and very concentrated and focused honey lemon flavors. At $18 USD, it’s a good buy, but it’s not a sweet as the icewine and needs more careful thought for pairing with food, since you don’t want your dessert to be sweeter than the dessert wine. You’d do just fine sipping this on its own after dinner, of course.
There you have it. Not so much a battle as a study in contrasting elements of climate. Matchups like this one are fun, and easily done. Typically, they’re also surprising or insightful, and the major insight this little WBW experiment gave me was additional reinforcement to the notion that Riesling is simply the greatest of the world’s “noble” white wine grape varieties. No other grape can come close to matching its versatility while maintaining its striking flavor profile across wildly different wine styles and growing conditions.
That’s my story anyway, and I’m sticking to it!
(images: winebloggingwednesday.org, 1winedude)
Little sweet one…
I’m not talking about me. Or Plumboo (that’s the monkey – who, now that my daughter is old enough to play with her toys, has been M.I.A. somewhere in her bedroom).
I’m talking about a grape from Piedmont. More on that in a minute. Or two.
Plumboo (in spirit) and I (physically) are taking part in the 54th edition of the venerable blog carnival Wine Blogging Wednesday – this month hosted at fellow Philly-area blogger David McDuff’s Food & Wine Trail.
David has picked an exciting theme – “Passion for Piedmont.” It’s not just exciting because I get to return to Tales of the Purple Monkey and drink Italian wine – which is exciting in and of itself, to me at least – but because David has decided to focus on what is arguably the most exciting wine region in Italy right now.
It wasn’t always like that, though. Piedmont wine-making began sometime before the 13th century (started by the Etruscans or the Greeks – no one knows for sure which – followed by monks after the fall of the Roman Empire), but the wines weren’t considered to be particularly good (Piedmont doesn’t even get a mention in Pliny the Elder‘s list of best Italian vino).
My, how times have changed…
Tradition, geographical diversity, and modern wine-making techniques have combined to make Piedmont one of the most varied wine regions in all of Italy. As you will no doubt find from other wine blogger’s choices of wine reviews for this edition of WBW, Piedmont offers a staggering choice of wine styles from sparklers to everyday sipping reds to age-worthy, must-own-your-own-yacht priced Nebbiolo-based reds to sweet Passito dessert ‘stickies.’ This doesn’t account for the wide variety of styles within those styles, either.
Sure, Tuscan wines, especially the reds, are sexy. But so much of Tuscan red wine (Chianti, Vino Nobile di Montepulciano, and Brunello di Montalcino) are not so much variety as they are variations on a single theme – Sangiovese. Now Piedmont – that’s variety!
Since I can’t try all of Piedmont’s various offerings in one night (believe me, I thought about it), Plumboo (in spirit) and I (physically) opted for Piedmont’s answer to everyday red wine – Dolcetto.
Dolcetto is one of the few low-acid Italian varietals, but it’s high-octane fruit delivery makes it easily accessible early (even in the versions that are built for longer aging). It’s not sweet, despite the moniker, but most offerings (there are seven different production areas within Piedmont) fall into a category that is probably best described as a cross between French Beaujolais and jammy California Zinfandel. Some are made as more serious fare, but Dolcettos are primarily fun wines, if a bit lacking in the sophisicated structure of other more “serious” Piedmontese reds.
For this WBW, Plumboo (in spirit) and I (physically) went with a high-production, readily available example: Pio Cesare’s 2007 Dolcetto d’Alba.
It’s dark, like most Dolcettos, and on the nose offers alternating waves of candied fruit and black cherry, with some floral and spice elements to keep it interesting. On the palate, the wine is agreeable, with a very drying finish. Not really integrated or focused, but pleasing on the whole.
Fun and accessible, but not mind-blowing. What do you want for $18, anyways? Instead of Merlot, try picking up some Dolcetto party-making magic for your next get-together, and enjoy the long stares of approval at your sophisticated wisdom from your dinner guests. You’re welcome!
For more on Piedmont wines, check out Bastianich & Lynch’s Vino Italiano.
(images: 1winedude.com, justerinis.com, dotcomwines.com)
Before Plumboo (the purple monkey) I get started on our contribution to Wine Blogging Wednesday #53, this month hosted over at Twisted Oak’s El Bloggo Torcido, I should note that we don’t necessarily condone the consumption of alcoholic beverages before 10 AM.
But the theme this month is “Wine For Breakfast” (they don’t called it Twisted Oak for nuthin’!), and we certainly don’t discourage early AM alcohol consumption – we just don’t find ourselves doing it unless we haven’t yet gotten to bed from the nightbefore, if you catch my drift.
The real twist on this WBW is that the only eligible contributions are dry white or red wines. This eliminates pretty much all of the “standard” brunch picks (rose, bubbly, mixed wine concoctions).
Plumboo and I are totally undaunted, however. That’s because we know a secret about a fruity, expressive, food-friendly, and (importantly) inexpensive wine. Sounds like near-perfect late morning fare, eh? Did I just say “eh”? I’m not even Canadian…
Anyway, our little secret is the other dry red wine of Burgundy: Cru Beaujolais.
Note that we are not talking about the popular but much-maligned Beaujolais Nouveau, which is released in the Fall and is meant to be quaffed up while very, very young. We are talking instead about the cream of the Beaujolais crop, which can produce suprisingly age-worthy and downright elegant wines.
Some background: Romans probably first planted grapes in the Beaujolais region, just outside of Burgundy, but “modern” Beaujolais wine probably began in the late 14th Century when Phillipe the Bold, obviously a big Pinot Noir fan, outlawed the Gamay grape from being planted in Burgundy proper; Beaujolais, as far as a place to cultivate wine from Gamay, was thus born (though the Appleations weren’t official until the 1930s).
Beaujolais itself dwarfs any single Burgundy district in size, with more than 50,000 acres of vines. The best sites sit atop granite, schist, and limestone soils on hillsides, and these constitute the Cru Beaujolais, of which there are ten areas, most with their own distinctive wine characteristics. Who knew Beaujolais could get so complicated, eh? (damn, I did it again…).
My favorite Cru Beaujolais wines come from the neighboring areas of Fleurie and Moulin-à-Vent:
- Fleurie produces wines with an almost candied fruit character, but they are also so floral you’d think you had a flower shop in your glass. What makes them a winner for me is that their texture is so smooth, it’s like wearing some kind of tasty satin underoos for your tongue.
- Moulin-à-Vent is the serious wine of Beaujolais. They still have the candied fruit character that is unique to Gamay, but many of these wines see oak aging that gives them a more refined character. The soil in Moulin-a-Vent is also a bit poisonous to the vines, as it contains manganese. It’s not enough to kill the vine, but some cite the soil as one reason why the Gamay vines there struggle and as a result produce lower yields of more concentrated grapes, resulting in more complex wines. So, Cru Beaujolais is both complex, ageworthy, and comes from diabolical soil. Who’d a thunk it?
So there you have it – dry wine to brunch by from an area outside of Burgun-dy. Just try to avoid bathing in it, as some of the Chinese appear to enjoy based on the pic below. Who’d a thunk that, eh?
For more on Cru Beaujolais, check out the books Wine, The Wine Bible, Sotheby’s Wine Encyclopedia, and the World Atlas of Wine.
Cheers! (images: 1WineDude.com, thefiftybest.com, wills-burgundy.com, showchina.org)