The Riedel Burgundy glass (standing) and malbec glass. (The cabernet glass broke before we could get a picture of it.) Yep, busted.
We love Riedel glassware. The stuff is gorgeous. It’s light and beautifully crafted. It just feels elegant sipping wine from it.
However, we’ve always been rather skeptical about their claim that their variety-specific glasses actually make a significant difference in the flavor of each different wine. So we decided to test the glassware and found out one rather interesting thing, but overall? To quote one of our fave TV shows, Myth busted.
The tasting came about because we were generously included in a special unveiling of the Malbec glass, put on by Argentinian winery Graffigna. Both of the malbecs they served, the Centenario Reserve and the Grand Reserve, were amazing, dry and lush. We couldn’t help but lust after a good steak from the Pampas while drinking them. The wine was served in the new glass, alongside a Burgundy glass and a cabernet sauvignon glass.
The idea, we were told by Riedel’s Regional Sales Manager Melissa Hawkins, is that the shape of the bowl and the opening of the glass direct the wine to the part of your tongue that tastes the wine’s best attributes. In fact, we started with water, and while Anne didn’t think the water tasted all that different or was that much more refreshing out of the Burgundy glass, there were others who did.
Then, of course, we had the tasting with the wine, itself, and sure enough, everyone began remarking on how the malbec really did taste better in the malbec glass. Hmmmm. Well, we wanted to see if we could replicate the results at home, and one of the publicists (whose name we do not want to drop so she doesn’t get into trouble) kindly gave us a Burgundy and a cabernet glass to take with the malbec glasses they’d already given us.
Why were we so skeptical in the first place? Truth be told, we had tried a similar test a few years ago when we found some variety-specific glasses (not Riedel) on sale at World Market. After all, some of our friends had raved about how the wine really did taste different. But something just wasn’t adding up. We certainly didn’t notice any great difference in the wine we tasted in the different glasses we had.
Table set for the tasting event.
Now, we suspect there may be someone out there reading this and thinking, “Well, obviously, they don’t have very sophisticated palates.” And we say, go put some clothes on, Mr. or Ms. Emperor. Let’s start with he basis mechanics of the bowl shape and opening directing the wine to your tongue. We checked in with Anne’s cousin, Jim Mason, who holds a PhD in mechanical engineering, and while fluid dynamics aren’t his specialty, he knows and understands them. His thought? The whole bowl shape and opening thing doesn’t make sense simply because you can’t control the opening of your mouth each time you drink. In addition, Anne can’t figure out how something is going to direct a fluid to the perfect place on your tongue when everyone’s tongue is a different size – can you say Gene Simmons?
But what the heck, we tested it with the actual Riedel crystal. We used the three wines the glasses were made for. Okay, we used California pinot noirs for the Burgundy glass, but that’s what was available. Michael did the tasting and they were all blind. He could see which glass was which – kind of hard to not notice that. But we did two of the tests in a darkened room so that the lighter color of the pinot noir wouldn’t give it away. We used several different brands of wine, including the Graffigna Centenaro, all of which are widely available.
The first test was several flights, with a different wine in each glass, randomly assigned. The idea was that Michael should have been able to tell the variety each time he got a glass with its matching variety in it. Essentially, did the right glassware make the wine pop? There was only one flight out of six where he was able to guess each variety correctly, and none of them were in the correct glass.
Jim __ and Dale LaCasella are perplexed, too.
We tried again, this time, making sure that at least one of the glasses held the correct variety, and we invited some friends of ours, Dale LaCasella and Jim Vitale, to try it with us. Again, the theory was if the “right” glass made a difference, they’d be able to find the wine that was in the correct glass because it would taste the best. Not even close. Michael, Dale and Jim did get a taste of each wine in its correct glass as a test flight, so they’d know what they were looking for. Didn’t help. They could neither guess the variety and the wine they liked the best was seldom in the correct glass.
Finally, as Anne’s wonderful daughter pointed out, there should be a test with all the same wine in each flight, making the glass the only variable. Here is where it got interesting. There was one glass that did stand out, but interestingly, it didn’t matter what wine was in it. And when we went over our notes, time and time again (not every time, but at least 75 percent of the time), the wine tasted best in this glass - no matter which wine it was. It was the Burgundy glass, which features a wide, round bowl and a relatively narrow opening.
We think we know why. It’s because smell is such an important part of taste. The round, wide bowl creates a larger surface area of wine exposed to oxygen, which then picks up the aromatic elements in the wine. But because the opening is comparatively small, the aromatics are more or less trapped in the bowl as opposed to being dispersed through the air, and you can get more of them into your nose, which then enhances what your tongue receives.
So why did everyone at the tasting, including Michael, all get so excited and swear that the malbec tasted best in the malbec glass? Simple crowd dynamics. First, we were told it would. Then as the tasting went on, someone agreed out loud, then someone else, and so forth and so on, so eventually even Anne was buying into it. No one was lying or faking it. They’d just bought into what everyone else was saying because that’s what we humans do when we’re in a group.
As for buying Riedel, as we said, we love the stuff, but there are some serious downsides to it. First up, it is insanely fragile. You look at these glasses wrong and they break. In fact, the cabernet glass that we used in our tasting broke before we could get a picture of it. Secondly, it is very expensive. We did find a pair of the stemless glasses for almost $30 at Target – that’s $15 a glass. For something that breaks very easily. Burgundy glasses on the site run as much as $125 a glass. Not in our budget. But if it’s in yours, there’s no reason not to buy it. It is lovely stuff. You just don’t need a different glass for each variety of wine.
A rare shot of my dad, Dave Bannon, and me together, taken in August 2007.
We’re participating in the Father’s Day Blog Hop with the Generation Fabulous website group. We encourage to check out the other posts below – touching, funny, all that good stuff. But because the theme is “I’m My Father’s Daughter Because…” Anne will be writing this one solo.
My mom has told me on one or two occasions that I am my dad’s favorite of his three children. I don’t know if that’s true. I know my father has always had a special relationship with each of this three children – playing music with my sister, doing the guy thing with my brother, getting into amazing philosophical debates with me.
I am a Daddy’s Girl, through and through. I don’t think that’s made my mother or my sibs jealous. My dad’s loyalty to my mother is rock solid and then some. He and my sister seem to have a pretty tight bond – different, but tight.
My relationship with my father has periodically been rocky – and admittedly wine has gotten in the way. There is that dark side to the love of wine – and pretending otherwise just hurts too much. But Dad and I have come to terms with that aspect of our lives and I think we both understand that in spite of – or maybe even because of – our respective flaws, we’ve grown closer. Certainly our love for each other never diminished.
Since this is a blog about wine, I do feel compelled to bring that into the mix here. One does try to stay on topic. And truth be told, the love of good food and wine actually came from my mother. Maybe it was because she was doing all the cooking when we were young. Not that Dad didn’t love what Mom did – and he’s certainly gotten into cooking and such over the years.
But he has had an enormous effect on how I approach wine. One of the greatest gifts my father passed on to me was an insatiable curiosity and a deep love of learning. I’ve never been afraid to try new things because of my dad’s influence. Some different new grape variety? Sure, I’ll try it. Back when everybody thought merlot was the hot, new thing, I was checking out syrahs.
Dad’s love of learning, in its own way, spurred my interest in science. The fascination of seeing how things came together. And he never doubted that I could get my brain around a difficult concept (neither of my parents did). So when I began writing about the wine industry and found myself on a steep learning curve when it came to the science and the process, boy, I was ready to tackle that one head on, often with the sheer joy of wanting to know more.
My parents were never pretentious about wine – it was always about what was in the bottle, not the label or how much you paid for it. Or didn’t pay for it. I still remember Dad getting all excited about Two Buck Chuck (Charles Shaw) when it first hit the shelves at Trader Joe’s. He introduced us to it. And wine was almost always about dinner. At least, that’s when I saw them drinking it.
Both my parents introduced me to the joys of good food and wine. But because Dad taught me how to think, in general, it’s had an amazing effect on my ability to appreciate what’s in the glass. Because of him, I was able to quickly learn the ins and outs of how that grape juice got to be wine. My mom may be the one who’s oohing and aahing about how the wine tastes, but Dad’s just happy sharing a glass with me.
To my Daddy – to the many gifts you have given me. Thank you and thank you for being my Dad. Sláinte.
The media table at the Vino California wine dinner at Aventine Hollywood. Yes, we’re in there somewhere.
The thing about wine dinners is that they are generally pretty pricey affairs, and it’s understandable, since a lot of time and effort goes into planning the menus and matching the wines, plus the cost of the wines, since you’re generally drinking a different wine with each course. We were, fortunately, the guests at a recent dinner at restaurant Aventine Hollywood, as part of the Vino California Italian Wine Classic – a wine event featuring a grand tasting and dinners around Southern California, put on, in part, by the Italy-America Chamber of Commerce West.
The idea of the event is to introduce American audiences to Italian wines beyond Chianti and the other super-Tuscans. And trust us, just about every region of Italy has a trademark wine of its own, most of them very good, but rather hard to find here in the States.
As noted, such dinners are usually pretty pricey – ours would have been $60 a person, if we hadn’t been guests and that’s on the cheap end. We’ve seen prices as high as $200 per person, but most wine dinners run around $100 a head. The advantage of paying that kind of money is that you’re going to try a little of whatever is served. That means you’re going to get exposed to some stuff you might have been convinced you wouldn’t like and either find out that you were right or discover a new fave.
But what really struck us that night was how important the food was to the whole experience. Seriously. Italian wines, like French and other European wines, tend to not be as fruity as American wines do, and usually are a bit more acidic. Which means they’re not quite as tasty by themselves. They’re not meant to be. They’re meant to be consumed with food because that’s how most Europeans drink wine. It’s part of dinner. You drink Campari and soda before dinner or Pernod or some other aperitif. You save the wine for the meal.
We started with a Calabrian white, Statti Grece I.G.T., to go with our Arancini and Bruschetta. Now, it’s important to note that there’s only one wine here, but two different hors d’oeuvres, and each had a slightly different flavor profile. The Arancini were fried rice balls stuffed with fontina cheese and featured a bell pepper sauce for its major flavor. The Bruschetta used fried artichokes as its strong flavor, played off the milder flavors of a poached egg, a mild melted cheese sauce and the grilled bread. And yet, the same crisp white wine – reminded Mike very much of a sauvignon blanc – paired brilliantly off both.
There was a Apollonio Casa Vinicola Only Rosso Salento 2011, a blend of red grapes that showed a nose of cherry and spices but was more subtle in the mouth. The radicchio and arugula salad with a mild burata cheese and blood orange honey dressing still worked well, as did the tuna tartar, baby octopus and shrimp, frisée and lemon vinaigrette. Truth be told, the citrus and bitter greens elements were common to both salads, but the seafood was an additional bit of flavor.
Now, they did pour separate wines for the two entrees, a swordfish with eggplant and oregano white wine sauce, and lamb chops with kumquat confit and balsamic mint reduction. The rosé, yes the pink stuff, was a delicious Le Moire SRL Shemale Savuto 2011, but the Alovini Alvolo Aglianico Del Vulture 2008 was freaking amazing – and with the lamb… Anne was almost in tears. The rosé paired with the swordfish, the lamb AND the cannoli with candied orange and pistachios. Talk about spanning a range of food and flavors.
The first lesson, of course, is not to blow off a wine just because it seems a little bland and mildly acidic. Try it with some food. If that doesn’t help, then you’ve got a bland, insipid little wine and we hope you didn’t pay too much for it. But chances are, it might actually be a great food wine, the trick is finding the right food to go with it.
The second lesson is not to get too anal about matching the wine. Yes, a great food and wine pairing is worth a lot – that’s another reason prices tend to be so high for these kinds of dinners. But as we made a point of noting above, two of those wines perfectly accompanied slightly different flavor profiles. It’s about picking a balance and just having a good time with it.
Admittedly, there are those times when you want everything to be perfect and wonderful – an anniversary dinner, pleasing the boss, whatever. But the food and wine are only part of it. The rest is the company – and we have to say, the company at Aventine was spectacular. Lovely, lovely people and we hope to run across them again soon.
Giancarlo Esposito as Tom Neville in NBC’s Revolution. Courtesy NBC
Congratulations to Giancarlo Esposito – he found out this week that he’s going to be working next year. It was just announced that his NBC show Revolution, in which he plays the less-than-nice-love-to-hate-him Tom Neville, is going to be back on the schedule this fall. Esposito has been working for some time, but got a lot of notice playing Gus Fring on Breaking Bad, and of course, Sidney Glass, on the first season of Once Upon a Time.
Anne got a chance to chat briefly with him recently, and he had several questions for her (so we may be seeing him in this capacity again). Actually, Anne wasn’t sure if he was quizzing her or not, he had so many, but we love that in the folks we talk to.
We’re going to feature Esposito’s question about a very well-known label, Cakebread Cellars. This is a very high-end label and the wine is very, very good (Anne got a lovely glassful at a press event last January).
“What do you think about Cakebread’s wine, the chardonnay?” Esposito asked.
We love it. The chard is wonderful – almost a textbook perfect chardonnay, light and crisp with just a hint of butter.
“That was a wine that when it first came out, I bought it for probably $20 a bottle and it’s now $75, $100,” Esposito said. “How does that happen?”
Because while Cakebread Chard is lovely stuff, it was, at one time, way 0ver-priced. We recently saw it online at prices from $29.95 to $39.95 , and, if you follow the ratings (we don’t) they range from 85 to 90 points over the last twenty years. So there’s a consistency factor that means you know what you’re getting in the bottle. It got over-priced a few years ago (at the prices Esposito was quoting) because the label produced such beautifully made wines that folks starting thinking they were the end-all, be-all. Unfortunately, there is still the impression in the wine world that the higher the price, the better the wine. And certain wines, like many things, get a rep as being very high quality, and winemakers, who want to make a living in an insanely competitive market, take advantage of that and jack up the prices. You can’t really blame them.
That being said, there is absolutely no correlation between price and quality when it comes to wine. In fact, the Melville Chardonnay (at a still-steep $35 a bottle) is at least as good as the Cakebread at roughly half to a third of the higher price. Granted, you’re not likely to find a chardonnay that good at $5 a bottle – and if you do, we want to know about it ASAP. But still, you can find some really, really good chardonnays at $10 a bottle.
So the bottom line is that while we love any excuse to drink Cakebread chardonnay, we’re not going to pay $100 for a bottle of wine. If you want to, fine. Just be aware that you don’t have to. Right, Mr. Esposito?
Wine is not usually associated with Mothers Day, which we think is rather odd. Most moms we know like wine a lot.
This is Anne writing now:
Part of the problem is that Mothers Day is one of those times that we’re expected to buy into the stereotypes of what a mother is. We’re supposed to get into the warm, fuzzy persona of a woman who has time and love and cookies to give to everyone, was always there to wipe away the tear, kiss the boo-boo, then serve up a piping hot dinner of comfort food and sage advice.
And to a degree that is what good parents do, whether they’re women or men. Some of us had moms like the stereotype. Some of us had moms that were anything but. Most of us had moms somewhere in between, who probably felt just as inadequate and helpless as we who are currently active parents often feel.
The problem with buying into the stereotype is that most moms are not stereotypes. They’re flesh and blood individuals who like different things. I, for one, was a mom who kinda hated Mothers Day, not so much because I didn’t want to honor my mother. I was fine with that part. What I didn’t like was the cheesy craft my daughter would bring home from school every year. The one I had to ooh and ah over, knowing full well that even though she’d assembled it, it was with no thought of me. It was because that’s what her teacher wanted her to do.
Admittedly, I am not your typical mom. On Mothers Day, I get flowers and syrupy cards and stuff like that when what I really want is a 32 GB micro SD card for my tablet. Or an old Android phone to root and otherwise mess around with. You get the picture. You don’t want crayon drawings and a “World’s Greatest Mom” pendant from your spouse. You want a Silver Oak cabernet sauvignon with a jar of garlic-stuffed olives to munch on while drinking the wine. Seriously, guys, burn this one into your brain, your average mother does not want her husband/partner to buy her the “World’s Greatest Mom” pendant or coffee mug or whatever. She wants her kids to do that, not you. Got that?
What really makes anyone on the receiving end of a gift feel good is when the gift reflects that you thought about who that person is, apart from the standard role she (or he) happens to be playing. And too often on Mothers Day, we’re expected to toss all that aside and take Mom to the standard flowery, over-priced brunch, give her flowers and otherwise pretend that she’s like the Norman Rockwell version of Mom 1.0.
That is why you will not find recommendations for wine for your mother in this space. We don’t know your mom. We don’t know what she likes. Why would we tell you to buy her bubbly when it’s possible that sparkling wines upset her stomach? Or maybe what she really wants is some good artisanal beer?
Look, if you need a gift guide to tell you what to buy your mother, you don’t need a gift guide. You need to spend more time with your mom.
In the meantime, let us raise a glass to mothers everywhere – may you get something you really like this year for a change.
Alice Feiring chats with winemaker
When Anne chatted with wine critic Alice Feiring last fall, the conversation kind of went all over the place – as it is wont to do when wine people get talking about their favorite subject. Feiring, who had just launched her newsletter, The Feiring Line, has been writing about wine since 1990. She said it was something she fell into, as she had been writing about a host of other topics as a freelance journalist.
“I fell into this area of wine technology,” she said, adding that she already had a passion for wine. “It was just inescapable.”
Feiring believes that the role of the wine critic is to help, not judge.
“I think the role of the wine critic is to be somebody you really like in a wine store,” she said.
And, as we have often noted, it doesn’t hurt to find a critic who shares your personal sympathies. Feiring, for her part, has become a strong advocate for Natural or Naked Wine. It’s a small, but growing, trend in the winemaking world, where winemakers are attempting to make wine by doing less and less to it, including even adding yeast to get the fermentations started.
Side note – it is also an area of minor disagreement between us. Anne leans toward the less is more approach, Michael favors more intervention.
Feiring said that she simply prefers the flavors of natural wine, describing wines that have been made with added acid and occasional bits of sulfur (like, part per million bits) as having a heavier, fruitier taste that just doesn’t appeal to her.
“What I find about natural wines is that they are more accessible,” she said. “And they’re not that expensive.”
In fact, she added that there is absolutely no correlation between cost and quality, although some natural wines will cost a bit more because it is a riskier way to make wine – one of the reasons winemakers add those parts per million of sulfur is to kill bugs that can ruin an entire year’s worth of grapes or wine.
But risks aside, native ferments (letting the grapes ferment on their own without adding yeast) and wines made with less and less chemical intervention are getting more popular and more common, which mean Feiring has a lot more tasting to do. Something which will disappoint her mightily. Uh, not.
Michelle Dockery being interviewed at the TCA Summer Press Tour, 2012, courtesy PBS
Okay, maybe it’s a little late after the Downton Abbey Season 3 finale to be posting this, but it took us this long to recover from that all too shocking (and annoying) ending.
We talked to Michelle Dockery, who plays Lady Mary on the series, last summer at the TV Critics Press Tour and asked our usual question. Dockery’s was a doozie.
“What’s your favorite wine?” she asked.
Our favorite? All of them? Okay, Anne doesn’t particularly care for overly fruity or sweet wines, while Michael is a little more universal in his tastes. And dry pink sparkling wine is getting Anne more excited that anything else, although an elegant pinot noir will make her drool, as well. As for Michael, it depends on the day of the week, which way the wind is blowing and what’s in his glass.
You’ll note we’re not mentioning any labels here. That’s because the reason most people ask a question like Dockery’s because they want to know what wine to buy. It’s still an unfortunate reality that people think that you have to buy the “right” wine and those are very limited and expensive. Neither is true. In fact, these days, it’s hard to find a bad wine, even in the cheaper ranges.
Now, that doesn’t mean you won’t find wines that you like better than others. And, yes, it can be a little intimidating to look at a long series of shelves at the supermarket and try to figure out what you want. But that’s more because you have so many options, not because you need to ferret out the one or two “good” wines out of the bazillions there.
At the supermarket, a couple rules of thumb and you’ll probably pick something reasonably drinkable and maybe even darned good. First up, avoid the jugs, magnums and boxes. Those are usually the lower quality genuinely bad wines (although there are exceptions) that most people think of when they start stressing out about buying wine. Secondly, avoid the very expensive wines, usually the ones on the higher shelves. Because people don’t buy these as often, they’ve probably been on the shelf longer than the others and supermarket shelves are hardly ideal storage spaces. Look for a brand you know and like – should be easy because supermarkets do carry more familiar brands from the larger wineries. Fetzer is a brand we generally trust, as are Geyser Peak, Blackstone and Meridian. Callaway isn’t that great, but it is drinkable and frequently available. Finally, look for wines from areas you like, such as California’s Central Coast. The smaller, more specific an area, the better the wine is likely to be.
And who knows, maybe you’ll find a new favorite. Like pink bubbly.
A not-at-all useful item for wine lovers.
This is the time of year when we get all kinds of pitches for wine accessories that almost unilaterally underwhelm us. There are so many products out there that are supposed to “enhance” the wine experience. Trust us, they probably don’t.
You know what really enhances the wine experience? Good friends and/or a really good meal. That’s it. Aerators, custom glasses for each variety of wine, drip shields, wine chillers, fancy cork pulls, fancier wine stoppers, all this stuff doesn’t do nearly as much for the wine as the folks pushing them would have you believe, and certainly not for the money they cost.
Anne even ran across an over-sized wine glass to store your pulled corks in. Uh, okay. Pretty pointless, and if you have an active cat in the house, pretty much doomed since it’s top heavy. Yes, we have a special receptacle for our corks, and it is actually a wine serving bucket that someone gave us that we don’t use as a wine bucket. But it’s next to the monster cork pull (which is one of the rare exceptions to the general uselessness of fancy cork pulls) as a matter of convenience, not because we find pulled corks particularly decorative.
If you want to give a wine-lover something he or she really, really wants, it’s easy – more wine. If your wine lover is on a tight budget, maybe splurge on something really nice that she or he wouldn’t normally cough up for. Something special and different, such as a Sauternes, for the truly adventurous wine lover.
And if you’re really unsure, go to your local wine shop and ask the nice person behind the counter. As always, if said person gives you any sign of looking down his or her long bony nose at your utter ignorance, leave. You don’t need to spend your hard-earned bucks someplace where they won’t treat you with respect.
A gift certificate can be a lot of fun. For example, our daughter and her roommates got Michael a gift certificate for his birthday recently. Better yet, it was from a wine shop near where they live in San Francisco, meaning that we’d have to make the trek up there from Los Angeles. How sweet. Not only was it an invitation to come visit, Michael had a blast picking out the perfect bottles while there last.
Basic waiter’s cork pull, with leverage bar, and foil cutter
If you need a stocking stuffer or for some other reason a bottle or gift certificate just isn’t quite right, there are a few things most wine lovers need more than one of. Such as cork screws or pulls. The basic waiter’s pull works very well. Rabbit pulls are supposedly pretty good, although Anne has never been able to get one to work. Electric ones are usually more trouble than they’re worth unless your wine lover has arthritis or some other problem with his or her hands that would make a conventional cork pull a problem.
Decanters can be a lovely gift, and a wine lover can generally use more than one. Decorative wine racks are generally less useful, although Anne recently talked with a woman who scatters hers throughout her small apartment for her wine storage.
But if you really want to do something special for your very own wine lover, try a dinner out together at someplace with good food and a great wine list. After all, it’s the being together that makes the experience, not the gadgets.
As much as we deplore the whole snob thing, let’s be real. It is fun, sometimes, to lift your nose a tidge higher and prove you know something that no one else does.
And when you’ve got a guy like Joey Tensley working on a cooperative project with somebody, along with making his own snob-pleasing wines under his name’s label, plus making wine for Fergie (yes, the singer), you know there’s something good going on. And guess what? In this case, not a lot of folks do.
What we mean is Argentinian wine. We got to spend a morning with Tensley and winemaker Daniel Pi of Trapiche Winery, in Mendoza, Argentina, and had a lovely time. Pi and Tensley are working together on a special reserve brand of wine made from some of the many Trapiche vineyards (Traphiche is one of the biggest producers in the country, making about 3 million cases of wine a year). We were going to do a tasting, but the hotel got a little snarky about Pi and Tensley opening their bottles in the lobby, so darn it, they gave us five bottles to take home and taste. Yeah, sometimes life is rough. Not.
Part of what Tensley was doing and all of why Pi was here in the U.S. is that they’re trying to drum up interest in Trapiche wines, specifically, and Argentinian wines, in general. As Tensley put it, these wines are amazing values – most Argentinian wines run about $10 to $15 a bottle for wine that when done well, compares favorably with $30 and $40 wines made here in California. And a lot of it is done very well.
People drinking Argentinian malbec “should expect ripe fruit, intense color and soft tannins,” Pi said. “We have a lot of sun… That allows a lot of photosynthesis so we can ripen properly the grape.”
Malbec is the signature grape of Argentina, and was planted in the country as early as 1883 from vines from Cahors, France. Pi said that besides the warm, dry climate in Mendoza, there is one other significant difference between French and Californian malbec and Argentinian malbec: the vines are grown on malbec rootstock.
Now, what the heck does that mean? We-e-ell, that’s an interesting story. In the late 19th Century, a bug called the phylloxera louse was introduced into European vineyards, where it discovered just how tasty the vines were in France and Italy. Because the bug came from America, American grape vines were resistant to it. But the European vines were not and the bug almost wiped out all the vineyards in Europe. What saved the European wine industry was that European vines were grafted onto the roots (or rootstock) of the American vines. So the bug, which didn’t like the American vines as much, more or less died out, but the European varieties were saved because the top of the vine still grew those kinds of grapes.
Because the Argentinian vines pre-date the phylloxera infestation, they are not grafted onto American rootstock.
“That’s why we have much more richness,” Pi said.
Malbec can be a bit in your face as a wine, but Pi’s goal is to make wine that’s more food-friendly, with good acids and texture. And when we think of Argentinian food, we think beef.
“We used to have simple food,” Pi said, but added that like everywhere else, there’s been a lot of development in gastronomy in Argentina, and the wine making has followed suit.
The upshot – if you can find a Trapiche wine in the U.S., whether a malbec or one of the other varieties Trapiche grows, give it a try. Serve it with something nice and beefy and don’t drink it by itself. If you can’t, ask your wine store person for some.
Let’s be real – most of the time, wine pairing isn’t that tough. You have your basic rule of thumb: white wines with white meat/protein, red wines with red meats/sauces. The idea is that you (generally) want to match the more delicate flavors of a white wine with the more delicate flavors of chicken or fish, while you want a heartier red wine to go with the heartier flavors of a beef roast or steak. And while that is a pretty basic assessment, it will get you through 80 to 90 percent of the time.
Thanksgiving Dinner, however, is one of those 10 to 20 percent times when the old rule of thumb gets a little tricky. Turkey has a much stronger flavor than chicken, but it’s not quite as strong as steak, so a light white wine will be overwhelmed by the turkey and the turkey will be overwhelmed by the heavier red wine. Then there are all the sweet dishes that can throw even the best wine off.
Why? Well, think about what an orange tastes like after you’ve just brushed your teeth or taken a big bite of maple-syrup drenched pancake. Even the sweetest orange or orange juice will taste sour and icky. That’s the citric acid in the orange taking over on your tongue after matching out all the sweet flavors. The same thing happens with wine. Any good wine has several different acids playing out against the fruit flavors and the alcohol. So Aunt Mabel’s sweet potatoes and marshmallows are going to match out those fruit flavors in the expensive, perfectly balanced pinot noir that you bought to go with the turkey, and leave the wine tasting sour and yucky. Not the effect you want when you’ve coughed up $40 for a bottle. And let’s not even get into what the cranberries are going to do.
Which is why our favorite Thanksgiving Dinner wine is the annual Beaujolais Nouveau. The Nouveau is the brand new wine out of the Beaujolais region of France. Basically, all the winemakers who made Beaujolais Villages would hold a little grape juice back from the newly-picked grapes and make a new wine with it to celebrate the end of the harvest. Well, a man named Georges DuBoeuf realized that this was pretty tasty stuff and that if he bought up a bunch of the new wines, mixed them together, then created this big party in Paris, he could sell a boatload of it and make everyone happy.
So nowadays, the wine is released every year on the second Thursday of November to great fanfare and some sniping by the wine snobs, who love looking down their long, bony noses at it. It’s wine that was grapes, like, three months ago, and it’s very light and fruity with good acids, and it can stand up to the turkey and gravy and is fruity enough not to get too sour with the sweet potatoes. Plus, if you have any wine novices at your table who are terrified of red wines, it’s a great introduction to red wines, in general. The best part? Beaujolais Nouveaus rarely cost more that $15 a bottle. Just one thing to be aware of – the vintage year should be the current year. As in, if you find a Nouveau on the shelf from 2011 or later, walk the other way. This wine does not age well and gets rather blah or tart even as soon as Christmas.
This year’s George DuBoeuf seemed a trifle tart to Anne, but Mike thought it was just fine. But there are other labels that then DuBoeuf, so don’t be afraid to give them a try.
And if you have a Thanksgiving wine that is your annual go-to, let us know. Lots of people like a delicate pinot noir. Others defend merlot as the perfect wine. We’re open.