I remember drinking Merlot after I saw the movie Sideways, and I thought, "What's the big deal? Why was he so angry about Merlot? Despite my own affinities for the glass in hand, it was sad to realize such a blanket statement about a grape would stick around for a while. Fortunately for us amateurs, we get to make up our own minds about this grape variety. Here are a few tips on where it's made, how to serve it, and some tasty (and affordable) bottles to try out.
'Serious Eats Amateur Wine Taste-Along' on Serious Eats
In contrast to the big, bold, tannic wines made from Cabernet Sauvignon (popular enough to earn the pet name "Cabernet" over its own parent), Cab Franc offers medium-bodied wines with lower tannin levels and more earthy and herbaceous qualities. This week we'll get to know this underappreciated grape, delving into the specifics of where it's made, what it tastes like, and what bottles to seek out.
The first time I really noticed—really tasted—Tempranillo was at the tapas restaurant Tía Pol in New York. We'd ordered a super flavorful squid dish, which was served in its own, concentrated ink. The smokiness and earthiness of the Bodegas Muga Reserva Rioja wine we drank alongside it was just too delicious a complement to ignore. I was forced out of passively drinking the wine by this splendid combination. And I've been pretty into Tempranillo ever since.
Our tasting group really enjoyed the New World options we tasted, and given that the most expensive bottle was around $20, these seem like great options to restock for future dinners, gifts, or Saturday nights. The French Syrahs we tried were much drier, with pronounced acidity and earthiness when compared to their New World counterparts.
My journey with Syrah started years ago with my sister (older and wiser by about 4 years). We were in an Australian wine shop (as in, a wine shop located in Australia) aiming to pick up something different and local that we wouldn't be able to find back home. At the time, my encounters with Syrah had been few and far between, but I knew that it was a big part of Australian wine. So I turned to the salesman and earnestly asked, "Could you make some recommendations for a few bottles we could take back home to the States? We're looking for something we wouldn't normally be able to get there, like an Australian Sy...errr..." I glanced at a bunch of bottles around me, and all of them said 'Shiraz,' not Syrah. So with my lightning quick mental agility, I ended the statement with: "az."
At this week's tasting, we had three different colors of Lambrusco, two different types of bubbles, and a lot of smiling faces. With what we learned last week, we were all ready to dive into the lineup of ten serious sparklers (tough life, I know).
Anyone that knows me knows that I love BYOBs. Not only do I get to drink wine that I know I like, but I still get that "I did something today" feeling that comes with leaving the house. The challenge I find in New York is that a lot of the restaurants that allow you to bring your own wine serve dishes from around the world—from delicate sushi to fiery Indian dishes—and the big, bold reds I have sitting at home don't necessarily offer the best pairings. Enter Grüner Veltliner.
Despite the fact that we were stuck indoors for the tasting, it was clear that these light and refreshing wines would be great to enjoy outdoors in these last few weeks of summer (assuming no more hurricanes and earthquakes are in the mix). The bright acidity, low alcohol, and slight effervescence made Muscadet a summertime white we're likely to reach for again. And with a couple dozen raw oysters on the half shell, we were well equipped to enjoy these wines—and discover which ones stood out.
Muscadet, which is made exclusively from Melon de Bourgogne grapes, usually hails from the western side of the Loire region in France. Grapes grown from this cool climate region offer deliciously fresh-tasting acidity. Why does the climate matter? Glad you asked...
When preparing for this tasting, some of us had to factor in the juice cleanse (no alcohol allowed, even if it's hiding in a juice) so we popped open a few bottles before embarking on that, and popped a few more after that ended (partly to celebrate the end of the cleanse!). Many of these cavas would actually taste pretty good in a glass of fresh-squeezed OJ or pineapple-mint juice as a brunch cocktail. Others, we preferred sipping on their own.
It's easy to think, there's nothing to celebrate on this any-ole-Tuesday night, what's the occasion for bubbles? Save the special stuff for little Joey's college graduation or Mildred and Bobby's wedding. If you only associate bubbles with a pricey bottle of Krug, then that's a natural approach. It's hard to get a decent bottle of Champers for less than $25, whereas there are plenty of sub-$25 (in some cases, quite sub) sparklers that'd make for a fun, refreshing anynight bottle.
This week we spent a very pleasant and warm New York evening sitting on a deck snacking on grilled chicken and freshly grilled flatbread while tasting our way through eight bottles of Pinot Gris (or Pinot Grigio, depending on which country you're from). It's really a great wine for al fresco dining like this. More floral and complex than the Vinho Verde we tried a couple weeks ago, it pairs nicely with food, but is still refreshing and crisp enough to cool you down on a hot summer night.
We don't know how sweltering your summer has been, but this Amateur Wine Group is sticking to white wines for awhile; it may be a few months before we venture back into red territory. Last time, we tasted our way through quite a few bottles of cold, crisp Vinho Verde. This week? Pinot Gris.
We won't lie: the Amateur Wine Group was looking forward to Vinho Verde night. How better to spend an oppressively sticky July night than with eight frosty-cold bottles of light, crisp white wine? Here were our favorites; come share yours!
As we've hopefully all found out this week, rosé ain't the sweet pink stuff that flooded liquor store shelves in the 70's. Indeed, after drinking our way through a half dozen of them (some great, some not so much), we were really surprised by how dry and refreshing a good rosé can be. Here's what we thought of our bottles.
My introduction to "pink wine" came in a box: a box of Franzia's White Zinfandel. (Anyone else?) It was the wine of choice at frat parties where they wanted "something girls would drink"; and for a long time after those years, I assumed all pink-hued wine had that sort of strawberry-soda flavor. But once you start drinking rosé, rather than other pink drinks out there, you'll find a whole world of wine to explore.
Quick exercise: pick a single event from each year of your life that most affected you. For me, some years are difficult. In 1983, was it when I first picked up the violin, or when He-Man first aired? 2004, on the other hand, is easy. The one event that screwed with my life more than anything else was the release of the movie Sideways.
This week, we're tasting Cabernet Sauvignon, one of the most widely produced red wines in the world. While it's grown in just about every region where you'll find a vineyard, we limited our selections to California (Napa and Sonoma), France (Langeudoc Roussillon), Washington (Horse Heaven Hills), and Argentina (Mendoza). What did we like? What did you like? Come chat Cabernet!