In many people's minds, the wine world dead-ends right around the eastern borders of Germany and Austria. What lies beyond is just a hazy tangle of Eastern European countries and, somewhere beyond that, Russia, the Middle East and Asia. No wine there.
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There's more to the story of Ribolla Gialla, particularly in the Napa Valley.
Finding a perfect wine to drink with with pesto is a real challenge. You need something punchy enough to stand confidently against sharp herbs and garlic, yet textured and salty to complement all that Parmesan and the creaminess of the pine nuts.
I'd been hiding this quirky, slender, delicious looking bottle in the fridge for a special occasion. I don't mean a fancy dinner or holiday, or even an evening with important company. I mean a special occasion... Enter: the northern California coast, where there are fresher-than-fresh oysters available just footsteps away, doled out by the bag-full with little accompaniment besides sunshine and a shucking knife.
Basque locals traditionally drink the stuff out of a bulbous, pointy spouted, awesomely crowd-friendly pitcher called a porrón held high above one's head.
Frankly, I'd rather not tell you about this wine. I actually don't want you—or anyone—to know about it because I am fearful that then the prices will inevitably go up and the availability will go down, and I'll be left (poor) with wicked withdrawal symptoms and resentment.
"Semillon is not a fashionable variety," announces Wine Grapes. "Nowhere outside Sauternes," the book continues, "does there seem to be a groundswell of enthusiasm for this noble variety." Time for a re-write, Wine Grapes.
Confession: I love a recipe from the Campbell's soup website. It calls for simmering chicken breasts in creamy stock, balsamic vinegar, sundried tomatoes, oregano, and kalamata olives. You sprinkle the whole thing with feta cheese and serve it up over orzo. I've eaten this dish with plenty of different wines that were all... fine. California Pinot Noir was overwhelmed; a northern Italian Barbera was bright but not bold enough; New Zealand Sauvignon Blanc made it feel like everything was fighting. But last week, I found the perfect match.
When things got tricky last week, I sought comfort in three stalwarts of hope: my dog, a recipe for my Italian great grandmother's tomato sugo, and wine. The wine I pulled out was from a grape called Sagrantino, grown in an area called Montefalco in Italy's Umbria region. What struck me in reading about Sagrantino was this line in Wine Grapes: "The variety had become almost extinct in the 1960s." Yet here I was with three different bottles at my table.
It's HOT in the Douro. So temperature control in wineries and the wine tanks themselves makes a huge difference here: cool, fresh grapes are much more capable of making cool, fresh wines.
Where I live, the asparagus has arrived. It is the best time of year. The hills sprung to life overnight, transformed from dull gold to radiant green. And the season's first rosé beckons from the shelf. I must have it.
According to Wine Grapes, Valdigiué is a "high-yielding, rather ordinary variety from south-west France." Today, with barely 300 acres in California, Valdiguié has languished into obscurity, relegated to a reputation for mediocrity. But in the hands of Chris Brockway of Broc Cellars, the "rather ordinary" Valdiguié has grown up into something quite interesting and delicious.
Learning to give a good, accurate (if rather straightforward and unsexy) tasting note can dramatically increase your chances of getting the wine you want. Let me explain.
Do you care about saving the endangered pygmy three-toed sloth? What about protecting the long heritage of the Roxbury Russet apple? If you believe in preserving species diversity or heirloom varieties, add Abouriou to your list. Only four acres of this spicy red grape remain in California—and all of the U.S., as far as anyone can tell. In its home in Southwest France, there are barely 800 acres left, and they're quickly diminishing.
I knew I'd have no trouble making a pot pie. The problem was, I had no wine to go with pot pie. In the midst of my endeavor to try as many obscure grapes as possible, I found myself without the wine I always serve alongside this dish. Time to venture out of my comfort zone!
If you ever dared to argue that California wines are boring or can't stack up against their European peers, may I humbly suggest a small New Year's resolution: to very carefully re-evaluate your notions this year.
If you ask me where I'm from, I will tell you "all over the place." My family moved five times before I was eight, when we finally settled in Minnesota. I developed a love for "hot dishes" and spoke with long, drawn-out "OHHs," dontchaknow. At 18, I bolted cross-country to Los Angeles, where I dyed my hair blonde, ate sushi daily and dropped my OHs for a tendency to end? Each sentence? With, like, a question?? Next was London, mate, for pints and chips. And in New York City I ordered pies, wore black, and hurried, everywhere. Who I am is as much owed to my DNA as to the environments where I lived, learned and developed. Which is why, approximately 30 seconds into my Wine Grapes adventure, I realized there was a problem I needed to address.