The Wine Cellar

Come and explore with me the amazing world of wines

Saturday, January 22, 2011

Oldest Wine Making...

Ancient Greeks can be rightfully credited with many inventions and discoveries, but wine making isn't one of them. The honors go to Armenia. Recently, a team of international researches has confirmed that the oldest known wine making unit in the world was found in an Armenian cave.

Monday, January 3, 2011

Yes, I drink Merlot...

The movie Sideways was an instant success and there were a lot memorable sights and quotations in it that will stay with us for quite some time. One of them was from Paul Giamatti's character who said: "If you order Merlot, I'm leaving. I'm not going to drink any fucking Merlot!" Not many would have thought that one line in a movie would have created such a buzz. Merlot sales dropped sharply after that--although they are up again. So, this begs the question: is Merlot really such a mediocre wine to deserve this? Before we answer this question, let's go back a couple of decades...

When you visit a wine bar these days, you may think that wine has
been very popular for a very long time. The US love affair with wines, however, isn't older than a generation--early to mid eighties. And for a long time, white wines--mostly Chablis--sold by the glass were popular. Eventually, they were replaced with Chardonnay and Merlot. Now, there is nothing wrong with these two wines--it happens that I really like both of them! But the "Cab"--translation: Cabernet Sauvignon--became the drink of the hip wine drinkers and Merlot was...well, not IN. Paul Diammati in Sideways confirmed that and that was it. I am here to argue against that perception and to say, without fear of being ostracized by the "oenophiles" of the wine bars, that I really like Merlot!

Merlot or Merlot Noir is very popular world wide and competes only with Cabernet Sauvignon as the most planted dark-skinned grape variety overall. In Bordeaux and in France overall, Merlot is decisively the m
ost planted red wine and it plays the role of constant companion to the austere, aristocratic, long-living Cabernet Sauvignon--its most probable half brother--which helps to explain the reason why Merlot-dominant red bordeaux can taste so like Cabernet-dominant red bordeaux. Its early maturing, plump, lush fruitiness provides a needed compliment to Cabernet. What distinguishes Merlot from other wines, especially Cabernet, is its "smooth" character-- a drawback to some, an advantage to others. It's a wine that promotes texture over flavor.

One of my favorite blends, and one that is popular in the newly planted vineyards in my village in Greece, is Cabernet-Merlot-Shirah. All three varietals do well in its cool, well ventilated slopes and can be harvested almost at the same time. I am fortunate to have a relatively large selection of these wines--vintages from 2003 to 2009--which are maturing very well.

Thursday, December 30, 2010

Twas the Night Before...

Twas the night before the New Year, when all through the house not a creature was stirring, not even a mouse...and Alexandra and I held our glasses up tight and said Happy New Year to all, and to all a good night!

And with this toast, 2010 was gone and 2011 was ushered in--ready or not..The first decade of the 21st century was already gone and a new one was reluctantly crawling in. What a year and what a decade it has been! Terrorism, two wars, collapse of the economy, natural disasters, technological and scientific breakthroughs, and the rise of Asian nations. For the Wine Cellar though, it has been a pretty good decade. The cellar in my village in Greece was created and the wine collection grew in size and quality.

Two events in 2010 capped the decade very well. Our journeys to the French vineyards of the Loire Valley in April and to the Nemea region of Peloponnese in August. There were educational and immensely enjoyable. We look forward to 2011 and to exploring new terroirs. Look for the postings in this blog. And with this we bring to a closure our 2010 postings. A very happy and healthy 2011 to all. Do take good care of your wines...

Sunday, November 14, 2010

Malbec: The rebirth of a Great wine...

Long known as one of the six grapes allowed in the red Bordeaux wine, the French plantations of Malbec are now found mainly in Cahors--wine region of South West France--where it has been declining in popularity mostly because it has many of the production disadvantages of Merlot, as it very susceptible to various grape diseases and viticultural hazards (frost, mildew, coulure). As a varietal, Malbec produces a rather inky red, or violet, intense wine that makes ideal to use in blends such as with Merlot and Cabernet Sauvignon to create the red French Bordeaux claret blend.

While Malbec has been declining in France, it has become the national wine of Argentina which is the most important wine producing country in South America and in the last two decades one of the most dynamic wine producers in the world. And it owes a lot of this success to Malbec which seems to have found its true home in upper Mendoza. There it produces a deep-colored, robust, and fruity red wine with enough alcohol, body, and structure to benefit from oak ageing. The commercial success of Argentine Malbec has attracted a new generation of wine drinkers--yours included--and has opened other markets, especially Chilean, where production has increased considerably. Chilean Malbec, though, tends to be more tannic than Argentinian and may be blended with other Bordeaux grapes.

Malbec, for my taste is one of the best wines and I can have it with just about anything--which may be blasphemous to the sophisticated oenophile--but it is best with grilled meat, game and robust spicy dishes. I regret, by the way, that when we traveled to Mendoza in 2001 I had not discovered Malbec yet and as a consequence we did miss out of the opportunity to explore the Malbec vineyards. Perhaps, next time...

Tuesday, November 9, 2010

Pinot Noir: The Red Burgundy...

Recently I wrote about two Pinot Noir wines and thought it is appropriate to talk a bit more about this fickle grape and this elegant wine. Above all, it gave me the opportunity to learn more about one of my favorite wines. Known as the "Red Burgundy" around the world, Pinot Noir, as a wine, is sensual and transparent and, as a grape, one one of the most difficult to cultivate and transform into wine. A demanding varietal, it is low yielding and grows only in cool regions. Grown around the world, it is mainly associated with the Burgundy region of France which has produced some of the most celebrated wines for centuries. The US, especially California and Oregon, has increasingly become a Pinot Noir producer with Willamette Valley in Oregon, Russian Valley in Sonoma County, Mentocino County, and Santa Barbara County having perhaps the best Pinot Noir wines.

The leaves of Pinot Noir are generally smaller than those of Cabernet Sauvignon, but larger than those of Syrah. The grape cluster is small and cylindrical, vaguely shaped like a pine cone--thus its name. As a vine, it is very sensitive to light, soil types and pruning techniques. As a wine, it is sensitive to fermentation methods, yield strains and is highly reflective of its terroir with different regions producing very different wines.

Pinot Noir wines, however, are among the most popular in the world. The broad range of bouquets, flavors, textures and impressions that it can produce sometimes confuses tasters. The characteristics that the Pinot Noirs of the world share are certain sweet fruitness and, in general, lower levels of tannins and pigments than the other "great" French red varieties-- Cabernet Sauvignon and Syrah. Moreover, Pinot Noir wines tend to be light to medium body with black cherry, raspberry and currant aromas. The color of the grape is a lighter garnet than of other red wines. Emerging varieties from California and New Zealand, however, are more powerful, fruitier, and darker that approach Syrah.

Wines, of course, aren't meant to be solitary...they need company, and I don't mean just the company of good friends. I mean, they need good food, or at least the right food. They are certain general food-wine guidelines, however, that we should follow when pairing food and wine. Then, do we match a particular meal to the most appropriate wine, or vice versa? I prefer to choose the food first and then come up with the best wine that will make the culinary experience most enjoyable. That requires, to some extent, a fairly good supply of properly stored wines on hand. This way, you don't have to run to the wine store every time you cook.

Since we are talking about Pinot Noirs, let's return to wine-food pairings for this type of wine. Given that Pinot Noir is a medium bodied red, it goes well with mild flavors and mild meats. Fish like salmon and tuna go well, as do pastas and vegetarian pizzas. Avoid rich heavy sauces, especially with red meats. I find Pinot Noir to be a very good all-around wine that I can have before, during and after dinner.