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What is Cabernet Franc?

Cornerstone Cellars Cabernet Franc Harvest

Cornerstone Cellars Cabernet Franc Harvest

Have you been curious about the taste of Cabernet Franc when someone orders a glass with their meal? You may very well have had a wine made with Cabernet Franc from France, or even California, and not known. All too often we stay in the safe zone with our wine choices, rarely venturing outside of our “wine box”. After reading this, you’ll not only know what to expect in that glass of Cabernet Franc, but you’l be able to pair it with foods, and talk about it, if you want.

The History of Cabernet Franc

A black berry, because grapes are indeed berries, Cabernet Franc can be found in many parts of the world, though it’s most well suited in France, from the Loire Valley as well as Bordeaux.  However, you’ll find wines made from mostly Cabernet Franc in California, as well as New York, and Virginia, amongst other areas. It is one of the oldest varieties of grape in Bordeaux, with documented evidence of Cabernet Franc in Loire vineyards near Chinon dating back to 1534, though under the name Breton. Cabernet Franc was then mentioned in Pomerol in 1716. Cabernet Franc was crossed with Sauvignon Blanc to make the popular wine grape Cabernet Sauvignon.

What Do Cabernet Franc Wines Taste Like?

One of the main Bordeaux varieties, Cabernet Franc is primarily a blending grape. Cabernet Franc is paler, lighter, crisper, softer and more aromatic than Cabernet Sauvignon, which lends finesses and peppery aromas to the wine when blended with grapes like Merlot and Cabernet Sauvignon.  Green pepper, tomato and vegetable greens are often scents and tastes found in Cabernet Franc in an underripe bottling. However, in more recent vintages, longer, warmer growing seasons and advanced vineyard practices have produced more fruit focused and floral tastes, eliminating some of the green and herbaceous notes from the flavor profile. You can find wines made mostly, or exclusively, from Cabernet Franc in Chinon, as well as parts of the US, such as California and New York as previously mentioned. I recently reviewed the Stepping Stone 2008 Cabernet Franc, which could have been made with the grapes being harvest in the photo above, which came from the Cornerstone Cellars Harvest Blog.

Food Pairing with Cabernet Franc Includes Prime Rib and other roast beef dishes

Food Pairing with Cabernet Franc Includes Prime Rib

Food Pairings with Cabernet Franc

Wines made from Cabernet Franc grapes like foods that have a fair fat content, and are roasted. Think of drinking cabernet franc wine when you are eating:

  • Beef, whether steak or roasts
  • Cheese, especially goat whether alone or in a dish
  • Roasted duck
  • Venison chops, steaks or burgers
  • Grilled or roast eggplant, or eggplant parmesan
  • Lamb, especially grilled and roasted
  • Roasted vegetables
  • Pasta with red sauce, especially a meat sauce / bolognese sauce

Are you a fan of Cabernet Franc? Let me know which one you’ve enjoyed in the past by leaving a comment below.

What is Viognier

Viognier Grapes

Viognier Grapes

Have you ever wondered “What is that?” when a lunch date ordered a glass of viognier with their meal? Have you scanned a wine list, seeing a number of French wines, or California wines, made with viognier and wonder what it taste like? All too often we stay in the safe zone with our wine choices, rarely venturing outside our box. After reading this, you’ll not only know what to expect in that glass of wine, but you’l be able to pair it with foods, and talk about it, if you want.

Viognier is a French grape,  not very widely planted there any longer, with less than 300 acres planted in it’s Northern Rhone home. Pronounced VEE-ohn-yay, it’s the main white grape of the French appellations of Condrieu and Chateau-Grillet, and often blended with Syrah to add an exotic bouquet to the red wine. Viognier wines exploded in popularity in the United States in the 1990s, and there are more than a thousand acres of the white grape there today. You can find viognier wines from Virginia and France’s Languedoc-Roussilon regions in addition to California and the Rhone. Don’t be surprised if you see it from South America as well.

Typical markers, or notes, of viognier include white floral such as honey-suckle or jasmine, as well as orange blossom. Along with a honey or honey-suckle notes, you’ll also find stone fruit flavors, peach, apricot, nectarine, as well as a nice spice component that can be described as baking spices.  On the palate, you will find it to be typically fuller bodied, often with an oily or “lanolin” feel in your mouth.

Food and wine pairings with viognier include chicken and fish dishes, from grilled to broiled, to poached. Those meats, or others such as veal, with butter or cream sauces will also work well with viognier . The white wine will enhance fruit flavors, making it s great pairing with fruit dishes as appetizers, or as a topping with those chicken or fish dishes. Viognier will pair nicely with lobster, crab, shrimp or other seafoods.  This is clearly food friendly, but also very nice white wine to sip on it’s own.  I’ve reviewed a Sobon Estate Viognier before, as well as a Lange Twins Viognier. Additional viognier reviews are coming, including a new one from Trattore Wines in Dry Creek Valley, CA.

Enjoy some viogner today, and let me know what you think!

 

The Great Debate-Cork vs Screw Cap

Corks or Screwcaps for your wine?

Corks or Screwcaps for your wine?

Two weeks ago I visited CBS12 WPEC for a segment on Cork vs Screw Cap with Suzanne Boyd and Eric Roby. I find it interesting that today my good friend Cynthia from Passaggio wines tweets out a post about cork making a comeback as the wine enclosure of choice. I find the data a tad underwhelming, and I think it remains to be seen the true volume of wineries switching back to cork from screw cap. My segment, below, discusses whether or not cork or screw caps are a better seal, and whether cheaper wines use screw caps. Check it out, and let me know your thoughts or questions.

For those without the time or ability to watch the two minute video, I’ll give you my summary below the video.

 

I don’t think cork is a better enclosure than a screw top, and neither do some very prominent wineries. Tests have shown that in the short term, meaning 10 years and under, Stelvin screw caps were as good of a seal for wine, if not better than cork. Hogue Cellars did 30 months of studies on cork versus screw cap, and Plump Jack has done similar studies, with both showing aging wine with a screw cap for 10 years fresher fruit while still showing the qualities desirable from aging.   More data needs to be done for long term aging, of course, and technology advances in the Stelvin screw caps will help with that.

As far as whether or not cheaper wines use screw top and not cork, I can settle that quite easily. I could list off the dozens, if not hundreds of wineries of high quality, and often high priced wine that are using screw tops. However, I’ll just refer to Plump Jack who has done several rounds of testing with screw cap, and offers their 2008 Cade Cabernet Sauvignon under screw cap for $72. I haven’t visited Plump Jack since 2008, however their wines have been rated in the 95+ point category by critics in recent vintages. So, if a top tier Napa Cab can be under screw cap, why shouldn’t other wines use screw caps as well?

I find it amusing that Treehugger says the wine snobs are the ones pushing wineries to use cork again. There are millions of bottles of wine produced in France alone. Add Italy, Germany, Chile, Argentina, and the United states, and you’re approaching an absurd number of bottles. And there aren’t enough wine snobs in the world to consume them all. So, can a small minority of people really dictate what enclosures the wine industry uses? I find that hard to fathom.

Additionally, much of the red wine released into the market is consumed in a relatively short time span from it’s release and purchase. This makes the need to store those wines long term unnecessary, leaving little to no difference between the cork or screw cap enclosure. So, can it be the romaticisim of the sound of a cork popping that drives people to want cork enclosures.  Maybe. For me, I’m quite happy with my screw caps.

 

This Week at Total Wine – Sauvignon Blanc

Matthew Horbund talks Sauvignon Blanc at Total Wine

Matthew Horbund talks Sauvignon Blanc at Total Wine

A wine store like Total Wine and More can be intimidating for the uninitiated. With thousands of bottles staring you in the face, picking out the perfect wine for your meal or party may seem daunting. Though it’s really not that difficult, I kick off a new collaboration with Total Wine to help you navigate the aisles easily with a video about sauvignon blanc, a perfect summer wine.

The short video will go through where you’ll find sauvignon blanc, the different flavors this grape offers, and even a few food and wine pairing tips with sauvginon blanc. A delicious, dry, crisp white wine,  you’ll enjoy exploring the different areas producing sauvignon blanc.

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Matthew Horbund Talks Sauvignon Blanc at Total Wine

In coming weeks, we’ll talk about other delicious wines for your summer get together. In the mean time, I’d love to hear which sauvignon blanc is your favorite, and if you like sauvignon blanc alone, or with food!

Biodynamic wine and witch doctors

Shona witch doctor Zimbabwe

Shona witch doctor Zimbabwe

When I wrote about wines that were organic, sustainable or biodynamic, I made the mistake of mentioning Voodoo and Witchcraft. After my post was read by Elizabeth Candelario, Marketing Director for Demeter USA, I’ve come to see I’m only perpetuating the wrong image of biodyanmic grape growing. It’s time to change that! Elizabeth took the time to write me a letter that puts the right focus on Biodynamic farming and grape growing. It helps point to not just the astronomical influences on the farming, but also the homeopathic influences.

Read with great interest (and watched too!) your coverage of Biodynamic in a recent post on your website.  I am a really big fan of Montinore so I appreciated your mention of them as well.  For the record, if you don’t mind my making a few comments…

Vooddo!  Witchcraft!!  What the heck!!!  Your description of Biodynamic practices was terrific: no chemicals, view of the farm as a living organism, holistic natural approach, use of the preparations.  Thanks for that!  But I always have a hard time understanding how we can move from sound agronomy to adjectives like voodoo and witchcraft!

Anyway- if you are interested- check out our website where you will find lots of materials, and also the Demeter Farm Standard itself.  The important thing to remember is that the term BIODYNAMIC is held as a certification mark by Demeter in the commercial marketplace relative to agriculturally-based products and farms.  In order for a farm or product to refer to itself as BIODYNAMIC it must meet the Demeter Farm and Processing Standards and be verified though certification.

In a nutshell then the term BIODYNAMIC = The Demeter Standards.   There is mention of astronomical influences as one consideration within an extensive farming system.  The preparations are also an important part- but think homeopathic remedies- and there is some science pointing to increased microbial activity in soils that have been treated with the preps- not to mention a lot of antidotal support.   There is no mention of spiritual forces per se, although many Biodynamic practitioners will share that as part of their own personal observation.   Most importantly of all- the Farm Standard is composed of all of the other practices you described.

And the Farm Standard is historically significant because it dates back to the beginning of the sustainable agriculture movement and captures key agronomic principles not comprehensively addressed within any other agriculture certification system in the world.  It seeks to create a farm system that is minimally dependant on imported materials, instead meeting its needs from the living dynamics of the farm itself.  It is the biodiversity of the farm, organized so that the waste of one part of the farm becomes the energy for another, that results in an increase in the farm’s capacity for self-renewal and ultimately makes the farm sustainable.  Sections of the Farm Standard include soil fertility management, crop protection, greenhouse management, animal welfare, and the use of the preparations.  It’s actually a beautiful document that would align with any sustainable farmer’s understanding of good agriculture.

Anyway- hope you don’t mind my long winded note.  Just trying very hard to get away from the more sensational things being written and spoken about Biodynamic agriculture as I feel it actually isn’t accurate.  Sure do appreciate you and the work you are doing to educate wine drinkers.  Please do consider me a resource.

Warm Regards,

Elizabeth Candelario

Marketing Director, Demeter USA

Board Chair, Stellar Organic Certification Services

www.demeter-usa.org

My response to this well written, and educational, email was:

Thank you so much for taking the time to write me. I appreciate it, sincerely. I would actually like to take your email and post it on my blog – as I think you covered some very interesting and important points.  I assure you that while my descriptors may have come across as derogatory, there were never intended to be.

During September 2009 I visited two biodynamic vineyards in CA. Both of them were very passionate about what they did, and how they were stewards of the land.  However, both of them used the terms Voodo and Witchcraft, tongue in cheek, when discussing some of the practices. I think it was their way of bridging the gap between their audiences ignorance and their heartfelt beliefs and practices of biodynamic farming.  I also think that they were able to leave a lasting impression when doing so.

While it may not be wholly accurate to use the term Voodoo when discussing Biodynamic preparation 500, it definitely made an impression on us. It was perhaps a bit outlandish, and inaccurate, of course, but it helped me remember what they do, and why they do it. I do agree, however, that we have a responsibility to help educate people accurately, and that is why I’d like to post your letter on my blog. I believe it’ll help people searching for information become more educated in terms of biodynamic farming. I found the subject of biodynamic, as well as sustainable and organic farming quite interesting. However, the average attention span of visitors to our websites lately have declined. I therefore had to take a tremendous amount of information, cut it down, and hope I didn’t leave out the good stuff.  My intention was always to go back, revisit each of the three classifications or methods of farming, and hopefully engage people on them individually. This may be a great way to do so.

Thank you again!

So, as you can see, I posted the letter. The question I have for you, is what questions do you have for me? Let me know your thoughts on Biodynamic farming, grape growing, and wines. How can I help you understand what’s in your glass?

Wine 101 – Introduction to Gamay

Gamay Grapes

Gamay Grapes

The Gamay grape has a history dating back to approximately 1360, and it is thought to have first appeared in the Village of Gamay, it’s namesake. It’s nearly synonymous with Beaujolais, the AOC (Appellation d’Origine Contrôlée) in which it is most abundantly produced. What does all that mean? Well, The short two minute video here tries to explain a little bit about the grape, the styles of wine you can expect from Gamay grapes, and the main geography it is produced in.

There are several regions, or appellations, of Beaujolais, and each produces a different style and quality of wine made from Gamay grapes. The Beaujolais AOC is considered the first quality tier, and is likely what you think of when you have Beaujolais Nouveau each November. Beaujolais wines are meant to drink soon after bottling, and are typically fruit forward and easy drinking. They also, perhaps, have a bad reputation of being too simple and barely a step up from sweetened fruit juice. While masterful marketing in the 1980s has made Beaujolais Nouveau a wine people anticipate each year, it has also perhaps hurt the reputation of a grape that could produce great wines.

The next step up in quality is Beaujolais-Villages (Vill-ah-zche). While the wines produced here are also meant to be consumed young, like Beaujolais, they typically have lower yields, or smaller crops, which in turn produce more intense grapes and a smaller amount of more intense wines. There is not, typically, a tremendous price difference between wines from Beaujolais vineyards versus Beaujolais-Villages, and trying wines from each area will help understand the differences and similarities.

Finally, there are the ten Cru Beaujolais regions, each with it’s own characteristics that are imparted upon the wine, and can be broken into three categories. The Cru’s that make the lightest style of wine includes Brouilly, the largest Cru, Regnie, which was upgraded from a Beajolais-Villages are in 1988, and Chiroubles. The Cru Beaujolais producing medium bodied wine, which some experts recommend at least a year of bottle aging before approaching, include Cote de Brouilly, Fleuire, and Saint-Amour. Finally, the four Cru’s that typically produce the fullest bodied wines are Chenas, Juliénas, Morgon, and Moulin-a-Vent.It’s difficult to summarize each of the Cru’s, so I’ll expand on them in future posts.

Now you have an opportunity to add your thoughts! While I mentioned cheeses like Munster, Emmental, and Brie, as well as chicken or turkey, I barely covered foods that pair well with Gamay, or Beaujolais. What are some of your favorite food and Gamay wine pairings? After watching the video and reading the post, leave a comment below. I’m curious your take on Gamay, Beaujolais, and related topics.

Tasting Trivento Reserve Torrontes 2009

Trivento Torrontes white wine from Argentina

Trivento Torrontes white wine from Argentina

What are we drinking?

I was in the grocery store picking up the ingredients to make a quick dinner of chicken and yellow rice, and spotted the Trivento Reserve Torrontes 2009 as I walked by the wine aisle. Perhaps it stood out as a white among reds, perhaps I was just in the mood for Torrontes. Whatever the reason, I picked the bottle up, tossed it in the cart, and planned on a light, fun white wine with my dinner.

Where does the wine come from?

Argentina is known for many wines, and Torrontes is perhaps their signature white. Trivento Bodegas y Vinedos is located in Mendoza, Argentina, in the northern-central part of the country, located at the foothills of the Andes mountains. This wine comes from their Rivadavia vineyard, and is 100% Torrontes grapes fermented 25 days in stainless steel tanks.  The Trivento website does not list this wine as one of their releases, and I believe they have recently re-branded the Select line as Reserve. Trivento is wholly owned by Concha y Toro, one of the largest, if not the largest, producer in Chile.

What does Trivento Reserve Torrontes taste like?

In the glass, the Trivento Reserve Torrontes was a pale yellow and green hue, with a light floral nose followed by orange blossom scents. As it opened and warmed in the glass, those notes mingled with a spiced pear fragrance. The palate, or taste, was crisp citrus and honeysuckle, with a little green grassy note. The acidity was firm, but not bracing, and the finish was short, but pleasant. When paired with the chicken and yellow rice, the green notes all but go away, and the wine becomes more round and a touch more floral.

What to pair it with

Torrontes, whether this Trivento Reserve or almost any other, goes well with shellfish and seafood, as well as chicken dishes. The winemaker suggests pasta, Thai or Indian dishes. I would recommend a pasta with a light butter and garlic sauce, and not a heavy red sauce. Mexican and Spanish dishes will pair with Torrontes as well, and my chicken and  yellow rice worked perfectly.

Recap

For only $11 in the grocery store, this wine was pleasant enough. It worked fine with the meal, and would be nice on a warm summer afternoon. I wouldn’t, however, let it be the only Torrontes you ever try, as they can vary quite a bit from different areas of Argentina, as well as different producers. The Trivento Reserve Torrontes was almost Sauvignon Blanc like, with a touch of floral, and not quite as dry.  However, don’t take my word for it. Try it for yourself, and leave a comment here with your thoughts. If you can’t find this Torrontes, get another, and let me know what you think!