Wine and Cheese Pairings for National Cheese Day

There are several national days that involve cheese in some form or another. There’s National Grilled Cheese Day, National Cheesecake Day, and National Macaroni and Cheese Day; however, there is only one day devoted just to cheese itself: National Cheese Day! On June 4th, cheese lovers will celebrate the coagulation of milk proteins, which we call cheese. As a neighborhood wine shop that sells premium cheese from around the globe, we can’t help but address the somewhat polarizing, sometimes confusing, and somehow amazing topic of wine and cheese pairing. Below we will include links for mild, medium, and bold cheeses with wine pairings, so grab our collections and snack and sip along with us!

 

A great general rule of thumb for pairing wine and cheese is intensity. How mild, medium, or bold is the cheese, and matching that with a mild, medium, or bold wine can often be a great starting point. It may be helpful to think of this like a duet. If one singer is too loud or expressive it will overshadow the other, thus losing the original intent of the duet. For mild cheeses such as the Delin Brillat-Savarin Triple Cream out of Burgundy, France, wines that are not overpowering are great choices. This cheese is a brie that is extremely soft, buttery, and delicious with mild flavors. With this texture, we may not want to select a wine that is full bodied and sweet because your mouth may feel full of syrupy cheese. Also, acid in wine makes your mouth water, so with a low-acid wine, the creaminess of the cheese may be overpowering, leaving you feeling like you have dry mouth while trying to eat peanut butter. This is also why tannic wines (which dry out your mouth) tend to not be paired with creamier cheeses. With regard to flavor, this might be a bit more subjective, but when pairing wines and cheese sommeliers and cheese mongers try to make selections that bring out flavor without overshadowing the other component of the pairing. For example, in the Brillat-Savarin brie, there is a hint of sweeter honey that could work extremely well with wines that express mild fruit flavors. Here, think red apples and honey or slightly sugar-coated strawberries. The components on their own are great, but together they can bring out something new and exciting. For these reasons, we hope you can try some crisp Rosé such as Renegade’s Columbia Valley Rosé. This wine has notes of citrus and fresh strawberries that match the intensity of the cheese, add another subtle dimension to the pairing, and the acid of the wine will leave your mouth feeling similar to what it was like before you even ate the cheese. Another great option is a bright sparkling wine like Cava! The apples, pears, and brioche quality of the wine may make the pairing feel a bit like an apple tart with some honey drizzle on top. Like the acid in the Rosé, Cava is relatively high and its bubbles will allow some of the more creamy/chewy nature of the cheese to be more easily broken up and swallowed without that peanut butter effect. As is the case with any of these pairings, experimentation is always encouraged, and you may find something unexpected that arises out of creative combinations!

 

As the intensity of the cheese flavor increases, we recommend that the intensity of the wine increases as well, and Louis Guffanti’s Maremma Pecorino is a great example of cheese with a bit bolder flavors that can be matched by a bit of a bolder wine. Have you heard the phrase ‘what grows together goes together?’ Many sommeliers will approach this idea from the perspective of climate, soil types, topographical features, etc., but an additional way to view this is from a more cultural lens. In certain areas of the wine world, such as parts of Italy, grapes are tied to a specific location or region. For example, if you take a trip to the more rural areas of Piedmont, you will not be drinking Cabernet Sauvignon or even other Italian varieties like Corvina or Aglianico. Nebbiolo, Barbera, and Dolcetto (among a few other red varieties) have established themselves as rooted in the Piedmont countryside. These are expressive and rich grapes that are then matched by expressive and rich foods and cheeses. So, in a sense, they do grow with each other as the wine and food plays off of each other. This is absolutely the case in Tuscany where Sangiovese (the main grape in Chianti) is king. Guffanti’s Maremma is more silky in texture allowing a more tannic wine (like Chianti) to match the structure of the cheese without drying out your mouth. There is also a freshness and tangy component to the cheese that meshes excellently with the crisp red cherry notes of Chiantis such as those produced by Dievole or Darno. Additionally, if you want to accentuate this dynamic between the tangy and the tart, Nebbiolo is another great pairing option for this cheese. Massimo Rivetti and Rocche Costamagna produce Nebbiolos from Piedmont that are not overly structured (meaning very high levels of tannin and acid) and those cherry notes become a bit more sour and even more cranberry-like. We recommend trying both combinations and seeing which your palate prefers!

 

Moving to France for another cheese with medium intensity, we have Jean Faup’s Bethmale Chevre. This cheese has some mellow nutty flavor that works well with its other tangy and particularly citric components of the cheese. The cheese is from Southwestern France and one could certainly pair this with red wines like Madiran or white wines from Juracon, but, here, we want to capitalize on some of those citric qualities of the cheese and amplify those. The Loire Valley is home to Sauvignon Blanc that has these lemon and lime characteristics along with being some of the most mouthwateringly pleasant high acid white wines in the world. While not as creamy as the Brillat-Savarin, the texture of the cheese lends itself to a high acid companion like Sancerres from André Neveu or Jean-Christophe Mandard’s Sauvignon Blanc from Touraine, to the west of the Sancerre region. These wines will add that lemon zest, gooseberries, and passion fruit that carry citric notes and will expand the tasting sensations of Jean Faup’s Bethmale Chevre in a way that almost demands another bite.

 

Finally, we come to bold cheese, and what better bold cheese to focus on than Blue! Defendi Baffalo Blue from Lombardy, Italy uses the same milk as Buffalo Mozzarella, (which refers to water buffalo, not the American bison), and it’s soft, rich, and creamy with a distinctive bite from its blue veins. This cheese carries relatively intense flavor, so a wine like a Valpolicella Ripasso from Northeast Italy will have the concentrated fruit flavors and rustic appeal that can bring out almost a sweetness to a cheese that is considered to be on the more funky side. The wine is relatively acidic and not too tannic, so it will not cause your mouth to dry out, allowing you to move onto the next bite with ease. Another category of wine that is often paired with more aggressively flavored cheeses is sweet wine. Think of this as a bit like putting honey on a piece of stinky cheese. It softens the funk, while not overpowering the original flavor of the cheese. Wine such as Lodali’s Moscato d’Asti have lower alcohol content but higher sugar content. The wine is highly aromatic, floral, fruit-forward, and its flavors add another dimension to the cheese in a way that does not amplify the cheese’s funk. Another fantastic option for a wine that stands up to this Baffalo Blue is Port! Like Moscato d’Asti, Port has a high sugar content, but its flavors can be more red fruit focused with raspberries and cherries. There can also be a nutty component to Port (particularly Tawney Port), and one can think of the combination of this Baffalo Blue and Port to be similar to having a bite of salad with blue cheese and candied walnuts. The sweetness and nutty component balances out the funk of the blue cheese while adding an added layer of complexity to the whole bite. This combination will be bursting with flavor, and we hope you can give it a try and let us know what you think!

 

There is so much more to say on wine and cheese pairing, and that is what we are going to do! Be on the lookout for more posts, wine and cheese recommendations, and other great combinations that can take your snack, appetizer, or even entire meal to another level. As noted above our pairing recommendations are linked below, and let us know what you think!

0

Happy National Wine Day!

Since 2009, wine lovers gather with friends and family around glasses, bottles, and decanters to celebrate National Wine Day every May 25th! The United States has an incredibly rich and surprisingly long history when it comes to grapes in the States, and to even scratch the surface is difficult in a limited blog post; however, we want to highlight a few vines that have taken root in our country and have changed some of the landscape of the wine world. Links are provided below to check out the wines mentioned in the post, and we hope you enjoy!

 

For the past few thousand years, it’s been a general trend that wherever people went they brought grapevines. This is the case for civilizations dating back to the oldest known winery in Armenia to the Phoenicians, to the Egyptians, and, of course, to the Greeks and Romans. Though separated by thousands of years, this is also true of those who came to what is now the United States. The Spaniards were likely the first to bring wine to the U.S. with the British following closely behind. Unless you’re really into Muscadine, international, and primarily French, grapes were the vines of choice even for early Americans.

Early Roman wine amphora, from Ancient History Encyclopedia: https://www.ancient.eu/image/5531/amphorae/

There are hundreds of different grape varieties grown in the United States, but some truly have impacted the international wine market in profound and enduring ways. Here, let’s focus on three grapes: Zinfandel, Cabernet Sauvignon, and Chardonnay.

Zinfandel

What’s the first place you think of when you think Zinfandel? Maybe California? Maybe Napa, Lodi, or the Sierra Foothills? In many people’s views, these areas are producing the best Zinfandel in the world, but it wasn’t always this way. Until recently, people thought of Zinfandel as being native to the United States until Carole Meredith PhD, a world-renowned vine geneticist, traced the grape’s origins to Croatia. Under the name Tribidrag, Zinfandel was extremely popular as far back as the Middle-Ages. This grape that does very well in hot climates eventually found a new home in California during the 19th Century. When conditions are right and when these grapes can retain their acid and balance in the resulting wine, what happens with well-crafted Zinfandel is a fresh fruit experience that also carries a powerful elegance into the glass. In honor of National Wine Day and Zinfandel’s accent to California wine greatness, why not try some wine from some of the oldest Zinfandel vines in the country? The Original Grandpére Vineyard in Amador County is still producing grapes for Andis Wines from vines planted in 1869. These wines are incredibly complex, aromatic, and rich without succumbing to the oak-filled jam-bombs that some younger and less-traditionally made Zinfandel can become. We can’t wait for you to try this wine!

Carole Meredith, from Decanter: https://www.decanter.com/premium/decanter-interview-carole-meredith-406792/

Cabernet Sauvignon and Chardonnay

Next, let’s turn to some Cabernet Sauvignon and Chardonnay and see how these grapes have captivated the American wine market. Carol Meredith is back at it again in proving the parents of Cabernet Sauvignon to be Cabernet Franc and Sauvignon Blanc, thus the name Cabernet Sauvignon.  Bordeaux has been the epicenter of Cabernet Sauvignon ever since the Bordeaux Classification of 1855. To essentially show off for a world exhibition in Paris, Emperor Napoleon III had Bordeaux’s wines classified into five tiers or ‘growths.’ The first growth Bordeaux wines were all Cabernet Sauvignon dominant blends and carry names with them that still resonate to this day: Chateau Margaux, Chateau Latour, Chateau Lafitte, and Chateau Haut-Brion with Chateau Mouton moving up in ranks in the 1970s. These were considered the best producers of Cabernet on the planet (with some political motivations involved as well), but as we will see shortly, they were eventually met by American challengers.

Wine map of Bordeaux, from Wine Folly: https://shop.winefolly.com/products/bordeaux-wine-region-map-poster

Chardonnay has a similar relationship with prestige and French origin before making an impact on the United States. The area of Eastern France known as Burgundy is where Chardonnay first grew and continues to grow. The most expensive white wines in the world come from this area that is rooted in winemaking tradition. Montrachet, Meursault, Chablis, and Corton-Charlemagne may be familiar names due to their quality, limited availability, and high price tags, but Chardonnay has spread throughout the world developing a variety of flavors, winemaking techniques, and blends that make it one of the most planted grapevine in the world. Just like Cabernet Sauvignon in Bordeaux, however, Chardonnay from Burgundy would be challenged by American winemakers.

 

For those of you who saw the late, great Alan Rickman in Bottle Shock, you may be familiar with ‘The Judgement of Paris.’ In 1976, Wine industry innovator, Steven Spurrier, set out on a quest to pit some of the best Cabernet and Chardonnay from California against some of the best wine from Bordeaux and Burgundy. With all French judges, all blind-tasting, the American wines came out on top. Ever since, Napa Valley and Northern California have produced some of the most sought-after Chardonnays and Cabernet Sauvignons in the world. We want to highlight two fantastic wines that exude a sense of place in California. The first, Brassfield Estate Winery’s 2017 Cabernet Sauvignon is a wine that is concentrated, full of plum and blackberry flavors, and smooth tannins from its aging in partially new French oak barrels. This new vintage is absolutely delicious. For Chardonnay, the 2016 Jax Y3 Chardonnay retains that more restrained Burgundian style and is not overly oaked or overly buttery. This is a profoundly balanced wine that represents Napa Valley Chardonnays extremely well. If you are interested in the aforementioned wines, please check out the links to our selections below, or give us a call!

Tasting at the Judgement of Paris, from Time: https://time.com/4342433/judgment-of-paris-time-magazine-anniversary/

Lastly, we want to honor this year’s Memorial Day. We hope you have the opportunity to toast those who are serving, those who have served, and those who we have lost through their service. Happy National Wine Day, happy Memorial Day, and Cheers!

Selections from McLean

Selections from Vienna

Selections from Great Falls

0

A Chameleon Grape: Chardonnay

A.B.C. can stand for a lot of things. For TV, it’s the American Broadcasting Company. For gum, it’s Already Been Chewed. From our parents, it could be Always Be Careful. For wine drinkers, A.B.C. most often stands for Anything But Chardonnay. Undoubtedly, Chardonnay can be a polarizing grape for wine consumers around the world, but here we want to show that this grape has a lot to offer for people who enjoy a variety of different white wines.

Often referred to as a ‘chameleon grape,’ Chardonnay can take on many different textures and flavor profiles depending on where it’s grown and how it’s made. We often associate California Chardonnays with big, round, oaky, and buttery descriptions, as if you were drinking the ambient smell of a movie theater: buttered popcorn! Many of us at the Wine Outlet love these round delicious Chardonnays, but, because this style is generally popular with certain wine drinkers in the United States, many consumers come to associate Chardonnay with solely this profile. Below we’re going to look at a few different styles of Chardonnays, and, if you are an ABC wine drinker, we hope you’ll give this ‘chameleon grape’ another try! Please see the end of the post for links to all of our featured wines!

 

Leaner Chardonnays

 

While there are dozens of ways to describe Chardonnay, here, let’s focus on the body of the wine and fruit profile, as these can lend themselves to thinking about both winemaking techniques as well as climate. First, we have the ‘leaner’ style of Chardonnay. So, what do I mean by this? In general, this refers to the wine’s body, or, if it’s more helpful, the wine’s weight. How mouth-filling is it? Does the wine feel full, almost like whole milk, or does it seem angular and slim and a bit more like skim milk? Great examples of these more-lean styles can be found in Burgundy. Chablis is famous for making mostly un-oaked, crisp, and high acid Chardonnays that almost naturally want to be immediately swallowed. Chablis is one of the most northern areas for growing wine in France, and this has a direct effect on the fruit profiles of the wines. With regard to the fruit, apples are a common descriptor for Chardonnay, and in Chablis, the apple notes are a bit more tart, like green apples. While there are exceptions to many rules in wine, usually the cooler the climate, the higher the acid, and thus the tarter the fruit. These wines tend to be literally mouthwatering as their higher acid causes us to salivate, which makes these wines pair excellently with food or even just consumed as an aperitif.

 

To discuss the various other areas of Burgundy and the nuances of the wines that come out of certain appellations should definitely be saved for another post; however, let’s take a look at another great example of White Burgundy. Aside from the most northern parts of Burgundy (excluding Chablis), Chardonnay tends to thrive in the southern part of the Cote de Beaune and all throughout a region of Burgundy called the Maconnais. Within the Maconnais and slightly west of the city of Macon is the wine appellation Pouilly-Fuissé. The wines from Pouilly-Fuissé are 100% Chardonnay, and can vary in style, as the wine growing area is relatively large for Burgundy. While wines from this area usually see some noticeable oak influences, oak usage here tends to be much lower than in some areas of California, for example. The green apples notes shine through in Pouilly-Fuissé, and relative to other areas of the world, these wines can have a lean and crisp style. One example of this crisp style of Chardonnay from this area is Domaine Thierry Drouin’s 2018 “Plaisance” Pouilly-Fiussé. This Chardonnay is bright and refreshing, and the winemaker refers to this as an excellent aperitif. This wine would serve as a great start to your next meal or a great pairing with fresh seafood.

From Wine Folly: https://winefolly.com/deep-dive/guide-to-burgundy-wine-with-maps/

Medium Chardonnays

Moving across the pond and flying over the states that don’t like that reference, we end up in California where many medium-bodied Chardonnays reside. As described with wines from Burgundy, climate is extremely important in terms of how the fruit of the wines expresses itself in the glass. In warmer parts of California such as the Central Coast and even parts of Napa Valley, the apple characteristic of the wine begins to move from more tart green apples to more yellow apples and pear notes. This relationship between more tart fruits and those that are riper in flavor is one that is very dependent on acid levels in the wine, and malic acid is largely responsible for this tart green apple flavor. Actually, the word ‘malic’ is derived from the Latin ‘malum’ meaning apple, so I guess there’s one reason taking Latin in high school wasn’t a total waste of time!

 

All of this acid discussion must lead us to a brief description of what winemakers refer to as ‘malolactic fermentation’ or ‘malolactic conversion.’ Yes, I know you aren’t in chemistry class, but stick with me because this is crucial to understanding what Chardonnay might be right for you! The process of malolactic conversion is always a factor in crafting Chardonnay, and this process occurs in nearly all red wines. In short, the malic acid that is present in all wines is converted to lactic acid via a bacterial process that’s too long too explain. This is a naturally occurring process, and it is up to the winemakers to either halt the process or let fully play out. You can use the term ‘full malo’ for buttery Chardonnays that have gone through full malolactic conversion. As you might image, as more malic acid turns to lactic acid, some of the more tart green apple notes will give way to notes of butter, cream, or yogurt. This also increases the viscosity of the wine giving it a slight fuller mouthfeel. This doesn’t mean that all Chardonnays that have gone through full malolactic conversion are big round balls of wine butter, but it will add some fullness and weight to the wine. A perfect example of wine that has gone through full malolactic conversion but is also not too heavy is the 2015 “Opening Act” Timbre Chardonnay. This wine has only seen neutral oak aging (meaning the oak will not impart flavor into the wine), and it retains much of that Burgundian ‘slickness’ while have a slightly fuller body. As this wine has five years of bottle age on it, you may also find notes of honey and nuts that become present through time in bottle. This is a fantastic wine with layers of flavor, and I highly recommend it as a nice middle-weight Chardonnay from Santa Barbara.

Chardonnay vines near the Timbre winery. From: https://www.timbrewinery.com/

 

Round Chardonnays

As we’ve seen, climate and winemaking choices directly impact both the flavors and the weight of Chardonnay, but we must discuss two more elements that can turn a lean Chardonnay into a round, buttery, and oaky one: lees and oak. So, what are lees? Without going into too much detail and hopefully without grossing anyone out, lees are essentially the dead yeast cells that died because they ran out of sugar to eat. When yeast eats sugar, you get CO2, heat, and, you guessed it, alcohol. Without yeast you have no fermentation, but what should winemakers do with this dead yeast that remains in fermentation vessels after that process is over? Many winemakers will choose to let their wine age on the lees. This is called sur lie aging, if you want to feel French and fancy. These yeast cells will not only impart more bread-like flavors, but they will also thicken the wine itself. These Chardonnays then can become plump and almost chewy, and they pair beautifully with a variety of fish, chicken, and cheeses.

Lees stirring and lees aging from Wine Folly: https://winefolly.com/deep-dive/what-are-wine-lees-sur-lie-explained/

The final component to a rounder and more full-bodied Chardonnay is oak aging. Unlike neutral oak, new oak is used when a winemaker wants to impart flavor into the wine. For white wines, like Chardonnay, this usually means that flavors of vanilla, baking spices, nutmeg, and allspice may become detectable in the wine. Some winemakers also choose to heavily char their barrels, which imparts more of a literal oak or charcoal flavor into the wine. Oak aging also allows for more oxygen to slowly get into the wine, creating nutty and honeyed flavors, all while furthering the process of making a Chardonnay that’s more full bodied. A wine that represents this more round style through a combination of oak aging, sur lie aging, and full malolactic conversion is the 2015 “Parr Vineyard” Maldonado Chardonnay from Sonoma County. What we love about this wine is that it does not take this buttery-oaky idea to the extreme, but it just hints at it. It gives you a sense of the layers of flavors that come from the oak, the lees, the lactic acid, and the place of Sonoma County. While full-bodied, it is refined and all of its components are very nicely integrated into some truly delicious grape juice.

 

A Quick Word on Champagne

 

If you are an A.B.C. wine drinker and you never want to touch Chardonnay, then you may need to extend the acronym to Anything But Champagne. Most traditional Champagne blends consist of Pinot Noir, Pinot Meunier (an expressive red grape), and Chardonnay. In fact, you likely will have Chardonnay in your Champagne unless the label reads “Blanc de Noirs” or “White from black grapes.” You may even have Champagne that’s labeled “Blanc de Blancs,” which means it’s white from white grape, or 100% Chardonnay. Chardonnay out of Champagne is a bit closer in profile to the wines of Chablis due to their similar climates. There also tends to be less malolactic conversion as Champagne is tart and can be full of green apple notes. For a crisp Champagne that is made from 100% Chardonnay, we recommend Laherte Freres’s Blanc de Blancs Brut Nature. There is no added sugar (dosage) to the Champagne, so here you are truly getting a pure expression of Chardonnay from Champagne – and the bubbles are a nice bonus as well. See our Sparkling Wines 101 post for more information on Champagne as well as a number of other fun sparklers.

Chardonnay vines in Champagne. From Forbes: https://www.forbes.com/sites/tomhyland/2018/10/18/blanc-de-blancs-the-soul-of-champagne/#457507741617

So we’ve gone from light and crisp with green apples to full and round like burnt movie theater popcorn. Not many other grapes have this versatility, so when thinking about Chardonnay, I like to think of it not only as a ‘chameleon grape,’ but a ‘canvass grape.’ Chardonnay can, in many ways, become what a climate and a winemaker demand. It is mailable to the extent that these factors will show themselves in the glass, and with tasting a number of Chardonnays like those mentioned above, one can start to see how Chardonnay can express the sense of place from which it came as well as the sense of style from which it’s made.

Find our featured wines for

Great Falls

Vienna

McLean

0

Sustainable and Organic Vineyards for Earth Day 2020!

Well, son of a berry, let’s get into some S.O.B. wines for Earth Day! When one approaches the nerdier end of the wine enthusiast scale, we come across categories of vineyard management called Sustainable, Organic, and Biodynamic (SOB). These are the most-known wine production guidelines for creating fermented grape juice in a way that takes the Earth’s wellbeing into account. Here, we won’t focus as much on biodynamic vineyards, but we would like to add another approach to vine cultivation: conventional. As noted, we are going to focus on vineyards because, taken in its entirety, this is an extremely complicated topic when it comes to not only winemaking, but also farming. The good news is we will break these categories down and suggest some of our favorite examples of sustainable and organic wines to try below, so let’s get going!

Winemaking is, first and foremost, farming. Just as there are manipulations of soil and vegetation for farming apples, apricots, and avocados, Aligoté needs the same. We manipulate the vine, maintain the development of the grape, and harvest the fruit to be processed in the winery. The question here is what practices can producers use with regard to their own market and sustainability expectations.

It’s impossible to say whether one category of conventional, sustainable, organic, biodynamic, or natural wine is better than another. There are really excellent and really terrible examples of each. [Quick disclaimer: The Wine Outlet only carries excellent wine. Thanks for your attention]. So, instead of blanketly grading these categories on a better to worse scale, it’s best to describe some of the advantages and disadvantages of each for both winemakers and consumers. We know all vines need four basic things: warmth, sunlight, nutrients, and water. How these resources are given to the vine defines the agricultural method. So, let’s start with how conventional vineyards work.

Conventional Method

Conventional viticulture is the backbone of mass-produced wines. We do not mean to imply any negatives or characterless attributes, but for these vineyards, consistent production is king. Here, the goal is to increase yields and reduce cost. While each producer uses these methods in different ways and with different emphases, these vineyards likely will employ mechanization at each opportunity for efficiency in the vineyard. Pests are taken care of with routine pesticide spraying, and soils are infused with man-made fertilizer to give the vines the nutrients they need. Crucially, when vines have too much of what they need, they do what vines do. They grow in all sorts of crazy shapes, climbing up buildings, wrapping around trees, developing extensive greenery (as opposed to fruit), and even spreading along the ground. Conventional farming allows growers to limit excess nutrients, water, and sunlight (photosynthesis/sugar accumulation) that will prevent vines from running wild. At the end of the day, these are crops to be produced, harvested, and maintained. So, with all this control, what is the downside?

Vineyard worker spraying pesticides…Source: Duke University

In many cases, but not all, conventional growing might jeopardize the sustainability of vineyards.  When the majority of nutrients a vine receives are infused into the soil, then the natural regeneration of these essential nutrients tends to deplete. Additionally, if pesticides are overused, the naturally occurring processes of a vineyard will not manifest in a sustainable manner. In other words, when bugs die, or animals defecate, or undergrowth is completely removed, the nitrogen, magnesium, and potassium that is produced by these processes becomes absent. The vineyard is then sustainable only insofar as humans are there to create the environment as opposed to the environment continuing to create itself. Many wines that arise out of conventional viticultural practices are fantastic, but what can vineyard managers do to mitigate some of these environmental concerns when it comes to conventional growing? The answer lies within other viticulture methods.

Sustainable Method

The simplest question to start with is, what makes a vineyard sustainable? Unfortunately, there is no clear answer, and certain areas of the world address sustainable farming differently. For example, sustainable practices in Lodi, California and South Africa will have different norms than those in New Zealand. New Zealand actually has a very low bar when it comes to sustainability even though a high percentage of growers in New Zealand qualify for sharing their wines as sustainable. So, what do we make of this relatively unregulated and unprotected term ‘sustainable?’

It may be best to think of sustainable winemaking as a more conscious approach to the naturally cyclical means of producing grapes. At the very least, pesticides and nutrient supplements are reduced in the vineyard, and this is coupled with a heightened sense of environmental consciousness that stems from organic practices. Sustainable growers may save some cost on the expenses of herbicides, pesticides, and man-made fertilizer. Here, a more ecological understanding of the interaction between the ecosystem in which the vineyard lays and the quality of the fruit of the vine become more intertwined. Some sustainable producers often hold themselves to standards that would qualify for an organic certification, while some producers simply need to meet demand and maintain a greater awareness of the environmental factors at play. Oak Farm’s 2016 Cabernet Sauvignon is a great example of a wine from a producer that hand picks their grapes from three sustainable vineyard sites. With no additives and a fresh-fruit profile, this is one of our favorite examples of sustainable wine from our stores. Spain also maintains a significant presence in the wine-world scene when it comes to sustainable and organic wines. A recently released example is from Ignacio Valdera’s Bermejos Listan Rosado from the Canary Islands. Sustainable farming in the Canary Islands is not easy considering the terrain, but Valdera’s Rosé is vibrant with minerality that truly shows its sense of place.

One of Bermejos’s sustainable vineyards on Lanzarote in the Canary Island…Source: David Bowler Wine

Organic Method 

This finally leads us to a brief look at organic wines! Like sustainable wines, there is variation in the level of qualification that a producer must attain before being certified. For example, standards for the European Union are different from those in the United State and from those in Australia. That being said, these standards are more codified and more reliable with regard to the actual practices within the vineyard. Difficult growing environments, like those in the Loire Valley, can be made more challenging by keeping organically certified vineyards; however, success stories like those from Chateau Passavant inspire other producers to go organic and consumers to reward these efforts. Though they are great for marketing, some of these certifications can be quite expensive for producers, so many winemakers will forego the certification process even though they adhere to organic standards. This is particularly common in areas with rich history in winemaking such as Burgundy, Piedmont, and Rioja where the vineyards have been entrenched in already established organic practices for hundreds of years. Nonetheless, many premier producers, such as Domaine Buisson-Charles of Burgundy, continue to hold their organic certifications, making it clear to consumers that their vineyard management will remain organic at its core.

A major factor for organic practices in the vineyard is the biodiversity that pervades the rows of grapevines. Got pests? Introduce an insect as a predator. Mice? Get a cat. Weeds? Don’t use herbicides, just mow the vegetation and let their nutrients seep into the ground and help your grapevines. Bears? Well… that’s a tough one…just be careful. By monitoring weather conditions, taking care of soil conditions, pruning the vines by hand, harvesting by hand, and, overall, using natural elements to your advantage, what results are grapevines that year-over-year will not only yield characterful fruit, but they (in all likelihood) will survive with disease resistance into old age, producing wines with depth of flavor as opposed to their younger counterparts. Piedmont, Italy hosts vines that have been growing since the end of the Second World War, and some of those are owned by Massimo Rivetti. These vines, in a way, have settled into themselves and have meshed with the soil to proudly show off the lands in which they grow. This is particularly true in Massimo Rivetti’s Barbaresco, which is a must-try for Nebbiolo lovers.

Organic farming has other benefits including saving costs on chemicals, instilling an environmentally positive consciousness focused on sustainability, and producing a well-looked-after crop that will (more often than not) reward your taste buds. The Willamette Valley in Oregon is known for its environmental consciousness when it comes to growing grapes, and Dai Crisp’s Lumos Wine Co. makes no exceptions to their organic methods. When it comes to Lumos, you are getting wines with minimal human intervention, leaving your taste buds to experience the freshness that organic farming can bring. Despite this, and similar to the other methods, organic practices also come with their disadvantages. Organic farming demands more labor and thus higher labor costs, and with the reduction in mechanization, there tends to be lower yields. Despite this, organic practices resonate with consumers, and today, on Earth Day, we want to celebrate the efforts of the winemakers, whether conventional, sustainable, or organic, who work to give back to the lands from which they take their grapes.

Organic Vineyards of Massimo Rivetti…Source: Kysela Pere et Fils

Biodynamic and Natural Wine

Before closing, we should address the wines that your hypothetical friend, named Rainn, absolutely loves: biodynamic and natural wines. Underneath the beret on top of his head and jumbled between memorized phrases like ‘that song’s played-out’ and ‘she’s such a Scorpio,’ Rainn’s brain believes these wines give him a sense of centered-ness that jive with his constructed image – which is basically the human manifestation of a t-shirt of a pug wearing a scarf. But, he may love these wines for reasons beyond how they’re made.

Biodynamic agriculture embraces the idea that certain homeopathic and holistic approaches to agriculture will benefit the product and, in short, lead to a balance between the universe and the earth. Many of these vintners will align their practices with celestial movements or other natural reference points. Many biodynamic wines follow organic practices (many times without certification), but these agricultural techniques necessarily force the farmers to pay close attention to their crops. Whether you believe Tannat should grow towards the constellation Taurus or Chardonnay should grow out of manure filled cow horns (yeah that’s a thing), these winemakers are paying attention.  In fact, Domaine de la Romanée-Conti, which year-over-year produces the most expensive Pinot Noir and Chardonnay in the world, utilizes this method.

Romanée-Conti Enclosed Vineyard…Source: Heritage Auctions

As a final note, natural wine deserves its own blog post, especially as the wine world is a bit divided on this topic. Natural wine is almost more of an idea than it is an established practice. The philosophy is that grapevines should be interfered with as little as possible. So, this means no chemicals, additives, etc., but this also means extremely limited use of sulfur dioxide. Without going into too much detail, sulfur dioxide (SO2) is a preservative and antiseptic that allows wine to stabilize overtime and during travel. Crucially, pretty much all wine has SO2. White wine tends to have more to preserve the fresh fruit flavors of particularly crisp white wines, but even these levels are, literally, hundreds of times lower than those found in dried fruits such as raisins. Regardless, SO2 is a key player in the natural wine movement, and only time will tell how long this movement will keep going.

Thanks so much for sticking through this somewhat long post, but we hope that through this discussion you’ve thought not only about what wines you might want to try, but also about how farmers can take care of the Earth. The full list of either sustainable or organic wines we carry can be found below . We love these wines and hope you will too. Happy Earth Day!

Vienna

2016 Oak Farm Cabernet Sauvignon Lodi, California (Sustainable)

2017 Lumos “Five Block” Pinot Noir Willamette Valley, Oregon (Organic)

McLean

2016 Massimo Rivetti Langhe Pinot Noir Piedmont, Italy (Organic)

2017 Chateau Passavant Anjou Blanc Loire Valley, France (Organic)

Great Falls

2017 Domaine Buisson-Charles Meursault “Vieilles Vignes” Burgundy, France (Organic)

2018 Los Bermejos Listan Rosado Canary Islands, Spain (Sustainable)

0

Happy World Malbec Day!

Friday, April 17th is World Malbec Day! Many grapes have their own internationally recognized days such as November 12 for Tempranillo, December 4 for Cabernet Franc, and even October 10 for Pinotage. Unfortunately, some poor grapes like Viognier, Gewürztraminer, and Blaufränkisch are left out of these celebrations. In fact, Blaufränkisch has only an ‘awareness day,’ and that makes the grape feel like some sort of endangered Austrian bird. Malbec’s day in the spotlight has a compelling story behind it, so let’s dive in and toast to Malbec as a versatile grape that we absolutely love at The Wine Outlet. Also, check out our virtual tasting video and pairing ideas at the end of the post and sip with us!

In 2011, the organization Wines of Argentina designated April 17th “Día Mundial del Malbec,” which honors the efforts of the Argentine Government to grow its wine industry by working with French winemakers. What resulted was Malbec finding its second home in Argentina. Argentine Malbec’s popularity grew rapidly in the United States, particularly in the 1990’s, and now, when we think of Malbec, our minds often dart to Argentina.

The Original Home

While Malbec has its charming Southern Hemisphere winter getaway home in Mendoza, the grape is French in origin. Southwestern France, in particular, is where Malbec gained its fame. It is a common blending grape in the wines of Bordeaux (though this is trending downward), but around the town of Cahors, which is North of Toulouse and Southeast of Bordeaux, is where Malbec takes center stage.

Source: Wine Folly

What is most important for the Malbec grape itself in Southwestern France is Cahors’s climate. Malbec is a touch tricky to get to fully ripen. Merlot and even Cabernet Sauvignon are easier to ripen than the thick-skinned Malbec. Cahors has a warmer climate than Bordeaux, allowing the Malbec vines to gain access to the sunlight and warmth necessary to produce riper fruit flavors and smoother tannins. These wines are often crafted with neutral French oak, meaning the barrels do not impart the vanilla, nutmeg, baking spices, and clove that you might find in new French oak. What results is a wine with a vibrancy of darker fruits such as blackberries, plums, and black currant. There is often a more savory quality to these wines with more meaty notes and an herbaceous character that lends layers of complexity. Our Chateau Laur Cahors exudes these qualities, and at $11.99, this is a fantastic way to learn more about French Malbec and your palate.

From France to Argentina

So, how is Cahors different from Malbec in Mendoza? There are a huge number of factors that are at play when it comes to different flavor profiles of the same grape in different regions, but here, let’s focus on two elements: location and winemaker influence.

Flechas de los Andes Winery…Source: Mendoza.travel

Location

Mendoza, Argentina is a high-altitude region with some vineyards surpassing 10,000 feet in elevation! This means that vines have excellent access to sunlight, allowing the Malbec berries not only to ripen, but ripen slowly. This is a bit like putting BBQ into a slow cooker. Just like slowly cooked meats, the components of the grape get to know each other and integrate, creating a delicious wine that, frankly, would go well with roast meats (I’m also really hungry right now). These wines are extremely food-friendly with bright acid from the elevation, smooth tannins, and a dark fruit-forward profile that makes them so delicious to wine drinkers around the globe. A great example we carry is the Gauchezco Reserve Malbec. With 92 points from James Suckling and a price of only $12.99, drink this wine side-by-side with our Cahors to see where your preference lies!

Winemaker Influence

The final element we want to discuss related to Argentine Malbec is winemaker influence. This is a key factor for the flavor profile of any wine, but, as Malbec was transported to Argentina by French winemakers, let’s briefly discuss their influence on Argentina’s staple grape. Our 2013 Flechas De Los Andes Gran Malbec is an excellent example for this. This bottle has spent 18 months in 30% new French oak, which essentially means that it has marinated in the oak for a year and half, allowing not only flavors of vanilla and spices to bleed into the juice, but the oak maturation will soften the tannins over time. Malbec is a highly tannic wine (it will likely cause a drying sensation, particularly in the front of your mouth), and oak aging lets small amounts of oxygen into the juice to give the tannins a smoother and velvety texture. The Rothschild family is behind the Flechas De Los Andes, and, as they also own some of the most prestigious chateaus in France, their quality of winemaking is readily apparent in this steal of a wine at $18.99. Expect slightly earthier notes out of this wine such as leather or sweet tobacco as the 2013 vintage continues to develop and soften with age.

We hope you all get a chance to try these excellent wines, learn more about how your taste buds interact with Malbec, and let us know what you think! Happy World Malbec Day everyone and cheers!

Pairings

These Malbecs are great on their own, but they also pair excellently with these items found in right in our stores!

2016 Chateau Laur Cahors

2017 Gauchezco Reserve Malbec

2013 Flechas De Los Andes Gran Malbec

0