Tuesday, July 28, 2009

Wednesday, July 15, 2009

Two cheers for French wine? Well, maybe.

There's a Slate.com article supporting French wines. Many of the writer's excellent points cannot be intelligently disputed, but some statements are pretty ridiculous:
1. "France continues to churn out most of the planet's truly great wines." Come again? I haven't counted, but I see hundreds of non-Gallic wines that win 95+ scores.
2. "No other place comes close to matching France for sheer number of benchmark wines." Given France's longer history of fine winemaking (dating back to the Romans, and possibly earlier), one might expect this to be true. But is the number of great wines the best measure of wine greatness for a nation? How many 95-100 point French wines have you enjoyed in the last year? I submit that a country's wine greatness is more about producing, across the board, bottles of wine that are well-made, delightful to drink, and can be had at a fair price. From long personal experience, I can tell you that France is not so great by this standard. Oregon and Washington, in contrast, simply blow France away in that regard, with the huge numbers of their very good wines, mostly at relatively low prices, and with tremendous variety as well.
3. "There is no other bubbly that can rival a premium Champagne for complexity and pleasure." Wrong again. Try Roederer (admittedly a French family) in CA's Anderson Valley, or Argyle in Dundee. Roederer's vintage sparklers are awe-inspiring, truly celestial in their perfection.
4. "You will meet scores of people who were once hooked on Napa cabernets or Australian shirazes but who have now partially or completely sworn them off in favor of Bordeaux, the Rhône, and other things French."
For every person who moves towards French wines (and many do it, I suspect, are motivated more from wanting to appear sophisticated than through a true understanding of wine), there must be three who discover the pleasures of a well-made wine from somewhere else. Try an old-vine Garnacha from Borsao, or a reserve Malbec from Argentina, or any of a number of great everyday wines from Italy.
I find too many French wines poorly made. They are too thin, too tart, too something, and stories abound of horrifying winemaking conditions there, borne of centuries of arrogance or apathy, that only now are being improved as a result of losing market share to the better winemaking of other countries. Too often I have been disappointed by the so-called "great wines" of France, and by lesser French wines as well. Although many French wines are good, I tend to distrust most French wines now. I'm sorry that the country is wounding itself eneologically; we can all grieve for that. But for me, the fruits of the "terroir" are simply better elsewhere.

[Mike Steinberger is Slate's wine columnist. He can be reached at slatewine@gmail.com. His book, Au Revoir to All That, is about the rise, fall, and future of French cuisine.]

Tuesday, July 14, 2009

Longer life through wine!

A new study confirmed wine's health benefits.

Moderate consumption of wine (1-5 small glasses of wine per day for men, and half that for women) is the greatest single influence behind the longevity that results from a good diet. Eating meats and dairy products is a negative, but not a huge one. Eating fish is NOT a plus at all. Eating more fruits, veggies, and legumes, and using olive oil as the main fat source, are positives, and they are fairly large ones. But moderate wine consumption is king!

Let's all see each other in our 90's!

Monday, July 13, 2009

Lopez Island Vineyards, San Juan Archipelago

Here's the view from Lopez Island Vineyards, on Lopez Island in the San Juan islands in NW Washington. We just got back yesterday.

I love it that you can find a winery almost anywhere. Although there are over 700 islands in the archipelago, there is only one winery, and it was located about 0.3 miles down the gravel road from our B&B. They grow two white grapes that make a good blend (Madeleine Angevine and Siegerrebe); the former is a disease-prone vinifera grape from the Loire Valley in France, although it's grown there as an eating grape, not a winegrape, and the latter is a German winegrape. They also buy fruit from Yakima to make red vinifera wines. Brent the winemaker trained at Cal Davis.

A stream of tourists came in and out, so they get good business in the summer, even on this remote island, one of the lesser-traveled, harder-to-get-to places I've been. The winery overlooks gorgeous vineyards, and somebody has planted a row of poplars which you can see in the photo; that makes one feel like they're in France.

For further reading:

Sunday, July 5, 2009

Maturity Curves

Maturity curves . . .

No, I'm not talking about your grandmother's hips;)

This piece is about how a wine changes over time. You need to understand wine maturity curve theory, in order to drink your wines at the right time.

If you graph wine quality (vertical scale) vs time (horizontal scale), you will see this: Almost all wines rise in quality after bottling. The time needed to reach the plateau is about the same as the time that the wine spends on the plateau, so if a wine needs 3 years or so to reach its "peak" (its plateau of highest quality), it will likely remain on the plateau for about three years. (for very long-lived wines, this rule isn't always true.)
Typically, the time spent on the plateau is shorter for most whites (just a few months, in the case of a Prosecco), and longer for most reds, and then the wines fall off as the wine finally deteriorates (it can lose its fruit, or it can be oxidized). The shape of the maturity curve and its length depend on the varietal, the bottle size, the storage temp and humidity, and the wine's unique chemistry, as affected by the vintage's weather, the soil conditions, and the winemaker's practices. Most whites will hang at their peak for only a year or three (exceptions are certain sweet wines and some sparkling wines). Reds typically last much longer--if a red has a lot of tannin, the bottle likely will last a long time. Certain Bordeaux can hang on the "plateau" for decades; the question with them is whether the fruit will still be there when the tannins have finally softened and integrated. Ports and, especially, madeiras, with their higher-alcohol content and heat treatment, last the longest--centuries, perhaps. Also, most wines' quality curves will tail off gently, so if you're a year or two late in the case of a red, it's probably still OK.
A warning: If your wines are stored hotter than a cave (a cave being about 55F in this latitude), that will age the wines prematurely, so the maturity curve will have to be shortened accordingly.

Here are some wine-aging tips, from thisfrenchlife.com:

If you want to know what stage a wine is at, open a bottle, drink part of it over two hours and try to see how it evolves during this time. Then, do not protect it from oxidation and retry it the next day.
- If it has improved in the first two hours and got even better the next day, let it sleep at least another 5 years and try it again.
- If it has improved in the first two hours and declined the next day, drink it in the next 10 years with occasionall re-tests, to know how it actually evolves.
- If it declines within the first two hours, drink the rest of it up quickly.

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