Thursday, August 28, 2008

White Burgundy Wine

What is the white Burgundy grape? Most of you will know it as Chardonnay, in France it is called Beaunois.

In France and much of the Old World wineries, the wines are categorized by their growing region instead of their grape varietal like we do here in the US and most of the New World. So I will be speaking about the Chardonnay varietal that is grown within Burgundy, but more specifically, the popular growing areas within Burgundy.

Each of these growing areas produce wines with distinct characteristics and flavor profiles.

Chablis is easily the most known white Burgundy. It is the in the Northern most region of Burgundy. The Chablis wine is known for its dryness and crisp acidity, a flinty/mineral note, and light nose of green apple, lemon or lime.

Corton-Charlemagne wines are considered to be some of the best whites in Burgundy and are know for their distinctive fruit, cinnamon and honey flavors. These wines age well and are some of the more expensive. A well aged Charlemagne will be full bodied and have added spice, almonds and oak.

Montrachet is considered to be the greatest white wine in the world and commands the highest prices. It has an intense floral nose, which is a typical characteristic sign of a Montrachet, a full silky mouth feel, rich fruit with honey and almond notes and finishes clean and dry.

These are just 3 of the most well known whites in Burgundy. Other notables are Mâcon Blanc (or Pinot-Chardonnay-Mâcon) and Mâcon-Village and Pouilly-Fuissé.

I have not had the privilege of trying a Charlemagne, but if I ever I get a chance, I won't waste it. I love the idea of the flavors of cinnamon, honey and almonds in my wine.


Pinot Noir

A very popular varietal and rightly so. Pinot Noirs are usually light to medium bodied reds with good complexity, balance, and low to medium tannins. This makes it one of the most drinkable wines for wine noob's and enthusiasts alike.

Pinot Noir is nearly synonymous to the French growing region of Burgundy. If you are drinking a red (bonus points if you can name the White Burgundy varietal) Burgundy right now, you are drinking a Pinot Noir.

As with most wines, the Old World /New World profiles differs from each other, yet the Old World wine makers are moving to the more popular styles of the New World.

Here's what to expect in the flavor profiles:

New World Pinot Noir Flavor Profile: simple to medium complexity, fruit driven - raspberries, cherries, strawberries, light, violets, lilac, silky and supple tannins

Old World Pinot Noir Flavor Profile: complex, mushrooms, forest, earth, full bodied, incense, sandalwood, spice, moderate tannins

Pinot Noir was my favorite varietal for many years but, as you know, I have recently fallen for the Priorat. However, you can almost never go wrong with a good Pinot Noir. Food is not needed to complement it's flavor as it is an excellent stand alone wine. It is also a great wine for a group of friends who want to buy a bottle but can't decide between white or a red.


Friday, August 22, 2008

Houston Wine Events

Coming soon are some really fun wine events here in Houston. These are my two favorites, so mark your calendars! If you would like to know about local wine events in your area, sign up for The Juice and get notified by email.

Houston Cellar Classic '08
When: Monday, October 13th to Sunday, October 19th
Cost: $20 to $250 - For details see the Featured Wine Events

This event is mostly hosted by Uptown Park's The Tasting Room and also inlcudes the other TTR locations and of course Max's Wine Dive (which is owned by TTR incase you didn't know). There will be many events you can attend including Sommelier Smackdown, VIP Reserve Room Wine Tasting, and Sunday Jazz Brunch Buffet.

The event that I will DEFINITELY ATTEND is the Grand Tasting Experience held on Saturday, October 18th from 1pm to 5pm with a cost of $55 (last year it was $75). This event was a total BLAST with more than 100+ wines to taste, 18+ of Houston's own restaurants, and live music.

This event sets itself apart from any other wine tasting event because of the quality of wine and the quality of all the food you will get to sample. For $55, you will definitely get your money's worth, and hopefully get to taste and learn about some new wines. Get your tickets early and I'll see you there!

Wineapalooza '08
When: Sunday, September 28th - 2pm to 8pm
Cost: $50 (Last year it was $35)
Wineapalooza is an event at The Corkscrew and has sold out every year. The space is limited so get your tickets early! It is very fun and large wine tasting that includes good food and fun live band music. There will be more than 100+ wines to taste ranging from $8 bottles to $150+ bottles of wine. A note for Champagne lovers, the sparkling wines always go first.


Wednesday, August 20, 2008

Shiraz or Syrah

Shiraz is what the Australians call Syrah. Australians also used to call it Hermitage, but that is a French protected name of origin. We'll just call it the "love child".

The origins of Syrah were a mystery until recently when science discovered that Syrah is the love child of Dureza, a red grape and Mondeuse Blanche, a white grape.

Shiraz and Syrah are the same varietal and are dark skinned and used to make some powerful wines. The most notable regions for this varietal are Rhône, France, Australia, and the United States of America.

Hermitage and Côte-Rôtie are some of the famous French wines that are produced from Syrah, the primary grape in the Northern Rhone.

In Australia, it was the Penfold's Grange that became world famous. It used to be labled as Penfold's Grange Hermitage, but as mentioned before, "Hermitage" is a French protected name of origin. Only wines from Hermitage can have that label.

The flavor profile for Old World vs. New World Syrah are fairly distinct.

Old World Syrah Flavor Profile: black/white pepper, lavender, rosemary, musk, game, bitter chocolate

New World Syrah/Shiraz Flavor Profile: blackberry jam, vanilla bean, baked earth, smoke, chocolate

Honestly, I don't think I have ever come across a Syrah I didn't like. The tannins are firm but not harsh which makes for easy drinking and a good foil to this usually intense wine.


Saturday, August 16, 2008

Pinot Grigio aka Pinto Gris

Pinot Grigio/Gris is one of the most popular white wines we serve and is perfect for Houston's hot Summer nights.

Pinot means "pinecone" in French and Gris means "Gray" in French. The grapes grow in a pinecone shaped cluster and they have a grayish hue to them. This grape is thought to be a mutant of the famous Pinot Noir grape.

Pinot Grigio's come from Italy and are light, crisp, and clean. It has a high acid content which allows it to pair nicely with tomato based dishes. They can be vinified dry to sweet but generally are on the dry side with some flint and steel, lemon verbana and green apple flavors.

Pinot Gris grows in many parts of the world but the standard of excellence is usually from Alsace, France. Alsace's cool climate and warm volcanic soils allow long hang times for this varietal. The long hang time produces a style of Pinot Gris that is round, supple, and light to medium bodied. This wine will also be low acid with flavors of buttered almond, yellow apple, minerals and nuts.


Thursday, August 14, 2008


Priorat is a DOCa wine region in Catalonia, Spain. Their most sought after and popular wines are the inky black reds that can be made from Garnacha (Grenache), Cabernet Sauvignon, Cariñena, Syrah and Merlot. This varietal grows in the region's unique black soils known as llicorella (slate-and-quartzite aka schiste) and steeply terraced vineyards.

The growing conditions are harsh, the yeilds are small and the result is intense, minerally reds with concentrated fruit flavors. The growing conditions have also fostered new wine making practices and many feel these are the best produced wines in Spain. These wines are definitely the most elite and expensive wines in Spain.

I had the opportunity to taste my first Priorat, from Clos Erasmus, for the first time last night. We carry this at The Tasting Room. I have to agree with everything I have learned about the wine from this region. It was the most luscious, concentrated and well balanced wine that I have had in a very long time.


Monday, August 11, 2008


Most people believe riesling is a sweet wine, but this varietal can be made from dry to sweet. It has also been know to be made effervescent.

I really like rieslings and it is my preferred white wine. This varietal comes in so many different styles and you can almost always find one to fit your mood.

Riesling's most popular profile includes a strong floral and apple like aroma with hints of minerals. You may sometimes even smell a faint petroleum or kerosene scent. It has flavors of apple, pear, apricot, flint and minerals.

Rieslings can be styled differently because it is one of the varietals that can grow in both cooler and warmer weather. Here are the style profiles for the cool climate and warm climate rieslings.

Riesling Cool Climate flavor profile: lean, reserved, light bodied, crispy, tangy, high acid, apricot, green apples, and dry to sweet

Riesling Warm Climate flavor profile: opulent, full bodied, low acid, tropical notes, lychee nuts, and dry to sweet.

Come over to the Tasting Room and try the dry riesling from Pewsey Vale and then try the Leitz which will be a much sweeter counter part.


Friday, August 8, 2008


Lambrusco is both a region and a grape varietal. The region is located in Northern Italy and the wine used to be very popular in the US. The wine was made in the amabile , meaning sweet, and frizzante, meaning semi-sparkling, style. It eventually fell out of favor as a "soda pop" wine.

There are still quality Lambruscos being made and they usually come from the Emilia-Romangna. They are frizzante but are made in a secco, meaning dry, style. This Lambrusco will have flavors of dried cherries and notes of strawberry. They come in both white and rose styles too.

These are also made in the traditional way sparkling wines are made in France called Methode Champenoise. This means they are fermented twice and the second time will be in the bottle.

I have not had a chance to try a Lambrusco, but I am definitely looking forward to it.


Thursday, August 7, 2008

Cabernet Sauvignon

The Cabernet Sauvignon grape is probably the most popular grape in the world. It is a cross between the Cabernet Franc grape and the Sauvignon Blanc grape. It is prized for its consistent structure and flavors and its ease of cultivation.

The most popular and prized Cabernets come from the Bordeaux region of France and the Stag's Leap district of California. This varietal also has flavors based on the Old World Style and the New World Style.

Cabernet Sauvignon Old World style flavor prophile: Herbs, earth, cassis, red/black currant, mocha, cedar scented, tobacco, black peppercorn, strong tannins.

Cabernet Sauvignon New World style flavor profile: Fruit driven, cherries, cassis, milk chocolate, oak scented, vanilla, eucalyptus or mint, strong tannins.

New world Cabs are produced and bottle for nearly immediate consumption. Old world Cabs are produced for bottled aging, although the wine drinkers of the world are buying wines that they can consume immediately. The old world wine producers have responded to the demand and it is now more difficult to differentiate the Old and New world Cabs.

My current favorite Cabs actually come from Washington State's Columbia Valley. They are a mix of both the New world and Old world flavors: Cassis, cedar, vanilla and medium tannins. Give the Cab from the Barnard Griffin winery a try some time.


Fetish Wines 2005 Playmates

We just recently brought this wine into our stores. It is a classic French Southern Rhone blend of Grenache, Shiraz, and Mataro but made in the Barossa Valley of Australia. Wait. What? Isn't the Southern Rhone blend Grenache, Syrah, and Mourvedre? You are absolutely correct!

Mataro is what the Australian's call Mourvedre and Shiraz is what the Australian's call Syrah. This wine is classic New World with the Aussie's love of fruit with a good balance of alcohol and tannins.

A deep hued wine with nice dark berries and cherries, a hint of vanilla, and spice. It has a good mid palate, nice balance, and a lingering finish. All of this along with the wine label definitely makes this a sexy wine. Very nice!


Wednesday, August 6, 2008

Old World and New World Wines

When talking about wine, what exactly does old world or new world mean?

It's simple. Nearly everything in Europe is considered Old World. This includes France, Spain, Italy, Germany etc.

New World is anything not in the Old World: USA, Chile, Australia, etc.

Yep, its that simple.

But why the distinction you ask? Well the two styles are were very different in flavor profiles. The old world embraced terroir (the local climate, soil, and environment) and their wines were meant to age in the bottle before consumption. Their wine making techniques are also very traditional and rarely changed. Because of this, their wines took on the flavors earthy flavors of terroir: minerals, flinty, leather, tobacco, earth, mushrooms, slate etc.

Currently, the majority of consumers prefer wines made in the new world style and many old world vineyards have been producing new world style type wines.

New world wines are made to be fruit forward and to consumed immediately. New world wine making is not steeped in stodgy traditions and they are usually free to try many new techniques to produce the best wine. The new world has recently begun to pay attention to terroir in their wine making process like the old world has done for decades.

I prefer new world wines myself, but I have tasted some amazing old world wines too. I especially like the flavors of cedar, leather and cigar box (humidor). The minerals and slate from some Chablis I have had are quite good too.


For my very first wine profile I chose the ubiquitous varietal, Chardonnay.
Chardonnay is rarely my first choice, but I like it. It is usually full bodied, off-dry, with notes of pineapple, apple, and vanilla. I usually drink Chardonnay from California.

Below are the typical flavor profiles for Chardonnay and I have also broken them down into Old World style and New World style.

Chardonnay New World style flavor profile: banana, pineapple, apple pie/cobbler, butterscotch, caramel, toast, burnt sugar, vanilla, ginger, nutmeg, a lot of oak, low acid

Chardonnay Old World style flavor profile: lemon, grapefruit, granny smith apple, butter, nuts, honey, minerals, flint, little wood, high acid

Here's a fun little game you can play the next time you are out for a glass of wine. Find out if you can get both an old world and new world chardonnay and don't let the server tell you which is which. See if you can identify the flavor profile and pick the old world vs the new world chardonnay based solely on smell/visual/flavor.

Feel free to check out some of the history and background of chardonnay too.


Tuesday, August 5, 2008

Bottle Shock Review

This movie is based on the true story of the 1976 battle of the wines AKA the Paris wine tasting of 1976 and AKA "Judgment of Paris". The 800 pound gorilla with their years of wine making knowledge and tradition, France versus the fledgling hick, cowboy, upstarts with their radical wine making techniques, the USA (California specifically).

The headliners for this film are Bill Pullman, Alan Rickman, Dennis Farina and Eliza Dushku. All of the actors were great and convincing. This movie is fun to watch with many comedic moments and the story will pull you in. Alan Rickman was far and away the best part of the movie and Dennis Farina was a great foil to Alan.

If you're a wine lover you'll know that this event is what put California on the map in the wine world. If you're not a wine lover, you'll still love the story. Who doesn't like an underdog? Go see Bottle Shock!


Monday, August 4, 2008

How to describe a wine

I manage part time at a wine bar here in Houston, Uptown Park's The Tasting Room. We generally sell 12-15 wines by the glass. We break the choices down into red, white, sparkling, dessert, and a usually a couple of Sommelier Picks.

When describing a wine you generally want to talk about 3 things:
  • Body - light, medium, full
  • Sweetness (or lack of) - sweet, off-sweet, off-dry, dry
  • Flavor - usually fruits but can include many other flavors too like herbs and spices too
If you know these 3 things about a wine, you can pretty much describe any wine in the world and the person you are describing it to will be able to tell if they'd like that particular wine.

Grapes, Wine and their Flavor Prophiles

As you may know, the same grape that is used to produce a wine can taste drastically different depending on how, when and even where that wine was produced. There are many factors that can determine the flavor profile of a wine:

  • Old World or New World
  • Oaked or unoaked
  • Cool climate or warm climate
  • Residual sugar or not
  • Hang time short to long
  • Fortified or not
  • Soil Type
  • Fermentation process

In the future I will be posting specific varietals (the grape) and their flavor profiles.