Gigondas

When I first began seriously exploring European wines, someone recommended a Gigondas. Not knowing any better, I took them up on their suggestion and have never looked back. Most recently, I had a 2013 bottle of Domaine du Cayron Gigondas that belied the years this varietal has graced the earth. I was captivated by the strong, rustic flavor of a wine that has always been in the shadow of Châteauneuf du Papes, in the Rhône region of southeastern France. In the first century BC, the Romans established a colony at the site, which was so jovial,  Caesar called it Jucundus, the joyful, with the town becoming known as Jocunditas, and eventually Gigondas.

The jagged limestone spurs just above the vineyards of this area, known as Dentelles de Montmirail, are landmarks for all who go to Gigondas. The rains wash down the limestone into the waiting vines, but if this were all that made this region what it is, there would be little problem replicating the wines made here. It has been truthfully said that terroir is more than just the dirt in which the vines grow. A tradition of wine making dating back to the Roman era has allowed wine makers in Gigondas to develop their wine into a gutsy wine that carries a fruitful flavor and bears witness to the aging of the wine in stainless steel and then oak barrels. This aging, sometimes going on as much as eight years or more, delivers notes of mesquite and black tea.

The Gigondas appellation, an Appellation d’Origine Contrôlée (AOC),  is southeast of the appellation where Châteauneuf du Pape is grown, and produces only red grapes. Because of its proximity to its better known cousin, many have accused wine makers of fashioning their wines after the Châteauneuf du Pape. In fact, nothing could be further from the truth. There is the the Grenache grape, which is the principle grape in the wine, giving a strong body and fruitfulness. Add in Mouvedre, a blending grape that lends toward the structure and spiciness of the wines from this region, and the basis for one of France’s better wines is set. Syrah is one of the more prevalent grapes grown in this region, next to Grenache, and its inclusion in the wines made in this region set it aside from other varietals. 

Understanding the historical perspective and even the geological nature of a wine is one thing, but I believe the most important piece when evaluating a wine is the enjoyment factor.  Whether drunk solo or with food, the mouth on the Domaine du Cayron Gigondas wine makes it almost chewable, which is not a bad thing considering the velvet touch it has on your pallet.  The initial taste of chocolate sets the stage for a mature experience of the fruit of the vine as it develops in ones mouth. The robust and almost chewy taste of leather and dark berries awakens ones senses and delights the soul. A medium bodied wine, the sophisticated and complex taste definitely should be accompanied by a good roast with all the trimmings, raising the beef to new heights. The rustic flavor would balance perfectly the gamey taste of the venison.

Looking online, some websites declared their shelves out of stock of this amazing bottle (oh, cruel throw of dice). Have no fear if you wanted to try it. Look stage center, the lights come on the latest wine merchants in the Fredericksburg area, City-Vino. Specializing in good wines many stores do not carry, this soon to be city icon carries the bottle described in this column and many more excellent choices if Gigondas happens not to be a fave. ]

Enjoy your favorite wine responsibly.  One more thing, Cheers!

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City Vino

Summertime is here, the time when everyone thinks of vacations and traveling to different destinations, from tours of Virginia sites to cruises showing off international places many only hear about. In Fredericksburg, there is a destination that can whisk one away on an international tour in a matter of minutes. Renee Dunn and Rita Allan, the owners of the newest wine store in Fredericksburg, City Vino, offer a tour of wines of the world, bringing together an array of international and Virginia wines that one would be hard pressed to find elsewhere in the Burg.

Located at 810 Caroline Street, City Vino held its grand opening and ribbon cutting ceremony June 9. There was an excitement as people gathered to witness this welcome and needed addition to the Caroline Street retail market. The festive mood found friends greeting friends, and strangers becoming friends, as the opening celebration gave way to conversation and questions concerning the many different wines that were available.

After the ribbon cutting, there was a tasting given of a Rosé de Saignée Pinot Noir and Pinot Mainier sparkling wine produced by Champagne Roger-Constant Lemaire. Served chilled, it was an excellent accompaniment to the humidity that was waiting outside for those unfortunate enough to have to leave the City Vino festivities. A non-vintage rosé, that underwent a scant 24-48 hours of maceration before the process of fermentation was completed (there was no secondary fermentation in the bottle…go figure) and then aged in stainless steel for four to six years, there is plenty of room for this bottle to be cellared for some time. The tasting was a nice addition to an already enjoyable welcome for this joint venture of Dunn and Allan.

Although the retail space is small, City Vino offers a large variety of tastefully displayed wines from California to Virginia on a domestic scale, and from South America to South Africa and most of Europe on the worldwide scale. As varied as the origins of the wine are, so too is the knowledge of the proprietors. They provide excellent customer service with knowledge that is not overly technical, giving those who visit this establishment a taste of their wines, in addition to a pleasing exposure to the wine culture in Fredericksburg.

Most of the wines sold are from smaller handcrafted producers that are exemplar of the region in which they come. The Virginia wines were award winners, as many Virginia wines are. Displayed bottles came from all over the state, not just any one locale. In addition to the many and varied wines, there was an impressive array of cheeses and deli meats available waiting to be paired one’s favorite varietal.

Renee Dunn, a former web developer, is an active member of the King George Wine Society, which is a chapter of the American Wine Society, and a Certified Specialist of Wine, holding a Wine and Spirit Education Trust (WSET) Level 2 certification. Having begun her journey at local establishments, found herself intrigued with wine and wanted to know more. To do so, she had to travel to Northern Virginia to attend classes. A UMW alum, with an understanding and love for the Fredericksburg area, she hopes to bring classes to this region.

Rita Allan, a George Mason graduate, has a background in financial management, and now, wine. She is, as is Dunn, an active member of the King George Wine Society. In addition, Allan has a WSET Level 1 certification.

Dunn said that this store is just the beginning of what she hopes to be a rise in the wine culture locally. She noted that wine drinkers in the area are becoming more educated. Fredericksburg is an area that is very open to learning more. To that end, Dunn hopes to bring WSET classes to this area in the near future, so that City Vino becomes more than just a retail outlet, but in fact, becomes a place where people can obtain a greater degree of understanding of wine and wine pairing.  At present, there are people who travel to Northern Virginia from Richmond because there are no classes offered anywhere else. Dunn and Allan are already looking at locations where there will hopefully be WSET classes provided soon.

Both Dunn and Allan have put together a masterful display of excellent wines from all corners. I purchased a Gigondas that was amazing. Velvety on the pallet, this 2013 varietal from the Southeast corner of France, had a mature and sophisticated nose that matched its medium taste, and begged to have a nice piece of London broil to come along side to complement the experience.

It is not a stretch to say there is something for everyone at City Vino. If you cannot find it, the staff has more than enough knowledge and understanding to help you make a quality decision.  Sparta is a ways from the Burg, but I guess I will be making the trek to see more of this place, it is definitely worth it.

Cheers!

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A February Deception

Brrrrrr! It’s cold outside! I have learned over the past sixty plus years never to trust the months of February and March. This year we were lolled into a false sense of warmth and early spring.  It looked like the lion of winter had died, but Noooo!  Along comes March and it truly has come in like the lion.  It has created a lot of speculation in the wine industry in Virginia.

February was deceiving not only to the people who enjoyed it, but to the flora as well. Crepe myrtles came into bloom along with many other plants that normally bloom much later.  I saw a picture of a Chardonnay vine where the but not only broke, but there was substantial growth as a result of the warm climate.

Last year we had a similar situation with a late frost no one was expecting and buds were damaged in an area that covered the entire east coast all the way west to Ohio and Indiana.  This year, everyone was sure it was going to be an early season with temperatures warm  to stay.  Pruning has been done by most.  Some of us slow ones lucked out this year.  I am waiting until this craziness is over before pruning at Loch Haven.

Fortunately, we experience the lake effect each year.  I have a pond next to my vineyard and even in a mild winter, it stores enough cold that it keeps the air in the vineyard cooler than other places on my property.  As a result, the buds develop slower.  This was quite a blessing last year when we had the late frost and has proven to be the same this year.  Although February was warm, the buds in the vineyard are tight and I believe we should have a good harvest.  I had an editor who asked me to write a story on the art of growing grapes. My response was that growing grapes is a wing and a prayer!  It is not a good year until harvest and the grapes de-stemmed, crushed, pressed and fermenting into wine.  But so far, it looks good.

Back to the speculation mentioned before.  Already some wineries are putting their feelers out for grapes beyond the normal demand.  The western part of the state got hit hard this March, particularly with the Nor’Easter that is blowing through.   Some weather experts are saying the ground is warming up and will get no colder, offering a bit of encouragement  We can only wait and see.

Thanks goes out to Christina for encouraging me to keep blogging. 

Cheers!

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Readin’ and Writin’ – From the Uncle Jimmy Tales

A whole lot of people think Uncle Jimmy can’t read.  The truth is, Uncle Jimmy reads just fine.  There is just one hitch, he is real particular about what he reads and how he reads it.  He’s a lot different from most folks.

When asked about reading and such, Uncle Jimmy says, “I can read aw right, as long as it’s readin’.  It’s the writin’ that gets me.  You see, if you gives me a piece of readin,’ well hell, I’ll tear it up.  I just don’t read no writin’, and b’lieve me, I know readin’ and writin’ don’t fall from the same tree.  I read readin’, but I don’t read no writin’.”

Uncle Jimmy keeps his eye on people  all the time and nothing gets his goat worse that when they think the way they do things is the only way and are not willing to try to learn things a different way.  Take for instance, his reading.  He has little to do with all these people who feel like they have to read writing, when he feels reading the way he does is just as good.

“ I done tried larnin’ to read writin’ but I foun’ that to jest read readin’ works lots better.  I b’lieve people feel like they have to read writin’ because they think they’s sumpin when they’s doin’ that.  The truth is, they jest damn ignorant.”

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Temperatures

I have never been one who looks forward to the beach, but this year the beach had a particular draw.  The summer was busy, with rehab from back surgery in May and the vineyard taking up most of my time, the beach was a time for R and R despite the diet of sand and sunscreen that creeps into everything.  The major drawback about the beach is the intense heat.

A popular sources of relief from the heat is a cold beer, and with craft beers being sold on every corner, in addition to the icy coldness, there is a large array of palatable tastes to go with it. For the teetotalers, any beveridge from lemonade to the extensive arrays of soda pop will do.  Did I mention wine?  The wine of this summer, as mentioned in this column and many wine columns , has been Rosé, a wine served cold.  Temperature, in the world of wine, is quite an an issue.

Like oaking, coldness can hide a plethora of missteps made by the wine maker.  Along with decanting,it plays one of the most important factors in the taste of the wine.  Recently I participated in a panel where we looked at the effect of temperature on two wines, a non oak aged Chardonnay and a Vignonier aged in medium toast French oak.

Both wines were served very chilled.  It was noted the Chardonnay had a neutral flavor and while the Vignonier, though a bit muted, had a definite citrus note.  As the temperature increased, the change in the flavor changed.  The change in the taste of the wine reflected not only the change in temperature but also the fact that as it set out air was introduced into the wine.  Wine undergoes a constant chemical reaction, though slowed down by cold temperatures and sealing the wine from air through the bottling process.  As with anything, there are as many opinions about how a wine should be served, what kind of glass and how chilled it should be.  Aside from the wines that are to be served chilled (beside Rosé, some white wines such as Sauvignon Blanc, fortified wines, and Cayuga White), most wines are served at 50-55º F for whites and around 60º F for most reds. It should be noted wines at these temperatures do not make good beverages to cool down at the beach (although many whites are excellent with seafood).

While beer is drunk often for its icy temperature, it is being offered more and more for a culinary experience.  The difference in wine and beer being consumed with food is related to the temperature.  Wine has more of a variance in how it is served, depending on whether it is being served with food or by itself.  Wine chilled is excellent when mixed to make some fruit drinks such as Sangria.  Sangria, by the way, is an excellent chilled alcoholic beverage for the hot summer days at the beach.  On the other hand, heated spiced wines are a delightful in the cold blustery days of winter.

Even though the summer is almost officially over, there are plenty of hot days left over.  Whether cooling off with a cold and icy beer, or hanging out with a chilled wine, there are plenty of choices, and any winemaker worth his salt would be willing to assist you.  Please beat the heat responsibly.

Cheers!

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Decanting

Anyone who has consumed a lot of wine over time has tasted some that just did not seem quite right at first.  Then about half way through the glass, the taste seemed to change.  Usually a bit more mellow, quite often some flavors became more evident.  What started out to be a bomb became a nice experience.

Wine is always undergoing a chemical reaction.  From the time of fermentation, through the aging process, and bottling, a lot of activity happens.  As the wine stays in the bottle, even then changes still occur, albeit much slower than before, as the wine is almost comatose due to lack of oxygen.  When the bottle is opened, and air comes into the wine, this process is stepped up drastically.  What may appear tannic to ones mouth (in wine lingo, tannins), can  become, after exposure to air, a very palatable drink.  The process of introducing air to wine after the bottle is opened is known as decanting.

Rather than just opening the bottle and letting it breathe, a proper decanting involves pouring the wine into a larger container that allows the air to be exposed to more of the wine surface.  In addition to exposing it to air, if a bottle is older or has not been through filtration, decanting can help remove sediment. 

Looking on the internet can scare anyone looking to buy a vessel for decanting (known by some wine geeks as a carafe).  Prices go from $20-30.00 up to several hundred dollars.  Crazy.  When working retail, I was speaking about this subject to a CWS (Certified Wine Specialist – a real designation) who laughed and said that people should just go to Walmart and get a glass jar or lemonade pitcher, the effect would be the same.  It just does not look as sophisticated. 

More important than the container is the amount of time it stays in the container prior to serving.  My favorite method for determining the time frame is to taste it.  Depending on the wine, sometimes I taste it more often.  A good rule of thumb is to letting it remain approxiamately thirty minutes.  After initially pouring the wine into the carafe and prior to serving, I will swirl the wine around to add just a touch more air.  If the wine stays too long in the carafe, it can lose its flavor and actually go bad.  It all depends on the wine.  Usually, older wines do not require as much decanting, if any at all, save to remove some sediment that may be present. 

Another method of decanting which scares me just a bit, is putting the wine in a blender and blending it for thirty to sixty seconds.  After the wine settles, it can be served in a traditional carafe. 

In an interview with Wine Searcher, Nathan Myhroid, the guru of the “Hyper Decanting” trend stated, “Wine lovers have known for centuries that decanting wine before serving it often improves its flavor.  Whatever the dominant process, the traditional decanter is a rather pathetic tool to accomplish it.  A few years ago, I found I could get much better results by using an ordinary blender.”

While this may be a much faster method of decanting wine, it smacks of our “gotta have it now” culture.  Face it, wine is not a fast food item unless lesser quality wines are being consumed.  At that point, it does not need to be decanted anyway, as no form of decanting can revive a dead wine.  Also, when a wine has a bad cork that has allowed air to get in and queer the wine, decanting will do no good.

Not an exact science, decanting, like wine, comes down to a personal choice.  I have a friend who is very knowledgeable about wine and insists on decanting every bottle he opens, while others may not even know what a decanter is, but have drunk wines for years.  Whatever you do, enjoy.  And please, drink responsibly.

Cheers.

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Old Dumb Joe Heinrich

The tongue has long been the bane of many a well meaning individual.  Scriptures point out the fact that it is very powerful, and is something to be kept under control.  But never have I seen the power of the tongue like I did one day when Joe Heinrich and I were visiting his grandmother.

You have to understand Joe, he’s dumb as a post.  Actually, he’s almost stupid, but not quite, so we say he’s dumb as a post.  While sitting at his grandmother’s kitchen table, she pulled out a wet-bottom shoe-fly pie and cut each of us a large slab. Joe dived in and shoved a big fork full in his mouth.  When it hit his tongue, his whole mouth lit up like a Christmas tree, and his tongue was dancing a jig, the pie was that good.

Now remember, Joe is dumb as a post.  He decided he was going to have some fun with his tongue.  He took another big fork full of that pie, and his mouth got all excited.  Joe held that pie up to his mouth, and just before his tongue could touch it, he pulled the fork away, which made his tongue all kinds of mad. In fact, his tongue got real mad, and it come out of  his mouth and commenced to whaling Joe all over his face.  It beat his face so bad, it took fourteen operations just to get Joe back to ugly.

Poor old Joe Heinrich, he’s dumb as a post, and now he’s ugly as one too

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