I remember drinking Merlot after I saw the movie Sideways, and I thought, "What's the big deal? Why was he so angry about Merlot? Despite my own affinities for the glass in hand, it was sad to realize such a blanket statement about a grape would stick around for a while. Fortunately for us amateurs, we get to make up our own minds about this grape variety. Here are a few tips on where it's made, how to serve it, and some tasty (and affordable) bottles to try out.
'amateur wine taste-along' on Serious Eats
In contrast to the big, bold, tannic wines made from Cabernet Sauvignon (popular enough to earn the pet name "Cabernet" over its own parent), Cab Franc offers medium-bodied wines with lower tannin levels and more earthy and herbaceous qualities. This week we'll get to know this underappreciated grape, delving into the specifics of where it's made, what it tastes like, and what bottles to seek out.
The first time I really noticed—really tasted—Tempranillo was at the tapas restaurant Tía Pol in New York. We'd ordered a super flavorful squid dish, which was served in its own, concentrated ink. The smokiness and earthiness of the Bodegas Muga Reserva Rioja wine we drank alongside it was just too delicious a complement to ignore. I was forced out of passively drinking the wine by this splendid combination. And I've been pretty into Tempranillo ever since.
Our tasting group really enjoyed the New World options we tasted, and given that the most expensive bottle was around $20, these seem like great options to restock for future dinners, gifts, or Saturday nights. The French Syrahs we tried were much drier, with pronounced acidity and earthiness when compared to their New World counterparts.
My journey with Syrah started years ago with my sister (older and wiser by about 4 years). We were in an Australian wine shop (as in, a wine shop located in Australia) aiming to pick up something different and local that we wouldn't be able to find back home. At the time, my encounters with Syrah had been few and far between, but I knew that it was a big part of Australian wine. So I turned to the salesman and earnestly asked, "Could you make some recommendations for a few bottles we could take back home to the States? We're looking for something we wouldn't normally be able to get there, like an Australian Sy...errr..." I glanced at a bunch of bottles around me, and all of them said 'Shiraz,' not Syrah. So with my lightning quick mental agility, I ended the statement with: "az."
At this week's tasting, we had three different colors of Lambrusco, two different types of bubbles, and a lot of smiling faces. With what we learned last week, we were all ready to dive into the lineup of ten serious sparklers (tough life, I know).
Overall, this week's Grüner tasting was fantastic. It was incredible to discover how a single little grape could take on so many different flavors—some of these wines were tart and tangy, while others were alluringly spicy, with hints of smoke, fennel, and cloves. This made it difficult to rank the favorites and least favorites of the group—though some tasters preferred some bottles over others, there really weren't any losers in this bunch.
Anyone that knows me knows that I love BYOBs. Not only do I get to drink wine that I know I like, but I still get that "I did something today" feeling that comes with leaving the house. The challenge I find in New York is that a lot of the restaurants that allow you to bring your own wine serve dishes from around the world—from delicate sushi to fiery Indian dishes—and the big, bold reds I have sitting at home don't necessarily offer the best pairings. Enter Grüner Veltliner.
Despite the fact that we were stuck indoors for the tasting, it was clear that these light and refreshing wines would be great to enjoy outdoors in these last few weeks of summer (assuming no more hurricanes and earthquakes are in the mix). The bright acidity, low alcohol, and slight effervescence made Muscadet a summertime white we're likely to reach for again. And with a couple dozen raw oysters on the half shell, we were well equipped to enjoy these wines—and discover which ones stood out.
Muscadet, which is made exclusively from Melon de Bourgogne grapes, usually hails from the western side of the Loire region in France. Grapes grown from this cool climate region offer deliciously fresh-tasting acidity. Why does the climate matter? Glad you asked...
We don't know how sweltering your summer has been, but this Amateur Wine Group is sticking to white wines for awhile; it may be a few months before we venture back into red territory. Last time, we tasted our way through quite a few bottles of cold, crisp Vinho Verde. This week? Pinot Gris.
Quick exercise: pick a single event from each year of your life that most affected you. For me, some years are difficult. In 1983, was it when I first picked up the violin, or when He-Man first aired? 2004, on the other hand, is easy. The one event that screwed with my life more than anything else was the release of the movie Sideways.
This week, we're tasting Cabernet Sauvignon, one of the most widely produced red wines in the world. While it's grown in just about every region where you'll find a vineyard, we limited our selections to California (Napa and Sonoma), France (Langeudoc Roussillon), Washington (Horse Heaven Hills), and Argentina (Mendoza). What did we like? What did you like? Come chat Cabernet!
Last week, we kicked off the Serious Eats Amateur Wine Taste-Along with Chardonnay; this week, we're crossing over to reds and giving Cabernet Sauvignon a go. If you only learn about a handful of red wine grapes, this should be at the top of your list; it's one of the most widely planted grapes in the world. Come learn and taste (and drink) with us!