Tuesday, June 14, 2016

Don't let vino varieties keep you from enjoying the grape

Posted By on Tue, Jun 14, 2016 at 9:32 AM

click to enlarge JOEL DIPIPPA
  • Joel DiPippa
Let's face it: wine can seem like an impenetrable and impossible beverage to enjoy. These days, cocktails and liquor are ubiquitous, while the craft beer boom has seen an unprecedented variety of beers that can please nearly any palate.

Wine, however, can still seem...difficult. Despite wine's long and ancient history of being associated with food and revelry, the modern consumer may be bewildered and intimidated when it comes to the fruit of the vine. Things like tasting notes might seem foreign and out of place, especially compared to tasting notes for bourbon or an IPA. That's a shame, because people who enjoy a glass of wine with their meal report enjoying their meal even more. Don't worry. We're here to help with at wine that will leave you ready to grab some affordable and accessible wines now—and find new ones on your own. Wine prices can fluctuate between stores and between months, so any of the prices listed are subject to those limitations.

*Try a new wine region. While the major wine producing regions are well-known for a reason, look for a region that is near one of them or similar in climate. Oftentimes, the lesser known wine regions are just as good—and often less expensive. Try a country that you may not have tried before, like Spain, which has a climate similar to that of  Italy. An example of a great pick for a reasonable price is Montebueno Rioja, a red wine for around $12.00.

Rioja is the pre-eminent wine region of Spain and produces wonderful blended reds based heavily on tempranillo and grenache grapes. Rioja wines are noted for longer aging in oak and interesting character.

The nose is rich with the smell of berries. The body of the wine is full but has a heavy backbone of spice thanks to the tempranillo. There is some tannic dryness, but as you finish the sip, a minerality cuts through that. It has a very long finish, or flavor that sticks around in your mouth that's almost jammy. It isn’t a heavy red wine, but pairs well with food like lamb or ratatouille.

*Try a lesser known grape. The law of supply and demand tells us that the more popular a wine, tje more expensive it will likely be.  Focus on lesser known grapes like gamay, chambourcin and negromaro instead of cabarnet, merlot or pinot noir. These grapes will have their own character, and will often be found in the same less publicized regions you find. They will be some of the best values you can find, like the Tormaresca Neprica for $13.00.

Neprica is my go-to red wine for everyday drinking or pairing. From the Puglia region of Southern Italy, Neprica is named after the three grapes blended into the wine - NEgromaro, PRImitivo, and CAbernet.

This is a wine that pairs with a wide array of food. It has a lot of fruit and spice on the nose and a very light mouthfeel. There's a lot of acidity and a flavor reminiscent of anise that comes through as you drink it. I tasted a juicy, plum-like flavor, and a refreshing tannic dryness that reminded me of cocoa. While this will go with nearly any dish, I recommend grilled sausages or just a heavy, whole wheat bread.
  • Kat Robinson

*Ask a professional. If you are at a restaurant, the front of house staff should be trained in wine. At a liquor store, the clerks or owner should be able to help you. To make this easier, ask better questions—give them a wine or flavor that you enjoyed and ask if they have anything similar that you could buy. Don’t be embarrassed. Don’t be ashamed. Smile big and ask them to help you. Be honest about your price point, and ask what they would recommend in that range. Tell them what you are cooking, and ask for help in pairing a wine to match.

For example, I asked Keegan Sparks at O'Looney's Wine & Spirits to recommend a red wine under $20. I told him I was getting into red wines and enjoyed the Rioja and Neprica. Keegan quickly came back with this Feraud-Brunel Cotes-du-Rhone-Villages for $19.99. I am thankful for Keegan on this because Cotes du Rhone wines have an amazing variety within that name. Finding particular producers who use these grapes in excellent ways is more important than just the name itself. The main three grapes that are used are grenache, syrah, and mouvedre, though another 4-5 other grapes find their way into these blends as well.

This is the most astringent, or dry, wine of the three with distinct herbal undertones and a licorice flavor. There is a good bit of deeper fruit, like a dark cherry, but very clearly the moderate acidity and minerality make for an easy-drinking wine. This pairs well with lamb and ratatouille, like the Rioja, but excels at pairing with dishes like cassoulet where the herbal flavors in the wine are accented and highlighted even more.

These all had some similarities—they are softer in the body and mouthfeel than some of the heavier reds and share similar fruit flavors and food pairings. These are wines that are enjoyable to anyone and at a price point that makes it well worth it. What red wine have you found worth your time lately? If you pour a glass for dinner at home, how do you make the selection?

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