On the Grapevine
by Colin Kaye
All in the Air
Pinot noir grapes.
Vineyards in the Pyrenees.
Wolf Blass vineyards.
Some people – and evidently quite a few waiters – seem to
believe that having removed the cork from a wine bottle, the bottle must
then be allowed to stand for a couple of minutes to let the air get inside.
Now if you give this a moment’s thought you’ll realize that it’s complete
nonsense. When a bottle is opened, only a tiny surface area of wine in the
neck of the bottle – less than two centimeters in diameter - is exposed to
the air. This is nowhere near sufficient time to make a significant
difference to the taste. It’s far better to tip the wine into a decanter or
wine jug. If there isn’t one, just pour it into the glasses and let it rest
for five minutes giving it the occasional swirl.
There’s only one reason
to wait for a few seconds before pouring the wine and that’s to let any
residual sulphur dioxide escape. This chemical has been used in wine-making
for centuries and on rare occasions there’s a whiff of sulphur dioxide when
you open the bottle. It dissipates within seconds. Wine aeration is a bit of
a battle-ground among wine experts. For example, Professor Emile Peynaud,
the distinguished French enologist believes that any oxygen damages
the aroma and you should pour wine straight out of the bottle into the
glasses. In the opinion of British wine expert Hugh Johnson, most wines
improve with aeration.
I nearly always pour
wine into a decanter, unless of course it’s a sparkler. To my mind, wine
seems to smell and taste better ten to twenty minutes after opening. If you
want your wines tight and firm, pour them straight from the bottle but if
you want them to open up a bit, pour them first into a decanter or wine jug.
I use simple, plain decanters made of light glass, bought at the kitchen
shop next door to Foodland. They come in a variety of sizes down to 25cl,
which is a third of a bottle. If you are sharing a bottle with two other
people, you can pour the entire contents into three 25cl decanters. This
ensures that everyone gets a fair share and avoids unseemly fist-fights
later in the evening.
Wolf Blass Chardonnay 2016 (white), Australia (Bt. 759 @
I expected the aromas
of this rich, bright golden wine to really hit my nose but no, this is a
lovely refined smell. If you give it a bit of time to develop, you’ll be
rewarded with delicate reminders of citrus, melon, peach and fresh white
flowers. Exactly what flowers I am afraid I have no idea. I am not too good
on flowers, unlike my mother who could spot a Chrysosplenium
alternifolium at three hundred yards. The mouth-feel of this wine is
soft and silky with a lovely light, creamy texture which is often the
hallmark of a decent Chardonnay (shar-dun-AY). There’s just the
faintest touch of acidity which enhances the flavour and gives the wine a
sense of firmness.
There’s plenty of rich
white fruit on the palate and just a hint of oak but the makers have kept
the fruit in balance. The long finish reminds me of peach and citrus. If you
prefer Chardonnay with a bit of character, give this one a try. It works
well with light, creamy pasta, seafood, chicken, roast turkey or pork. I’d
be quite happy to drink this on its own all evening and so it seems, would
the dogs. But that’s not going to happen, because for dinner they’re having
beef chunks in a rich brown sauce. Cabernet Sauvignon will be much more
Pinot Noir, IGP Pays d’Oc (red), France (Bt. 799 @ Wine Connection)
Let’s decode the label
first. The trade name Les Fumées Blanches refers to the white
morning mists which sometimes appear in the area. The abbreviation “IGP”
means that this is a wine guaranteed to be from a specific area. The
expression Pays d’Oc means that this is a southern French country
wine. To be more precise, it’s from the Gers region in South West France not
far from the Pyrenees Mountains. During the hot and dry summers, the vines
are cooled by breezes from the Atlantic. Pinot Noir (PEE-noh NWAHR)
is the traditional red wine grape of Burgundy but now has been adopted in
wine regions all over the world.
This wine is a vibrant
red and has an elegant aroma of dark berries, herbs, cherries and a dash of
spiciness. In the background, there’s a kind of smoky, distant smell of
woodland. Even though the wine is completely dry, you’ll probably notice the
distinctive hint of strawberries and cherries. It has a very smooth texture,
but there’s quite an assertive firmness on the palate. There’s a slight
touch of acidity too and an exceptionally long, dry finish with a satisfying
foundation of fine tannins. This is rather a serious and elegant wine with
plenty of character and interest. If you enjoy dry, firm reds with a good
balance of tannin, you could well enjoy this one.
Don’t just open the
bottle and have a swig, because it takes a good thirty minutes for the
aromas and taste to open up. Drink it cool as a perfect accompaniment to
Beef Bourguignon, grilled meats, game or veal. It should work well with
alpine cheeses like Emmenthal and Gruyčre or even mature Camembert and Brie.
And don’t forget to buy a few of those glass decanters next time you get
paid. The small ones cost less than seventy baht each, and should last you
for years. Unless of course, you manage to drop them.
Bardolino Town Lake Garda Italy.
Harbor at Bardolino Italy.
Sangiovese grapes Italy.
Vineyards in Chianti Italy.
Italy is probably the oldest wine-producing region in the world
and there are many hundreds of different wines made there, often from grape
varieties that are rarely seen anywhere else. Mind you, Italian wines can
vary enormously in quality and you have to take a good look at label to
avoid getting caught out. The labels can sometimes be confusing because the
dominant name on the label could be that of the grape variety (like Pinot
Grigio); it could be the name of the place the wine comes from (like
Soave) or it could be the name of a broad wine region (like Chianti).
It could also be the name of the producer (like Cecchi). Then there
are those mysterious letters like DOCG that are tacked on like an academic
degree. Actually, that’s almost what they are, because they’re guarantees of
quality and authenticity.
At the risk of boring you comatose,
I’ll try to explain what all the letters mean but I shall keep it short and
leave out the complicated bits. So sit up straight and try to look as though
you’re interested. The letters DOCG (Denominazione di Origine Controllata
e Garantita) are the highest classification and mean that winemakers
have to follow strict rules covering things like grape varieties, yield
limits, and winemaking procedures. Partly as a result of all this palaver,
DOCG wines are generally more expensive than others.
A bit further down the ladder are the
wines labeled DOC (Denominazione di Origine Controllata) which are
usually good and reliable, but the rules governing their production are not
quite so strict. Sometimes you’ll see IGT or IGP on the label and this
classification focuses on the region of origin, rather than grape varieties,
production methods or wine styles. Some of them are good wines. Finally, at
the bottom of the pile there’s Vino da Tavola (“table wine”), which
is usually simple rustic plonk, often sold in those huge glass bottles that
weigh as much as a small dog. I usually avoid them (the wines, I mean)
because the quality can be disappointing.
Bardolino (red), Italy (Bt 773 @ Big C Extra)
Although you could be forgiven for
assuming that Bardolino is the name of an Italian grape, it’s actually a
place. It’s a small and pleasant town on the Eastern shores of Lake Garda
about 100 miles west of Venice. The cool and fresh climate there produces
wines that are light and fruity (or supposed to be) with sharp cherry-like
Named after the sixteenth-century
Venetian palace of the Grimani family, this wine is a medium ruby-red with
the aromas of redcurrants, cherries and a typical herby aroma of brambles.
The wine is very dry, light-bodied and with a touch of sharpness, giving it
a refreshing quality. There’s quite a bit of red fruit on the palate and
just the slightest touch of soft tannins. It’s only 12.5% ABV but I always
think of Bardolino as a food wine because of the inherent sharpness of the
taste. If you enjoy pasta in a creamy sauce, this wine makes an excellent
accompaniment. It was a perfect partner for a recent plate of Tagliatelle
with a rich, creamy home-made bacon and mushroom sauce to which a few bits
of red chili had been added to jazz up the flavour. For colour and extra
depth, I sprinkled a few fresh bergamot leaves on the top. I know it’s a
Festival of Cholesterol but it’s only once in a while.
Chianti DOCG (red), Italy (Bt. 729 @ Tesco-Lotus)
Cecchi (CHECK-ee) is a
well-known family wine maker which has been producing wine since 1893.
Chianti (kee-AHN-tee) is the most famous red wine from Tuscany and
its name refers to a wine-producing area that runs roughly from Florence
down to Siena a bit further to the south. At one time, Chianti was instantly
recognizable by its traditional straw-covered bottle, called a fiasco.
They were used in their dozens to decorate the ceilings of many an Italian
restaurant. In my student days, it was considered terribly Bohemian to have
a few of these bottles around one’s room, ideally with a candle stuck in the
top of each one.
This is an attractive and typical
Chianti. It has the DOCG tag and if you’ve been paying attention, you’ll
know what that means. The wine is a dark ruby-red with the characteristic
smell of sharp, sour cherries, herbs, rhubarb and violets. You might even
pick up the faint aroma of moist tobacco. These interesting aromas come
largely from the Sangiovese grape which makes up 90 percent of the blend.
The taste is dry, sharp and fruity with a good balance of acidity. Like so
many other Italian wines, it makes an excellent food partner. It comes at
12.5% ABV and would work well with rich roasted meats.
Of course, pizza and pasta always go
well with Chianti because the tangy wine contrasts well with the textures
and flavours. Just to make sure, I tried it with a home-made mushroom pizza
prepared specially for the tasting. The two of them worked perfectly
together and made a perfect match. I just hope you appreciate the trouble I
go to. Most people wouldn’t bother, you know.
Gruber Grüner Veltliner grapes.
There’s a friend of mine who will never touch white wine.
Ever. I really don’t know why. I can understand people avoiding red because
it can sometimes bring on a migraine. But if you refuse to drink white wine,
you’re missing out on some of the great wines of the world. Some of my
favourite whites come from the French region of Alsace, known for its
splendid Gewürztraminer, Pinot Gris and the bone-dry Riesling which is
completely different to its German cousin. The legendary white wines of
Burgundy are probably the best whites you’re likely to find anywhere in
terms of richness, depth and complexity. And you know the classic grape
variety that’s used to make them, don’t you? Yes, of course you do. Even my
dogs know that. It’s Chardonnay and in Burgundy they make about the best you
can get. Unfortunately, in this part of the world it’s dreadfully expensive.
A good white Burgundy will cost you an arm and a leg; possibly two of each.
For many years Germany
and Austria had a reputation for dull and boring wines but all that changed
dramatically about thirty years ago. A new generation of artisan wine makers
has changed the wine production in Germany in Austria out of all
recognition. They are exploring interesting local grapes rather than relying
on international varieties and giving a completely new look to traditional
Riesling. Austrian wine-makers are developing their national grape Grüner
Veltliner (GROO-ner FELT-lee-ner). With this grape, they’re making
crisp, young wines which have sprightly acidity and flavours of lime, lemon,
grapefruit or sometimes apple. They often have herby mineral flavours, hints
of white pepper and sometimes a distinctive touch of spritziness. The more
expensive, matured wines eventually take on a gold colour and a rich,
Lower Austria is the
country’s largest quality wine-growing area and almost fifty percent of it
is planted with Grüner Veltliner. The local German name for Lower Austria is
Niederösterreich, which I mention only because the word invariably
appears on wine labels of the region. You might reasonably assume that Lower
Austria is somewhere in the south, but it’s not. Strangely enough, it’s the
most northern province of the country.
Gruber Grüner Veltliner, Röschitz 2016 (white), Austria (Bt. 890 @ Wine
Let’s begin by
deciphering the label. Gruber (GROO-ber) is the name of the company
and it’s been producing wine since 1814. If you have been concentrating,
you’ll already know that Grüner Veltliner is the grape variety. Röschitz (RER-shitz)
is a small village in Lower Austria about fifty miles from Vienna.
The first thing you’ll
probably notice about this wine is the playful label with whimsical drawings
of the “Gruber Wine Spirits”. The drawings are apparently inspired by the
micro-organisms which exist on the vines and in the fermenting wine, and
they’re visible only under a microscope. They have become the mascots of the
company and appear in various fanciful forms on all their wine labels and on
their web site.
A pale straw colour,
the wine looks bright and invitingly oily in the glass. The aroma is even
more inviting, though you’ll need to give it a bit of time to develop. I
found that five minutes in the decanter made all the difference. It has a
“clean and lean” bright, floral aroma with a touch of tropical fruit, a dash
of citrus, herby minerals and green apples. The fruit is well forward,
giving a hint of sweetness. But after this brief first impression a more
powerful drier taste comes through and leads to a long, rich and dry finish.
It’s really quite a fascinating tasting experience which makes you sit up
and take notice because the taste actually changes in your mouth.
At just 12.5% ABV this
would make a splendid apéritif if you can share it with people who
appreciate these things. The wine would make an excellent partner for
chicken dishes or ham, but I’d be perfectly happy to enjoy it on its own.
Wine Garage offers an interesting selection of Austrian wines and they also
have some splendid boutique wines from Germany. You can order online and pay
by bank transfer or PayPal, which makes things ever so easy. They’ll deliver
anywhere in Thailand.
Grand Pinot Noir 2017 (red), France (Bt. 850 @ Wine Connection)
Pinot Noir is one of my
favourite grapes and it reaches is finest expression in the red wines of
Burgundy but like the whites, they’re absurdly expensive here. The aromas of
Pinot Noir (PEE-noh NWAH) can sometimes be a bit enigmatic. Red
fruits such as cranberry and raspberry often dominate the aroma but
sometimes the wine has more elemental smells, earthy, tree-bark aromas or
reminders of stalks and sap.
This wine comes from
grapes grown in the foothills of the Pyrenees, near the town of Limoux in
south-west France. The label shows a drawing of a large black sheep under
which the words “black sheep” are helpfully printed, presumably in case you
fail to recognise it. The wine is lighter than I expected and it’s a blend
of Pinot Noir (88%) and Grenache (12%) with an aroma of cherries, currants,
a dash of citrus and herby spices. With an ABV of 13% it’s a bone-dry wine
with a tang of acidity but the taste struck me as rather unusual and quite
different in style to a Pinot Noir from Burgundy. The fruit is restrained,
the tannins are very soft and there’s a long, dry finish. I’d describe it as
a food wine because it would go well with pork dishes and a variety of
cheeses. Unusually for a red wine, you could even try pairing it with tuna
or salmon. There are branches of Wine Connection in Pattaya but you can also
buy online. If like me, you live out in the sticks it would save you a hike