Celebrations, Carvel, and Carmenère

Even though this week is a quieter week at work, both with shorter hours and only 4 days, it’s been oddly hectic. There’s been lots of non-work chatter in the bullpen, which creates a general, constant hum in my office space. I took several long work lunches that probably involved an equal amount of work and non-work talk. There was the extra condo association meeting to discuss modernizing the elevators. And, there was my birthday!! I love birthdays. It could be mine or someone else’s, it doesn’t matter, I just think birthday’s are fun. Admittedly, Hubby and I didn’t do anything too special, since my birthday and the condo meeting were the same night, but he picked up a Carvel ice cream cake and a singing birthday candle to make sure that we celebrated properly. There’s nothing like some wine and ice cream to get the party started!

Following the Wines of Chile May 20th live online tasting, the blogging world has been buzzing about how Chilean wines have an amazing quality-price ratio, and the Carmenère seemed to be the favorite among the participating wine bloggers. While MontGras wines weren’t tasted during the event, all of the discussions about wines of Chile, in general, and Carmenère in particular, left me excited about opening my bottle of 2008 MontGras Reserve Carmenère (vineyard, snooth). My excitement for the wine combined with the fact that my birthday was on a work night, made my not-too-fancy choice absolutely perfect.

The 2008 MontGras Reserve Carmenère is 90% Carmenère grapes and 10% Cabernet Sauvignon grapes. The wine had a luscious, deep purple color and very visible legs. On the nose, there was an abundance of black fruit and baking spices aromas—mostly all-spice and cinnamon. There was also just the slightest hint of vanilla. In the mouth, the black fruit flavors took a back seat to the spice cabinet, with nutmeg, cloves, and vanilla being the most prominent. As the flavors lingered, a toastiness emerged to round out and bind the flavors together. The wine’s thick, velvety texture screamed to me of luxury and relaxation.

Is this worth a glass after work? Definitely! If you see this wine in the store, grab it; you won’t be disappointed. At $12 a bottle, you might want to grab a few, as this wine is not only a great deal for something to drink now, but also a wine that I think will age nicely over the next few years. In general, the Carmenère isn’t overly complex, yet the aromas and flavors were varied enough to be interesting and enjoyable. I drank the Carmenère with my chocolate & vanilla Carvel cake, which is an odd pairing, but it actually worked with the crunchy cookie separating the two ice cream flavors. (Don’t judge…it’s my party, so I can drink what I want to. You’d drink it too, if you had the Carmenère with you).

Overall: 3.5 corks

Shopping & Chardonnay Make a Perfect Pairing

Last week was a short work week because Hubby and I took the Friday before Memorial Day off for our biannual “shop ‘til you drop” adventure at the outlet malls. Even though it was a vacation day, it was still 8 hours of craziness! The whole point of going shopping the Friday before Memorial Day is to be able to take advantage of the amazing sales, but doing it before the crowds and before everything is picked over. To say that it was a successful excursion would be an understatement. I’m not sure which epitomizes the day best—the credit card company calling 1/3 of the way through the trip to make sure the card hadn’t been stolen, the 4 shopping bag “drop-off” trips to the car, or Hubby telling me that I was wearing my shirt inside out…30 minutes after I came out of the last dressing room. We arrived at the outlets early, took a 20-minute break for lunch and to rehydrate, and then were back to shopping until our feet couldn’t take any more. By the time we were done, all we wanted was a nice dinner…and of course a glass, or several glasses, of wine.

As soon as we walked into the condo, I put a bottle of the 2005 Robert Mondavi Chardonnay (vineyard, snooth) into the refrigerator to chill. We had to get all of the bags out of the car, and I knew I needed to make dinner before sitting down and relaxing, otherwise, it was going to be an order-delivery night. It was the perfect amount of time. The wine was well-chilled, with a beautiful pale gold color, and big, drippy legs. The wine had a nice, smooth complexity. On the nose, I found peach, green apples, and a touch of lime and coconut. In the mouth, there was buttery peach, green apples, and pineapple, with a touch of blossoms and honey. The wine was oaky and beautiful, with a well-balanced flavor.

Is this worth a glass after work? Definitely! If you see this wine in the store, grab it; you won’t be disappointed. At $17, if you like oaky chardonnays, you will love the 2005 Robert Mondavi Chardonnay. After our shopping adventure, we had tequila lime salmon for dinner, which was perfect with the chardonnay. Both were very flavorful, but neither dominated over the other. Once dinner was done, I poured myself another glass, as the wine was also delicious on it’s own, and just put my feet up to relax after a hot, exhausting day at the outlets. On night number 2 with the bottle,we had fettuccine alfredo, which was a good, smooth pairing, although it enhanced the oaky flavors.

Overall: 4 corks

TTT&T: Your Wine Has Legs! Do You Know How to Use Them?

So, now that clarity and color have been explored, it’s time to start swirling!   Swirling is important because it helps aerate the wine, which means that more oxygen touches it.  This will be particularly important when we get to smelling and tasting, although, for the purpose of examining the wine’s legs, swirling is done to get wine on the walls of the glass.

The first thing to remember before you swirl is that you don’t want to do this with a full glass of wine—your glass should be about 1/3 full.  Keep your glass upright, and hold it by the stem.  Then, carefully move your wrist in a circular motion.  I go counter-clockwise, but everyone is different.  If you’re having trouble, put your glass down on the table, hold the glass where the stem and base meet, and move your wrist in a circular motion.   You’re swirling!

By swirling the wine, you should have gotten some on the sides of the glass.  Hold the glass at eye level and look to see if there is wine streaking down.  It may take a moment or two for the streaks to appear, and not all wine has them, but many have at least some faint ones.  These streaks are commonly referred to as “legs” or “tears.”  

Because alcohol evaporates faster than water, legs form as the alcohol evaporates and the water concentration of the wine increases.  The change in surface tension that happens due to the evaporation then causes the wine to pull together into droplets.  Gravity then causes the drops to steak down the sides of the glass.  The technical term for this occurrence is the Marangoni Effect. 

Now that you identified whether or not the wine has legs, what do you know about the wine?  Admittedly, there is some debate as to whether the legs can tell you anything, but in general, the more alcohol the wine has, the more visible the legs.  Is it a good thing if your wine is “dripping with legs?” What if you don’t see any legs at all?  I don’t think either scenario is good or bad.  Instead, making observations about a wine’s legs is examining the clues the wine gives about its character. For me, it’s like fitting together the pieces of puzzle, and my observations about a wine’s legs are is the last piece to put into place before moving on to the really fun part—the smelling and tasting.

**Hint** If you’ve never done looked for legs before, I recommend trying it with a red wine firs because it will be easier.  That’s not to say white wine doesn’t have legs, as it definitely does, but for your first attempt, it might be easier to work with something that has a little more color.

Real Dinner & A Food-Friendly Wine

While this past week is the last week of my really busy season at work, it was also the first week since the middle of January that Hubby and I didn’t have 3 nights of classes between the two us. Sure, it’s hard for me to know that he can come home after work and relax, while I still have another 4 weeks of studying and 14-hour Mondays, but there is an upside—we now have two more nights a week for a real dinner. School nights consist of one or both of us are grabbing soup, eating cereal, or throwing together a sandwich at 10:30pm. We sit down together to catch-up while the other one scarfs down food 30 minutes before bedtime, but there’s no enjoyment in the food or the eating, not to mention that you start to hate soup, cereal, and sandwiches. With Hubby’s semester being over, we’re back to sitting down together at a human dinner time, or at least normal dinner time for us, on most weeknights. Who knew that something so simple could be so nice?

The return of a real dinner also means that I have a few more opportunities for fun food-wine pairings throughout the week. On Tuesday night, I opened the 2007 Martin Codax Albariño (vineyard, snooth). The wine was a nice, medium yellow and very aromatic. After swirling the wine, I only had to put my nose near the glass to pick up the nice lime and green apple aromas. On a second check, I also found ripe melon and stone fruits. In the mouth, the Martin Codax tasted of lime, blossoms, and peach, mixed with the slightest bit of honey. The wine was crisp and refreshing without being too acidic.

Is this worth a glass after work? Sure…you won’t be drinking anything out of the ordinary, but you’ll definitely have a decent, reliable glass of wine. At $13 a bottle, the Martin Codax Albariño is not a complex wine, but it can easily accompany and enhance an after-work dinner. I drank the wine with a crab and avocado salad, which was a wonderful summer pairing, on my first night with the bottle. On my second night, I drank the wine with a spicy, garlic chicken and broccoli stir-fry, which also was a great pairing. The wine cut down on some of the spiciness of the sauce, and the spiciness helped enhance some of the juicy peach and melon flavors of the wine. So, don’t hesitate to grab this wine if you see it.

Overall: 3 Corks

TTT&T: In Depth with Color

Once I determine the clarity of my wine, the next thing I look at is the color.  On the surface, color probably seems to describe—red, white, or rosé, right?  Well, of course, but there’s more to it, as the nuances in color can give information on the wine’s grape variety, the growing conditions of those grapes, the vinification techniques used on those grapes, or the amount of aging the wine has done.  The important thing to keep in mind with color is that there are really two things to look for—the depth and the hue.

While it’s impossible for me to cover everything color can tell about wine in several paragraphs, there are overarching generalizations that can be made.  In terms of aging, as both the red and white wines age, the depth and the hue change.  Often, as red wines age, they fade in color, and the wine might transition from a deep purple to a lighter brickish-type color.  White wines, on the other hand, generally gain depth, going from a white or light yellow to a deeper amber color. 

Intensity is easier to describe than color.  For a starting point, I use the descriptors outline by the WSET—water-white, pale, medium, deep, and opaque—as it helps me study.  However, there is no strict standard, and often wines will fall somewhere in between, so you just have to use your best judgment.

With all this in mind, I don’t want you to be fooled that intensity is an automatic indicator of age.  Some wines have a tendency to be darker colors, while others are naturally lighter colored.  Some of this difference is due to the type of grape used to make the wine.  For example, a cabernet sauvignon will likely be a darker color (purple or deep ruby) than a pinot noir (medium ruby).  Some of the color difference is also due to the climates in which the grapes are grown (hotter climates often = darker wines) and some is due to the fact that the grapes that are used to make the wine have those same color variances in their non-vinified form. 

Color depth can also give insight into how a wine has aged.  A sauvignon blanc is unlikely to be aged in oak, for example, so it is more likely to be a lighter in color (greenish-lemon) than a chardonnay (lemony-gold) that has spent time aging in oak. 

When trying to determine the color, I begin with the WSET color palette (surprise!). The general descriptors are:
Reds—purple, ruby, garnet, or tawny.
lemon-green, lemon, gold, amber, or brown
Rosé— pink, salmon, orange, or onionskin

My rule of thumb for picking colors is to look for color flecks that enhance or change the red, white, or rosé base.  In practice, what this means is that if I determine a wine is purple, I’ve found blue flecks.  In a deep or opaque wine, the blue character creates an inky-looking purple that you can’t miss.  In a pale or medium purple wine, though, the blue is a lighter tint that is particularly noticeable along the rim, which is where the top of the liquid meets the glass.  Garnet works in a similar way. With a garnet colored wine, the orangey tones will become evident in the rim before the whole core transitions to a reddish-orange color.  By process of elimination, if you don’t see blue or orange in your red wine, the color is probably ruby.

When thinking about color, it’s helpful to use fixed objects as reference.  For example, with white wines, when you think of “lemon,” don’t think of lemon peel, since how many wines are that bright, almost neon yellow?  Instead, make the association with the inside of a cut lemon, think of the color of the juice pods.  If you’re looking for a gold reference, simply think of jewelry—a watch or a wedding band. 

Through all of this, remember that holding your glass at an angle can make a huge difference.  Often the nuances in color are evident on the rim of the wine. Most importantly, though, enjoy looking at the color!  It can be a lot of fun and create a nice anticipation.