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.    

Waiting, Wanting, Hoping for More

As a break from work on Friday, a coworker and I went to one of the best wine stores in the DC.  It’s a little distracting to know that this place is within walking distance from my office, but I try to limit my trips to a Friday afternoon treat.  On this particular visit, my friend and I focused on the Australian wines, since I said that I was looking to do more exploration of the reds from down under.  As a fan of Elderton winery, an appreciation that was shared by the wine guy from the store, my friend recommended the 2005 Elderton Shiraz (winery, snooth).

As you may have guessed, before writing up each wine, I do a little research on the winery.  Sometimes I find information that that gives a better perspective on the wine or speaks to a particular interest.  Considering the feedback in “green” wines that I received after last week’s reviews of the Benziger Signaterra wines, I thought the environmentally-friendly practices at Elderton were worth mentioning.  When I bought the wine, I was unaware of their winemaking philosophy, but I was interested to learn that Elderton was the first South Australia winery to use the Trees for Life Carbon Neutral program.  The program’s certification ensures that Elderton examines their carbon footprint and offsets their emissions by planting trees.  According to the website, in 2007, Elderton planted more than 4,000 trees with this in mind.  Additionally, the winery is in the process of switching to biodynamic viticulture and expects to release their first biodynamic Shiraz this year.  While the move towards biodynamic and organic wine is clearly still in transition, if the philosophy is something that is important to you, Elderton’s wines may be something that you want to explore.

As for the 2005 Shiraz itself, it had a medium-to-deep purplish-ruby color that signaled the complexity of the wine.  On the nose, I was excited by everything I found.  The sweet black fruit aromas—black cherry, blackberry, blueberry—dominated, but didn’t overpower.  Beyond the fruits, I smelled sweet spices—mostly licorice, cloves, and some powdered cocoa.  Hiding behind all of those aromas, a light touch of vanilla and black pepper rounded out the wine.  In the mouth, I was a bit taken aback by how “hot” the wine was, which I admit made me feel that the alcohol was slightly out of balance with the flavors, the acidity, and the tannins.  The alcohol actually seemed to take away from the juiciness of the black fruits.  Those flavors, though, matched what I found on the nose and were followed by licorice, cloves, powered cocoa, and nutmeg flavors, which added a spicy, sweetness.  The intensity of the tannins matched the intensity of the flavors, so the tightening around my gums, combined with the full-body of the wine, added to the depth.  It was the alcohol level that didn’t work for me.

Was this worth a glass after work?  Sure.  To be honest, I feel like I should be more excited about this wine.  It was very complex, offering a wide range of aromas and flavors.  However, the high alcohol took away enough that it left me wanting more from it.  That said, at $30, the 2005 Elderton Shiraz is a wine that has a lot to offer from a winery that is trying to be eco-conscious.  The wine drinks ok on its own, but is better paired with food to help tone down the alcohol.  It was with food that the wine really showed its potential.    

Overall: 3 Corks

Reds, Whites, and Bios! Oh, My!

As if working full time in a 50-60 hour a week job and taking wine classes isn’t enough to keep me busy, I’m also on the Board of Directors for my condo association. One of my BOD responsibilities is chairing the social committee, which clearly meant organizing a wine tasting! After contacting almost all of the wine stores in Arlington about holding the event, I only received responses from two—Grand Cru Wine Bar & Euro Café was by far the easier store to work with. I outlined the association’s budget, and they worked with Republic National Distributing Company wine specialist Andy Hoyle to pick out wine options for our tasting. The BOD decided on 4 wines, although Andy surprised us with several extras, including the Signaterra wines by Benziger.

While I’ll share short overviews of all the wines we tasted, I can’t help but focus on the Signaterra wines. According to Andy, Benziger has been selling limited quantities of these wines onsite, but it’s only recently that they’re appearing in restaurants and wine stores. Therefore, while the wines may not be available at your wine store yet, start asking for them. Besides being unique and tasty, Andy explained that attendees at last night’s wine tasting were among the first in Virginia to try these wines. That was a double bonus for us!

Signaterra uses organic and biodynamic viticulture methods. Biodynamic viticulture is based on the ideas of Austrian philosopher/scientist Rudolf Steiner, and The Wine Anorak has an interesting and thorough explanation of the process, if you’re looking for more information. The Signaterra website describes the philosophy well, though, as they say the wines are about “integrating the right resources of the Earth, the inescapable forces of Nature, and the attentiveness of Man into a distinctive wine. Admittedly, I’m skeptical about the idea that biodynamic methods produce better quality wine, but regardless, all three of these are delicious. I actually ended up buying a bottle of each at the event.

With that introduction…let’s talk about the Signaterra wines—the 2007 Shone Farm Sauvignon Blanc, the 2007 Bella Luna Pinot Noir, and the 2006 Three Blocks.

2007 Benziger Signaterra Shone Farm Sauvignon Blanc
This Sauvignon Blanc had a clean, medium lemon color. On the nose, there were strong fruit aromas—particularly grapefruit, although there was also some lime, peach, and apricot. I found the same fruits when tasting the wine, and they were joined with a hint of wet stone mineraliness that kept the wine from being dominated by fruit. The wine also had a bright, pleasing acidity.

Is this worth a glass after work? Definitely! If you see this wine in the store, grab it; you won’t be disappointed. At $35 a bottle, this wine is not only environmentally friendly, but also palate and food friendly.

Overall: 4 corks

2007 Benziger Signaterra Bella Luna Pinot Noir
The Pinot Noir was hands-down the favorite wine of the night.
Several people came up to me to say that they normally don’t drink Pinots, but that this one was very flavorful and enjoyable. At the same time, I also had a couple of people tell me that they were big Pinot fans and that this was among the best they’d tasted. I thought it was interesting that the Bella Luna was able to straddle the Pinot/Non-Pinot lover line.

The color of the wine was a nice intensity that matched the robust strawberry and red cherry aromas. The red fruit was followed by a hint of white pepper and an earthy depth that gave the wine character overpowering the other aromas. In the mouth, the flavors matched what I found on the nose. The medium tannins and low acidity resembled what you would expect from a Pinot, although the wine had a slightly more substantial body and finish than I anticipated.

Is this worth a glass after work? It’s worth more than one! What are you waiting for? At $55, this wine is a little more expensive than many of the “every day” wines that I review, however, it’s worth every penny. This wine is so smooth and inviting that it’s great for drinking on its own, but also would pair nicely with seasoned meat like a pork tenderloin or with a grilled salmon.

Overall: 5 corks

2006 Benziger Signaterra Three Blocks Bordeaux blend
The Three Blocks Bordeaux blend was my least favorite of the Signaterra wines, although I wonder if I needed more time to really sit and think about the wine, as there was a lot happening with it. The Three Blocks is a blend of 64% Cabernet Sauvignon and 36% Merlot, with a deep purplish-ruby color. The wine had strong dark fruit aromas—mostly plums—followed by the smell of powdered cocoa. In the mouth, I found similar plumy flavors, although the cocoa turned into more of a sweet spice taste. The wine had strong tannins, although it was well-balanced. There were some tartrates in my glass, which had some attendees concerned, but, as I mentioned in this week’s TT&T post, tartrates are nothing to worry about.

Overall: 3.5 Corks

The other wines we tasted:

2006 Paso Creek Zinfandel, which I reviewed in March.

2006 Valley of the Moon Barbera (vineyard; snooth), which I will review in a separate post, as I was able to take a leftover bottle home with me.

2006 Veramonte Cabernet Sauvignon (vineyard; snooth)
This wine had aromas of burnt tar and blackberry. In the mouth, there were strong tannins that pulled on your gums, but helped contribute to the balance between the bitterness of the tar flavors and the sweetness of the blackberries. This was a big, juicy Cab and would be great with a steak and potato dinner.

Planeta La Segreta Rosso (vineyard; snooth)
This wine had an interesting mix of flavors and aromas, as there was a mix of red and black fruits. The wine is a blend of 50% Nero d’Avola, 25% Merlot, 20% Syrah,5% Cabernet Franc, and had medium tannins and a nice body. Overall, it was good. Not the best wine of the night, but something that is definitely drinkable.

Erath Pinot Gris (vineyard; snooth)
This Pinot Gris smelled and tasted of ripe melons and grapefruit. In the mouth, there was also a hint of mineral. Overall, it wasn’t terribly complex, but it was enjoyable.

2007 Vaca Chardonnay
The Vaca Chardonnay had a strong buttery, tropical fruit smell and tasted like buttered, ripe banana and vanilla. There was a hint of green apple in the finish, but it was very faint. Oaky chardonnay is NMS, so I wasn’t a huge fan. However, the wine was a good quality and had a nice balance, so if it’s a style you like, this is a wine you should check out.