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Weekly Wine Quiz #73: Grape Trivia – Sémillon

September 14, 2013 11 comments
Sémillon grapes affected by noble rot, as shown in Wikipedia

Sémillon grapes affected by noble rot, as shown in Wikipedia

Welcome to the weekend and your new wine quiz!

We are continuing our grape trivia series, still focusing on the white grapes, and today’s subject is Sémillon.

Sémillon is a white grape, once considered the most planted grape in the world. One interesting fact is that the origin of Sémillon is not easy to pinpoint – while working on this quiz, I went through quite a few articles on Internet and even books, and it is hard to find any historical data outside of the fact that Sémillon was very popular in the early 19th century throughout the world. In the early 19th century, over the 90% of all grape plantings in South Africa was Sémillon – considering its popularity, it was simply called Wyndruif, the “wine grape”. Today, Sémillon occupies roughly 1% of the grape plantings in South Africa. It is still the most planted white grape in Bordeaux, where it is used in the production of most of the white wines, from dry wines of Pessac-Léognan, Graves and Entre-deux-mers, to the spectacular dessert jewels of Sauternes and Barsac. Sémillon plantings exist in many other winemaking countries – Australia, Chile, Italy, New Zealand, California and Washington in US – but you rarely hear about Sémillon, as it is mostly used as a blending grape. Well, this might be changing – but we will not be talking about it in the quiz.

The issue with Sémillon is that under normal growing conditions, it tends to produce plump and dull wines, the wines which are not showing much of the aromatics and have very low acidity. When the grape is forced to work hard, it can produce amazing wines. In Sauternes, Sémillon is typically affected by Botrytis cinerea, the noble rot, which leads to the shriveling of the grapes which concentrates the sugar – dessert wines produced from such shriveled grapes are some of the best in the world (Châteaud’Yquem, anyone?) – they also make some of the longest living wines in the world, being capable of ageing for 100 years and beyond. In Australia’s Hunter Valley region, the grapes are exposed to the harsh climate with the high level of humidity, which leads to the grapes accumulating high level of acidity. Hunter Valley Sémillon is known to age very well, and the wines also improve with age quite significantly.

And now, to the quiz!

Q1: Name a grape, primary blending partner of Sémillon

Q2: Below is the list of years. There is something common between all of them (and of course it has a relationship with Sémillon) – do you know what is common among those years?

1930, 1952, 1964, 1974, 2012

Q3: Ture or False: Sauternes produces only sweet wines

Q4: Name a key factor for the great tasting dry Sémillon wines

Q5: What is Semageddon?

There is nothing wrong with answering even only one question from the quiz – your participation is always appreciated! Also, without any regard to the questions, please share your personal experiences with Sémillon wines.

Good luck, enjoy the quiz and your weekend! Cheers!

Screw Top Versus Cork – The Jury Is Still Out

June 10, 2013 10 comments

d'Arenberg The Footbolt ShirazDSC_0317Inadvertently, I run an experiment of cork versus screw top, and the results were interesting enough to discuss them here.

About a week ago, I pulled out of the cellar (which is actually a wine fridge) the bottle of 2004 d’Arenberg The Footbolt Shiraz MacLaren Vale from Australia (14.5% ABV). As I confessed in my blogging addiction in the recent post, before the bottle is open, in addition to just regular anticipation of wine experience itself, now I have added anticipation of the possible blog post which can be written based on the wine experience.

Or not. There are many possible was for the experience not becoming a blog post. Too many things to write about, too little time. Or you just hit the “writer’s block”. Or the experience is not worthy of being captured. Which was the case with this Shiraz.

d’Arenberg is a well known Australian winery, which just celebrated 100 years last year, producing substantial range of typical Australian wines, such as Shiraz, Grenache, Chardonnay, Cabernet Sauvignon and more. I had pleasure of meeting Chester Osborn, d’Arenberg’s winemaker in third generation, and even have couple of bottles with his signature in my cellar (by the way, what do you do with those signed bottles? I should make a separate post to discuss this interesting question).

Now, I didn’t know what to expect from this bottle of Shiraz. The Footbolt is one of the introductory level Shiraz wines from d’Arenberg, but that doesn’t mean anything. Cork is out (regular cork, just keep reading to see why it is important), and judging by the color alone, this wine didn’t reach its prime yet – dark ruby in color. But the nose and then the palate were inconclusive. Acidity would jump up and down with every sip, and while the wine had enough fruit, it was simply not getting together, definitely lacking the balance which is all so important for me in the wine. So, based on this wine alone, the blog post was not born.

And then yesterday I pulled out another bottle of d’Arenberg wine from the same vintage:

d'Arenberg Shiraz Grenache

d’Arenberg Shiraz Grenache

2004 d’Arry’s Original Shiraz Grenache McLaren Vale (14.5% ABV) – a blend of 50% Shiraz and 50% Grenache . With the screw top. That was an “aha” moment. Same vintage as the previous wine – but wit the screw top – how different the experience will it be?

No “pop” of the pulled cork. Just a quiet “tsk-tsk-tsk” of unscrewing the top. In the glass, this wine looked like it was made yesterday – dark ruby, very concentrated color. From the get go, the wine showed beautiful fruit on the nose, ripe plums, equally supported on the palate with fresh fruit and energetic acidity.

About 45 minutes or so later, when I poured another glass, the wine tasted almost sweet – the thought was “what happened”? This was a totally a different wine compare to the way the wine started. Another half an hour or so – and we were presented with the new wine again – dark concentrated fruit, firm structure, tannins and acidity all summing up into a gorgeous balanced wine.

Wine ageing in the bottle is typically associated with the tiny inflow of oxygen through the cork. In case of screwtop, the oxygen doesn’t get to the wine at all. Thus my theory is that once you open a bottle under the screwtop, the very quick ageing process starts off, which takes the wine through the different “taste stages” in the rapid succession. Then at the same time, the wine is changing its taste in the glass no matter what, so may be that rapid taste changing has nothing to do with the way the bottle was closed.

Ideally, of course, I would love to compare two identical bottles (same wine, same vintage), only one closed with the screwtop and another one with the regular cork (I believe I actually read about some producers who are doing that). In this experiment, the Shiraz Grenache under the screwtop was a clear winner, but it is hard to tell what it has to do with the screwtop versus regular cork versus the two wines being just differently made.

I guess I can end this report with the words “to be continued…” – and I would love to hear your thoughts. Cheers!

 

Daily Glass: Wine Happenings – Georgian Wines, New French Discoveries, Australia Grand Experience and more

April 14, 2013 10 comments

Every week (or almost every week) I think that I should start writing a summary post similar to what Jeff at therunkenccyclist does so well – once a week he produces a summary of the wines he had during the past week (here is an example of his recent post), which I think is a great way to round up your experiences.

My “Daily Glass” designation was supposed to be [almost] a daily summary for me, but as you know, things don’t always work in life as we think they should. Nevertheless, the week which is ending today was very “wine eventful” hence I’m sharing those wine happenings with you.

Let me start from 2005 Domaine Lafage El Maset Cotes du Roussillon. I got it at Last Bottle Wines during their last “madness” sale. At $8, you really have nothing to lose, right? Wine arrived about 3 weeks ago, looking good – inviting label, heavy bottle, good punt at the bottom – overall looks quite solid. Before opened the bottle, I went to look for information online – and I didn’t find much except a number of notes on Cellar Tracker, all looking very peculiar. Looks like people  had very sporadic luck with this wine, with only one bottle out of three being drinkable, and another claim of one out of 10 (!).

First thing I didn’t like when opened the bottle was the cork. You see, I love real corks (yes, I had my share of corked wines – but this is not the subject of this post). I’m completely okay with screwtops – I would be surprised to see a screwtop on the bottle of DRC, but in general, I get it – and it makes it easier to open a bottle, especially when you travel. But the type of corks I have a problem with are plastic and synthetic corks. They are hard to pull out, and just look very artificial – they just don’t belong to the wine world, in my opinion. Besides, somehow I think that they have the worst  impact on aging ability of the wine .

This wine was closed with red plastic cork ( you can see it in the picture). Okay, moving along. It is 8 years old wine, how about pop and pour? Pour, swirl, sip – ouch! The feeling of biting into a freshly cut tree brunch. Bitterrrr! My wife had her taste, put the glass down, and politely said “I think it should breath a little first”. Okay, got a decanter, pour half of the bottle in. By the way, the interesting fact is that after that first bitter sip, the wine stayed in my mouth with a very long and rather pleasant (!) finish – probably for the next 10+ minutes. Two and the half hours later… I wish I can tell you the wine magically transformed – no, it became only somewhat better. Dark fruit appeared, tannins became mellower, but the wine was not together – there was no harmony there.

We finished the bottle next day, and it still didn’t improve much more – may be it needed more time? I’m not sure, but I have one more bottle, which I plan to give a little time – will see what will happen. But I also have to tell you that I had one of the most surprising pairings with this wine – as you can guess from the picture, this wine paired excellently (I’m serious) with … cherry preserve! They were literally meant for each other – take a spoon of cherry preserve, sip of this wine – perfect! I never thought of wine and preserve together before – may be I should try it more often? This wine will stay unrated for now, as it is very hard to put a handle on this experience.

DSC_0391 Clos ChanteducNext wine was also sourced from the Last Bottles – 2006 Clos Chanteduc Cotes Du Rhone. I was unable to find good information on this 2006 vintage, current available vintage of this wine is 2010, but I would assume that  the composition stayed about the same, so it should be Grenache/Syrah blend (2/3 Grenache, 1/3 Syrah), a classic Rhone blend. The wine is associated with Patricia Wells, a well known chef living in France. While looking for information about this wine, I found an interesting post about 2009 version in the blog called Wayward Wine – here is a link for you, it is a good reading. Getting back to this 2006 wine, it was rather a typical Cote du Rhone – soft, supple, good mid-palate of plums and cherries – but may be too soft and too supple, it was missing a wow factor. Drinkability: 7.

DSC_0393 Jermann Sauvignon BlancThe next wine I want to mention is 2008 Jermann Sauvignon Blanc Venezia Giulia IGT. Jermann is one of my all time favorite Italian producers – I don’t think I tasted any wines I didn’t like from Jermann. This Sauvignon Blanc was closed with screwtop, and the wine is 5 years old – but it came out clean and round on the palate, with perfect amount of white fruit, some herbal notes, perfect minerality and acidity – very enjoyable by itself and with the food. Drinkability: 8-

Now, let’s get to the subject of this post and talk about Georgian and new French wines I discovered.  Last Friday I stopped at  the tasting at Fairway Market in Stamford, where Michael from importing company called Corus was presenting new Georgina wines.  There were four wines included in the tasting, three of them definitely standouts.

2012 Marani Mtsavane is made out of 100% of indigenous Mtsvane grape – very dry, more reminiscent of Muscadet than anything else, with cutting acidity. Will be perfectly refreshing wine for the summer day, also will be very appropriate every time you will decide to serve oysters. Drinkability: 7+

2005 Wine Man Mukuzani – this wine is made out of 100% Saperavi grapes, also grown in one single place – village of Mukuzani. This wine is made by David Maisuradze, who makes amazing wines – here is my post mentioning couple of his wines I tasted before. When I took a first sip, my first  thought was about dramatic difference this wine had with the 2005 El Maset I just had a few days ago (both wines are from 2005) – silky smooth, perfect dark fruit, cherries, blackberries, round tannins and balancing acidity – overall, a wine of perfect harmony. Drinkability: 8

2009 Wine Man Kinzmarauli – Kindzmarauli is one of the most famous Georgian wines. Because it was so famous before, you can’t even imagine the amount of fake insipid concoction which arrived to US about 10-15 years ago, knowing that Russian ex-patriots will buy anything under that name. When people realized that they had been doped, the wine lost its appeal and now have to slowly work up its reputation. Kindzmarauli is also made out of 100% Saperavi grapes, but it is semi-sweet. The fake Kindzmarauli wines had nothing but the sugar in them. When you taste this 2009 Kindzmarauli, you actually first get the perfect dry grape underpinning, and then the residual sweetness comes in. Excellent wine to serve with cheese – I think it might even beat Port when served next to Stilton. Drinkability: 8-

Now, for my French discovery  – it might not be a discovery for you, but it is a new line of wines which are just being imported to Connecticut. The wines are made by Domaine Laroque in the area called Cité de Carcassonne, a part of Langueoc-Rossillion (Cité de Carcassonne has a status of IGP).

2012 Domaine Laroque Sauvignon Blanc Cite de Carcassonne – in a blind tasting, I would definitely say that this is a restrained version of New Zealand Sauvignon Blanc. Perfectly bright, with hint of grapefruit and lemon zest, refreshing, uplifting – make sure you have enough on hand for your summer entertainment – or you will deal with some upset guests. Drinkability: 8-

2012 Domaine Laroque Rose de Cabernet Cite de Carcassonne – nice, clean Rose, good amount of strawberries, good acidity. Drinkability: 7

2011 Domaine Laroque Cabernet Franc Cite de Carcassonne – this was a “wow” wine. Cabernet Franc is one of my favorite single-grape wines, which are so hard to find. This is two notches up most of the Loire stuff – I guess it is much closer to the best of Bordeaux and Calidornia – prefect dense red fruit, good minerality and herbs, firm structure, supple tannins and overall very balanced. This is what I call a “dangerous wine” – once you start drinking it, it is almost impossible to stop. Drinkability: 8

Are you tired of me yet? Okay, good – I have two more wines to tell you about.

DSC_0395 Sarah's Vineyard2001 Sarah’s Vineyard Chardonnay Estate Reserve Santa Clara Valley – I got it as Bin Ends in Massachusetts last year. The unfortunate part – this wine was past prime. Well, it was more like a nice sherry – dark yellow color, nicely oxidized. I was able to finish the bottle, but this was not an amazing experience by all means. Mostly you could taste almonds, and that was about all you could find on the palate. I will not rate this wine as it would be simply not fair.

Last, but not least at all – an amazing Aussie experience.

1999 Grant Burge Shadrach Cabernet Sauvignon South Australia – from the very first smell, the expectation was that a “wow” wine is ahead. Perfect dark fruit on the nose, a whiff of chocolate. And the very first sip confirmed that “wow” – blackberries, cherries  and cassis, dark chocolate, cocoa, eucalyptus, touch of roasted flavors, perfectly firm and structured. Pronounced acidity, supporting tannins – all perfectly balanced. This was an outstanding glass of wine (it was my one and only bottle, sigh). By the way, you should read an interesting story behind the name of this wine – I don’t want to retype it, hence the picture of the back label below.Drinkability: 8+

That’s all I have for you for today. What was your best wine experience of the week? Have a great week ahead and cheers!

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