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The Beverage Alcohol Report
Vol 2.4 – April 2005, Liana Bennett

Classic Grape Varieties
Chenin Blanc

Chenin Blanc has its roots in the Loire Valley where it is called Pineau de la Loire.  It is a warm climate grape that grows well in various soil types.  The grapes are fairly thin-skinned and susceptible to noble rot.  These traits allow Chenin Blanc to be made into a variety of styles from dry to sweet and even sparkling. Producers from the Loire Valley such as Vouvray, Anjou and Saumur make Chenin Blanc into light and off-dry wines.   California and South Africa, where they call it Steen,   produce Chenin Blanc in a softer style to that of France.  In our wine aisles we  will mostly find general table wines made from Chenin Blanc with fruity flavors of quince, melon and vanilla.  As a general rule, Chenin Blanc is not barrel-aged thus making these wines great alternatives for those who don’t like oaky Chardonnays.  

Although its production in Bordeaux is decreasing, Malbec is still one of the four classic Bordeaux red varieties (Cab Sauv, Cab Franc and Merlot are the other three). It grows best in warmer climates with long periods of sun. This is why  Argentina produces fabulous Malbecs. Malbec is softer than the Cabs but fuller than Merlot with a deep color, good tannin and distinct plum flavor.  Mostly used to balance Bordeaux -style wines, it is made into a varietal in South America where it takes on more of the Merlot characteristics.  Malbec is always oaked and of course needs some time to mellow out once opened. I love serving Malbec with grilled steak when I don’t want something as big as a Cabernet. 

Tuscany’s Tradition
In the central part of Italy lies the Tuscany wine region and the home of Chianti. Chianti is one of the more famous Italian wines. There are seven individual Chianti zones each with its own label and symbol marked on the neck of the bottle. There are essentially two styles of Chianti. The first we remember as the straw-covered bottles hanging in Italian restaurants.  These wines  are made in the traditional manner with a blend of white grapes, Trebbiano and Malvasia and red grapes, predominantly Sangiovese and Canaiolo. The whites help soften the bolder, harsher reds.  This wine is young and fresh and meant to be drunk early. The wine laws began to change as varieties such as Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot and Syrah proved to do well in the region.  As a result there is a newer style called Chianti Riserva that includes these varieties and little to no whites. These wines are barrel aged for at least three years and often require some bottle aging to full develop.  They are much heavier and deeper than their counterparts and can stand up to any other Bordeaux-style wines.  Along with Chianti, Tuscany also produces wines known as “Super Tuscans”.  These wines are made from the newer varieties in the area such as the Cabs and Merlot. Super Tuscans fall under Vino da Tavola and do not hold a DOC or DOCG status (Italian Wine Law grading system - Vino da Tavola is a lower grade).  The Cab blends from Tuscany can run a high price but are definitely worth it. Other reds from Tuscany to keep your eye out for are Vino Nobile di Montepulciano and Brunello di Montalcino. The Vino Nobile uses Chianti varieties but is drier, fuller, higher in alcohol and ages better than traditional Chiantis. Brunello is a big huge wine made from Sangiovese grapes. This wine needs many years to full mature and can have an alcohol percentage of up to 14%. This wine is hard to come by and is costly but once again, as all Tuscan wines, worth it!   

Booze Trivia
1. What is the term for the year of harvest for grapes used in wine in the bottle?
2. What were the years of Prohibition?
3. What is the clear Italian herbal liqueur made from elderberry, anise and other herbs called?
4. What is the term for the addition of sugar to wines?
5. What flavor is Blue Curacao?
Answers below.

I am sure I’m not the only one whose tastes change from season to season. For me, the warmer weather brings out my thirst for gin and more specifically gin and 7-Up with a slice of lime. Gin is a neutral grain spirits that is flavored with a mixture of spices, herbs and fruits.  For the spirit to be labeled “gin”, juniper must be the predominant flavor but lemon, orange, cinnamon, licorice, coriander seed, just to name a few, can be added.   Each gin distiller has their own botanical blend recipe.  The word gin is derived from the French word for “genievre” meaning juniper. There are two styles to gin but we rarely see the sweet Dutch version. Beefeater, Bombay Sapphire and Gordon’s are London-style gin.  These gins are clean, light and unsweet.  Add a little flair to your gin by trying a Tom Collins - gin mixed with soda water, a bit of sugar and lemon juice. Don’t forget the classic dry Martini - one good measure of dry gin and a dash of dry white vermouth.  Gin is better chilled so keep the bottle in the fridge.  

To our Jewish Friends
It is my philosophy to celebrate any and all holidays. And as such since next weekend is the Jewish feast of Passover, what better way to celebrate than with a bottle or two of kosher wine. Of course you are all thinking Mogen David or Manischewitz which are both valid wines but that is not what I had in mind.  These sweeter than sweet wines became  synonymous with kosher wines but it isn’t the variety that makes the wine kosher, it is the cultural laws that dictate the  winemaking process. When the Jewish people began to immigrate to the US, they settled in the New York area where Concord grapes were a plenty.  You make wine with what you’ve got and so they did. 

Kosher wine is just wine made in accordance with the Jewish laws.  In order to verify that it is kosher, a rabbi will supervise the process and only Orthodox Jews may handle the wine. There are no restrictions of location, grape variety used or style produced.  Kosher wines can be found from all over the world and in many  varieties including Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot and Chardonnay.  Outside of the rabbi overseeing the process, the equipment used in the production many only be used for kosher products.  As well, any additions to the wine such as yeasts or fining agents must be kosher.  No artificial coloring or preservatives may be added.

Historically, Jewish wines have not been in the competitive market for one reason alone - taste. The off taste of Jewish wines date back to early Judaism when the high priests used wine for some of their rituals. They wanted to make it undesirable to drink and keep it sacred so they began to boil the wine. It is only in recent years that technology has been developed to flash pasteurize the wine These wines become known as mevushal wines and can be handled by non-Jews.  Although these are considered not as sacred as non-mevushal wines, they are still kosher.    Some top producers of kosher wines to look for are Herzog,  Kiddush Hashem Cellars and Barkan.

Don’t forget Mother’s Day is May 8. Instead of flowers or oven mitts, get your Mom a new corkscrew, a set of wineglasses that include red and white styles and a case of wine. Go to your local store and pick twelve wines from various regions and in different varieties and styles.  Make sure you stipulate that she share one bottle a month with you in thanksgiving for Moms and kids!

Booze Trivia Answers
1. Vintage
2. 1920-1933
3. Sambuca
4. Chapitalization (which is illegal just about everywhere)
5. Orange - Curacao is made from orange peels; similar to Triple Sec

The Beverage Alcohol Report (The BAR) is published on a monthly basis compliments of Liana Bennett.  It main purpose is to further the knowledge, appreciation and general enjoyment of all alcoholic beverages.  Your comments, questions and tasting stories can be sent to [email protected] .  Please feel free to share this e-newsletter with your friends or forward their email address to Liana to be added to the list. Thank you and of course, I hope you have enjoyed The BAR and have learned something new! 



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