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There are few things in this world that have societies and organizations whose only purpose is to the research, promote and enjoy that one specific item. Among the privileged few of rare and exceptional items is the Zinfandel grape. This variety has received an almost cult-like status with groups that meet solely to taste and discuss wine made from Zinfandel, or more commonly, Zin. There is a great debate as to the origins of the variety with some saying it is the same as the Italian Primitivo and the Croatian Plavic Mali. Although there are similar DNA components and properties, it is not been completely proven that the three grape varieties are the same. Zinfandel is grown almost exclusively in California and can be made into a big full red wine or a light refreshing rose. In the early 80s, the full red Zin declined in popularity until creative winemakers vinified the grape into a slightly sweet rose. Sales of the “new wine” took off and Zinfandel was made almost exclusively in this pink style. Although still produced, it is the red version that gets the good press. The most common characteristics you’ll find in a red Zin are blackberry, raspberry, cloves and oak as most Zinfandel wines find themselves aging in barrels for some period of time. To bring out all that a Zin has to offer serve the wine with tomato-sauce pastas, pizzas and especially grilled meats. There is nothing like a BBQed Angus hamburger and a bottle of red Zin. Recommendations I have: Rodney Strong Zinfandel $18, Charles Krug Zinfandel $17 and Montevino Terra D’Oro Old Vines $25. However, don’t let the crowd or the price turn you off - offer a White Zin with foods such as appetizers, salads, lighter meats like poultry or even egg dishes. Remember to slightly chill the White versions and let the big reds breathe.
OCTOBER IS MICHIGAN WINE MONTH
October is harvest time here in Michigan and so it is Michigan Wine Month. Michigan is 4th in the country for vineyard acreage and 13th for wine production. Most of the vineyards are devoted to juice grapes but with 40 commercial wineries close to 200,000 cases of wine are being made annually. The winemakers here in the State are finding that Chardonnay, Riesling, Pinot Gris, Pinot Noir and Cabernet Franc do well with our climate. That’s not to say, other varieties aren’t as good, but if you are looking for a sure bet, stick to these when purchasing Michigan wines. The State is split into four distinct wine areas; Old Mission and Leelanau Peninsula in the northwest and Fennville and Lake Michigan Shore in the southwest. For information on all the wineries in Michigan, go to www.michiganwines.com. Here are some of my favorites:
* Bel Lago - Pinot Grigio & Chardonnay 2002
* Black Star Farms - Pinot Noir 2001
* Shady Lanes - Serenity 2001 (Vignoles and Chardonnay)
* Chateau Chantal - Naughty Red (Blend of reds)
* Tabor Hill - Classic Demi-Sec (Blend of whites)
* Fenn Valley - Capriccio (Blend of reds)
THE NOSE KNOWS - SENSE OF SMELL
Smelling, in my opinion, is the most important part of wine tasting. If the aroma
appeals to you, you’ll probably enjoy the taste – and vice versa – an off smell will bias your taste towards dislike. Studies indicate that we can distinguish about 10,000 different scents. The basic physiology of smelling is that aroma molecules (in the wine) are whiffed up into the nasal cavity where they bond with receptor proteins. Each scent has a distinct pattern that can be identified. The patterns can be similar as in peppermint and spearmint. To help release the aroma molecules in your wine, swirl the liquid in the glass. Use just your wrist to avoid splashes and spills. Next stick your nose right into the glass and take a good whiff. Savor the aromas before you actually take a drink. This is referred to as the bouquet or nose. That is, the odors found in wine that result from things other than the grapes; the oak barrels or the changes in the grapes due to oxygenation and general aging. Concentrate on both the primary and the secondary aromas. The primary scents are easy to find in young wines and are related to the grape itself. Chardonnay can have vanilla and a buttery tone while you’ll find red berries in a Merlot. The secondary aromas come out more in aged wines. This is where you’ll hear terms like, “cigar box”, “vegetal” or “earthy”. You might also have the unpleasant experience of smelling off-odors in the wine. This could be a result of mold, sulfur or vinegar. Either way, what you smell will give you an impression of what you will taste. And just like the appearance, the aromas can give you an indication of the character and origin of the wine. An aged wine will have a more complex nose than a younger version. As well, regional characteristics will be present in the wine. Try to avoid external odors such as spicy cooking, perfumes, smoke or other over-powering smells. Smell is a wonderful gift that affects our mood, memory and desires. Take the time to appreciate the wine and enjoy the pleasures that waft out of the glass. PS - How timely since the Noble Prize was just awarded to the American scientists who explained how the sense of smell works!
Next month – tasting.
BIG L’S PICKS
Giesen Sauvignon Blanc 2003 - Typical varietal from New Zealand’s Marlborough region. Clean, crisp with citrus tones, $13.
Rutherford Hill Chardonnay 2000 - Napa Valley at its best for $21. This Chard’s got it all - vanilla, apple, oak.
Marques de Casa Concha Cab Sauv 2002 - This Chilean choice is a perfect example of what a full red wine can do. Definitely one to purchase at $14.
Faustino De Crianza 1998 - Another great Tempranillo buy from Spain. I can’t say enough good things about this grape - worth every penny, every time! $15
Remy Pannier Chinon 2001 - Great light red from Loire Valley. Light tannins and can even been chilled like a Beaujolais. $12
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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