If you follow us on Facebook or Twitter, you might recall seeing some pleas for "no rain" or "sunshine" dances over the past few weeks. That's because I was up in Oregon interview winemakers for this blog, spending everyday looking at and tasting from the carefully tended clusters of Pinot Noir from some of our favorite wineries - Westrey, McKinlay, Chehalem and Bethel Heights - among others. And it seemed to me, what they all needed was just a few more weeks of mostly dry weather and partial sunshine to maximize their potential.
Entries in Riesling (13)
Some people consider a juicy hamburger comfort food. For others it's mac and cheese. For me, it's a spicy plate of Khi Mao, Thai drunken noodles, fostered over two long years working at a noodle house in graduate school. For my British friend, writer Matt Wright of Wrightfood, it's anything Indian (as long as it's good).
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Embrace the Chaos
Italy leads the world in wine production and consumption per capita, alongside France. Yet the French make it relatively easy to know what to expect where, thanks to strict enforcement of Appellation d’origine contrôlée (AOC) laws, the system of wine quality regulation based on place that they invented and do a good job enforcing. Italian wine, however, is anything but predictable. With more than 800 grape varietals in production, from 20 regions ranging geographically from the foothills of the Alps to the southern end of Sicily, varying levels of quality and constantly changing laws, it's pretty much chaos.
But the chaos that is Italian wine is also what makes it so special...and addicting. In a world where marketing dollars and high gloss media drive consumer taste, a world that is becoming increasingly populated by terroir-less Chardonnays and Cabernet Sauvignons, I appreciate the adventure and authenticity that Italian wine promises. New discoveries - wines made from obscure regional grape varietals, in styles that range from the obvious to the bizarre - await the enthusiast at every turn. One must be prepared for disappointment (too much money + too young Barolo = too bad), frustration (Montepulciano is a place AND a grape BUT not the same grape or place at the same time, ok, now I'm confused) and even downright mad (is that Merlot in my Sangiovese?) but you are guaranteed to be wooed, seduced, and fall passionately in love at least once, and that makes it all worthwhile.
Riesling? Blaufrankisch? Petit Rouge?
The regions near the northern border of Italy (Piedmont, Valleée d'Aoste, Lombardy, Fruili) the cool climate, Alpine conditions, and Slavic, German, or French language and cultural influences result in lighter-bodied red and crisp, aromatic white wines that are stylistically more similar to the wines of neighboring countries than the Italy we think we know. From traditional wines made from obscure, regional grapes to modern wines made from international varietals, this part of the boot has a lot to offer the adventurous palate.
2008 Germano “Herzu” Riesling Located in the hills outside the city of Alba in the Langhe subregion of Piedmont, the Germano winery produces some outstanding Barolo. They also produce small amounts of razor-sharp, tangy Chardonnay and Riesling. Who knew? Though Chardonnay has been in production in this region since the demand for international varietals began in the late 1980's, Riesling is not common here. And yet, it makes sense. The steep, chalky, hillside vineyards suit the needs of this noble grape just fine. In the Herzu we have a classic style cool-climate dry Riesling with a nose of lime and minerals, high acidity, intense fruit concentration and a clean, stony finish. Pair this dry beauty with anything from fresh seafood dishes to the traditional Filetto Baciato (a special Piedmontese style of prosciutto) and you’ll wonder why they don't plant more Riesling in Italy.
2008 Blason Franconia In Friuli, just outside Trieste near the Slovenian border, Giovanni Blason produces excellent, crisp white wines and balanced, medium-bodied reds made from the varietals common to the region like Cabernet Franc and Blaufränkisch. The 2008 Franconia (100% Blaufränkisch) has a nose of juicy red berries spiced with anise and herbs. On the palate, meatier flavors come forward, adding complexity to the essence of just-ripe red and black berries. Young, lively and fresh, this red has slightly higher acidity and is lower in alcohol, making it ideal with the famous regional prosciuttos, salumi and cheeses. This wine also complements the traditional Fruilian dish of seasoned boiled pork sausage and turnips known as musetto with brovada.
2008 Di Barro Vallée d’Aoste Petit Rouge The influence of French language and culture is strong in this Alpine region, where Europe’s highest elevated vineyards are planted primarily to Pinot Noir, Gamay and the light-bodied, fruity “Petit Rouge.” Softer and more generous than Pinot Noir, but with more structure and complexity than Gamay, this is the little red that can—and does—make a delightful divergence from the full-bodied tannic monsters farther south. Meant to be drunk young and fresh, the classic pairing is fondue made from local Fontina cheese, but this soft, red-fruited wine has just enough earth and smoky spice nuance (without the high tannins) to also complement vegetarian, pork or poultry dishes that feature heat and exotic seasonings
So what's stopping you? With a corkscrew and a sense of adventure, you can embrace the chaos in the comfort of your own dining room. Grab a glass, dim the lights, and it's on.
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