You can’t tell a book by its cover, or so they say. But how about wine? Its label tells a great deal — origin, producer, grape variety, alcoholic strength, etc But it may not and probably does not explain its name.
Sometimes that’s just as well. We find the names of French wines very appealing but that appeal may not be quite so endearing if the names were in English: “The Hill”; “Upper Brion”; “The White Horse,” etc.
This discourse results from two bottles I extricated from my Napa Valley collection of last fall. One was a delicious Cabernet Sauvignon from a relatively new producer in St. Helena called Roots Run Deep Winery. The name on the label caught my attention: “Educated Guess.” The other bottle, a Bordeaux blend, came from well established and quite distinguished Carter Cellars in Calistoga:” Napa Valley Red Wine Table 5.” (Bordeaux blend, by the way, has neither legal nor precise meaning other than that the grapes blended into the wine are those associated with Bordeaux. It is also likely that the percentages of those grapes used from year to year will vary, hence you seldom see “Bordeaux Blend” on a label.)
The retailer of my Table 5 described it as a “restaurant” wine, presumably because he said it could deal with almost any food in need of a red wine — from risottos to pastas to steaks. At 14.6% I would agree with that, but in spite of its strength, it was gentle on the palate and easy to ingest. It lacked the pleasantly slightly bitter tannic finish of a Bordeaux but represented the firm and fruity length of California. It makes me want to sit at Table 5 whenever I dine out.
The Educated Guess label is a chemical table tracing the process by which grapes become wine. The back label admits that almost every step in the process results from an educated guess, and that the producers have ”done the guesswork” for us. My retailer had it right. Educated Guess is ”fun, approachable, and food friendly.”
So I admit it. I bought the wines because of the labels. I have not visited either winery and selected them because something about the label told me to. Cost was a consideration, but only a minor one. The Guess ran $20, Table 5 almost $40. Good value both.
Most of our military men and women who have served a tour in Germany come home with a taste for Riesling wines. And till the last few years, they have been generally disappointed in the Rieslings produced in our wine regions. Riesling likes cool temperatures and just will not show its best in the heat of Napa or the Midwest. Even along the California Coast, the exposure to sun ripens this hardy grape too fast, and it loses much of the character it enjoys on both sides of the Rhine Valley.
There have been steely dry Rieslings and richly sweet Rieslings in the Finger Lake Region of New York for decades, but they don’t make it to Indiana retail stores. Producers in Washington State and Oregon have been getting the hang of working with this grape in recent years and are now producing it in all the various ways its versatility allows. Riesling is neither a dry nor a sweet wine. It can be either or a wine of varying degrees between.
Hoosiers no longer need to go without well-made Riesling at moderate cost. True, those semi-sweet Mosel wines are readily available and a handful of truly dry Rheingaus appear here and there in Indiana shops but often at prices that discourage average consumers. No, the Riesling is not grown in Indiana. Our summer heat and humidity won’t permit it, but Bill Oliver has the knack with Riesling grapes he finds in the Northwest to turn into those wines our soldiers learned to know and enjoy in Germany.
He describes them as “semi dry”; my palate finds them slightly sweet, somewhat like the Halb-Trocken Rieslings from the Mosel. No matter, they are very well made, light and refreshing as a result of the Oliver cool fermentation process and the use, of course, of excellent fruit at the peak of ripeness.
The 2012 vintage is now available at the Oliver Winery, so Hoosiers, head for Bloomington to get your summer-time Rieslings — and while there and in a Rhine Valley mood, pick up a few bottles of Bill’s Gewurztraminer as well. Foie gras anyone?
After three thousand years, you’d think they’d get their wine-production right. But then fifty or so years of the last six decades saw their wines forced into a state industry and two millennia of wine tradition became a cheap commodity. I haven’t been in Bulgaria since the modern “Liberation” from the Iron Curtain (modern as opposed to ancient Liberation when the Bulgarians were freed of the Ottoman Empire and its sinister attitudes toward alcohol consumption in 1878) when I, as a visitor, could dine in good restaurants. In the 1970s my “minders” saw to my food and drink, but unfortunately they knew nothing of wine and could not tell me where my dinner wines came from or how they were produced.
This commentary results from one of our Mothers’ Day wines. My son-in-law, fresh back from Sofia, presented a 2011 Cabernet Sauvignon from Pomorie, long recognized as the best wine district in Bulgaria. On my travels behind the Curtain, I learned of grapes named Rkatzeteli, Pimid, Miskit, and Dimyat, written in a Cyrillic script I couldn’t read. The restaurant servers back then didn’t seem to know about Cabernet Sauvignon or Merlot though they had heard of Riesling and Muskat Ottonel.
That’s changed a lot, I’m told, since the political climate changed in 1989 and the state monopoly of the wine industry came to an end. By the end of the 1990s, the wineries had become privatized and consultants and cuttings came across the borders from Germany, France, Italy, and the rest of the European Union. While the Bulgarians are shipping more and more of their wines westward, their primary markets are still in Eastern Europe, but wineries such as Black Sea Gold , which produced our bottle, are making a dent in the world markets.
Two years is very young for a Cabernet, but the tannins in our bottle had diminished considerably and there was harmony throughout the bottle. The color was an impressive garnet and the finish on the palate lingering and pleasing. Even after traveling thousands of miles, this one bottle proved more noteworthy than anything I could remember from those dreary 1970s in Bulgarian hotels and cafes with names I could neither read nor pronounce. We wish those plucky producers well and hope to see their wines in our stores in the near future.OLDER POSTS »