Wednesday, October 28, 2009

Gemischter Satz--It's Austrian for Delicious

If you hear "Gemischter Satz" You may be tempted to say "God Bless You!"

But the appropriate answer is "They're delicious, aren't they?"

Gemischter Satz are special wines from Austria's capital city of Vienna. Made from a blend of white grapes that are grown together in the field, then picked and fermented at the same time, there was a point not too long ago when the mania for "single varietal" bottlings threatened this age-old tradition of Austrian field blends. Happily, the tradition was maintained, the grapes remained planted in gloriously mixed vineyards of Gruner Veltliner, Weissburgunder, Riesling, Muscat Ottonel, and other grapes. Few Gemischter Satz bottlings specify the grapes within, and none that I've seen can give you varietal percentages. Don't worry--go for it.

I'm a relative newbie to the wines of Austria, but I can't recommend Gemischter Satz highly enough. If you enjoy crisp, food-friendly whites--and are a bit tired of the same-old same-old that you've been drinking lately seek out one of these wines and perk up your tired tastebuds.

2008 Weingut Rotes Haus Gemischter Satz Classic Nußberg ($20) This tasted very much of a Gruner Veltliner to me, with its white pepper, salt, and grapefruit aromas. The flavors of apple, grapefruit, and pepper confirmed my initial impression and the aftertaste was interesting--like sour apples. Very good QPR.

2007 Weingut Hajszan Gemischter Satz Weissleiten ($18) This stunning organic and biodynamic wine had unmistakable aromas of freshly ground black pepper, with floral notes. The flavors turned melony, with a zing of quince, and remained dry and refreshing. The juicy, lively aftertaste kept you reaching for the bottle. This is the kind of wine that invites you to spend the evening with it, discovering the flavors that are magically contained within it. Excellent QPR.

2008 Weingut Christ Wiener Gemischter Satz ($16) This wine had piercing aromas of apple, salt, and lemon. The flavors are equally intense, with loads of minerality and stone to accompany the slightly bitter lemon at its core. A fresh and citrusy wine. Excellent QPR.

2008 Zahel Gemischter Satz Schloss Schönbrunn (NA as of yet in the US) This restrained, elegant wine had faint aromas of lemon and peach. Dry flavors reminiscent of Meyer lemon dominate the palate, and there is a touch of bitter orange follows in the aftertaste. Well worth seeking out--and I hope an American retailer snaps this up.

Note: I've been sent some corrections and have made them in the body of the text above. The wines themselves all come from within the city limits of Vienna, and Weingut Hajszan's wine is certified organic and biodynamic.

Also, if you are looking for these wines, retailers are popping up in the comments to say they have these sometimes-hard-to-find bottlings. So check below if you are interested in purchasing, as the usual online wine search engines are not always exhaustive.

Full Disclosure: I received these wines as samples.

Monday, October 26, 2009

The Red Wines of Calabria: Fruity, Funky, and Fabulously Affordable

This month I've been getting to know the red wines of Calabria--and they've surprised me. When I mentioned Calabrian wine to most people--even Calabrians!--they scoffed at the quality of wine produced in this region of Italy. But I liked the rusty funkiness, the fruitiness, and the great value that I found in the wines I tasted. And though these wines came from southern Italy, they reminded me of French wines from Burgundy and the Beaujolais.

Take the 2004 Vintripodi Arghillà ($19.99, Wine Expo) This wine, a blend of Nerello Calabrese and Alicante, has the certain funky pungency that is characteristic in my (limited) experience of Nerello, and reminds me of a good Beaujolais. The wine showed some tawny edges around the dark purple juice at the center of my glass. The aromas were of sour cherry, earth, and funk and the flavors followed suit. This was certainly not a boring, same-old red and I think it would go just as brilliantly with stews as it did with our pasta dinner.

The other Calabrian wine I tried was the 2006 Ippolito Cirò Liber Pater ($17.99, Wine Expo; available elsewhere for $17). Made with a native Calabrian grape called Gaglioppo, I wasn't familiar enough with the variety to know what to expect. What I discovered was a wine that was nicely poised between a Pinot Noir and a Nebbiolo in terms of flavor and style. There were minty, brandied, and currant aromas. Following up were leather, plum, and currant flavors with a long, savory finish with notes of soy sauce. The juxtaposition of the berried, herbal aromas and the savory qualities of the flavors was intriguing and made this wine memorable.

Some may raise their eyebrows at Calabrian wine, but you won't catch me doing it. Give a Calabrian wine a try. They were a delightful surprise as I wrap up my journey through Italian wines. All that's left is Emilia-Romagna--and we'll head there in November.

Friday, October 16, 2009

Today on Serious Grape: Autumn Whites from Austria

I'm learning about Austrian wines, and this week on Serious Grape I have recommen-
dations for some affordable bottles (and one splurge-worthy one, too) that are just perfect for this time of year.

Austrian wines have an earthiness that makes them a great partner for squash, pumpkin, turkey, sage--so many of the foods and flavors we're all enjoying this time of year.

Autumn doesn't just mean it's time to pop open the red wines--there's still plenty of occasions that call out for a white.

I'll have more posts on Austrian wines next week. I was favorably impressed by what I sipped, and think you will be, too. Have a great weekend, and get out and do some wine exploring. Find yourself an Austrian wine to try. And if you've already found one (or two, or three...) be sure to let us know in the comments below or over on Serious Eats.

Monday, October 12, 2009

Exploring Calabria in October

I'm a little behind in my announcement, but this month I'll be exploring Calabria as the penultimate destination in my two-year trawl through the wine regions of Italy. (photo of Calabria by Mikuzz)

Calabria is the toe of Italy's boot--and to me it always looks like Calabria is preparing to kick Sicily straight up into Spain. As a southern Italian region, Calabria is home to rustic red wines, many of them made with the native Gaglioppo grape.

They've been making wine here since at least the days of Ancient Greece, and while we may not be familiar with the wines of the region today, they were quite popular in ancient times. The Roman writer Pliny the Elder considered Calabrian wines to be of high quality, and earlier the Greek athlete Milo of Croton--a Calabrian native--boasted that he drank over two gallons of wine from Ciró every day. The tradition of athletes and Ciró wines was not limited to Milo of Croton. Legend has it that winners at the early Olympics were offered this Calabrian wine to celebrate their victories. (another great photo by Mikuzz)

With over 90% of the wine produced in Calabria falling into the category of red wine, I wasn't able to find a white example to taste this month. However, I will be reporting my tasting notes on two under $20 red wines. I'm looking forward to getting a better sense of what Calabrian wines are all about. I have reviewed one Calabrian red--a Gaglioppo from Ciró--on GWU$20, and I enjoyed its rustic, traditional character very much. But I'll be interested so see if that wine was representative, and how the other bottlings stack up against it. (photo of Gaglioppo from VinoFamily)

Have you experienced Calabrian wine? And do you have any specific tips or recommendations to share about the wines of this region? Has anyone out there had a Calabrian white, and if so did you drink it in Italy, or find it over here in the US?

Friday, October 09, 2009

New Grape of the Month: Falanghina

It's time for another new variety, grapehounds.

Falanghina is ancient white wine grape that is (as near as we can tell) native to Campania. According to Jancis Robinson, there are just under 800 acres of the grape in cultivation which makes it a relative rarity.

The 2008 Mustilli Falanghina is a joyful, fresh white that was a welcome change of pace for my tastebuds. (suggested retail, $18) Aromas of lemon curd, stone, and hay suggested the last days of summer, while the intense lemony flavors had mineral notes that added a nice complexity. The wine's juicy acidity will make it a good food wine, and the bit of salt in the aftertaste gave a final, savory quality to the aftertaste that had me reaching for the glass again and again. Excellent QPR on this complex, versatile white.

It's hard to imagine any fish, shellfish, vegetable, or chicken dish this wine wouldn't complement, but if you're searching for inspiration try this shrimp pasta dish from Rachael Ray. It's a riff on Puttanesca, with olives, capers, garlic, and red peppers along with shrimp and fresh cherry tomatoes. The salty notes in the wine were a brilliant accent for the olives and capers, and the lemony freshness was terrific with the shrimp and tomatoes.

(for availability, contact the importer: Domenico Selections)

Full disclosure: I received this wine as a sample.

Thursday, October 08, 2009

Mighty Good Malbecs

I was reminded last week of why I love Malbec. It's got the richness of Syrah, with some of the tannic structure of Cabernet. While the former can sometimes be too jammy, and the latter too austere, Malbecs are just right for pairing with a wide variety of foods. And with many of us turning off our grills and heating up our ovens, it's worth pointing out that Malbecs are great with autumn stews and soups.

Here are some of the best Malbecs I've tasted recently--and they are in the market at a variety of price points under $20.

2007 Trumpeter Malbec. Made by Argentina's Familia Rutini, this is a simple, pleasant, well-priced Malbec. For under $10 you get aromas aromas of roasted coffee and plum. The flavors are dominated by black cherry, coffee, and toast, and there is a juicy, tannic finish. Expect this wine to be slightly drying in the mouth when sipped on its own, but it shines with food. Very good QPR. (available in most markets for under $10)

2008 Don Miguel Gascón Malbec. Bodegas Escorihuela Gascón has a new label for their popular wine, but there's still the same very good QPR wine inside. You'll start off smelling blackberry and blueberry, along with a strong hit of coffee. The berry fruit continues through the flavors, and there is a distinctive mocha aftertaste that makes it well worth the under $15 price tag. (available in most markets for around $14)

2007 Alamos Selección Malbec. A terrific Malbec from Bodega Catena Zapata with aromas of blackberry, violets, and spice. The flavors are nicely layered, and include black cherry, fennel, and more violets along with a pleasant leathery note. Satiny tannins and refreshing acidity round out this wine. Excellent QPR for this unusually complex bottling under $20. (available for $12-$20 in most markets)

If you think Malbecs only pair well with grilled red meat, think again. We had our Malbecs with some Asian-style drumsticks. The sticky glaze made with hoisin and chili sauces was delicious, and a perfectly robust counterpoint to the wines. The 5-Spice in the recipe accented the leathery and floral notes in these wines, and the plum and berry fruit profiles provided a juicy counterpoint to the assertive flavorings.

Full Disclosure: I received these wines as samples.

Wednesday, October 07, 2009

3 Years and 5182 Subscribers Later...

Today marks GWU$20's third anniversary. On October 7, 2006 I pushed "publish" on my first post. Three years, and 5182 subscribers later, I'm still pushing that publish button and I'm still committed to bringing you information on good, affordable wines and promoting everyday wine culture. (photo by CarbonNYC)

These past three years have been an amazing journey. I've become a better writer, I think I've become a better teacher in my day job, and I've learned a lot about wine. I've also had the opportunity to meet up with readers, bloggers, and winemakers all over the world--which is, perhaps, the thing that has brought me the most enjoyment.

As we move into the fourth year, you may notice some changes. I'm trying to focus on quality posts, rather than quantity, while juggling other demands. Rather than stop blogging, I'm cutting back and you may see fewer posts, posts that cover more than one wine (like the Pinot Noir and Chardonnay posts from last week), and more posts that cover the magical mixing of wine and food.

To everyone reading this and all my subscribers who receive my notes on wine through their RSS Readers, email, and other services--thank you. Here's to another great year.

Saturday, October 03, 2009

This Week on Serious Grape: Decanting Demystified

Do you decant?

In this week's Serious Grape column, my weekly contribution to the fabulous food site Serious Eats, I try to demystify the subject of decanting. Basically there are two reasons to decant: to remove the sediment from old wines and to aerate younger wines. In both cases, decanting makes good wine taste better.

Last night, a friend was pouring some lovely old wines including a 1997 Château Léoville Barton that was just drinking beautifully--but had some sediment in the bottle as a result of its age. Decanting got that sediment out of there, which would have given the wine a bitter, tannin taste as well as negatively impacting the texture.

So don't be intimidated or overwhelmed by decanting. You can do it with a clean mayonnaise jar if you want, and there are some stylish options like the one pictured here, too.

Head over to Serious Grape and check it out.