Posted February 26, 2015

Pinot Noir and Chardonnay. ‘Nuf said. Unless you’ve been under a rock or drinking Colt 45 since you were 12, you know these two grapes. They are the two main grapes of Burgundy (if you’re lookin’ at a bottle of French wine don’t be confused by the term “Bourgogne”-its’ just the French trying to complicate matters by using their fancy French language). In contrast to Bordeaux, Burgundy wines are generally not blends. Burgundy has many sub-regions (called “AOC’s”) and is home to some of the most expensive and fancy-pants wines known to man. From all the hype I’m guessing Burgundy is where Jesus turned water into wine during some of those missing years.


The reason for having many sub-regions is a question of Terroir (there go the French being fancy again). Terroir has an implicit effect on the taste and quality of the wine. One famous aspect of Burgundies Terroir is its Limestone soils. In 1522, some dude named Erasmus wrote: "O happy Burgundy which merits being called the mother of men since she furnishes from her mummeries such good milk". Wine and mummeries. Good stuff.


Terroir can be understood simply as a “sense of place”. Terroir is essentially at the foundation of the French system for classifying wines and is the model for designating appellations (specific geographic areas) and for wine laws around the world, so I guess we have to pay attention to the French (you’d think after being around for so long they’d have come up with some real culture. Like Football). Another way to look at Terroir is that wine is often described as having certain characteristics (flinty, cherry, aromatic, like licking asphalt). Those characteristics can be traced to the Terroir, which is the sum of the effect on the wine from the soil, climate, vineyard placement, grape, human interaction, etc.


Burgundy has 5 wine growing regions. Often it will appear on the label which will at least get you started with identifying French wines. These regions are:

  • Chablis
  • Côte de Nuits
  • Côte de Beaune
  • Côte Chalonnaise
  • Mâconnais


Pinot Noir

Pinot Noir is a light grape/wine which pairs with a lot of foods. It’s a fickle grape (see Miles from “Sideways” babble on about it, below) so the flavors can vary from year to year. In addition, the terroir (I hope you’ve been paying attention) has a great effect on the taste, evidenced by the variety of flavors from different regions. A few examples:


FRANCE:  brown paper bag full of mushrooms or wet leaves along with dirt, and maybe roses and cherries. Sounds kind of like my compost bin, late summer vintage.

CALIFORNIA: Bigger flavors than France in general. California Pinot Noirs are lush and more fruit-forward (as are many California wines when compared to their European counterparts). Look for flavors ranging from sweet black cherry to black raspberry to vanilla, clove, caramel, even coca-cola. Really? Maybe I’ll just have a rum and cherry coke instead.

OREGON: usually a little lighter in color and texture than California Pinot Noir, and typically more tart. Cranberry, bing cherry along with some earthy characteristics as well: truffle, mushrooms, etc. It’s probably gluten-free since everything in freakin' Oregon is.


Miles from “Sideways” waxing poetic about the Pinot Noir grape (and metaphorically, about himself): Uh, I don't know, I don't know. Um, it's a hard grape to grow, as you know. Right? It's uh, it's thin-skinned, temperamental, ripens early. It's, you know, it's not a survivor like Cabernet, which can just grow anywhere and uh, thrive even when it's neglected. No, Pinot needs constant care and attention. You know? And in fact it can only grow in these really specific, little, tucked away corners of the world. And, and only the most patient and nurturing of growers can do it, really. Only somebody who really takes the time to understand Pinot's potential can then coax it into its fullest expression. Then, I mean, oh its flavors, they're just the most haunting and brilliant and thrilling and subtle and... ancient on the planet.”



OK. It is a commune (town) in Burgundy, and is the birth place of the grape as far as those who give a s*#t can tell. To add to the confusion, Chablis is a region that’s Burgundy adjacent (sort of like Hawthorne being Manhattan Beach adjacent) and produces chardonnay (called Chablis). Chardonnay is one of the most widely planted grapes in the world. It’s pretty easy to grow and relatively neutral, usually taking on flavors coming from the Terroir (You frickin better know what Terroir means by now) or from oak (which we’ve come to know and love in California). A good example of Terroir: many Chardonnays (called white burgundies or Chablis in France) derive more flavors from the soil then the sun (due to it’s cool climate), hence they tend to be more flinty and steely. In addition, the majority of Chardonnays from France are unoaked, especially those from Chablis.


California chardonnays are a whole other deal. We usually taste more fruit (often due to warmer weather) and perhaps vanilla, butter, and a softer and sometimes thicker feel - winemaker influences coming from aging in oak, and a secondary fermentation known as malolactic fermentation. A turning point in the recognition of California wine was the famous 1976 Judgment of Paris blind tasting (see the movie Bottle Shock) where a 1973 Chateau Montelena (Napa Valley) was the big winner. Sorry French people. At least you still got your snails and frog legs. And let me know if you want me to send over a few packs of disposable Bics for the ladies. I’m just sayin…

Posted in Jeffs Blog By Uncorked Hermosa

Rhone Varietals

Posted February 08, 2015

The Rhone Valley is in the south of France and divided into North and South and like Bordeaux, blends make up the majority of wines produced here. Also, like Bordeaux, a connection can be made between the main grapes grown there, and the major varietals we’ve come to know and love in the United States. Close to home, a lot of Santa Ynez (Santa Barbara’s wine growing region) winemakers specialize in producing wine from Rhone grapes. Blends from the northern Rhone tend to be Syrah-centric, while blends from the south are usually Grenache heavy. The most famous region in the (southern) Rhone valley is arguably Châteauneuf-du-Pape. One of the standard bearers of Rhone Varietals in California is Tablas Creek, in Paso Robles.



Don’t confuse it with Petite Syrah (a cross of Syrah and another grape too obscure to give a f#*k about). Yeah, they call it Shiraz in Australia. What do Australians know about wine anyway? I mean, they’re all descended from convicts, right? Anyway, Syrah is grown throughout the world and likes moderate climates such as the southern Rhone, Walla Walla region in Washington (don’t get me started! Who on god’s green earth came up with that name? Probably some Australian…) which will produce medium to full bodied wines (like my 3rd girlfriend). In hotter climates such as the Barossa Valley of Australia, the wine produced will be more full-bodied.  Besides California, Australia and France, Syrah is popping up in Chile, South Africa, and New Zealand, and Azerbaijan(next to Whatthefukistan) to name a few.



Pronounced Grin·aaach, it is one of the most widely planted grapes in the universe (I have it on good authority that it does well on Uranus. In actuality probably not. I just wanted to use the word “Uranus” in my blog). Grenache likes it to be hot and dry because it ripens late (kind of like my 5th girlfriend, hot but always late). Grenache is typically blended with other grapes (tempranillo for instance in Spain, Syrah in France). Don’t get all confused if you buy a Spanish wine (a great bang for the buck cause their economy sucks) and they call it Garnacha. Same Grape. Grenache is the lead wine in one of Americans favorite blends, called a GSM Blend: Grenache, Syrah, and Mourvedre (and you thought it stood for Gimmie Some More).



If you love Cab, you might want to try a Mourvèdre. In addtion to the Rhone Valley, Mourvèdre is grown in Spain, California, Washington State and South Australia. Mourvèdre is somewhat of a pain in the ass to grow, so I’m not sure why winemakers bother with it. It likes hot weather (listen up Temecula), lots of water, and is susceptible to mildew and other stuff that messes up vines. It often tastes like soft red fruit coupled with “farmy- barnyard-y notes. Like berries growing in a cow pie. Sounds like something Nebraskans might enjoy, although Saxum Vineyards in Paso Robles received a perfect 100 from Wine Guru Robert Parker (how can he not be hammered all the time?) for his 07 Red Blend that contained 30% Mourvèdre.




An “aromatic” (usually white wines where the aroma of the wine is that of the grape) wine, Viognier, like Chardonnay can be full bodied, lush, and soft (3rd wife). Since the 90’s it’s been planted more extensively around the world, notably in California, Australia, Argentina, South Africa, New Zealand, even Japan (Saki and Viognier blend anyone?). One legend surrounding the grape has it that the name is a bastardization of the ancient Roman pronunciation of via Gehennae, meaning Road of the Valley of Hell alluding to the difficulty in growing the grape. And I thought the Road of the Valley of Hell was the 405 north over the Sepulveda pass at rush hour. Silly me.



From the French word “roux” meaning “russet”. As in potato? OK, whatever. Rousanne is typically used for blending, and can be difficult to grow and so is sometimes referred to as “The Princess” (I prefer “The Bitch” but to each his own) and so is often passed over in favor of Marsanne (our next and final grape) which is not as, let’s just say “difficult” as Rousanne. Which begs the question: why even f*#k with it? Well, it is flexible, and forgiving once picked and turned into juice, it ages very well, and can turn into a beautiful, rich, complex wine. So, to extend the metaphor one more time- we’ve all known women like Rousanne- difficult at first but, with some tender loving care and patience, turns into a beautiful princess, worth the time and effort.



Another grape used primarily for blending, Marsanne, as noted above is relatively easy to grow, and is native to the Northern Rhone valley, although since the late 1800’s those crazy Australians have been loving them some Marsanne, and now grow about 80% of it world-wide. It’s typically minerally (it gets a lot of its flavors from its Terroir- another pretentious wine term we’ll delve into later), big and rich in the mouth, and gets nuttier with age. I will restrain from the obvious joke here for the sake of brevity. Thomas Jefferson, well known wino and president, thought Marsanne the “most epic grape ever, dude”. 

Posted in Jeffs Blog By Uncorked Hermosa