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Beaujolais – Riesling – Syrah/Shiraz – Nose – Nebbiolo

Variety of the
Week — Nebbiolo

  • Nebbiolo thrives in Italy’s Piedmont region and almost nowhere
    else. The name is thought to be derived from nebbia, the
    Italian word for fog, which the grape depends upon to keep from
    ripening too fast.
  • The grape is the elixir of Piedmont’s famed Barolo and
    Barbaresco regions. Winemakers in other growing areas have
    experimented with Nebbiolo, with Californians probably having more
    success than the Australians and Washingtonians. Still, Nebbiolos
    from the Golden State haven’t come close to matching those from
  • Wines from Nebbiolo tend to be robust, full-bodied, and dark.
    Common flavor descriptors are jam, spice, earth, and leather.
  • High acid and tannin content make most Nebbiolos long

The Nose

Recently in our newsletter, we explored the visual
aspects of wine tasting. This week we’ll tackle how to smell a wine.
(The final part in our series, actually tasting the wine, will be
addressed in a future newsletter.)

Most of what you taste is
actually what you smell. Olfactory messages account for as much as
85 percent of the sense of taste, so now you know why you always see
wine lovers with their noses buried in their wineglasses.

smell a wine, hold your glass by the stem. If you like, place the
glass on the table for stability. Gently rotate the glass in a
circular motion to make the wine swirl, which accelerates
vaporization to intensify its aromas.

Next, put your nose
down into the glass, as far as it goes before you hit wine, and
breathe in deeply through your nose. You are now experiencing the
“nose” or aroma of the wine.

One of the biggest challenges
new tasters face is identifying smells, even familiar ones.

  • Varietals carry fundamental aromas. Grassy goes with Sauvignon
    Blanc. Citrus or creamy butter smells could signal Chardonnay.
    Light raspberry, strawberry, or cherry probably means Pinot Noir,
    and so on.
  • Certain smells suggest oak aging. Vanilla, smoke, toast, and
    similar aromas and flavors are typically introduced to wine
    through oak aging.
  • Complexity indicates age. Chances are that the harder it is to
    describe a wine’s aromas, the more complex the wine. That probably
    means it’s been sitting around for some time, whether in oak,
    stainless steel, or the bottle, allowing the aromas and flavors to
    evolve and marry, creating new secondary flavors. Make a note to
    check this when you taste.
  • Off aromas aren’t good. If you smell something you don’t like,
    especially if you’ve never smelled it in wine before or heard it
    mentioned as a typical aroma, your nose is probably signaling a
    wine gone awry.

Variety of the
Week — Syrah/Shiraz

  • Syrah is the mainstay of France’s great red Northern Rhones
    (Hermitage, Cote-Rotie, Cornas) and is now grown in many
    wine-producing areas. A powerhouse grape, Syrah is often blended
    with other wines to boost their structure and density.
  • Shiraz is the Australian and South African name for Syrah, but
    Petite Sirah is a more complicated matter. According to The Oxford
    Companion to Wine, Petite Sirah is a name “applied in California
    vineyards to no fewer than four different vines” — Durif, true
    Syrah, Peloursin, and a crossing of Peloursin and Durif.
  • The taste of Aussie versions of Syrah reflect the local
    terroir (soil, orientation and other characteristics of the
    vineyard where the grapes are grown) and climate. Shiraz is the
    most planted grape in Australia and the grape makes some of the
    country’s best wines. The Australians also like to blend Shiraz
    with Cabernet.
  • Shiraz is often a big, berry-flavored wine with a punch of
    spice and undertones of chocolate, pepper, and licorice. It is
    often a bit richer, riper, and more full-bodied than French Syrah,
    which boasts flavors of spice, black pepper, and sometimes burnt
    toast and roasted peppers.

Variety of the
Week — Riesling

  • Some connoisseurs consider Riesling to be the greatest white
    wine grape of all, with the best wines coming from the Mosel and
    Rheingau regions of Germany, and Alsace in France.
  • Beware: Lesser grapes with names (i.e. Johannisberg Riesling)
    and some lower-quality true Riesling productions don’t measure up
    to the real deal.
  • Rieslings tend to be lively and floral, moving toward rich,
    peach-like fruit as they age.
  • The wines are made in styles ranging from off-dry to
    semi-sweet to sweet dessert wines.
  • Like Chenin Blanc, Rieslings are unusual among white wines in
    their ability to age for decades.

Even Better Than New

Today, the third Thursday in
November, is the traditional release date for Beaujolais Nouveau,
the young wine made in France from just-harvested Gamay grapes.
Consumed during the holidays as a celebration of the new vintage,
this simple, fresh, fruity beverage has served the wine world as a
marketing masterstroke, providing wine drinkers with a festive
annual ritual and winemakers with instant cash for their coffers.

It’s so commercially successful, in fact, that to many
people Beaujolais — a venerable wine region south of Macon and
north of Lyon — has become synonymous with the term “nouveau.” The
fact of the matter, though, is that Beaujolais wine comprises a
considerably wider spectrum.

“Nouveau gets all the hype,”
confirms wine.com Senior Wine Merchant Jeff Prather, “but Beaujolais is actually
quite a varied experience. Beaujolais-Villages, a blend of Gamay
grapes from several different villages, is a very good and much more
substantial wine than Nouveau. It’s meant to be consumed within a
year or two of bottling, rather than within three or four months.”

“But the real treasure, the true nobility of the region, is
Cru Beaujolais. It comes from 10 different villages in the northern
part of the district, and when you taste it, you know that you’ve
stepped up a notch in distinction and definition.”

beauty of Cru Beaujolais,” Prather explains, “is that each one has a
distinctive character from the soils, growing conditions, and
winemaking style of its village. It can range from a light and lacy
Fleurie to a gentle, racy Chiroubles to a weighty Morgon to a
muscular Brouilly to the silky velvet of Moulin-a-Vent. It
approaches some of the same tasting pleasure as Burgundy, which
borders Beaujolais on the north.”

“Gamay Noir is actually a
cousin of Pinot Noir, which is what comprises red Burgundy. It’s
lighter in color, with a silky texture and good acidity; it tends to
be a little less earthy, with more fruit-forward cherry
characteristics. In some ways, Beaujolais more closely resembles a
white wine than a red — it has a fresh, lively character, and it’s
often best drunk lightly chilled. It’s excellent with bistro food —
earthy, mushroomy dishes, cassoulet or duck confit.”

that a tad lightweight for the American palate? “The folly of
Americans is to only want big and bold,” Prather opines. “We have to
have a big house, a fast car, a skyrocketing portfolio. Beaujolais,
by contrast, is one of life’s great subtleties. For an example, try
the 1998 George Viornery Cote de Brouilly — a
dark, silky, earthy, plump wine that’s almost sappy with ripe plum

“Just because a wine isn’t a powerhouse doesn’t
mean it isn’t serious,” Jeff concludes. “Some of the most sensual
wines I’ve ever put in my mouth have been Cru Beaujolais. And maybe
the best part of all is that you can buy the absolute best ones —
the greatest examples of this underappreciated wine on earth — for
less than $30.”