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Chianti – Alchohol – Pinot Grigio(Gris) – Temp. – Cabernet

Varietal: Cabernet Sauvignon

  • The most famous red winegrape grows most places in the world
    and is so well known that it often goes by Cabernet, or even just
  • Most of the legendary red wines of Bordeaux rely on Cabernet
    Sauvignon for their greatness, which has helped to firmly
    establish the grape as both a stand-alone varietal around the
    globe and as an upscale blend-in for other wines, such as the new
    Supertuscans from Italy.
  • Flavors commonly include powerful berry, black currant, and
    cassis, and sometimes black pepper or bell pepper spice. You may
    taste vegetative, herbal, and earthy notes if the grapes were
    harvested young.
  • Oak aging is common and introduces flavors such as butter,
    smoke, vanilla, toast, cedar, and tobacco.
  • Young Cabernets can taste acidic and

What’s the
(Proper) Temperature?

Having been brought up on cold
milk, ice water, refrigerated soft drinks, and iced tea, most of us
in the United States are accustomed to drinking liquids right out of
the fridge — a condition that will kill the taste, and especially
the smell, of almost anything. With cheap beer, that’s a blessing,
but with good wine you’re missing out on flavors and aromas for
which you paid good money.

According to Jeff Prather, a
senior wine merchant on our Wine Team, if you let a
well-refrigerated wine sit out at room temperature for 15-30 minutes
prior to serving, it will shine in all its glory when you pour,
swirl, sniff, and sip.

Rich-tasting whites like Chardonnay,
Pinot Blanc, and Pinot Gris are best served near cellar temperature
— around 50-55 degrees Fahrenheit. Light, crisp, bracing wines such
as Sauvignon Blanc, Semillon, dry Riesling, rosÈ, and sparklers are
best served a bit cooler, but still, not frozen. Their
characteristics are best enhanced when the wine is about 40-45
degrees Fahrenheit.

A frequent accomplice in the
cold-blooded crime is the pesky ice bucket, which (like some movie
directors we could name) is employed too often and for too long.
After all, the combination of freezing water and melting ice is what
did in Leonardo DiCaprio in “Titanic” — so, as your wine sits
interminably in the pail, remember Leo’s noble visage disappearing
into the depths of the north Atlantic.

Use an ice bucket not
to maintain, but rather to change the temperature of a wine that
isn’t ready for serving — and after the bottle is submerged, check
it frequently to be sure that your brand-new White Zin or
long-cellared Meursault isn’t about to, well, kick the bucket.

Variety of the
Week: Pinot Grigio or Pinot Gris

  • A pink-skinned cousin of Pinot Noir, the grape is known as
    Pinot Grigio in Italy and as Pinot Gris almost everywhere else.
    Prime growing areas, in addition to Italy, are France, Germany,
    Oregon, and California.
  • It may be called Tokay in Alsace or Rulander in Germany, and
    is related to but different than Pinot Blanc, which is often
    planted alongside Chardonnay in the Burgundy and Champagne regions
    of France. Pinot Gris does look a lot like Pinot Noir, however,
    and according to The Oxford Companion to Wine, was once planted
    among the Pinot Noir vines in Burgundy, “adding softness and
    sometimes acidity to its wines.”
  • Pinot Gris wines are often crisp, deep-colored, and
    medium-bodied, with earthy, assertive flavors that may include
    orange, peach, or floral undertones.
  • Pinot Grigio wines tend to be made from grapes harvested
    earlier, and thus with greater acidity, than Pinot

Avoiding the
Numbers Game

Does high-alcohol equal full-bodied? That
question came up recently when a member of the wine.com community
suggested we list the alcohol content of the wines we feature. He
felt this was a good measure of the style and quality of the wine.
But is it really?

According to our Wine Team, wineries are
required by law to state the alcohol percentage on the label,
although they may simply say “table wine” if the content is between
11 and 14 percent. If they state the percentage, however, they are
allowed a 1.5 percent range in either direction. So a wine at 12.5
percent might actually be as low as 11 percent, or as high as 14.

It’s important to note, too, that alcohol is only one of
many building blocks that make up the character of wine. Wines at 13
or 14 percent alcohol that lack sufficient concentration of fruit or
other balancing components will not deliver a pleasant beverage. In
fact, wine at that level might taste significantly out of balance
alongside a lower-alcohol selection where all the parts work
harmoniously. It’s all about balance.

In some regions of the
world it is legal to “chaptalize” or add sugar to the fermentation
vat at harvest. Done judiciously in areas with marginal weather
conditions, this can help balance a wine that would otherwise seem
meager. Done carelessly, all it does is boost the alcohol level with
no gustatory benefit.

So if what you’re really looking for
is big, powerful, full-bodied wines, alcohol level isn’t a reliable
or consistent indicator. Much better is Peter’s Tasting Chart, designed by founder
Peter Granoff to help you select wines that meet certain stylistic
criteria. Note how the wines you’re interested in scored on “body”
and “intensity of flavor,” and you’ll learn a lot more than you
would by reading their stated alcohol levels.

Chianti: Up, then
Down, and Now Up Again

Chianti got its winemaking start
in a modern sense in the early 1900s, when Baron Bettino Ricasoli
imported some wise viticultural ways from Tuscany’s northern
neighbor of Piedmont. These fresh, young, Sangiovese-based wines
burst with big cherry and black currant fruit and a bit of spice.

Despite auspicious beginnings, local winemakers soon mucked
things up by watering down Chianti’s best attributes with the
addition of white Trebbiano or Malvasia grapes — sometimes up to the
30 percent allowed by law at the time — and aging the wine until
long after the famous fruit flavors had disappeared. By mid-century,
Chianti’s reputation was trashed.

Today, Chianti has come
full circle and is made once again in the spirit of the Baron’s
original intent. White varieties are now strictly taboo, but in a
bow to the Supertuscans, up to 15 percent of other red varieties may
be blended in. Local Sangiovese clones, such as the small-berried
Sangiovese Piccolo, provide winemakers with a complex flavor palette
to play with. Many vintners focus on fruit by limiting time in the

Once bottled, Most Chiantis reach their peak after
4-8 years, although some of the finer Classicos (from a smaller
subset in the middle of the Chianti region) can age well for up to
20 years. If you see “Riserva” on the label, the wine has been aged
in oak for three years or more.