Category: Wines & Vines (page 3 of 3)

The Passion of Pinot Noir

by Chef Larry Canepa

As a Chef and Educator, I have the rare and special opportunity to stimulate and observe the awakenings of young palettes with food and wine. Once in a while, there are special moments when all is right and astounding breakthroughs happen. I experienced just such a breakthrough recently over a special wine in our series.

For me wine is a living thing, and I love to contemplate how the sun was shining during the growing season, consider what the life of the people who grew the grapes was like, and imagine how all the elements translate into the wine.

I like how Pinot Noir, especially, evolves because it tastes so very different today than if I opened it on any other day. It is alive, and it continues to change constantly gaining complexity until it peaks; and then, it begins its steady inevitable decline.

Pinot Noir’s flavors can be haunting, brilliant, thrilling, subtle, and ancient. The Romans vinified this grape as early as the first century AD. It is without exception, the most sensual wine, and sharing its virtues is one of the most rewarding events for a wine lover. I remember my first sip of Pinot Noir over 30 years ago, but rediscovering its subtlety with new friends and novice wine lovers was a revelation.

I set out the glasses, prepared the tasting notes, and laid out the chocolate. The complexity of chocolate laced with a bit of orange and cloves paired with Pinot Noir brings new and challenging insights to the students’ palete by creating a subtle, rich, complex finish to an exciting wine awakening (more on food pairings in future articles).

Of all the classic grapes, Pinot Noir is the most difficult to make into wine. Technically, It is a hard grape to grow, and does well only in a few very special, magical pieces of land tucked away in corners of the world. The grape is thin skinned and ripens early. It mutates easily in the vineyard, is highly sensitive to climate changes and variations in soil compositions, and is unstable during winemaking. It’s not the survivor like Chardonnay or Cabernet, which can grow anywhere and thrive even when neglected. Pinot Noir needs constant care and attention, and only the most patient, dedicated, nurturing growers can do it. Only someone who really understands Pinot Noir’s potential can then coax it into its fullest expression. This enological gamble is what makes Pinot Noir all the more fascinating and irresistible.

The reputation of Pinot Noir is owed to the wines of Burgundy (Bourgogne), France, one of France’s most prestigious wine regions. For most of wine history, this small, thin stretch of hills, called the Côte d’ Or (“Slope of Gold”), is just one of a small handful of regions to achieve consistent success from the Pinot Noir vine. Due to the stringent growing requirements for Pinot Noir, it is produced in much smaller quantities than other popular red wines.

Pinot Noir is a sensual wine which is derived from the remarkably supple, silky textures and erotically earthy aromas they display. But how do you convey these attributes to a young novice? Do they have the reference points? I chose an uncomfortable path: let them find out for themselves! 

An unguided tour of Pinot Noir seems unfair and reckless like experiencing an Indian food for the first time without coaching. So we began with a 2006 Erath Pinot Noir from Oregon. Black cherry aromas were underscored by sweet mandarin orange, clove-laced vanilla among subtle hints of anise and caramel. The wine opened on the palate and evolved into a supple silkiness.

We followed with a French Burgundy from a small region known as Marsannay. The wine’s dark red color indicated a wine with a beautiful structure. The ripe red fruit aromas of cherries and plum were present with smooth, silky tannins and nice longevity in the wooden finish.

Next was surprisingly delightful Nautilus Estate Marlborough Pinot Noir from New Zealand. Dark ruby in color, with an aroma of plums, dark fruits and a hint of spice, it offered a subtle complement to the chocolate. The palate was medium to full bodied with ripe fruit tannins and oak combining to give great structure and a silky texture.

I knew my allowing them to experience these wines on their own was a risk, but I felt it was risk worth the reward. I let them appreciate the aromas and tastes of violets, warm baked cherries, cigars, plums, damp earth, mushroom, worn leather, sweat and dry leaves; and I watched as they began to truly appreciate them. We’d pour, we’d swirl and smell, we’d observe the colors; but fighting the teacher instinct, I let them discover for themselves, without commentary.

And so it was worth the risk. The students embraced Pinot Noir with wild, hedonistic abandon, just as one might expect with our first taste of a great wine. All was right in the (wine) world. They felt the joy, clarity and a heightened sense of awareness about the power of wine and food.

Oh yes, and the chocolate.

 

Try Nautilus Estate Marlborough Pinot Noir at wine.com – Click Image

Try New World Pinot Noirs values at wine.com – Click Image:

 

About Larry Canepa

Chef Larry Canepa brings  30 years of Food and Wine experience to today’s adult culinary learners. He has worked in the Food & Wine business as Chef, caterer, sommelier and Food and Wine educator. He has taught culinary and restaurant operation classes at the International Culinary School at the Art Institute of Phoenix and Le Cordon Bleu, Scottsdale. His experiences include management and operation of free-standing restaurants, hotels and resorts. Chef Larry Canepa owned and operated the full service catering business, Dinner at Eight for 10 years in the Valley, specializing in intimate private dining and wine seminars. Larry Canepa has conducted seminars and lectures on coffee, tea, wine, etiquette, cooking and service for students, adults, continuing education classes and charitable organizations.

The Maligned Merlot

by Executive Chef Joshua Hebert of POSH

Can a movie affect our views on food and wine? Apparently, yes.

A few years ago, the movie Sideways actually proved this when the main character, a self proclaimed “expert” on wine, maligned Merlots and extolled the relative virtues of Pinot Noir. The movie started a trend, Merlot sales crashed with the “in crowd,” and I can’t keep enough Pinot Noir at POSH. The thing about this movie is that the entire character of Miles is meant to be ironic (in true sense not the Alanis Moressette definition), and his views on wine metaphorical.

The main character in Sideways, Miles, is an alcoholic who disguises his alcoholism in a cloak of wine enthusiasm. The reason we identify with Miles is that he is what we are all afraid of becoming. His entire MO is that he is a failure at love, at writing, and I must say, at understanding wine. His identification with Pinot Noir is less about wine than about himself.

From Roger Ebert’s review of the movie:

They’re talking about wine. He describes for her the qualities of the pinot noir grape that most attract him, and as he mentions its thin skin, its vulnerability, its dislike for being too hot or cold, too wet or dry, she realizes he is describing himself..

A subtle allusion to Miles’ weaknesses is his disparaging Merlot but praising the ‘61 Chateau Cheval Blanc, a Bordeaux, as a great wine. This particular wine is a blend of Cabernet Franc and, you guessed it, Merlot. By the way, Miles is not a fan of Cabernet Franc either.

There were some real world wine experts at the time who felt that the Merlots were overrated, over popular, and over produced (probably still do). They felt the demand for these wines was trumped up and that many vineyards were producing the very popular and profitable wine without standards. That is likely what impacted the character’s view in the flick. There was some truth to that, and because of the reputation and the movie, winemakers have been forced to refocus. In 2008, the wine crush for Merlot was down 25%.* Less Merlot produced means that vineyards have reallocated their efforts more appropriately and that the Merlots that are produced are better wines. Also, just because something is popular doesn’t mean there is not substance.

So, while we have all fallen head over heels for Pinot Noir in the last few years, it may be time to set aside our DVD’s and revisit Merlot. While softer than most Cabs it ripens earlier and is more likely to produce a mature crop. A good Merlot can have a beautiful acidity and great tannins. It ages well in a good vintage, pairs well with food, and drinks well on its own.

Bordeaux wines like the Cheval Blanc never lost their reputation partly because they use a blend and partly because they are… well… French. But Napa and Sonoma make some excellent Merlots. For my money, there really is none better than Duckhorn, which has been the standard bearer in Napa for years. The only problem is that it could set ya back $50 or more. In the $30 price range, the Beringer Knights Valley Merlot is a great buy.

It is almost sad how the comments of a flawed character in decent movie can nearly take down a great grape. At the same time, now that it is down and out, it’s kinda of a good thing that winemakers have had to adjust, and we have the opportunity to check out the values. Who knows, we might be able to try a bottle of 61 Chateau Cheval Blanc, except WE will know it’s a Merlot… shhhh. 😉

* Wall Street Journal Online 2007

 

 

To Purchase Merlot Wines Online Click here: Merlot

To Explore Bordeaux Wines Online Click Here: Bordeaux

 

About Joshua Hebert

 

To make an online reservation at POSH click here: Online Reservations

Chef Joshua Hebert is Executive Chef at POSH Restaurant in Scottsdale, Arizona. He is the winner of this years C-CAP Heavy Medal Culinary Competition and a Sommelier. He is nearly a native of Scottsdale.  He began his career at Tarbell’s in Phoenix and spent his 20’s in San Francisco and Tokyo. He returned to head the kitchen at Tarbell’s, North and Dual, before making POSH his obsession.  Joshua is married, has no kids, but an awfully cute pound puppy named Kassy.

Sherry – The Comeback Wine

by Chef Larry Canepa, Wine & Spirits Editor

Sherry is again gaining ground in the wine world, and it is well deserved.  I write ‘again,’ because Sherry has a long history of serving famous figures from Christopher Columbus to Shakespeare. Sherry is fashionable again because of its stellar value and food-friendly behavior.

Fundamentally, Sherry is a fortified wine, produced in Analucia, Spain in the Jerez-de la Frontera region.  Along with Porto and Madeira, Sherry is considered one of the three great fortified wines. Sherries range broadly in color, flavor, and sweetness, but fundamentally there are two types- fino and oloroso.

Spanish Sherry is made primarily from the Palomino grape along with small amounts of Pedro Ximénez  (PX for short) and Moscatel. The soil in this region is chalky, limestone based, and provides the perfect conditions for growing the Palomino and PX grapes that are used in making the world’s finest Sherries. Once harvested and fermented, the wines fate is then decided. Will it become a Fino or an Oloroso?

Fino is very dry with a lighter-body while Oloroso is still dry, but much richer in both flavor and body. If the winemaker is going for Fino, alcohol is added (fortification) until it reaches just over 15% alcohol content. If Oloroso is the goal, then alcohol is added to reach 18%. The alcohol content is important for reasons beyond the obvious. Because of its lower content, Finos allow a layer of yeast to coat the top where the wine meets the air. This enables a coating called “flor” to form and controls the oxidizing process. Olorosos on the other hand do not support the forming of the coating due to their higher alcohol content prodcing a darker, richer wine.

Generally, Sherries are non-vintage and the quality is consistent year after year. This is because Sherry wines must go through a solera system for adequate aging. This system is essentially a blending system of casks that hold wines of different ages. The oldest casks of Sherry are the ones that are bottled in a given year. This process lets the old wines infuse the younger wines with character, while the younger wines give their nutrients to the older wines. It’s the ultimate mentoring system.

 

Member’s Links:

Members of Into the Soup can access more information on Sherry by signing in and clicking the links below:

Types of Sherry – A quick guide to the finer types of Sherry

Serving ans Storage – Advice on the best ways to manage your Sherry

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About Chef Larry Canepa

Chef Larry Canepa brings  30 years of Food and Wine experience to today’s adult culinary learners. He has worked in the Food & Wine business as Chef, caterer, sommelier and Food and Wine educator. He has taught culinary and restaurant operation classes at the International Culinary School at the Art Institute of Phoenix and Le Cordon Bleu, Scottsdale. His experiences include management and operation of free-standing restaurants, hotels and resorts. Chef Larry Canepa owned and operated the full service catering business, Dinner at Eight for 10 years in the Valley, specializing in intimate private dining and wine seminars. Larry Canepa has conducted seminars and lectures on coffee, tea, wine, etiquette, cooking and service for students, adults, continuing education classes and charitable organizations.

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