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Wines From the Margin

HOW WOULD YOU LIKE TO BE MARGINALIZED? Not everyone can be as popular as King Cabernet or Queen Merlot (or Pinot Noir). Even the hip foreigner, Shiraz, has been elevated as a fixture at the Red Wine Ball. But what of the obscure-some may say even marginal-reds? You know the ones: outside of mainstream, with names that don’t necessarily just run off your tongue… Wines such as Malbec, Grenache or even Mourvedre can be just as noble, if not downright “fun” because they simply aren’t “everyday” red wines.

Malbec is one of the grapes used in the traditional blend of Left Bank Bordeaux. It is the main grape in the appellation of Cahors in the Southwest of France, but has found a second home as Argentina’s flagship red. It has thick skin and is unerringly intensely colored. Ranging from earthy, leathery, brutishly tannic wines to a softer, plumper, dare I say Merlot-ish style, Malbec (at its height) is a wine of unabashed intensity. Because of its thick skin, it will always have great tannic structure. It is extremely age-worthy. It has a streak of black and dark-blue fruits that even Cabernet would envy. Often as thick as Shiraz, Malbec frequently boasts a better balance of acidity. If you need an example to highlight these themes, seek out Layer Cake, with its ultra-smooth texture and perfectly ripe fruit. At the top of the heap you will find Bodegas Catena Zapata with its single-vineyard Malbecs that can make Napa Valley Cabernets taste light. Grenache plays second fiddle in Australia to Shiraz. In France it is the basis for Southern Rhone reds such as the famous Chateauneuf du Pape, Vacqueyras and Gigondas. With all respect to John Alban and the Rhone Rangers, the Southern Rhone is where Grenache becomes great. Grenache can deceive some into thinking it is light in flavor. Because it is not thick of skin, the color in Grenache tends to oxidize more quickly than other reds, often leaving a color in the glass that may not seem very deep. But when you swirl the glass and take in the full spectrum of aromas, you’d be hard-pressed to not absorb freshly picked spices that include black pepper, lavender, thyme and rosemary to strawberries and cranberries, from hot stones to a Spanish cedar lined humidor. Grenache can reach even higher alcohol levels than Shiraz, and is more versatile in terms of food and wine pairings. There are some fabulous values in Grenache, such as the Cotes du Rhone Rouge from Delas Freres (which packs quite a punch for 10 bucks!). One of the greatest estates in Chateauneuf du Pape-Vieux Telegraphe-is always at the top of my list. The wines age gracefully for decades. My latest stop there included dinner with a vintage from every decade starting from 1969. Each was spectacular.

Mourvedre may not be easy to say, but it is difficult to forget. As with Malbec, it can have Mount Olympia-sized tannins, and is more often than not opaque in color. It is grown little outside its home in Provence, France, but you may find it labeled as Mataro from Australia. Nowhere outside the Provincial town of Bandol, France, can boast better Mourvedre. Scented with wild herbs, earth and even a hint of drying salami put together with the darkest wild forest berries, this varietal is thick and rich on the palate. Domaine Tempier is the standard bearer here. Aged beauties from these cellars put to shame even the noble reds of Bordeaux.

Now that you are more familiar with the margins of red winedom, you must explore. These reds are fabulous with grilled, braised and roasted red meats, especially anything gamy like lamb, venison or buffalo. Don’t think of them as alternatives; they just may be the solution to red wine boredom.

So You Think You Know Wine?


Test Your Grasp of All Things Oenological

JUST HOW MUCH DO YOU KNOW ABOUT WINE? Are you savvy enough to pass an online quiz? Do you know your way around a wine list? Are you ready to take the Master Sommelier’s exam? We all have different levels of awareness and knowledge in wine. If you don’t subscribe to the notion that you aren’t continually learning, then you need not read any further. Not only is the wine world ever-evolving, but the depth of information out there about regions, varietals, vintages and personalities is unbelievably expansive. Yet, if you’re going to take the time to study market trends or legal passages at work, doesn’t it sound more fun to absorb some liquid know-how-that also tastes really good? And while no one likes to be embarrassed, there are some who think they know “enough.” If this sounds like you, bring it on.

1. What are the three main grapes that make Champagne?

2. What does AVA stand for?

3. What country is Mendoza found?

4. Can you name all five First Growths of Bordeaux?

5. Which area is more renown for producing Gruner Veltliner? Nahe or Wachau?

6. Name the five major red grapes in Bordeaux.

7. If a label of Napa Valley wine says Cabernet Sauvignon on the label, how much of it can be another grape varietal?

8. What is a synonym for Tempranillo?

9. What is the normal percentage of alcohol in a bottle of Port?

10. Is Shiraz and Syrah the same grape?

11. What type of wood is typically used in aging fine wines?

12. True or False? Cabernet Sauvignon is the product of a cross between Sauvignon Blanc and Cabernet Franc.

13. How many ounces in a 750ml bottle of wine?

14. Carmenere. Is it a grape, a region or a winery?

15. The No. 1 sold white wine in the US is Chardonnay. True or False?

KEY

1. Pinot Noir, Chardonnay, Pinot Meunier
2. American Viticultural Area
3. Argentina
4. Chateaux Latour, Lafite Rothschild, Mouton Rothschild, Haut Brion and Margaux
5. Wachau
6. Cabernet Sauvignon, Cabernet Franc, Merlot, Petit Verdot and Malbec
7. Up to 25 percent
8. Tinto Fino, Cencibel, Tinto del Pais, Tinto de Toro, Ull de Liebre, Ojo de Liebre, Tinta Roriz
9. 20 percent
10. Yes
11. Oak
12. True
13. 25.35 ounces
14. Grape
15. True