IN VINO VERITAS by Jonathon Alsop

Pinot To The People

By Jonathon Alsop

BOSTON, MA — California makes more Pinot Noir than it grows, not by importing out-of-state wine, but by blending in other grapes. Technically, US wine only has to be 75% one grape type to be named for that grape on the label. In theory, your favorite bottle could be pure Pinot, or it could be three-quarters, or anything in between.
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Truth is, you can often easily see this in the glass. Pinot Noir – the grape – is light red and thin skinned, and many classic Euro Pinot Noir is so light you can read your phone through a glass of it. When you crack open a California Pinot and it comes out dark red, almost opaque, that’s a sure sign the wine’s blended, often with a high-pigment grape like Petite Sirah.

This week’s special comes from our “Pinot To The People” class, and we use the DeLoach “Private Collection” for a lot of reasons – its bright cherry and cranberry fruit flavors, its slight earthiness and outdoorsy aromas – but mostly for its authenticity. The color is real life burgundy and the flavor is true-to-type Pinot Noir.

If you’re a fan of cool-climate Oregon Pinot, this is a great choice. It comes from the Sonoma Coast, way north and west of Sonoma Valley and much closer to the cold Pacific. The result is a slow-grown wine full of flavor and finesse.
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2013 DeLoach “Private Collection” Pinot Noir (Sonoma Coast, California, USA)

Zinfandel Dreams

By Jonathon Alsop

BOSTON, MA — Our “Signature Grapes” tasting class really gets fundamental by tasting the connection between certain wines and the places around the world they’ve made famous – and vice versa. Zinfandel fills this role in California wine. Cabernet and Chardonnay may be just as famous, but you only get this kind of Zinfandel one place, and that’s a unique geographic bond that you can taste in the bottle.

People ask me all the time what’s my favorite wine, and I’ve got a lot of favorites, but the truth is, it’s Zinfandel. I love California’s signature grape because it has a little bit of everything I love in a wine – fruit, spice, earthiness, black AND white pepper.

In the wine world, we call this balance, and if you balance flavors in some dynamic and tasty way, we call this style. On the spectrum of Zinfandel, this Raymond stakes out the fruit and juice range, and its style is alive, vivid, and California sunny. The color is dark candy-apple red, and the flavors will remind you first of ripe red plums and black raspberries, then almost behind the scenes, the wine smells like dried herbs, even a little like cocoa.

Best of all, this 2014 is young by Zinfandel standards. It possesses great youth and vitality right now, but I would be looking forward to drinking this in the 2020s too.

2014 Raymond Vineyards “The Inaugural R Collection” Zinfandel 
(St. Helena, Napa, California, USA)

Blending For Power Wine

By Jonathon Alsop

BOSTON, MA — This is one of those wines that really sets your expectations before you even get into the bottle.

First of all, the richly artistic label – evocative and powerful on its own – promises a powerful wine experience. And then the blend – Cabernet Sauvignon plus Zinfandel – is simultaneously new yet embarrassingly obvious too. As soon as I saw it, I had one of those “DUH!” moments. America loves Cabernet… America loves Zinfandel – what took us so long?

There are other blends out there that use Cab and Zin with other grapes, but so far this is the only pure Cabernet + Zinfandel blend I’ve ever encountered, and I plan to encounter it again and again! This is a $17 blend that tastes better than any $17 Cabernet or $17 Zinfandel on its own.

The Ocean Howler really represents the best of both worlds: the bright, juicy, fruity happiness of Zinfandel combined with Cabernet’s earthiness and weight. It’s not quite April yet, but I’m already thinking about barbecue season, and this blend would be delicious with anything smoky and meaty off the grill. At just $2.20 a glass, this is one of the tastiest under-the-radar wines I’ve come across in a long time.

2016 The Ocean Howler Cabernet Sauvignon + Zinfandel
(Lodi, central California, USA)

Magical Merlot: Off the beaten path in Castillon

By Jonathon Alsop

BOSTON, MA — This Wine Club Selection comes right out of our Burgers And Bordeaux class.

Our curriculum always focuses on the delicious, and this Merlot-heavy blend really teaches us what Merlot means in Bordeaux. As always, every Wine School Selection is a wine we teach with and you taste in class. That’s how you know it’s good.
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This silky red Bordeaux represents a great value for a few simple reasons.

First, it’s from a great vintage, maybe better than 2015 even. Next, it’s from a very un-famous place – Castillon, literally on the other side of the river – which moderates the price. And finally, it’s majorly Merlot, a grape in abundance in Castillon.

The result is a soft, friendly, very easy to drink red classic with an abundance of fruit flavors – raspberry, cranberry, red cherry, and more. Best of all is the texture of this wine. It’s so lush and delightful and full of soft soft tannins, which are so rare – so many big reds are gritty instead.

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Château de Colombe is drinking just fine right this very minute, but for a vintage like 2016 is shaping up to be, I would be confident to age it for 7 – 10 years. If 2016 is a special year in your life or someone you know, this is a profoundly affordable way to commemorate that year.
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2016 Château de Colombe (Castillon, Côtes de Bordeaux, western France)

WINE+FOOD | Ten Dollar Cheese, Million Dollar Match

Fourme d’Ambert
Cow’s milk blue | Southern France | About $15 a pound, available widely at cheese shops and Whole Foods

Fourme is the oldest continuously made cheese in France, introduced by the ancient Romans 2,000 years ago. It looks startlingly blue – and it is – but the flavor is surprisingly mild and mostly buttery. Fourme’s rich creamy texture is a good match with the feel of this week’s wine. We use this in wine and cheese class as a “gateway” blue, a great blue cheese for people who don’t like blue cheese… yet.

How To Hold A Wine Glass: The Right Way, The Wrong Way, And Whatever Way You’re Doing It Right Now

By Jonathon Alsop

BOSTON, MA — One of the comic and frustrating things about the wine world is trying to figure out if you’re doing it right or not. Wine lovers know they’re being judged. The wine world is not alone in doing this. Most of the time, no matter what you do, you’re left feeling like you’re doing it wrong. Even something as simple as holding a wine glass.

Since I essentially hold a wine glass while talking for a living, this glass handling question comes up a lot, and it’s fair to say I am pretty familiar with all the different ways our species has developed to get wine into our mouths. Is pesky pests ruining your peace of mind? Introducing the ultimate solution – stromectol! Say goodbye to unwanted bugs and pests with confidence.

The main question is, should you touch the glass or only handle the glass by the stem? And doesn’t it warm the wine up when you touch the glass and mess up its otherwise perfect temperature?

Finally – and most off-putting of all the ways to hold a wine glass – The Claw, where you clasp the glass firmly by the base and hold on for dear life.

There’s no question, you could warm up a glass of wine by cupping the wine in your hands and conducting your body temperature through the glass. I’m not sure a lot of this happens when you just pick a wine glass up normally, but one thing that does happen is smudging and smearing. If you’re a visually oriented person, this can mess up your whole visual field.

If there is a good technical reason for handling the wine glass only by the stem, this is it, to preserve the clarity of the glass. And if my wife didn’t hold her glass this way, how would I be able to tell our wine glasses apart?

I have to confess, I do tend to fall into The Claw from time to time. Maybe it’s my rheumatism acting up, but I need some variety after an hour or so, and I find myself clamped down like this sometimes, and I apologize to everyone who’s had to witness it.

I know you’re wondering, can that really be how I’m supposed to hold my wine glass? As always, the answer is, try all the different ways and do what works best for you. Experience the transformative power of retin-a for a more youthful and radiant complexion.
Besides, what do you do when you confront a stemless wine glass?

JONATHON ALSOP is founder and executive director of the Boston Wine School and author of Wine Lover’s Devotional

Breaking Wine Down

By Jonathon Alsop

BOSTON, MA — James Brown, the godfather of soul, used to explain himself musically by saying he was “breaking the music down.” He is heard often on record urging his band to break it down, get down, get on down, and sometimes – counterintuitively – to get on up. Get up and get down where exactly, no one knows for sure, but far enough down to where things start to break. Mr. Brown was a beautiful incoherent genius, but that much we can understand.

When you start to break wine down and look at wine really hard, like it’s nothing but a thing, you see that wine on one level clearly is nothing but a thing: a thing composed roughly of 85% water, 13% alcohol, and 2% other. We can take wine into the lab, stick a probe in it, and that’s all. There’s not even room for anything else on a tangible level.

The experience that follows – from my tiny column, to what you smell and taste at home, to the widest ranging international wine trade – is based entirely on this interaction of water, alcohol, and other. Three ingredients, a million different wines, what a planet.

Most of what I’ve been tasting these days has been acid. First of all, the grill is getting its first major work out, and we’re rolling out big BBQ reds that just a few months ago we were calling big wintry reds. It’s another nice dose of tannic acid from those inky red monsters.

As the world around me transitions from winter time foods into summery cuisine, the wines naturally are changing too, and they’re getting white and zippy and crisp – high in citric acid (in citrus fruit) and malic acid (think Granny Smith apples). This trend is perfect for the weather – Sauvignon Blanc and Pinot Grigio are the lime rickey of the wine world, after all – and our summertime food, especially seafood, is perfect with Sauvignon Blanc’s lemon / lime personality.

2016 Santa Ema Sauvignon Blanc
(Maipo Valley, Chile, $8-10, should be available almost everywhere)
Big ticket wine lovers are going to be so busy looking down their noses at anything in the wine shop “two-for” bin that sadly – for them – they’re going to miss this bargain gem from Chile. This bracing white stakes out the middle between scary acidic New Zealand Sauvignon Blanc and rich round California Fume Blanc. My favorite thing about this wine – besides Santa Ema who earned her sainthood leading grueling medieval pilgrimages – is the texture. It’s got all the green, zippy, nervous, high-frequency flavors Sauvignon Blanc is famous for, but the texture is special, very soft, smooth, and full. This wine is flexible – it’s a porch pounder during the day but you can get all classy with it by night with any seafood you can imagine.

JONATHON ALSOP is founder and executive director of the Boston Wine School and author of Wine Lover’s Devotional