Monday, September 28, 2009

Portugal's Table Wines Becoming Widely Available

There are many different journeys to the world of wine. Some people grow up with it, some become enamored with the lifestyle, and yet others make it a career.

Jill Ditmire, a Logansport native, is an Indianapolis wine shop owner who has an interesting career in wine and media. Some people would recognize the name or face from years working the Indianapolis television markets. She also has worked extensively in public television hosting and producing shows about wine and food for WFYI, Indianapolis.

But her varied career doesn’t end there. She is a nationally recognized judge for wine competitions. She also had participated and led wine tours to various parts of the world. It’s that experience I drew on recently for added knowledge about Portuguese wines.

Portugal has long been known for Port – a fortified wine or sweet dessert wine. But many winemakers in the coastal country are now using the same grapes to make interesting table wines at very affordable prices.

I knew Jill had traveled Europe extensively but had no idea she had visited Portugal. I wrote asking for some comment on Portuguese wines, which she carried in her Massachusetts Avenue shop, and learned she visited the country in 2007.

“I went to Portugal on a whim,” she replied. “I was asked last minute by a journalists group and, though I don’t know much about or truly appreciate Port. I decided to go. Wow - probably the last best thought I've had this century.”

Portugal’s wine country encompasses 13 growing regions from the northern areas of the country bordering Spain to the southern most areas. The Douro River valley is the country’s most prominent wine producing area in the north near Spain.

The wines featuring native red grapes are made mostly from Touriga Nacional, Touriga Franca, and Tinta Roriz. Douro’s Touriga Nacional is the primary grape used to make the sweet Ports.

Ditmire talked about visiting the vineyards and cork forests and how the younger winemakers are enriching the area’s history by using Port grapes to make great table wine.

“This handful of winemakers come from generations of wine, farming, and port making families,” she said. “But now, this generation is using money and knowledge to produce outstanding wine. “They blend bold, rich, lush red wines that are bursting with opulent red raspberry, black cherry, black pepper, and chewy tannins.”

Indeed, they are big flavored wines. They can be generally described as very ripe in flavor with spicy characteristics. They are also going to have a tannic finish.

The other outstanding region is the Vinho Verde where the Alvarinho – or albarino – grape is grown which I wrote about in my last column. The Vinho Verde wines can feature other grapes but are usually made from Albarino. The grape is a beautiful contrast to traditional Sauvignon Blancs and again, widely available.

You might have to look awhile to find Portuguese red wines but I have found some available in several Central Indiana wine shops. The flavor profile is different with an earthier and overly ripe feel on the palate. But if you want to try something new, try some Portuguese red wine.

You can find Jill on Facebook, Twitter, and she is currently re-building her homepage for Mass Ave Wine.

Howard’s Picks:

Quinta Do Alqueve 2006 Tradicional – This red is a classic blend featuring primarily Touriga Nacional and Tinta Roriz. It’s a good introduction to the wines. This wine will have you thinking is it more like a Cab, Merlot, or maybe even a Pinot? ($11)

Grillo 2007 Vinho Tinto – This earthy wine is 75 percent Touriga Nacional with a huge nose and mouthful of flavor. It was very smooth drinking with moderate alcohol. ($13)

Monday, September 14, 2009

Turtle Run's 'Picasso' Making Interesting Wines

Situated along the Ohio River and Interstate 64 are seven new or relatively young Indiana wineries. The seven push the ever-growing number of Hoosier winemakers past the 40 mark this year.

I took a two-day vacation in late July to drive the Ohio River and make some winery stops. One easy conclusion is Indiana wines are improving. It was just a few years ago the Concord, Niagara, and Chambourcin based wines were too sweet or too bitter or just not balanced. It’s great to be able to report I tasted far fewer bad wines than anticipated.

I visited Winzerwald Winery, Bristol, Blue Heron Vineyards, Cannelton, Scout Mountain Winery and Turtle Run Winery, both near Corydon, Best Vineyards, south of Turtle Run, and Indian Creek Winery, just north of 64 in Georgetown. You can find them all with a simple internet search.

The boom of Indiana wineries, with more to come, is good news for most Hoosier vintners.

“Would you know of Napa Valley if there was only one winery,” Turtle Run’s Jim Pfeiffer asked. “If you go to a large city and you’re looking for a restaurant, have you ever noticed how restaurants align together? There is a synergy when you have them together, it builds a market. Right now it’s building and helping the market, not hurting it.”

Pfeiffer is a young breed of winemaker who laughs loud, shares his wine passion, and thinks of himself as a wine Picasso.

“Wine allows you to be creative,” he said with a really contagious enthusiasm. “Do you want to create the Merlots and Chardonnays of the world? No, that’s what everybody is doing. Or do you want to do the ‘one offs’ with some unique varieties that have some character? We do a lot of ‘one offs.’ We’re blendaholics.”

Indeed, during an afternoon visit he had several winery visitors watching him do a white wine blend. It was part Picasso and part mad scientist.

Turtle Run is like any Hoosier farm but instead of tobacco Pfeiffer grows grapes. He has a wine he calls “Red My Mind” which is part Merlot and Chambourcin that will remind you of a Pinot Noir. If you like white wine, try his dry Tortuga. It’s a blend of Chardonel and Vignoles that tastes more sophisticated and unlike anything you’ve had from other Hoosier wine makers. There’s his Summer Solstice white or Catherine’s Blend which are also a bit different.

Indiana winemaking legend Bill Oliver, Oliver Wrinery, mentored Pfeiffer through his early efforts in 2001. Pfeiffer is now up to about 4,000 cases of wine each year and hoping to hit 10,000 in the next few seasons. He and Ted Huber of Huber Winery are now often the mentors for the newcomers in their region.

“When you see an explosion of wineries the question becomes the due diligence side of knowing what the heck you’re doing in the winery,” Pfeiffer said. “We want to coach the wineries which need some additional assistance. But we get someone in every other week who wants to start a vineyard and winery. We give them a little bit of encouragement and discouragement.

“We see people walk in who just don’t think they are going to do the work and studies. They’re going to open a winery and be in way over their head. Great wine just doesn’t pour from containers.”

Monday, September 7, 2009

Albarino Will Rock Your White Wine World

Summer is the time for white wine and lighter flavors.

If you have spent your summer sipping Chardonnay, Pinot Grigio, and perhaps Riesling, then it’s time to try something different. Spanish and Portuguese Albarino is a varietal you aren’t going to find in any supermarket but should find at any good wine shop. Most Indiana shops will have one or two, many will have several.

Albarino has become a new personal favorite. It is a ripe-fruit flavored wine with a clean taste, very crisp and refreshing. It is a dry white wine with moderate to high alcohol levels. Some Albarino will have more acidity or citrus flavors than others, but I’ve yet to have a bad one.

Spain grows a significant amount of the world’s Albarino in the Rias Baixas region, the northwest coastal corner of the country just north of Portugal. It is also found across the border in the Vinho Verde region of Portugal. For many years the grape was used to create blends with other lesser known white grapes but has emerged more recently as a white wine that pairs nicely with seafood and is great served cold on a hot day.

The wine has a big beautiful nose for a white. If you pick up a bottle you’ll read that it will have hints of peach, apricot, or floral characteristics. There are a few Albarinos aged in oak but the vast majority is aged in stainless steel producing the clean and crisp characteristics.

The wine, like most grapes, is grown in other places around the world. But I’ve found if you start your experimentation with a new grape at its origin, you’re going to appreciate the variations of it even more when you drink one from Australia or California.

The climates in Spain and Portugal where Albarino is grown are cooler areas of those countries allowing these finicky, thick-skinned grapes to mature. Albarino put Spain’s white wines on the world map.

Try Albarino with seafood off the grill, particularly white fish and shrimp. Asian foods would be another perfect pairing. Or, chill the wine a bit more than normal and take it outside to enjoy on a warm evening.

Albarino is a very affordable experiment. You can find value bottles in the $9-$12 range in wine shops.

Howard’s Picks:
Salneval Albarino – 2007 Albarino from Spain has a seductive nose that makes it hard to put down. You’ll pick up some minerality and floral notes. This wine consistently scores well with national wine critics. ($9-$13)

Burgan Albarino – Also a 2007 selection, the Burgan Spanish Albarino is a bit more fruit forward than the Salneval. I thought it had a lemon flavor with perhaps an unusual hint of orange. It also had a bit of a creamy texture to it. Wine critics tend to really like this one. It’s going to be less acidic than the Salneval. ($12)