Wednesday, May 19, 2010

Warm Weather Means Time for Light Wines

Warmer weather is time to break out the lighter and refreshing wines. That means it’s white wine time even for you non-white wine drinkers.

If you are one of those people – and I admit to former membership – who ‘only’ drink red wine, it’s time to expand your palate. Instead of the usual suspects, today’s column is about exploring which might be new to you.

Let’s start with Pinot Gris. The grape is thought to be a clone of Pinot Noir and it’s also known as Pinot Grigio. I’d recommend you try Oregon’s Pinot Gris. Pinot Gris/Grigio is fast becoming one of the more popular white wines in the United States. It’s great with chicken, pork, and about any fish dish.

Pinot Gris is a light- or delicate-flavored wine with nice floral scents and the expected lemon citrus. Much of the wine from Oregon is stainless-steel aged so you get a clean, crisp, and slightly acidic white wine.

You can buy a Pinot Grigio from Italy and find an even lighter and drier white wine than many of Oregon’s examples. But you’d be missing out on some of Italy’s best white offerings. Soave is a personal favorite perfect for warmer months. It is close to Pinot Grigio but still has different taste characteristics. It’s grown largely in the Veneto region and is Italy’s best-selling white wine.

If you think of Spanish white wines, the signature grape is Albarino. This grape is much closer to a crisp and acidic Sauvignon Blanc than the others already mentioned. It’s very light in body, with hints of mineral, and its fabulous white wine with about any fish. Albarino will be acidic, but when paired with seafood you’ll find an enjoyable match.

If you want something not quite as dry or acidic, then I’d suggest Argentina’s Torrontos grape. This wine has a much sweeter mouth feel than matches my palate, but many are going to like it. It is intensely floral and a terrific bargain. You can find many great Torrontos wines at $9-$12.

If you’re a traditionalist and willing to spend a few more dollars, then you should be trying the really awesome Chablis whites from the Burgundy region of France. Remember Burgundy only grows two grapes – Chardonnay and Pinot Noir. The Chablis is Chardonnay that is often done in a light style without ever seeing oak. Some of the higher end Chablis will have a combination of juice aged in vats and wood. They are beautiful wines but at a higher price.

I recently wrote about Indiana’s signature grape, Traminette - a great summer ‘sipper.” More than half of Indiana’s 40-plus wineries produce a Traminette wine. Most of those are on the sweeter side. They are all under $15 and great on the porch with friends.

Other great summer whites: Try a Sauvignon Blanc from Chile, Italy’s very dry Gavi, an unoaked Chardonnay from New Zealand, or Gruner Veltliner from Austria. And, don’t forget the Reisling!

Howard’s Picks:
Lange 2008 Pinot Gris
– This winery has been one of the pioneers for Pinot Gris in Oregon. This limited-production white wine has hints of orange, lemon, and a zesty citrus feel in the mouth. ($16)

Burgan’s 2007 Albarino – I love this wine. With strong lemon and a floral bouquet of a nose, you’ll have a hard time putting this down before the food hits the table. It’s extremely well balanced and affordable. ($12)

Howard W. Hewitt, Crawfordsville, is a wine enthusiast and former journalist. Read his blog at:

Wednesday, May 5, 2010

Time to Stop "Dissing" Boxed Wine

There’s boxed lunches, Jack-In-The-Box burgers, and boxed wine.

What do those three things have in common? Generally, they are best all avoided.

But that has changed with recent innovations in boxed wine. Yes, it’s okay to drink your Chardonnay, Cabernet, or red wine blend from a tap on the kitchen counter.

Now, before the purists drop their newspaper and wonder what wine that guy must be drinking, consider the uproar 20 years ago when screw caps started turning up on wine. Today the screw cap has become common place in the value wine market. As a matter of fact, I purchased a $40 California Pinot Noir a few weeks ago with a screw cap! That would have been unthinkable just a decade ago. And it was a great $40 wine.

Franzia, long the standard bearer for box wine, is one of the biggest selling names in wine. The good news is companies now pack wine in vacuum sealed containers that preserve the wine for up to six weeks.

I recently tasted two different wines packaged in the Octavin Home Wine Bar system. Ten different wines are being offered in the three-liter containers – or about 20 five-ounce glasses of wine. The price for the boxed juice runs $22-$24.

The Octavin system is a patent-pending design which prevents oxidation. Another huge upside to the wine box according to the Octavin folks is its green efficiency. By choosing boxed wine over heavy glass bottles, you reduce packaging waste by at least 85 percent and carbon emissions by 55 percent.

There are other innovations going on in the wine world. Wine is turning up in cans and experiments are going on with plastic bottles and how that might impact the wine. A revolution takes time but consider the possibilities. Anyone who has ever picked up a great bottle of Pinot Noir probably thought they were getting a bicep workout.

Another big advantage to box packaging systems is the convenience. For those who just want a simple glass of wine, the boxed wines provide just that without wondering what to do with the rest of the bottle or how to preserve it.

I was sent two different boxed wines by the marketing company for the Octavin Company. I have been sampling a Monthaven 2008 Central Coast Chardonnay since March 31. I last tasted the wine April 21. While Chardonnay isn’t my favorite varietal, and this one is a tad thin, the wine tasted no different over that four-week time frame.

I also have a box of Big House Red which I just opened recently. It’s a blend of Syrah, Petit Verdot, Syrah, Grenache and about a half dozen more grapes. Big House Red is widely available and a nice every day wine. It usually lists around $11, but the Octavin box sells for $22.

I’ve tasted other box wines in retail shops in the last year and, frankly, been blown away at the quality of the wine. Now, make no mistake this isn’t wine you’re going to be reading about in Wine Spectator or from the nation’s top critics. But the wines I’ve tasted make a nice single glass of wine from a container which will keep it fresh for up to six weeks.

The idea is catching on across the nation. Last year box wine sales went up 24 percent, according to the Nielsen research folks.

Boxed wine is no longer a punch line for wine enthusiastists. Now, if we could just do something to reduce the calories in those great Jack-In-The-Box burgers!