Friday, July 25, 2014

Five Reds You May Not Know How to Pronounce but Want to Drink

By Liza B. Zimmerman

Americans partially fell in love with Pinot Grigio because it rolled off the tongue. It was even easier—and more fun—to say than Chardonnay. Merlot was never hard to say, but let’s face it pronouncing the names of some these regions and grapes can be challenging. However the hurdles you face are well worth undertaking. If you are hit by a last minute fit of nerves in buying these wines you can always email the shop or write the names down when you go in.

Off-the-beaten-path French regions are often worth seeking out. While many great Bordeaux houses do have fantastic second labels, your quality level is going to be more consistent with lesser-known regions. It is also a way to test the knowledge and dedication of your favorite wine store to providing customers with a great selection.

The Regions
The Loire Valley, perhaps best known for simple Muscadets and Pouilly-Fumé, also makes some stellar reds. Chinon, probably one the most pronounceable appellations in the region, runs from earthy-funky in a good way to showing lots of bright fruit. Jean-Maurice Raffault is a great producer. These wines generally benefit from a little bit of age, but there’s no need to overdo it with the bulk of them. Chinon, just like neighboring regions of Bourgueil and Saint-Nicolas de Bourgueil, also tend to be light in body and wonderfully low in alcohol. These two characteristics make them both incredibly food friendly.

Jetting across the French continent to the Southwest Madiran is also divine. These big corpulent reds go with duck, foie gras and all the delicious animal fat the Southern French so enjoy. These wines are lush, velvety intense and the complete opposites of Loire Valley reds. A handful of other grapes are also often blended in with the Tannat, such as Cabernet Franc and Cabernet Sauvignon. These wines benefit from a little air, age beautify and should be paired with food of some kind. Uruguay also makes some amazing Tannats, rarely seen in the U.S., that run more international in style than many Madirans.

Another region called the Priorat is located a few hours outside of Barcelona. This area is just getting its engines going in terms of producing big, tannic and complex wines that will turn on American consumers because of their similarity to gracefully made Zinfandels or intense, Cabernet Sauvignon-based Bordeaux blends. Alvaro Palacios is an icon in the area and his wines are worth trying. Wines in the Priorat’s Montsant appellation are also delicious and good values.

The Grapes
The Austrians excel in my book for their skill at producing well-balanced, cool-climate reds that work so well with food. Pucker up because these beauties have some acid in them. Grüner Veltliner as soon been a sommeliers’ darling as a white, but it is time we looked for the reds. Zweigelt, easier to say than you think, is also easy to recognize as it bears the varietal label instead of the regional one. Blaufränkisch is another one that bears investigation.

I will save the tongue twister for last: Schioppettino. You thought Gewürztraminer was difficult. This grape is indigenous to the far northeastern region of Friuli. The name is short for “little gunshot,” and this wine packs a delicious punch. Agenza Agricola’s is a beautiful example of the wine. Once again, these wine tend to be lean and mean and absolutely need to be paired with robust food. Do as the Friuliani do and tuck into some nice polenta, smoked meats and hearty pork dishes with them.

Cheers from DrinkUpNY!

Liza Zimmerman has been writing and consulting about wine and food for two decades. She is principal of the San Francisco-based Liza the Wine Chick wine writing, education and consulting firm. She has worked on staff and freelance at national magazines such as Wine Enthusiast, The Magazine of La Cucina Italiana, Wine Spectator, Where SF and the Examiner. She currently contributes to Cheers, Wine Business Monthly and the Examiner, among others.

Zimmerman focuses on demystifying wine and transforming it into a tool for business and networking for companies all over the country. Past clients include Genentech, Roche and IBM.

She has visited all the world’s major wine regions and is one of select few in the U.S. to hold the Diploma of Wine & Spirits (D.W.S.), the three-year precursor to the Master of Wine.

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