As Kellie discussed in last week's blog post, an often overlooked wine style is dessert or richly sweet wines. She used the example of Sauternes, the great sweet wine region of Bordeaux, and its significnace in history as well as at the dinner table. This week I want to delve a little futher into the most common sweet wines you'll come across at a restaurant, how they're produced, what to expect when you enjoy them...and why you should enjoy them!
Generally speaking, sweetness in wine is a factor of both growing condition and production tehcnique. Sugar is either residual, meaning fermentation did not completely convert it all to alcohol, or less commonly, a winemaker can add a small amount of sugar to the wine after fermentation (such as the dosage in sparkling wine production). Whatever the case may be, sweetness can add an important textural and flavor component to the wine.
There is a catagory of lightly sweet wines - both sparkling and still - that although not part of this discussion are still worth mentioning. On sparkling wine labels you can see wording such as demi-sec, doux or dolce to indicate a level of sweetness, whereas "brut" would indicate being closer to dry. On still white wines, most commonly Riesling, Viognier and Gewurztraminer (although not Baldacci's Gewurztraminer which happens to have nearly zero residual sugar) there can be a delicate, moderate sweetness.
With regard to richly sweet wines that often accompany a dessert pairing, two categories tend to dominate the discussion: late harvest and fortified wines. While this is a gross simplification, late harvest includes the famous noble rot botrytis and ice wine, whereas fortified includes Vin Doux Naturel, Sherry, Madeira and the most well-known, Port.
It seems that most people, even the most ardent wine lovers, forego these styles because they don't like the idea of an overly sweet, viscous, syrupy wine. The shame is that just as much care, time and handling go into the production of these wines (sometimes even more so than traditional still wines). However, when they are made properly and paired accordingly, you'll experience some of the most rich, luscious and fragrant wines in the world.
Late harvest means exactly that: grapes that are left on the vine and harvested much later in the season. The region that the grapes are grown in will determine whether that wine will become noble rot, an ice wine or a sweet red wine. Noble rot is the effect of a fungus called botrytis slowly dehydrating individual grapes to increase sugar content, and only happens in ideal environments (misty mornings with sunshine throughout the day). Sauternes, Tokaji from Hungary and some classification of German Riesling fall into this category, and the wines generally share a "honey" - like or honeysuckle flavor profile. The honey profile is best balanced by a complementary amount of acid. These wines command a premium due to the hand harvesting that occurs at the individual grape level as well as the small amount that a vineyard can produce.
Ice wine is popular in regions where the temperature drops to freezing after the harvest season and the wine is generally clear of botrytis. The grapes have a higher concentration of sugar as the moisture within the grape is frozen. Canada, specifically Ontario, has become a market leader in this segment. Although any grape variety could be used, usually you need a hearty vine like Riesling that can withstand the colder, continental climate.
With fortified wines, Port always leads the discussion. Fortified wines start their life as normal still wine with primary fermentation, but then receive a kick from a grape-derived spirit like brandy to halt fermentation, preserve sugar and boost the alcohol content. Although port-style wines are made around the world, Port's home is really in Portugal with roots dating back over 300 years. There are many styles of Port from ruby (young, fruity, fresh) to tawny (aged, oxidative, blended) to acclaimed Colheita (single vintage, aged). Each classificiation distinction would indicate any barrel aging, blending, or oxidative aging.
Cheers...and be sure to drink your dessert next time!
Looking over the vineyard and seeing beautiful new green growth means just like baseball that our season has started! And hopefully it’s approaching time for some of our veteran visitors along with the rookies to make their plans to indulge in everything the Napa Valley has to offer. As I would deem myself (loosely) a pro entering my fifth season at bat in the Valley, here’s what will make your next visit to see us even better.
1. Call Ahead
The most discussed issue in our Tasting Room is how a surprising number of wineries are now asking for appointments regardless of party size.
Although perhaps more prevalent now, this has been a legal requirement for most tasting rooms to stay within their permitted usage (of which Baldacci Family Vineyards must also comply) for a number of years and is more broadly referred to as part of the WDO, or Winery Definition Ordinance.
As a best practice, call ahead or use online reservation services such as VinoVisit or CellarPass to book your tasting appointment so you get to visit all the wineries on your wish list. The benefit of just a little advance planning will not only eliminate surprises but likely will offer different tasting experiences! Here at Baldacci we have our great patio and bar for tastings but also schedule private tastings and tours in our Cellar for those that inquire ahead of time.
PRO-TIP: Throughout the Valley you can discover more experiences beyond just tasting such as cave tours, ATV rides, food pairings, cooking demonstrations and more… it usually requires nothing more than asking for it ahead of time!
The Napa Valley is home to some of the most desired restaurant experiences and celebrated chefs, so hopefully planning for a great meal or two while you’re visiting is on your agenda. Since wine runs through the veins of the Valley it shouldn’t be too surprising that nearly every restaurant offers a great selection of vino, from the hamburger joint down the street to our three-star Michelin rated restaurants.
What may be surprising is that bringing an unopened bottle or two to the restaurant, even bottles you discovered that day, is perfectly acceptable. Each restaurant has their own policy on corkage so best to call ahead of time or check out their website to review. Corkage fees average $20 per bottle but are sometimes waived if you buy a bottle off their list. Attentive staff will see the bottle on the table and usually offer to decant for you. Some common corkage policies are to restrict the number of bottles you may bring in or that you may not bring in a wine they already offer. It’s a great way to ensure you have a bottle at your table you know that you enjoy at a fair price.
PRO-TIP: If you bring in a rockstar bottle, do be sure to leave a pour behind for the service staff especially if they did a great job… and sometimes they’ll waive the corkage fee to show their appreciation.
3. Appellation Education
With regard to grape growing and wine production, the Napa Valley is an American Viticultural Area (or AVA for short).
These geographic distinctions are approved by the federal government and are meant to recognize areas that share nearly identical grape growing conditions. With the immense soil diversity the Napa Valley enjoys along with changes in microclimate and elevation we currently have sixteen recognized AVA’s within the Napa Valley AVA itself totaling seventeen different named grape growing regions.
Baldacci Family Vineyards is privileged to be located within the historic Stags Leap District which is celebrating its 25th Anniversary as a designation this year, along with estate vineyards in the Carneros and Calistoga regions.
PRO-TIP: Schedule an entire day tasting within one AVA. You’ll develop a deeper appreciation and understanding to what makes that area unique and you’ll save on driving time between wineries.
4. Get a Driver
Responsible drinking means not driving drunk. A common misconception is that police in the Napa Valley are somehow lenient towards or permit impaired driving… nothing could be further from the truth.
A full day of tasting numerous wines at numerous wineries can and will takes its toll. There are a wide variety of driving services available, from professional chauffeurs to group tours to individuals hired to drive your vehicle for you. Beyond the immediate benefit of not driving impaired you additionally have a local expert who knows the roads, get help set your agenda, and can recommend new wineries.
A new mobile app service (Uber) just was introduced in the Valley this past month that will complement the late night taxi rush and help get up and down the Valley quicker.
PRO-TIP: Always be responsible.
5. Try Something New
Pretty self-explanatory. If you’re a regular to the Valley it’s easy to get caught up in the favorites and not venture out to experience new tasting rooms, restaurants, art exhibits, hiking trails or hot air balloon rides. Lean on the experience and recommendations of people out here and past visitors… word of mouth is still the number one driver of new guests.
PRO-TIP: Phone a friend.
I couldn't argue that beer, brats, chips and pizza have not been the tried and true approach to Super Bowl Sunday since the era of Lombardi. Overindulgence pairs beautifully with the emotional highs and lows of America's favorite sporting event. But I might argue that maybe just once... just forthis Sunday... you can turn your all day eat and drink fest into a five course event with wine pairing that could earn your home its own Michelin star.
So call an audible and raid the wine rack. Omaha! Omaha! Omaha!
First Quarter: Sauvignon Blanc and Spinach Dip
Oft overlooked by even the most ardent vinophiles, starting with a glass of white wine is a great primer for your palate. A great Napa Valley Sauv Blanc (or perhaps a Spanish Verdejo or Burgundy Chablis) can exhibit limited dryness, moderate to high acid content and crispness to help cut thru the creaminess and richness of your spinach dip.
Second Quarter: Pinot Noir and Lamb Kebabs
Old World or New World, Pinot Noir is a wine grape that still favors a higher acid profile thus making it a perfect match-up for lighter cuisine. Nothing like the taste of terroir and lighter red fruit with the dry spices and smokiness of kebabs.
Third Quarter: Syrah and Buffalo Wings
The heat on the glaze coupled with blue cheese and the chicken make a dream pairing for Syrah. While not always possessing the body, dryness and power of a Cabernet, Syrah (and Zins for that matter) have always been a favorite pairing for the grill for how they exhibit supple tannin, rich fruit, and spices like pepper.
Fourth Quarter: Cabernet and Burgers
And now finally you can pop that Cab you've been sitting on... The classic pairing of Cabernet (and Cab-based blends) and red meat. If you followed the gameplan then your palate should have no problem enjoying the tannin, fruit and oak of your bottle against the sweetness of the grilled onions, texture of the lettuce, coolness of the tomato and juiciness of the patty.
Post Game Wrap-Up: Champagne
Your team wins or loses. You win or lose your office squares game. You're still upset your team didn't make it to the Big Game (even though it was obvious the refs should have called intentional grounding, roughing the kicker and a turnover... all in the same game). As Napoleon observed: "In victory, you deserve Champagne, in defeat, you need it."
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