Wednesday, January 23, 2008

The Grapes of Wrath (without the Okies)

Many people ask me "Hey Dave, what're your favorite wine grapes?" To which I say, "Go fuck yourself. How'd you get my cell number? Ima cut you hard."

None of that is true, nobody asks me that. But if they did, this is what I'd say....

1. Riesling. This is a grape that is still maligned in the US by uneducated imbeciles. Admittedly the export market was flooded with insipid uber-sweet German riesling in the decades after World War II. Riesling ranges from racily dry (Austria) to sweet but bracingly acidic (Germany). It's also one of the few white grapes that grows respectably in California (Trefethen and Navarro, for instance). But there's something about an excellent German riesling that is euphoric. I speculate it's the combination of sugar, modestly low alcohol, and food-friendly acidity that gets the serotonin going.

2. Pinot Noir. It's got the robust fruit of a grenache or merlot with the earthy complexity of syrah or mourvedre. And while incredibly difficult to make really well, it's hard to fuck up as long as the fruit is grown in the right climate and managed well. In order: Burgundy, Anderson Valley, Santa Barbara County, Willamette Valley, New Zealand, Alsace, Germany.

3. Zinfandel. See above, only with fuller flavors. It's not as elegant as other reds, but it's broad and complex. And it really doesn't grow well outside of a handful of regions in California. Try Mendocino County, Dry Creek Valley, and Paso Robles for the best of the best.

4. GSM. I'm going to group the Rhone power trio of Grenache-Syrah-Mourvedre as one grape here because, while I've had many single varietal wines of these grapes that I've enjoyed, when two or more of these power grapes hook-up, magic ensues. Grenache supplies the rich supple fruit, syrah the musty leathery tannins, and mourvedre the strong, broad earth. Try grenache-syrah blends from Northern Spain and GSMs from the southern Rhone.

5. Chardonnay. Steer clear of the giant overly buttery Napa versions of this excellent grape and opt for the crisper and more acidic white Burgundies from Macon, Chablis, and the Cote d'Or. In California, try excellent chardonnay from cooler climate regions like the Anderson Valley, Russian River Valley, Santa Maria Hills, and Los Carneros.

6. Carignane. What is essentially a blending grape in France has reached a rarefied art among a few producers in California. Rich dark fruit, dusty tannins, and a refreshing acidity. Contra Costa county is growing some rich, elegant carignane, as is the Dry Creek Valley.

7. Marsanne/Roussanne. Another Rhone party blend, these two aromatic whites make for some fun and funky wines. Excellent cool climate whites that tend toward overripeness in hotter years, these grape varietals, when combined, build a profile of honey, pear, and sweet spice with modest and soft acidity on the finish.

8. Verdejo. The king of Rueda, Spain's verdejo is the grape that sauvignon blanc should be. Crisp bright acidity, aromatic tropical fruit, and moderate minerality. Food friendly and refreshing.

9. Gruner veltliner. Austria's grape of grapes. Gruner's citrus fruit tartness coupled with lingering minerality makes for a wine that fits where others don't. Perfect with asparagus, pesto, and pretty much every seafood, gruner veltliner's probably the most food-friendly white grape in the world.

10. Furmint. Look, it might only make one type of wine, but that type of wine's pretty much the most awesome dessert wine in all the goddamn universe, Hungarian Tokaji. I've never had the dry furmints, but the sweet, botrytis-laden grapes in Tokaji create an elegant dessert wine that lacks the insipid syrupy-ness or heafty viscosity of other sweet white wines.

And now you know. And knowing is half the battle.

Now never fucking call me again.

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