A Delightful Spring Sipper: Picpoul De Pinet

New World Picpoul de Pinet (from the Tablas Creek Vineyard blog)

An exchange I heard last summer at a local bar during lunch has stuck with me for almost a year now.

“Ew, I’m not going to date him.”

“Why not?”

“He’s a Sauvignon Blanc drinker!”

At which point I glanced down at the glass of wine in my hand and died a little inside.

Sauvignon Blanc has set the standard for summer sippers among the acid-cravers among us. “When in doubt, go with New Zealand” is the mantra for those of us who crave a wine drier than the Sahara when perusing a wine list in the outdoor seating of a restaurant in summertime.

It doesn’t have to be this way.

A grape that’s beginning to grow in popularity in the New World is Piquepoul Blanc, grown almost exclusively as a varietal wine in the Picpoul de Pinet region in France, though it is permitted as a blending grape in Chateauneuf du Pape. One of the oldest grapes cultivated in Languedoc, Piquepoul Blanc takes its name from the incredible acidity of the grapes “piquing” the lips of those who drink it. It’s a reliably dry, citrusy affair, and the controlled, limited production of the grape ensures an even better average quality than Sauvignon Blanc.

I’ve given a few of these guys a try, and in fact reviewed one last year, and I wanted to share my experience with another one with you “Sauvignon  Blanc Drinkers” to see if maybe there’s another white wine out there for you. You know, just in case it’s hindering your dating life.

Today, we’re covering the 2009 Font Mars Picpoul de Pinet, a wine that I was delighted to see on the menu of West End Wine Bar in Chapel Hill.

Chateau Font Mars Picpoul De PinetThe Picpoul de Pinet has a very light straw color with a spectacular luminosity. The nose is very appealing, though much, much less fruity than other Picpouls I’ve tried, with a very minerally, soapy scent. It’s like swirling a glass of creek water with a slice of lime dropped in it.

As far as the mouth feel is concerned, it is extraordinarily tangy, extremely dry, with a very full texture, though the acidity feels lower than other Picpouls. The flavors are bright and crisp, with a burst of minerals on the attack with all the flavorful grace of a wet rock.  The lime flavor comes forward after the initial minerals fade away along with some light tropical notes, though only the lime remains lingering on a medium finish. I want to describe the flavors as delicate, but they’re hefty enough to balance out a decent acidity.

Probably the best way for me to describe this wine is “delightful, but plain,” a term that easily applies to 99% of New World Sauvignon Blancs. At $12, it’s a decent value and sure to please the dry white palates in your life. 6/10

My next goal? Try a New World Picpoul. Tablas Creek has one. Maybe I’ll see what Paso Robles has in store for me…

The Wine: Picpoul De Pinet

Producer: Chateau Font Mars

Vintage: 2009

Region: Picpoul de Pinet, Coteaux du Languedoc, France

Varieties: 100% Piquepoul Blanc

Alcohol: 12.5%

Price: $10

Canned Sparkling Wine: Good for Cocktails, Not For Wine Snobs

Very recently, I was introduced to something that should make my wine sensibilities cringe: canned sparkling wine. From producer Francis Ford Coppola Winery, and named after Coppola’s daughter Sofia, comes the Sofia Mini sparkling wine, available in four 187 ml cans (adding up to one 750ml bottle total). As if the little pink cans weren’t enough, each one also comes with a little pink straw attached to the outside of the can with cellophane, creating an experience that seems more fit for a hyper-trendy bar or a kindergarten snack-time than any situation where sparkling wine would be called for. Of course, the wine is also available in traditional 750ml glass bottles, but if you’re going Sofia, you might as well go all in, right?

The real reason I am calling attention to this wine is because of the convenience that these cans serve in the manner of creating cocktails. If you have a recipe that calls for just one ounce of sparkling wine, and you’ve only got 2 people to serve, opening a full 750ml bottle is righteous overkill. Heck, even opening a half-bottle might be a little much for such a small amount required.  There are approximately 6 ounces of wine in each of these miniature cans, breaking down into very handy amounts for most sparkling wine cocktails.

But how does the wine itself taste? After all, having wine available in such handy portions doesn’t mean much if the wine is undrinkable.

To be honest, it’s not bad. It’s a little sweet and exceptionally fruity, but it’s got an okay bite to it. It’s a blanc de blancs, comprised of 82% Pinot Blanc, 10% Riesling, and 8% Muscat. It’s mostly fruit, but very lightly floral, with orchard fruits and flowers creating a fairly pleasant flavor and giving the it the nose of a countryside in spring.

Sofia is definitely geared towards simpler palates, with little complexity other than a layer of citrus that comes forward on the finish. For a cocktail such as a Bellini or mimosa, you can’t go wrong. It’s definitely not going to replace the Cava or Champagne in your life, so don’t expect miracles from it. For a $12 to $15 bottle of California sparkling, however, it’ll serve its purpose.

The lesson here? If you’re serving the wine to someone not of the most open mind, go ahead and pour the glass before you serve it to him/her. Unless their palate demands only the driest sparkling wines, chances are, though they won’t be blown away by it, they’ll be satisfied.

But having this knowledge is useless unless you’ve got a cocktail to try it in. Might I suggest the Champagne Julep? It’s a unique experience, and one heck of a delicious drink for sipping outside.

2 sprigs fresh mint

1 sugar cube

sparkling wine of your choice

splash of bourbon

Place the mint sprigs and sugar cube at the bottom of a high-ball glass. Add ice cubes. Pour the champagne slowly, stirring the entire time, leaving room for the bourbon. Add a splash of bourbon and stir one last time.

Continuing the Conservancy Tour: Concannon Petite Sirah

It’s been awhile since we’ve shared some music here, hasn’t it? I shared this band recently on Twitter on my personal account, but I didn’t link to a full song by them. They’re called Glacier Hiking, a straight-up mellow rock side project by adult pop artist Tommy Walters, frontman for the band Abandoned Pools. They’ve only released a 5-song EP in their history, but if you want more in this style, definitely check out Abandoned Pools as well.

Concannon 2008 Conservancy Petite Sirah

2008 Concannon Conservancy Petite SirahThe wine’s color is the most striking aspect, a deep, inky reddish purple, not quite as much purple as you’d typically expect from a Petite Sirah.

The nose hits you first with its alcohol heat, a bit strong but not noxious. The more subtler notes on the nose are very juicy, dark fruits, blueberry and blackberry, and there’s even a hint of coffee there.

The mouth feel of the wine doesn’t really impress, more watery than round. The flavors are a bit woody and green as well, with blackberry and milk chocolate as the prominent notes. The chocolate smacks of a certain oakiness as well, but it doesn’t feel saturated with the oak flavor overall. I might not have minded a little more oak in this wine just to round it out a bit… The finish is short, chocolately, with a touch of graphite.

This wine is emblematic of what might not go right for a Petite Sirah. The tannins are lacking, both in strength and fullness, the acidity a bit too high even for a Petitie Sirah, and the flavors very subdued. It’s far from the juicy fruit-bomb you’d expect from this grape in California, with more delicate flavors and an astringency delivered from the imbalance in acidity and tannins.

It’s difficult to get Petite Sirah just right at this price point, but there are still a few better options out there at this price point for this style of grape. 4/10

This wine was provided as an industry sample with the intent to review.

On Second Thought

The wine’s still got a good base structure from the alcohol and acidity, it just needs some extra flavor. After I finished my tasting, I used half of the bottle to create a mulled wine. I set up my crock pot and poured the wine in, then cut it with about 5 more ounces of water. I tossed in a pack of mulling spices and about a half of a third of a cup of brown sugar, let it heat on medium heat for about 1 hour, and had an absolutely delicious experience for the evening. I imagine you could also do a good sangria with this one.

The Wine: Conservancy Petite Sirah

Producer: Concannon Vineyards

Vintage: 2008

Region: Livermore Valley, California, US

Varieties: 100% Petite Sirah

Alcohol: 13.5%

Price: $12

Going Against the Grape: Wine-Based Mixed Drinks

What we are about to embark upon will surely offend the sensibilities of the more fastidious wine critics in the world. We are going to taint the purity of fine wine with the basest of mixers and bourgeois liquors. We are going to desecrate months of hard work and careful planning by treating a glass of wine like a shot of tequila. Is everyone ready?

The Wines

2008 Traza RiojaThe two victims of our experimentations are the 2008 Traza Gra2, a 100% Graciano Rioja, and the 2009 Walnut Block Wines Sauvignon Blanc.

The Traza Gra2, crafted by David Sampredo of the collective Vinos Sin-Ley (translated as “wines without laws”), is a rich, perfumey red with a very deep, complex purplish-red color. Red and dark fruits accompanied by just a touch of spice accent a relatively full body. Good balance, bone-dry, and velvety tannins make it a good, pleasant Rioja experience for around $15.

The Walnut Block Wines Sauvignon Blanc is a bright, juicy, prototypical New Zealand Sauvignon Blanc. Rich grapefruit, lime zest, and very prominent herbal undertones match very well with just a touch of sweetness and a ripe acidity. The color is striking, with an almost colorless silver luminosity, just a tinge of greenish-gold. It’s $11 and worth every penny.

Both wines were purchased from Hillsborough Wine Company in Hillsborough, NC.

Now that we’re acquainted with the victims, let’s look at the mixed drinks we will be attempting to create in the mad mixologist’s lair:

Kalimotxo

The first drink we tried was the Kalimotxo (pronounced Cah-lee-moh-cho), which is a fairly simple concoction with Basque origins. The recipe is as follows:

3 parts red wine

1 part Coca-Cola

Pour the red wine over a glass of ice, then add the Coca-Cola. Stir. Garnish with a lemon or lime wedge. Simple.

We tried this in the tasting with the Rioja, but there was just something slightly off about the flavor. After a second attempt at making this cocktail with a 2007 Mr. Black’s Concoction Shiraz, I came to the conclusion that a stronger, fuller, juicier wine makes for a more delicious cocktail, and at 15.9% with bountiful dark fruits, Mr. Black’s Concoction was exactly what I wanted. Avoid lighter reds and avoid adding too much cola to keep this drink in check. The lighter the red wine you use, the less cola you should add to compensate for the more delicate flavors. Too much fizz, and the drink will devolve into a bitter experience.

White Wine Mai-Tai

While not a true Mai-Tai (a Mai-Tai is neither pink in color nor this simple to create), this drink is nevertheless a delicious and surprisingly potent addition to your bartending repertoire. Here’s the recipe:

1 part clear rum

1 part white wine

splash of grenadine

Mix all ingredients together in a cocktail shaker. Pour over a glass full of ice. Garnish with a pineapple wedge or a maraschino cherry.

Because the rum flavor is so heavily featured in this drink, you need to splurge and go one step above Bacardi to get the full experience. For the white wine, go with something full, dry and juicy, something along the lines of a Sauvignon Blanc, Gruner Veltliner, Pinot Blanc, or Picpoul de Pinet would work well here. If you go off-dry, the sweetness combined with the grenadine will overwhelm the delicate wine flavors in the drink and turn it into a syrupy mess.

Take it easy with this one. Because you’re mixing alcohol with more alcohol, it’s going to be a lot more potent than most mixed drinks, up near 30% alcohol, and you won’t hardly be able to taste it. One or two of these will be good for an afternoon on the beach.

A Pleasant Surprise

While preparing for this experiment, I of course paid a visit to the local ABC store. There, I happened upon one of the biggest surprises of my alcohol-consuming life. The clerk saw me browsing the rum section and asked me if I needed any help. When I told him about my plans for the tasting, he handed me this bottle, saying that it was by far the best rum in the shop. There were 2 or 3 rums at a higher price point, but I took him at his word on it.

It’s lucky that I’m such a trusting person because this truly was one of the best rums I have tasted. This is a rum that’s built for sipping. I almost felt guilty blending it with the wine because of how pure and clean it tasted. Flavors of sugarcane, vanilla, banana, and molasses. It’s perfectly suited to tropical mixed drinks, especially if you’re looking to go heavy on the rum. I wouldn’t waste this rum on mixing with cola. Leave that to the Bacardis of the world.

I paid about $40 for this rum, and it’s freely available online at that price if you’d like to give it a try. For another look at it, hop on over to the Drinkhacker review. I don’t have much experience with liquor tasting, and a more trained palate can provide a better review than mine.

The Conclusion

What I learned from this experiment is that, despite the thirst for purity in the wine industry, there are other alternatives for wine use outside of cooking. Depending on the descriptors of a wine, it could make a pretty tasty cocktail. Now I turn to you, dear readers, for help. I’ve only scratched the surface of mixing wine. Have any of you given these a try? What other delicious concoctions have you heard of or produced with your favorite wine? My weekend is in your hands.

Music Monday: Broken Glass In Your Wine

The Music

Yes, it’s Valentine’s Day. I could post a brilliantly romantic song like millions of other people are doing right this second, but I’m kind of feeling something a little more risqué. Ladies and Gentlemen: The Last Shadow Puppets. It’s like James Bond going through a scenester phase. I happen to like it an awful lot.

2007 Winehaven Riesling

2007 Winehaven RieslingI picked up this gem on a business trip to the frozen north. While in Minneapolis, I stopped at a wine shop called Sorella Wines & Spirits. This place had a fantastic selection of local wines from Wisconsin, Michigan, and Minnesota. In addition to this one, I also picked up a couple Rieslings from Michigan and the Voyageur from Alexis Bailly Vineyards, a red wine blend of Leon Millot, Marechal Foch, and Frontenac varieties.

I understand that the northern Midwest is ideally a white wine region, thus the focus on Rieslings, but I’ve also heard good things about the Alsatian specialized red grapes growing in the area, and I wanted to give them a try as well.

The wine is a very deep golden yellow with a fairly low viscosity. The nose is very grape-y, like white grape juice. Aside from that. there are notes of white floral, ripe pear, and apricots.

The texture is rich, very, very smooth, though not quite as full as most Rieslings. It’s  off-dry, with a significant amount of residual sugar to the flavor. It’s not quite a dessert wine, though the sweetness is palpable. There’s a brief attack of pear, then the flavor abruptly dissipates. The finish consists of honey and floral. As it gets warmer, the more complex flavors start to come out, and the mid-palate starts to gain some citrusy qualities, specifically mandarin orange. It’s a little too sweet, and the alcohol and acidity could stand to be a bit higher, as the wine was a bit cloying. It wasn’t terribly imbalanced, though.

Match this guy up with some spicy seafood or chicken, though nothing overwhelming. The body is a little light, but the sweetness can take on some heat. The flavors themselves are built to suit a beginner’s palate, though they’ve still got the taste of a classic Riesling. I’d highly suggest this one to wean those you love off of White Zinfandel.

This is a wine that really needs to be consumed a bit warmer than 50 degrees to get the full range of its flavors. Too cold, and it’s flat and dull. This was even evident the second day, when any flavors that would need time to open up would have come about already.

Surprisingly good, though very simple, from the land of Minnesota. 5/10

One final note about this wine, and it’s a good lesson to learn about many other wines:

I opened the bottle, and what did I find but this stuff all over the cork and the inside of the bottle neck. Looks like broken glass or rock salt, right? It’s actually tartaric crystals, a solidification of potassium salts left over from the winemaking process. Someone might open a bottle of wine and find this stuff on the cork and believe the wine to be tainted. Rest assured, your wine is perfectly fine.

Many winemakers, mostly in Europe, elect to not put their wines through cold stabilization before bottling, which would cause these salts to form into their crystals for easy removal. When they don’t, the crystals will form on their own in the bottle as the temperature drops. Go ahead and taste them if you want. They’re odorless, essentially tasteless, not sugary or salty or anything else that will affect the flavor of your wine. Just filter them out or ring them out with a decanter and enjoy your wine as you normally would.

The Wine: Winehaven Riesling

Producer: Winehaven Winery

Vintage: 2007

Region: Minnesota, US

Varieties: 100% Riesling

Alcohol: 10.7%

Price: $12

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