Wednesday, December 26, 2012

Try dry wines with an open mind

Gordon Kendall

Good Libations columnist Gordon Kendall

  • Gordon Kendall's column, "Good Libations," runs monthly in Extra. He welcomes readers' questions and comments about wine, beer or spirits.

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Another year will soon fade into the past, leaving memories of the derecho, Superstorm Sandy and the advertisement-saturated election. Now everyone can look forward to new beginnings and contemplate their new year's resolutions.

For those of you who have not decided yet, I have a challenge for you: If you currently prefer sweet wines, try a classically styled dry wine and see if you enjoy it.

I know from working at Virginia wine festivals that many folks in this area prefer sweet wines. It is human nature to like sweet things.

The considerable popularity of Moscato di Asti, fruit-flavored wines and chocolate wines attest to this fact. Some folks are repelled by tannins in red wines and the sour tasting acidity of crisp dry white wines.

There is nothing wrong with sweet wines, but if you limit yourself to just those you will overlook many of the great wines of the world.

Classically styled wines are fermented until negligible sugar remains and are referred to as dry. Winemakers use grapes and technique like an artist uses paint and palette to create complex flavors and aromas. Some classic wines are sweet, such as port, but they are best served with desserts.

Let me share my personal experience.

The story of JB

My interest in wine began about 35 years ago when I lived in Columbia, S.C., and was dating my wife-to-be, Pam. We became intrigued with a local wine shop named The Last Chance, primarily because of JB, the colorful character who presided over the enterprise.

JB was a carefree hippie with long, stringy brown hair who never met anybody he did not like. The store had a broad selection of wine and beer, a sandwich steaming machine and a "Space Invaders" video game to keep patrons entertained. Situated at a bustling intersection, The Last Chance did a brisk business.

At the time Pam and I had developed a preference for Christian Brothers' Lasalle Rose. It was a forerunner of white zinfandel - sweet, pink, light with a hint of raspberries a thousand miles away. After selling us many bottles, JB challenged us.

"You guys need to learn how to drink dry wine," he said. "Otherwise you will never be able to appreciate the great wines of the world. Try this bottle of Marquisat Beaujolais," he suggested. "It is light, fruity, fresh and not severely tannic. Keeping in mind that it will not be sweet, concentrate on the aromas and flavors that are there and see if you like it."

We followed his instructions and surprisingly did enjoy it.

After that epiphany, I remember enjoying a Chateau Smith Haut Lafitte French Bordeaux, which at the time sold for the astronomical price of $10. We also enjoyed Italian amarone and Gattinara. Today we are drinking dry wines from all over the world and have never looked back.

For readers who want to accept my challenge, here are a few user-friendly wines to try. Pay attention to the aromas and then savor the wine in your mouth for a moment to experience all of the flavors. They taste better with food.

If you don't like them, there are still plenty of sweet wines out there for you.

Gordon's picks for user-friendly dry wines

Available locally

*Prices and availability may vary

Creme de Lys Chardonnay 2010

Sonoma, Calif.

I frequently encounter Chardonnay that has been overexposed to oak, but this wine is just right. The name is a play on the winemaking technique called "sur lie" aging in which the wine is left in the barrel after the spent yeast cells (lees) settle to the bottom.

This succulent white wine offers up aromas of toast and tropical fruits leading to a luscious creamy palate with notes of peach cobbler and vanilla ice cream, but not sweet. Serve with a lemon and garlic roasted chicken. 13.5 percent alcohol by volume. $10

Serenity Proprietary White Wine 2011

Clearlake Oaks, Calif.

Consulting expert winemaker David Ramey assembled this melange of 56 percent pinot grigio, 31 percent sauvignon blanc and 13 percent gewurztraminer.

The wine is fresh, bright and soft, displaying notes of honeysuckle, oranges, peaches and limes. It almost tastes like a fruit salad. Serve this non-acidic wine with a spicy seafood dish such as red snapper Veracruz. 13.5 percent ABV. $15

Chateau Montaud Cotes de Provence Rose 2011

Pierrefeu du Var, France

The estate, owned by the Ravel family, is in southern France. The wine is crafted from red grenache, cinsault and Syrah grapes. The clear juice inside the grapes was only left in contact with the red skins for a brief time, resulting in a pink color.

The wine has fresh strawberry and raspberry notes, a rich mouth feel and mild acidity. Serve cold with grilled salmon or creamy cheeses. 12 percent ABV. $12

Leese-Fitch Pinot Noir 2010

Napa, Calif.

Pinot noir is the classic grape of French red Burgundy, but more importantly it is noted for soft red fruit flavors, complexity and silky tannins compared to more aggressive reds such as cabernet sauvignon. The wine is a project of The Other Guys, the fourth generation of the famous Sebastiani winemaking family.

Medium-bodied, with a light cordovan hue, the wine displays aromas of strawberries, plums and wild herbs. The palate includes notes of pomegranate, raspberries and green tea. Sealed with an easy-to-open Zork. Try it with pimiento cheese burgers. 13.5 percent ABV $10

Layer Cake Shiraz South Australia 2010

McLaren Vale, South Australia

This rich and supple red illustrates why Aussie Shiraz is so popular.

The wine displays a deep, purple opaque color, coating the glass as it washes over it. Aromas of freshly crushed blackberries lead to a luscious palate of blueberries, plums, blackberries and smoke. Very mild tannins linger on the finish. Serve with a rack of barbecued ribs. 14.5 percent ABV $16

Gordon Kendall's column on wine and spirits runs monthly in Extra.