Followers of this blog know that we have a small gourmet group. About every three months, we gather together a group of eight people to learn about traditional cuisine, cooking techniques, then create those dishes for an evening of food, fun, and wine.
Spotify.com that played Portuguese music. They had strung lights across their back deck, and put tea candles on the table. The mood was set, and the evening temperatures had cooled to a comfortable degree versus the daytime heat and humidity.
Salt requires effervescence, sweetness or acid. Vinho Verde fits the bill on most counts. It isn't sweet, but there is an amount of fruitiness, that lends itself to the flavor of the green beans.
My hope is that by reading this easy Portuguese wine dinner, you too will create a regional wine pairing dinner. If you do, please share your menu in the comments section. If you need help with a pairing, contact your local Sommelier, wine shop, or send me an e-mail.
Last week, I wrote about the Wine Century Club. Since then, I have had a number of people contact me about how to get started. It is actually pretty easy. Download their list of grapes, and start trying wines that contain those grapes. Okay….maybe it isn’t that easy. You really need some background, preferably through wine classes, or local wine tasting clubs. While we are seeing more and more unusual, or forgotten, grapes in the United States, the Old World still has the lock on the availability.
This week, I am conducting a wine tasting of Italian wines. As the president and Sommelier for the Arrowhead Wine Enthusiasts, I get to choose the wines to serve. Italy offers a never ending supply of forgotten grapes.
Oenotria (due to its’ abundant vineyards). Many of those grapes were brought to the region by the ancient Greeks, and the mysterious Etruscan people (thought to be the refuges of the fallen city of Troy). There are literally thousands of grape varieties in Italy, but Italy's Ministry of Agriculture and Forestry, has only documented a bit over 350 grapes and granted them "authorized" status. With DOC and DOCG regulations, only a handful of grapes are really known by most wine drinkers. Chianti (Sangiovese), Barolo (Nebbiolo) and Soave (Garganega) are probably the best known.
So, when it comes to Italian wine tastings, the door is open…as long as I can find the wines (not easy). This week, I was lucky. While I still have the “standard” Barolo, I was able to find some less common wines.
To finish the tasting, I do have to bring in one of my favorite Italian wines, Barolo. The last wine is an Oddero Barolo 2009. I have written about the Nebbiolo grape in the past, so won’t spend time recapping it here.
With a simple five wine, Italian tasting, we have covered five (if you count Nebbiolo) “forgotten” grapes. When you add these to your Wine Century Club list, you will be well on your way to reaching 100 grape varieties. And, hopefully you will find a new variety that will become a favorite.
Let’s start this one off with a “test”. What do Savagnin and Graciano have in common? If you said they are both grapes, then you are on the right track. If you further said they are grown in unique locales, and make interesting wines, then you might consider yourself somewhat of a “wine geek”.
Wine Century Club was formed by Steve and Deborah DeLong in 2005. The DeLong name might sound familiar to you. If you have been in a wine shop, or a tasting room, and seen a wine grape varietal chart on the wall, you may recognize the name. The DeLong Wine Grape Varietal Chart is designed like a periodic table, aligning the grapes by acid and sugar levels. There are 184 grapes on the chart. The Wine Century club grew out of that chart. As people began to taste the wine made from these grapes, a club developed to recognize those that had tried 100 different grapes. Now, in addition to regular membership, they also recognize serious grape nuts who have tried at least 200 (Doppel), 300 (Treble), 400 (Quattro) or 500 (Pentavini) different varieties.
I have some friends that are now on a quest to join this growing club. You would think that tasting 100 varietals would be fairly easy, but you would be wrong, and that is part of the fun. The hunt to find new grape varieties will lead you to some great new finds, and some that you’ll probably never try again. Hint: look to Italy and Greece for some rare finds. Even the East Coast of the United States offers some non-vinifera grapes, as well as hybrids, that are uncommon. I joined in 2010. At the time of my membership, I had tasted 127 different grapes. I am still working on getting to 200.
When you are in the restaurant, check the wine list for the uncommon grapes. The markup will typically be lower, as most people won’t venture beyond what they are accustom to. I think you’ll also find that most Sommeliers seek the unusual, so talk with the Somm, and ask what they would recommend. Restaurants that are on the “cutting edge” will typically have a Sommelier that is allowed to add some obscure wines, that pair ideally with the chef’s cuisine. Look at Gruner Vetliner... Just a few years ago, no one had heard of this grape, and now it is popping up, not only in wine shops, but in restaurants. The latest addition seems to be Assyrtiko, from Greece. I am seeing more and more on shelves and wine lists.
So, if Savagnin, Graciano, Negrette, or Assyrtiko are familiar to you, then you are already on your way to membership. Download an application and join on the Century Wine Club website. The next thing you know, you will be changing the wine store stocks on its’ shelves, and what the restaurant puts on their wine list. You will also be experiencing the local wines that are “normal” or “common” in other parts of the world.