December 13, 2017

World of wine

Sunday, December 6, 2009

Wines for all reasons

By Dereck Foster, for the Herald.

When we say wine, without any further qualification, we are referring to the fermented juice of the grape. But from there to pinning down exactly what we really mean, there is a long leap. Such matters as grape, colour, taste (dry, semi-sweet, sweet), alcohol and much more have to be factored in before we can form an idea and an image of what we are referring to.

One of the most basic features that the man (and woman) in the street has engraved in his/her mind is the use of the singular when talking of grape. It is a widespread belief that a wine is the result of fermenting the juice of just one grape, a fallacy that dates far back in time. The modern presence of varietal wines on our tables may not be entirely new — single grape varietal wines were certainly made centuries ago, but because of many factors — social, technical and practical — most wines were combinations of two or more different grapes. Even today, not all wines that we are sold under the varietal label are truly 100% pure; most leading wine nations permit up to a maximum of 20% of  outside blending to pass as such.

To add to the confusion there is one other element that must also be considered, and it is not a grape. It is the presence (or not) of oak in a wine. Until fairly recently most wines were fermented in oak casks which placed a definite stamp on the general character of a wine. The advent of stone fermentation tanks, epoxi paints and then stainless steel, gave a strong push to wine along the path of oakless wines. But tradition does not die easily and there were many — and still are — who considered and consider that a wine that has not been in touch with even a little oak is unworthy of the name. This situation, which could have caused a serious problem in the wine world, was saved from this fate by the upsurge of cutting edge wine technology, which permits winemakers to take chances and make decisions that would have been impossible even a mere 20 or 25 years ago.

Today, I will mention a few wines which have come my way because of some special circumstance that sets them apart — at least in my mouth and on my palate. The first is a curiously named Spanish wine, which I have mentioned in my Platter Chatter column today (See last sentence). The curiosity resides in its blend of Tempranillo and Garnacha (French Grenache), the world’s second most cultivated grape (after Airen), a native of Spain It is a smooth, easy to drink wine, lacking any outstanding characteristic save that of making one want to drink more, a dangerous feature in view of its 130 peso price. The blend is probably almost unique, although Grenache is widely used as a blending wine in the south of France (where there is no Tempranillo).

Another wine calling attention is local and has what may be a significant name. It is the Tikal Locura 2006, a most curious blend of Malbec, Cabernet Sauvignon, Bonarda and Torrontes. Obviously it is the inclusion of the latter — a white — that calls for comment. It is possibly used to infuse a little frutiness into the blend, although I failed to find any Torrontes when tasting. The first three wines are from Mendoza while the Torrontes is from Salta Highly alcoholic — just short of 15% — it does not attack the palate but allows one to sip with satisfaction. A difficult wine to serve during a meal, unless you are a single glass per meal sort of person. (Are there many around ?)

For me, perhaps the most interesting wine tasted lately has been a wine from Finca Los Maza. I was sent a FLM Gran Reserva 540 Malbec 2002  which quite took me by surprise. More than the vintage date, the number which should be carefully evaluated is the 540 which figures in the name. This number refers to the number of months the wine was kept in contact with French oak. Before taking my first sip I was prepared to travel back in time — to the Stone Age perhaps — and confront wine as perhaps the Roman emperors reveled in during their drunken orgies. Never was I so wrong! .19 months in oak casks seem to have energized the 100% varietal Malbec to uncork, unplug and release a true carnaval of gaiety, youth and fruit difficult to describe. Even on learning that each bottle of this marvel sets one back 180 pésos failed to dampen my enthusiasm. Costly, yes, but what´s to deter one from an occasional fling now and again? It’s WOW!

There are more surprises out there, ignoring tradition and pushing back the frontiers of the impossible into almost total oblivion. I will be on the lookout and any Sunday, I will be returning with new examples of what a single grape, or a combination of grapes, with or without oak, can achieve.

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