Any Questions? 6 of the Best

The idea for this blog came about from enquiries and questions asked by Wine Trust customers – over time – and those ones which stood out as very interesting questions and/or were being repeatedly asked. So, considering this I thought it would form the structure for a general blog – and hope that these questions may also be of interest to many other wine drinkers and lovers as well. I will do another one in due course too as more come in.

In no particular order:

  • “Why do restaurants chill down red wine?
  • In general, this is done more in summer months when the ambient temperature is obviously higher. By “chilling down” more often the red wine is cooled rather than chilled – by that 20 minutes in a fridge. The advantage of this is that the warming effect of the alcohol is muted, and the fruitiness of the wine is elevated. Simply put, the wine becomes more mellow and a better partner with food. But this comes with a warning – the more tannic the wine, the drier and more intense the tannins become with chilling down, so go for a low(er) tannin red to cool down. Grape varieties, for example, that respond well to cooling down include Pinot Noir and Grenache – and particularly Gamay, the grape behind Beaujolais. Overall, re chilling all wines, the warmer the ambient temperature the more you can chill down – but don’t overdo it as it can neutralise the flavour and aromas in the wine.

A good example from the Wine Trust list to serve cool in the summer is lovely Allegrini Valpolicella – a fruity, low tannin Italian classic – try this with your favourite pasta dish:

Allegrini Valpolicella

  • I’m a big fan of Sauvignon Blanc! If I were looking to try something new, but wanted something like Sauvignon Blanc, what would you recommend”?
    • The main flavours and style of Sauvignon Blanc are citric fruits, some tropicality if New World, a touch of herbaceous, and a clean, crisp, not too alcoholic, refreshing style. Also, the vast majority are unoaked. Nice comparisons for a change – but still good companions – include Grüner Veltliner from Austria and Albariño/Alvarinho from Spain/Portugal (same grape by the way). They have a similar profile, but also individuality (Grüner some light spice, Albariño some stone fruits) which I think you would find both attractive. And they are nearly always unoaked.

Try the vibrant Albariño Lagar de Cervera from the cool climate north west Spanish region of Rías Baixas which delivers a lovely citric and stone fruit compote – very crisp and clean.

Albarino Lagar de Cervera

  • Is there any point or value in decanting wine”?
    • With wine – especially when served in restaurants – a lot is about theatre, and on occasions I believe decanting is done as part of that act. Historically, decanting was used simply to separate the clear (mainly red) wine from any sediment which might have formed in the bottom of the bottle. This remains the main reason to decant today as the sediment in a bottle of red wine will a) make the wine cloudy if left in and stirred up when pouring and b) is very dry and bitter spoiling the flavour of the wine. Most famously the whole ceremony of decanting is associated with the preparation of Vintage Port, which is essential as this wine creates the largest amount of sediment of any red wine in the world. Others say that decanting also allows a wine “to breathe” and aerate thereby helping to release its bouquet. This is more contentious, and I am not wholly convinced it really makes that much difference. Back to decanting off the sediment I think it is a nice option to “double decant” – by that separate the clear wine and then pour it back into the original (washed) bottle so you can pour from the bottle itself at table and look at the label etc – I think this makes the whole process more engaging than an anonymous glass decanter and especially if you are opening a special bottle for a select occasion.
  • Can you recommend a wine which works with a curry”?
    • This is a tricky one, but the immediate answer is yes, but with some caveats! Firstly, it depends on how hot the curry is – if you love your curry with lots of chilli heat then this will be a challenge for most wines and the old option of a good beer might be best. In addition, the hotter the curry the “warmer” it makes the alcohol level feel in the wine, so consider a lower alcohol wine in general when having a curry. However, for more moderate heat styles there are plenty of options. Looking at vegetable, fish, and chicken curries I would go with white wine. Also consider the extras you may have – like mango chutney, naan bread etc. You need the white to be quite full bodied, textural, and more exotic grapes and styles can work well – along with whites which are oaked. Some examples of the more exotic and textural grapes and wines are those made from Gewurztraminer (excellent with Chicken Korma and Tikka for example) Pinot Gris and Viognier. You can also consider an oaked Chardonnay. With meat curries – especially lamb – the surprise package for me is how well Carmenère from Chile goes as it has bright, ripe black fruits and a lovely touch of spice itself – perfect with a Biryani style curry. In general, too, I think New World wines tend to match better than Old World for a good curry. Try the two suggestions below from the Wine Trust list – the textural Lawson’s Dry Hills New Zealand Pinot Gris and the peppery Adobe Chilean Carmenère.
  • What’s the difference between Pinot Grigio and Pinot Gris?”
    • They are in fact the same grape. The terms “grigio” (Italian) and “gris” (French) refer to the skin colour of the grape when it ripens. This grape is a mutation of Pinot Noir and carries some of the black grape genes within its pool. When the grapes ripen the skins goes coppery in colour (please see picture) which means if you leave the skins in contact with the juice you can, in effect, create a rosé hue!
  • But most are made off the skins and as a white wine. The terms have also become synonymous with two quite different styles of wine made from the same grape. “Grigio” tends to relate to the Italian – mainly Veneto origin – a dry, clean, and lighter bodied style with flavours of apple and pear. “Gris” relates to the French – mainly Alsace origin – with far more texture and a creamy, ripe quince fruit and soft spice character – often with a touch of residual sugar. Put simply, the Italian style is easy drinking and an aperitif, whilst the French is very much more “serious”, and food oriented. Unfortunately, the Italian style can often come from over cropped Veneto vineyards and result in a somewhat diluted wine, but Wine Trust have sourced a much more serious and concentrated dry version – Ponte del Diavolo from the superior, cooler climate Grave Friuli region – it really is a lovely “grown up” expression.

Pinot Grigio Ponte del Diavolo

  • What are the main differences between “Old” and “New” World wines – what do the terms mean?”
    • The Old world is basically all Western, Central and Eastern Europe including into parts of the Middle East (eg Lebanon) and fringes of Asia, eg Turkey. The New World is all the Southern Hemisphere and North America. The adjectives also corelate with two other factors, namely that the Old World has been making wine for a lot longer (by many centuries) than the New, and also, in general, the soils and mother rocks in the vineyards are much older too. With a significant timeline head start the Old World – often through trial and error – created blueprints of wine regions, styles, and grape varieties which the New World has subsequently sort to emulate. Hence the term “international varietals” was coined from importation of cuttings of Cabernets, Pinot Noir, Syrah, Chardonnay etc which were perceived to be superior varietals making finer wines. Climatically, many parts of the New World are not only warmer than the Old but have higher levels and intensity of ultraviolet (UV) light, partly down to thinner Ozone layers in the atmosphere. This aspect is not temperature dependent but results in higher levels of ripeness, which has contributed towards the general sensation and impression of juiciness and succulence in many New World wines. Climate change though may well distort this model and there are cooler areas in the New World (eg New Zealand) and the use of altitude (eg The Andes in Chile and Argentina) has seen the New World looking  to moderate the excesses in styles which had received some criticism. Overall, the New World embraced new technologies very quickly and had the regulatory freedom to experiment more with where grape varieties were grown and how wines were made. I feel these days the interchange of investments, winemakers and shared ideas has seen a positive benefit to both the Old and New World – and along with increased investment in technology wine quality is at an all-time high.

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