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Mouthing Off

By the Editors of Food & Wine Magazine

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Winemakers

Argentina’s Great Imported Winemaker

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Alberto Antonini is one of the world's most influential winemakers, consulting on wines everywhere from his native Italy to Uruguay, California and Portugal. I recently sat down with Alberto to taste through a selection of wines he's consulting on for Bodegas Nieto Senetiner in Argentina's Mendoza region. We had a fascinating conversation about the importance that he places on making each wine specific to the place it's from, rather than aiming for a broad international style. As winemakers become more international, this ongoing discussion of terroir will become increasingly interesting.

Philosophies aside, the Bodegas Nieto Senetiner wines are standouts, with gorgeous, concentrated flavors thanks to the grapes' growing conditions: very warm days and cool nights. Here's what we tasted.

2008 Reserva Torrontes ($11, find this wine) Argentina's top white, Torrontes, has inherent floral notes, but this bottling has a tremendous white-flower aroma of orange blossoms, jasmine and magnolia alongside bright citrus flavors. This is the perfect wine for these hot summer days. My mouth is watering right now just thinking about it.

2007 Reserva Bonarda ($30, find this wine) Alberto told me that Bonarda has a particularly long growing season and needs lots of sunlight. Extra time on the vine gives this soft, rustic red its spicy black fruit.

2007 Reserva Malbec ($11, find this wine) Alberto ferments this juicy, cherry-scented Malbec in concrete tanks, because he thinks it gives the wine fuller flavor.

2006 Don Nicanor Malbec ($17, find this wine) This deeply colored Malbec is loaded with black cherry and blackberry, plus a refreshing menthol note that keeps it from overloading the palate.

2005 Cadus Malbec
($45, find this wine) This single-vineyard Malbec is surprisingly fresh, even though it's also quite structured. It's long and elegant with pretty, spiced-cherry flavors.

Winemakers

Is Malbec Next for Long Island?

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People have come to think of Long Island for good Merlot and perhaps to a lesser extent, Cabernet Franc. Sauvignon Blanc is also getting a bit of buzz. In new wine regions, producers and wine writers love to proclaim the new hot grape variety every few years, but in truth, it takes many generations to truly find what works best. After visiting Shinn Estate Vineyards on the North Fork of Long Island this weekend, I'd like to submit another potential for the future king of the region’s grapes: Malbec.

Far from a climate like Argentina, you say? Absolutely correct. But not so far from that of the Loire Valley and Bordeaux, where Malbec grows quite successfully as a minor grape variety. It’s no surprise that 2007 vintage—Shinn’s first for Malbec—was successful: It was a banner year for Long Island with a nearly perfect, very dry growing season. It resulted in a rather plush wine with the scent of violets and blue/black fruit.

Was 2007 a fluke? After tasting a barrel sample of Malbec from 2008—a more typical LI vintage—I think not. The wine was leaner, with lots of bright acidity, but it was still floral with lovely fruit. Plus, it had an appealing meaty quality, as many good Malbecs do. It reminded me of versions made in the Loire Valley, where the grape is known as Côt.

In all honesty, Malbec will probably never reign on Long Island the way Merlot does. Co-owner and vineyard manager Barbara Shinn has to devote more than twice as many labor hours to Malbec compared to other grape varieties—it needs all that love and care to ripen properly. That extra labor doesn't come cheaply: Shinn will be selling the small amount of Malbec they made in 500ml bottles for $35 upon release this fall, but the wine is delicious nonetheless.


Winemakers

A Little Grenache Geekery & A Good Cheap Cabernet

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Chris Ringland, the star Australian winemaker whose eponymous and much acclaimed Chris Ringland Shiraz sells for a modest (ahem) $600 or so a bottle, stopped by the office the other day to pour a few of his substantially less pricey wines. (In the interests of full disclosure: they're made in partnership with Dan Philips of Grateful Palate, who is an F&W Contributing Editor.)

Anyway, the wine that particularly struck me was from the amusingly named Chateau Chateau project, which will focus on single-vineyard Grenache from Australia. "Grenache really is a warm climate analogue to Pinot Noir," Ringland said, specifically referring to this grape's ability to express tremendous flavor without necessarily being color-saturated; but I think also in regard to Grenache's gift for expressing vineyard site character as well (I warned you there might be some wine geekery in this entry...).

He also noted that, in Australia at least, Grenache grown on lighter and sandier soil tends to be more perfumed and spicy, whereas on red-brown, more clay-dominated soil "it's more red berry getting into chocolate."

The latter was certainly true in the 2006 Chateau Chateau Magic Window Marananga Grenache (about $65, find this wine), which comes from a more clay-heavy vineyard in the Marananga area of the Barossa. Translucently ruby-hued, it had fragrant cherry, coffee and sassafras notes, and smoky, dark cherry fruit that ended on mocha. 

On the other hand, and though it doesn't have a darn thing to do with Grenache, if you're interested in experiencing Ringland's winemaking at a much more modest price point, you could do worse than to pick up a bottle of the 2008 Darby & Joan Cabernet Sauvignon ($9, find this wine). It had appealing black currant and tea leaf notes, soft tannins, and no intrusive oak. Of course, no oak was used to make it, so that would account for the lack thereof. Said Ringland regarding 2008 in Australia, by the way, "It was an extremely good vintage, even though there's word around that it was a climatic disaster. I think we'll see that it wasn't what people were expecting..."

Winemakers

A New Wine Must-Read

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Au Revoir to All That

© Bloomsbury
Michael Steinberger's Au Revoir to All That

Over on Mouthing Off, I've just posted about why Slate wine columnist Michael Steinberger's new book, Au Revoir to All That, is required reading for anyone who cares about food, wine or France (as an added bonus, it's well-written enough to qualify as fun summer reading, too.) The abridged version: Steinberger compiles devastating details on, among other obstacles, France's crippling appelation system, to show why we're looking, well, anywhere but France for culinary innovation. But he also offers a few glimmers of hope. In honor of Bastille Day, after the jump, Steinberger offers a cheat sheet on four maverick French winemakers worth watching.

[More]

Winemakers

Friday Night Tribute to Alice and Olivier de Moor

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Friday evening found me hanging out at the Lower East Side wine bar Ten Bells with a couple of friends who were in from Paris and with the wines of Chablis producers, Alice and Olivier de Moor. This pair has been making wine together in Chablis since 1994, striving to makes wine in the most hands-off way possible by using organic grapes, pneumatic presses to squeeze the grapes, gravity to move juice from one phase of winemaking to the next and without the addition of sulfur. Strangely enough, we didn't try any of their Chablis, but ordered three of their other wines, which led to an impromptu investigation into what else they can do. Each was dramatically different from the next, but all had clean, driven acidity and graceful balance, as might be expected from people who are experts at Chablis. Here was the line up:

2006 Alice & Olivier de Moor Bourgogne Aligoté ($23; find this wine)
In Burgundy, the grape variety Aligoté is often overshadowed by Chardonnay and Pinot Noir, but this wine, with its ripe green-apple zip and stony minerality, shows that it has some potential of its own.

2006 Alice & Olivier de Moor Bourgogne Chitry ($25; find this wine)
The de Moor's Bourgogne Chitry comes from a region just beyond the Chablis appellation. This chardonnay is long and streamlined with delicate sweet citrus fruit and peppery baking-spice notes.

2007 Alice & Olivier de Moor Sauvignon de Saint-Bris ($22; find this wine)
This region to the southwest of Chablis produces old-vine sauvignon blanc that tends to be much fuller and more lush than in other regions like the Loire. This vintage from the de Moors keeps giving and giving bright candied lemon flavors with intriguing salinity.

These all were nice accompaniments to the garlicky baby eel salad, thick brandade, salty boquerones, and grilled octopus and potato salad that we had with them, making for not only a study in de Moor wines, but in all things seafood, as well.

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Join celebrity chefs, renowned winemakers and epicurean insiders at the culinary world’s most spectacular weekend, the FOOD & WINE Classic in Aspen, June 20-22.