Full Bodied Red Wine

Body is one of the most common descriptors of wine – and I think most of us know instinctively what it means.  It’s easy to identify with.  Some wines are thin.  Some are rich and full.  Others can be described as ‘muscular’ or ‘flabby.’  Sounds like people doesn’t it?

Body is really about how the wine feels in your mouth and much of that has to so with how much alcohol the wine has and the grape variety as well as the wine making style.  For a lot of wine drinkers, full bodied wines are the wine of choice.  After all, they tend to pack the most punch per sip.  We love the roundness of the flavor and heft of the wine.  Americans have never been accused of embracing delay of gratification in anything, have we?  I also think that we have learned to seek out these taste experiences in the US since we gravitate to bigger flavor foods.  How many of us were raised on a meat and potatoes diet? Lots of dairy.  Burgers?  Not a lot of nuance there.

And then there is the “New World” style of winemaking and the very popular rating scales used in the media.  The New World style, of which California’s influence is the most notable, is fruit forward, mostly drink-it-now, driven by the grape variety and the winemaking.  More extraction and higher alcohol are common.  A highly respected and followed publication, Robert Parker’s The Wine Advocate, became known for higher ratings of big and powerful wines. Higher ratings mean higher prices and greater sales – and more wineries jumped on the upfront style. So it’s no wonder that fuller bodied wines seem to dominate what we drink most.

What are these wines?  Most are red, but there are a couple of whites (particularly Chardonnay and Viognier, although we’re talking red today). If you like it full and bold here’s what to look for, with one caveat – one size does not fit all.  Each of the following cover the spectrum of weight and body.  Consider these a place to start.

Cabernet Sauvignon: In my post, “A Taste of Cabernet” I wrote, “Cabernet is a conundrum – big, bold and powerful as well as elegant, refined and beautiful.”  Cabernet has it all – structure, weight and depth to go along with its finesse and age-worthiness.  It fills your mouth with bursts of dark fruit and plum, tobacco and leather, cedar and mint – all kinds of layered flavors.  California, Chile and Australia lead with the fuller bodied styles dominated by fruit and drinkability. Bordeaux wines can also be considered full bodied for sure, but to me where they fall is much more dependent on the specific area of Bordeaux and the nature of the blend in the bottle.

Syrah/Shiraz:  Syrah from the Northern Rhone – Cote Rotie (the “Roasted Slope”), Hermitage and St. Joseph, and the Aussie Shiraz are midnight dark and intense with blackberry, currant and smoke. The tannins are softer than Cab.  I love Syrah/Shiraz with lamb and beef.  More Syrah is coming out of California too.

Petite Sirah: Not the same as the above, it’s its own grape and it is a chewer!  It’s on the shelves on it’s own from California and is frequently blended into Zinfandel to add punch to that wine. Inky black and bold.

Zinfandel:  Much Zin is really more medium bodied, but there are bolder styles driven by the blacker fruits, as opposed to red, and higher alcohol, as well as those with some Petite Sirah in the blend.  The “old vine” estate and single vineyard Zins are typically fuller bodied.

Merlot: Yes, Merlot is usually fuller bodied.  But it tends to get overlooked by its softness, its less tannic structure.  To appreciate Merlot’s full bodied appeal have a cheddar cheeseburger.

Malbec: Malbec has come into its own in Argentina.  It’s softer than Cab and to me has more of an edge to it than Merlot.  It’s affordable and approachable – a good choice to have on hand at home as your go-to glass of red.

To get into all the potential full bodied reds and the iterations of blends and indigenous grape varieties would turn this post into a tome!  One thing to take away – if the wine is 14.5% alcohol or higher you can be pretty sure that it will be a full bodied sip.

But know that the truth is in what YOU taste, and in what you expect out of the wine and the time you’re enjoying it.  I don’t like rules about wine.  I like guides that leave up to me to decide what I like or don’t like.  And the fun is in exploring it all.

Not a bad way to sip.

Sparkling Shiraz

It’s February and that means planning something for my Valentine, and this year we’ll celebrate with Sparkling Shiraz from Australia.  That was my resolution a month ago and I’m sticking with it.

Sparkling Shiraz may not be the most elegant and expensive fizzy – but it is certainly fun and interesting to drink.  sparkling-shirazAnd I like to keep things fun and interesting with the wines I pick for different occasions. Valentine’s Day seems like the perfect time to bring out a new sip experience, especially one that is deeply red, almost purple, from the wonderful foaming bubbles that rise in the glass to the rich dark berry flavors that will delight you as you toast the one who is most special to you.

Most folks aren’t familiar with this kind of wine – unless you’re an Aussie that is!  But it’s a style that has become much more respected and refined, especially as Shiraz from Down Under has increased in popularity.  This is not some syrupy, cloyingly sweet fizzy like “cold duck” or some of those 70’s wines many of us may have slurped in our younger days. Sparkling Shiraz is seriously good to drink.  Here’s why: the ones we now have available to us are made in the traditional method, which means that they are made the same way as fine Champagne and other world class sparkling wines. If you want to read more about that process just click on this earlier post. 

Let’s get to the taste – and the taste begins with the sight and smell of this wine when you pour it in a glass.  So start with what we like about Shiraz and then think of this as a Shiraz that has been sprinkled with stardust.  It’s densely purple color is classy and rich, to me it’s like an amethyst hanging on a pendant or set in a ring (not that I am suggesting what you give your Valentine!).  Shiraz gives us inky dark wines so expect it to be almost opaque.  Yet the magic is in those lively bubbles rising in the glass which add the special tingle of sparkling wine.  I prefer to drink it from a tall Champagne flute especially to enjoy those bubbles.  And inside that glass you’ll get the blackberry and peppery flavor of Shiraz.  What a nice combination!

You can enjoy this wine all by itself as an aperitif but it really is a good food wine too:

  • Sip it with cheese like aged gouda or manchego.
  • It’s wine for tapas and tasty morsels like bacon wrapped dates, grilled octopus or stuffed mushrooms.
  • And for entrees you can’t miss with most grilled red meats right off of the barbie Mate!

Serve Sparkling Shiraz well chilled like Champagne, but not ice cold. If it’s too cold you’ll miss out on some of those dark berry flavors.

I don’t think I can wait until Valentine’s Day so I’m off to pick up some Sparkling Shiraz right now!

Let’s Sip!

EveryDay Sips
Paringa Sparkling Shiraz $16

The Chook Sparkling Shiraz $18

Bleasdale Sparkling Shiraz, The Red Brute $20

Guest Sips
Molly Dooker Miss Molly Sparkling Shiraz $25

Black Bubbles by Shingleback $28

Twelve Wines for Holiday Times

‘Twas the night before Christmas and all through the house not a creature was stirring… except me – the wine cellar mouse! Yes it’s that time of year and I thought I’d share some thoughts for a Christmas case of wine with some rhyme. So here is my own version of the twelve days of Christmas!

Try one from the Left Bank meant to rest and to age (1)
and one from the West with notes of berry and sage (2).

Then pick a wine from new lands (3)
and one from the boot of old (4);
While making another choice from the hands of Oz (5)
and a bright green bottle from out of the cold (6).

Now you need some sparkle that glints, shines and dances in the light (7)
and a glass filled with ruby red to savor late into the night (8).

No holiday is complete unless there is fame (9) and a jaunty sipper to enjoy with the game (10).
And we’ll end with a bottle of artful delight (11) and one to celebrate the gift of this night (12).

This is a case for all to enjoy any day of the year
but especially now at this time of friends and good cheer!

Merry Christmas to all and Happy Hanukkah too – these are my sips of best wishes for you!
And if you’re still following here are some wines to fill your wishes too.

1 – 2010 Chateau d’Issan Margaux $80 “A complete, medium to full-bodied, exquisite Margaux from this medieval, moat-encircled, compellingly beautiful estate in the southern Medoc, D’Issan’s 2010 is a blend of 60% Cabernet Sauvignon and 40% Merlot – a dense, purple-colored wine with beautiful aromatics of spring flowers, blueberries and black raspberries as well as hints of cassis, tar and charcoal. The wine is gorgeously pure, well-balanced, and soft enough to be approached in 4-5 years or cellared for 25-30.” -Robert Parker Reviewed by: The Wine Advocate – 95 pts

2 – 2012 Chateau Ste Michelle Cabernet Sauvignon Canoe Ridge $28 “This wine is aromatically reserved with notes of milk chocolate, char, berry, barrel spices and high-toned herbs. It’s silky and polished in feel, with richness and elegance to the coffee flavors.” – Sean Sullivan, 11/1/2015  Reviewed by: The Wine Enthusiast – 90 pts

3 – 2012 Norton Malbec Reserva $16 “Offers a fruity aroma, with red and dark fruit flavors that are complex and woven together with fine tannins. Minerally midpalate, presenting some inviting peppery notes. Finishes with a flush of spice and brambly details. Drink now through 2018.” – Kim Marcus, Dec 31, 2014 Reviewed by: Wine Spectator – 90 pts

4 – 2012 San Felice Chianti Classico Riserva il Grigio $22 “A cool, sleek style of Il Grigio with mint, lavender and black-cherry aromas and flavors. Sweet tobacco as well. Full body with firm, fine tannins and a long, fresh finish. A wine with lovely texture and tension. Drink now.” – October 29th, 2015 Reviewed by: James Suckling – 92 pts

5 – 2014 Two Hands Shiraz Angel’s Share $30 “While there are no half measures with the weight or shape of this wine, it has a touch of elegance running alongside its blackberry, blood plum and dark chocolate fruit; the tannins wait until the last moment to join forces with the oak to speak clearly of the long future ahead. Great value.” -James Halliday – 94 pts

6 – 2012 J J Prum Graacher Himmelreich Riesling Kabinett $28 “Prum wines are among the most exciting and delicious Rieslings of the middle Mosel. Slow-to-develop and long-lived, these wines are full of pure stone fruits with a slate-mineral driven finish.”

7 – 2012 Schramsberg Blanc de Noirs $35 “The 2012 Blanc de Noirs expresses generous aromas of yellow peach, fresh orange zest, cantaloupe, and citrus blossom, which gradually layers with fragrances of warm apple dumpling and creme anglaise. Lush flavors coat the palate with tangerine, Santa Rosa plum, candied ginger and a hint of French flan. This sparkling wine delivers a clean, lingering finish with crisp mouthwatering.”

8 – 2009 Graham’s Late Bottled Vintage Port $24 “This is a smooth and rich wine, with generous fruit alongside spice and ripe, black plum fruit accents. Ready to drink, it shows surprising balance between a perfumed character and an unctuous palate.” – Roger Voss, 8/1/2015  Reviewed by: The Wine Enthusiast – 90 pts

9 – 2012 Opus One $235 “Glorious purity of fruit here with black currants, blueberries, dark chocolate, fresh herbs and forest floor. Hints of mint too, plus hazelnut and chocolate. Full body with seamless tannins and balance. Tight and compacted tannins with beautiful fruit and great length. Goes on for minutes. One of the best Opus’ in years. Hard not to drink now but better in 2018. October 2015 release. This is 79% cabernet sauvignon, 7% cabernet franc, 6% merlot, 6% petit verdot and 2% malbec.” – July 28th, 2015  Reviewed by: James Suckling – 97 pts

10 – 2013 Klinker Brick Zinfandel Old Vine $16 “2013 Old Vine Zinfandel is a blend of 16 different vineyard blocks of old vine zinfandel vineyards with an average age of 85 years. With berries and spice on the nose, dark, sweet fruit fills the palate with just a hint of black pepper. This wine has a long, lingering finish.”

11 – 2012 Hess Collection Cabernet Sauvignon $50 “With 20% Malbec, this wine is layered in refined complexity, swaying from juicy blueberry to herbaceous cherry and currant. Restrained in oak, with the slightest notion of vanilla on the palate, it finishes in mouthwatering dark chocolate, the tannins firm and structured.” – Virginie Boone, 9/1/2015  Reviewed by: The Wine Enthusiast – 93 pts

12 – 2014 St. Rose Pinot Noir Nunes Vineyard 777 $48 “Perfumed aromatics of youthful cherry and dusty tannins mingle with traces of lavender and white  floral notes. A bright entry offers a blend of red fruit— raspberry, cranberry, dark cherry and rhubarb—that is integrated with softening tannins and hints of oak. A ripe blackberry and vanilla essence appears near the  finish, adding another dimension as the  flavors linger on the palate.

About Grenache

Grenache is a grape variety and wine that is unfamiliar to many people.  Yet it is a prime player in some of the tastiest reds and rose’ around. It’s also one of the most widely planted grapes in the world and it thrives in hot and dry environments.  This means that it is one of the staple grapes in Spain (where it is called Garnacha), the southern Rhone, south of France, Australia and that lovely island off the coast of Italy, Sardinia, where it is called Cannonau.  Cannonau di Sardegna is actually required to be at least 85% Grenache.  Mostly Grenache is used to blend with other grapes to add punch and color to them since it is typically higher in alcohol yet lower in acidity than many other grapes of those regions.  But there are several very popular, affordable and tasty wines that are mostly, if not all, Grenache.  So what’s in a sip?

Usually young Grenache wines have flavors of red fruits like raspberry and strawberry – not unlike Pinot Noir, but with an underlay that is spicier, less earthy and lacking the acidity and tannin that give Pinot its character and longevity.  I like to describe Grenache wines as ‘juicy’ due to their fruitiness and soft drinkability.  These are not aggressive wines but plain fun to drink and at prices that make them terrific every day choices and great for parties.  Keep that in mind for the upcoming holiday season.  I’ll point some our below to help you shop.

While Grenache makes fine wines all on its own, the main job of Grenache is to be a key player in the blend of wines like Chateauneuf du Pape, Cotes du Rhone, the wines of the Languedoc – Roussillon, Provencal reds and Australian GSM blends.  The GSM stands for Grenache-Syrah-Mouvedre and it is a pretty standard blending inherited from the French who also use Cinsault and Carignan.

And then there is Spain.  Spain claims the origin of Grenache (Garnacha) and the most prominent use is in the the Priorate and Montsant regions of Catalonia southwest of Barcelona, and in the Rioja and Navarra blended with Tempranillo.

Now all this may seem a bit confusing – but that’s why I’m here!  No, not to confuse, but to offer a bit of a roadmap to sipping all kinds of wine.  And one thing that is clearly not confusing about Grenache is that it is largely the favored grape for the best (in my opinion) rose’ made – those from the south of France and the Rosado of Spain.

Let’s get to sipping!  Here is a list of some of the Grenache based wines I like and I think you’ll see just how much they can fit into a wide variety of every day sipping, group get togethers and special occasions.

Everyday Sips
2013 Las Rocas Garnacha $10. Easy crowd pleaser
2014 Bodegas Borsao Garnacha $8. Parker description: exuberant
2014 Evodia Old Vines Garnacha $8. I buy this all the time and just watched the Cubs win the pennant while sipping it with friends and enjoying Chicago-style Italian beef.  Doesn’t get much better than that!
2013 Domaine Lafage Cuvee Nicolas $14. 100% old vine Grenache from France.
Sella & Mosca Cannonau di Sardegna Riserva 2011 $15. A bit more depth and texture due to 95% Grenache.
2014 Les Vignes Bila Haut Rouge M Chapoutier $14.  Great blend of Grenache, Syrah and Carignan from the south of France from one of the best Rhone producers.
2013 Yalumba The Strapper Grenache Syrah Mourvedre $18. A mouthful from South Australia.

Guest Sips
2014 Alvaro Palacios Terrasses $40. One of my personal favorite wines.  Juicy, versatile and lush.

Speaking Australian – Shiraz

I love Australians.  They have a certain joie d’vivre that’s unique along with a great sense of who they are.  Maybe it’s because the country is so self-contained and it began with a bunch of outcasts, but they certainly move to the beat of their own drum.  And it shows up in the wines.

Take Shiraz for example –

To the rest of the world it’s Syrah, but to Australia it’s SHE-RAZZ.

So why does it have a different name?  There are stories about that, including that it was once thought the grape originated in Persia – but you know what?  Who really cares.  Syrah and Shiraz are the same grape genetically.  It’s the way the Australians grew it and made it into wine that really distinguished it from the traditional Syrah of France’s Rhone region.  Shiraz is inky dark with pronounced flavors of blueberry or blackberry along with a tarry or leathery component. And it tends to be less tannic and more readily approachable than Old World styles.

What popped Australian Shiraz into the wine world’s consciousness was just that – it popped full of flavor – big and juicy, fruit forward and bold – and people loved it.  While there are now more elegant and subtler versions more similar to the French, the true character of Shiraz is still that bold and highly flavorful drinkability.  This is a terrific wine with barbecue and it’s great with grilled meats, especially steak and lamb.  I think it’s a perfect cheeseburger wine too – really good any night of the week since there is a lot of it priced at every day levels.

The home to the best Shiraz of Australia is the Barossa Valley and McLaren Vale in South Australia near Adelaide.  The Australians offer us Shiraz as a single varietal as well as blended with other grapes.  When it’s put together with Grenache and Mouvedre then its a classic “GSM” blend that’s in the style of the Rhone, but Aussies go farther.  You’ll see Shiraz – Cabernet Sauvignon as well as Shiraz – Viognier.  And there are fun Rose’ from Australia that are primarily Shiraz based too.

A bit about the label: when it says just Shiraz then at least 85% of it must be Shiraz in the bottle.  If it is a blend like the Shiraz – Cabernet then 50% or more of the wine must be the first first grape listed.  There is now Shiraz labeled in South Africa and a little bit in California, but the real superstar of Shiraz is from the land of Oz.

Let’s Sip!

Every Day Sip

2014 Woop Woop Shiraz $10

2013 Terlato & Chapoutier Shiraz Viognier $17

2013 Torbreck Woodcutter’s Shiraz $22

Guest Sip 

2014 Two Hands Shiraz Angel’s Share $30

2013 Mollydooker Shiraz Blue Eyed Boy $43

Splurge Sip

2012 Hentley Farm Shiraz The Beast $80