2. Robust Character,
3. Ample Flavors
Just because these grapes may be unfamiliar, it doesn’t mean you shouldn’t try one of a trio of robust reds for your next cassoulet, spaghetti and meatballs or roasted pork-loin accompanied by braised heirloom apples for your next autumnal dinner
To be sure, Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot are widely embraced crowd-pleasers, and there are plenty of solid ones “planted” at multiple price points. That’s wonderful. Not so wonderful is the fact that some other “under-the radar” reds are also ripe for the picking; wines made from Cabernet Franc, Petite Sirah [or Syrah] and Tannat-based wines offer real value for the dollar.
First, let’s take a look at what they are and where they hail from, also known as the science of ampelograpy.
■ Cabernet Franc ,basically third fiddle to Cabernet and Merlot in Bordeaux blends, reigns supreme as the principal noble grape in the Chinon, Bourgueil, Saumur-Champigny and Touraine appellations of France’s Loire Valley. Cabernet Franc also grows well in regions as diverse as New York’s Finger Lakes (Ravines or Hermann J. Weimer), western Connecticut (Hopkins Vineyard), Virginia (BarboursvilleVineyards) and Italy (de Tarczal fromFruili-Alto Adige). Its calling card on the palate is a mix of cherry fruit and herbs with smooth tannins.
■ Petite Sirah (technically Durif, a 19th-century cross between Syrah and Peloursin grapes from France’s Rhône Valley) checks in at the robust end of the red spectrum and reaches great expression from California wineries like Bogle, Concannon, Parducci, Ridge and Turley. Stylistically, think inky and plummy, and firm both in acid and tannin.
■Tannat is a hearty, rustic grape whose vibrant tannins live up to the grape’s name. Its spiritual (and geographic home is southwest France’s Madiran appellation (Brumont and Laplace are notable producers); it also grows surprisingly well in Uruguay (led by Vinedo de los Vientos). Deep, dark and sturdy, it is typically full-bodied and very fruity (raspberry).
Don’t Be Afraid To Ask Your Local Wine Merchant!
Michael Albin of Hudson Wine Merchants, Hudson, NY, says, “For any customer who is interested in finding a value wine of character, all of these wines are great discoveries.” Albin, who aims to personally assist most every customer who comes into his store, listens carefully for certain cues in what customers say about the wine they are looking for. He explains: “If they ask for a wine they’ll be having for dinner, to me, that signals they are open to my suggestions. Once they ask, it’s really no more difficult to sell these wines than a Côtes du Rhône.” While Cabernet Franc, Petite Sirah or Tannat mentioned on their own are apt to elicit a blank stare, they are much more likely to get the attention they deserve when mentioned as a mealtime helper. Adding that the wines over-deliver in character for their price is also a good way to evoke a bit of adventure in customers.
Hudson Wine Merchants, Hudson, NY
Another ampelographic consideration: If you like “a Cabernet or Malbec” or “a Zinfandel or Rhône red”, you are already predisposed to look beyond these go-to choices and try something new. It’s not much of a reach at to steer someone who likes a big Zinfandel to a comparably priced Petite Sirah. Merlot’s supple frame aligns nicely with Chinon or Bourgueil. And words like “big” or “rustic” are cues that can open the door to your trying Tannat.
Likewise, savvy chefs and restaurateurs know to hone in on the natural affinity these neglected reds possess with an astounding variety of ingredients and regional cuisines. At Palladio Restaurant at Barboursville Vineyards in Barboursville, VA, James Beard Award-winning chef Melissa Close Hart likes to pair the winery’s Cabernet Franc with dishes such as roasted bone-in pork loin or a selection of local Virginia artisanal cheeses.
At Manhattan’s trendy cookshop, wine director Richard Luftig regularly features Madiran, Cabernet Franc and Petite Sirah, For cookshop’s Catskill duck main course, Luftig might recommend a classic Madiran: Château Peyros or Château Bouscassé “Veilles Vignes” from noted vintner Alain Brumont.
cookshop in Chelsea, NYC >
Luftig also oversees the wine list at Hundred Acres restaurant in Soho. At this establishment, wines are categorized by style, so he places Petite Sirahs such as Ridge in the “Big!!! Bold!!!” section, and Chinon under “Red With Green” to highlight the Cabernet Franc’s herbal edge. At tableside, if a party is ordering a braised beef dish, for example, he would describe one of his Loire Valley reds as a “baby Bordeaux.” This is, he explains, a comparison most clients are able to readily relate to based on their previous wine-drinking experience.
Christopher Barnes of Chambers Street Wine, in lower Manhattan, says, “Wines from Cabernet Franc are some of our best-selling wines, as we are specialists in the Loire Valley. Probably for that reason we don’t really sell 100% Cabernet Franc from anywhere else.A wine like Baudry’s Chinon Domaine is so well-structured and complex, it’s easy to sell.”
While Chambers Street Wines might be a special case in its focus on offering a plentiful array of Loire Valley reds, for both merchants and restaurateurs, selling these under-appreciated reds needn’t be a total uphill climb. It’s all about listening carefully to a customer’s verbal cues and steering them toward some delicious discoveries.
For more information about purchasing from a merchant near you any of the wines mentioned in this article, please visit: www.wine-searcher.com
NOTE: A version of this article appeared in the October 2012 issue of Beverage Media magazine; the author wishes to thank the publisher for permission to post the review on this blog.