Tag Archives: Merlot

A take-along wine cheat sheet

17 Sep

On a recent visit to Señor Jim’s family in Seattle, I accompanied my amazing step-daughter-in-law (a.k.a. Miss Jenny) on a quick grocery store trip to buy wine for dinner. Miss J and I were  navigating the super-sized aisles of a super-grande market, where the wine section seemed to go on for miles. Miss J turned to me and said, “You should make a cheat sheet so that I’ll know how each type of wine tastes.”

Miss J, from your lips to Señorita Vino’s ears.

Here for your shopping pleasure are general aroma and flavor profiles for the eight most common wines you’re likely to see at a restaurant or in the wine section at the grocery store.

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 SEÑORITA VINO’S OFFICIAL WINE FLAVOR CHEAT SHEET 

1. WHITE WINES

Chardonnay – If you like buttery, oaky wine, choose Chardonnay. The wood notes come from the oak barrels used for aging Chardonnay. Keep in mind that some Chards  are aged in stainless steel and will not have the oaky notes. If the grapes were grown in a warmer growing climate, you’ll notice tropical fruit aromas. Cooler climate Chardonnays will have pear, apple and melon aromas.

Sauvignon Blanc – Grapefruit, grass and green pepper are aromas commonly associated with Sauvignon Blanc. If you buy a Sauv Blanc from France, you may notice some mineral notes such as flint. If the label says that the wine is oak-aged, you’ll get some toasty, smoky notes as well. Sauvignon Blanc has a crisp, acidic flavor profile, whereas most Chardonnays will feel more creamy.

Pinot Grigio (a.k.a. Pinot Gris) – Most Pinot Grigios are unoaked, so if you’re not a fan of  wood aromas, this is a good choice. You may notice hints of apple, peach, citrus and minerals. The acidity ranges from low to high. How to tell the difference? Pinot Grigios from cooler climates will be more acidic, while those from warmer climates less so.

Riesling – Floral aromas of jasmine and honeysuckle, with fruit notes of apricot and nectarine, characterize this wine. If you can detect a ‘petrol’ aroma, don’t worry – it’s normal! HEADS-UP: It’s a myth that all Rieslings are sweet. Sweetness depends on how the wine was fermented, when the grapes were picked, and other factors. If the bottle says ‘late harvest,’ it will taste sweet. Sometimes you’ll see ‘dry Riesling’ on the label. Remember that ‘dry’ is the word used to describe wines that are not sweet.

2. RED WINES

Cabernet Sauvignon – This wine is high in tannin, which means you’ll get an astringent, puckering sensation in the mouth. Some people are sensitive to tannins and can get headaches or symptoms similar to hay fever. Cabernet Sauvignon has black cherry aromas, black currant and blackberry. You’ll also detect dark chocolate and tobacco. Cabernets aged in new oak may display coffee and caramel notes.

Merlot – Less tannic than Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot has plum, blueberry and minty aromas. You may also get some coffee and chocolate notes. Merlot sales took a hit after the movie Sideways, but it remains one of the more popular red wines. Often you’ll see a Merlot-Cabernet Sauvignon blend, which will be less tannic than a Cabernet Sauvignon and have a broader range of flavors.

Pinot Noir – Naturally low in tannins, this is a good choice for people who don’t care for the puckering effect of tannic wines. Pinot Noir is known for its raspberry and strawberry aromas, as well as red flowers such as rose and carnation. Older Pinots will develop what are known as barnyard aromas. And yes, it smells like what you’d smell in the stall or on the floor of a barnyard. It’s nowhere near as asqueroso as it sounds. But if you’d rather avoid it, go for a younger Pinot.

Syrah (a.k.a. Shiraz) – Another highly tannic wine, but with aromas that are much different from Cabernet Sauvignon. Choose Syrah if you like hints of violets, black pepper, lavender, blackberry, anise and smoked meat.

Wine history: Farm workers and the vine

16 May

In one of my favorite scenes from the movie “Sideways,” Virginia Madsen’s character waxes rhapsodic about wine. Among the many things wine evokes for her are thoughts of  the people who picked the grapes.

This weekend, members of the United Farm Workers (UFW), the labor union founded by Cesar Chavez in 1962, will gather in Bakersfield to celebrate the UFW’s 50th anniversary. Among the attendees will be men and women who work in the vineyards of California, Washington and other states.

It would be disingenuous of me not to mention that the topic of labor unions is a touchy issue for some gente. Regardless of where you stand, we’re all rooted in the same vast vineyard of humanity, and this post is presented in the spirit of learning about one chapter in the history of a movement that has had an impact on the wine industry.

United Farm Workers members tend to grapevines and other agricultural crops. (photo courtesy of the UFW).

One historical point that many wine lovers may not be aware of is that Cesar Chavez himself was a fan of red wine. Perhaps even less known is that the UFW made its own wine four years ago to commemorate what would have been their founder’s 81st birthday. Black Eagle Wines takes its name from the stylized bird on the UFW’s logo.

Black Eagle Wines were created by the United Farm Workers in conjunction with a Napa Valley winery (photo courtesy of the UFW).

Although the wine is no longer available for purchase, the union has a limited reserve that it continues to pour at its banquets and special events. A Sauvignon Blanc, a Merlot and a Cabernet Sauvignon were released under the label. At the time the wines hit the market, a spokesperson for the UFW noted that their target customers were young Latino professionals whose parents may have been farm workers.

Today, Cesar Chavez is credited by some not only for establishing better working conditions for farm laborers, but for starting a movement that would inspire hundreds of thousands of workers across various industries in the U.S. to seek better lives for themselves and their families.

Photo courtesy of the UFW.

So the next time you raise a toast, take a moment to think of everyone who played a role in producing the elixir in your glass, a liquid masterpiece that has been enjoyed for thousands of years by billions of people, our predecessors in the great vineyard of life. ¡Salud!

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