At Louie's Wine Dive, we do more than serve great wine, we learn about great wines every day. We do this through conversation – with winemakers, with each other, and most importantly, with our guests. We hope that the articles here will continue the discussion and help demystify the world of wine.
Learn about wine grape varieties and the regions around the world where they grow best.
The history of winemaking is also the history of trying to find the words to describe the amazing variety of flavors, aromas, and sensations in every wine glass.
Wine and food are the perfect combination - they both elevate the other and open up new possibilities for enjoying a good time with friends and family.
Oak is one of the many tools in a winemaker’s kit for seasoning a wine. It imparts aroma compounds that mingle with the compounds in the grapes to create the winemaker’s vision. When someone says “I love oaky Chardonnay,” they are referring to these compounds:
Using oak barrels when creating a wine is somewhat like cooking your favorite dish. Should you use a subtle amount of dried herb, or a giant handful of herbs fresh from the garden? The answer: it depends on what dish you are creating and how you like it prepared. Is it a dish a recipe your mother, grandmother and great grandmother have handed down through the generations or is this a new dish with modern flavors? Is this a dish with delicate hints of subtle flavors, or a bold dish bursting with bright tastes?
In the winemaking world, we primarily use French or American Oak, although there are many other ways to add oak.
French Oak is what most think of when they think of premium wines. It tends to add flavor compounds in a more subtle way than the other main types of oak. Pinot Noir and Chardonnay are an ideal match for French Oak because they “soak up” flavor more easily than other varieties (such as Cabernet Sauvignon). Using American oak might overwhelm the subdued characteristics of the grapes.
American Oak imparts stronger sweeter flavors often described by wine experts as dill, coconut, and vanilla. It adds ruggedness to clean, fruit-forward New World wines, for sure. Bolder flavors for riper grapes. Examples of American wine producers who’ve championed the use of American Oak include Silver Oak and 5 Star Cellars.
American White Oak grain sizes tend to have looser and larger grains than both French and Eastern European Oak, which means American oak barrels tend to impart more flavor.
Hungarian / Eastern European Oak
Hungarian and Eastern European Oak is the same type of oak tree as French Oak (Quercus robur). More and more Eastern European Oak barrels are being used at wineries for oaking wine, as it is remarkably similar to French Oak, but costs much less. It is primarily used with full-bodied varieties, such as Malbec and Petite Verdot.
European Oak is commonly considered the midway point between American and French Oak, both in terms of cost and aroma imparted.
Modern Alternatives: Skip the traditional barrel use
A single, mature oak tree will only make enough wood for about 2 barrels, which will hold only 50 cases of wine. (For reference, the famed Silver Oak produces about 1600 cases a year) As demand for wine worldwide increases, oak forests are being strained. Using new oak barrels for every vintage is expensive and wasteful, so the winemaking world is seeking out more environmentally friendly strategies.
Oak Barrel Alternatives are More Efficient
Surface area is what counts when it comes to flavor. Many of the aroma compounds in new oak barrels are wasted on unused surfaces, i.e. the outside of the barrel. Oak staves, oak chips, and oak cubes are smaller and can use all sides to add aromas to wine.
It’s perfectly okay if a winemaker is using oak barrels – after all, they last for up to 100 years. Using oak barrels to store wine is great because forests are a renewable resource. After the first 2-3 uses, an oak barrel stops flavoring a wine and is considered “neutral.”
Chateau St. Georges ranks among the top producers in the satellite appellations located within Bordeaux's famous Merlot region of St. Emilion. The vineyard estate changed hands several times following the French Revolution until Petrus Desbois purchased it in 1891. Petrus Debois used the estate as a private family home and vineyard, and carefully enhanced its quality first by grafting new vines onto American rootstock thereby replacing the existing beleaguered vines with fresh.
Today, Chateau St. Georges is overseen by the third generation of Desbois family. Their Chateau St. Georges St. Emilion is aged 18 months in new French oak. The famed oenologist Michel Rolland guides this red blend of Merlot (60%), Cabernet Sauvignon (20%), and Cabernet Franc (20%) into a dark, rich, concentrated and silky wine that also shows terrific potential for aging. Chateau St. Georges pairs extremely well with fall and winter dishes, ranging from hard and soft cheeses to cassoulet, stews, and fish, to roasted chicken, pork and grilled beef.
Seven Falls Cellars was inspired by a series of seven waterfalls flowing through the Wahluke Slope (Native American for "Watering Hole") in eastern Washington. This is new wine country as wine regions go. Wahluke Slope was established an American Viticultural Area in just 2005. The entire appellation lies on a broad, south-facing slope with a constant, gentle grade of less than 8%. This, along with the proximity to the Columbia River, helps minimize the risk of frost, which can affect other areas of the state. Eastern Washington has little rainfall and is a warm if not hot climate for the classical wine grapes of Syrah, Merlot, and Cinsault that make up the Rapids Red blend.
Rapids Red is grown in an ancient flood plain with deep alluvial soils. The result is very ripe grapes, which is certiainly identifiable in the wine. Rapids Red features ripe red berries and flavors of dark cherry with a finish of anise and vanilla. This is a rich and smoothly textured wine. Rapids Red pairs really well with big cheeses, such as Caveman blue cheese, rich stews, lamb and flank steak. Whatever food you decide, make sure it's packed full of flavor to stand up to this ripe red wine!
The 2012 Bolla Torr'alta Veronese Rosso featured in the Gold and Platinum Club packages in November 2018.
The vineyards of Bolla's Torr'alta reside within the famous and ancient winemaking province of Verona, Italy. They feature a soil composition of stone, calcareous clay, and basalt outcroppings, giving range and complexity to the vines and the resulting wine. The grape varietals of Corvina and Rondinella, featured alongside Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot in this red blend, are lesser known outside the Veneto, but much loved by those natives who know them best. Corvina is known for its tart, cherry flavor. Rondinella is known for its rich ruby color and gentle, red berry aromas.
Torr'alta is made utilizing the traditional 'appassimento' style, meaning the grapes are laid to rest, typically on straw mats, and dried before pressing into wine. The thicker peel of indigenous grapes in Veneto allows for this long and slow drying process, preserving the characteristics of the grapes. Thought to have its origins in Roman times, the Appassimento leads to a higher concentration of the juice inside the berries, which then gives to the wine more body and structure.
This wine shows deep cherry flavors that are smooth and balanced on the palate with soft, velvety tannins. It pairs splendidly with soft and hard cheeses, pastas, and roasted and grilled meats.
To learn more, visit bolla.com/winery.
Some grapes are famous, some are underappreciated but play a big part in the blends you may know and love. Regardless, these red wine grapes are stars.
Pinot Noir is the red wine of the Burgundy growing region and the Burgundian style has influenced winemakers around the world. It has found a second home in Oregon, particularly the Willamette Valley, and good Pinots can be found from the up-and-coming Washington vineyards and cooler regions of California.
Characteristics: berries (cherry, cranberry, raspberry), roses, currant, wet earth, tobacco, leather, smoke, barnyard
Basic Food Pairings: Mushrooms, Most meat with the exception of wild game (poultry, oily fish, roasted beef, pork) cheddar, Port Salut, Mexican & Italian food.
Fun fact - Pinot Noir is a major component of the best Champagnes and makes lovely Rosé wines as well.
Merlot is a grape that can trick the eye - its deep color hides a smooth, soft wine. Merlot brings texture and fruit flavors to traditional French blends, often partnered with our next grape, Cabernet Sauvignon. On its own, Merlot is fruit-forward, with grape, berry, and jam coming through and medium tannins.
Characteristics: Blueberries, grapes, plums, berry jam, chocolate, cedar, vanilla
Basic Food pairings: lamb, shellfish, salmon, camembert, Mushrooms
Fun fact - Merlot is the one red wine varietal that really can taste like grapes.
Cabernet Sauvignon is the main grape in Bordeaux wines and it's found a second home in Napa Valley. Cabernet boasts some of the highest tannins of any grape, which means it has huge potential for aging. Where Merlot has thinner skins and more juice, Cabernet has small berries with thick skin. It's among the most complex wine grapes.
Characteristics: Black currant, plums, mint, bell pepper, cedar, wet dog, vanilla
Basic Food Pairings: roasted meats, butter sauces, cream sauces, wild game, bleu cheese, aged cheddar
Fun fact - Cabernet Sauvignon was one of the wines that helped put California onto the world stage at The Judgment of Paris in 1976.
Barbera: Italian red variety that produces wine of medium body with good acidity & tannins. Very food friendly. Best examples are from the Piedmont region especially Barbera d’Alba & Barbera d’Asti.
Cabernet Franc: First used as a blending grape in Bordeaux, this grape produces dry red wine with herbaceous green bell pepper flavors. It is still primarily a blending grape with some of the best examples coming from Chinon & Saumur in the Loire Valley of France.
Carmenere: “The lost grape of Bordeaux” is one of the most important grapes in Chile. Once mistaken for Merlot, this grape produces structured, dry red wine with medium body & very earthy characteristics.
Gamay: The most important grape in Beaujolais produces light, fruit red wines that pair well with charcuterie. It is also grown in the Loire Valley & used as a minor blending grape in Burgundy.
Grenache or Garnacha: This grape favors the warmer climates of Spain & southern France. It produces wine with higher alcohol content & has jammy strawberry notes. It is the lead player in such famous blends as Châteauneuf-du- Pape & Côtes-du-Rhône, but can make wonderful single varietal wines especially if sourced from old vines. It is also known for producing world-renowned rosé wines especially from Tavel.
Malbec: Hailing from Mendoza and Cahors in its own right and appearing in classic blends from Bordeaux and Meritage in the US. This is an inky colored grape exhibits dark, juicy fruit with plush tannins in New World renditions while the Old World styles are a bit more herbal with a firmer tannin structure. A great wine varietal to introduce friends to red wine.
Some grapes are famous, some are underappreciated but play a big part in the blends you may know and love. Regardless, these white wine grapes are stars.
Chardonnay is the most widely distributed white wine grape in the world. It's extremely adaptable and shows wide variety of flavors to match the wide range of climates and soils where it grows. While many know Chardonnay for oak and buttery flavors, that is the result of style choices made by winemakers, not characteristics of the grape itself.
Characteristics: Old World tends toward green apples, citrus, nuts, and minerals, while New World often shows pears, apple pie, pineapple, and butter vanilla spice, but the lines are blurring as winemakers experiment with their grapes and terroir.
Basic Food Pairings: smoked salmon, roasted turkey, provolone, spicy Chinese food
Fun fact - Chardonnay was the other wine varietal that helped put California onto the world stage at The Judgment of Paris in 1976.
Sauvignon Blanc may be one of the more versatile white varietals out there. A drier white wine with herbaceous and fruity qualities, it is sometimes known as Pouilly-Fumé and Sancerre, after the wine-growing regions of France, Fumé Blanc when produced in California in a French style, and features in White Bordeaux blends with Sémillon grapes and in the famed dessert wine, Sauternes.
Characteristics: grapefruit, gooseberries, freshly cut green grass, herbs, tropical fruits (mango, peach, melon)
Basic Food pairings: asparagus, tomatoes, curries, goat cheese, aged cheeses
Fun fact - Sauvignon Blanc means "wild white" which refers to its ability to thrive like a weed. Sauvignon Blanc was crossed with Cabernet grapes in the 1800s to form, you guessed it, Cabernet Sauvignon.
Riesling originated in the Rhine wine region of Germany near the French border. German nobles as far back as 1435 recognized the potential for aging and stockpiled cases in their cellars. Younger Rieslings will have notes ranging from tart lemon to ripened pineapple, with secondary flavors of honeycomb or flower blossoms. Aged Rieslings are said to have hints of petrol among the flavor profiles, and this trait is one of the most sought after among wine collectors and fans of Riesling.
Characteristics: Very effectively translates terroir. Younger Rieslings tend to be floral while aged Rieslings tend to show petrol & honey. Apricot, pineapple, pear, and lemons & limes.
Basic Food Pairings: spicy ethnic foods, Edam, Swiss, and Gouda cheeses, lightly sweetened fruit desserts
Fun fact - The ancestor of modern Riesling was eventually bred into Chardonnay and Chenin Blanc as well.
Albariño: White variety from northwest Spain. (Also called Alvarinho in Portugul) Produces light-bodied, fruit-forward dry wine. (Best examples are from Rias Baixas)
Chenin Blanc: This grape originated in the Loire Valley & produces slightly sweet wine with melon, red apple, & tropical fruit notes. The best examples come from Vouvray and Savennières. The top producers in the world are in South Africa where the grape is often called “Steen”
Gewürztraminer: A very aromatic grape predominantly grown in Germany & the Alsace region of France that is gaining ground in California & Washington states. This grape is spicy & perfumed with flavors reminiscent of lychee fruit, white pepper & rose petals.
Grüner Veltliner: This is the most important grape of Austria. It produces light, dry wine with notes of lime zest & white pepper.
Chefs and sommeliers work together to create amazing meals with delicious pairings. Food and wines can work together in perfect harmony, complement each other, or challenge each other and create unexpected flavor combinations. Here are some tips to elevate your meals at home!
Generally speaking, you can't go wrong by pairing like with like - light dishes need a light body wine & rich creamy dishes need a heavier wine. Look for common denominators of flavor or texture. Pepper crusted meat with peppery red Zinfandel; buttery lobster with California Chardonnay; a rich Filet Minon with a rich velvety Merlot.
Make sure the flavors work together: Salty & sour flavors bring out the positive characteristics of flavor; Sweet & bitter bring out the negative.
Think of the book Salt, Acid, Fat, Heat. All of these are components of a delicious meal, and they work best in balance.
Some rules of thumb as you experiment:
But don't just take our word for it! Take notes and follow along with our tasting guide to start picking out details of the wines you love. Or come in to chat with our sommeliers at any Louie's Wine Dive restaurant.
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