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.
The Morey family is renowned in France as true lovers of the variety and beauty of French wines. Vincent took over the domaine Chassagne-Montrachet from his father Bernard in 2006, and with his wife and partner Sophie, had their first harvest in 2007. Both come from generations of Burgundian winemakers, and treat their vineyards as if they were gardens. “Fine wines start with good grapes,” they declare in unison. Vincent is definite on the point: “Wine-making is like cooking: The basic ingredients have to be right.” In the vineyard, strict attention to detail is the order of the day. “There’s no secret. It’s a matter of devoting the necessary time to the job.”
Burgundy is of course among the most famous and storied wine regions in the world. Its history dates from the Roman era, and its system of dividing up vineyards into small, family-owned parcels makes understanding the wines of Burgundy a life-long pursuit for enthusiasts.
The cool, marginal climate and Jurassic limestone soils in Burgundy are perfect for the production of elegant, savory, and mineral-driven Chardonnay with plenty of acidity. While practically every country in the wine producing world grows it, Chardonnay from its Burgundian homeland produces some of the most remarkable and longest lived examples. As far as cellar potential, white Burgundy rivals the world’s other age-worthy whites like Riesling or botrytized Semillon.
The Vincent & Sophie Morey Bourgogne Chardonnay begins with a bouquet of delicate white flowers. Lemon zest with a powerful mid-palate is followed by an incredibly smooth finish, vanishing with the vibrancy of the minerality and acidity so renowned in Burgundy.
The Maipo Valley of Chile is to most wine drinkers a lesser-known New World wine region. It’s the frontier or the Wild West - or perhaps the ‘Wild South’ for that matter! Few know that the Maipo has a 150 year heritage of winemaking, or over 7,000 acres under vine, and most certainly don’t know the sub-region of Alto Maipo in the foothills of the Andes where Concha y Toro grows the Cabernet Sauvignon for Terrunyo.
This is rugged country with poor soil composition and few nutrients, which causes the vines to work harder to develop the energy, sugars, and phenols in the grape. This stress is your gain as the vines generally produce fewer grapes but give more complexity to each year's crop. The 2013 Concha y Toro Terrunyo Cabernet Sauvignon is a unique wine that can truly hold its own with traditional expressions of Cabernet in France and the Old World.
Tasting Notes: Shows red fruits and blueberry with a backbone of minerality including pencil shaving. Well balanced with silky tannins. Slight chill recommended. Big flavored game and red meats including lamb, pork or wild boar, or beef cuts like a Ribeye. Strong cheeses such as bleu and roquefort stand up well to Terrunyo.
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.”
Market Vineyards ‘Arbitrage’ Cabernet Sauvignon originates in the Columbia Valley, which is an expansive and expanding area with over 40,000 acres under vine. In it are a diverse range of wine growing regions, climates and elevations, and grape varieties from cleanly acidic Horse Heaven Hills Riesling to chewy Walla Walla Syrah.
Many think of Washington wine and their minds race to Seattle and the lush, raincharged western side of the Cascades, but the Columbia Valley is located east of the Cascades and receives a mere 8-10 inches of rainfall annually. The desert climate has a massive diurnal shift, with cold nights and hot days varying up to 40 degrees in a 24 hour period. The result of hot sun-filled days is intensely ripe fruit often expressing uber high sugar content, while the cold nights create acid, acting to balance the given wine.
In the early years of Washington wine making and indeed, still in some areas today, this balance was difficult to control, resulting too often in pronounced unbalanced wines. However, winemaking technique and knowledge in the hands of a cast of truly talented and traveled winemakers have embraced this challenge with success. Market Vineyards is one of those utlizing top quality cabernet fruit, and a quality focused winemaker.
Notes: This wine shows dark fruits with black cherry and mocha flavors followed by vanilla and black pepper. Elegant refined tannins in the finish. Slight chill recommended. Serve with rich sauces such as bordelaise or gongonzola sauce and dishes including beef carpaccio, roasted duck, and braised lamb shanks.
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!
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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