To celebrate tomorrow’s 229th anniversary of the storming of the Bastille (a turning point in the French Revolution), consider popping open the most beautiful Champagne bottle ever designed—Perrier-Jouët’s Art Nouveau-style “flower bottle.” The bottle, decorated with enameled anemones, was first designed in 1902 by glassmaker Emile Gallé as an homage to La BelleÉpoque (the artistic period from the late 1800s to 1914). However, due to the difficulty making them, the bottles were soon abandoned. In the early 1960s, Pierre Ernst, former president of Perrier-Jouët, found an enamel specialist who could manufacture the bottles en masse. The modern version of the flower bottle premiered in 1969 and held the 1964 vintage of the House’s prestige cuvee called Belle Epoque. In 2012, a hundred years after its creation, the famous flower bottle was updated by Japanese floral designer Makoto Azuma, who added golden vines and delicate dotted flowers to the classic pattern.
Although everything about Tuscany seems to put a person in the mood to drink red wine, there is an historic white wine to consider: vernaccia di San Gimignano, traditionally referred to as the wine that “kisses, licks, bites, and stings.” Actually, only the best vernaccia di San Gimignanos do that; plenty of others—which are utterly neutral—just don’t appear to be good at romance.
As its name suggests, vernaccia di San Gimignano is made from vernaccia grapes grown on the slopes surrounding the medieval hill town of San Gimignano, roughly an hour’s drive southwest of Florence. Though historically vernaccia di San Gimignano was made and aged in large old wood casks, the best modern versions are young and fresh. There are dozens of relatively small producers. One of my favorites has been Teruzzi e Puthod.
Alas, it wasn’t this way for me (or you either probably) but in England historically, wine—and especially Port—played a notable part in college life. According to the Rare Wine Company (an importer/retailer specializing in Port and Madeira) in the early part of the nineteenth century, important universities like Cambridge and Oxford had breathtakingly enormous wine cellars, and there was ten times as much Port in those cellars than any other wine. Far from being a mere hedonistic indulgence, Port was “currency”—often used by students to pay off wages, bets, and fines.
Despite its importance, the texture or mouthfeel of wine is one of the least studied aspects of sensory perception. At least until now. As reported in Wines & Vines, researchers at U.C. Davis are currently working to develop what they call a “tribology” method to analyze the physical aspect of red wine perception. In particular, Dr. Tonya Kuhl and Dr. Aude Watrelot hope to understand the physical interaction between tannin (astringency) and saliva (lubrication). The word tribology comes from the Greek word for “rubbing.” In engineering and biomedical research, tribology is the science that deals with the design, friction, wear, and lubrication of interacting surfaces in relative motion (as in bearings or gears or, for that matter, your knee joints).
Next Thursday, May 24, is the 42nd Anniversary of the Judgment of Paris, widely considered the tasting that vaulted California wine onto the international stage. We asked Steven Spurrier, the creator and organizer of that historic event, what the Judgment of Paris has meant to him. Steven responded:
“A couple of years ago my 8 year old grandson asked ‘Grandpa, why are you famous?’ All I needed to do was to show him George Taber’s book ‘Judgment of Paris’ whose subtitle was ‘the historic 1976 Paris Tasting that revolutionized wine.’ While this event did make me famous, it turned out to be a ‘win-win’ situation for both California and France, but more importantly it created a template whereby unknown wines of quality could be tasted blind against known wines of quality and if the judges themselves were of quality, their opinion would be respected. The best example of this was Eduardo Chadwick’s 2004 Berlin Tasting. Paris 1976 opened the game to all comers.”
Lodi, the self-proclaimed Zinfandel Capital of the World (it produces over 32% of California zin), is also home to 100 different grape varieties, more than any other California region. These include: albariño, tempranillo, verdelho, sangiovese, and carignan, as well as more ubiquitous varieties like cabernet. The region began to evolve as a wine region in the early 1900s. Before that, Lodi had been dubbed the Watermelon Capital of the World, boasting melons that were said to be up to 50 feet long. (Hmmmm). Today, Lodi includes some 90 wineries and almost 800 growers farming 100,000+ acres of grapes. The region, about 90 miles east of San Francisco, has become a hotbed for young winemakers priced out of more expensive land elsewhere. Lodi also possesses some of the oldest plant material in the state. Numerous vineyards were planted in the 19th century.
It’s Spring, and for me, that means it’s time to drink a ton of Sancerre and Pouilly-Fumé, still among the two best wines in the world for salads and green vegetables like spring peas and asparagus. And there’s another reason I love Sancerre and Pouilly Fumé: goat cheese. The tangy/creamy/chalky/salty flavor of most goat cheeses can make red wine taste hollow. But Sancerre and Pouilly-Fumé are perfect with goat cheeses in part because they are so tangy themselves. In particular, the combination of Sancerre and Crottin de Chavignol, a small disk of goat cheese from the village of Chavignol, is considered to be a classic French marriage. (Crottin, by the way, is French slang for goat turd).
Cava wants to be taken seriously. And Spain may finally have an answer with a new classification called Cava de Paraje Calificado (CdP for short). Only the best single-vineyard cavas (Spanish sparkling wines made by the traditional Champagne method) can be called CdP— and there’s a rigorous path to getting there. These top-tier cavas must originate from terrior deemed special, and they must be made with lower yields of grapes. CdP cavas are also aged longer— a minimum of 36 months on the lees. The end result are cavas with extraordinary characteristics that compete with other crème de la crème sparklings around the world. (And yes, they are expensive).
As anyone who has tasted it knows, English sparkling wine is superb. (I personally think the top English sparkling wines are fantastic). Now, England’s Camel Valley Vineyard has become the first English wine producer to be granted a Royal Warrant. Royal Warrants are given by the Royal Family to top “suppliers” of the Royal Household—Veuve Clicquot has a Royal Warrant; so does Twining’s Tea and Martini Vermouth. Could Camel Valley’s ascendency to Warrantdom be a precursor to its Brut being served at Prince Harry and Megan’s (royal) wedding? One hopes so.
One: The most famous, vibrant chenin blancs of the world come from the Loire Valley of France. The Loire Valley is also the ancestral home of this grape, which arose as a natural cross of savagnin and an unknown parent. Two: The best chenin blancs are stunningly complex wines with shimmering acidity and flavors of apples and honey. Chenin blancs are made in a variety of degrees of sweetness, from bone-dry to fully sweet. Three: Chenin blanc was the most widely planted white grape in California before chardonnay took its place in the 1970s.