When it comes down to settling oneself into a relaxed pose after a long day, nothing quite hits the spot like a glass of a good red wine. Years ago, in my youth when I knew absolutely nothing about drinking in general, good food, or wine, I preferred to imbibe sweet whites. While there’s certainly nothing wrong with that, I completely turned my nose up at any red wine, fearing their powerful flavors and that atrocious mouth-drying sensation of tannin. I even tried to have sweet white wines with steaks and salmon… the memories make me cringe, because at the time I remember accepting with chagrin that wine was probably supposed to taste bad with food, ignoring what my own nose and tongue were trying to tell me.
Yes, I know. Come on, I was twenty-one and in England when that series of unfortunate events all started. Cider was the big thing in the UK, anyway, if you weren’t a beer drinker (and I never have been). For a complete certainty, I wouldn’t have recognized a decent bottle of wine had it smacked me across the nose.
A really old Twilight Zone episode comes to mind in parallel to these memories, where a woman puts on these special hearing aids and glasses to help her lose weight, and suddenly every bit of food has a face and is talking to her. That’s a bit of how I recall those innocent times, wishing I had those glasses and hearing aids so the wine can tell me I’m making a bad decision… though without the rather gruesome ending to the poor woman’s story.
At any rate, over the next few years my palate shifted, and I began to appreciate the nuances within red wine, though dry whites still scared me a bit. More on that another time.
To this day, I still tend to prefer reds over whites, but I have a better understanding of my own likes and preferred food pairings.
Though I primarily wrote out that story to amuse, I also want to offer this caveat — if you try an unusual wine pairing, and it totally works for your palate, please go for it and continue doing your thing.
Everyone is different. Each person’s tastes vary widely. The information and suggestions given by wine experts, sommeliers, and experienced wine drinkers alike will often converge and agree on a great many points. You may start to believe that what you like is inherently “wrong” and move away from those ideas.
Please don’t do that. If you like sweet Riesling with a filet mignon, then by all means continue to enjoy the pairing. Prefer white chocolate with an inky Nebbiolo? Keep on keeping on!
Should you seek a moral to my little tale, let it be this — listen to your palate and your brain. Unfortunately, when I first started tasting wine, I didn’t do that, and I rarely enjoyed the experiences as a result. So if you decide to try any of the wines suggested in this blog, let it be in the spirit of curiosity and discovering your own wine preferences.
Tips for trying new wines:
- Try it on its own, without food.
- Try it with a variety of simple foods.
- Try it with different meals, between courses, or after eating.
Examples of simple foods:
- A piece of milk chocolate (sweet),
- A raw baby Bella mushroom (umami),
- A slice of lemon (acidic/sour),
- A pinch of salt (salty),
- A piece of brie cheese (fatty),
- A bit of bitter greens like arugula or kale (bitter), and
- A dab of hot sauce (hot/spicy)
You might be pleasantly (or not so much, in certain cases) surprised at how the listed foods subtly change your perception of the wine, and vice versa.
The challenge wine for week two is Beaujolais — the name refers to a region in France at the southern end of what is known as Burgundy. While the remainder of Burgundy has a focus on Pinot Noir and Chardonnay as their primary grapes, Beaujolais instead makes the majority of their wines from the red Gamay grape.
Much of the wine coming out of Beaujolais have a very unique set of aromas and flavor profile — we’re talking banana, strawberry, cinnamon, and bubble gum (you read me right). Without getting too technical, the process involved in creating these flavors is called “carbonic maceration,” and it’s almost exclusively used in Beaujolais. Other worldwide wine producers have used it with grapes such as Pinot Noir, a close genetic relation to Gamay, but it’s not common outside of the region.
Combine those fruity notes with a light body and lower alcohol content than you’d find in many dry reds, and you have a great picnic companion on your hands. It’s best served lightly chilled, and is really food friendly. Seriously, take it on a picnic one day and see how it goes.
At a higher tier of winemaking in Beaujolais, called “Beaujolais Villages” (so named because there will be a French village named on the label, such as Morgon, Juliénas, or Fleurie), you begin to lose the almost confected, candied flavors in favor of fresher, darker fruits and a touch of earthiness in the form of herbs or minerals.
Since I didn’t feel spending too much on a wine this week, I instead picked up a Beaujolais Villages priced right at $20: L’Ancien Beaujolais 2019.
Produced in a village south of Lyon with vines averaging around 50 years in age — hence the vieilles vignes or “old vines” note at the top right — this wine deviates from the traditional winemaking style of the region. Jean-Paul Brun wanted to create an experience which showcased Gamay as a grape without creating the candied notes found in the wines of his competitors. Also in direct defiance of tradition, he used natural yeasts as opposed to laboratory-based ones during his fermentation process, which also impacted resulting flavors of the final wine.
Fascinating to research, but… this shows that I did not pick an “appropriate” wine for the challenge, meant to help me explore exemplars of each region.
Oh well. I like a good geeky wine any day of the week, so here we go!
Producer: Jean-Paul Brun, Terres Dorees
Region: Beaujolais, Burgundy, France
Style: Dry red
This wine is a clear, pale ruby in appearance. When under good light, one can read the words of a book easily through the core of this wine.
Ripe raspberry, fresh cranberry, and bright strawberry are predominant aromas in this wine, very easy to pick out and of a medium intensity. Other aromas include violets, a touch of red fruit candy, and a faint earthiness reminiscent of damp soil or leather.
The ripe flavors of fruit continue on the palate, again of raspberry and strawberry, but with more plum and cherry, slightly darker than on the nose. After a second sip, notes of dried herbs come into play.
Completely dry, the still-young L’Ancien has medium acidity and a low level of alcohol, with the latter contributing to an overall light body. Tannins remain low, as typical for a Beaujolais, and are soft and silky in texture. Finish is medium plus, with flavors lingering on the palate for approximately 8-10 seconds prior to fading gracefully on the tongue.
Despite low levels of tannin and alcohol and a contrasting finish on the longer side, this wine displays an otherwise fair balance, integrating a range of both primary and some tertiary aromas and flavors within its profile at a medium concentration. Based on this, I’d categorize this as a very good wine, but despite its relative youth, I would drink it now or in the next three years. Due to a only a medium concentration in aromas/flavors, low tannins and only medium acidity, the L’Ancien lacks the capacity for long-term ageing.
Even though I had intentionally searched for a great representation of Beaujolais wine, I instead blindly grabbed what ended up as (in my humble opinion) an incredible gem I hadn’t expected to find, and at an affordable price point, to boot. My previous statement about bringing this along on a picnic still stands; if at home enjoying a meal, the L’Ancien would work beautifully with chicken dishes such as piccata, or pasta dishes with cream-based sauces (red sauce would just overpower the flavors). To really make the fruitiness shine as brightly as the wine’s vibrant gem-like color, try it with charcuterie meats like prosciutto or salami; olives, capers, or Greek salads with a citrus-based dressing might also mesh masterfully.
See you next week!