Monday, July 26, 2010
The HoseMaster's Honest Guide to Grapes Volume 7
Volume Seven takes us back to the world of white wine grapes. If white wine had never existed, would anyone really care? Sort of like white soul singers. Who'd miss them? If every variety of vitis vinifera were red what would we be missing? Why I simply can't imagine my life without those two bottles of Riesling I drink a year. And who wouldn't miss Chardonnay? We need a grape to badmouth like we need Barry Bonds or Glenn Beck or Mel Gibson (who, ironically, only drinks white, really white, wine). Chardonnay is the Tonya Harding of grapes--pretty good on ice but liable to try and hurt you with wood, and incredibly fun to hate. But there are plenty of red grapes to despise--we'll always have Merlot. And let us not forget Gruner Veltliner, the pride of Austria, along with Arnold Schwarzenegger. What would life be without Gruner? Well, just like Arnold, I can't wait to find out. Yet we do live in a world of both red and white varietal grapes. So let's just get this over with.
Albarino belongs in the category of aromatic grapes along with Gewurztraminer, Muscat, Viognier and Jessica Alba, for whom it is named and who, as an actress, really stinks. Albarino has just recently come to the attention of consumers from its Spanish home of Rias Baixas (pronounced "wrinkled bike ass") where it has been quietly producing plonk since the 12th Century, much like Fred Franzia. Albarino is believed to pair nicely with food, only no one has discovered what food yet. I like it with a traditional Spanish dish like Raquel Welch (who took her stage name from the famous grape juice because she can turn your tongue purple). Aside from Spain and Portugal (where it goes by the name Alvarinho so that consumers know not to buy it in Portuguese), there has been some interest in the variety in California and Australia. However, recently it was discovered that most of the Albarino planted in Australia is actually the Jura grape Savagnin, so they wrote it a Dear Jaune letter and ripped it out. There are a few acres of Albarino in California so it will be interesting to find out what variety it really is. Best guess is it's actually the variety named for Stevie Nicks--Hi Ho Stevierino.
Interesting facts about Albarino:
The hybrid grape created by crossing Cortese with Albarino is Albacore, which produces wines your grandmother might enjoy with cat food.
Albarino's large number of pips can cause bitterness especially when it's made from sour grapes.
Albarino was the darling of sommeliers before Gruner Veltliner, making it the equivalent of Natalie Wood. Dead in the water.
Other names for Albarino:
Peaches and Herb
There was a time (this was before the majesty that is wine blogs) Arneis was referred to as Barolo Bianco because it was often blended with Nebbiolo to make Barolo more palatable. Now they just use new oak. Arneis was on the verge of extinction in the 1970's, much like bras, when it was rescued by a couple of Piedmont producers, most notably Bruno Giacosa, ironically, a famous producer of Brabaresco, a famous jug wine. An upsurge of interest in the wines of the Piedmont fueled more plantings of Arneis, and now the variety has achieved a certain amount of notoriety, and its wines of uncommon mediocrity are no longer strangers to wine shelves. Several producers make Arneis in the passito style during which the grapes are allowed to dry on mats, which concentrates the sugars and really makes your feet sticky when you wipe them. If I were you I'd passito on most of them. A few acres of Arneis also exist in California, where some jackass is likely to plant any old grape and try to sell it to his wine club at a hefty profit to help finance his unprofitable obsession with Syrah (see HHGG, Volume 4). In aerosol form, Arneisal Spray, it can effectively combat allergies to thin, insipid white wine.
Interesting facts about Arneis:
"Arneis" means "little rascal" in Piedmontese dialect, which explains why it smells like Alfalfa.
A famous song was written for Arneis after it was no longer being used for Barolo and was being pulled out by winemakers. There have been many versions of the classic, "So Langhe, It's Been Good to Know Ya."
Fans of the grape are known as "Arneis Army" and hold an annual tasting at Chateau Palmer.
Other names for Arneis:
Desi (oh, you knew it was coming)
Drinking Trebbiano is like spending a day reading wine blogs--about as dull as it can get and you're grateful when you wake up the next day and don't remember a thing. It's painfully and horribly thin, like Taylor Swift in a bathing suit, and often just as flat. Trebbiano is one of the most widely planted white grapes in the world and is included in a startling number of Italian white wines, mostly because Italians don't drink white wine themselves and don't mind ruining the meals of foreigners. There was even a time (again, long before the Golden Age of Wine Writing that is Wine Blogs) when Trebbiano was allowed in Chianti Classico and Vino Nobile di Montepulciano, which is more than you can say for James Suckling now. But Trebbiano is a very important grape under its alias Ugni Blanc. Ugni Blanc is the grape from which Cognac and Armagnac are distilled, perhaps brought to Cognac during the Papal retreat to Avignon, probably in distill of the Knight. Trebbiano is also important in the production of Mexican Brandy, a product that rivals the finest French tequilas. And Trebbiano is also used to make balsamic vinegar. So, basically, it's a wine grape at its best when not made into wine. Like Gruner Veltliner.
Interesting facts about Trebbiano:
Trebbiano is a very prolific grape producing upwards of eight tons an acre, like the set of Biggest Loser.
In Portugal the grape is known as Thalia. Ironically, the singer Thalia is the Mexican Brandy.
Trebbiano is a favorite among very dull sommeliers. Are there any other kind?
Other names for Trebbiano:
Bolla Soup (Soave)