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Sep 9, 201012:00 AM
Happy Hour

All there is to sip and savor in New Orleans

The Quest for Big Reds on a Budget

I’m torn. I am a firm believer in the “drink what you like” school of pleasure. Why not? Why drink or eat anything that does not make you happy? Life is too short and all that.

On the other hand, how do you know what you really like or if you really like that thing you are now drinking the best if you don’t try other things? I am also a big proponent of tasting around; try what is put in front of you. Plus, in my case, when it comes to wine, what’s the problem with trying something? Or everything? All wine is fermented grape juice. How bad can any of it be? (The question was rhetorical, and yes, I’ve had some pretty bad wine, either because it had a problem in the bottle or the winemaker really screwed up. Nothing to be done about the former, but the latter situation makes me want to grab the winemaker around the throat … oops, never mind.)

My problem is the legions of people who only want to drink massive, jammy, alcohol-loaded red wines because they think that’s how wine should taste. And these same people do not even try to appreciate anything else. For them, it’s a punch in the nose or nothing.

I’m going to take another run at this situation because I have spoken of this often, and I still don’t think I’ve hit on the magic reason to convince these people to look at other flavors of red wine.

So here’s the deal: I would like to suggest two grape varietals for you folks out there who are sticking to your fruit-bomb wines. Yes, I said I am going to suggest a few red wines to play an auxiliary role to your current red wine. That should make things easier.

Also, and here is where I think I can get some traction for my suggestions, the wines I am going to suggest to you are probably cheaper than what you are now drinking. Oh, really?! Well, now we’re getting somewhere.

Carmenere is gaining a tenuous foothold on the palates of wine-lovers here in America because it is a pleasant, soft, silky wine, usually not over-complicated but with fine red and black components, and it pairs well with a wide variety of foods.

Carmenere has had an interesting path to market, beginning from its first mentions by the Romans in the area that is now Bordeaux. In fact, Carmenere’s Latin name was "Biturica," and that is probably the origin of the Gallic word “Bordeaux,” used to describe the whole region.

Carmenere was plentiful, and it was a good blending grape for the best wines of the Bordeaux region, cabernet sauvignon. But Carmenere has a problem: ripening. When the grape achieves full ripening, it is quite seductive, but anything less than that, and it goes “green” and flabby. Not attractive.

And the folks in Bordeaux in the middle 1800s recognized this shortcoming because their northern European climate did not always provide enough sun or a long enough season to make this grape do right. About this same time, locals and some French ex-patriots in Chile thought they had a climate to grow fine grapes and make good wines, so they sent to France for grapevine cuttings.

The cuttings arrived and seemed to thrive in the Chilean climate. The wine was made. Everyone rejoiced and toasted their good fortune with their new Chilean merlot.

Merlot? But I thought we were talking about Carmenere. Well, it seems wines were made, awards won, bottles sold and fortunes made on a misidentification. This went on for years -- until modern methods of testing led to the startling conclusion that Chile’s merlot was actually Bordeaux’s Carmenere.

What sometimes happens to the now-properly identified Carmenere in Chile is that in this South American mountain country, the grapes do not fully ripen. Chile possesses a rugged terrain, and its altitudes can mean not enough of a warm season to put the Carmenere in the proper condition for harvest. But the rains and snows of winter are coming, so picking must begin.

There is much research now being done in the universities in Chile to overcome the ripening issue with Carmenere, and to date, a number of new clones have been identified that should minimize the occurrence of the unripened issue in the future.

Carmenere-and-merlot blends are usually sturdy and provide a fine wine experience.

Still, Carmenere on its own is pretty good juice, and in the best years, it’s really good juice. It also is priced quite nicely.   

Some labels that bear your attention:
Concha y Toro

The other red grape, again attractively priced, that is a real big hit in America is the Malbec from Argentina.

Like Carmenere, the Malbec grape hails from Bordeaux. It can exhibit the high-octane characteristics of cabernet sauvignon, and it also possesses the velvet qualities of merlot, a very nice combination.

Everything about the Argentinean experience seems to make Malbec happy. The soils and the climate are ideally suited to this late-season-ripening grape, and the workhorse-like structure on the palate is a pleasing response to the question, “Why am I drinking a grape from Argentina that is no longer respected by the Bordelaise?”

In fact, today in France, the best iteration of the Malbec grape is in the area of Cahors, about 100 miles east from Bordeaux.

The New World Malbec has gone to a lusher, juicier, deeper profile, giving ripe black fruit notes on the palate and an incredible depth of bouquet to the nose. It was never this way in France and still isn’t. That’s an interesting development because much of the Malbec planted in Argentina is on its own stock; that is, there has been no grafting of the grapevine onto root stock. A great deal -- but not all -- of the Argentinean Malbec is pure, direct from France, but the results are quite dissimilar.

Unfortunately for Argentina, lately the grapevine root pest phylloxera has made its presence felt, and now Malbec plantings throughout the country will have to be on insect-resistant stock as old vines are pulled up and replaced.  

Some wineries that make excellent Malbec from Argentina:

There you have them. New reds. Less expensive reds. And reds that can accompany a great steak or just a quiet evening. These New World wines carry a bit of France and bit of the Old South -- real old and real Southern, like in the other hemisphere.  

The Wine Show with Tim McNally can be heard every Sunday from noon to 2 p.m. on WIST-AM 690.


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Happy Hour

All there is to sip and savor in New Orleans


In New Orleans, when the subject is wine and spirits, it is very difficult to leave Tim McNally out of the discussion. He is considered one of the “go to” resources in the Crescent City for counsel and information about adult beverages and their place in the fabric of life in this great city.


Tim is the Wine and Spirits Editor, columnist and feature writer for New Orleans Magazine; the Wine and Spirits Editor and weekly columnist, Happy Hour, for www.MyNewOrleans.com; creator and editor of his own website, www.winetalknola.com; all in addition to his daily hosting duties on the radio program, The Dine, Wine and Spirits Show, on the air at WGSO – 990AM, every weekday, 3- 5 p.m, and streamed live on www.wgso.com.


Over the years, Tim has proved to be an informed interviewer, putting his guests at ease, and covering tactile and technical information so that even a novice can understand difficult agricultural and production concepts. Tim speaks with winemakers, wine and spirit ambassadors, distillers, authors, people who stage events and festivals, and takes questions from listeners and readers, all seamlessly blended together in a program that is unique in America.


Tim’s love of wine actually came about many years ago from his then wife-to-be, Brenda Maitland, a noted journalist in her own right, and together they have traveled to the major wine producing areas in the US and Europe, seeking first-hand information about beverages that give us all so much pleasure.


They were instrumental in the founding of the New Orleans Wine and Food Experience, a major national and international well-regarded festival of its type. They both continue to be involved with the planning and staging of this multi-venue, five-day event now over twenty years old.


Tim is also considered one of the foremost professional wine judges in the US, being invited to judge more than 11 wine competitions each year, including the San Francisco Chronicle Wine Competition (the largest competition of American wines in the world, with more than 6,000 entries), the Riverside, CA International Wine Competition, San Francisco International Wine Competition, Atlantic Seaboard Wine Competition, Indiana International Wine Competition, Sandestin, Florida Wine Festival Competition, the State of Michigan Wine Competition, the U.S. National Wine Competition, and the National Wine Competition of Portugal.


Tim is a guest lecturer to many local wine and dine organizations, and speaks each year to the senior class in the School of Hotel and Restaurant Management at Auburn University, Auburn, Alabama.


Staying abreast of the news of the wine and spirits world is a passion for Tim, and he is committed to sharing what he knows with his listeners and readers. “Doing something I love, with products that I truly enjoy, created by interesting people, coupling the experience with culinary excellence, and doing it all in the greatest city in America,” are the words Tim lives by.


It’s a good gig. 




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