At the end my previous article, I mentioned which red wines were delivering more overall pleasure than my previous favorites: wines with less intensity in color, aroma and flavor; those with less reliance on new oak; and others with a tad more palate-cleansing acidity. In a word, wines that are “lip smacking” good, aka delicious.
But first, let’s revisit Cola, my very first and favorite, food-accompanying beverage, and why it never failed to satisfy. Beyond the seductive sweetness, the reason I (and likely you) loved Cola with cheeseburgers and French fries was because of the fizzy stuff. Acidity. Besides washing down the food, it did something else I didn’t fully appreciate: it cleansed my palate between bites (of all that artery clogging sludge), and prepped it for the next mouthful.
Next, in my “ABC” Chardonnay phase, it didn't take long before I got jaded with the buttery, oak laden style. It was then, as I moved on to oak free whites like Sauvignon Blanc, that I discerned acidity’s importance. It is what gave whites their vitality, and showcased the refreshing qualities of the underlying grape(s). With viscous oak no longer coating my palate, that stuff in the stemware actually started smelling and tasting like wine!
However, with powerful red wine, where intensity and oak were the focus, I did not immediately appreciate the acidity connection. But after sampling a variety of different reds, I noted that, while they did not possess the qualities of intensity (of color, aroma and flavor), or the ability to age for a decade or more, they had their own positive qualities: engaging red fruit appearance; appealing aromatics and flavors; and, more importantly, an easy to drink, succulent quality that made them easy to pair with food.
The elegant and luscious Pinot Noirs, particularly from California, were the first to turn my head and gain my attention. Smooth, crisp and drinkable upon release, few, if any, required aging to reveal their best qualities. After sniffing and sipping my way through many, I came to prefer the juicy ones from these regions near the California coastline: Russian River Valley, Sonoma Coast, Santa Lucia Highlands, Santa Rita Hills, Arroyo Grande and Santa Barbara county. Quality producers abound, and with some word of mouth, Internet searches and/or wine store sleuthing, you should be able to nail down a few favorites.
The Reds of Spain, with a tad more verve, gave me another tasty alternative to muscular fruit bombs. Spain has many excellent appellations, but I settled on the mouth-watering blends of Rioja. Rioja’s hierarchy is based on time and level of aging—in oak and bottle. The ascending order is Crianza, Reserva and Gran Reserva, with my palate currently favoring the more youthful Crianzas. Sierra Cantabria, CVNE (aka Cune), Caceres, Riscal and Muga have never failed to satisfy and prices are in the $20 range.
However, Italy’s Sangiovese grape is where the verve and vitality of acidity is a regular attribute, and Tuscany is ground zero. Chianti, Montalcino (both Brunello and Rosso), and Montepulciano (Vino Nobile and Rosso) are the regions whose wines are currently seeing a lot of tabletop duty at the Barras household. Excellent Chianti producers are Volpaia, Felsina, Fontodi, Villa Antinori and Selvapiana.
In Montpulciano, I’ve enjoyed a few bottles of Vino Nobile from Poliziano and Avignonesi, but my heart and credit card are currently centered on Montalcino, particularly the Brunellos, but also the more economical and early drinking Rossos. These are high quality, exceptional wines that invite involvement and study. While relying on your local wine retailer and/or buying on the Internet is an adequate start, I must recommend Kerin O’Keefe’s excellent book, Brunello di Montalcino, to fully understand the appellation.
Also, I cannot fail to mention that in the Beaujolais appellation there are ten upper echelon wines, called “Crus” that have delivered many years of drinking pleasure and excellent food accompaniment. With the first four or five displaying more structure and complexity, they are: Moulin-a-vent, Morgon, Julienas, Cote de Brouilly, Chenas, Brouilly, Regnie, Chiroubles, Fleurie, and Saint-Amour. Internet and quality retail wine stores are your best sources.
And finally, my palate’s trajectory may or may not be reflective of yours. Wine, of course, is my hobby, and while writing about it gives me new insights and directions to follow, I’m also employing a not too subtle approach of suggesting that you also consider joining the pursuit. There are many interesting wines out there, and not simply the ones I’ve mentioned above. I would love to hear from you about them.