By Ray Spaziani
Recently a friend emailed me an article Megan Willet wrote for the Business Insider that touched upon a subject that has been my belief for many years. Americans rely far too much on the same old wine variatals and are afraid to try some they may have never heard of. She interviewed Jeremy Block the owner of “Some Old Wines” a major wine retailer in New York City. He made some great comparisons I want to share with you.
Everyone who loves wine knows about Cabernet. It is a big robust wine that has lots of fruit and chocolate overtones and can have a long finish. The wine is the steak and roast lovers delight. With a wonderful prime rib a fine Cabernet makes the rib taste better and the wine taste better and that’s the big deal about food and wine pairing. Block suggested to try a Spanish Grenache with your next big beef dinner. Block indicated the wines have “similar intensity”. I think he was trying to indicate the wines have similar weights. Wines that are weighted in a similar manner generally match well with the same foods. Grenache has a little less fruit and a little more chocolate overtone but can also have a long finish. It is also a big wine and it works surprisingly well with steaks and chops.
Block is a great Pino Noir lover and feels it is the greatest wine veriatal in the world. He indicates rather than Pino try some Beaujolais. I disagree with him about this comparison because the wines are not weighted in a similar manner. Beaujolais is very light bodied and fruity. Pino Noir is similar in fruit and acidic content but the weights are wrong. It doesn’t work for me. He is right on the mark when he suggests trying some Nebbiolo in place of Merlot. The wines share the same weight and texture they are both velvety and have plumb-like characteristics. I would, however, take this one step farther. I much prefer Nebbiolo to Merlot. Nebbiolo is grown in Pedmont region of northern Italy and it is referred to as Barbaresco or Barbara. It is all the Nebbiolo grape and it will stand up to meat dishes and works well with big pasta dishes. It has layers of flavors and it is one of my favorites. He goes on to compare Syrah with French Mourvedre. Both wines are spicy and a bit earthy. They work well with wild game and heavily seasoned meats. One comparison he does not make which rather surprised me is Zinfandel and Primativo. These wines are very similar and have only slightly different DNA. Most of the differences come from the soil and weather conditions where the grapes are grown. Both wines are high in alcohol content and contain lots of tannins. In blind tastings I have found it is difficult to tell them apart. He then compares Malbec to French Cotes du Rhone and indicates Cotes du Rhone is a less expensive alternative to Malbec. I think the jury is out on that one. Cotes du Rhone is a vintners blend wine that the winemaker has some variatals that go well together left over and he puts them together. Some are very good, but there is not much consistency in that there is no formula for the wine. It is left up to the winemaker. I would stick to Malbec!
Some white wine alternatives include Viongnier rather than Chardonnay. Rather than Sauvignon Blanc try some Alberino. This north eastern Spanish wine may surprise you. Both wines are high in acid and with citrus flavors and both are super. The point of the article I like the most though is the wine professionals war with Pino Grigio. There are so many great Italian white wines to try; why do we Americans drink so much Pino Grigio? My theory is we all have a favorite aunt somewhere that loves Pino Grigio and just can’t disappoint her. Next time she comes over sneak her some Vermentino when she is not looking! She will love you for it.
So try some of these great substitutions and make up your own mind about some other wine variatals. I think you will be glad you did! (The article I am referring to in this article is The Business Insider 2/13/15 Megan Willet interviewing Jeremy Block.) I am teaching some great wine classes. If you have some interest email me!!
Ray Spaziani is the Chapter Director of the New Haven Chapter of the American Wine Society. He teaches wine appreciation classes at Gateway Community College, the Milford Board of Education and Moltose Wine and Beer supply. He is a member of the International Tasting Panel of Amenti Del Vino and Wine Maker Magazine. He is an award winning home wine maker. Email Ray with your wine questions and wine events at Ray.Spaziani@gmail.com.