I feel dizzy. And no, it is not from all the wine tasting I did, although I did have to take a much needed break between the whites and the reds… It is from the sheer number of wines that were available to try at Friday night’s 3rd annual NJ Spring Wine Tasting Festival in Short Hills. Over 100 wines were presented by 15 wineries and distributors. Where does one begin? Well, as I was determining my strategy, I was standing at a table of French wines about to ask for a taste of the Sancerre, when someone came up and asked for “anything white”. I was a bit taken aback, as even though I am hardly an expert, I think I know my Chardonnays from my Sauvignon Blancs! Turns out that there were approximately 425 festival attendees, and if I had a nickel for how many times I heard this heartbreaking request throughout the evening I would not have to look for a day job.
It occurred to me that, in general, consumers are missing the vine when it comes to wine. While Chardonnay is the world’s most renowned varietal, there are plenty of other white wines that should not be ignored, many of which can be found for under $15 a bottle. Try an Albarino from Spain, or a Gavi from Sicily, for example. I enjoyed the Black Pig Albarino, a 2009 vintage available from the Wine Library for $11.98. It has just the right mix of acidity and body and would be perfect with seafood or a spicy meal. How about a Pinot Grigio (Pinot Gris if it is from Oregon) or a Sauvignon Blanc? And if you like Sauvignon Blanc, you may look for it by its other regional names like Sancerre or Pouilly-Fume. Or, if you are completely committed to the chardonnay grape, try to expand to different regions, like Pouilly-Fuisse – an always oaked beefier wine – or Chablis, an almost never oaked appellation. Aged in stainless steel, Chablis is very similar to some of the un-oaked Chardonnays now coming out of the west coast, but with the distinct influence of the heavy limestone-laden soil of the Burgundy region of France.
And as for red, how about moving beyond your Zinfindels and Cabernet Sauvignons? Experiment with a nice Malbec or Barbera d’Alba, or Tempranillo. If you like Pinot Noir – a wine that stole the thunder from Merlot after the movie Sideways was released – you may want to venture out and try a Garnacha (Spanish version of the French Grenache) or a Sangiovese from Italy. For $9.98 the Algairen Garnacha 2006 was a very neutral, medium-bodied red wine that may go well with a light pasta dish or even chicken (and anything that tastes like chicken). If you usually go for the softness of Merlot, try a Barbera d’Alba wine. I tasted the Orlando Abrigo Barbera d’Alba 2007, and for me it was just okay for $19 a bottle, but there are many others to choose from. Finally, if you are a Cabernet lover, there are many alternatives, such as a Malbec, or a Malbec blend from the French region of Cahors (although I have recently learned that Malbecs can be really hit or miss), or even a more commonly blended wine from Bordeaux. And, if you are willing to dole out the extra dough for a unique bottle of wine, try a Brunello.
Unfortunately for me, while my sobriety was only slightly in question, I ran out of time! The moment I was ready to try the wines I really wanted to taste, the La Gerla Brunello ($38.98 at wine library) and the Te Awa Syrah from New Zealand ($24.98 at Wine Library) for example, the “anything red please” tasters had finished them off! I guess I’ll have to try those, as well as many others I haven’t even mentioned here (Gewurztraminer, Viogner, or Barolo anyone?) in the comfort of my own home – what could be worse? For the rest of you, you can find a list of all the wines via the link to the Festival page here.
When tasting or buying, it helps to keep an open mind, and to consider the following three things: First, when a wine is a single grape, the name usually indicates the varietal (Chardonnay, Pinot Noir), whereas when it is blended, the name may indicate the region (Chianti or Côtes du Rhône); second, blended wines are not bad wines; and third, expensive wines are not always the best wines!
Tracy Goldenberg began her career in writing/marketing in the financial services industry. She has since explored different alternatives for her many talents, and is currently latching on to the green-living machine. Undergoing an extreme mid-life career crisis, she figures food and wine (and of course exercise) will carry her through. She has always lived by the motto “work hard play hard.”