Finding the value wines from California... This article first appeared in Decanter magazine's California supplement 2017. It is currently featured on Decanter.com as part of a sponsored campaign with the California Wine Institute.
Great value California white wines 'The value is definitely there in California, if you know where to look,' says Oz Clarke. He and Ronan Sayburn MS have picked out top value Californian white wines, all available under £40. These wines prove that things are changing with Californian wines, and that no longer are only options those with high price tags.
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Get to grips with the some of the more obscure tasting notes used by wine experts, with graphics from Annabelle Sing. This week we decode 'fennel' and 'black pepper'...How to understand tasting notes: The latest
Fennel Fennel is a bulbous vegetable with a fresh but slightly bitter taste, often made the most of in summer salads. It belongs to the same family as anise; both have similar bittersweet liquorice-like flavours and aromas - which are brought out in fennel tea, or when infused into the potent spirit absinthe. In the wine lexicon, fennel is found in the herbal branch of the spice and vegetable category, alongside dill, eucalyptus, lavender and mint. Tasting notes referring to fennel may be describing either the fresh and bitter fennel vegetable, or the sweet medicinal fennel seeds. Fresh vegetal fennel notes are usually ascribed to dry white or ros wines. These can include Verdejo wines from Rueda, which might combine fennel notes with green or white fruit flavours with leesy undertones, such as in Marqus de Riscal, Finca Montico 2015. Provence ross like Famille Fabre, Chteau de la Deidire 2013 or Chteau Gassier, Le Pas du Moine, Ste-Victoire 2013 could have a savoury gentle herb character, in which red fruits underlay fennel flavours. Champagne can also express subtle fennel notes, such as Taittinger's famous Comtes de Champagne - Michael Edwards reports that the 2002 vintage has a character of 'green fruits, hazelnuts and a touch of fennel'. Bittersweet fennel seed flavours are more common in red wines, often styles with a spicy fruit character. This includes some Sicilian Etna Rosso wines, made from the native Nerello Mascalese grape, or rich and varied Nebbiolo wines from northern Italy, capable of expressing notes like fennel along with its cousins anise and liquorice. Other wines with medicinal fennel seed notes could include red-fruit flavoured Beaujolais wines, or bold and smoky Syrah wines from northern Rhne. SEE: Contrada Santo Spirito Di Passo Pisciaro, Animardente, Etna Rosso 2014 | Domaine Rochette, Morgon, Cte de Py, Beaujolais 2014 | Gilles Robin, Albric Bouvet, Crozes-Hermitage, Rhne 2010
Black pepper Black pepper is among the world's most commonly used spices and begins life in clusters on a vine - not dissimilar to grapes. Peppercorns are actually green when they're harvested, but they turn black once dried. They are usually ground down to release their signature earthy spiciness, generated by the chemical compound piperine. Flavours reminiscent of this mild spice might appear in the flavour or aroma of some wines. Black pepper notes usually crop up in earthy or spicy dry red wines, particularly those made from Syrah / Shiraz, either single-varietal or constituting a classic blend with Mourvdre and Grenache. Syrahs from northern Rhne may intermingle black pepper with floral, minty or even creosote notes. Australia's warm climate Shiraz blends, such as those from Barossa Valley, might combine peppery hints with baked fruit and liquorice, developing into leathery or earthy characteristics with age. SEE: Domaine Gilles Robin, Les Papillons, Crozes-Hermitage 2015| Turkey Flat, Butcher's Block Red, Barossa Valley 2015 Other potentially peppery wines include ros blends from Provence, typically Grenache, Syrah and Cinsault. Sangiovese wines hailing from Chianti Classico, can also contain black pepper notes, usually associated with oak influences like black tea, leather and cedar. SEE: Sainsbury's, Taste the Difference Chianti Classico 2014 | Chteau de Galoupet, Ctes de Provence Cru Class 2016 Sources: Spices and Seasonings: A Food Technology Handbook by Donna R. Tainter, Anthony T. Grenis | Decanter.com
Apricot 'Apricot' in a tasting note is in the spectrum ofother stone fruits, such as peach, indicating a certain ripeness in the grapes, and used to describe white wines although not as ripe as in hot climate wines, where the fruit descriptors become tropical, like pineapple and mango. InDecanter'sHow to read wine tasting notes, it says apricot 'denotes warm, summery ripeness.' Apricot is often associated with the grapeViognier, along with peach and blossom, found the inRhneand increasinglyin the New World like California and Australia. RicherAlbario, from North West Spain,is another fine white which regularly gets described with an apricot nose. Apricot is also an aroma often found in sweet wines; either as the fresh fruit, or dried apricot, which is sweeter and more intense.
Banana Ever caught the whiff ofbananaswhen opening, sniffing or drinking wine? If you have, it could be for the following scientific reasons - please note there are almost certainly no actual bananas involved. One possible cause is the winemaking process carbonic maceration, commonly used in the production ofBeaujolaiswines, made from theGamaygrape. In this process, the grapes are sealed in a vessel filled with carbon dioxide prior to regular fermentation, which gives Beaujolais wines their distinctive juicy or subtly tropical flavours. The chemical compound behind banana's aroma is mainly isoamyl acetate, an ester that's also found in pears and bubblegum - another signature Beaujolais scent. It can occur in red or white wines as a natural by-product of carbonic maceration, or from the yeasts in regular fermentation. Interestingly, the same compound is released by the honey bees from their sting to alert fellow bees to danger. [list]
Black olive The colour of olives is generally related to how ripe they are: green olives are harvested before the olive has ripened, and black olives have been left to undergo ripening. During the course of ripening, polyphenol (aka tannin) levels drop. As a result, the astringency of the green olive relaxes into a more gentle and earthy tasting black olive. In wine tasting notes, black olive might be used to describe the earthy and subtly bitter edge found in some red wines. Syrah is a classic example, where black olive may be found alongside black fruit and black pepper notes.
Blackberry Blackberries are soft, black-coloured fruit, commonly found wild in English hedgerows during summer months. They can be eaten fresh, cooked in puddings or made into jam. In the wine lexicon, blackberry belongs in the black fruit category, alongside similarly sweet and tart soft fruits, such as blackcurrants, blueberries and black plums. As you might guess from their appearance, blackberries are closely related to raspberries, although the latter is considered more tart in taste and less firm in texture. Leafy or brambly blackberry flavours might be used to describe a tannic, full-bodied red wine style that hasn't yet fully matured. Prominent blackberry with leafy notes could also hint that the grapes didn't fully ripen before they were harvested. SEE: Zanoni Pietro, Zovo, Amarone della Valpolicella 2011 On the other end of the spectrum, jammy blackberry notes describe the rich ripeness associated with fruit preserves, when heat and sugar are added to intensify flavours. If you see blackberry paired with words like cooked, stewed, jam or dried, it might be describing red wines with developed fruit flavours from controlled oxidation, a common feature of bottle-ageing. This could apply to classic Bordeaux or Rioja blends and Californian Cabernet Sauvignon, where blackberry primary fruit flavours can intertwine with oak influences like vanilla, cedar and chocolate. SEE: Chteau Palmer, Margaux, 3me Cru Class, Bordeaux 2012 | Contador, Rioja 2014 | Ridge Vineyards, Estate Cabernet, Santa Cruz Mountains 2008 As a typical black fruit flavour, blackberry notes are ubiquitous in red wine tasting notes - from Touriga Nacional wines from Portugal, to Nero d'Avola from Sicily. SEE: Aldi, Zom Reserva, Douro 2015 | Donnafugata, Sherazade, Sicily 2015 Look for them in certain Syrah wines from Barossa Valley and northern Rhne to compare how they interact with characteristic gamey, spicy, tarry or smokey notes to create complexity. SEE: Penfolds, RWT Shiraz, Barossa Valley 2015 | Delas, St-Joseph Rhne 2010
Cassis As a tasting note, cassis refers to ripe and concentrated blackcurrant flavours or aromas. It's often used to describe rich and full-bodied red wines, such as matureBordeaux wines, or those made from earthy southern Italian varieties such as Nero d'Avola, Aglianico and Primitivo. The blackcurrant flavour profile belongs to a broader 'black fruit' category. Within that category, it's more aligned with the tartness of blueberries, and not with the sweetness of dark plum and blackberry flavours. The term can cover different forms of intense blackcurrant fruit flavours, from a large helping of blackcurrant jam, to a handful of the fresh berries. The tasting term is not to be confused with the wine region of Cassis in Provence, which is renowned for ros wines that generally express red fruit rather than black fruit notes, and white wines of a mineral and citrus character. To fully comprehend the flavour, why not try the blackcurrant liqueur crme de cassis. This also goes well in a 'Kir Royale' cocktail - made by pouring a small measure into a flute and topping up with Champagne.
Cherry Cherrieshave a distinctive fruit character, often replicated artificially for confectionery and liqueurs. When it comes to wine tasting notes, it's important todistinguish between different cherry forms and flavours. For starters, there are both sweet and sour cherries - think of the difference between maraschino and morello cherries. Red cherries are seen as part of the red fruit flavour profile, and black cherries are included in the black fruit category. In both of these, cherries might be seen as not so sweet or tart as the berries, yet more concentrated than fleshy plums, for example. InDecanter'sHow to read wine tasting notes, the general character of cherry is defined as, 'firm, vibrant fruit with a touch of acidity and none of the sweetness of, say, blackcurrants'. Wines that can carry notes of tart cherries include northern Italian reds, such Piedmont'sBaroloandBarbarescowines made from theNebbiologrape. Red cherry notes can be found in some TuscanSangiovesewines fromBrunello di MontalcinoandChianti.
YoungPinot Noirwines can encompass a range of cherry flavours from red to black, particularly those of New Zealand, where some of the best examples combine cherry with hints of jam or strawberry to offset earthy notes. SEE:Best New Zealand Pinot Noir under 20 Perhaps the wine most associated with cherries isBeaujolais, a red wine made from theGamaygrape. Cherry notes in these wines are usually the product of carbonic maceration, a process in which whole grapes are sealed in a vessel filled with carbon dioxide prior to regular fermentation. This helps to preserve the naturally juicy and fruity character of Gamay.
Citrus As a tasting note, citrus is defined by high acidity and fresh fruit flavour; characteristics that can be found in many white wines. Although wine may not reach the acidity level of, say, lemonade, it can have a strong acidic structure that recalls sharpness of fresh lemon, lime or grapefruit on the nose and palate. It may also be found alongside notes like 'mineral' or 'steely', because certain high acidity wines can feel almost hard-edged in the mouth, lacking in sweet fruit flavours. Accompanying notes of more sour fruits, like green apples or pears, are relatively common. [list]
First things first, it's important not to confuse the flavour profile ofcoconutswith nuts. Coconuts are not nuts, they are drupes (stone fruits). Their distinctive flavour and aroma is distinct from either fruits or nuts, and can be found in products like coconut milk or oil, as well as the desiccated coconut you might have eaten in a Bounty bar. In wine, coconut generally manifests itself on the nose as a kind of dulled sweetness, which doesn't pique the senses in the same way as sweet fruit or honey flavours. Instead it is more heavily aromatic, which is why it's categorised among the 'kernels' such as almond, coffee and chocolate. Notes of coconut can come from esters, which are the chemical compounds behind many aromas. Specifically lactones, which are responsible for the peculiar sweet aromas associated with coconuts. Beverley Blanning MW goes one step further in her exploration of oak aromas: 'beta-methyl-gamma-octa-lactone that's coconut aroma to you and me'. Coconut is one of the key aromas that distinguishes oaked wines, and it's usually counted as a tertiary aroma because it's related to the ageing process. Oak flavours can come from contact with wood chips, staves or barrels. Coconut is strongly evoked by American oak, along with vanilla notes. [list] [*] Oak barrels: What they do to wine
Cooked Fruit A 'cooked wine' can be considered a fault. It can refer to a bottle that has been exposed to extreme heat. This can occur during shipping and is evident to the consumer as the cork can protrude and the wine quality will be greatly diminished. However, when a person refers to 'cooked fruit' when tasting, this means that the grapes have had too much hang-time on the vine or too much sun exposure and are in fact overripe or even sunburned. This leads to a wine that has lower total acidity, which will make it taste less fresh; it will usually have jammy characters. This jamminess can be coupled with a higher level of alcohol, which can create a flabby mouthfeel.
Green apple Green apples are generally thought to be more tart and less sweet than their red or yellow counterparts. To test this, try biting into a granny smith followed by a gala or golden delicious apple. You should notice your mouth water more with the green apple, as you produce more saliva in response to the higher acid content. Specifically, malic acid which is derived from the latin word for apple, 'malum'. Wine also contains malic acid, which can give the impression of green apple flavours and aromas in your glass. Wines that are high in malic acid have more pronounced green apple notes, these include cool climate dry whites such as Chablis wines, as well as Riesling and Grner Veltliner from Germany or Austria. In these wines, green apple might be found alongside other green fruits with a similar flavour profile, such as gooseberry or pear, as well as mineral or metallic notes. SEE: Domaine Jean-Paul et Benot Droin, Valmur Grand, Chablis 2015 | Weinhof Waldschtz, Riesling Classic, Kamptal 2015 | Eschenhof Holzer, Wagram Grner Veltliner, Wagram 2015 The effect of malic acid is not always desirable, particularly in some red wines and Chardonnays. It can be processed using malolactic fermentation, when bacteria break down the tart malic acid into lactic acid - the same substance that's found in dairy products. This might be used in Chardonnay wines to bring out more buttery flavours and give a more rounded creamy mouthfeel. Sources: The Persistent Observer's Guide to Wine: How to Enjoy the Best and Skip the Rest by J. P. Bary | Decanter.com
Jammy The term jammy is usually applied to red wines low in acidity but high in alcohol, such as Californian Zinfandel or Australian Shiraz.It describes ripened or cooked fruit, in which the pungency and sweetness is intensified compared to fresh fruit flavours. Jammy is associated with red fruits like strawberries and raspberries, as well as darker fruits such as blackcurrants and blackberries - essentially fruits you can imagine making into jam. As a fault, it can express poor growing conditions in which the vines are overexposed to heat and sunlight. This causes the grapes to ripen too quickly, and the resultant wines can develop a cloying jamminess with a flabby mouthfeel. Wine writer Robert Haynes-Peterson notes that Pinot Noir wines are most at risk, as these thin-skinned grapes are 'intolerant of high temperatures which results in jammy, rather than fruit-driven, wines'. Read more However, some people see jamminess as adding an enjoyably complex and concentrated fruitiness to wines; Matetic's EQ Syrah from the San Antonio Valley was praised by Decanter's James Button for its 'multi-layered jammy and savoury elements'.
Orangesare a species of citrus fruit whichbranch into many varieties, whether it be your lunchbox satsuma or a red-fleshed blood orange. Despite its many forms, all orange varieties share a similar citrus character that's less acidic than lemon, lime or grapefruit and more fresh, fruity or tangy instead. The same chemical molecule is behind the aroma of lemons and oranges, known as limonene. But it exists in two slightly altered forms and interacts with our nasal receptors differently, resulting in the two distinctivefruit scents. Wine tasting notes might be more specific by naming which part of the orange fruit correctly describes the flavour or aroma found in a wine. For example, a wine could have notes or orange peel or zest, which indicates a more pungent orange aroma,becauselimonene is concentrated in essential oils given off by glands in the rind. This means that when you peel or grate the skin of an orange you release a stronger and more bitter odour than that of its flesh. Wines with orange zest or peel notes are generally dry white wines with mineral, green fruit or floral characteristics. These can includeFiano wines from Campania in southern Italy, Riesling from Australia's Clare Valley, or Californian Chardonnays - where orange zest notes might be intermingled with tropical fruit flavours. SEE:Pierluigi Zampaglione, Don Chisciotte Fiano, Campania 2011|Wakefield Estate, The Exquisite Collection Riesling, Clare Valley 2016|Fess Parker, Ashley's Chardonnay, Santa Rita Hills 2014 You may also see the tasting term 'orange blossom', referring to a very different tasting profile to orange fruits. Orange blossom is typified by a fresh white flower aroma, with a gentle bitter edge. You can look for orange blossom notes in white Burgundies such asDomaine Leflaive, Puligny-Montrachet Le Clavoillon 1er Cru 2015or Greek white Assyrtiko wines likeKtima Pavlidis, Emphasis Assyrtiko Drama PGI 2013. Do not confuse orange descriptors in wine tasting notes with orange wines, which are made using white wine grapes which are macerated in their skins, giving them an amber hue.In this case term 'orange' is in reference to their colour and does not prescribe orangey flavours or aromas. Sources: Citrus: A History by Pierre Laszlo |Decanter.com
As you're probably awarepineappleis a tropical fruit, with sweet and juicy pungent flesh. It's this sweet pungency that's reflected in some wine aromas, though no actual pineapple is present. There is such a thing as wine made from pineapples instead of grapes, but we won't get into that here. As a tasting note, pineapple is aligned with other sweet-smelling exotic fruits like melon, banana, guava, mango and passionfruit. Its flavour profile is sweeter than the citrus fruits, but it has a freshness that distinguishes it from stone fruits, such as apricots and peaches. You can find pineapple notes ripe white wines, such as aRieslinglikeTongue in Groove Waipara Valley, New Zealand 2013. Or you might find it in more traditional late-harvest examples, especially from cool regions likeMoselin Germany. It's generally ascribed to the influences of Botrytis Cinerea, or Noble Rot. [list] [*] Science:How noble rot influences wine flavour
[/list] As a thin-skinned grape, Riesling is particularly susceptible to Noble Rot - a fungus that pierces the skin of grapes and lowers the water content, whilst maintaining sugar levels. Botrytis is able to invoke fruity notes because of chemical compounds like fureanol, which is also found in very ripe pineapples. Look for its pineapple influence in sweet wines from Sauternes too, such asChteau Suduiraut 2013. Some oaky and ripe New WorldChardonnaysmay also exude aromas of pineapple, as they tend to have a more exotic fruit profile, along with hints of sweet spices and a higher alcohol content. Typical examples are Californian Chardonnays, such asFess Parker, Ashley's Chardonnay, Santa Barbara 2014andY Rousseau, Milady Chardonnay, Napa Valley 2012.
Raisin It might seem natural enough to find flavours of raisin in your wine, given that they're really just dried out grapes. Indeed some wines are made from desiccated grapes, like Amarone wines from Valpolicella (where grapes are dried for 100 days or more), or sweet wines such as passito or vin santo styles. In these examples grapes are simply air dried by being laid out on racks in well-ventilated spaces, or hung from the rafters.
The taste of raisins is defined by the concentration of fruit flavours and sugars left over after most of the water is removed. This explains why styles made by lowering the water content of grapes prior to pressing can later express raisiny notes in the glass. Sweet wines made using the onset of botrytis cinerea (aka noble rot) are part of this category too, as the fungus pierces the skins of the berries, lowering water content whilst retaining sugar levels. This includes wines like Sauternes from Bordeaux and Tokaji from Hungary. Some sweet sherries are made from dried grapes too, namely those that use Pedro Ximnez or Moscatel grapes that have been left in the sun for several days. These berries make naturally sweet sherries that don't require artificial sweetening after maturation, and they often have raisin in their tasting notes.
In the wine lexicon, raisin belongs in the dried fruit category alongside tasting notes like dates, sultanas, dried figs and prunes. It's not unusual to find dried fruit flavours alongside cooked or stewed ones, because the process of cooking can also concentrate sugars and flavours in a similar way to drying. Bear in mind that wines can display dried fruit flavours even if they aren't made from dried out grapes, because some intense, earthy or complex fruit flavours can seem raisin-like. For example, you may find raisin notes in Syrah wines from the Crozes-Hermitage or Saint-Joseph appellations in northern Rhne. SEE: Vidal-Fleury, Crozes-Hermitage, Rhne 2010 | La Tour Coste, St-Joseph, La Combe, Rhne, France, 2010 Sources: sherrynotes.com | Decanter.com
Strawberry Strawberry falls into the red fruit flavour category, along with notes like raspberry, cherry and jam. It can be experienced as an flavour, but is most commonly identified as a wine aroma. It's created by the fragrant organic compound called ethly methylphenylglycidate, also known as an ester. Strawberry notes can usually be found in light reds such as Californian Zinfandel wines, and New Zealand Pinot Noirs. As well as among the complex aromas of more tannic wines made from the Sangiovese and Nebbiolo varietals. Strawberry aromas are also expressed by ros wines, such as Domaine Delaporte's ros from Sancerreand Famille Negrel's La Petite Reine ros from Bandol. Or even in sparkling ros wines, such as The Wine Society's Champagne Rosand Exton Park's Pinot Meunier. The nature of the strawberry aroma can range from an attractive berry freshness, to an unpleasant cloying fruitiness. For example, sommelier Laure Patrypraises Erath Vineyards' Oregon Pinot Noir 2012 for its 'bright and fresh with ripe strawberry aromas'. But it can be distasteful if over-pronounced, in these instances it might be paired with words like 'cooked' or 'stewed'. Benjamin Lewin MW claims the 'strawberry notes of Pinot Noir' are 'released or created by yeast during fermentation', and he argues that different strains of yeasts can be used to enhance certain aspects of a wine's flavour profile. Read more
Herb & Spice
Almond When it comes to alcohol, almond is perhaps most associated with Amaretto; the Italian liqueur whose name translates to 'little bitter'. Almond's signature bitterness is thought to be caused by benzaldehyde, which is a chemical compound formed in wines during fermentation and also carbonic maceration when grapes are sealed in a vessel filled with carbon dioxide prior to regular fermentation. As well as fermentation, it can also come from yeast influences, in a similar vein to biscuit and brioche notes. This could include wines rested sur lie, 'on the lees', or those that have undergone btonnage, also known as 'lees-stirring' Levels of benzaldehyde are generally higher in sparkling wines, particularly those made using the traditional or charmat methods. SEE: Krug, Grande Cuve 160me dition NV | Prosecco, Cartizze, Vigna La Rivetta, Villa Sandi 2015 | Bodegas Muga, Conde de Haro Brut, Cava 2013 In the wine lexicon, almond falls into the 'kernels' category, alongside coffee, chocolate and coconut. In Decanter'sHow to read wine tasting notes, experts use almond to describe a certain 'fruity bitterness, more refreshing than unpleasant'. It is, for example, present in the dry red wine Allegrini, Valpolicella Classico Superiore 1998. This fruity bitterness can also feature in some young red Bordeaux wines, such asChteau d'Issan, Blason d'Issan, Margaux Bordeaux, 2016 and