July 2001 Newsletter
Wines evaluated last month: 216
Rejected: 191 Approved: 25 Selected: 2
MMMMMM'S THE WORD
How about two grapes in the same month that nobody ever heard of that both start with the letter "M"? Well, it didn't start out that way, but I'm sure you'll all be clamoring to get some more of these gems.
When summertime hits and the temperatures climb, I always find myself yearning for a chilled glass of Müller-Thurgau. There is something about the clean middle and the crisp finish that seems to cap off a "sit on the patio." Our domestic selection comes from Oregon and a winery, which claims to be the biggest producer of Müeller-Thurgau in the country. They make something like 2100 cases so I don't think any of the big boys will be shaking in their boots. This may be the first domestic Müeller-Thurgau we've ever encountered and wish it had been sooner. It offers a perfect sipping experience for summer nights and has enough flavor to match anything from salads to grilled fish. This one is a definite winner all summer long.
Mourvedre is one of the principle grapes in the great Chateauneuf du Pape of the Southern Rhone. We've had some great ones from California, too. But, until Taja, we didn't even know they grew this stuff in Spain. This rich, ripe and grapy wine tastes like a $15.00 bottle. It is definitely a keeper, but don't keep thinking about it for too long. It promises to be a big favorite around the BBQ.
Located on a panoramic hilltop in Yamhill County, Chateau Benoit is one of Oregon's original wine producers. The winery was founded in 1979 by Fred and Mary Benoit with the goal of making some of America's best wine.
It seemed natural that they made their way to the hills of Yamhill County. Fred Benoit is a direct descendent of John Thorp who led one of the first three wagon trains west to Oregon in 1844 and founded the town of Independence, Oregon. Fred's mother was a Thorp while Fred's father was part of a family that originally came from the Nevers region (where wine barrels are made) in Burgundy, France. Mary's great grandfather was from Alsace, France and developed one of Oregon's first breweries in The Dalles area in 1865.
It was fitting then, that after a career in medicine, the Benoits chose Oregon's Yamhill County to establish their winery.
The Benoit's understood that the Oregon climate was similar to areas in France and Germany and with time it could become one of the premier winegrowing areas in the United States. With that in mind they planted Pinot Noir and Chardonnay near Eugene, Oregon in 1972. Later they pursued their dream of establishing a winery and planted Riesling and Müller-Thurgau in 1979 and started construction on the winery a year later. The Benoit's subsequently formed a partnership with Bill Wittenberg, who owns Doe Ridge vineyard which is located three and a half miles northwest of the winery. The vineyard has some of the best Pinot Noir and Chardonnay grapes in Oregon.
Chateau Benoit is the leading producer of Müller-Thurgau in the United States. It is a cross between the noble Riesling grape and Sylvaner and was developed in the 1880s by a Dr. Hermann Müller who was born in the town of Thurgau. At one time it was the most planted grape in Germany, but has lately been even more successful in Australia and Oregon. This one is the best we've tasted outside Europe.
Lovely peach and nectarine fruit flavors balanced with a tangy acidity and a sparkling finish. Perfect with the crab cake recipe on page 6.
Refrigerate for 2
hours before serving
Just south of Spain's well-known Rioja district and a few miles north of the Mediterranean is the rolling hills of Jumilla. The climate is hotter and drier here, which helps to produce very rich, highly concentrated and beautifully extracted red wine.
Taja is owned by the prestigious firm of Mahler-Besse. Over 100 years ago, Frederic Mahler-Besse settled in Bordeaux and began creating some of the regions most distinguished wines. Now, the second and third generations of the Mahler-Besse family oversee the operation, inspired by the family motto that can be found on their coat of arms: In hoc signo vinces (under this sign you will prevail).
Mahler-Besse lavishes experience, ingenuity, and passion on its all of its estates, such as Chateau d'Arche (an Haut Medoc bourgeois growth), Chateau Palmer (a great growth in Margaux), and Chateau La Couronne (a Saint Emilion great growth) as well as its petit chateaux such as Vieux Moulin, Cheval Noir and Taja.
Quality is the absolute foundation for all of Mahler-Besse's operations, from pruning the vines to handpicking the grapes, to the use of traditional Bordeaux winemaking methods. Thanks to a century of experience, daily contact with the vineyards, and regular comparative tastings, Mahler-Besse selects the finest wines at their optimum vintage.
Only when a wine meets the high standards instilled by Frederic Mahler-Besse, will a wine receive the Mahler-Besse signature. For this reason, Mahler-Besse is now recognized as one of the region's leading wine names.
Taja is comprised of 100% Mourvedre and made with the skill and know-how used in Bordeaux by the same winemaking team at Chateau Palmer. This delicious and lively wine is barrel aged for 6 months in French Oak giving it a vanillin spice character and a hint of sweet nutmeg on the nose. A blast of ripe berry and spice aromas literally leaps out of the glass and into your mouth. The smooth, oak induced influence round out one of the best bargains we have seen in many a year.
Ripe, gamy and seductive fruit flavors of black berry and flame grapes. Hints of tobacco and leather scream for flavorful dishes like the rib recipe on page 6.
Will complex for
another year or two.
Place in refrigerator
for 1/2 before
"Paul, What are the differences between making a red wine and a white wine?"
P.L.T., Sacramento, CA
On arrival at the winery the white grapes will be crushed and de-stemmed. Pressing then follows to release the juice. The gentler the pressing, the finer the juice. The juice (also called 'must') is allowed to settle for a few hours.
Most white wines are fermented at a low temperature between 40 and 50 degrees to retain freshness. It takes about two weeks for all the sugar to be converted, leaving you with a dry white wine. Most fermentations now take place in stainless steel vats, although some of the smarter white wines are fermented in small oak barrels.
Once the fermentation has finished the yeast sinks to the bottom of the vat and forms a sediment (the 'lees'). While resting on the lees, wine can undergo a second transformation called 'malolactic fermentation'. In this process bacteria attack the malic acid (which has a sour, green taste) and converts it into lactic acid (which is softer and more buttery). Winemakers can now decide whether to encourage or block this transformation.
The wine will then be drained out of the vat leaving the lees behind (a process called 'racking'). Most white wines will then be matured for a short period, usually around six months or so. The fuller bodied whites may spend some time in oak barrels.
On arrival at the winery the red grapes are crushed and de-stemmed and pumped directly into the fermentation vats. The essence of red winemaking is that the must will ferment in contact with the skins, from which colour and tannin are extracted. To assist in the extraction of colour, most red wines are fermented relatively warm (70-80 degrees).
Once the fermentation has finished most of the red wine can be drained off from the top through gravity. This component is called 'free run' red wine and is the best part of the selection. The remaining wine is harsh and tannic, but on other occasions a small portion can be blended with the free run wine to improve its body.
All red wines undergo malolactic fermentation to soften them, before racking and maturation. Red wine is usually matured longer than white - around 12 months or more. As with white wine, the use of oak barrels (particularly if they are new) will have a significant effect on the wine's character. Because the red wines spend so long in wood, it is normal to rack them every three months or so to remove any sediment that has accumulated.
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