Global warming may still be a controversial theory in politics and science, but winemakers are believers. Rising temperatures and changing climates are being credited – at least in part – with improvements in wine quality in unusual or new regions, while vintners in more established regions are worried that Mother Nature will pass them by.
Virginia has had four strong vintages in a row, unprecedented in the Old Dominion’s 400 years of winemaking (or at least, in the 30 years they’ve been really serious about it). The 2003 vintage looms as global warming’s flip side – record rainfalls, including a hurricane at harvest time that left many wines dilute.
California’s grape sugars – and alcohol content in the wine – have been rising slightly but perceptibly in recent vintages. Vineyard practices contribute to this trend, as do market forces, but temperatures remain a factor.
"I like global warming,” Bruno Eynard, winemaker at Chateau Lagrange in St. Julien, told me last year, giving climate change partial credit at least for a string of good harvests this decade. “But I want it to stop now,” he said, “or I’ll be making Bordeaux in England!”
Last week, Dr. Richard Smart, the famed Australian viticulturist, raised the possibility that our favorite wines may already have been irreparably altered by global warming.
"I would ask anyone with a cellar full of known value wines, have you thought about the fact that in Bordeaux, we may have already seen the best vintages of Cabernet Sauvignon?" Smart said at the 2008 Climate Change and Wine Conference in Barcelona, Spain.
According to Decanter.com, Smart said many famous wine regions may soon be unsuitable for their most noted grape varieties. He predicted that Argentina and Chile will be “lucky” because the preponderance of oceans in the Southern Hemisphere will moderate the changes. And China’s cold, barren north may be the Napa Valley of the future.
At least then, we’d know what wine to drink with Chinese food.
With Valentine's Day approaching, wine columnists are busy telling us what wines to drink with chocolate. I'm no exception, this time, as my February column in Washingtonian magazine is on this very subject.
My conclusion? While I like exploring dry red wines with various flavored chocolates, the most compatible pairing was Brachetto d'Acqui, a charming red bubbly from the Piemonte region of northern Italy. Brachetto has juicy flavors of strawberry and raspberry, low alcohol (typically around 5%), and it fairly dances with chocolate.
Brachetto is a niche wine to be sure, but adventurous retailers should have at least one on hand. The most widely available is probably Rosa Regale, which is imported by Banfi Vintners and retails for about $22 for the 2006 vintage. This delightful wine will help set the Valentine's mood, and if you have any leftover, keep it chilled for breakfast.
These days, it’s hard to get excited about a $7 bottle of wine. Too many are pleasant enough, but simple and, ultimately boring. So it’s a pleasure to discover one that’s a real gem - with enough verve and energy to interest even the most jaded oenophiliac.
The Domaine des Hospices de Canet 2005, a “simple country wine” - or vin de pays - from the Cotes Catalanes in the Languedoc-Rousillon region of southwestern France, is one such find. A blend of 60% Carignane, with the rest split evenly among Syrah and Merlot, the wine is like a softened version of a Cote du Rhone. Juicy, grapey and fun, it still has enough structure and grip to keep it interesting. The winery is owned by Domaine Cazes, one of the largest, if not the largest, producer of biodynamic wines in France. Biodynamic is beyond organic - farming is conducted according to the phases of the moon and some bizarre rituals sanctioned by a German organization called Demeter. The Domaine des Hospices de Canet is not certified biodynamic, but the farming practices are essentially the same.
So what you have here is an inexpensive charmer that is ideal for simpler foods such as charcuterie, cheeses, burgers, pizza, even stir-fries - in other words, a weeknight dinner at home. And it’s organic, to boot. I’m going back for a case.
Currently, the Domaine des Hospices de Canet is available in the DC region only at Cleveland Park Wines on Connecticut Ave NW, across the street from the Uptown Theater. But it can be ordered by any store in the DC, MD and VA markets through Country Vintner.