If there is one grape variety that exemplifies the phrase, “Don’t judge a book by its cover,” it is Petit Verdot. This small grape earned its name, which translates to “little green,” due to its tendency to ripen later in the season as compared to its Bordeaux cohorts, such as Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot. When allowed to fully ripen, this compact yet dynamic grape unveils jammy black fruits, enticing floral aromas and firm tannins along with a deep, dark purple color.
Due to its long, leisurely ripening period, many Châteaux in Bordeaux have replaced Petit Verdot plantings with varieties that ripen to their full potential more expeditiously. However, many New World wine regions are welcoming Petit Verdot into their vineyards to be celebrated as a single-varietal wine, as opposed to a petite percentage of a larger blend.
In the North Fork of Long Island, New York, Pellegrini Vineyards Winemaker Zander Hargrave believes that “the variety works well because it is late to go through veraison.” This later ripening protects it from early weather fluctuations. Further, the smaller berries are able to concentrate sugars in mid to late October, resulting in depth of flavor and more intense color. The wines exude wild fruit flavors and earthy undertones. In Virginia, many wineries are using Petit Verdot in place of Cabernet Sauvignon to satisfy consumers looking for an alternate big, bold style of red wine. These wines carry vibrant acidity along with ripe dark-berry fruit and, in the best examples, firm and gripping tannins.
Australia’s largest plantings of Petit Verdot can be found in the Riverland region, but it has also found success in the Barossa and Murray valleys as well as Riverina. Its ability to retain acidity in these warmer climates is key, leading to full-bodied wines with a flavor profile similar to Shiraz: intense red berry fruit, black pepper spice and floral notes such as lavender and violet.
With more than 1,600 acres of Petit Verdot planted in Argentina, 72% are in the high-altitude, warm continental-climate region of Mendoza. Today, the regions of San Juan, La Rioja, Patagonia and the Calchaquí Valley all have the grape under vine. “Petit Verdot gets fuller with sweeter, gentler tannins than you find where it originally came from,” says Tomás Hughes, winemaker at Finca Decero.
A lot of things happened since Covid hit and the lockdowns and quarantines rolled around. One of the most notable is that just about everyone starting drinking more… and who can blame us?? The everyday stresses intensified and with gyms and bars struggling to survive, the outlets to blow off some steam minimized. Plus, how else were we supposed to cope with virtual education, seriously ?!?
While the increase in wine consumption and sales has been widely publicized, more people are also now sipping on bourbon than ever before. It makes sense… higher alcohol content so you can consume less volume and there are so many delicious options out there that don’t have to break the bank. Plus, a bottle of bourbon lasts a lot longer than the same 750 ML bottle of wine. Think about it… a $50 bottle of wine may get polished off in one sitting, whereas a $50 bottle of bourbon can last weeks to months.
Since bourbon can be produced anywhere in the US (myth debunked: bourbon does not have to come from Kentucky) there are some stellar new offerings coming from producers all over America. And since bourbon is truly an American made product, you can feel good about supporting local businesses while sipping on a tasty adult beverage while winding from a long day. One new producer I just discovered is Penelope and their interesting lineup of various style bourbons.
Quick snapshot, Penelope Bourbon is distilled in Indiana and was created to celebrate the birth of Mike and Kerry Paladini’s child in 2018. Her name? You guessed it… Penelope. To commemorate this occasion, Mike realized he wanted to create a spirit that embodied the daily joy of celebrating life’s pleasures, both big and small. He teamed up with his childhood bud Danny Polise to distill their first batch of straight bourbon whiskey and voila, a new company was born.
Their entry level Four Grain Bourbon (75% Corn, 15% Wheat, 7% Rye, 3% Malted Barley) is anything but ‘entry’. Earning multiple awards, this is an extremely solid bottle of $40-45 whiskey. It’s on the lighter side, but not lacking in balance or flavor. Very classic caramel and vanilla aromas with fresh apple notes, baking spices and a little touch of tangerine citrus on the smooth finish. An easy sipper, but also a great cocktail bourbon with all of those distinct flavors.
They also produce a Barrel Strength version of this Four Grain Bourbon, and man is this one a beast! I think Kara Newman from WE said it best in her 93 Point review of this one… ‘bold, concentrated caramel tone that mingles with a hint of plum skin. A pleasant prickle of sweet spices—cinnamon, cardamom, clove, cayenne—lingers on the finish’. And at a whopping 58% alcohol you probably want to drop a cube, or a splash of water, in the glass before imbibing.
But my favorite from their assortment is the Rose Cask Finish Bourbon. They did a wonderful job integrating the nuances of Rose, such as strawberry fruit and rose petals, while maintaining the distinct bourbon core of apple fruit, toasted vanilla, candied caramel, cinnamon and nutmeg. And even though the Rose wine barrels they use are not from a sweet rose wine, those bright red fruit and floral notes that help add a lovely kiss of sweetness on the pleasing finish.
The first rule of thumb is to drink what you like. If you enjoy it, then it must be good!
However, if you want to gauge the technical quality of wine, there are five major structural components to assess. After you examine those levels, you can determine if and how they balance each other and lead to an intense or expressive wine with complexity on the nose, palate and finish.
Here are the five most important structural components of wine and how to understand them in the glass.
Just because a wine is fruity doesn’t mean it’s sweet.
Sweetness indicates the amount of residual sugar in wine. So, when people say they prefer a “dry wine,” it’s not to say they don’t enjoy fruity wines, just wines without any real sugar content.
There’s no direct correlation between sweetness or dryness and quality. Sure, you would be hard-pressed to find a 100-point White Zinfandel on Wine Enthusiast, but there are plenty of 100-point sweet wines, like Port and Tokaji, that are some of the most sought-after wines in the world.
You know that mouthwatering feeling you get when you bite into a fresh pineapple or sip freshly squeezed lemonade? That’s acidity, and it’s one of the most important components of wine.
Derived from grape pulp, acidity accounts for less than 1% of the composition of wine. (Water comprises 80–86%, and alcohol typically 11–16%.) Acidity helps to make cool-climate white wines zippy and refreshing and helps rich reds, like Saint-Estèphe in Bordeaux or Rioja Gran Reserva, to age gracefully for decades.
While acidity will tend to be lower in red grapes than white, without medium to high acidity in a wine, it will appear as flabby or flat and it will be nearly impossible for it to exhibit balance or harmony.
A great exercise to understand tannin is to peel the skin off a red grape and eat it by itself. That drying feeling in your mouth that sucks your cheeks in is from the tannin.
However, tannins can also come from oak aging, so you will notice a bit of tannin in those big, buttery Napa Chardonnays and gloriously complex Sauternes.
Tannins are more prevalent in red wines because there is more skin contact with the juice during fermentation and when the juice is pressed, or when liquid is separated from solids. The more contact the juice has with the skins, and possibly stems, the more the tannins can be detected in a wine.
Without a healthy dose of tannins, it’s very difficult for a wine to improve and evolve over time. Conversely, a wine that is oversaturated with tannins, and that doesn’t possess enough fruit or acidity to balance it out, will feel astringent and come across as particularly bitter on the finish.
The cat’s out of the bag: Wine has alcohol, and it’s a critical component of the body and weight of your pour.
Alcohol is a byproduct of the fermentation process. The more sugar in whatever grapes are fermented, the higher the wine’s potential alcohol. Grapes develop sugar as they ripen, which explains why high-alcohol wines can come from generally warmer regions like Barossa in Australia, Priorat in Spain and many regions in California, while cool-climate white wines from Vinho Verde in Portugal or the Loire Valley in France tend to have lower alcohol levels.
Lower or higher levels of alcohol are not surefire signs of quality in wine, though. There must be a minimum level of around 8% alcohol by volume (abv) for even the lightest of white wines. And, for those big, high-alcohol reds that exceed 15% abv, there should be a hefty dose of fruit, ample tannins and at least moderate acidity to keep everything balanced.
Residual sugar, tannin and alcohol work in tandem with fruit concentration to determine the body or weight of a wine. The denser the fruit and higher the alcohol, the heavier and fuller-bodied a wine will feel on the palate.
A great way to judge body is to think about water and milk. A light-bodied wine like a New Zealand Sauvignon Blanc will have a consistency similar to water, whereas a full-bodied wine like an Argentine Malbec will be closer to heavy cream. The collaborative effort of all these structural components leads you to determine whether you’re drinking a light-, medium- or full-bodied wine.
So, What Makes a ‘Good’ Wine?
Once you have made your assessments of all these structural components, you can then determine how they complement one another. Does the acidity balance out potentially high tannins?
Does the alcohol complement the high fruit concentration, leading to a long and pleasing finish? Does the combination of these components then culminate in an intense, expressive and potentially complex wine?
If the answer to all these questions is yes, you probably have a good, or possibly outstanding, wine on your hands.
It’s Friday, the end of a long week. You’ve decided to open a bottle to celebrate. Perhaps it’s an older Bordeaux, or a young, vibrant Austrian Grüner Veltliner. You pour a splash in the glass and give it a sniff. A wave of disappointment crashes down around you as the wine smells like burnt matches and rotten eggs.
Fear not. A little aeration may be all you need.
First, let’s get this out of the way. Not all wine needs to be decanted. Decanting is necessary mostly for younger red wines that need maximum aeration, or for older wines to help remove sediment.
However, just about every wine will improve with some aeration, whether in a decanter or through a quick swirl in the glass. So how much time does a wine need to breathe? And how long should you swirl before your wrist feels like it’s going to fall off? The answer is…it depends.Aerator vs Decanter: Which is Better?
If you have a young, opulent and highly tannic Rhône red, it may need to decant at least an hour to soften tannins and round out any hard edges. This applies to most wines with similar structure and concentration. But, for an easy-drinking New Zealand Sauvignon Blanc, something that is fresh, zippy and full of aromatic citrus fruit, an hour of breathing may dull the qualities that give the wine its character.
However, a few swirls and a bit of time to breathe in the glass will usually help reductive or sulfur-related aromas blow off the wine. Here are a few tips to help decide how long a wine should breathe so each pour will shine.
Even at home, pour a sample before a full glass
Just like a sommelier at a restaurant, pour a small sample to test the nose and palate before you commit to a full glass. Some wines may have some reductive or sulfur notes, which come across most notably as aromas of rubber, burnt matches or rotten eggs. Often, these aromas will dissipate after 10–15 minutes. You may opt for a decanter, but it could be simpler to pour a small glass and swirl away to see if those odors fade.
Young, tannic reds need oxygen to soften tannins
Whether it’s a young Napa Cab, an Argentine Malbec or Aussie Shiraz, these wines typically need a dose of oxygen to smooth out any roughness and soften tannins. Of course, if you enjoy the punch that these wines can pack straight out of the bottle, there’s no need to delay. Allowing them to breathe too long can overly soften their opulent nature.
Still, most young, tannic reds can benefit from some aggressive swirling and 10–20 minutes in the glass. This will help open up big, brooding wines and allow for overpowering oaky notes to fully integrate with the fruit and often high alcohol levels.
Older vintage wines may be ready right out of the bottle
There’s a common misconception that older wines all require several hours of decanting. The truth is, even several minutes in a decanter may overly oxidize an older, delicate wine. It can obliterate the drinking window to just a few short seconds.
Yet, there are longer-aged wines, usually those that started with high levels of tannins, alcohol content and fruit concentration, that will benefit from several minutes in the glass to open completely. These could also potentially benefit from decanting.What are Tannins, Really?
The rule of thumb for older wines is that the lighter and older a wine, the less aeration it will need. When in doubt, pour a small sample into a glass and examine it. Red wines tend to lose color with age, meaning the lighter in color the wine appears, the less aeration it will likely need. An inky, bright ruby, opaque older wine will require more oxygenation. The opposite is true for white wines, which gain color as they age.
White and sparkling wines do not typically need aeration
That’s not to say all whites and sparkling wines can’t benefit from a bit of oxygen. If any reductive notes are detected in a white wine, by all means give it some air and possibly 10–15 minutes in a decanter. The same is true for those rich, deep gold whites that may need a little bit of room to stretch their legs. But the vast majority of these wines come out of the bottle ready to rock.
If you pour a sample and the wine is slightly muted or not as aromatic as expected, add a bit more to your glass and swirl away. The problem will usually solve itself.
Enjoy the process
One of the best parts about tasting wine is to see how it develops from the time it’s opened until the last sip. Nothing is more rewarding than when the final taste from a highly anticipated wine is the best of the bottle. It allows you to fully appreciate the journey that it took to get there. So, while aerating and decanting some wines will certainly help bring them to their ideal drinking window, to taste the natural evolution of the wine after it’s opened is its own great pleasure.Published on June 8, 2021
New York has become quite the hot spot when it comes to Bourbon production.
Contrary to popular belief, Bourbon does not have to be made in Kentucky. In fact, the spirit can be produced anywhere in the United States as long as the mash to be distilled is at least 51% corn and the spirit is aged in new charred oak barrels.
What started as a few scattered upstart distilleries has transformed into a full-fledged Bourbon movement in the Empire State. You can find Bourbon operations throughout New York that match the quality of many of Kentucky’s historic distilleries.
Here are five of New York’s finest producers. They craft world-class Bourbon and offer enjoyable tasting experiences.
Tuthilltown, the first post-Prohibition distillery in New York, also produced the state’s first Bourbon, dubbed Hudson Baby Bourbon.
Although the distiller recently transformed its labels and brand names, the storied bottling, now dubbed Hudson Whiskey NY Bright Lights, Big Bourbon, is still a quintessential example. It has classic notes of caramel, spice and vanilla that are mild and approachable.
With the Jellystone Lazy River Campgrounds just a mile away, a visit here makes for the perfect day-trip excursion if you need to sip on something with a little kick while spending a weekend camping with the family. Don’t forget to also try its extensive line of rye whiskeys while you’re there.
Black Button Distilling
Black Button Distilling is home to a variety of complex and intriguing spirits. Based in Rochester, 90% of Black Button’s ingredients are grown in New York. And Black Button’s whiskeys are truly expressive of the character of the local corn and wheat.
If you’re an Irish cream fan, check out the Bespoke Bourbon Cream. Its sweet vanilla notes compliment the creamy texture and flavor.
Hillrock Estate Distillery
This widely accoladed distillery is a legacy of the renowned late master distiller Dave Pickerell.
Hillrock is one of the few “field-to-glass” whiskey producers in the world, meaning the grain for its mash is all estate grown. Hillrock Estate is also the first American distillery since before Prohibition to craft whiskey on site from estate-grown grain.
Kara Newman, the spirits editor at Wine Enthusiast, gave the distillery’s popular Solera-Aged Bourbon a 96-point rating, noting its “peach and vanilla aromas, bold raisin and brown sugar flavors and a gentle exit that just hints at Sherry.”
Like many of the other distilleries, Hillrock Estate is in the Hudson Valley. Visit its early 19th-century restored Georgian house, taste its line of handcrafted spirits and enjoy the stunning landscapes.
Catskill Distilling Company
Nestled directly across from where the original Woodstock music festival took place (now the Bethel Woods Center for the Arts), Catskill Distilling is as innovative with its branding as it’s meticulous about spirit production.
The creative juices are on full display, from its 1960s-themed Peace Vodka to the The One and Only Buckwheat.
Most notable is its The Most Righteous Bourbon… and most righteous it is! It earned a 93-point score from Wine Enthusiast, where it’s “bold caramel and toffee aromas” proceeded a “long, mouthwatering finish.”
Taconic, founded in 2013, is a relative newcomer to the state’s Bourbon game.
Its pet foxhound Copper (named after the color of their bourbon) graces each and every bottle. Located in scenic Hudson Valley, Taconic’s line of whiskeys now makes waves on a national scale.
Taconic’s farmhouse tasting room is located nearby to both Millbrook and Clinton Vineyards, two winery staples in the Hudson Valley. There are few better ways to spend a day than to sip on whiskey and wine amid the area’s abundant natural beauty.
You know the bottles. They’ve been sitting in your wine fridge for a few years now, waiting for the perfect night and the perfect audience.
It’s always tempting to open up those special bottles when in good company of family and friends, particularly when a wonderfully delectable dish is included. However, deciding when to pull gems from the cellar can be one of the most agonizing decisions to make—especially if you have already had a glass or two and are being egged on by your pals.
Even though you may love the people surrounding you, are they truly going to appreciate what you are about to open? Has everyone already had too many glasses pass their palate to accurately assess the true quality of your potentially stellar selection? Are there simply too many people for anyone to get more than a drop or two of this high quality, highly-anticipated juice? These are the questions that need to be addressed and answered, under potentially stressful time constraints, before you pop open that vintage bottle you’ve been saving for just the right moment.
Here are a few rules of thumb to help guide you into making the right wine service decision, and avoiding the regret of opening something spectacular you later wish you hadn’t.
The smaller the group, the better.
When there are too many people, inevitably someone will not get a chance to taste the opened bottle and you will probably hear about it for months to come. Generally speaking for a single standard bottle, if there are any more than six people, you may want to save it for a more intimate gathering.
Know your audience.
If more than half of the group are really going to appreciate and enjoy something special, then pop the cork. Who knows, you may enlighten someone with an epiphany wine experience.
Keep food pairing in mind.
Having the perfect food pairing may not be totally necessary for the enjoyment of a high-quality bottle. However, having a terrible pairing, like a wonderfully aged Bordeaux with oysters, can certainly hinder a potentially memorable wine drinking experience.
Do it early in the night.
Taste buds tend to get a little tired as an evening of wine tasting progresses, rendering that glorious bottle mundane if it’s not one of the first poured. Plus, the more that your crew tends to consume, the less likely they are to get properly geeky about all of the intricacies of something that deserves a little more attention.
Sometimes you just want to open a phenomenal wine because you feel like it. In those cases, forget about any of these suggestions and just crack it open! Sometimes life is too short to not drink your best wine.
Published on December 20, 2018
About the Author
MARSHALL TILDEN III
From his first sips of wicker basket Chianti at his grandfather’s dinner table to a 1986 Premier Cru Gevrey-Chambertin, Tilden knew that there was something magical about wine. He earned his Diploma in Wine and Spirits from the Wine & Spirit Education Trust and is a Certified Specialist of Wine with the Society of Wine Educators. Having been with Wine Enthusiast catalog since 2005, when he is not writing about wine he also runs the wine storage division and is head of W.E.’s in-house education program.
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