What’s In Your Sippy Cup?: Great Wine That Goes Beyond Chardonnay

I love many things about motherhood:  the lingering smell of shampoo in my baby’s freshly washed hair.  The warm heft of my toddler sleeping on my lap.  The clean *pop* of a cork on a nice bottle of red after a long day of wiping noses, changing diapers, and redirecting misbehavior.

I’m a huge fan of the Grape (for its health benefits, of course).  Wine is a necessary luxury that connects us to history, the earth, and one another.  No doubt you have a few varietals or labels that you turn to time and again.  I’d like to introduce you to three lesser-known wines that just might make you find a new favorite.

To Give:  Vinho VerdeSonalto

What it is:  As you may be able to deduce with your Alamo City Spanish skills, the name “vinho verde” is Portuguese for “green wine.”  The name does not refer to the color, but to the style of wine: vinho verde is young–or immature–white, red, or rose wine that is meant to be drunk within a year or so of bottling.

White vinho verde is the easiest to find.  It is light, fresh, and acidic–fairly similar to Pinot Grigio.  What sets vinho verde apart is its slight effervescence, caused by malolactic fermentation.  This process produces bubbles in wine and usually is considered a flaw in the winemaking process.  After all, you wouldn’t want your big bold Cab to drink like a carbonated soda.  But, the slight sparkle is the perfect complement to the vinho verde style.

Why it is Good for Mamas: Vinho Verde is approachable and affordable, making it the perfect thank-you gift for someone who just did you an everyday solid.  I’ve given it to co-workers, fellow mamas, and my own self after a particular trying day.  When I give it to others, I make a point to brag about the price ($6 or so).  I tell them that not only am I giving them a fun bottle they might not have tried before, but also I am giving them the knowledge of a super-affordable wine that they won’t feel guilty about popping open on a Tuesday.

Casal GarciaFor gifting purposes, Casal Garcia ($6.49) can’t be beat.  The label is beautiful, so you only need to wrap a strip of ribbon or raffia around the neck of the bottle to give it a finished look.  The contents are light and effervescent, and can be enjoyed even by people who don’t have much experience with wine.

Sonalto is another great choice.  The vintage-style label (pictured above) has a cool masculine vibe.  The flavor is a bit more refined than Casal Garcia, and the price ($5.99) is even more reasonable.

To Take: CarmenereCarmenere

What it is:  Carmenere has one of the greatest back-stories in all of modern wine.  The grape takes its name from the French word carmin, meaning “crimson,” and together with Cabernet Sauvignon, Cabernet Franc, Merlot, Malbec, and Petit Verdot, it was one of the six original grapes of the Bordeaux region in France. During the 19th century, it was imported to the New World, and wine-makers in South America began growing it there.  In 1867, an infestation of phylloxera insects destroyed most of the vineyards in France.  Carmenere vines were particularly affected, and the grape was believed extinct.

Meanwhile, back in the New World, growers had lost sight of what, exactly, they were growing.  They believed their Carmenere vines were producing Merlot, and they treated the grape accordingly.  As a result, New World “Merlot” was markedly different from European Merlot, as–unbeknownst to its producers–it was made with an entirely different grape.  It was not until the 20th century that a combination of centuries-old handwritten records and genetic testing revealed New World Carmenere for what it was.

Carmenere’s rediscovery is a boon for wine enthusiasts.  Carmenere wine is characterized by flavors of red fruit, spice, and berries.  Unlike some other big red wines, it typically is not oaked, so its fruit flavor really shines through.  It has less tannin than Cabernet Sauvignon, which means it can and should be drunk young.

Why it’s Good for Mamas:  You have enough to do without worrying about what kind of gift to take to that upcoming dinner party.  Carmenere is the perfect varietal to give your hostess.  You’ll get credit for your knowledge of an unusual wine rather than for a willingness to spring for a high-priced label.  More importantly, Carminere’s back-story is a great ice-breaker.  By sharing it with your hostess and any guests within earshot, you’ll leapfrog the small talk and ease into a convivial evening.

You don’t have to spend a lot to get a good bottle.  I like Puerto Viejo from Chile ($9.99).  If you are trying Carmenere for the first time, I suggest purchasing it from a store with knowledgeable staff who can steer you in the best direction.

To Serve:  Icewine (Eieswein)Icewine

What it is: Icewine is proof positive that man will go to any lengths to create enjoyable libations.  It is produced in cold climates, where temperatures drop to freezing before the grapes are harvested.  The grapes freeze on the vine and are pressed before they thaw.  The sugars and dissolved solids don’t freeze, making the pressed juice very concentrated and syrupy.  The resulting wine is very sweet but has enough acid to make it refreshing rather than cloying.  Icewine is lighter than other dessert wines you might be familiar with, and its taste is reminiscent of peach, pear, tropical fruit, and honey.

Why it’s Good for Mamas: Do you ever wish you entertained more but put it off because it’s just too much work?  Hit the Easy button.  Call up some friends, grill some burgers, and throw the kids in the yard.  Don’t stress about dessert.  Serve the adults melon balls or sliced peaches with a glass of Icewine.  You’ll end your evening on a high note and be glad you went to the minimal trouble of hosting friends in your home.

Icewine is very difficult to produce. It requires labor to pick the grapes at the first frost, on very little notice, and within a few hours to prevent thawing.  The production challenges are reflected in the price.  Jackson-Triggs ($20.69 for 187ml) isn’t cheap, but its a good ratio of price to value.  Icewine is sold in smaller bottles than most other styles, but each person only needs a few small sips.

I hope my suggestions inspire you to try something new! If you have a favorite lesser-known wine, please share your secret in the comments below. Salud!

The prices in this article were taken from Spec’s Liquor Store on August 22.  If you are interested in learning more about wine, their friendly and extraordinarily knowledgeable staff are a great resource. 

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One Response to What’s In Your Sippy Cup?: Great Wine That Goes Beyond Chardonnay

  1. Brooke August 27, 2013 at 3:23 pm #

    My favorite hidden gem is an Albariño but with the weather turning from summer to fall, I’m leaning towards rosés. But I’ll definitely be checking out some of these newbies! Thanks Katy!