Who you callin’ “fruit”?
October 22, 2010 § Leave a comment
Reprinted from Portland Press Herald, August 25, 2010
Wine sellers use the word “fruity” at their peril. Red wine drinkers, especially, seem put off by the notion that a wine should express its origin in a grape; instead, they want “powerful,” “earthy,” “big” wines.
I do too, but not all the time – not even most of the time. Most of the time, I want to enjoy my meal, contribute to the conversation and leave the table refreshed enough to put my kids to bed and remain happy once the alcohol kick has left its jubilance phase.
“Fruity,” it seems, connotes superficiality, sweetness and childishness, whereas “dry” connotes intelligence, complexity and dank Tuscan cellars. Like “dark-roasted” with coffee, the association of “dry” with profundity is simplistic. I call a wine “fruity” if it’s sprightly, fresh-tasting and young, and if the soul of the fruit itself is present in the wine.
Generally, these wines emphasize vigor and charm. Not only is this OK (doesn’t mean you’re not a complex person), it’s preferable for the current season: still summer, but steering toward harvest time. In our foods as well as our wines, we are moving from all things crisp and tingly to slightly more heft and bass-note oomph.
Wines with prominent, balanced fruit provide the perfect bridge: The flavors are of things above ground (plants, fruits) rather than below (minerals, earth). The body is supple and less aggressive, and the tannins are subtle. The following reds show what fruit has to offer when transformed by a firm hand; they’re evidence that anyone who thinks fruity wines are childish must not like children.
Clos Lojen 2008, Manchuela, Spain, $14 (Wicked): Immediate, accessible notes of licorice, dried mint, pepper, leather and thyme. But as delightful as those components are, they’re ultimately just clothing for the wine’s (lithe, sinewy) flesh of super-fresh, ripe black plums and Bing cherries.
Made from 100 percent biodynamically farmed Bobal, a grape unique to Manchuela, it’s an all-natural wine, with no sulfites added. The 29-year-old winemaker (and fourth-generation Bobal grower) uses carbonic maceration, a process traditionally employed to make Beaujolais – the queen of delightfully fruity, food-friendly wines. The Clos Lojen is for Labor Day barbecues of burgers, chicken and pork, then on to winter squash, cranberries and root vegetables.
Camille Cayran Secret de Campane 2008, Orange, France, $12 (Nappi): You know how fruits often gain complexity when treated with spices such as star anise, cardamom and cinnamon? This wine is like that – a late-summer plum tart sprinkled with autumnal spices.
A little smoother in the mouth than the Clos Lojen, and a little more antique-y in profile – I imagine its home at a wooden bar banquette rubbed smooth by generations of loyal drinkers. But it retains that necessary liveliness.
A blend of Grenache, Carignan, Cinsault and Merlot, it effortlessly combines two personalities: your smart uncle who’s traveled to places and met people you never will, and your sly niece who’s always running faster than you can.
Trappolini Cenereto 2008, Lazio, Italy, $14 (Devenish): This is the most rustic, Old-World-y of the bunch, but still alert and fresh. A terrific cinnamon-and-leather earthiness from 50 percent Sangiovese mingles with 50 percent Montepulciano to provide ripeness, tomato and deep, dark fruit. A light-to-medium body keeps it August-ready, prepared to pair with day-after grilled meats still cool from the fridge.
Or, when your garden tomatoes start moving away from their prime, the best treatment is oven-roasting with some herbs, garlic and bread crumbs; here’s your wine. A roast-beef sandwich with Russian dressing or red-sauce pasta dishes would have no better friend.