The Final Four: Which Grapes Remain?

The madness certainly continued through the Sweet 16 and the Elite 8. Of course there is great joy in our house for Wisconsin’s victory over Arizona. Did you watch the Kentucky vs Notre Dame game? Wow! I thought Notre Dame was going to pull out the upset of the year but the powerhouse that is Kentucky held on till the end. Next up for us is Wisconsin vs Kentucky! YIKES! The Michigan State vs Louisville was also a close game between two outstanding coaches. The final four match ups: Kentucky vs Wisconsin; Duke vs Michigan State.

So which grapes remain? Well as is often the case with March Madness, though not this year, we have two well know grapes in the Final Four with two lesser known bracket busters. Here is a brief look at who remains:

ChardonnayChardonnay: Chardonnay is a green skinned grape that is believed to originate in the Burgundy region of France; however, it is now grown all over the world. It is believed Chardonnay was distributed throughout France by Cistercian monks with the first reference to the grape coming in the 14th century. The Chardonnay grape is medium in size and grow in tightly together on the vine. It is a grape that is very sensitive to its environment; thus terroir has a large influence on the aromas, flavors and textures of Chardonnay wine. In warmer growing regions Chardonnay exhibits flavors of citrus and tropical fruits with the orchard fruits; while cooler climate Chardonnay can be more acidic with more of earthy flavors added to the orchard fruit. The diversity of Chardonnay leads to both its success and criticism. Many have strong preferences of how much or little oak should be used in making Chardonnay as well as whether or not to utilize a secondary fermentation of Chardonnay known as Malolactic Fermentation (MLF). Chardonnay is the only grape variety allowed in the Chablis region of Burgundy where it is made in its purest form, allowing terroir, the cooler climate and the calcerous soil to heavily influence the wine. It is far less common for Chablis to undergo MLF. A fun test involves buying two equal priced Chardonnays, one that underwent MLF and a Chablis that did not and see which style you prefer. Chardonnay is also one of the most commonly used grapes in sparkling wines. The versatility of Chardonnay and different styles of production make is a very versatile food wine, depending on how the Chardonnay was crafted (oaked, unoaked, MLF, no MLF, etc) you can pair it with a wide variety of foods and cuisines.

VERSUS

merlotMerlot: Merlot is a dark blue skinned grape that was first noted in Bordeaux in the 18th century. Merlot is a one of the primary grapes in Bordeaux wines, along with Cabernet Sauvignon, Cabernet Franc, Malbec and Petit Verdot; however, in addition to being used as blending grape it is also frequently crafted as a single varietal. Like Chardonnay, Merlot is grown all over the globe. The popularity of the single varietal took a hit after the movie Sideways, where the character Miles claimed he would not drink Merlot; however, what most movie goers failed to pay attention to was his reason for not drinking had nothing to do with the quality of the grape and everything to do with the fact it was his ex-wife’s favorite wine. The “Sideways Effect” was disappointing but did allow for some “overproduction correction” of a wine that was getting “sloppy.” Another similarity between Merlot and Chardonnay is the effect of climate on the taste and texture of the wine. In cooler climates, such as France, Italy and Chile, Merlot tends to have heavier tannins and more black berries and earthy characteristics; while warmer climate regions, such as west coast of US, Australia and Argentina, produce Merlot with more red and blue berries, chocolate, and coffee, and softer tannins. Because Merlot is not too heavy and not too light it pairs well with a variety of foods including beef, pork, lamb, game and poultry as well as a variety of cuisines from French and Italian to Latin American and Australian. So grab yourself a good bottle of Merlot, make a good meal and rid yourself of the “Sideways effect” once and for all!

We studied these next two grapes in our last March Madness article called “March: It’s True Madness;” however, I will elaborate on them a bit more below.

montepulcianoMontepulciano: This Italian red grape variety is found in central Italy, grown in Marche, Abruzzo and Molise; however, the most famous of this wine is the Montepulciano d’Abruzzo DOC. The first historic report of this grape dates back to the late 18th century in King Ferdinand the fourths archives. Montepulciano wine is characterized as light in texture, medium in body, with bright flavors of black berries, violets, mushrooms, cola, licorice, tobacco and fresh herbs. Most often you will find young, inexpensive Montepulcianos at restaurants and retailers; however, there are harder to find aged versions that are well worth seeking out. Montepulciano is not as well-known as other Italian varietals, but as is the case with all Italian grapes, it is worth getting to know. Some food pairing ideas is of course Italian food and pizza but also grilled meats, lamb, duck and salmon.

VERSUS

Ezerjo grapeEzerjo: This white Hungarian grape variety is grown in the historic Mor region of Hungary. It is well known within Hungary but not well known outside Hungary. This grape has a strong acidity and high alcohol levels with a light bouquet. It is crafted into lively dry white wine, but more often cultivated into a late harvest sweet wine. This wine pairs best with rich and spicy Hungarian dishes.

Good luck to your teams and grapes in the Final Four! I will post the winning grape next week. Cheers!

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