Jim Beauregard's Tasting Notes: Three focal points for the year ahead

JIM BEAUREGARD January 01. 2013 10:41PM

So, here we are at the beginning of the New Year. It's always good to stop and take a look at what's ahead - Gollum, goblins and orcs if you're Bilbo Baggins, for instance. My plans for the year are more humble, and considerably less dangerous.

Our weekly tasting notes will continue, of course. We'll continue to explore New Hampshire's vineyards and wineries; they are already very good, and continue to grow, both in number and quality. Breweries here in the state are going strong, with new ones sprouting up, expanding the world of craft beers right in our back yard.

Over the course of this year, I'm going to be focusing with you on some specifics as well - two grapes and a beer: Zinfandel, Sauvignon Blanc and Belgian ale. Here are my reasons:

Zinfandel has moved far beyond its humble origins, in my grandfather's cellar, for instance, to the contemporary production of great wines. Thanks to California's wine growing history, which dates back to before Prohibition, there are Zinfandel vines that are over a century old producing very interesting and distinctive wines. Zinfandel does, in a sense, capture the history of winemaking in America. So I'm going on a journey to find all the Zinfandel's that are available in New Hampshire, try them, and tell you about them.

Sauvignon Blanc is my choice for the white grape. It has a long history as a blending wine, most often with Semillon in France. But it is appearing increasingly as a single varietal. And it's not just grown in France anymore. If you say the name of the grape to a wine lover, the name New Zealand comes immediately to mind, which has set a benchmark for the grape as a single varietal wine (there are more Sauvignon Blanc vines planted there than in the Loire Valley or Bordeaux, France). It's also grown nowadays in northern Italy, Slovenia, Austria, Serbia, the Czech Republic, Spain, Australia, Chile, California, South Africa. Robert Mondavi made a batch of it once that didn't come out very well, so he did a little work on it and marketed it as Fume Blanc - an instant hit.

And, then, Belgian Ale. It isn't just made in Belgium any more. The Belgian style has been exported worldwide and it's tough these days to find a craft brewery that doesn't make at least one "Belgian Style Ale."

So future columns this year will include periodic looks at examples of these three from around the world. For this week, let's take a look at one of each to get us started:

Zinsane Zinfandel, 2010, Paso Robles, California, $13.69, Harvest Market. From over a century of California Zinfandel comes this example, at 14.4% abv, a young purple in color, with a medium intensity nose of fruit and spice, a dry palate of medium-plus acidity, medium tannin, medium and well-integrated alcohol, medium-minus body, and medium flavor intensity with a palate of plum, blackberry, black pepper, dusty tannin. Drink now. 82 points.

Monkey Bay Sauvignon Blanc, Marlborough New Zealand, $8.99, Harvest Market. From the New World's capital of Sauv Blanc, a pale gold wine with slow fat tears, weighing in at 12.5% abv, a clean nose of medium intensity fruit, developing, dry on the palate, with medium acidity, medium tannin, soft and fine grained, and a medium length finish. The flavors are honeysuckle, green apple, the classic New Zealand Gooseberry, pear, pineapple in the background. Good concentration of flavors. Drink now. For $8.99, what's not to like? 87 points.

What do you do if you live someplace where it's too cold to grow vines? Make beer instead, of course. Allagash Dubbel Reserve Belgian Style Ale, Batch 101, $8.99, Harvest Market. Allagash is in Portland Maine - a beautiful city, I hear. I've only seen the inside of a cavernous Portland soccer stadium during a tournament there, and that's all. But I may make a trip back to see this brewery. Huge typically Belgian head, off-white in color, tawny/brown beer, 7.0% abv, medium malt nose, low hops, off-dry on the palate, medium bitterness (the hops are in there somewhere), medium acidity, well-integrated alcohol, medium-plus flavor intensity of bread, molasses, caramel, cereal, and just the slightest hint of citrus lurking in the background. Long pleasing finish. Good balance, length and flavor complexity. Can be stored for a year or so and will continue to develop.

And while we are on the topic of beer, I received a note from White Birch Brewery in Hooksett, announcing a rare event - they have just complete a major upgrade to the brewery, and just a few weeks ago they rolled out a new batch of ales, at a price lower than they had sold for previously: a $5 suggested price for their Belgian Style Pale Ale (see, there it is!) and Hop Session Ale, as well as a $6 suggested price for seasonal beers that they began rolling out in spring 2012 and the draft program rolled out in September 2012. All this thanks to upgrades and increased brewing efficiency by brew master Chris Shea.

So we're off and running for 2013. More on all of this later.

Contact local beer and wine writer Jim Beauregard at tastingnotesnh@aol.com.


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