- Steven Kolpan
- Steven Kolpan is Professor and Chair of Wine Studies at The Culinary Institute of America (CIA) in Hyde Park, NY. Steven is co-author of Exploring Wine, which has sold more than 125,000 copies, and was nominated as Best Wine and Spirits Book by the James Beard Foundation. Steven is also co-author of WineWise, a consumer-friendly guide to the wines of the world, which won both the 2009 James Beard Foundation Award for Best Beverage Book and the 2009 Georges Duboeuf Award for Best Wine Book of the Year. He is also the author of A Sense of Place, a history of Napa Valley's Niebaum-Coppola / Rubicon Winery (foreword by Francis Ford Coppola) that received the prestigious Versailles Award for Best American Wine Book in 2000. He is a contributing editor and the wine columnist for The Valley Table and Salon.com. In 2007, Steven Kolpan was named Wine Educator of the Year by the European Wine Council. He has been a member of Slow Food International for 20 years. Steven Kolpan lives just outside of Woodstock, New York.
I have spent much of my adult life working closely with chefs, whose abbreviation for "appetizer" is - almost always - "app." Well now, in my old age, I have to make an adjustment in my thinking, my communication skills. At age 63, which is "The New 93" when it comes to understanding technology, I must recognize that when people, chefs included, speak of "apps" they are talking about "applications" that live in The Cloud, The Smart Phone, or The Tablet (in my case, the iPad, the tablet that I am typing or "keyboarding" right now. I could be dictating it via built-in voice recognition, but the halting "ughs," "umms," and "hmms" would populate the screen to such an embarrassing and annoying degree that Siri might decide to go on strike).
As everyone by now knows, apps abound, and are easily downloaded to a host of computer-based and increasingly miniaturized devices that act very much like digital personal assistants, reminding us of appointments, locking and unlocking doors, turning lights off and on, finding obscure recipes or the nearest Thai restaurant, sending and receiving emails, sending and depositing checks, taking photos and producing sophisticated videos, and of course assembling killer playlists from the entire universe of recorded music. There are tens of thousands of specialized apps covering business, the arts, science, mathematics, highly specialized knowledge, and thousands dedicated to food and wine.
Lately, I have been exploring wine apps. The reason I bought an iPad in the first place was to keep up with the virtual explosion of wine apps, so that I could speak near-intelligently with my wine students at The Culinary Institute of America, almost all of whom have never known a world without the internet, and are as comfortable downloading and utilizing apps as I was dialing a phone or telling time without a digital assist when I was in my 20s. I have asked my students for assistance in navigating this new world of apps, and they have been open and generous in sharing their knowledge without smirking or sarcasm, even if they were shocked by my lack of digital literacy. They must be thinking, "Just how old is this guy?" And of course they're right; I really am that old.
Although I am a relic of a previous era - or several previous eras - I have been enthusiastically delving into the world of wine apps. When I "go" to the App Store and search for "wine," about a thousand apps appear; roughly half are free and the other half are mostly priced anywhere from $0.99 to $4.99. Some of the apps are very specific, dealing with a single wine region, some are promotional vehicles for wineries, wine tourism, or restaurants. Many wine apps, both free and not, are vehicles for selling wine. I want to focus on the free apps that focus on enhancing wine knowledge, because I am really excited about how useful they can be. Most of these apps are available for Apple, Android and other phones and various tablets. Based on my experience, the apps that are meant to travel with you - to wine shops and restaurants, where just by taking a photo of the wine label or alternately the UPC bar code or QR code on the back label, are better utilized using a smart phone; a tablet - at least my iPad - is awkward for taking photos on the fly.
Some of the free wine apps worth checking out include:
Pocket Wine: This really is an excellent, simple to navigate program, making very effective presentations of wine styles, wine grapes A-Z, extensive wine and food pairing, where in the world grapes grow (alas, no maps), a good basic glossary of wine terms, and a unique feature that allows you to create your own taste profile by answering some easy questions about your overall taste preferences; in my case, it was surprisingly accurate. Really fun, really helpful, especially for those who are just beginning to dive head first into wine as a subject they'd like to learn more about.
Wine Terms: More than a hundred basic wine terms, both practical and technical, concisely and accurately defined. Did you know that "fiasco" is the name of the wicker basket that surrounds the old-style Chianti bottle? I did, but more people should.
Hello Vino: This app allows you to choose a wine by taste preference, food pairing, brand name, and by label recognition. You can get dozens of specific wine recommendations for each dish, complete with approximate prices, and tasting notes geared to fit your meal. You can also enter a wine you already own to get pairing notes. A note on the label recognition: you receive a limited number of free photo scans with the app, and you can purchase an unlimited amount of scans for $4.99.
Vivino: I really like this app. Take a photo of the label (as far as I can tell, there's no charge and no limit), and get quite a bit of info about the wine, including its grape or grapes, basic food matching, and tasting notes, which you can add to and share via Facebook or Twitter, as well as read the tasting notes of others. This really is for smart phones, although you can make it work with your tablet once you get the hang of the camera frame.
WS Wine Ratings: The Wine Spectator App. Forget the Wine Ratings part of this app ($2.99 per month) and focus on the free stuff. There are some very easy-to-access vintage charts covering both the Old and New World, as well as some good videos on wine basics. There's also WS360, a constantly updated collection of articles from the Wine Spectator, some of which you might find interesting (such as an excellent article on the impact of fracking on wine, and another on whether it's really necessary to age wine).
Find Local Wineries: I live exactly 22.46 miles from Whitecliff winery. Who knew? On this app I can get driving directions, phone number, website address, etc. for far more than a thousand wineries in the United States, and the automatic home page is our own Hudson Valley. You can add a winery that does not appear on this app (Hey, Millbrook and Cereghino Smith! You're among the very few missing local wineries). A perfect basic app for wine travel on the local or national level.
Finger Lakes Destination &Wine Card and Long Island Wine Country: Very good apps about the wineries and related travel and dining opportunities. (Note: the Finger Lakes app shows up as “NY Wine Trail on my iPad desktop). Bravo to these wine regions. Here's a good idea: a Hudson River Region wine app, with wineries, restaurants, lodging, CSAs and farms, cider, cheeses, etc. The time is now.
Finally, a useful and witty app that wine drinkers will appreciate is My Stain (produced by Clorox). Among the remedies for stains caused by vomit, urine, blood, and armpits, there is an excellent on-the-go antidote for red wine stains. According to the app: “Blot with a paper towel or clean cloth to remove excess wine. Pour club soda on the stain from back to front and blot again. This will help prevent the stain from permanently setting.” I tried it and it works. “Back to front” is the move that eluded me in the past.
Once you start exploring the world of wine apps, you'll find apps that are just about Italian wines, Bordeaux, California and on and on. You'll marvel at some of the free apps and probably buy an inexpensive but useful app or two (such as Cor.kz for $2.99). Admittedly, as someone who has gotten his wine knowledge from tasting, travel, reading and writing books and articles, the wine app world is new to me. Many of you who are used to the digital wine world may be harrumphing "What's the big deal?" But to those of us brought up on the written word and books with consecutive chapters, this is a big change, and it's one that I think I'm going to embrace, not as the only source of wine knowledge, but as fun and effective adjuncts to enhance my own knowledge and to share it with others.
Now that we get to enjoy the lazy, hazy, crazy days of Summer in the Hudson Valley, I think about enjoying crisp, refreshing white wines. I look for wines that do not mightily impress or even overwhelm the palate. Instead, I seek lighter, simpler, fruit and acid-driven dry or slightly off-dry whites, served well-chilled and without fanfare. These are wines that are comfortable on the lower rungs of the food chain, compatible with salads, fresh cheeses, veggies, fish, seafood, mollusks, and white meats.
People often ask me what is my favorite wine-producing country. To be honest, when it comes to red wines I find I can't give a definitive answer, as there are so many great red wines made in both the New World and the Old World, and I really enjoy many of them. But when it comes to choosing my favorite white wine-producing country, I've got to give it to France. The reason for this decision is that I believe that French white wines are first in the world for not only the widest variety of styles in whites (especially the wines of the Loire Valley, Alsace, and Burgundy), but also - and I think this may surprise many readers - the widest range of prices. We all know that it's easy to pay a lot of money for French white wines, but I have found that some of the best bargains reside in this category, as well. And it's not just that the wines are really affordable, it's that the quality is high. When it comes to the value-for-money proposition, French whites are incomparable.
Some of the best French whites for Summer enjoyment include:
Muscadet. There are actually four Muscadet appellations in the Loire Valley of France, all of them close to the port city of Nantes, defined by the Bay of Biscay inlet of the Atlantic Ocean. Muscadet, Muscadet des Coteaux de la Loire, Muscadet Côtes de Grandieu, and the best known of the four, Muscadet Sevre et Maine are all produced using one grape, Melon de Bourgogne. A wine labeled simply "Muscadet" will be the lightest and simplest style. Muscadet Sevre et Maine, while by no means complex, will, at its best, express the difference in soils (granite, gneiss, or gabbro) found in the region. Muscadet Sevre et Maine Sur Lie (“on the lees” -expired yeast cells) will benefit from the antioxidant properties of the decaying yeasts after fermentation and before bottling, keeping the wine fresh, often with just a bit of spritz - a tiny bit of bubble - to make it even more refreshing. Muscadet, no matter the exact appellation, is an incredible value, with prices starting well below $10 per bottle for a good, dependable white and rarely exceeding $20, and that's for the very best the region has to offer. Try Muscadet with a Salade Niçoise, poached or seared scallops, ceviche, or the truly classic pairing: oysters on the half shell with just a drop or two of lemon juice, Tabasco, or shallot/vinegar mignonette.
The vineyards of the central Loire Valley are defined by the Chenin Blanc grape, and nowhere on earth does Chenin Blanc produce a more terroir-expressive wine that delivers such tremendous pleasure in the glass. Look for Saumur (priced in the low to mid-teens), traditionally the "house white" of Parisian bistros and brasseries, an ideal accompaniment to fresh cheeses, fish and seafood, as well as lighter dishes with a bit of spicy heat. The most elegant expression of Chenin Blanc is Savennières, where the vineyard soils are an amalgam of schist, slate, and volcanic rock; the wine is extraordinary. Serve Savennières with roasted or grilled chicken and seasonal, local vegetables. This wine is a bit pricier, starting in the mid-to-high $20s, and moving up from there. Perhaps the most amazing of all the Savennières wines is the grand cru Coulée de Serrant, grown in the biodynamic vineyards of Nicolas Joly, which can age for decades, and at more than $75 per bottle is not a casual purchase, but keep it in mind for a very special occasion and a very special dinner.
Also from the Loire Valley comes the definitive Old World Sauvignon Blanc, grown in the eastern Loire vineyards of Sancerre, Pouilly-Fumé, Quincy, and Ménétou-Salon. Pouilly-Fumé is the most complex, and often the most expensive of the four appellations, and might need richer food. The other three districts produce leaner wines, mineral-driven on the nose and palate, which I consider to be more food-friendly and wallet-friendly choices for the Summer. Sancerre is easy to find, and will probably cost in the mid-$20 range, but look for Quincy and Ménétou-Salon, equally as expressive as Sancerre, but at prices that should not exceed the mid-teens. The classic match with any of these wines is fresh goat cheese (and the Hudson Valley has some of the best in the world), but the wines will also marry well with grilled fatty fish, such as salmon, served with a fresh and local peach and corn salsa.
While the Loire Valley is a treasure trove of affordable Summer whites, I want to put in a plug for a real bargain from Burgundy. White Bourgogne is a "sleeper wine," often overlooked (the wine may be 100% Chardonnay or a blend of Chardonnay and Aligoté; if the label reads "Chardonnay" it's 100%). Technically, the grapes can be sourced anywhere in Burgundy (Bourgogne), but the best producers (négociants) often make their Bourgogne wines from the surplus grapes from their best vineyards. Probably the best $10 wine I've had in my life is the 2011 Bourgogne Chardonnay "Laforet" from Joseph Drouhin. A medium-bodied white with just the right balance of fruit, acidity, a tiny, teasing, sexy kiss of oak, and a long finish. I buy this delicious screwcap-finished gem by the case and love to pair it with grilled fish, white meats, mushroom risotto, roasted seasonal veggies, or a burger, a roast beef or turkey sandwich and potato salad for a picnic or cookout.
Even Bordeaux, a legendary region for expensive reds and complex whites, produces a great Summer wine at a great price: Entre Deux Mers. This wine is a Sauvignon Blanc/Semillon blend and is just the thing for simply prepared fish dishes, fresh cheeses, roasted or sautéed veggies, and most of all, oysters. Fruity but dry, with a bit of melon and brininess on the nose and palate, Entre Deux Mers (usually $10-$15) is a real warm-weather treat.
Leaving France, there are many countries and many regions to explore for great Summer whites. Starting in the Minho region of Portugal, the quintessential patio pounder is Vinho Verde, an ultra light, often spritzy white that should be drunk as young and fresh as possible. Some Vinho Verde wines are vintage dated (about $10-$12), some are not (these should be well under $10), but all, by law, must print on their back labels the year that the wine was bottled, and that's the most important date for this wine; it’s probably in six point type. Do not buy a Vinho Verde that was bottled more than two years ago; the fresher the better. Enjoy with a salad of local greens, local cheese, and fruity vinaigrette, or with cured, poached, or fried fish, fresh sardines, and salty, spicy, smoky snacks.
There are two medium-bodied whites from Spain that I crave during the hot weather months: Verdejo from Rueda and Albariño from Rías Baixas. Verdejo is amazingly floral on the nose, redolent with the aromas of honeysuckle, tulips, orchids, as well as the alluring smells of tropical fruits. On the palate, Verdejo is fruit-driven but with a dry finish and medium-bodied. The ideal wine for tapas-style dining - anything from camarones (shrimp) to jamón (cured ham) and everything in between. Albariño cries out for fish and seafood stews, and is the perfect accompaniment to bouillabaisse, cioppino, zuppa di pesce, or paella.
Italy has a wide variety of affordable dry whites ($10 to under-$20) that marry well with the foods and climate of Summer. These light-to-medium bodied wines are at their best when served with fish and seafood because they are fresh and crisp, bringing out the salinity of the dish and the fruit in the wine. Some of my favorites: from the Piedmont region: super-fresh Gavi and the slightly more complex Arneis; from Veneto: Soave Classico; from Tuscany: Vernaccia di San Gimignano; from Lazio: Frascati Superiore; from Marche: Verdicchio; from Umbria: Orvieto Classico; from Friuli-Venezia Giulia: Friulano (formerly Tocai Friulano); from Alto Adige: Pinot Grigio; from Campania: Falanghina; from Sicily: Ansonica/Cataratto blends; from Sardinia: Vermentino di Gallura.
If you've never tried the great whites of Greece, this Summer is a good time to start. Try Moschofilero from the Mantinia wine region on the Peloponnese (about $15). A white wine made from a pale-red grape, Moschofilero features seductive aromatics: rose petal and ginger, with tropical fruits on the palate.
When it comes to Germany, just remember these two words and this one region: Riesling Kabinett from the Mosel. These are the best examples in the world of ripe Riesling in a dry to semi-dry style that will pair beautifully with pan-fried freshwater fish, poultry and pork, as well as a plate of local cheeses and locally cured meats. Riesling Kabinett also marries especially well with spicy vegetarian dishes, as do all of these Summer whites. Prices start at under $15 and peak in the mid-$20s.
In the New World of whites, I don't have many surprises. My go-to wine in the heat of the Summer remains well-chilled Sauvignon Blanc. Whether from New Zealand, Chile, Australia, or California, New World Sauvignon Blanc delivers the goods: fresh fruit flavors in the attack, high acidity to refresh and stimulate the palate, and a finish of almost under-ripe tropical fruits and a pleasant grassiness that is its signature. I am also a huge fan of crisp, refreshing, fruit-driven dry Riesling, especially from the vineyards of the Finger Lakes. Locally, I'm increasingly impressed with the quality of the Hudson Valley's white hybrid-based wines that fit the Summer profile, including unoaked Seyval Blanc, and especially Traminette, which, while maintaining its light body manages to exude the exotic spiciness of its vinifera parent, Gewurztraminer.
This gazetteer of Summer whites is just a jumping-off point for those of you who may want to find a favorite or for those who want to try as many wines as they can during the Summer months. Just remember that when you eat lighter you drink lighter, and don't hesitate to try something new and different. When you pair Summer whites with Summer foods in the company of good friends and loved ones, you just can't go wrong.