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Wine without Pretense: German wines in a French land hold their own
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Wine of the month
The wine: Bota Box Malbec 2009
The grapes: 78 percent malbec, 15 percent petite sirah, 7 percent sangiovese
The source: Lodi, California
The verdict: This is a box wine, and a very good one at that. The recyclable cardboard box contains an airtight bag holding three liters of wine. That's equal to four standard-sized bottles. I've been a fan of Bota Box wines, and this one shows why old notions don't hold water any more ... or wine. Box wines are looked down on by wine snobs. So, too, are screwtop closures. Both views are largely bogus. Good thing about box wines is that, since the wine is shielded from exposure to air, it stays fresh for several weeks. Aside from that the quality of this malbec is terrific. Yes, it's fruity and fresh, thanks to the splash of petite sirah, but it also has good malbec character. Lodi for decades was a growing area; in the last decade it has become a well-respected wine producer. Bota Box wines come from the Delicato Family Vineyards, which tells me the quality is in there.
The price: About $18

Last month we traipsed around the world looking at trademark or signature grapes and the regions with which they are identified: i.e., Burgundy and pinot noir, and Italy with pinot grigio.

I received a phone call and two emails that made me smile. No, they were not from Helen Mirren asking me for a date. The caller said she had found my column interesting but, "Why didnt you mention gewurztraminer?" The emails had a similar tone, pointing out that, blockhead that I am, I failed to make note of trademark grapes from Switzerland and Portugal.

Well, really.

Lets start this months trip in Alsace, the tiny pile of land the Germans and French fight over about once a century. Today the landlords are the French, but the wines are made in the German style.

Gewrztraminers is the trademark grape of the Alsace region. Although those grapes are grown in this country, South Africa, Australia and elsewhere, only Alsatian gewrztraminers have that steely, dry quality, along with the signature spiciness in nose and mouth. I must confess Alsatian gewrztraminers are among my favorite white wines.

It is a perfect match for savory, spicy Asian foods and Im going to browbeat the owner of our wonderful Thai restaurant to put at least one on his "wine list."

The best Alsatian gew

rz comes from the distinguished house of Schlumberger, and are hard to find locally. Other reliable labels include Hugel and Trimbach.

Lets jet on over to Portugal and check out that countrys most famous wine, Port. Its also called Porto or Oporto but well stick with the short form. Port is a fortified wine made from five grape varieties. Wine is fortified when clear brandy is added to the fermenting wine. This splash of alcohol kills the yeasts that are consuming the sugar in the grape juice, resulting in a high-alcohol (around 20 percent), sweet wine.

The primary grape used in the production of Port is touriga nacional. Coincidentally, this grape is popular in Georgia wine country, with a number of northeast Georgia wineries producing a dry red wine from touriga nacional. Tiger Mountain Vineyards in Rabun County offers a full-bodied dry red called TNT for touriga nacional and tannat, a grape with origins in southwest France. Its a great food wine and stands up to hearty red meat dishes.

Over the Alps we go to Switzerland. Although Swiss wines are difficult to find in this country, they are popular in Europe. The signature grape of the Swiss vineyards is without question the chasselas grape, which accounts for about 45 percent of the planted area in this small, mountainous country, and about 60 percent of production.

The Swiss wine most likely to be found here is called Fendant, and is 100 percent chasselas. Styles vary wildly according to the soil and climate of the area where the grapes are grown. Generally wines made from chasselas a white grape are medium-bodied and mild, without distinctive aroma or flavor. Nice, but not great.

Were heading now to the Southern Hemisphere. Last month we talked about Argentinas trademark grapes. Today, lets look at its neighbor, Chile. Chile has become a wine powerhouse in the past 20 years. During the 1990s Chile produced some stellar merlot, which was becoming wildly popular at that time. Some DNA studies were done on the grapes and, oops, these were not merlot grapes. They were carmenere, a little-known red-wine grape that originated in Bordeaux, much like the Argentinean malbec grape.

So carmenere has become Chiles trademark grape, with some fine examples being produced. Casa Lapostolles Clos Apalta, primarily carmenere, was named Wine Spectators No. 2 Wine in the World a few years back.

Whats a carmenere wine like? Its similar in style to a merlot, but with a bit more herbal-spice character.

Final stop coming up. Were in New Zealand, land of the kiwis. Its also the land of some of the best and freshest sauvignon blanc on the planet. About a decade ago grape growers and winemakers in the Marlborough region of New Zealand opted to produce a crisp, citrussy sauvignon blanc without the distraction of oak fermentation or aging.

What a concept! The linear nature of the fruit comes shining through, without the fruit punch flavors too many California wines impart. I love a nicely chilled Marlborough sauvignon blanc, either as a sipping wine (very intense) or with seafood. Names to look for are Cloudy Bay, Kim Crawford and Nobilo. Monkey Bay is a very good wine for the money.

OK, folks, trips over. Please remain in your seats until this column comes to a full and complete stop. Then you are free to move around your wine shop.

Randall Murray is a Gainesville-area resident. He can be contacted at murrwine@aol.com.

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