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Put down your glass for a second and give a warm Wine.Woot welcome to our newest guest blogger, Steve De Long of De Long's Wine Info, publisher of our favorite wine charts, maps, and books. The wine experts at De Long's are masters at making it easy for the rest of us to fake it. For his debut column, Steve answers a question that's occurred to any American who reads tasting notes: what are "blackcurrant" and "cassis"?

“Everybody knows the blackcurrant bush.”
-Le Nez du Vin, Jean Lenoir

Blackcurrant is the most common flavor descriptor of the most popular grape variety in the world: Cabernet Sauvignon. At least the British think so. American wine writers tend to use the term cassis, which is French for blackcurrant.

You may be asking yourself: wait a minute - what’s going on here? I don’t think I’ve ever tasted a blackcurrant in my life, much less seen a blackcurrant bush. Am I supposed to know this? Is Bacchus once again laughing hideously at my woeful ignorance of wine? And when did American wine writers become such Francophiles that they use a French term over a perfectly good English one?...

Don’t be so hard on yourself. The reason that virtually all Americans are not familiar with blackcurrant is simple: until recently it was illegal to grow them in the US. Although popular in the 19th century in America, blackcurrants were banned in the early 20th century by the US government; their bushes can carry a disease fatal to white pines that threatened the then booming timber industry. The federal ban
was finally lifted in 1966, but it took until 2003 for several states, including Connecticut, New York, Oregon and Vermont, to make it legal to grow blackcurrants in the US again. 1

OK, but what about American wine writers using French over English? That’s because their exposure to blackcurrant flavor was (and probably still is) through Crème de Cassis, a liqueur made from blackcurrants, which is more commonly known simply as “cassis” in the US.

The British have a huge head start in being able to recognize blackcurrant. One of their most popular children’s drinks is Ribena, which is a sweetened blackcurrant drink. Is there any accident that their favorite wine region is Bordeaux, the homeland of Cabernet Sauvignon? They even have a special name for red Bordeaux wines: claret (which is pronounced with the t since it’s an English term, although derived from French).

I can remember trying to get a grip on blackcurrant when I was living in New York City. Blackcurrant jam and Crème de Cassis were available but I wanted to find a more pure, unadulterated version. The best I could find was a Belgian brand of blackcurrant juice – which must be in the top ten of brand names that do not travel well – called Looza. It never really caught on. Go figure.

In addition to Ribena, British children also enjoy blackcurrant flavored candies. This is where the attractiveness of blackcurrant gets lost on me – the candies seem to taste a little rubbery, rubber as in a Pirelli or a Goodyear. While some British children would eat only the blackcurrant candies in a pack of Maynard’s Wine Gums (interesting name but they contain no wine) I could imagine American children doing just the opposite.

In this way, blackcurrant aromas can be perceived in sulfur compounds in wine that are often considered faults. These volatile sulfur compounds can be pleasant at lower levels (tropical fruit, gooseberry, blackcurrant) but awful at high levels (cat’s pee, burnt rubber, rotten cabbage).2 This seems to make sense as it’s not difficult to imagine the funky and gamey qualities of blackcurrant morphing into something foul. Perhaps this dark, potentially dangerous (and smelly) side is what makes blackcurrant so attractive.

We did a tasting of several Cabernet Sauvignons to see which gave us the biggest, purest sensation of blackcurrant. Five California fighting varietals vs. the popular South American, Concha y Toro Casillero del Diablo took part in the smackdown. Each wine’s blackcurrant power is rated on a scale of 1(not detectable) to 10 (total blackcurrant pumptitude).

Concha y Toro Castillero del Diablo Cabernet Sauvignon Chile 2007 $10
Blackcurrants on steroids. It’s easy to spot the blackcurrants dominating some green pepper and vanilla oak notes on the nose and palate in this widely available Cab Sauv. 9/10

Bontera Vineyard Cabernet Sauvignon Mendocino County 2006 $16
The organic entry, this clean, pleasant and fruity wine’s blackcurrant flavors are in the back seat to raspberry and blackberry. 3/10

Robert Mondavi Cabernet Sauvignon Napa Valley 2005 $27
The blackcurrants here are more nuanced and nicely integrated with oak and mint flavors. It’s just too refined for pure blackcurrant pumptitude. 6/10

Sebastini Cabernet Sauvignon Sonoma County 2005 $16
A very attractive nose, blackcurrants and violets with a touch of oak. The fruit is very concentrated but the violets distract too much – albeit in a good way – to give it more than an eight. 8/10

Hawk Crest Cabernet Sauvignon California 2005 $14
This was the most subdued of the bunch with blackcurrant a virtual no-show. It’s much more sour cherry, cedar and Dr. Pepper. 2/10

Ravenswood Cabernet Sauvignon Vintner’s Blend California 2004 $10
Juicy blackcurrant with notes of black cherry and oak, the Ravenswood is a simple wine but it matches the Concha y Toro in blackcurrant intensity. 9/10

It was probably a forgone conclusion that the most inexpensive wines of the bunch would provide the simplest, most fruit-forward expression of blackcurrants. It’s a funny way to taste: we weren’t interested in balance, subtlety or nuance. We also kept referring back to our reference aromas: bottles of Crème de Cassis and Ribena. Still, it’s nice to know that you can get a good idea of what blackcurrant tastes like without shelling out too much; or enduring the embarrassment of buying a bottle of Looza.

For more information about blackcurrants and their history see black-currant.com

2 For more information about wine faults and blackcurrant flavors see Jamie Goode’s Wine Anorak and Tom Stevenson on the Wine Pages.

nallie


quality posts: 8 Private Messages nallie

Wow; what an informative and enjoyable contribution. Thank you so much!

"Life is either a daring adventure or nothing at all." - h.keller
"If you can do something about it, there is no need to worry. If you cannot do anything about it, there is no use in worrying." - j.white (and also Shantideva)

afranke


quality posts: 10 Private Messages afranke

Awesome article.

I always keep a bottle of good Creme de Cassis on hand for when novice wine tasters inevitably ask "watching the films is blackcurrant/cassis?" Also, the stuff is tasty (even if considered a "chick drink").

ScottHarveyWines


quality posts: 151 Private Messages ScottHarveyWines

Hi Steve,
Great informative blog. Your Wine Grape Variety poster hangs in my lab and I pass out your Wine Tasting Terms sheet to my custom crush clients as we are tasting through their wines.

saxwizerd45


quality posts: 9 Private Messages saxwizerd45

Great blog post!

As a wine geek infant, I now know where to go to solidify that flavor/aroma concept for my palate! Thanks!

It is well to remember that there are five reasons for drinking: the arrival of a friend; one's present or future thirst; the excellence of the wine; or any other reason.

PetiteSirah


quality posts: 78 Private Messages PetiteSirah

Hi Steve,

Thanks for the great post!

2 things, though unrelated to this post, while we have you here.

1) You actually have Syrah/Shiraz as a bigger grape than PS on the wine varietal chart? Seriously? We PSychos demand you rectify this grave insult in the next edition!

2) Coming along well on the road to doppelmembership -- I'm at about 146 or so, thanks to some Marselan last night. When is the next version of the grape chart going to come out? Is there somewhere we can submit suggestions or know what you guys are going to add? (e.g., prieto picudo). It would also be really helpful if you guys had a "grape thesaurus" online so that we could tell things, like, e.g., lladoner pelut = garnacha peluda, or that sangio grosso and sangio piccolo are both (still) considered the same grape as sangio

Hail the victor, the king without flaw
Salute your new master ... Petite Sirah!


"Who has two thumbs and loves Petite Sirah?" ThisGuy!

kylemittskus


quality posts: 229 Private Messages kylemittskus

Awesome article. I'm going to find me some creme of cassis and probably grab that Ravenswood also because I have never had a black currant.

"If drinking is bitter, change yourself to wine." -Rainer Maria Rilke

"Champagne is a very kind and friendly thing on a rainy night." -Isak Dinesen

Lighter


quality posts: 10 Private Messages Lighter

Luv the illustrations!

javadrinker


quality posts: 4 Private Messages javadrinker

Great first blog on wine.woot Steve.

Now just a general question for you or really anyone.

Is it pronounced "curr rent" or "curr rant"? Growing up in a Mexican household I never had a reason to find out. But I can pronounce frijoles like nobody's business.

And the path to drunken poverty continues... Java's Stash at CT

  • Wine.woots: um, lost count.
  • Other woots: um, lost count too. I might have a problem.

tenuki


quality posts: 7 Private Messages tenuki
javadrinker wrote:Great first blog on wine.woot Steve.

Now just a general question for you or really anyone.

Is it pronounced "curr rent" or "curr rant"? Growing up in a Mexican household I never had a reason to find out. But I can pronounce frijoles like nobody's business.



Rent like parent, only without the 5 seconds of rolled r's :P

CT

stevedelong


quality posts: 3 Private Messages stevedelong

Thanks for all the nice comments and thanks to woot for letting me ramble on here.

Scott - that's high praise - thanks!

PetiteSirah - You must have an older copy of the chart - PS was moved to the superheavyweights after howls of protest.

javadrinker - I'm glad tenuki answered that one - since I've move to the UK, my 6 year old son corrects my pronunciation of "water". Go figure.

polarbear22


quality posts: 35 Private Messages polarbear22

Great article. Informative and entertaining.

Wine.woot is doing a great job with guest bloggers. Hope you come back again.

Polar bears are meant to be clever, very clever. They are the Einsteins of the bear community. - Anonymous
Please donate to the 2014 MS Bike Ride
Want to read what SonomaBouliste has to say about wine?
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javadrinker


quality posts: 4 Private Messages javadrinker
tenuki wrote:Rent like parent, only without the 5 seconds of rolled r's :P



You know what also doesn't have R's to roll? F U!!!!

And the path to drunken poverty continues... Java's Stash at CT

  • Wine.woots: um, lost count.
  • Other woots: um, lost count too. I might have a problem.

PetiteSirah


quality posts: 78 Private Messages PetiteSirah
stevedelong wrote:Thanks for all the nice comments and thanks to woot for letting me ramble on here.

Scott - that's high praise - thanks!

PetiteSirah - You must have an older copy of the chart - PS was moved to the superheavyweights after howls of protest.

javadrinker - I'm glad tenuki answered that one - since I've move to the UK, my 6 year old son corrects my pronunciation of "water". Go figure.



Steve -- my copy is the one that woot offered most recently. Should I complain to you or to winedavid?

Hail the victor, the king without flaw
Salute your new master ... Petite Sirah!


"Who has two thumbs and loves Petite Sirah?" ThisGuy!

PetiteSirah


quality posts: 78 Private Messages PetiteSirah
javadrinker wrote:You know what also doesn't have R's to roll? F U!!!!



best word ever? FERROCARRIL!

Hail the victor, the king without flaw
Salute your new master ... Petite Sirah!


"Who has two thumbs and loves Petite Sirah?" ThisGuy!

otolith


quality posts: 22 Private Messages otolith

Nice article! I really have liked all the products that you have offered on your website.

"When we try to pick out anything by itself, we find it hitched to everything else in the universe."
--John Muir

nallie


quality posts: 8 Private Messages nallie
PetiteSirah wrote:Steve -- my copy is the one that woot offered most recently. Should I complain to you or to winedavid?

You should not complain to anybody, dear nephew. You should know that sometimes the things that are super cheap on w.w are blown out for a reason other than the incriminating pics WineDavid seems to inevitably have in his possession. Change it with a magic marker. It will be so kitschy that it'll be hip, I promise.

On an unrelated note to Tenuki. Dude. Why the hating on the r rolling? Many people I know consider that a plus.

"Life is either a daring adventure or nothing at all." - h.keller
"If you can do something about it, there is no need to worry. If you cannot do anything about it, there is no use in worrying." - j.white (and also Shantideva)

tenuki


quality posts: 7 Private Messages tenuki
nallie wrote:On an unrelated note to Tenuki. Dude. Why the hating on the r rolling? Many people I know consider that a plus.



Yeah, I know, but it's java!

And sorry I didn't mention it before but it was definitely an enjoyable post o black currant. There's a black currant cider from Fox Barrel at the pool hall that I drink sometimes, I wonder where that'd rate.

CT

kylemittskus


quality posts: 229 Private Messages kylemittskus
PetiteSirah wrote:Steve -- my copy is the one that woot offered most recently. Should I complain to you or to winedavid?



Just pull out a Sharpie and draw some arrows.

"If drinking is bitter, change yourself to wine." -Rainer Maria Rilke

"Champagne is a very kind and friendly thing on a rainy night." -Isak Dinesen

Moondragon


quality posts: 8 Private Messages Moondragon

But I like Looza... At least I did when I could find it years ago.

stevedelong


quality posts: 3 Private Messages stevedelong
Moondragon wrote:But I like Looza... At least I did when I could find it years ago.



Looza was a good drink - it was also a perfect match for hangovers. . .

kylemittskus


quality posts: 229 Private Messages kylemittskus

I realize that this isn't about tasting profiles in general, but about a specific one. Nevertheless, I will press on. I read a nose/flavor profile of wine today (I think it was a viogner) and as one of the scents/tastes was cactus! Has anyone encountered this? If I have, I'm not sure I would have been able to recognize it anyway.

"If drinking is bitter, change yourself to wine." -Rainer Maria Rilke

"Champagne is a very kind and friendly thing on a rainy night." -Isak Dinesen

hld1970


quality posts: 16 Private Messages hld1970

Steve- great first post/blog on here- hope to see many more.

I just finished having my DeLong's Wine Map of CA matted and framed and it looks great.

As an aside, I think PetiteSirah should frame his varietals poster and use dry erase markers to move PS to its rightful place.

______________________________________________
"My only regret in life is that I didn't drink more wine." --Hemingway

polarbear22


quality posts: 35 Private Messages polarbear22

Last night at the farm stand where I pick up their fresh made ice cream, I found a bottle of black currant juice from A Currant Affair. Had to buy it and try it after reading this. They added a lot of sugar, so I will have to see what it tastes like not first thing in the morning.

We also found a bottle of black currant wine. A dessert wine in a half-bottle. Not sure when we will open and check it out.

So Steve, you inspired me.

Polar bears are meant to be clever, very clever. They are the Einsteins of the bear community. - Anonymous
Please donate to the 2014 MS Bike Ride
Want to read what SonomaBouliste has to say about wine?
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iByron


quality posts: 40 Private Messages iByron

I actually like Looza juices though I must admit the black currant isn't among my favorites (I prefer their yellow and orange colored drinks).

R.W. Knudsen Family makes a 100% black currant juice called (naturally) Just Black Currant.

iByron

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bowmandk


quality posts: 0 Private Messages bowmandk

Articles like this are what make this community so awesome. Thank you Steve and WD.

Moondragon


quality posts: 8 Private Messages Moondragon

Looza has 21 flavors?! I'm going to have to find some now. It looks like they may have discontinued their black currant flavor, though.

Looza!

Cesare


quality posts: 1559 Private Messages Cesare

I just picked up a bottle of Mathilde blackcurrant liqueur. Very interesting stuff. It's like nothing I've had before but I could instantly see how it is found in Cabernet. It has this dark sweet aroma but with underlying green, vegetal, brambly notes and some else, almost...medicinal. It is sweet tasting but a little tart at the same time and not jammy or syrupy. Great concentration and a nice long bittersweet finish.

-il Cesare
Sole Absolute Triple
Exalted High Tastemaster Supreme
“In the entire world there are only a few sounds that bring joy to all but the most jaded. One is the murmur of a kitten purring. Another is the thwack of a well-pitched baseball hitting a perfectly swung bat. And the third is the pop of a cork being pulled from a bottle of wine.” —George Taber

Riffraffselbow


quality posts: 0 Private Messages Riffraffselbow

American, and I big fan of Blackcurrant.

I'm lucky enough to live in Los Angeles, so I can actually get Ribena or Looza at the corner store.

boatman72


quality posts: 13 Private Messages boatman72

Great article Steve! Very informative in that it has peaked my curiosity. How close are the tastes of blackberry and black current? Does black current come through as black licorice in wine? I'm going to have to find some juice of each to find out.

vquasarv


quality posts: 4 Private Messages vquasarv

As the son of a Brit living in America, I love black currant as well.

Looza is available at several stores near me, I like to dilute it with sparkling water, its delicious. I haven't done this is several months though, so I need to make sure they still have the black currant flavor!

Three other tasting options:
1. Black currant preserves. I love a PB&J with black currant preserves. It is my favorite jam to have on a PB&J.

2. This is a 'fakish' taste, but one that I grew up with. Many tea-makers make black currant flavored tea including Twinings.

http://www.amazon.com/Twinings-Blackcurrant-Bags-20-Count-Boxes/dp/B000F4F96Q

3. At my local store in the bulk goods section you can get dried currants as well. I like to add them to my oatmeal.

"Cause once you're addicted to wine and champagne,It's gonna drive you insane,
Because the world's not so tame." -The Kinks

lahargis


quality posts: 3 Private Messages lahargis

Thanks! Very imformative!!

ben5150


quality posts: 0 Private Messages ben5150

Blackcurrant juice is also great with Cider Beer. In England they call it a Cider & Black and it is really good! A good beer for the ladies too, since it is sweet with the berry taste

iByron


quality posts: 40 Private Messages iByron

I just drank a bottle of First Blush Merlot juice and it tasted remarkably like the Looza Black Currant juice I've had in the past. I must taste some side-by-side at some point.

I should get my hands on a genetic study. It'd be interesting to see how genetically close vinifera grapes are to black currants.

Anyone here ever had black currant wine?

iByron

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SchoolgirlWino


quality posts: 0 Private Messages SchoolgirlWino
vquasarv wrote:As the son of a Brit living in America, I love black currant as well.

Looza is available at several stores near me, I like to dilute it with sparkling water, its delicious. I haven't done this is several months though, so I need to make sure they still have the black currant flavor!

Three other tasting options:
1. Black currant preserves. I love a PB&J with black currant preserves. It is my favorite jam to have on a PB&J.

2. This is a 'fakish' taste, but one that I grew up with. Many tea-makers make black currant flavored tea including Twinings.

http://www.amazon.com/Twinings-Blackcurrant-Bags-20-Count-Boxes/dp/B000F4F96Q

3. At my local store in the bulk goods section you can get dried currants as well. I like to add them to my oatmeal.



Very entertaining post on the Black Current. Being British myself I grew up on Ribena. Black Current drink is high in vitamin C, and since oranges don't grow well in England, kids drink Ribena instead. The growing season for them is very limited, so getting fresh berries is difficult unless your in a place that grows them at the right time of year. Additionally, they are like Cranberries - you cannot eat them raw - they need to be cooked with sugar to be palatable. I was recently staying outside of Beaune, and our hostess made fresh Blackcurrent compote - I was in heaven - and will most likely stay there again JUST for the compote.

A few years back I discovered that by combining a few ingredients together, I could get a close match. They are Rhubarb and Blueberry. It's not a perfect match but close. Also - you can always find canned Black currents in an English food store.

dayoff53


quality posts: 6 Private Messages dayoff53

I know, this is old news - the blog entry was almost 3 months ago - but I just got around to reading it. That was a very helpful and informative piece. I now have a much better idea what people are referring to when they talk about "black currant" - and an understanding of why the reference was so common but so obtuse to me.
Thank you! I hope to see more from you.

DayOff53
my cellar

mrzitro


quality posts: 0 Private Messages mrzitro

I figured that there has got to be some other way to get a taste of a purer black currant. I googled "black currant extract" and found one made by Jarrow Formulas.

bmherold


quality posts: 0 Private Messages bmherold

mmmmmm wine

mrteki


quality posts: 0 Private Messages mrteki

wine is good.

AttilaTheMom


quality posts: 5 Private Messages AttilaTheMom

Wandering through my local dollar store I came across a jar of blackcurrant preserves, and remembering this post, decided to check it out to see what the flavor is like.

It's kinda like a cross between grape and blackberry (to my poor uneducated taste buds). Not too sweet, no bitter aftertaste. I like it.

AAAAAAAAHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHH........ whatever.