Thursday, December 10, 2009

Racing Toward 2010

Starting around mid-November the hands on the clock seem to speed up. The days are shorter here in the Northern Hemisphere. The requirements for family, society, camaraderie increase. While we would like to retreat and cocoon there is gift-giving to arrange. Fêtes to attend. Wine is obviously the perfect gift. But notch it up and round it out. Pain Vin et Fromage. That is actually the name of a restaurant in Paris. Bread, Wine, Cheese. I first ate there many years ago and enjoyed the Raclette. Grilled cheese accompanied by small boiled potatoes, pickles, pearl onions and slabs of baguette. The perfect repast. A version of the English Ploughman's lunch. Think of this as you plan a gift. A bottle of interesting wine, a loaf of excellent bread and an artisanal cheese. Done.

Some suggestions: A Sancerre Rouge, a Sancerre Blanc, a Crottin de Chavignol, and a baguette. The most intriguing part of this gift array is the Sancerre Rouge. They're not at your local grocery. My current favorite is from Pascal et Nicolas Reverdy, their 2007 Terre de Maimbray. This is Pinot Noir as an ascetic. Austere, pungent mushroom and strawberry which alone requires an extra level of understanding. But when paired with a rich goat cheese such as a Crottin from a nearby hamlet becomes harmonious and right. And with the same cheese a crisp minerally Sancerre blanc is an elegant counterpoint. The baguette is for good measure to round out the meal. Sadly, Nicolas is no longer with us. But Pascal carries on and is crafting lovely wines. Reverdy is a common family name in the area so don't be surprised if you come upon other wines from other Reverdys.

Here's another option: A luxurious Tempranillo from Ribera del Duero, such as Alion from Vega Sicilia, with a chunk of aged Manchego and a container of Membrillo (Spanish quince paste.) And might as well throw in a tin of toasted Marcona almonds. Holiday in a basket. Alion, while not inexpensive, is less purse threatening than Vega Sicilia's premier offering Unico. It is a rich aromatic blast of cherry, tobacco, toasted vanilla bean and espresso. When you put this together with the salty but creamy Manchego, a morsel of sweet Membrillo and a toasty Marcona almond you have a universe of flavors, all in harmony.

You get the idea. Choose a country. Choose a wine and a local cheese. Add a condiment. You've achieved thoughtful gift status.

Happy Holidays. Peace and Wine. And remember: "Wine rejoices the heart of man, and joy is the mother of all virtues." Johann Wolfgang von Goethe...Joy to the World

Saturday, November 14, 2009

Wine + Jazz = Heaven

Have you ever thought about matching the wine you're drinking with the music you're listening to? Probably not. This concept came up recently and it's worth consideration. The instigator sent a link to a cover of the captivating tune "Just Like Heaven" by The Cure. The chanteuse is Kat Edmonson. Her styling is unctuous and delicate at the same time.

If you're kicked back in an armchair listening to this what would you be sipping? Here are a couple of suggestions:

The Velvet Devil by Charles Smith...a smoothly wicked Washington State Merlot, rich black cherry and milk chocolate notes with a peppery finish.

Siduri Russian River Valley Pinot Noir...Blackberry jam and undertones of espresso. Rich and decadent...Pinot on steroids.

What's the point? Our senses include taste, smell, touch, sight, and sound. If you combine jazz and wine you get just about all of them. A sensory cornucopia.

Here's a review of Kat's album "Take to the Sky."
This makes sense. We pair food with wine unquestionably. Why wouldn't we pair our auditory senses as well?
Comments welcome.

Tuesday, October 27, 2009

Ruminating on the Rhone

Cooler temperatures lead to thoughts of the next rich, spicy red on the horizon. Look to the Rhone Valley of France. Here you'll find bargains and blockbusters. Northern Rhone reds are made entirely of Syrah. Southern Rhone reds are blends, usually including Grenache, Syrah, and possibly several other varieties such as Mourvèdre, Cinsault (san-so), Carignan and Counoise. The familiar designation Côtes-du-Rhone is a good one to look for. Even better are Côtes-du-Rhone Villages, which refer to about 95 sub-regions of the Southern Rhone and reflect more focused wine production. And better still, are the named villages. There are currently 18 of these and the one that has jumped to the head of the line for me is Cairanne.

A recent Rhone tasting featuring over a dozen wines included the captivating Coteaux des Travers Côtes-du-Rhone-Villages Cairanne 2007. The aromas jumped from the glass with intense raspberry and cherry pie filling. The tannins were present yet artfully cloaked by the flavors of strawberry, cinnamon and an intriguing smoky finish. I found myself thinking about this wine long after the day's end.
Today brought the much anticipated Domaine Les Grands Bois Cuvée Maximilien Cairanne 2007. Domaine Les Grands Bois has several wines, including a powerhouse wine from Rasteau, another named village, and their Trois Soeurs, so named for the owners' 3 daughters. These are complex, well-crafted wines that reflect the owners passion and attention to detail. But I wanted to open their Cairanne and be just as captivated as I was by the Coteaux des Travers.

And I was. First there's an aromatic blast of fresh cinnamon stick. Morello cherry jam follows, and then gradually an undercurrent of smoky bacon. That last bit was surprising. Bacon fat is something I associate with Northern Rhone Syrah. And this wine has only a touch of Syrah, 5%. It's a little over half Grenache and about a third Mourvèdre plus only 5% Carignan. The flavors are leathery cassis and lavender, briars and dried cranberries. Robert Parker gives this wine a 93 and describes it as "...sauteed porcini mushrooms intermixed with notes of spring flowers and damp earth..." It's a stellar fall accompaniment to hearty soups, crumbly aged cheeses and crusty bread. Bring on the frost.
Cairanne is currently lobbying for inclusion as one of the Rhone Valley Crus, a more select designation than the Villages label. There are 8 in the Northern Rhone and 7 in the Southern. I wish them well and believe they deserve the elevation. And the Rhone wines are such great values that even if they achieve their goal, the wines will most likely still be very affordable.

Friday, October 9, 2009

Why We Spit - Even When We Don't Want To

If you've ever attended one of those big wine tastings with dump buckets all over the place and people looking like they're standing over their bathroom sinks gargling, you will be able to appreciate the following; When you are tasting more than 4 wines you cannot drink it and not begin to act stupidly! They are called wine tastings for a reason. They are not wine drinkings. You do that afterwards at the nearest wine bar with your buddies. If you don't have a comfortable spit-zone then by all means, drink it! But do not feel compelled to drink all of it and please, please do not ask for more. This is just wine tasting etiquette folks. Having said that...

The photo with this blog is called "The Last of the Cos." There's another that goes with it called "When Spitting is just Wrong." We did a comparison study of important Bordeaux and their "second label" wine. For example, Chateau Leoville-Las Cases, a Second Growth or Deuxieme Cru Bordeaux has a less pricey second label wine called Clos du Marquis. The point was for our speaker to convince us that A: the current ranking of Bordeaux wines is bogus and B: that so-called "second labels" are no reflection of their ranked big-deal siblings. Point A remained under furious debate. Point B didn't work out quite the way he planned either. For the most part the second labels reflected the style and quality of the primary labels. And the star of the show was the 2006 Cos d'Estournel and it's little sibling 2006 Les Pagodes de Cos. These are from the St. Estephe region of Bordeaux, an area usually associated with dense, rustic, tannic Cabernet monsters. But even in spite of their extreme youth, both of these wines were elegant, rich, thoroughly sophisticated gems. Here are the truncated notes while tasting along at a furious clip:

Les Pagodes '06 - Med. ruby, aromas of sweet tea, violets, cherry, spice, flavors of dark chocolate, cassis, black cherries and tobacco. Pervasive tannins.

Cos -06 - Deep ruby, pronounced aromas of plum, cassis, chocolate, flavors of bitter chocolate, espresso, dark cherry, very tannic but with some air should be perfect.

And as I sat staring at that generous pour of Cos I was given...I just couldn't bring myself to pour it all out.

Friday, October 2, 2009

There's Pinot and then there's PINOT

Pinot Noir is possibly the most capricious of grapes. It's difficult to find a really good one at modest prices. And it's inconsistent. Vintage matters. It's a finicky grape. It's hard to grow, delicate, thin-skinned, prone to rot, really something of a drama queen. Oregon and Burgundy (Bourgogne, France) have absolutely aced Pinot. And be prepared to pay for it. California is covering all the bases with affordable, quaffable stuff like Poppy Pinot and ramping it up with silky, rich examples that can damage your wallet.
Tonight's treat is Red Car Trolley from the Sonoma Coast. Have you ever smelled a clove cigarette? That's Red Car. Clove cigarettes and your mama's cherry pie. The tannins are perfectly balanced with the fruit. It is worth lingering. And their website is fun to view. These people are dedicated to pure, balanced Pinot without fining or filtering. Just the grape as Mother Nature intended it to be. Having said that, their production is not huge so don't go to your local vendor and expect to find it. This is when you need to develop a relationship with your local wine store and let them know what you like. I only managed to get my hands on one bottle. If you're in with the in crowd you've got a better chance of getting your hands on the good stuff.

Wednesday, September 23, 2009

It's All In The Family

If you're bothering to read a wine blog then there's a good chance you've anointed your lips with a wine from the Wagner family at some point. Caymus Cab, Conundrum, Mer Soleil, Belle Glos, these all hale from the same gene pool. A multi-generational passion, this Napa family has walked the walk. Patriarch Chuck is making a rare journey around the country reminding us why their wines are special. His father Charlie and mother Lorna (Belle Glos) bought the original acres back in the forties. It's worth visiting the website and reading the history. This is the American melting pot at its best. Best of all, as Chuck talks about his wines and his family it's obvious how important it is to him. He even brought along bunches of grapes from his vineyards, clones 6 and 337. It was every wine nerd's dream seminar. And to close the deal he grows tomatoes worthy of making him an honorary Southerner. Thanks Chuck.

What about the wines? Caymus Cabernet and Cabernet Special Selection are high scoring, sought after, delectable, vibrant Cabernets that flaunt their Napa richness while reining it in with leather, tobacco and cedar like the Old World Cabs. Conundrum is a silky white blend that is sweet and not sweet at the same time. If you look hard enough on their website you can find out what grapes are in the mix. That's your homework. Belle Glos, named after Lorna, is dedicated to elegant Pinot Noir. And the Mer Soleil line is both buttered popcorn Chardonnay and the aptly named Mer Soleil Silver which is unoaked, in fact it's aged in concrete, and is crisply reminiscent of a fine Chablis. Every one of their wines is worthy of your time and hard-earned dollars.

Tuesday, September 8, 2009

The Last of the Tomatoes with the Widow

Cooler nights are creeping in. But there's still time for porch sitting and a fresh, cool repast. This is when something sparkling alongside simple fare is the perfect usher into fall. Veuve Clicquot goes back a long way in this family. It was the wedding wine, the honeymoon wine in France, many years ago. It's often been a celebratory toast since. But it's seldom been for no reason. But then, can't you always come up with a reason?

This is the non-vintage orange-label Veuve so easily found. It tastes and smells of fresh biscuits and mock orange. It's clean, crisp, savory with almost a hint of sesame. And it's what was needed for this evening's farewell to the tomatoes. Tomatoes and champagne? Odd perhaps but yes.

A stack of heirloom tomatoes graciously bestowed by a colleague, three ripe avocados, jalapenos from another friend's garden, a fine dice of red onion, a side plate of Stilton, smoked trout, toasted baguette, and the Widow. This is a fine September evening in the South.

Veuve Clicquot, The Widow Clicquot was an innovator. After the death of her husband in the 18th Century she went on to globalize his Champagne business and became a stalwart of the Champagne brand and region. She is credited with inventing the riddling table, the pupitre, on which bottles were gradually turned by hand to produce clear, clean, bubbly perfection. The prestige wine from Veuve Clicquot is called La Grande Dame, after Madame. A Steel Magnolia perhaps?

Tuesday, September 1, 2009

Asparagus Has Met It's Match

There are some foods that are allegedly tough to pair wine with...asparagus, artichokes, spinach. And you do need to think it through. These vegetables can make wine taste bitter. They need a wine that's smooth and spicy at the same time. Recently I revisited Melville Viognier, thanks to a wine savant friend who brought it to my attention. (Thanks A)
It is even more luscious than I remembered. And it turns out to be perfect with grilled asparagus.
2008 Melville Viognier, Estate, Verna's, Santa Barbara County, CA --
The first wave under your nose brings delicate honey and cut flower aromas. It has a mouth-coating silky texture with flavors of white peach, lemon curd, and a peppery finish with hints of fresh thyme. The combined glycerin and minerality create the magic needed for a meal of Salmon burgers with grilled asparagus. Mr. Parker gave this one a 90 point nod.
There were two types of Salmon burgers (Thanks Whole Foods.) One with spinach and feta, one with lemon and herbs. The asparagus was doused in extra-virgin olive oil and finished with Academia Barilla's Sicilian Sea Salt with blood orange rind. Throw on some grilled Vidalia and slices of heirloom tomato. This lovely Viognier went beautifully with everything. And just in case you were wondering, it's pronounced "Vee-own-yay"

Friday, August 28, 2009

You Can't Take It With You

I'm currently cataloguing the cellar of someone near and dear to me who has moved on to the next level. He left no list for his wife. She doesn't know what to drink or hold. She doesn't know what's worth some bucks and what's not. And worst of all, he didn't get to share these treasures with her. While he was truly a generous man who shared his cellar with any and all, he held back some great stuff for those special occasions. And then he was taken before his time.

Here's the point I'm working up to...that rainy day is here folks. Unless you plan to sell your wine or you consider it your kids' inheritance, drink some of it as soon as it's ready for heaven's sake. And how many of you have waited so long that your special bottle is now Over the Hill? I'm sure guilty of that one from not keeping my records up-to-date. While Dottie and John from the Wall Street Journal created "Open That Bottle Night" for the once a year sharing moment, I'm suggesting we all make it more often than that. As far as I'm concerned, every day above ground's a good one. Why not hoist a really good glass in honor of that?

Monday, August 10, 2009

Quivira GSM Rocks the House

Feel free to be jealous. I was gifted a bottle of Quivira winery's Grenache, Syrah, Mourvedre blend, 2006, Wine Creek Ranch, Dry Creek Valley. OMG. Teaberry gum, clove cigarettes, raspberry tart. I can't say enough good things about it. But if you live where I live...TDB. (Which stands for TooDamnBad) You can't get it. You'll just have to visit the winery or go to another state. Many of Quivira's wines are available here in good ole' GA but not this one. Check out their Sauvignon Blanc, Figtree Vineyard, and the Zinfandel. Both are excellent. Quivira is organic and biodynamic. They have cute little goats nibbling the weeds and a beautiful garden that the family all tends. And the owners live in Atlanta part of the year. Home boys and girls. Support the Home Team.

Sunday, August 9, 2009

Good For What Ails You

Alright this is not about wine. This is about comfort. And medicinal properties...Every rare once-in-a-while I indulge in a martini. Recently it was in honor of the loss of a beloved family member who loved my martinis. Today it was because I had a killer pulled muscle in my neck after a Tai-Chi/Pilates/Yoga class that all the ibuprofen and stretching wouldn't alleviate. (Let's ignore the irony of getting a pulled muscle in a relaxation class) And I promise you, a properly administered martini will work wonders for your physiognomy and state of mind. But here's the needs to be gin. The original martini at Harry's in Venice was gin. James Bond's martini has both gin and vodka. But a proper pain-reduction martini needs to be good gin with a mere whisper of vermouth. Gin is made up of a conglomerate of herbs and spices such as coriander and juniper. Hendrick's is my first choice. Bombay Sapphire my second. Check out the side of a Bombay Sapphire bottle for the list of ingredients. It will make you feel virtuous. Noilly-Prat dry is the perfect vermouth. If you must, Martini & Rossi will suffice. Here's what you do: Put your martini glass in the freezer. Fill a shaker with ice, about a half cup of gin for one big ass martini, a few drops of vermouth, literally a few drops, clamp on the lid and shake the bejesus out of it. You want to end up with ice crystals in it. Pull your glass out of the freezer and do one of the following, throw in two manzanilla olives, or a sliver of lemon zest, or if you are using Hendrick's a thin slice of cucumber. Then pour your icy pain-killer through the strainer into your frosty glass and sip. Breathe deeply. Wait a few minutes. And tell me your muscles aren't melting. But only one per customer. These things are potent.

Monday, July 27, 2009

Sexy Wine

Okay it's summer and you're drinking light white wines. And maybe you're drinking some lighter reds when you're grilling out. But you've abandoned big reds. Rethink that. Because there are few things more blood churning than a rich, red, big-legged Cabernet. When it's steamy outside, crank up your internal steam. Larkmead 2006. Trust me. This wine will take ten years off your life. Here's what Mr. Parker has to say:

"The 4,400-case cuvee of 2006 Cabernet Sauvignon Estate (96% Cabernet Sauvignon and the rest Merlot and Cabernet Franc) is brilliant. It would probably be hard to find a Cabernet Sauvignon of this quality with this production level, all estate fruit, and such impeccable viticulture and winemaking. This wine reminded me of a great vintage of Pontet Canet in Pauillac, Bordeaux. The deep creme de cassis flavors intermixed with charcoal and lead pencil shavings soar from the glass. Its full body, stunning ripeness, sweet tannin, and substantial flavor authority make for a brilliant Cabernet Sauvignon to drink over the next two decades. "94 Pts.

Monday, July 20, 2009

Beach Wine and Peanuts

Sweaty, sandy, the surf's crashing, do I pop open a brew? No, I do not. I want a frosty glass of pink and some Low Country boiled peanuts. Yes peanuts. The rosé in question is unlike any other I've had. It's a 2007 Kamen rosé of Cabernet Sauvignon. This is not some delicate flower of a wine. It's rich, bold and loaded with mouth-watering fruit, but still dry and crisp. Think Provence rosé on steroids. And the goobers? A sack of boiled peanuts from Barefoot Farms out here on the South Carolina coast. Your fingers will get all sticky from digging those goobers out of the shells, which you will not litter the beach with please, and then you'll get fingerprints all over your glass. And it won't matter. Read more about Kamen wines at their site. Robert Kamen, the owner, is the guy who wrote "The Karate Kid." Remember that one? "Wax on, Wax off." Amen.

Oh and if there's anything left in the bottle...a Low Country Boil is in my future. Perfect.

Saturday, July 18, 2009

Friday Night Splurge Wines

If you want to part with some of your hard-earned cash here's a couple of options. We sampled two wines that were worth lingering over. First, the 2007 Château Boswell Russian River Valley Chardonnay, from the Dutton Ranch Morelli Vineyard. It was Kettle Corn. Kettle Corn and Lemon Icebox Pie, you know the kind with the graham cracker crust ...but dry. So rich you just want to take tiny sips and maybe nibble on a handful of Marcona almonds.

But before you even start with the Boswell, open up a Dominus from Napa Valley, decant it, and give it some time. We had the 2006 because, well, it's what we had. The '06 could really use some time to relax, but even with that in mind it is a luscious, heady waft of black raspberry and black cherry jam. The tannins were of the sweaters-on-the-teeth quality but that was offset by the richness of the fruit. We ran it through a Venturi aerator into the decanter first. Shook it around a while. But in retrospect I would have liked to let it set a spell. This wine is mostly Cabernet Sauvignon with a touch of Cabernet Franc and Petit Verdot. There's a reason Robert Parker gave this wine 96 points.

Tuesday, June 16, 2009

The Gardens of Villandry

If you ever make it to the Loire be sure to visit Villandry near Tours. Its gardens are spectacular. It's a Renaissance era chateau whose most recent residents were the family of an American woman married to a Frenchman. The huge kitchen gardens have vegetables and fruits as art. And the grape vine promenade is wonderful.

Monday, June 15, 2009

Tortured Vines

It's really mind-boggling to see the stuff that passes for soil here yet lets grapes thrive. Grape vines love stress. They are the martyrs of the plant world. The more they have to struggle for nutrients and moisture the better the fruit. Go figure.

Wednesday, June 10, 2009

Henri Bourgeois Winery

The Bourgeois winery is a few minutes drive from the town of Sancerre. It is family owned and operated and surrounded by their vineyards. We were able to tour the bottling area and cellars and then taste a range of their lovely wines. They make a full range from basic Sancerre white and red to more select single-vineyard wines. The treat of the day was their Vendange Tardive. This honey-like dessert wine is not made every year. They carefully select late harvest fruit and make very small quantities. We tasted the 1997 and it was truly nectar. They only sell this at the winery so it's a treasure. A couple of the 2005s will be tucked away in my checked baggage.

Wednesday, June 3, 2009

TMI on Goat Cheese

Visiting a Chèvrerie is not for the faint of heart...or olfactory. The goats are cute and whimsical and incredibly odiferous. And there are flies everywhere. But in this part of France the Crottin de Chavignol rules. The small white discs of cheese are labeled according to their age, jeune, moyen, or dur (young, medium, hard/aged) and the flavors range from mild to funky. They are all delicious and with a baguette and a bottle of Sancerre blanc or rouge it's a meal after my own heart.

Saturday, May 30, 2009

A Visit to the Loire Valley

Wine Wisdom
Resist the desire to have a glass of wine no matter what. The wine on the flight over, in coach, was probably the worst I’ve had since Boone’s Farm Strawberry Hill. I will not say who made it. But if you went to the grocery store and found the absolute cheapest Cabernet Sauvignon out of California, in little screwcap bottles, then you’re in the ballpark. But I drank it anyway thinking it would help me sleep. However I neglected to inform the screaming child across the aisle of my intentions. Or the women standing close by who apparently had blocked ears because they were yelling over the hum of the engines. And then there was the call-bell-ringing person…whoever it was. Moral of the story – Bad wine is always a mistake.

But never mind. Sancerre is charming and there's a place to try crisp Sauvignon Blanc and delicate Pinot Noir on every corner.