Tuesday, September 18, 2012

Dom Perignon - Good Guy or Villain?

At a recent visit to the Abbaye de St. Hillaire in Limoux, France an excellent guide with a twinkle in his eye told the "true story" of the legendary monk, Dom Perignon.  While many credit D.P. with the creation of fine bubbly, the St. Hillaire faction claim he stole the recipe and defrauded the monastery.  They say he was expelled in disgrace!  Très scandaleuse!  What is the true story? We will probably never know.

We do know that the monks of Saint Hillaire "discovered" the sparkling wine process a hundred years before Monsieur Perignon was amongst them.  It is suggested that after storing their wine over a chilly winter, the bottles awakened in the spring with the dormant yeast shaking off hibernation and hungry for a sugary snack.  Sealed bottles, busy yeast, all that expelled carbon dioxide built up and Voila!  Fizzy wine that occasionally exploded the bottles. 

Over the decades they fine-tuned the process, learning how to expel the exhausted yeast, also called the lees, and eventually create the pristine, dry, delectable beverage we know today.  Best of all, the sparkling wines from this region will not stretch your wallet. 

A note on a particular favorite from negoҫiant Maison Antech, the 2008 Heritage Cremant de Limoux Cuvée 186:  A blend of 60% Chardonnay, 30% Chenin Blanc and 10% Pinot Noir, the toasty aromas leap out.  There is a captivating scent of butterscotch but the wine is quite dry and mouth-watering.  It spends 18 months resting on its lees which adds to the rich texture.  This would pair beautifully with almost anything from the sea or a tangy chevre (goat cheese) on crisp baguette.  If you could find this bubbly it would set you back a huge 12 Euros or so.  They send most of their wines to Germany and the UK.  Here's hoping we can entice more of them to the U.S.!


Friday, September 14, 2012

Languid Languedoc

Wine study at it's most relaxing may be found at Matthew Stubbs' school Vinécole,on the property of Domaine Gayda in Southern France.  To be surrounded by beautiful vineyards, steady breezes and plenty of wine tasting and fine dining must be one of the most profoundly pampering experiences in life.  Stubbs, a Master of Wine, instructs with a soothing low-key demeanor.  His dry English humor occasionally interjects itself, gracefully avoiding the faux-gravitas that comes with so much wine education. 
If a trip to the south of France is not in your budget right now, be sure to take a peek at Matthew's website for upcoming seminars stateside. 
(The gorgeous pool is for students staying on the property.) 

Thursday, August 2, 2012

Mystery Grape

100-year-old Foudres of Clos Cibonne
Continuing the theme of heat-worthy sipping, a 2010 esoteric pink by Clos Cibonne was highly recommended by a local fine wine shop.  It's 90% Tibouren which has been aged over a year in large oak foudres under a thin layer of yeasty "florette."  Come again? That's correct.  And it costs more than many Provence rosés.  Is it worth it?  Absolutely.

Not only is Tibouren an ancient, little-used grape, it's finicky with a relatively short life expectancy for the vines. It generally doesn't age well.  So why bother?  Because in the right hands, in the right location it's elegant, aromatic, and beautiful to look upon. 

Clos Cibonne is one of only 18 Cru Classé vineyards in the Côte de Provence region in Southern France.  It sits near the Mediterranean coast in a protected "bowl."  Brigitte and Claude Deforge took over the property in 2003 and have made it their goal to honor the tradition of this unique provenҫal grape. 

The hue is an arresting pale salmon with huge aromatics of orange zest, lavender and spice.  The orange notes continue with the first sip, but take on more bitter orange and wild strawberry flavors.  A background of clove and dried apricot lingers.  While this is surely an excellent food pairing wine, such as with a classic Salade Niҫoise, it is captivating by itself... especially in the presence of palm trees.

Wednesday, July 18, 2012

Weekday Burgundy

Argument:  The wines of Burgundy are the best in the world.
Response:  Most folks can't afford them.
Reality:  There are some that "normal people" can enjoy and treasure.
In a perfect world we could enjoy 1er Cru Burgundy on a Wednesday night and not concern ourselves with the price tag.  But these days...
Enter the elegant Bourgogne of Liger-Belair.  Seventh generation Louis-Michel Liger-Belair has taken up the gauntlet of crazy Burgundy inheritance laws, reclaimed property that belonged to his family long, long ago, and is crafting wines of finesse and beauty.  Yes, some are quite pricey and arguably worth it.  But the regional wine is a thing of beauty.  The price tends toward the $25 range, which may not be your idea of Wednesday.  However it's worth denying yourself Thursday to give this a shot. And by the way, they're biodynamic.

Louis-Michel makes "drinking wines not tasting wines."  This one absolutely honors that ethos.  Gossamer tannin, bright Bing cherry, and a backdrop of that delicate crust off the top of a crème brulée..okay, okay caramelized sugar...make this wine delectable.
  On this occasion it was served with a spinach artichoke tart and fresh chopped tomatoes and basil from the garden.  Yes, artichokes are difficult for wine pairing. The point being this Pinot Noir goes with so many dishes.  Just go for it.

Thursday, July 12, 2012

Breakfast for Dinner

It's getting late.  You've been working/traveling/laboring...you get the idea.  Dinner needs to be dealt with right away.  What do many people do these days?  Breakfast for dinner.  What wine goes with scrambled eggs? Well, that depends.
If you're adding a daring sauté of shishitos (Japanese peppers) and roasted red peppers with a side of spicy sausage, try a savory Grenache-Syrah blend from the Rhône Valley.  There are countless delicious, affordable Côte-du-Rhône Villages to choose from.  Or if you're willing to notch-it-up, open a savory Côte-Rôtie for a blast of bacony goodness.  Add crusty baguette and this is the perfect quick dinner anytime.

For summer out-on-the-porch dining, lighter fare is in order.  A recent post-travel meal included creamy slow-scrambled eggs with goat cheese, 9-Grain toast, and slices of tomato picked fresh from the garden.  The wine?  A translucent ruby gem called Pink Fiddle.  This rosé of Pinot Noir is by winemaker Kathy Joseph, owner of Fiddlehead Cellars. Kathy makes gorgeous Pinot Noir and Sauvignon Blanc.  Lucky for us she also makes a little bit of rosé each year.
It's completely dry, but so packed with luscious fruit it explodes with flavors of ripe strawberry and cherry.  With the creamy eggs and vibrant tomato it is a perfect trio of taste. Look for Pink Fiddle at your local wine shop.  The supply is very limited and usually runs out by summer's end.  But it's worth searching for.


Sunday, July 8, 2012

Hot Wines in Hot Weather with Hot Food

These days we're eating salads and chilled soups, grilling out, occasionally barely eating at all.  Record temperatures all over the U.S. have people shaking their heads in disbelief.  What's a hot and bothered wine lover to do?  Leave the country.  Figuratively.  Try some of the crisp, tangy white wine from Portugal, Vinho Verde. There are many different brands to choose from and all are very affordable.  Think of it as adult lemonade. 
The lacy blue label of Aveleda's Casal Garcia is one that you'll find in many groceries and wine stores.   Their Vinho Verde pairs beautifully with those chilled summer meals.  It's a blend of the uniquely Portugese grapes Trajadura, Loureiro, Arinto and Azal.  Aromas are delicate citrus and white flowers.  It has crystalline acidity and freshness. 

A recent pairing matched it with lettuce wraps - probably the best possible use of iceberg lettuce, a quick stir-fry, Sriracha and a soy-ginger-sesame marinade. It's cool, crunchy food you roll up and eat with your hands while drinking adult lemonade. Summer redeemed. 

Monday, June 18, 2012

Red Hot...or Not?

 During a recent sun-drenched, sweat-inducing gathering the talk was, yet again, the "red is best but it's too hot to drink it" conundrum. You can stand the heat to grill a burger. A robust red wine is the perfect accompaniment. But your parched throat wants cold, wet...what? Beer? Well sure, but that's not the answer. Just chill...your wine. We've long heard the axiom, "red wine is to be drunk at room temperature." Where does that come from? Think Cistercian and Benedictine monks in their chilly Burgundian Abbeys bringing their wines upstairs from the 50 degree cellars. There's your room temp. So just chill your red! Put it in the refrigerator or on ice for about 30 minutes. Then load up the burger and enjoy.

One caveat - choose a red that is not high in tannin.  That's the slightly chewy aspect of a red wine, when you take a sip and it's like little sweaters on your teeth.  Tannins come from the skin, seeds, and stems of grapes.  Have you ever brewed a cup of tea too long and it seemed astringent, kind of bitter?  That's tannins from the tea leaves.  When you chill a red wine the tannins will seem more pronounced. 

Great candidates for this summer pleasure include the Dolcetto grape from Italy.  Look for a Dolcetto d'Alba from the Piedmont region. Great producers include Luciano Sandrone, Renato Ratti, Paolo Scavino and many more.

Light Pinot Noirs are perfect for chilling. If you can find one from Sancerre in the Loire Valley they tend toward soft tannin and bright mouthwatering acidity. Henri Bourgeois and Nicolas & Pascal Reverdy are two reliable producers. Almost any regional Burgundy (Bourgogne) will work. Also, most New Zealand Pinot Noir meets the light and fruitful requirement.
And finally, a personal favorite any time of year, are the wines of Beaujolais.  These are made from the Gamay grape, low tannin, cherry-like fruit.  Do not confuse a good Beaujolais with Beaujolais Nouveau. Look for one with a named sub-region on the label.  There are 10 "Cru" Beaujolais to choose from. (Cru roughly translating as special growth.)  Any of the 10 are wonderful chilled, but Fleurie, Julienas and Chiroubles are the most amenable.  A recent article by Wall Street Journal contributor and renowned author Jay McInerney delves deeper into the subject of Beaujolais.  Mr. McInerney refers to Beaujolais' surge in popularity as "a kind of contrarian geek revival—as if Beaujolais were the Hush Puppies of the wine world."  But then aren't most wine lovers a bit on the geeky side?.. Subject for another time.

Look for the wines of Daniel Bouland, Domaine Joel Rochette, and Domaine Emile Cheysson, to name only a few.

Wednesday, June 6, 2012

Still Pink

There is so much excellent pink available right now!  Here's one from Rousseau Frères in the Loire Valley of France. 
Their 2011 Touraine Noble Joué is a combination of three of the pinot grapes; Pinot Meunier, Pinot Gris and Pinot Noir. It was a  perfect beginning to the evening with the simple addition of a dish of pistachios.

This is a gently aromatic wine, suggesting spring flowers and fresh strawberries.  Then the flavorful punch of cherries, pomegranate and white peach kicks in.  Do not be fooled by the delicate hue of this wine.  It's a multi-layered mouthful. 

The Rousseau family has been making their wines in the beautiful Touraine area of the Loire for four generations.  It's a hands-on operation with everyone participating.  Their wines illustrate this shared passion with their depth and precision. 

If you are traveling in the Loire this summer and find yourself near the city of Tours, be sure to put this winery on your itinerary
Combine it with a visit to the beautiful Château Villandry and your holiday will be complete.

Thursday, May 31, 2012

Deeply In The Pink

As we ooze into the sultry summer here in the beautiful South, more and more wine lovers are realizing the perfection of dry, crisp rosé with almost any dish you can create.  This recent pairing of homemade pizza with Lioco rosé was stellar. 
First a word about Lioco Wines.  A collaboration between two smart guys, Matt Likklider and Kevin O'Connor, Lioco is their ode to super-clean wines that show their true character, as well as some little-known grapes. 
The 2011 Indica rosé is a new direction with a new winemaker, John Raytek. 100% organic Carignan is the grape. It's crisp acidity, delicate floral nose, and haunting flavors of wild strawberry and mineral where a perfect counterpoint to our hot-off-the-grill pie with fresh mozzarella, olives, sliced tomato, Vidalia onion and fresh basil. 
By the way, they didn't make a lot of this wine.  So don't dawdle.

Tuesday, May 22, 2012

Return to the Blogosphere

After a year-and-a-half hiatus it's time to return to the joy of food and wine.  An action packed stint with pH Wine Merchant has come to an end.  The one thing sorely missed during that period was writing about wine instead of constantly talking about it.  The power of the written word cannot be overstated.  So let's get to it. 
Condrieu.  What more profound wine could there be to jump start the soul of a wine geek?  In this instance, it was a coveted, cosseted bottle brought back from the source. 
On a marvelous Rhône trip sponsored by InterRhône and the French Wine Society several of us scored some bottles from Condrieu master Georges Vernay.  The 2009 Les Terrasses de L'Empire has ethereal aromas of fennel, lemon curd, spring flowers and peach nectar. Flavors of apricot and honey glide into a tang of minerality and lanolin, in a good way.  This bottle was hauled back in Fall 2010.  We opened it  recently. It was golden and gorgeous.   And we set up a do-it-yourself taco bar to go with it.  Fresh chopped tomato, peppers, pintos, grated cheese, pico de gallo, cilantro...that's all.  Clean and simple.  The spice of the pico paired beautifully with the peppery finish on the Condrieu.  Does it sound like sacrilege to put street food with fancy wine?  Think again.  Give it a try.