Monday, March 31, 2008

How Strange!

As I was walking to the door this evening the neighbor stopped me with strange news. One of the squirrels he feeds was back and is missing part of his tail.

"It's a lot shorter than it was the last time he was here."

"That's strange," I replied. "I can't imagine how that could happen."

I walked in the house, opened the dog crates and immediately gave Scott a dog cookie.

Sunday, March 30, 2008

Odds and Ends

Yesterday's "bargain" at the market was some imported tomatoes that looked just great sitting in the display. Even though one would think 'south' at this time of year, the yellow on vine tomatoes were actually Canadian in origin, eh. The red Roma's were from Florida and the yellow grape tomatoes were Mexican so we covered most of the north American continent.

They wound up being peeled, seeded and chopped and tossed into a pan with some olive oil and crispy pancetta chunks, garlic and shallots. The only sad part was that there was no fresh basil. I mixed in some pecorino Romano cheese and tossed the whole thing with some fresh tagliatelle for a faux mid-summer feast.

I was auditioning a new wine for the 'house white.' The 2006 Mas Des Bressades from the Costieres de Nimes is a blend of Viognier and Roussanne. Bright, fresh and fruity and affordable at $8 a bottle. It might be just a touch low on acid, but it's QPR (quality price ratio) is good enough to get it some strong consideration.

We are down to the last two bottles of the 'house red." There is no more 2005 Vina Alarba Old Vines Grenache in the marketplace. It was a great little Spanish red for $7 a bottle, but the search is now on for a replacement. It is getting harder and harder to find a good wine in the under $10 price range.

I had a nice conversation with my neighbor this morning. He is the one who puts out the cracked corn for the squirrels which have become Scott's and Ellie's current raison d'etre. He was puzzled as to why the tree rodents weren't eating as much corn as they used to and why they weren't around as much. I replied that "it's spring so it must be breeding season." He seemed to accept that excuse and we left it at that. It's nice to see some green in the ground instead of brown and white.

There's a new, roaming cat in the neighborhood that's been spotted a couple of times so if the squirrels have finally abandoned the area the dogs can start to work scaring away the new feline.

Wednesday, March 26, 2008

Delightful Surprise

A little skillet, beef Stroganof this evening and I opened a wine that I purchased about six weeks ago for $15.

Bright purple (it is a 2006 vintage) and full plummy fruit on the nose, but also a few earthy smells. Half the bottle was decanted, but I poured one glass to drink while cooking.

Definite red plums and acid on the taste, along with some cherries, and those earthy aromas combined for a great foundation to put the fruit on. Surprisingly, it had great tannin going for it also.

Very young and fruity, but the things underneath raised it above what I expect from a young Dolcetto. A Beaujolais on steroids? Perhaps. Well balanced to the point that I would never believe it to be a 14.5% wine. The finish was long and fruity and the last of the tannins just refreshed you mouth.

The best news? A quick phone call to the local store and they still had four bottles on the shelf. They can get no more, but I reserved those four bottles.

Bottom line for me - as good a Dolcetto as I've had, and an excellent food wine despite it's high alcohol content.

Tuesday, March 25, 2008

The Bloom is off the Rose

The title of this entry is certainly the way Scott feels now that his sister is no longer "in season." He is totally ignoring her and spending most of his time making up for ignoring me for the last ten days. Despite his having lost several pounds it still about 75 pounds of dog when he wants to get in your lap.

Ellie still makes her attempts by wiggling her butt in front of him, but with one sniff he goes back to watching for squirrels or chewing his rawhide. They are still not loose together without supervision but by the weekend things should be fine.

We grilled a small lamb roast last night and it was nice to have "good help" again. Scott helped by guarding the grill and Ellie helped by making sure anything that fell to the kitchen floor was immediately removed from the floor.

Sunday, March 23, 2008

Tired Tongue

Quite a "wine day" yesterday. There was an early afternoon tasting of ten northern Rhone wines and an evening dinner with two more bottles. There were some outstanding wines in that mix.

The Rhone tasting offered a nice contrast as there were two Saint Joseph's, two Crozes Hermitage and two Cote Roties that offered the chance to taste a new vintage against an older vintage. Add in two medium aged Hermitages, a single Cornas and a Condrieu to start the day and it was quite an experience.

The Condrieu was a 2006 Georges Vernay. It was full of peaches, nectarines and honey on the nose and an apricot or two jumped in on the taste. Full bodied and oily, almost unctuous with a long, full bodied finish. There were two absentees at our table so I not only tasted my sample, but managed to confiscate one of the unused samples. At $70 a bottle the price was a little steep, but this was a nice wine.

The two Saint Josephs were a 2000 Pascal Perrier Domaine de Gachon ($40) and a 2005 Chave Offerus ($35). Bright, tart cherries in the Offerus with a sweet cherry taste and noticeable oak. It's a very young wine. The Gachon was about meat and leather and dark fruit on the nose. Medium weight in the mouth feel, but with good acid and a long, sweet finish. It is more than drinkable now, but still has some short term aging potential. Good wine.

On to the two Crozes Hermitages, a 2000 Belle Pere et Fils Cuvee Louis Belle and a Y. Chave 2006. The Belle ($40) was smoky meat and dense fruit on the nose and just loaded with dark fruits in the taste. It retains some gripping tannin and has great acidity. The finish was very long and full. I liked this wine. The Y. Chave ($35) was a surprise and to me it seemed out of place in this tasting. Obviously it is quite young, but it was so fruit forward and extracted that I would have picked it as Australian or Californian if the tasting were blind. It was all about fruit and it was hard to detect anything else but fruit and oak. Not what I want in a northern Rhone, but a well made wine.

The Cornas was a Despesse 2005 ($68). Young, closed nose with some meat and cherries peeking through. Deep, dark color - almost black. Cherries, spice, meat tannin, acid all came through. A long, long finish just full of fruit. This wine is nowhere near ready to drink, but it should be spectacular when it is. Production was was less than 150 cases.

The two Cote Roties were a Burgaud 1999 ($70) and a Rene Rostaing 2005 ($85). The Burgaud was all about old leather and dirt overlaid with sharp tart fruit. Bright cherries in the taste made this wine taste much younger than it smelled. Totally balanced wine and a finish to die for made this my favorite wine of the day. Sadly there was only one bottle for sale and it was sold via a random drawing to someone else. The Rostaing was a huge wine with full fruit forward on the nose. It tasted sweeter than it smelled. Medium body with great acidity and wonderfully ripe tannin. A definite wine for the cellar.

The day ended with a 1998 Jaboulet Hermitage La Chapelle ($109) and a 2000 Chapoutier La Sizeranne ($120). There was some oxidation in the Jaboulet wine and some light browning at the edges. The nose was spicy with fully ripe fruit underneath. There was still that wonderful raw steak smell that I love. The wine tasted much younger than it looked and was full bodied with meat and spices and dark cherries. Add a long finish and you had a very nice wine that is drinkable now, but should last a few more years. The Chapoutier was very closed in the nose but eventually some blackberries and cherries came through, along with the raw meat. That's exactly the way it tasted, and there was acid to refresh and tannin to add to it. The finish was perhaps the longest of the day.

I was very happy to taste the Jaboulet wine and even happier that I liked it as well as I did since there are two already in the cellar. That eliminated one potential purchase for me. So the net haul for the day was two bottles of the Gachon Saint Joseph, two bottles of the Belle Crozes Hermitage, one bottle of the Despesse Cornas and one bottle of the Rostaing Cote Rotie. It was a tough call to come home without a bottle of the Condrieu but budgets are what they are - a warning to not overspend.

The two wines with dinner were a Clarendon old vines Grenache, Hicknbotham Vineyard from Australia and a Zind-Humbrecht Clos St Urbain pinot gris from Alsace. More on them later.

Friday, March 21, 2008


Spring is finally here and today there is some sunshine. After nearly two feet of snow a week and a half ago we he two warm days to melt the snow, and that was followed by nine inches of rain, then another inch of snow.

Today there is mostly sun and it is bringing out all sorts of animals. The squirrels are getting brave and foolish again, but this time it was Ellie who almost snagged a sluggard who was too busy eating to pay attention to his surroundings.

She was initially chasing a bird that was feeding, but when she turned a corner there sat a happily munching squirrel. But for her brief hesitation it would have been the great nut tree in the sky for the squirrel, but he managed to get to the nearest pine tree.

Scott was still in his crate because the two of them still can't be together because of her heat cycle being mostly "prime." He did condescend to eat some roasted chicken out of my hand today, and he did drink some water when he ventured away from Ellie's crate during one of his loose periods, so perhaps the worst is passed. Ellie's time out of the crate is usually spent relaxing on the bed, looking outside or helping in the kitchen. Scott just lies in front of her crate during his free times.

Fair price on New York strip steaks today, so since it is sunny the grill will be going later.

Wednesday, March 19, 2008

Sunday / Monday ( a long post)

Sunday and Monday were most interesting.

Sunday was an organized dinner with some unusual items that turned out very good, and Monday was an impromptu evening that broke a few rules.

There was a death recently in my extended family and one of the things three of the people close to the deceased wanted was an evening with good wine and food to help the healing process after the death. That occurred on Sunday.

The evening started with a couple of appetizers and a champagne. Pictured is one of the appetizers, melon balls wrapped in prosciutto ham. The other appetizer was cubes of roasted beets tossed in an olive oil and sherry vinegar mixture with crumbled goat cheese over the top.

There were no left-overs from either appetizer. The champagne was an R Peters brut that I know nothing about other than the fact that it went very well with the appetizers. It is not a producer I'm familiar with.

The next course was a butternut squash bisque. It was a wonderful soup that was served with a 2005 Poet's Leap Riesling from Washington State. Poet's Leap is part of the Long Shadows wine group from Washington. This wine is a collaboration Armin Diel of Schlossgut Diel and Alan Shoup of Washington State. The wine is off-dry, perhaps just a touch sweeter than a kabinett, but definitely drier than an auslese from Germany. There were ten spices and herbs in the soup and it matched wonderfully with the wine. It dried out the sweetness in the wine and just filled the mouth with wonderful fruit and acidity to balance the bisque. What a wonderful pair they were.

The main course was coniglio e ripieno with carrots and a four rice mixture. Translated this means it was a pork tenderloin encased in a totally filleted rabbit with some pork force-meat wrapped around the tenderloin. It was pan browned and then roasted in a hot oven. We had two red wines with this entre'. The first was Altun, a 2003 Rioja Crianza and the second was a 2000 Luce from Italy. The Luce is a joint project from the Marchesi de Frescobaldi and Robert Mondavi. On the initial tasting it was the far superior wine, showing depth, balance and some acidity. The wine is 60% merlot and 40% sangiovese. The Rioja (100% temperanillo) was a little more sharp and acidic, but with some great fruit flavors. It just did not stand up to the Luce.

However, the proof of any wine, in my opinion, is how it matches with the food. The sauce on the rabbit/pork was some pork stock, red wine, dijon mustard, all reduced and finished with a little butter and lemon juice. The Luce proved dull and flabby with the entre', but the acid in the Rioja just shined with the meat. The fruit was still there and the sauce brought out a depth that wasn't apparent when the wine was tasted by itself. It was the star of the meal and just a wonderful match. The price on the Luce was $45, and the price on the Altun was $15. One was wonderful by itself, and the other was perfect with the food.

The meal ended with a tiramisu (which I admit to have purchased from a local bakery).

All in all it was a great meal.

Monday proved just as interesting as dinner was a small fillet of beef coated with ginger, garlic, salt and pepper, then pan seared. While it rested I boiled some egg noodles and tossed them with olive oil, rice vinegar and a dash of fish sauce. The beef was cubed and added to the noodles and the entire thing was finished with a sauce of one teaspoon water, one teaspoon wasabi powder and two teaspoons soy sauce.

We tried the leftover Rioja and it didn't work with this dish at all. Just before opening a beer we tried the last two glasses of the Poet's Leap Riesling and it proved to be one of the best matches I can remember for quite some time. Sometimes things just go together, and the spice and acid in the sauce just proved a perfect foil for the sweetness and acidity in the Riesling. It was one of the most delightful matches I've had in some time, and one of the most unexpected.

There is one more bottle of the Poet's Leap in the cellar, and it will undoubtedly be served with the wasabi beef dish.

Tuesday, March 18, 2008

Full Bloom

No, spring has not suddenly arrived in Ohio, but none the less something is in full bloom.

That "something" is Ellie. She is in the peak period of her 'heat' cycle and is backing up to your foot if you are nervously tapping it on the floor. Scott, naturally, has only one thing on his mind and this time it isn't squirrels or cats or birds. He is lusting after his sister and "that wonderful perfume" she is now wearing. The food bill for the dogs will be somewhat less for the next week as he pines away.

He will get long walks this coming three day weekend to get his mind onto other things. Ellie is confined to the immediate area lest she draw a crowd, so the rawhide chewy bill will rise to keep her occupied.

As for Scott he definitely reworks an old proverb to read - "In spring a young man's fancy turns to lust; pure, unmitigated lust."

Sunday, March 16, 2008


A couple of weeks ago the New York Times tasting panel sampled white wines from the Rueda region of Spain.

It was more than interesting that their top choice of the 20 wines was also the best buy of the group at $9. Equally surprising since southwest Ohio is not the wine center of the universe is that I already owned two of the wines that they recommended. I had purchased the Conclass and a bottle of La Brisas a month or so prior when I was stocking up on every day white wines. Each was $10. The primary grape in each is verdejo. Conclass is 80% verjeho, 10% viura and 10% Sauvignon blanc.

Lemon and honey on the nose and I have to agree with the NY Times, there was a floral quality to the nose. I also got a Riesling-esque hint of kerosene in the nose. It faded quickly , but it was there at the start. The wine had some substance to it and the lemon and fruit came through on the taste. Nice, crisp finish that cut through the simple roasted chicken and rice that we ate with the wine.

The article from the Times can be found here. There is also a multi-media presentation to go along with the article and it's worth checking out. So is the wine - it's very good.

Friday, March 14, 2008


It was a hectic week at work but it is ending on a definite high note.

There was a chicken breast with goat cheese for dinner and the last glass of a Spanish white blend, 75% viura and 25% chardonnay. It went great with the chicken but something more was needed.

I opened a De Boisseyt-Chol 1998 Saint Joseph that I had in both a 750ml and a 375 ml bottles. I opened the 375. Very closed at first in the fruit area, but definite leather and dirt on the nose with some rustic spice. There was a sharp, almost vegetative smell that I finally decided was ripe rhubarb. The first sip had some gripping tannins on the sides of the tongue and some more restrained fruit (dark cherries and ultra ripe strawberries). Good acidity with a long finish that tended to the fruity side. The ripe rhubarb was there too.

After an hour of sipping the wine has opened up tremendously. It actually went through a 15 minute period where it tasted old and I thought perhaps it was gone. It came back to life, the fruit came forward and the tannins eased. Definitely has the dark cherries and the very ripe strawberries, and has wonderfully balanced acidity. The finish is now almost silky and Burgundian. This is a really nice, medium weight, cold climate Syrah wine. It reminds me again of why I love the wines from the northern Rhone.

The half bottle was no doubt at it's peak. I'm going to hold the full bottle for another year or so, and if it as good as the 375 it will be worth the wait .

Sunday, March 9, 2008

Snowbound II

As you can see from the picture on the left there's a very good reason it's not exactly grilling season here in Ohio. We just concluded the largest month of March snowfall in 40 years with depths ranging from 10 inches to 24 inches. There is a dome under the mound on the far left, but the mound on the far right is on a flat work surface. Obviously my immediate neighborhood is in the upper reaches of those figures.

The snow stopped about 3:00 PM yesterday and we had sunshine in the evening, but the overnight temperature dropped to eleven degrees so there is now a crust on the snow.

The Gordons loved it. They have been finding all the sticks and toys that they left lying around outside. It's like a large Easter Egg hunt for them. Scott managed to find a nook across the lot where three stray cats took shelter from the storm. Cats don't move very well in the snow, but a Gordon certainly does. The cats should be thankful for leashes. The dogs spent most of their inside time in the front window watching the birds congregating at the feeder station. The squirrels never made an appearance.

So what does one do during a 24 hour snowfall? Other than organizing the wine cellar and putting everything in it's proper place and updating the locations in the cellar software I did what I always do in a snow storm. I braised something.

In this case there was a lamb shoulder roast in the freezer that was braised in white wine, chicken stock and tomatoes. The bones were removed, the meat pulled apart and a lamb stew with leeks, carrots and white beans was the end result. It's pictured with three, small, cheesy polenta cakes. I tapped the "house red" for the wine, the Vina Alarba Old Vines Grenache 2005 from Spain.

It turned out to be a pleasant and satisfying evening that ended with a glass of Highland Park 12 year old single malt whisky. Now it's daylight here again and time to feed the birds and remove some snow.

Friday, March 7, 2008


With predictions for today that call for up to one foot of snow, I thought I would just post one picture to show where my mind is today.

Sunday, March 2, 2008

Four Parts. No Harmony

There were guests coming for dinner last night so the day was spent shopping and cooking. The weather cooperated nicely since it was very cool in the morning to lend itself to braising. The afternoon was warm enough to fire up the grill.

The result was a chili rubbed, braised beef roast preceded by fresh Island Creek oysters warmed on the grill until they just popped open.

The beef got a rub of ancho and chipotle powders mixed with some salt and granulated garlic powder. Browned to a light crust on top of the stove it was braised for four hours with onions, garlic, celery, carrots, red wine and chicken stock. Heavenly smell.

The wines were supposed to be easy but it didn't work out that way. There was a 2005 Albarino to go with the oysters. I previously drank this wine with oysters and it was wonderful. This was the last bottle so it's time had come. We pulled the cork and poured a glass. Peaches and honey came from the nose and it just delighted everyone. It was different from bottles in the past. It had aged for an additional year and was not as fresh as it had been. It had mellowed and honey had become the dominant flavor. It was delicious by itself but paired with the brininess of the oysters it was now too rich and not a good match at all. The oysters were great and the wine was delicious, but they just weren't a happy match.

On to the beef. There were two bottles available and my friends chose a bottle of the 1999 Chapoutier La Bernardine Chateauneuf de Pape. The other choice was a Clos de los Siete 2005, a Malbec blend from Argentina. That would have been my choice but my freinds wanted to drink the older wine.

The beef was rich and hearty and the wine smooth an elegant, but again they didn't pair up well at all. Whereas the Albarino had been too big for the oysters, the Chateauneuf de Pape was not big enough for the hearty flavors in the beef. The wine was wonderful but it had aged to a point where it needed something milder to go with it.

I popped the cork on the Clos de los Siete and did a quick decant. Huge, dark wine full of fruit and flavor and after a couple of minutes in the glass it was perfect with the beef. The guests are generally not fan of big, red wines, and at 15% alcohol this was a big wine. We each drank a glass with the beef and then after dinner switched back to the Chateauneuf de Pape with some mild cheese, but there was no question that the big wine saved the main course.

I liked all three wines and the food was all good, but if I had to do it all over again the Albarino and the Chateauneuf de Pape would stay in the cellar - or I would do a 2006 Albarino which should be fresher and a better match.

Scott and Ellie were happy. They love a good party and guests and they got some of the skimmed fat from the beef over the dog food this morning. Life is good for the Gordons.