Thursday, January 29, 2009

Abstract Shades of Gray?

No, not really an abstract, but it is the roof of the local medical center after the recent ice and snow fall. Not that I'm a Zen master, but sometimes when there really isn't much there it all comes together to make an attractive picture .

That also describes tonight's wine, a 2006 La Serra Chianti Colli Senesi. Yes, there's some fruit, there's some acid, there's some tannin, there's a nose and there's a finish, but they are very much shades of gray and not outstanding in any way, shape, form or color. Having said that, it's a very drinakable little wine and at 12% alcohol it's like having a couple of beers. Sometimes not trying to be much works.

Tuesday, January 27, 2009


It's been a relatively dry winter here, but the next two days are certain to change that. Snow started this morning around 2:00 AM and continues. After a brief pause it is supposed to start again this evening. So far we are at 3 inches and counting and the total is expected to reach 10 inches by Wednesday.

It has already provided some amusement as the minute Scott ventured out this morning he discovered two sets of cat tracks in the snow. He found the feral felines snoozing in a sheltered area. It was a grand chase but wound up producing nothing but exercise for him and the cats.

Sunday, January 25, 2009

Burns Night - Almost Perfect

It was a great meal and there were three very, very good wines.

Unquestionably the wine of the evening was the 1993 La Jota Howell Mountain, 12th Anniversary Release. When the cork came out and the first glass was poured the room was filled with the unmistakable scent of violets. There was dark cherries, and cassis in the nose along with an earthy scent of herbs and earth. This was a full colored wine with a full body and great flavor. The cherries and cassis were there, along with blueberries, a hint of tobacco and other herbs and a very slight chocolate undertone. There were tannins from the mid-palate on and great acidity on the finish. This is what a mature Napa Cabernet should be. This wasn't a fruit bomb by any sense of the word. It was restrained at the beginning and evolved in the glass over a couple of hours into something wonderful. This was as good as any California cabernet I've had in several years. It was paired with a pan roasted tenderloin of beef finished with a bourbon, pecan and cream sauce. It was an outstanding pairing - a rare treat.

The evening opened with another outstanding wine. This was a 2005 Spreitzer Oestricher Lenchen Kabinett. This was a veritable fruit salad of a wine. There were green apples, peaches, pineapple, kiwi and other fruits in both the nose and the taste. The wine was very sweet for a kabinett and was closer to a spatlese to me, but there was this remarkable, crisp acidity that kept all the sweetness in perfect balance. It finished with acid and an earthy minerality that just made one want to have another glass. Thankfully there are two more bottles of this in the cellar.

This wine was paired with Asian style salmon cakes. There was salmon, red onion, cilantro, red and green peppers, soy sauce, a pinch of brown sugar, red pepper flakes and a healthy dose of Sambal Oelek, a spicy Thai style fresh red chili paste. They were coated in panko crumbs and quickly sauteed and topped with a ginger and lime aioli. The Riesling was outstanding with the salmon as the sweetness in the wine and the heat of the cakes were dancing together like Fred and Ginger.

The last wine of the evening was a 1997 Chateau Climens, a Barsac. Deep golden in color the wine just reeked of ripe peaches, nectarines and honey. There is also a unique earthiness to me in a good botrytised wine and this one had that funky aroma/taste in spades. There was still enough acid to balance the wine and there was a long, lingering finish. The slab of young Roquefort only added to the the experience.

All in all it has been a long, long time since a three wine meal has included better wines than these three. Taken as a group they were outstanding, and taken by themselves they were the same.

So here's to Robert Burns on his 250th birthday. Of course one can't celebrate Robert and not have a Scot's whisky, so the evening concluded with a 'wee dram' of Lagavulin Distillers Edition 1991.

Tomorrow we diet - but tonight we dined.

Saturday, January 24, 2009

Burns Night Opening Round

For anyone with any Scottish ancestry or even interest in things Scottish this is a very big weekend. Tomorrow, January 25, is the 250th anniversary of the birth of Robert Burns. That means lots of parties, and they started last night at some friends' house.

The meal was simple, just some pan seared steaks, but the steaks were a little special. They were Kobe beef style Wagyu rib eye steaks. Full of marbling the thick steaks were pan seared and then finished in a hot oven and left un-sauced except for some crumbled Maytag blue cheese.

There were four wines. My contribution to the evening is pictured above, a 2006 Patricia Green Ribbon Ridge Pinot Noir from Oregon. The color was a true pinot and not an artificial or over ripe dark color. The nose smelled of semi tart cherries with some dirt and minerals underlying the fruit. The cherries in the taste were of a darker variety than those in the nose and there was even a hint of some strawberries. There were soft tannins on the side of the tongue and a long and lingering finish with great acid. This was a very nice wine and paired well with the steak, though it did fight a little with the cheese. At 13.5% alcohol it was imminently drinkable

The first two wines were siblings. They were a 1998 Robert Mondavi Reserve Cabernet and a 1996 version of the same wine. The '98 was more fruit forward and lush with lots of dark fruit and cassis. Fully mature it still showed some tannin and acid for longer aging, but it was a delicious drink. I preferred the 1996 wine. There was slightly less fruit, but there was tobacco and herbs mixed in to give it extra little nuances. Drier and with a little more tannin it seemed the more balanced of the two wines. It was also great with the beef, and this wine stood up to the cheese as well.

We finished the evening with a glass of Churchill 1994 vintage Port. Sweet and still young, it coated the mouth with a wonderful viscosity. Nice wine.

We're taking tonight off and the the party will continue here tomorrow night for the official Burns' Birthday meal. No - we're not doing haggis but there will be some very nice wines.

Saturday, January 17, 2009

Sometimes the Wine Comes First

That was the case tonight when we knew what wine was being opened before knew what we were drinking with it.

In this case it was a 2007 Leitz Einz Zwei Dry, a Riesling Trocken wine from the Rheingau that we've commented on previously.

I took an Italian recipe and transplanted it to southeast Asia and it worked out to be a nice dish. Dinner was fillets of Sablefish (Black Cod). The Italian version called for slicing Yukon Gold potatoes on a mandoline and layering them on a piece of parchment paper, sitting the fish on top and seasoning with oregano, garlic, and lemon. We skipped the garlic and oregano and instead topped the fish with a teaspoon of Sambal Oelek, a very spicy, Thai style, ground fresh chili paste and a lemon slice. I enclosed the fish in the parchment and baked it in a hot oven for 20 minutes.

The fish was spicy and good but the potatoes were outstanding, creamy but crisp on the bottom with just a touch of the heat. The entire thing went together quite well. The wine was cool, crisp and dry, but with the heat of the Sambal Oelek a slightly sweeter wine might have been a better choice. Perhaps a Kabinett or a Spatlese? Regardless, it was a nice improvisation.

The weather started at zero this morning but has worked its way up to 33 degrees. Snow is beginning so tomorrow promises to be a fun day.

Wednesday, January 14, 2009

A Gift of Wine

I recently did a couple of favors for a friend and she was very appreciative. She offered to pay for the work but I declined.

A week or so later there was a gift bag sitting on the patio when I returned home from some weekend errands, and a note saying 'thanks' for the help. One look at the gift bag and it was obvious that it was a bottle of wine.

One terrible thing about being a wine lover is that it makes for difficult situations when someone not into wine decides to buy you a bottle. They are quite often socked at the prices when going in a wine store, or they are overwhelmed when going into a supermarket and picking up a bottle. At least this person took the time to call another mutual friend and ask what kind of wine I liked.

The bottom line is that I appreciated the sentiment and last night I finally got around to opening the bottle. The wine in question was a 2007 Fetzer Vineyards Valley Oaks California Riesling. The nose was floral with some pear overtones to it and the pears were joined by some over ripe peaches or apricots in the taste. The over riding factor in the wine however was the lack of the crisp, sharp acid that makes Riesling what it is. The sweetness was there, but without that acid to balance out the sugar the wine was flat and one dimensional.

High production Rieslings from "California" just don't compare to their counterparts from Washington where there is enough cool weather to keep acid levels higher and in correct proportion. I've had some good Riesling from California, primarily Trefethen, Stony Hill and Handley, but the Fetzer certainly wasn't joining that group. I won't even go into a comparison with wines from Germany or Australia because there isn't a comparison to be made.

We drank a couple of glasses with some chicken and called the friend and thanked them. I appreciated the gesture, if not the wine.

Monday, January 12, 2009

♫Let It Snow, Let It Snow, Let It Snow....

Sunday dinner was interesting because of the left over wine from Saturday, the 2006 Vina Alarba Old Vines Grenache. The day was dry, but cloudy so I made the attempt to use the outdoor grill for the two lamb chops pictured at the right. The bottom grates that allow the air to come in were frozen shut so it took several attempts to get the fire lit. There were also some artery clogging potatoes in the oven, artery clogging in the sense that they were roasted in duck fat. The lamb was good and the potatoes were wonderful.

The same can't be said for the wine. On Saturday night it was alive and fresh, and even though the remains were sealed under vacuum it tasted old and tired by Sunday night. It's rare that I get a wine this young that fades this quickly, but this one did. Fortunately it was part of a mixed case where there were no more than one of any wine. We won't be adding any more 2006 Vina Alarba. The fruit didn't taste fresh, it tasted almost prunish. There was still some acid, but the entire wine was out of balance. At 14.5% alcohol one would have thought 24 hours wasn't asking too much for it to remain fresh. Apparently it was asking too much of this wine.

The weather we were expecting in this area on Saturday surprised us by coming in unannounced just as dinner was concluding. By this morning we have about an inch of powder snow covering everything and no doubt the grates on the grill are frozen shut again. Temperatures are headed down and the coldest weather of the year is in store for this week.

I always liked the old proverb, 'when life gives you lemons, make lemonade." In a sense that's what we did after dinner. We sat in the front window and watched it snow while sipping some more of the Gould Campbell port and munching on more of the Stilton. Neither of those two items had faded at all.

Saturday, January 10, 2009

Bless British Bovines

Saturday night's dinner was good, but after dinner was exceptional. There was a 2000 Gould Campbell Late Bottled Vintage Port, a just ripe pear and a magnificent wedge of Stilton cheese.

The cheese was cut from a wheel earlier in the day at the local market and was just off the plane from England. Sweet, tart, creamy and pungent all at the same time it was just the thing for a cold night. The pear wasn't the best I've had, but the port was more than adequate. The cheese was just exceptional.

The port was most interesting. There was remarkable acid in this wine that sat in the dead center of the tongue for the longest time. It was sweet and viscous, but the acid was so pronounced that it killed some of the sweetness. It was a match from heaven for the cheese which was exceptional work from British cows.

Dinner was a porchetta roast. This was a pork loin covered in garlic, rosemary and sage and then rolled into a section of pork belly. The entire thing was tied into a cylinder. We pan seared it and the popped into an oven to render the fat. It came out pink and juicy in the center and crisp and crunchy on the exterior. It was Delicious with a blend of white, brown and wild rice held together with some Gruyere cheese and toasted almonds.

The wine was a new vintage of an old friend, a 2006 Vina Alarba Old Vines Grenache. The 2003 vintage was the house red for almost a year when it was plentiful in the market. The 2005 made a very brief appearance but wasn't nearly as good. The 2006 is a worthy successor to the 2003. Full of ripe, but not overbearing fruit, it still had some acid in it to clear the palate. It was all about bright red cherries and raspberries. Very good wine at $9 a bottle.

The severe weather missed us on Saturday, though it is snowing as I type this early on Sunday morning. The temperature stayed just above freezing until this evening. Lows this coming week are expected to be in single digits (F). The third and fourth weeks of January are historically the two coldest weeks of the y ear in this area and it appears that 2009 will not be an exception. The port will drink well over this time period.

Friday, January 9, 2009


Friday night was a clean out the refrigerator meal.

We wound up with a pan roasted veal chop served over some pasta tossed with pesto and a small salad. Good, sound meal without being over the top in any way. There's still a couple of spoonfuls of pesto left for another meal.

Nice wine. It was a 2003 Taurino Salice Salentino Rosso, a blend of Negromaro and Malvasia Nera. Medium body, lots of soft fruit up front and a nice light, fruity nose. Lots of soft, ripe cherries in the taste with enough acid to make it refreshing and just a small hint of tannin on the side of the tongue. An easy drinking wine for $8.

Nasty weather setting in here tonight with freezing rain and sleet, with all this changing to snow around noon tomorrow. Tomorrow may be an "eat out of the freezer" day as the road conditions aren't supposed to be conducive to errands. Good thing there are those spoonfuls of pesto left over from tonight.

Saturday, January 3, 2009

Back at It

Thanks to miracles of modern medicine the cold has subsided to the point that I could taste again so we ventured out to help some friends finally celebrate Christmas and the new year. They delayed their celebration because of illness and finally the entire crowd was feeling good enough to devour a couple of large standing rib roasts and drink some wine.

Dorothy Gaiter and John Brecher, who write the wine columns for the Wall Street Journal have a very interesting article currently up. It is a To Do list for wine in 2009. One of their suggestions is to drink a wine variety you've never had before. We solved that today with a 2007 Studert Prum Dornfelder from the Mosel in Germany. Medium purple (yes it is a red Mosel) and almost spritzy it smelled like grapes and red cherries and tasted the same. It reminded me of a light and drinkable pinot noir with no pretensions of greatness, just a good wine to drink. At only 12% alcohol one could drink a little more of this wine.

Next up was the top picture. The wine is the 1999 Bousquet des Papes, a Chateauneuf du Pape. Brick red on the edges I feared the wine was over the hill. Instead it smelled of dried fruit, herbs and clean, dry dirt. There was good acid and a fair supply of tannin. The taste was dried cherries and red fruits with a little bit of jam coming through at the end. It drank very well and over the course of the afternoon it continued to improve in the glass.

The final wine of the day was a rare treat. The wine was a 1997 Von Strasser Reserve from Diamond Mountain in Napa Valley. The wine was a blend of 40% Petit Verdot, 37% Cabernet Sauvignon and 20% Merlot, all from mountain vineyards in Napa. It was extremely closed in the nose and took quite some time to open up. Blackberries and other prickly fruit were in the nose along with cassis, vanilla and cinnamon. The wine was intense in its taste and the tannins were strutting their stuff. There was more grape tannin than oak tannin, and matched the structure of the wine.

I went back three times to this wine over several hours and by the last glass it was finally beginning to bloom. Unfortunately this was the only bottle in the host's cellar, and the total production was 180 cases. It's a wine that I would love to try again in five to ten years. I do have one bottle of the Von Strasser Cabernet Sauvignon from the 1997 vinatage in the cellar, but certainly not the Reserve. I'll wait a few years on the cab.

It was difficult to choose between the Von Strasser and the Bousquet des Papes, but they were certainly different wines. One was young with a long life ahead of it and the other was at it's peak or perhaps just a year or so past it.

The wine year is off to a good start.

Friday, January 2, 2009


Happy Hogmanay and Happy New Year.

All the good things planned for the holiday resembled the U.S. economy - somewhat devastated. A slightly scratchy throat led to a full blown cold by Tuesday evening. There was no need to even contemplate a couple of good bottles of wine and good food. Instead, I drank plenty of water and the only alcohol was in the cold medicine.

The only exception was a small glass of Oban Distillers Edition on New Year's day because it would almost be immoral to start a year without something to lubricate my Scottish roots. And yes, the first footer was a dark haired man who had the bottle in his hand when he crossed the threshold.

Tasting notes and some good food photos will return when I can smell and taste.