Tuesday, March 31, 2009

Staglin - Day Two

After being a little disappointed with the Staglin Cabernet Sauvignon on Sunday (see below) I decided to finish off the bottle last night.

When I left it on Sunday the fruit was fading and the tannin was taking over, this being after an hour and half. I put a vacuum stopper in the wine and returned it to the cellar. Last night was a small bowl of left over braised beef that was served over some egg noodles. Not wanting to open another bottle I pulled out the Staglin and poured a glass.

The fruit had reappeared and the tannins had finally subsided to the point that it was highly enjoyable. Very interesting because I thought the wine was gone. Obviously, the perfect time for this wine was somewhere between the vacuum sealing on Sunday and the time I finally drank the remains last night.

Note to self - hold on to the second bottle but decant it for a couple hours before drinking.

Monday, March 30, 2009

1997 Staglin Cabernet and Lamb

Sunday night dinner was wonderful, but the wine, while very good, was a little disappointing.

Pictured above is a small rack of grass fed Icelandic lamb. There is a local, free range and organic chicken producer who is friends with the folks in Iceland who produce the lamb, and he is the middleman for the local market carrying this. It is quite lean but very tasty. It was simply rubbed with a cut garlic clove then lightly dusted with herbs de Provence, pan seared and finished in the oven until medium rare. There were store bought, frozen, large ravioli from the New York Ravioli company. This version was filled with wild mushroom and truffles. They were boiled and finished with olive oil and grated cheese and parsley.

The wine was a 1997 Staglin from the Rutherford area of Napa Valley. Staglin is an excellent producer which owns and uses part of the vineyard formerly used to produce the Beaulieu Georges de Latour reserve wine a few decades ago - wines that I dearly loved. 1997 was considered by some to be the "vintage of the decade" in Napa. That's actually a silly term that really means you had to do something truly wrong to make a bad wine that year in Napa.

I have had two bottles squirreled away for some time and decided last night was the time to pull the cork. The wine was very dark in the glass. The nose was all about black currants and dark cherries with a touch of cinnamon thrown in for good measure. There was also noticeable oak in the nose. The first sip was full bodied and full of those same dark fruits. The tannins were gripping and big, and the acid was correct. There was a lengthy finish that ended with more of the tannin. It was a very good wine, but over the course of the evening the fruit seemed to fade and the tannins seemed to grow. This was good wine for certain, but not an exceptional wine. It was good with the lamb, but I was hoping for something more and that made it a little disappointing.

I drank of bottle of the 1996 Staglin last year and that wine from a supposedly lesser vintage was in better shape than this one from the supposedly superior vintage though they had been kept in the same conditions. That's just one more thing that makes wine interesting.

Sunday, March 29, 2009


The 2007 white Burgundies are due in the local market soon so they have discounted the unsold bottles from the 2006 vintage.

For several years Verget has been one of my favorite producers for good quality wine at a very fair price. The 2006 Verget Macon-Vergisson "La Roche" certainly falls into that category now that the price dropped from $24 to $19.

There is a fresh and fruity nose with some sweet, green apple notes, a tiny touch of butter, some citrus and a suggestion of oak.

The taste delivers the apples and a tiny bit of pineapple along with an overlay of butter. There is great acidity to the wine and a pleasantly dry finish after some good length. It is quite drinkable now but will last a few years.

They were offering tastings of the wine on Friday and after tasting it I purchased two bottles.

There is one bottle left as one was consumed with Friday night dinner. The main course was a skin on, boneless chicken breast half seared in a hot skillet and then transferred to an oven. The skillet was then used to braise a chopped up leek using white wine and chicken stock. The sauce was finished with a swirl of butter. The breast was served on a bed of the leeks with pine nuts scattered over the top. It was an outstanding pairing with the Macon.

Saturday, March 28, 2009


There was an automatic download of security software Friday morning but it had an unintended side effect. After rebooting it basically killed the computer. Two geeks and a day and a half later we are operating under a patched up system that allows us to do most things, but one of the things it won't do is open the wine software. Instead of scanning a computer list and picking a wine I actually had to physically start pulling bottles to find a correct wine. Terrible how I've come to rely on a stream of electrons to help with this task.

The local market featured two things this weekend, grass fed, strip steaks from Colorado and rack of baby lamb from Iceland. Both were outstanding bargains so it made easy choices for the weekend; steak tonight and lamb tomorrow. There are more of each for the freezer. I don't usually freeze meat, preferring to buy it as I need it, but the price was too good not to buy in quantity.

As an homage to spring we added a baked potato with sour cream and the first harvest of chives from the garden snipped over the top. Nothing says 'spring' like the first shoots of chives and a baked potato. It's just a harbinger of the things to come with fresh herbs. The mint is above ground, both the regular and lemon thyme are sending up shoots and the tarragon must have loved the winter because it appears to be on its way to a bountiful spring. The lavender is also looking very good. The rosemary plant wintered over well inside and is now re-potted and outside. In another month the basil plants will be at the local garden store. There is a new, huge pot waiting for them.

Tonight's wine turned out to be a 2005 Luciano Sandrone Dolcetto D'Alba. Inky dark, tannic, and fruity it was a great match with the grilled strip steak.

The photo? The local market also had a great special on two varieties on mangoes, Haden and Ataulfo. The Hadens are the rounder of the two. The light was good this evening and they made a good picture.

Still working on tomorrows lamb dinner.

Thanks to those of you who have e-mailed on our brief moment of fame in the Wall Street Journal. And yes, I know it's near the end of the article but I prefer to look at it as saving the best for almost last. After all the wine I've consumed in my life it's very funny that the brief moment of fame involved a Lambrusco.

Monday, March 23, 2009

Leeuwin Estates Riesling

Finally we are starting to see some dry Australian Riesling on the shelves in this area. Being in the middle of America sometimes means that it takes longer for fads or trends or good products to leave the east or west coasts and work their way here. I suppose that this is the time to cite a quote attributed to Mark Twain, "if the world ever ends I want to be in Cincinnati because everything there happens twenty years later." Being just north of Cincinnati I can understand this.

This was the third Australian Riesling I've tried lately, the other two being Plantagenet and Koonowla. This wine is the Art Series from Leeuwin and is from the Margaret River area in western Australia. Of the three the Koonowla was my favorite, but the Leeuwin is by far the most interesting.

One of the little nuances that Riesling throws at you is a hint of kerosene in the nose of the wine. Generally it is subtle and something that fades as the level in the bottle declines. Not so with this wine. This wine is the quintessential wine for smelling kerosene. It was strong, unmistakable and it was persistent. It smelled like lamp oil mixed with white peaches and lime. It was not unpleasant at all, but it was not subtle. If one wants to understand and learn the kerosene smell in Riesling this is the perfect wine.

The citrus and peaches carried over into the taste, along with great acid and and oiliness coming from that kerosene smell. It was dry but had just a touch of sweetness at the end. It was refreshing, but it probably isn't a wine for everyone.

Dinner was Asian inspired. The market was running a special on prime sea scallops from the east coast. I mixed five spice powder and flour and lightly dusted the scallops with the mixture. They were sauteed in a pan in some hot oil for about three minutes on each side, just enough to brown the surface and warm the interior.

Earlier I made a reduction of fresh squeezed orange juice, lemon juice, a pinch of salt and a little sugar, reducing it to a thin syrup. At the very end I poured the reduction into the skillet and glazed the scallops. They were finished with a small dose of Sambal Olec, a hot, Thai chili paste. There was forbidden (black) rice and a small salad dressed with rice vinegar and sesame oil. It was a good and refreshing meal and a very interesting wine.

Sunday, March 22, 2009

Three for the Cellar

Interesting day yesterday from a wine perspective. I wandered into the local market's wine section and sitting on the counter for tasting were two bottles of Barbaresco, a northern Italian wine regioin adjacent to Barolo in the Langhe area. Both were from Produttori del Barbaresco, a cooperative winery owned by some of the folks who own some of the best vineyards in that area. They were single vineyard "riserva" wines from the 2004 vintage, a very good one for northern Italian wines.

As it turns out they were the second two of a set of four. The two others were opened the previous night and sampled. I still had two hours before they could open the tasting so I took the groceries home and then ventured back to the market.

I started with the Ovello. It was a perfect garnet color with medium depth making it correct for Nebiollo. The aroma was dried red cherries and an almost quintessential smell of roses and violets, all somewhat reserved. The cherries were there in the taste along with some clean, dry dirt. The taste was tight, tart, and tannic. It took some time and a little swirling for this wine to begin to open, but it remained austere and dry. The finish was wonderfully long and full. This was quite a nice wine and one with tremedous potential to develop in the bottle.

After some slices of crusty bread we moved on to the Montestafano vineyard. The color was a little darker than the Ovello and there was more fruit than flowers in the nose. There was less austerity on the taste and more fullness of red cherries. The acid was still great and the tannins were still there. With some more swirling it blossomed and the roses began to come out. This wine was just fruitier than the first one and seemed to have a bit more depth. The finish was equally long and wonderful. By a slight margin I preferred it to the Ovello because there just seemed to be a little more to it.

Since the folks in the wine department know I love Italian wines they went in back and pulled out the remains of a bottle of one of the two wines from the previous night, a Moccagatta. There was enough for two small glasses left. This wine had been open for 18 hours and the fruit and the violets were just singing. This was the fullest of the wines, though lighter in color than the Montestefano. The depth of the cherries was the best of the three and there was a damper earth in the taste as opposed to the Ovello. It was just great to stand there and smell what was coming out of the glass even though tasting it was better. It would have been nice to taste the other two with the same amount of breathing time.

There was one bottle of the Moccagatta left for sale and since I didn't want it to be lonely in the cellar I brought home one each of its litter mates to keep it company as they age for a couple of years. The three are pictured above.

It totally blows the wine budget for the month (and part of April as well) but these were exceptional wines.

For the record the fourth wine was from the Paje' vineyard and there was not a chance to taste it since the one remaining bottle was spoken for. Probably a good thing. They are expecting another small shipment so a Paje' may join them at a later date but I am very happy with the three in the cellar.

Saturday, March 21, 2009

Cheap Red Wine

...or perhaps the word 'inexpensive' would be a better choice.

Friday night was a quick pasta dish with leftover sauce, a chopped plum tomato and a few scattered herbs. The wine was a 2006 La Serra Chianti that checked in at an amazing $8.99 a bottle. It was red, it smelled like wine, there was decent fruit and acid and a little tannin. There was nothing about this wine that said "look at me." All it said was "drink me." That's what we did.

Thursday, March 19, 2009

Barbera D'Asti

There was a simple pasta dinner last night mostly made up of leftover and reheated chicken, some mushrooms and tomatoes tossed with some olive oil and cheese. The wine was very good. It was a 2004 Michele Chiarlo Barbera D'Asti, Le Orme, one of his standard bottlings. This was part of last week's mixed case and was a close out of an older vintage to make room for a younger wine.

It was bright purple at the edges in the glass but quickly moved into a garnet color of medium depth. The nose was all about bright red fruits - tart cherries, barely ripe strawberries, and some earth. The taste was about those cherries but with a bit of raspberry mixed in. Nice tartness and just a bit a tannin rounded out the wine. For an inexpensive wine ($12) there was a very good length to the finish. Excellent value.

Monday, March 16, 2009

Super Sunday

There was another spot of spring yesterday afternoon, sunshine and moderate temperatures that were promises of things to come. There is enough daylight and warmer temperatures that the fresh herbs are finally peeking above the ground. In a couple weeks the chives will be up enough to start harvesting.

The 2006 J Vidal Fleury Cotes du Rhone was another wine that was in the mixed case purchased on Saturday. I tried a bottle about six months ago and at $16 I thought it was a very good wine at the time. At it's sale price of $12 it was an even better wine. Lots of bright strawberry fruit and a touch of dirt in the nose and taste coupled with soft tannins and good acidity made this wine very easy to drink. Just as yesterday's Chignin wasn't a wine with subtle nuances to demand too much thought, this wine just went down easily. There was a hint of pepper at the end but basically it left the mouth refreshed and ready for more. There are times when that is all I want from a wine, and yesterday was one of those times.

Since the day was so nice we filled the grill with charcoal and roasted a whole chicken over indirect heat. We made a compound butter of finely grated lemon peel, freshly grated ginger, some white pepper and salt and rubbed that between the skin and the flesh. The inside of the bird got a handful of thyme and the entire thing roasted in the dry heat of the grill for almost two hours. There was a slight wind yesterday and the new neighbors were the beneficiary of the sweet smoke with ginger-lemon overtones. They finally came over to ask what the "fantastic" aroma was and went home with the brief recipe.

I added some fresh asparagus mixed with porcini tortellini and finished with a 2008 fresh pressed olive oil just off the boat from Tuscany and some grated pecorino cheese. The lemon, ginger and thyme flavored the chicken to near perfection and the light smoke from the charcoal really set off the wine. I will eat and drink this combination again.

Good weather, good wine, good food and a happy dog who got some pan drippings and a little chicken skin mixed in his dog food made for a wonderful afternoon and evening.

Sunday, March 15, 2009


I went shopping yesterday and brought home a mixed case of wine, some new, some familiar, some to open immediately and two to put away for awhile.

The wine pictured here was in the open soon category, and dinner last night proved to be the perfect time. The wine is a Chignin from Savoie. In this case it was a 2006 Domaine Andre et Michel Quenard. My entire experience with wines of Savoie consists of Abymes, so this was an entirely new wine to me. The wine is 100% Jacquere.

After a very slight chill we poured a glass. Very neutral in color and best described as very pale straw. The nose was dry and smelled of Meyer lemons and grapefruit with an underlying hint of wet slate. The taste was not as dry as the nose, but it was the Meyer lemons and minerals that stood out. This wasn't a rich fruity wine by any means, the minerality was definitely its strong suit. It was light and bone dry except for just the slightest touch of sweetness at the very end. The wine was 11% alcohol by volume.

Dinner was an Alaskan cod fillet, laid on a bed of julienned leeks and carrots and covered with a garlic, lemon peel and thyme butter. Everything was enclosed in parchment paper and baked for fifteen minutes. The cod was delicious and there was just enough butter involved to ease the dryness in the wine. A good match, as neither the wine or the food was overly serious or complicated. They made each other better.

Friday, March 13, 2009

Summer Preview

It's still a few days until spring, but last night was a preview of summer, though everything was done indoors. Above is a pan seared halibut fillet with a pan sauce of white wine, butter and fresh parsley. This was the first good halibut of the season. The salad is farrotto Nicoise. The wine was a 2007 Burgans Albarino, crisp, tart and refreshing.

The farrotto is one of my favorite summer dishes and is full of cooked farro, green beans, tomatoes, tuna, Nicoise olives, hard boiled egg and shallots all dressed with a sauce of olive oil and lemon juice. It's a true meal unto itself.

Monday, March 9, 2009

Road Trip - An Italian Sunday

Went to visit an elderly relative yesterday evening. She is a true pasta fan and eats very little meat so that's what we did for dinner.

All the meat involved consisted of this 1/4 inch slice of pancetta, diced and slowly fried in some olive oil until the bits were crunchy. I definitely have this thing for pancetta.

Next up was some spinach and chive pasta tossed with a good dose of fresh pesto sauce, then sprinkled with the pancetta bits and topped with a simple slice of tomato to add color to the dish. Earthy, light and perfect with a small salad and a rosemary dinner roll. Save for the slice of tomato and the brown pancetta bits the meal was very green, and in this case I'm talking color instead of environmentally friendly.

The wine was a 2005 Mauro Molino Dolcetto D' Alba. Dark color, lush fruit on the nose, good acid and light tannin all combined in perfect proportion in this wine. The taste was pure, sharp dark fruit with just enough tannin and acid to clear the palate. Dolcetto means "little sweet one" in Italian and this certainly fits that description. The wine was in a "close-out" bin at the market about six weeks ago and discounted so that the newest vintage, 2007, could go on the shelf. The price was an wonderful $11.

This was certainly the best $11 wine I've had for some time. Dolcettos and Barberas from northern Italy remain some of the best bargains on good wine in the market. Easy on the pocket book and easy to drink and they all seem to go great with food. This one was no exception.

There was a small amount of leftover pasta and Scott enjoyed it mixed in with his dog food this morning.

Sunday, March 8, 2009

Almost Spring

Fantastic weather yesterday, partly sunny and a high in the low 70 degree range. Prime ribeye steaks were on sale at the market and that made it an easy decision to light the grill. A small salad, some oven roasted baby potatoes and a steak just cried out for a red wine. In this case the wine was a 2003 Jocelyn Cabernet from Napa Valley.

I purchased this wine a little over two years ago after a tasting dinner with Susan Curtis, winery owner, at a local restaurant. The dinner featured four of their wines, two chardonnays and two cabernets, each paired with a different course. All four wines were good but my favorite was the regular bottling of the cabernet.

Two years has done wonders for the wine. The nose was a touch closed at first but came around with some swirling. Black currants and dark fruit were predominant. There was also a hint a vanilla from the oak used in the wine. The taste was the same, fully ripe currants with cherries and a little enriching from a hint of sweet cassis. The acid was nice and the tannins were pleasantly dry. They were a touch strong at the start but quickly blended into the wine. At 14.5% alcohol it is a little higher than I prefer, but it was well balanced enough that it never went over the edge into the overblown style I've come to hate from Napa. A very good wine and there are two more in the cellar.

This past fall I was at the local market and when I passed through the wine area I saw a familiar face. Susan Curtis was back in the area on another tour and it was good to hear that the small winery is doing well. It was also great to taste their new releases. I purchased three bottles of their 2005 Cabernet that day and they are resting patiently.

Due to a "disagreement" with a winery with a similar sounding name the official name is now Jocelyn Lonen.

Monday, March 2, 2009


Once in awhile a trip through the produce section of the market ends with something new. That was the case yesterday when I came home with a head of Romanesco. Unusual in appearance and color it almost jumped into the cart. I believe this was the first chartreuse vegetable I've eaten.

Internet research told me that it was one of several things. First, it was a cross between broccoli and cauliflower. Second it was not a cross between them, rather it was an ancestor of those two. Another source said it was simply in the same family.

There were surprisingly few recipes to be found so in the evening I simply cut it into florets and steamed them, tasting them every few minutes to determine when they were done. It took about ten minutes, less than broccoli and more than cauliflower. I gave it a slight drizzle of olive oil, a squeeze of lemon juice and a dash of salt. It reminded me somewhat of broccoli and somewhat of cauliflower, though it wasn't nearly as pungent as steamed cauliflower can be. To be honest, I think preferred it to either of it's relatives. There is enough left to experiment with over the next few days so there's some fun coming.

There was also a marinated and grilled veal chop and some oven roasted potatoes to go with the veggie. We opened a 2006 River Village Cellars Cabernet Franc and had thoroughly enjoyable evening. The wine was of medium weight, fruity, inexpensive and a good match for everything.

At the end of the meal Scott decided that he liked the Romanesco and he eagerly ate two florets. Looks like it will stay on the menu.

Sunday, March 1, 2009

Open That Bottle Night

For the last ten years John Brecher and Dorothy Gaiter who write the "Tastings" column for the Wall Street Journal have been promoting the last Saturday in February as "Open that Bottle Night." Put briefly, everyone has a special bottle or two that they have been saving for a special occasion that never seems to come. OTBN is promoted as the time to open that bottle and relive the memories of what made it a special purchase or acquisition.

There was a small gathering last night to celebrate OTBN and there were three wines with different reasons for being opened. The first was another bottle of the Reggiano Lambrusco discussed here in this blog. It's the wine that started my long journey, and as it turns out the journey of two others at the party. Each person had a funny story about Lambrusco and it set a great tone for the evening. This is not a wine to take seriously, just a wine to have fun with.

The second wine was one that I opened to "peek in the window." I bought a fair number of 2005 Burgundies when they came on the market and they are stored away. While I've opened a few regional and village wines from the vintage I thought it was time to check in on how some of the others were progressing. The 2005 Louis Jadot Clos de Malte Santenay seemed like a good candidate. It was medium colored in the glass with a nice burgundy color. There was a hint of earth, but mostly bright cherries and ripe strawberries in the nose and the taste. There was great acidity and finish and over the course of the evening the wine just kept improving in the glass. It went great with some chicken breasts with pine nuts and a side of filled pasta. The wine is more than drinkable but shows enough of everything that it needs a couple of more years to really open.

The real hit of the night was opened by friends whose reason for opening it was that they always wanted to drink a bottle of the wine. It was a 2002 Stags Leap Vineyard Cask 23 from the Stags Leap area of Napa Valley. This was a dark wine in the glass with a nose of cassis and dark cherries, a hint of cinnamon and vanilla, and maybe just a bit of pipe tobacco. The taste was fully dark fruits and berries, a little spice and a hint of oak. The tannins were fully in balance as was the acid. Everything was together to make this more old world rather than new Napa style. It was elegant. My only complaint was with the finish. There was a moderate length to it, but the Cask 23's I've had in the past lingered and slowly faded on the finish. This wine finished with a taste that was there one second, then totally gone the next second. I went back to it several times through the evening and while the last taste was the best that finish was still sudden. Very interesting.

It was a fun evening.