Friday, July 31, 2009

Basic Chianti

The rain is gone, the clouds are gone, the humidity has evaporated, the skies are clear and the wine is gone. It was a good evening.

There was a small steak from the grill and some porcini tortellini with Asiago cheese and olive oil on the plate so we opened a very basic Chianti. The wine was a 2006 Giacomo Mori Chianti. Dirt, leather, cherries with a dry, dusty wind blowing by were in the nose. We decanted half the wine while the steak grilled and the pasta boiled. After half an hour the cherries and earth jumped out in the taste and there was acid to begin the palate cleansing and fine dry tannins to complete the process. This was a medium weight wine with a bright color and a moderate finish. It was great with the steak and pasta. It was every thing a basic Chianit should be and it did all this for $12.

After dinner we got out the fine bladed vegetable peeler and cut some thin slices of the cheese for dessert. We also decanted the other half bottle of the wine. The evening is now nearly over. There is still some cheese left, but the wine bottle is empty.

Not a profound expereince, but a delicious evening. Life is good.

Wednesday, July 29, 2009

Nantucket Sleigh Ride - Scott Style

No wine in this post....

A Nantucket sleigh ride is an eighteenth and nineteenth century term for what happened when whalers in a small boat harpooned a whale. The whale was usually upset by the idea and would take off swimming while dragging the boat that harpooned it along for the ride.

It rained overnight so the grass was extremely wet when Scott and I ventured out for his "morning constitutional." We went no more than ten feet when he spied a squirrel on the ground. Off went the squirrel, off went Scott, and since I was holding the leash I went on the sleigh ride, being dragged by a 75 pound dog in hot pursuit of a squirrel that refused to go up a tree. Slick soled shoes became small surf boards on the wet grass. It all ended when my feet hit the sidewalk while the rest of my body continued on. Fortunately that was when the squirrel decided to go up a tree and Scott stopped. Disaster averted.

We came back in and decided on raspberry waffles for breakfast to celebrate my survival. Tonight there will be wine!

Monday, July 27, 2009

Shellfish Sunday

I love close out bins in wine shops. Saturday I came across a nice bargain sitting in the bin at a local source. The 2008 vintage of Muscadet is hitting the shelf and the local store marked down the 2007 vintage from $16 to $11. That made it a bargain, so two came home with me.

That meant Sunday was going to be about shellfish, primarily oysters. They were opened and placed on the grill briefly to just warm and pick up a hint of smoke, then they were hit with a drop or two of lemon juice and a tiny grind of white pepper. Heaven on the half shell.

Along with the oysters there were some fresh clams cooked on the grill and topped with some tiny bits of salt pork cubes that had been totally rendered. For good measure we grilled a few sea scallops.

The patio smelled terrific and what we ate tasted even better than it smelled. The only side dish was some sauteed corn. We cut the kernels off a couple ears of just picked corn, sauteed a little red onion in some oil, then added the corn kernels and sauteed both together. We added a tiny pinch of ground cumin and a tablespoon of butter at the very end, then stirred in a couple tablespoon of fresh picked basil.

The wine was the 2007 Domaine Guindon Saint Gereon, Muscadet Coteaux de la Loire, Sur Lie. Pale in the glass with just a touch of green at the edge, it smelled of very tart apples and lemons and water running off dry limestone. The minerality was there in spades in the taste and the acid came along for the ride. It wasn't so much about fruit as it was the earth in this 12% alcohol wine. It's hard to beat oysters and Muscadet, and it wasn't too bad with the clams and scallops either. There was a crusty roll or two to mope up some juices that escaped onto the platter and plate.

Sunday, July 26, 2009

A Night at the Opera...

...with Walter Clore.

It had been a couple of weeks since the time was available here to really work on a meal. That changed yesterday. For the first 3/4 of the day it rained as a front system was moving through, and that meant the time to wander through the local markets.

The first result is pictured above. There were some heirloom, cherry tomatoes at a farmer's market so we brought home a pint of them. We added some fresh basil, some 8 hour old mozzarella, some sea salt and a little extra virgin olive oil. The plate was as good to look at as it was to eat.

I had a wine picked out that was on special in this area and I wanted to try the wine while it was still available in case more was needed. The wine was Columbia Crest, Walter Clore, Private Reserve Red Wine from the 2004 vintage out of the Columbia Valley. According to the winery site the wine must not exist since they are currently touting the 2005 vintage and the past vintages end with 2003. The blend is usually more than 50% cabernet sauvignon, less than 50% merlot, and a little cabernet Franc thrown in, but there is zero information available on the 2004 vintage.

The nose was dark red cherries and a plum or two with some vanilla and oak overtones. The taste added some cassis to the dark cherry tastes and there was a hint of cinnamon and chocolate in the mix. There was good depth of flavor and a nice profile as it fill the front of the tongue with fruit, then the sides of the tongue filled in with some acid and tannin and the back of the tongue finished with more fruit and a touch of soft oak tannin. This was a very well balanced wine and not overdone in any way. It's listed at 14% alcohol on the label. List price on the wine was $35, though it was on clearance for $20. I ordered two more bottles.
The meal was meant for a cabernet / merlot wine. Pictured at the left is duck confit with shiitake mushrooms, ginger, garlic, onions and cardamon garnished with fresh mint and served over a mixture of whole wheat and regular penne pasta. It was topped with Pecorino Romano cheese. the mushrooms, duck and cardamon accented the fruit flavors in the red wine and the mint gave it a little zing. The tannin and acid remained and cleaned the palate after each sip of wine.

The combination of flavors was wonderful.

Just after cleaning up from the meal, and just prior to dessert the old Marx Brothers Movie, A Night at the Opera, came on TV uninterrupted by commercials. It was as hilarious as the previous times I'd seen it, but this is the first time I'd caught it without commercials.

Dessert came during the movie and was very simple. The first of the locally produced mini-watermelons were at the farmers market along with the tomatoes, so there was a slice of that for dessert, properly cooled and refreshing. Scott is happy as some of the skin and fat from the confit found its way into his dog food this morning.

Saturday, July 25, 2009

New Zealand Sauvignon Blanc

It had been some time since I opened a Sauvignon Blanc, and even longer since I opened one from New Zealand. We resolved that issue last night.

The wine came first. It was the 2008 Brancott Marlborough, and entry level wine. The wine is sold in most of the world as Montana, but someone holds the rights to that name in the U.S.

The wine was chilled slightly, hence the cloudiness in the glass here, but warmed up enough by the time the meal was ready. There was a green/gold hue to the edges in this wine and a crisp and tart bouquet of grass, herbals and some tropical aromas. The taste had all those with a little citrus mixed in. The finish was pleasant in both length and taste. There was nothing profound here, just a good food wine.

The food was a chicken breast half, skin and bone included. I made a pocket in the flesh and stuffed it with a mixture of fresh goat cheese, fresh sage and fresh lemon thyme. It was wrapped in parchment paper and roasted in the oven for 30 minutes. There were some carrots sauteed with shallots and tarragon and a small salad to complete the main course. One of the quintessential matches with sauvignon blanc is goat cheese and that was the case here. The wine moved up a notch or two with the chicken.

Dessert was a freshly made mango sorbet so the meal ended with a little more of the tropical flavor in the wine.

Wednesday, July 22, 2009

Mazzocco Carignane 2003

That's rain on the wine bottle pictured above. The rain began about 2:00 AM this morning and has yet to stop. It's not hard, but it has been constant, and for this time of the year it's highly unusual. The temperatures have also been unusual in that they have been almost chilly. My thanks to the Canadians for the lingering cold front.

Dinner was supposed to be pork chops on the grill but the weather killed that idea. Instead they were dusted with flour and Bavarian seasonings and pan fried. Going with the winter theme we went with mashed potatoes and made a pan gravy once the chops were removed from the pan. Good, almost winter like meal.

The Illinois trip last weekend also added thirteen bottles of wine to the cellar, although this statement is a little misleading. Only one of the bottles carried an Illinois appellation. The other twelve were a mixed case of Mazzocco wines from California. Friends were doing some house cleaning on overstocked wine and sent them home with me. It's the best kind of friends!

I opened one of the wines with dinner tonight. The wine was a 2003 Stone Ranch, Old Vine Carignane from Mazzocco Vineyards near Healdsburg in Sonoma county. Bright cherry red in the glass the wine just reeked of fresh strawberries with a little cardamon thrown into the mix. Good acid joined the strawberries in the taste along with a little fresh cherry juice. The tannins were mild but they were lingering. The finish was dry and fruity. This was a good medium weight red wine and perfect for summer. I can't recall the last varietal Carignane I had. The taste profile is great because it will help in picking out these flavors in Rhone and Spanish wines that use this grape as part of their blend. Good wine and an even better learning experience.

Tuesday, July 21, 2009


I realize it's July, but the title here is correct.

During the past weekend's trip to central Illinois we ventured to a restaurant named June in Peoria Heights. The restaurant features organic and local products when possible and what they refer to as post modern techniques.

The restaurant is a small place tucked into a small, two level strip center. The decor is very modern with nice clean lines and a totally open kitchen. The minimal decor is perfect for the food they serve.

My starter was three small venison meatballs served over hand rolled pasta with a light garlic sauce. They were cooked medium rare, which is still a little much for venison, but in this case it worked. I also tasted two other appetizers, a hard poached egg over brioche with smoked mushrooms, and a white tuna fritter. Both were delicious.

For the second course I went with a plate of beets. This was small, roasted yellow and candy striped beets sliced very thin, and a few chunks of pickled, small red beets. They were arranged around a center of micro-greens and topped with a tangerine vinaigrette and a few small tangerine sections. Any of you who read this blog regularly know my fondness for beets as they have appeared here several times. The roasted beets were sweet and earthy and the pickled beets were properly briny. The acid in the vinaigrette picked them all up. The serving size was perfect for a salad course but I could have eaten three helpings of this dish. The only problem with this dish is that if I return to the restaurant and they aren't on the menu the evening would start with a disappointment. They were that good.

For the entree' I ordered a leg and thigh quarter from a local organic chicken. The dish was cooked sous-vide to just done and then pan seared until crisp. There were roasted baby artichokes and onions on the plate as well. The skin on the chicken was perfectly crisp, tasty and the meat was wonderfully fresh, warm and comforting. The onions and artichokes provided a piquant contrast to the chicken. I also tasted the other two entrees on the table, a beef fillet also cooked sous-vide and then rolled in dried porcini mushrooms and seared and fillets of daurade pan cooked and served over a mixture of oriental veggies with a lime based sauce. All were winners.

Dessert was simple and a perfect ending. I had a ball of fresh, white peach sorbert floating in a glass of slightly sweetened champagne. The sorbet was light, fruity and tart while the champagne provided a little sweetness and acid.

Was there wine? Of course there was wine. We drank a 2006 Castello di Farnetella Chianti Classico. Earthy aromas of tart cherries and clean dirt stood out in the nose. The body was medium with the cherries very pronounced. Tannins were moderate and the acids were quite nice and refreshing. The wine was outstanding with the chicken and the beef, and was especially good with the beets. The earthiness in Chianti is a great match with the cuisine at June. Doing a little research upon arriving home I find that Farnetella is made by one of my top favorite producers in the region, Fattori di Felsina. There are a number of bottles of Felsina wines in the cellar and I was happy to know they are involved with another good wine project.

The restaurant was a wonderful experience and definitely worth the six hour drive.

Thursday, July 16, 2009

Chateau de Fontenay 2005

The local wine store came across a few cases of this inexpensive 2005 Bordeaux, Chateau de Fontenay, and for $14 I thought it was worth a try.

Tight, closed nose to start and it took a few minutes for the wine to begin to open. There wee definitely some berries here with just a hint of a dark cherry. The taste was also closed up for the first half hour, but eventually the berries began jumping. There was very good acid and plenty of tannin to balance out the fruit. The weight was medium, not light but certainly not a blockbuster. The acid and tannin made for a good, but not overly long finish.

Dinner was a small New York strip steak of grass fed beef, a baked potato with black truffle salt and a small salad. The potato with the truffle salt worked some magic with the wine.

I bought two bottles of this wine and will put bottle #2 away for a couple of years. Good wine for the price.

We're off in the morning for Illinois to visit friends for the weekend and hit a restaurant that's getting some good reviews. The folks have two Gordon Setter girls so Scott is going along to reinvigorate his dreams of having a harem.

Wednesday, July 15, 2009

Vinho Verde

There was a refreshing wine to go with some swordfish last night, a 2008 Arca Nova Vinho Verde from Portugal. There was a slight spritz and effervescence to the wine when first opened. Pale in the glass with just the slightest tinge of yellow-green on the edge. Lots of acid and green grape flavors balanced by acidity and low alcohol. There was a tiny hint of sweetness at the very end, but not enough to make the wine taste sweet. Fresh, young alive and really nice on a warm evening. This isn't a wine to ponder, just a wine to wash down some good food and enjoy the experience. At $6 a bottle it's a great buy for a summer white.

The swordfish was pan seared after being marinated in lime juice, rosemary, thyme, garlic and red pepper flakes. Once the sear was on both sides it saw about five minutes in the oven to finish cooking, and that was just enough time to stir fry some asparagus and open the bottle of wine. Nice evening.

Monday, July 13, 2009

Tri Tip and Left Over Wine

Good sale on tri-tip beef this weekend so it went on the grill it last night. In the morning we made a dry rub with salt, white pepper, black pepper, ancho chili powder, chipotle powder, bay leaf, paprika, ground cumin and a few Chinese pepper corns. The entire mixture was buzzed in the spice grinder and rubbed thoroughly into both sides of the meat. Just before grilling a little more was rubbed into the meat. Obviously it was cooked rare to medium rare and sliced thinly across the grain. The crust (bark) was quite spicy but certainty not overdone. The meat was juicy and tender and picked up the flavors in the rub as well.

There was a couscous dish to accompany the meat. The couscous was cooked in chicken stock with paprika, powdered ginger and ground cumin. At the last minute some chopped cilantro and parsley were stirred in along with some lemon zest, a fineley diced Cippolini onion and a grated carrot. It was dressed with a little lemon juice and olive oil. There was also an ear of Sunday picked corn on the cob which was the first of the year from a local farm.

There were two left over red wines available so rather than open a third bottle we finished off a 2006 Kinkead Ridge Revelation and the 2006 Cecchi Chianti Classico from Saturday night. The Chianti really didn't match with the flavors on the crust of the meat, but the Revelation was almost flawless with it. The wine had been open for four days, sealed under vacuum but was still fresh and balanced.

Scott got a few pieces of the meat mixed in with his dog food so all of us were happy with the evening.

Saturday, July 11, 2009

2006 Chianti Classico, Cecchi

It was a frequently rainy and dreary day so I made stops at four different wine stores and made purchases at three of them, coming home with a very mixed case plus. Most of the wines are new to me but there were a couple of old friends in the mix and none cost more than $24.

One of them, pictured here, was a 2006 Luigi Cecchi & Figli Chianti Classico at $14 a bottle. The wine was a wonderful garnet color and had a bouquet of tart cherries and a little dry earth. The wine had a medium body and the both the fruit and earth seemed in good balance. Good acidity and smooth tannins finished made for a pleasant finish. There was not any tremendous depth to the wine, but for a table wine it was very good.

To go with it there was a grilled veal rib chop and some pasta. The chop was marinated for forty minutes in olive oil, lemon zest, lemon juice, chopped fresh sage, thyme and rosemary, some red pepper flakes and a little lemon pepper. The pasta sauce was simple. There was a chopped Roma tomato and some fresh basil in a base of olive oil and butter. Some Asiago cheese was added at the last minute and the whole thing was tossed together.

Good food and good wine so it's a happy evening.

Wednesday, July 8, 2009

The Red Côtes Are Coming

Sorry for the pun, but we are still close to Independence Day here.

Very interesting wine last night from The Artisan Family of Wines, a Red Côte 2008 rose with a Suisun Valley appellation from California. From the picture above it's obvious this is not a pale style of wine as it is bright, transparent red. The folks at Artisan had pre-warned me that there was some residual sugar in this wine and the label confirmed 1% sugar.

After a slight chill we pulled the cork and poured a small glass while dinner was getting underway. It was definitely a bright, electric red in the glass, almost like a good red pop. There were some strawberries and cherries and a little spice in the nose that gave it just a tiny hint of cinnamon. The wine was full flavored and the strawberries were out in force. The acid was good and sharp and at the end there was that slightly sweet taste. The folks at Artisan had suggested treating this wine more like a German Riesling than a dry, French rose and after a taste I could see where they were coming from. That meant it was time to adjust dinner.

Dinner was some chicken legs marinated in lemon juice and olive oil. Once the legs were out of the marinade onions and tomatoes were added. This is where the adjustment came in. I added two chopped, seeded habanero peppers. The chicken and veggies were scattered with some salt, lemon pepper and a few cumin seeds and popped into a hot oven for 35 minutes. When the chicken came out of the oven it was removed from the pan, the pan was placed on the stove top and some chicken stock was added to it. This was reduced and then poured over some basmati rice alongside the chicken legs.

Needless to say that there was some heat in this dish. Seeding the peppers reduced it greatly, but this was still a spicy bite. The wine passed its ultimate test with this dish. The residual sugar complimented the fruity heat from the habanero like they were made for each other. It seemed to accent the strawberry in the wine even more and cooled the mouth after the chicken and veggies. I admit to usually liking my rose's completely dry, but this meal and this wine proved there is a place for an off dry rose' with spicy food. And don't get me started on how well it went with a black raspberry shortcake for dessert. Good fit here too.

In the end this was a good wine and a good learning experience.

Monday, July 6, 2009

Salmon on the Grill

There was much salmon consumed yesterday - all of it good.

As they do with lobsters from Maine or eastern Canada in May the local market flies in a plane load of fresh salmon from Alaska each July. The fish are sold whole, but after purchasing the fishmongers will fillet and cut the salmon to you specifications. We opted for a ten pound fish and had it simply left in two sides. There was an event on Friday involving a salmon cook-off so we opted to go for the winning recipe on Sunday. The before shot is pictured above, while the after shot is pictured below.

The fish was seared quickly on an open grill on the flesh side, then flipped over and basted with a freshly made barbecue sauce and finished cooking with the skin side down. The sauce consisted of butter, soy sauce, garlic, Worcestershire sauce, lemon juice, toasted sesame oil, ketchup, and a touch of hot, Chinese mustard. All this was melted and whisked over very low heat until thoroughly combined. A portion was set aside for cooking and the rest used as an after cooking sauce for those who wanted more on their fish.

The best part of cooking the fish this way is that those who like their fish more well done can have their serving from the tail section while those who prefer it more rare can take theirs from a thicker portion of the fish. Between nine of us we managed to eat the entire fish, saving some skin to go in Scott's dog food for the next couple of days.

The fish was the star of the day, but there was wine and most of it was very disappointing. Often an unusual little bottle will shine or a bigger wine with a better reputation will delight. On occasions the reverse is true and we had two wines that failed miserably, not because they didn't go with the fish but simply because they weren't very good wines.

The first, served with some shrimp, was a 2006 Walter Hansell, Russian River Valley, Cahill Vineyard chardonnay. This was a poor effort from this winery. There was pineapple fruit and some citrus up front, and there was good acid, but the fruit died immediately and the acid did much the same. There was almost no balance to this wine. It tried to be buttery, but tasted more liked rancid butter. Given the vineyard's location and the price of the wine I would have to think this was simply a bad bottle. Since it was the only bottle there was no chance to try another.

Next up with the salmon was a 2006 Georges Dubœuf Fleurie Château des Bachelards. This was a dead wine. The fruit was gone and there was little left but dirt and acid with a little tannin thrown in for good measure.

Since the weather was unusually cool for July 5 we opened a much bigger wine after dinner. The wine was a 2001 Possum's Vineyard, McLaren Vale Shiraz. This was a full flavored, jammy wine that never slipped over the edge into the syrupy wines for which I don't care. There was still great acid and tannin in the finish and the wine was well balanced. It was still a little big for my taste, but after two bad experiences it was nice to end the evening sipping a good wine.

Sunday, July 5, 2009

Paolo Scavino Table Wine

Good, inexpensive wine last night. The wine was a 2007 Paolo Scavino Rosso Vino Da Tavola, a northern Italian blend from one of the top producers of Barolo.

The wine was 40% Nebbiolo, 30% Barbera, 20% Dolcetto and 10% Cabernet Sauvignon. The first thing that popped out was the unmistakable smell of the Nebbiolo, cherry fruit and a little tar mixed with some dry earth. That carried through to the taste, but this is where the Barbera kicked into the mix. There were definitely some tart cherries and the acid that comes from Barbera. There was a sweet spot in the middle, hello Dolcetto. The wine finished with Barbera acid and Nebbiolo tannin, though in a somewhat reduced state. Try as I might I really couldn't pick out the Cabernet in this wine.

There was a bone in, pounded out and breaded pork cutlet that was pan seared in a little olive oil and some stir fried asparagus to add to the mix. There was nothing spectacular about the food or the wine, just a good, simple dinner and an honest bottle of wine.

The wine is 13.5% alcohol and the cost was only $15 a bottle.

Celebrating Independence Day a day late this weekend so there will be a lot of wine this afternoon and evening. Expect to see the notes here in a day or so.

Saturday, July 4, 2009

Kinkead Ridge Petit Verdot 2005

I've been sitting on half a dozen bottles of the Kinkead Ridge 2005 Petit Verdot for almost two years since its release, tasting it only at the winery on two occasions. Yesterday evening I was moving some wine from one location to another and decided it was time to see if the wait paid off. Dinner was two small lamb chops and some rosemary roasted potatoes and the weather was cool for this time of year. Out came the cork from the bottle.

The wine was intensely dark purple, almost black in the glass. After five or ten minutes it began to open up and offer dark, ripe plums and cassis and a few super dark cherries thrown in the mix. The nose was earthy and there were a few herbs and flowers coming out of the glass as well. The taste was equally about dark fruit, plums and blackberries mostly. The wine was very tannic, but the tannin never interfered with the fruit. During the course of the evening the tannin finally began to settle a little though it still had a wonderful grip. There was good acid and with the tannins softening the finish was smooth, clean and long.

I've had numerous bottles of Kinkead Ridge's wine, both red and white over the last few years and have appreciated all of them. Some are obviously better than others and bottle for bottle my favorite is still their Riesling. This wine, however, is the best I've had from them. It's hard to imagine that it could get any better. Total production was only 76 cases and the wine checked in at an almost perfect 13.4% alcohol. I'm very happy there are five more bottles in the cellar.