Friday, December 31, 2010

Happy New Year

The New Year's Eve wine was a Lucien Albrecht Cremant D'Alsace Brut Rose, a French sparkling wine from Alsace. The wine was made from 100% Pinot Noir.  Beautiful color, with a good fruity and biscuity nose.  Small, active bubbles.  The taste?  Close your eyes and imagine a slice of fully ripe strawberry with a tiny drop of raspberry preserves on top.  Place that slice of strawberry on top of a warm biscuit straight from the oven and start munching.  That pretty much describes this wine.  Flat out delicious.  Great acid, nice fruity and long finish.  12% alcohol and $26.

Happy New Year to all of you and thanks for reading this.  Tomorrow starts our fourth year, but it seems like yesterday.

Thursday, December 30, 2010

Kinkead Ridge Syrah, 2005

No need to beat around the bush here so let's just go for a one word description. How about amazing.

About a month ago when I matched a physical inventory of my wine with the computerized inventory  I found a discrepancy for this wine.  The computer showed that I had one bottle, while the physical inventory proved there was really two bottles.  A delightful problem.  Of the four Kinkead Ridge red varieties the Syrah has usually been my least favorite.  During tastings at the winery and elsewhere I've always liked the Syrah, but it was usually my least favorite of the reds. 

I opened this bottle last night wanting a simple red with a pan seared, small  steak.  What popped out of the bottle and into the glass was anything but simple.  The noses was classic, cold climate Syrah.  It smelled of dark fruit, raw meat, white pepper, and spice. The color was a glorious medium red, and that was the only indication this wasn't a wine from the northern Rhone.  The taste was fruity and spicy with a great depth of pure syrah fruit, wonderful acidity and just enough oak to balance everything.  There was a natural sweetness to the wine that had nothing to do with sugar or over extraction, it was sweet because of perfectly ripe fruit.  The tannins had settled to a supporting role, but they were still evident and gave the wine a great structure.  It was good with the steak, but in this case the steak was almost secondary.  Five years after the vintage this wine was a shining star and a credit to the vineyard and the winemaker.   

My only regret is that I only have one more bottle. Rest assured that the three bottles of the 2008 that I own will not be touched until 2013.  And I know what local market still has a few bottles of the 2008 vintage sitting on the shelf - at least until the weekend.

13% alcohol and $16 on release. 

Wednesday, December 29, 2010

2001 Stag's Leap Fay Vineyard

Christmas dinner was a thick slice of prime rib of beef and two really good wines.  The best of the two was the 2001 Stag's Leap Wine Cellars Fay Vineyard Cabernet Sauvignon.  The nose was fragrant with plums and vanilla, some dark cherry aromas and a hint of cedar.  Fully flavored wine with the fruit, tannin, acid and oak being in near perfect balance.  Great, fresh taste of dark cherries, currants and a little graphite.  Wonderful finish that ended with fruit.  Medium bodied wine that paired beautifully with the beef.  Perfectly mature at this point in time but showing no signs of heading down hill.  A joy to drink.  13.9% alcohol and around $70 at the time of release.

Monday, December 27, 2010

Christmas Eve Notes

Christmas was nice and quiet, partly by design and partly due to necessity.  The necessity part was because of a fall on the ice on Wednesday that required an emergency room visit to make certain the back of my head was still attached.  Heads and asphalt do not mix.

Christmas Eve was the wine pictured here and in the post below, a 2002 A. Lancelot - Pienne Cuvee' de la Table Ronde Champagne.  There was also a large pile of fresh off the plane oysters.  Wonderful nose on the wine, yeasty with hints of cardamon and warm spices.  Wonderful body and a flavor of ripe apples and pears and the yeasty component all blended together.  Moderate bubbles and it was fun to watch them rise.  The crisp acidity and the oysters were a near perfect match.  The wine chilled in a snow bank in front of the house so we were able to use mother nature to help it along.  Good wine.

12% alcohol and $45

Saturday, December 25, 2010

Tuesday, December 21, 2010

Hexamer Quarzit 2004

We made another attempt at the Vietnamese inspired Shaking Beef over the weekend and it was a success again.  The wine went beyond success.

In this case it was a 2004 Hexamer Meddersheimer Rheingrafenberg 'Quarzit' from the Nahe region of Germany.  The 2009 version of this wine appeared in the market recently so I thought it was time to try its older brother while storing three bottles of the 2009.

Lime, minerals, and white flowers poured out of the glass with some swirling.  A tiny hint of kerosene added some complexity to the nose.  I would have been very happy just to sit and smell this wine.  The taste was mineral infused apples and white peaches with lime zest adding some highlights.  Wonderful body, good length of finish and edgy acid all combined to make this wine delicious.  Six years out from the vintage is just about perfect.  There's one more bottle in the cellar and we'll revisit it in a couple of years.

8.5% alcohol and $18


Sunday, December 19, 2010

Chianti and Mushrooms

An improvised dinner late last week turned out to be a happy event. Being rushed in the morning no one took anything out of the freezer to thaw for dinner.  The weather still being bad no one stopped to get anything on the way home from work.  We took what was fresh and that was a package of Cremini mushrooms and we grabbed some pasta from the cabinet.  While the pasta boiled we sauteed some pancetta until crisp in a cast iron skillet.  We drained the oil and added some duck fat to the pan and in went the roughly chopped mushrooms and a pinch of thyme.  At the end we added some garlic.  Finally we added a little heavy cream and a good dose of mascarpone cheese and some grated Pecorino Romano.  When the pasta was done it was added to the skillet as well.  Rich, warm, rewarding and just plain good.

The wine was a 2006 Felsina Chianti Classico.  The nose was rich with dried, tart cherries, a little Tuscan earthiness and a hint of spice.  Of medium weight and body, the wine tasted of those cherries and had some wonderful depth to it.  The finish was dry and tart and left a great taste of cherry at the very end.  The acid cut through the richness of the pasta sauce and the earthiness in the wine played nice with that same taste in the mushrooms.  This was a good pairing that briefly took us from cold and snowy Ohio to a warm and gentle Italian wine region, rather like a quick mini-vacation.  13% alcohol and $21.

Thursday, December 16, 2010

Olabisi Syrah

Back to the Syrah tasting. Another interesting wine was a 2005 Olabisi, Suisun Valley, King Vineyard.  This was a huge, heavily extracted wine.  The nose was about the ripest of blackberries and perhaps a little bacon fat.  There were some vegetative hints in their as well.  The taste was dominated by rich blackberry jam, dark plums and a bit of chocolate at the very end.  This wine lingered in the mouth for quite some time.  It was not an unappealing wine, but it overpowered the barbecued rubs on the plate.  One glass with a heavy meal would certainly be all I would want.  15.3% alcohol and $32. 

Wednesday, December 15, 2010

Winter Snow - Summer Wine

Two degrees this morning.  It's warming up a little this afternoon, but all that really means is more snow tonight.  This weather is unusual for this early in winter, late autumn actually as winter is still six days away.  I hope this isn't indicative of the rest of our winter.

Dinner last night was a pan seared trout fillet and fresh spinach lightly wilted so we went with a summer wine last night, a 2008 Sancerre from Domaine Andreu Neveu.  There were a couple of bottles of this wine left in the cellar from last summer.  One was discussed here.   My notes are very consistent for this wine, lots of grapefruit, fresh hay and a few herbs at the end.  It smells and tastes like a picnic in a just cut hayfield in late May or early June.  Crisp, tart, edgy and just plain good.  One could close one's eyes and get a suggestion of spring from this wine.  Long, dry finish and it matched well with a pan sauce of the wine, Meyer lemon juice and butter that covered the trout.

$25 and 13% alcohol.

Tuesday, December 14, 2010


Good meal of multi-colored, multi-flavored strozapretti, pictured above before cooking.  The package contained plain, basil, spinach, tomato, beet and squid ink pasta.  While it cooked we cut a zucchini into cubes and sauteed it in some olive oil with garlic and a touch of oregano.  When the pasta was done it went into the skillet with a small amount of chopped tomato and some grated cheese.  Salt and black pepper finished the dish.  The wine was the remainder of the bottle of Gavi discussed a few posts below.  The wine had faded a little, but it was still crisp and drinkable and was a good match for a warm meal on a cold night.

Monday, December 13, 2010

Qupe' Syrah 2008

This was the young wine that I took to the Syrah tasting on Saturday and it was the youngest wine of the day.  It was my second favorite of the day, primarily because it went so well with the large plate of barbecued ribs that were in the center of the table.  A bright nose of red cherries and red plums was followed by medium depth and the full flavor of those cherries, the fruit component was delicious.  This wine wasn't brooding and dark, it was open and welcoming.  Great acidity meant it went well with the food.  It finished with more fruit and a nice hint of spice at the very end.  13.5% alcohol and $18.

Sunday, December 12, 2010

Five Wines

Friends hosted a Syrah tasting yesterday afternoon. The event was originally scheduled for today, but weather conditions were anything but promising so the event was moved up a day. It turned out to be a good idea as the weather has turned from cold and gray to colder and white; it's snowing and the wind is beginning to pick up with the weather people saying gusts of 45 mph this afternoon. A good day to stay home.

There were five wines on the table. Usually at these events there are clear winners and losers, but that wasn't the case yesterday. There were four very good wines and one wine that was simply outclassed, though it was more than drinkable. There was plenty of food and a lot of good discussion.

In the end the wine of the day was a 2005 Syan Shiraz from the Pyrennes of western Victoria in Australia. This wine started slowly, offering very little in the nose. It was a big wine, full of fruit and extract and alcohol, 14.8%. Dark fruit taste with plums and blueberries and a little spice in the mix. There was a tiny hint of chocolate at the end. Nice wine, but nothing to get excited about. An hour later this wine began to bloom. The heaviness seemed to disappear and the nose changed dramatically. The blueberries were strong and there was a wonderful mix of oak and cedar in this wine. It was quite an appealing wine. A little research after the fact revelaed the wine to have been aged in American oak hogsheads for 18 months and bottled unfiltered. It was simply a wine that needed time out of the bottle to show its true stuff.

Friday, December 10, 2010

Hearty Meal, Huge Wine

Yes, that's snow under the wine bottle in the picture above.  The wine was a 2006 Mazzocco Lytton Zinfandel.  This was a very big wine with a nose full of blackberry jam, strawberry jam, and a lot of alcohol.  The wine was almost viscous in the mouth and coated the tongue with intense fruit flavors. The finish was semi-sweet and had great length to it, but "refreshing" isn't in this wine's vocabulary. 

This was the wine that we drank with the long braised pot of short ribs and long ribs discussed below.  After braising the meat was removed from the pot, the braising liquid thoroughly skimmed of most of the fat and then returned to the dish with the meat.  The whole thing was allowed to cool to room temperature and then was refrigerated for two days for the flavors to mellow.

When the dish was reheated, a little unflavored gelatin was added and allowed to do its thing by providing a great mouth feel to the meat.  The whole thing was soft, rich, warming, satisfying and a perfect meal for a cold night.   

There would have been two ways to go with wine and we went with the big wine, though one large glass was all.  A high acid red that cut through the remaining fat in the dish would have been just as good, but there was nothing wrong with the Zinfandel complimenting the meat. 

15.6% alcohol and the wine was a gift from a friend.

Thursday, December 9, 2010

Simple Italian White

Along with the beets discussed in the post below there was a roast chicken for dinner, nothing fancy, just simple good food.

The wine was a 2009 Stefano Massone Gavi Masera from northwest Italy, a wine made from the Cortese grape.  Almost clear in the glass the wine was a little short in the nose, but fortunately there was some good flavor of white peaches and lemon zest.  Tart and perky and with enough zip to cut through the richness of the chicken and the heartiness of the roasted beets.  No deep thoughts here because this isn't a wine that calls for much thought.  Just drink it and enjoy it.  12% alcohol and $14.

Tuesday, December 7, 2010

Beets - Making Do

One of the pleasures of cold weather early in winter (or near winter) is spending time in the recliner by the front window and reading. In this case I had my nose in a cookbook by Lidia Bastianich, Lidia's Family Table. There were some fresh golden beets in the house so a recipe that caught my eye is pictured above. The beets were roasted and the greens and stems were separated, cooked in water until tender and chopped. I added some red leaf lettuce for color and instead of soft, fresh goat cheese I used freshly grated Pecorino Romano. The dressing was balsamic vinegar, salt and olive oil. It turned out to be a combination of a salad and vegetable to go alongside a roasted chicken. Super good stuff.

More on the wine later, but it was a good meal for a cold day.

Monday, December 6, 2010

Michel-Schlumberger Cabernet Franc

Friday night we took the show on the road so to speak. Several of us got together for a dinner at a 90 year old relative's home. Wanting something simple we modified the pan seared and oven roasted chicken breast recipe from several posts ago. In this case we knew we wanted to drink a red wine so we put a glaze of reduced balsamic vinegar, honey and pan juices over the top of the breasts for the last five minutes of roasting and then drizzled some more of the mixture over the potatoes and carrots when the entire one skillet meal came out of the oven.

The wine was the 2008 version of Michel-Schlumberger's Cabernet Franc which arrived via their wine club. We pulled the cork and poured a couple of glasses just prior to the chicken being done. This wine had a bright, happy nose of cherries and spice. Some wines have a brooding aroma, some are serious, some are lean and austere, but this one just smelled happy. The medium bodied wine was full of the flavor of those cherries and they were just as happy in my mouth as they were in my nose. The hint of spice was here as well, a touch of vanilla, a bit of cinnamon and just a suggestion of cloves. The acid was great and the length of finish and the flavor in the finish were wonderful.  Nice interplay of flavors between the wine and some rosemary in the vegetables and a definite affinity between the wine and the balsamic glaze. Good meal and a very good wine.

$40 and 14.6% alcohol

Saturday, December 4, 2010

Braising Weather

December comes to Ohio. A huge pot of beef short ribs are braising in the oven; ribs, onions, carrots, celery, tomatoes, garlic, bay leaves, a couple anchovies, red wine and stock. The house smells wonderful.

Friday, December 3, 2010

2008 Handley Gerwurztraminer

I loved the nose on this wine, lychee and ginger sitting on top of tart, dry pineapple and green apple.  There was a whiff or two  of kerosene just to make it interesting, but that dissipated quickly.  Full, rich body to the wine, almost unctuous in its mouth feel.  Lots of tart, crisp acid to balance the big flavors of apple and lychee.  As the meal went along the wine opened a little more and some white flowers jumped into the aroma mix. A hint of quickly fading sweetness at the end brought everything together.

Dinner was leftover turkey pieces quickly reheated in a skillet with an Asian style vinaigrette added at the end to change the flavor profile, soy sauce, fish sauce, ginger juice, rice vinegar and sugar.  The small amount of ginger juice really picked up on that flavor profile in the wine.  Good match.

$9 from a closeout bin  and 13.5% by volume.

Wednesday, December 1, 2010

Kinkead Ridge Cabernet Franc

It was a good St. Andrew's Day celebration, and it was quiet.  There were lamb chops that were pan seared and oven roasted to medium.  There was corn and peas and some potatoes, and most of all there were some good beverages.

The wine of the evening was the 2007 Kinkead Ridge Cabernet Franc.  If you're fortunate enough to have some of this wine I'd suggest you open one and drink it.  Wonderful aromas of fresh, tart fruit, a hint of oak and vanilla, great medium body, and perfectly balanced between the acid and the fruit.  Just about everything in this wine has come together into a wonderful package. 

It had only a couple of minutes in the glass but it opened up quickly to do a pas de deux with the lamb chops.  What a great pair these two made.  It was very difficult to save any of this wine for tasting on a second day, but there is one small glass under vacuum.  It's a little high in alcohol at 14.9% but it drinks like a wine at 13.5%

The Scottish evening finished with an Oban single malt followed by a 1991 Lagavulin Distiller's Edition Islay malt.  Peat smoke, iodine, seaweed, malt all aged to total perfection in a Pedro Jiminez sherry cask.  A wee bit o' heaven in a glass to carry one off to bed.

Tuesday, November 30, 2010

Monday, November 29, 2010


Last Thursday was Thanksgiving and  there was a small but raucous celebration with close family that involved no alcohol.  Saturday was the main celebration with extended family and it involved wine and beer.  The food was good and the wine was adequate.

The biggest disappointment was the Piper Sonoma Brut sparkling wine. The bubble action was decent but the wine was totally tart, green apples in taste.  I could find no yeasty aromas that I like and no secondary tastes to pique my interest.  The wine was listed at $24 but was on sale for $16.  It was drinkable but not a wine I would buy again even at the sale price. 

Sunday, November 28, 2010


The black truffle discussed below provided a couple more meals and  the Vincent Girardin 2005 Santenay Les Gravieres Premier Cru burgundy provided two more glasses.  The truffle saga continued with a fillet mignon pan seared and then oven roasted then topped with a fried quail egg.  The truffles reappeared grated into some butter and olive oil and tossed with fresh fettuccine.  Lip smacking good.

The wine was vacuumed the first night and then reopened for this meal.  Beautiful color in the glass. Great nose of cherries and dark plums with a smoky component to it. Sharp, tart notes from acidity and a distinct puff of smoke and forest floor all mixed with the fruit. Medium body but a silky mouth feel to it. Long, slow, almost sweet finish. It was better than it was on the first day. This wine was elegant and it made me very happy.  There is one more bottle of this in the cellar and it is still available in the local market, though the $26 original sale price has moved to $60.  13% alcohol.

Wednesday, November 24, 2010

Truffles and Quail Eggs

Once in awhile something appears in the market that just pleads to be purchased.  Last weekend that turned out to be fresh, black truffles.  They are rare in this area and they aren't cheap.  One smaller truffle made the journey from the case to my cart to the auto to the house.  A dozen quail eggs made the trip home with the truffle.

The first meal was simple.  There was a split, bone in chicken breast for dinner.  We made paper thin slices of truffle on a mandoline and tucked those slices between the skin and the meat of the breast.  There were also some small potatoes which were quartered and some carrots cut to a similar size.  The vegetables found their way to the microwave for a couple of minutes to par cook.  The breasts were quickly sauteed with duck fat in a skillet on both sides.  We removed the breasts and spread the vegetables in the skillet and then placed the breasts on top of the them.  The skillet then went into a medium hot oven for about twenty minutes to finish cooking.

The aroma that filled the house was pure heaven -- earthy, warm, indulgent, mouth watering.  That aroma was worth the price of the truffle.    Once the now crisp skin on the chicken was broken another blast of that aroma poured out.  The entire breast was scented with the truffle.  It's not often we pick up chicken bones and gnaw the tiny pieces of meat off them, but we made an exception here.  The potatoes and carrots had picked up the same aroma and taste and they were as good as vegetables get. 

Was there wine?  Of course there was wine, a 2005 Domaine Vincent Girardin Santenay Premier Cru Les Gravieres,  That pretty much translates to heaven in a glass.  Elegant, full flavored, silky, depth of finish, pure fruit, and that was just the first half of the bottle.  I transferred the second half to a 375 ml bottle and recorked it for the next day when we could combine the remaining truffle and the quail eggs.

Monday, November 22, 2010

Rheinhessen and Vietnam

Good wine and good food yesterday evening. The wine was a 2009 Geil Scheurebe Bechtheiner Heiligkreuz Kabinett, a single variety wine from the Rheinhessen region of Germany.  This was the first 2009 Scheurebe I had seen in the market so it was pleading to be sampled while it was still available for repurchase.  The nose gave an immediate aroma of kerosene followed by lime, tart green grapes, a few fragrant flowers and a huge dose of very ripe lychee. The lychee was very prominent in the taste.  Great acid, just a touch of sweetness and a full body made for an appealing package.  There was just a touch of sweetness but in the end the acid prevailed.  Really nice wine, fuller body than a Riesling, a different flavor profile, and a little more body.

Dinner was Shaking Beef, a San Francisco take on Vietnamese food courtesy of the Slanted Door restaurant. Beef tenderloin was cubed, then marinated in garlic, salt, pepper, sugar and oil for a few hours.  The beef was seared in a hot skillet with sliced red onions, spring onions. A sauce of rice vinegar, rice wine, sugar, soy sauce and fish sauce was added at the end of the cooking, along with a smidgen of butter.  It was plated over a mound of watercress and served with a dipping sauce of lime juice, salt and pepper.  A side of steamed Basmati rice was all it took to make the meal complete.  The richness in the beef and the bitterness of the watercress truly played well with the wine.  Using the lime based dipping sauce just added another dimension to the pairing.  It's a match that will be repeated.

$15 and 11% alcohol.

Saturday, November 20, 2010

A Wine Mystery

Yesterday was a strange day and there was a strange little wine to help it along. I left work early and not having anything planned for dinner I wandered through the market. The folks in the wine department were busy opening cartons and stocking the shelves with new wine that the manager had ordered. When they came to the wine pictured above everyone let a groan - another "critter" label.

The wine in question was a 2008 Le Loup dans la Bergerie, a French vin de pays du val de Monterrand from the south of France. In other words, a French country wine from Monterrand. None of the four of us had ever heard of this wine which my rudimentary French translated as The Wolf in the Sheep Pen. The staff jumped on the internet and found only a French site that even Google refused to translate. A quick check of the U.S. importers web site found no mention of this wine. A quick call to the distributor could only produce an office helper who knew nothing about the wine.

Question of the day - What's a group of wine geeks to do when they encounter this situation? Answer of the day - Immediately open a bottle and taste it. That's just what we did.

Medium color in the glass, a color that was in the process of changing from young purple to a teenage garnet. Good smell of fresh fruit, mostly berries. Medium weight on the palate but with a huge amount of acid. The tannin was moderate and the wine finished with a zip and a zing from the acid. We all agreed the wine had syrah in it but we each had a different idea of what the remaining grapes were. I guessed Carignane and Mourvedre while others were holding out for Grenache in the mix. No one thought this was an amazing wine but everyone thought it imminently drinkable.

A quick search of the manager's notes found the price - $10. For ten bucks it was a very good little wine. I picked up a bottle to take home, then found a small steak and upon checking out found that the bar code was not in the data base. It took another minute or two two work around that problem.

The steak was good and there was some polenta with fresh sage and black truffle salt. The wine was very good with the steak and everything would have been good with the polenta. The amount of acid in this wine makes it more of a food wine, it's not something that would appeal to a crowd of casual sippers. I liked it very much.

$10 and 13% alcohol.

Wednesday, November 17, 2010

Old Poets and New Pinot Noir

The unseasonable, beautiful weather has ended and we are now into what November is usually about here.  Henry Wadsworth Longfellow said it best in the opening verse to "Catawba Wine"
This song of mine
Is a song of the vine
To be sung by the glowing embers
Of wayside inns,
When the rain begins
To darken the drear Novembers.
It is probably my least favorite time of the year, rivaled only by late February and early March when I'm ready for spring.

The latest shipment from Michel Schlumberger has been partially consumed, in this case the 2008 Le Fou Pinot Noir from the Dry Creek Valley.  Medium color in the glass the wine smells of cherries and dry earth.  Throw in some warming spices and you pretty much have the taste as well.  Full flavored without being over the top and ending with good length and fruit.  I liked this wine a lot, but at the very end there was some alcohol heat that kept it from being everything I wanted.  I preferred the 2007 version of this wine, but I could certainly drink more of this one as well. 

There was a pork tenderloin wrapped in herbs and bacon and grilled over indirect heat to go along with the wine, and two were a good match.  The smokiness in the bacon was particularly delicious with the wine, both had some subtlety that played nicely together and enhanced the total taste.

$32 and 14.5% alcohol.

Monday, November 15, 2010

Sean Minor Sauvignon Blanc

Beautiful day here on Sunday, cold but bright and sunny.  As November progresses that will end as soon as Tuesday when cold, drizzly rain is expected. 

A bright, sunny day called for a wine of that ilk, and the 2009 Sean Minor, Four Bears, Sonoma County Sauvignon Blanc filled the bill.  Clear and bright in the glass the nose was grapefruit, a sweet apple, and a few scattered herbs.  The taste was sharp, tart, citrusy, lively and full of the grapefruit and apple.  Medium body and a wonderful mouth feel.   The wine finished crisp and just as it started to fade there was a tropical aspect to the flavor of this wine.  It wasn't strong, but it was distinct.

Dinner was a thick fillet of red grouper, pan seared and oven roasted to medium, then finished with a pan sauce of reduced wine, butter, and dill.  Carrots cooked in butter with tarragon were on the side.  Great match with the wine as the acid cut through the richness of the grouper and the dill on the fish and tarragon on the carrots played along with this wine.

Not a spectacular wine, just a good, honest, delicious, affordable wine to go with a meal.  It didn't cry out to be taken too seriously or to be given too much thought.  Nice effort.  At $12 and 13.5% alcohol it would be hard to do better.

Sunday, November 14, 2010

Inexpensive Pinot Noir

Rare to find an inexpensive pinot noir that is drinkable, but yesterday there was an exception.

The wine was a 2007 Ortman Family Vineyards Willamette Valley Pinot Noir.  Ortman is a California winery which used Oregon grapes in this particular bottle.  Medium color in the glass there was a wonderful aroma of fresh red cherries and raspberries.  The taste was much the same with good but not dense or dark fruit, suitable acid, a little forest floor funk, moderate tannin.  A well made wine that doesn't try to more than it really is.  At it's list price of $22 it would be a pass, but at its sale price of $12 it was a good bottle of wine.  13.8% alcohol.

Thursday, November 11, 2010

Apples and Fennel

The apples in Ohio have been delicious this year.  Last weekend there was fresh fennel in the market so we made some apple and fennel salad.  The fennel was cleaned, cored and sliced into paper thin slices on a mandoline.  The apples, Melrose apples in this case, were peeled, cored and sliced the same way as the fennel.  They were tossed together with lemon juice, a bit of sugar, a touch of olive oil, a bit of salt and pepper and a teaspoon of crushed juniper berries. 

Hard to match a wine to this but we succeeded with a 2005 Grosset Clare Valley Riesling from Australia.  Bone dry, fragrant with kerosene and earth and lime, it was also very good with the Cornish game hen that followed the salad.  12% alcohol and a reduced price of $16.

Sunday, November 7, 2010

Willi Schaefer Riesling

After a cold night the day was crisp, bracing, bright, and sunny. That pretty much describes my feelings about the 2008 Willi Schaefer Mosel Riesling. The wine showed up in the local market a couple of weeks ago at $20 a bottle. Several came home with me, but Sunday was the first opportunity to try it.

The wine is bottled under screw cap and after twisting the cap and peeling the liner from the opening there was a small pop as the pressure in the bottle rushed out. It brought out a tiny whiff of kerosene, but it also brought out some tropical fruit, a hint of lime and even a bit of mace. The taste was definitely mango / papaya sitting on top of tart citrus and green apple. Great acid in this wine kept its focus clear and sharp. There was slight sweetness, but the acid was more than a counter balance. It just gave this wine a life of its own.

There was an experimental pork roast to go along with the wine.  The roast was a seven pound Boston butt or shoulder roast.  It was rubbed with salt, brown sugar and pepper and marinated for twenty four hours in the refrigerator.  After coming to room temperature it was trussed and roasted for five and one half hours at a low temperature of 325 degrees.  It rested for another hour after exiting the oven.  The inter muscular fat and the cartilage literally melted into the meat. 

Some of the pan drippings were combined with some vermouth, sugar, rice vinegar and papaya and cooked down to a rich but fruity sauce to go over the pork. The original recipe called for peaches rather than papaya, but after tasting the Riesling I substituted.  The pork was succulent and earthy and the wine played well with those flavors but since the sauce was both tart and sweet, much like the wine,  the two of them made some beautiful music together.   

$20 and 9% alcohol.

Saturday, November 6, 2010

Napa Valley Syrah

Napa Valley is not the place that comes immediately to mind when I think of Syrah.  There have been few that I have liked because most tend to be over ripe, over extracted and high in alcohol.  Sadly most leave me with the impression of being light, Syrah syrup. 

On a recent trip through a wine store I noticed the 2003 Burgess Syrah sitting on the shelf at a reduced price.  Burgess is a winery that used to figure more prominently in cellar.  I have notes from years ago on Cabernet  Sauvignons and Zinfandels from this winery.  They seemed to disappear from the local market but recently I am seeing them again.  When I picked up the bottle one important detail caught my eye.  The wine was 13.8% alcohol and not something in excess of 14.5% or 15%. It found its way home with me.

There was red meat from the grill last night so we pulled the cork on the Syrah.  Dark color in the glass and nose gave me that raw meat smell I love in northern Rhone wines.  With a little swirling some dark fruit joined the meaty aromas.  The taste was much the same.  Dark fruit, cherries and black plums followed by meaty aromas that darkened those fruit tastes even more.   The wine seemed to fade just briefly, then finished with just a bit more flavor.  Good acidity and well integrated tannins just added to the appeal of this wine.  This was a good, solid, drinkable wine that reminded me of a Crozes Hermitage.  It wasn't spectacular, it just an honest wine that went well with a meal. 

13.8% alcohol and $20.

Thursday, November 4, 2010

2005 Kinkead Ridge Petit Verdot

One thing about braising a bunch of beef, short ribs is that there is generally left overs and they are generally better than when first cooked.  That was certainly the case with the batch that braised last weekend.  We finished them off last night, gently reheated and severed over  some polenta with fresh sage.  Near heaven.

I was tempted to open a 2008 Kinkead Ridge Petit Verdot, but opted instead for the 2005 vintage.  No question that this wine is evolving in the bottle.  There's nothing harsh, brash or young about this wine now.  The oak and tannins have integrated into the fruit making it a different wine than before. 

The nose is still full of ripe blueberries and other dark fruits.  It picked up a tiny touch of vanilla and just a dash of cinnamon during its time in the bottle.  Wonderfully big taste of that fruit up front with just enough acid to refresh.  The tannins have softened remarkably and now provide just a backdrop for the waves of fruit. There's a soft finish to this wine, but there is good length to that finish.  

I liked this wine when it was younger, brasher and full of itself.  I like it just as much now when it has matured into something different that shows a touch of elegance and composure.  Different wines for sure, but delicious then and now.

The photo is Petit Verdot grapes in the vineyard at Kinkead Ridge.

Tuesday, November 2, 2010

2007 Vouvray Bargain

Sometimes you just take a flier on a wine and it works out.  That was the case with this bottle of 2007 Roc de Chateauvieux Vouvray.  I was exploring a wine store I hadn't been to in a few months last week and there was a display of this wine at close out prices.  We opened it the other day to drink with a chicken breast covered in a pan sauce of wine, chicken stock, ginger juice, lemon zest and butter.

The wine is 100% Chenin Blanc and had that quintessential Chenin smell of white flowers and melons.  The taste was pretty much green apple, lime, and green melons in a very nice balance of flavors.  The wine was just slightly off dry but the acidity was tremendous.  The finish was tart and crisp with just a small dab of the sweetness at the end.   Good stuff with the chicken. 

What made the wine even better?  How about a $4.99 price tag.  I could drink a lot of this wine at this price point so there will be another trip to the store to stock up on this wine.  $4.99 and 13% alcohol.

Sunday, October 31, 2010

Fall Food

The weather is trending colder.. It was time for some heartier food that I've been missing since early spring.  In the winter I have these cravings for fresh fruit and vegetables; tomatoes, corn, berries, etc. In the summer I miss winter foods of slowly braised meat and root vegetables.

Yesterday there was a long simmered pan of short ribs, done in red wine and stock with lots of onions, garlic, carrots, and celery.  We added tomato paste and powder and some anchovies for a deeper flavor.  Wonderful, earthy smells.  With garlic mashed potatoes it was just the thing for a cool evening.

The wine of the day for both the braising and the dinner was a 2007 Ogier Cotes du Rhone Heritages.  The wine was a blend of 70% Grenache, 25% Syrah and 5% Mourvedre and a little oak aging.  Dark red in the glass it looked and smelled more like a Crozes Hermitage or St Joseph than it did a jolly Cotes' du Rhone.  Dark fruits, the ripest strawberries imaginable, raw meat, and good damp earth all were going on here in both the aroma and the taste of the wine.  Very full bodied but with good acid and tannin.  Nice long finish.  Since it was part of the stock with the short ribs it was obviously a wonderful match. 

$13 and 14% alcohol.

Saturday, October 30, 2010

Autumn Riesling

Another of the bottles that was discovered during the recent inventory of the wine cellar was a second bottle of the 2007 Markus Molitor Zeltinger Sonnenuhr Kabinett.  It certainly was a happy discovery.

The wine was golden in the glass and there was some kerosene on the nose, but that faded quickly.  The nose held a hint of pineapple, apricot and lemon zest.  There was a luscious mouth feel to this wine, almost luxurious.  The taste was near tropical with the pineapple and perhaps a hint of papaya overlaying a base of tart citrus and green apple.  This wine was definitely on the sweet side for a Kabinett, but the acidity brought the sugar back down to earth.  Wonderful balance to the wine.  At the very end the tart, green apple component kicked in to kill the sweetness.  Outside the weather was totally clear, briskly cool and the sun was casting long shadows for the promised autumn  evening.  That's about the perfect description for this wine.

There was a pan braised pork chop with fresh apple cider serving as  the braising liquid and some boiled fingerling potatoes with lemon zest, parsley and butter.  Good pairing with the wine.

The "Sonnenuhr" in the name of the wine means "sundial."  Pictured below courtesy of Wikipedia is the sundial in the vineyard in  Zeltinger.    $20 and 7.5% alcohol. 

Thursday, October 28, 2010

Cotes du Rhone and Rain

Tuesday was interesting here. After three near record dry months with little or no rain the skies opened up for an hour or so, then slowed and blessed us with about another two hours of gentle rain. The wind gusts of 55mph weren't exactly pleasant, but all the dry, fallen leaves from in front of the house now reside down the street where that wind blew them. Certainly a labor saving device.

There was a simple shrimp and pasta dish with some herbs de Provence in the seasoning so we opted for Guigal's basic, white Cotes du Rhone. Viognier, Marsanne, Roussane, Grenache blanc and Bourboulenc are all in the blend. The white flower and peach smell of the viognier seemed to dominate but there was certainly body from the Marsanne and Roussane. The high acid from the Grenache blanc and Bourboulenc added their parts. The taste was virtually the same, uncomplicated, fresh, but with enough body to match up with the mood of the day. $12 and 13.5% alcohol.

Wednesday, October 27, 2010

Reading Between the Wines

Along with the 2009 German Rieslings showing up in the local market place Amazon was kind enough to deliver Terry Theise's new book, Reading Between the Wines.

It's certainly a different approach to evaluating wine and as Theise says, it's not about taking the mystery out of wine like so many other books lately, it's more about putting the mystery back into the wine.

It's a different approach and one that I certainly like. It is so easy and fashionable to be analytical about wine, to break it down to its components, to discuss it as though it's just an assemblage of its various parts - acid, tannin, fruit etc. Theise's approach is to let the wine take your mind to where ever it happens to wander, and the same wine might take two different people to two entirely different places with neither person nor place being neither right nor wrong. In the end, though he tends to shy away from this description, it's sort of a modified Zen approach to drinking wine. Whatever the case I have found the wines that Theise imports to be among my favorites.

Late in the book he mentions a favorite book of his and a favorite wine writer. One of his favorite books is the Fireside Book of Wine by Alexis Bespaloff. The book is a collection of essays, poetry, tasting articles, long and short pieces spanning about three centuries. The out of print book was first published in 1977 and my copy stays near the bedside and gets browsed frequently. Theise also cites as one of his early influences Gerald Asher's columns in the now defunct Gourmet magazine. Beginning in the mid 1970's I photo-copied a number of these columns from the magazine as they appeared, and they are enclosed in several, readily accessible  binders. There are perhaps 75 to 100 of these columns and they remain fresh and alive. It's nice to understand where a writer is coming from, and it's even nicer when I can go back to his roots as well as mine.

Do yourself a favor and read this small book. University of California Press, 2010.

Monday, October 25, 2010

Forgotten Bottle

The last two days have been spent completely re-cataloging the wine on hand, putting like wines together and entering correct locations in the database.  When all was said and done there were three bottles that seemed to have disappeared and three that seem to have never been entered in the database.  The three that disappeared were more than likely consumed, and none was anything more than an every day wine.

The other side of that coin was a rather nice bottle that never got entered into the database, a 2005 Produttori del Barbaresco, Barbaresco.  I originally entered two bottles as having been purchased and have notes of having consumed one of them, but here was a third bottle. 

Not one to look the proverbial gift horse in the mouth we opened it yesterday evening. There was a chicken roasted on the grill and some fresh ricotta gnocchi.  The wine was extremely tannic upon opening but we gave it two hours in a decaanter and that resolved those issues.

There was an intense nose of strawberries, cherries, roses, tar and earth.  This was a wine that I could enjoy just by sniffing it.  There was a lot of fruit in the taste, but this was not a fruit bomb, there was a lot going on underneath that fruit.  There was tannin and acid and a wonderful structure that promises more development.  The finish was wonderfully sweet and long and ended with both acid and tannin.

We finished the wine this evening with some white and wild rice and the remainder of a rack of lamb, reheated in a hot skillet in duck fat.  The nose was still there singing wonderful Italian songs and the wine had in no way faded.  For an entry level Barbaresco this was a tremendous effort and a very fine wine.    $28 and 14% alcohol.

Sunday, October 24, 2010

2005 Petalos Bierzo

Yesterday we wanted and needed something hearty to drink with some stuffed pork chops. I opted for a  2005 Descendientes de José Palacios Bierzo Pétalos, a wine I had not tried before.  The wine is made from the Mencia grape and these wines aren't seen too often in the local market.

The chops were two inches thick and were stuffed with a pureed mixture of dried figs which had been re-hydrated in some of the wine, a couple of anchovy fillets, almonds, rosemary, garlic, pepper flakes and olive oil. They were grilled for several minute on each side then allowed to finish cooking over indirect heat. 

The wine was intensely dark purple, almost black in the glass.  The aroma in the glass was dark red fruits and blueberries and a heavy dose of earth.  At first sip the wine was super tannic, fully extracted and walking a fine line between being both sweet and bitter.  We let it breathe for and hour and half while the food was prepared. 

When dinner was ready the wine had settled down somewhat, though it was still very much a new world type of wine.  The fruit was still strong and the blueberries were still showing their stuff.  Those drying tannins were still heavy and the wine still had that razors edge between sweetness and bitterness.  The finish was quite lengthy and tannic at the end.

The food, especially the stuffing in the pork chops, cooled some of the tannin and some of the sweetness in the wine.  It was a very good match with the food.  Altogether the jury is still out on this wine for me.  I would love to try a Bierzo that is not quite so extracted, but I would drink this one again.   $20 and 14% alcohol.

Saturday, October 23, 2010

2009 Spreitzer 101

Beautiful day here yesterday, the kind of day that makes living in this area worthwhile. Brilliantly sunny, temperatures in the mid 60 degrees range, light wind and absolutely nothing to do except enjoy it.

The first of the 2009 German Rieslings arrived in the local area so a trip to the market became a shopping excursion.  Several came home with me, one in multiple bottles and the remainder in single bottles.  I'll be trying the single bottle purchases soon to see which ones to repurchase and store.

A favorite of mine was there in a new form.    Spreitzer has introduced Riesling 101 to the market.  It's basic, Rheingau Riesling as opposed to individual villages and / or vineyards.   At $15 it was worth trying first.  Totally clear in the glass, the color was the palest gold.  The nose was lime and lemon zest, a tiny hint of melon and some tart apple.  The taste brought all those flavors together along with a drop or two of honey.  Wonderful feeling in the mouth with the acid in this wine.  Sharp and tart finish where the honey came to the fore before being trumped by the acidity and ending on the dry side.  This wine certainly matched the weather - sunny, light and breezy. 

There was some stir-fried chicken with green beans, onions and mushrooms and a lightly spicy sauce. The pairing with the Spreitzer was great.    $15 and 10% alcohol.

Friday, October 22, 2010

Maison Rouge

One good thing about autumn is that wine shipments start again.  The long, extremely hot summer put an end to shipments, but now that cooler weather is here they have started again. The first to arrive was from Michel Schlumberger, and it was a bottle of their Maison Rouge and a bottle of their Petit Verdot. 

Last night we twisted the cap off the 2007 Maison Rouge with a small rack of lamb from the grill.  The wine is a blend of Syrah, Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Pinot Noir, Zinfandel and Viognier.  The nose was a great mixture of fruit and earth.  I could pick out the Syrah and the Cabernet aromas but really couldn't separate the other varieties though it was obvious there were some other varieties in the mix.   There was warm, ripe fruit in the taste, balanced with good acid and a soft tannin and an apparopriate touch of oak.  Lots of cherries and red plums.  Good mouth feel, full but not overbearing.  Nice finish with some tannin cleaning things up for the next bite of lamb.  This is a wine I could drink more often since all of these parts were so well combined. 

Too often I tend to gravitate toward higher priced wines when judging a winery, but perhaps the true worth of a winery should be more how they handle their lower priced wines.  At $20 this one is a real gem.  14.5% alcohol.

Wednesday, October 20, 2010

Beech Muchrooms and Abymes

There were fresh beech mushrooms in the market last weekend so a batch came home with me.  They are also known as Shemeji mushrooms since the originated in japan.  They have a propensity for growing around beech trees, hence there U.S. name of beech mushrooms.  They have a unique, nutty taste to me and a wonderful crunch even when cooked.

The mushrooms went into a shrimp, tomato, garlic, shallot, saffron and cream sauce which was all tossed with some hand formed pasta.  The mushrooms and the shrimp both have the same texture when cooked in this dish. 

The wine of choice was a 2009 Abymes, which was covered here previously.  The minerality in the wine seemed to pick up on the mushrooms. Very nice together. 

Sunday, October 17, 2010

El Chaparral 2006

Five years ago Spanish red wines were a good buy, somewhat rustic and very easy to drink.  Then the more is better philosophy seemed to take over and the wines lost their appeal to me.  They became over extracted, riper, higher in alcohol and they all began to taste the same.  It didn't really matter what the grape variety was, they all began to taste like jams and jellies or cherry infused Dr. Pepper soft drink.

A person at one of the wine stores I've frequented for a number of years pulled me aside last week and said that he had a Spanish red wine that seemed headed back in my direction.  The wine was a 2006 El Chaparral old vine Grenache from Vega Sindoa, a wine out of the Navarra region.  The alcohol content was only 14% so I brought a bottle home.

Last night there was a large steak on the grill and some sweet potatoes done in the skillet.  Time to try the wine.  Nice nose of fruit, earth and a dusty wind.  The color was bright red and not overly dark.  The wine tasted of just ripe strawberries, a few raspberries, and a little bit of earth.  It was dry, not syrupy or sweet.  The major thing it seemed to have going for it was some restraint.  The fruit was ripe but they never pushed it over the top.  Good acidity and some nice drying tannins finished off the wine.  It seemed less polished, less manipulated and it was a good wine with the steak.  Still with 14% alcohol we stopped at two glasses and that was just about right.  Nice pairing with the steak, so this is a wine I would drink again.  $16.

Saturday, October 16, 2010

Technically Correct

There were some fresh sea scallops a dew days ago.  They were simply pan seared in butter, lemon zest and lemon juice.  There was a side of super thin sweet potato French fries and a mixture of fresh corn, peas and carrots.

I reached for a Chablis, in this case a 2005 Domaine Chantemerle, Fourchaume, Premier Cru.  Nice pale color in the glass and a nose of crisp fruit, citrus and herbs.  The flavor was sharp and tart with green apple, yellow apple, lemon zest, and maybe a hint of tarragon.  There was an acceptable depth to the wine, but nothing special.  The finish was of moderate length and ended with a refreshing dose of acid.  

Absolutely everything about this wine was technically correct and it met every criteria for a Chablis.  It was also soul less.  There was nothing here that said anything except, 'this is wine.'  I gave it some  more time in the glass and it still failed to be anything more than common.

I vacuumed the bottle and chilled it in the refrigerator over night.  The next evening there was a chicken breast for dinner.  The Chablis was still correct, and it was still boring an uninteresting.    The Muscadet from last weekend was still fresh in my mind and it would have been a much better match with the scallops.  That wine was alive and singing, the Chablis made me feel like I was at a funeral.

12.5% alcohol and $24.

Thursday, October 14, 2010

Not So Daffy Duck

Even though the wine involved in this meal, a 2008 Gianfranco Alessandri Dolcetto d'Alba, was disappointing in context the meal was still good.

The duck breast was dusted with salt, pepper and ground allspice then slowly pan seared on the skin side to render out the fat.  When that was complete the breast was flipped and very quickly seared on the flesh side before going into a hot oven for five minutes to firm the center. 

It was allowed to rest under foil while the pan was deglazed with a little wine, some juice from the pomegranate and a little agave nectar.  When that was reduced the pomegranate seeds were added and the sauce was spooned over the breast.  Lots of big flavors.

The wild rice was cooked with a few dried porcini mushrooms in the stock, then layered into a mold with toasted, hickory nuts scattered between the layers of rice.    Earthy, clean and delicious.