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.