Wednesday, March 30, 2011


Not Wine Related

Few writers have been as reclusive as J.D. Salinger, maybe none.  At the height of his success he simply disappeared from the literary scene, and basically disappeared from public view moving deeper and deeper into eastern religions.

There is a new biography of the writer, J.D. Salinger, A Life by Kenneth Slawenski.  With Salinger's works being favorites of mine, but knowing he was reclusive I was surprised when a biography was published a couple of months ago.

The book isn't strictly a biography, it's also a discussion about Salinger's works from his early stories through The Catcher in the Rye and on to his last works, Franny and Zooey and Raise High the Roof Beams Carpenters.  There was much I never knew about Salinger, including the fact that he spent a year of his life living about fifteen minutes up the road from me.

Knowing how reclusive Salinger was and how he often distorted public records and interviews it's remarkable that Slawenski  was able to piece this together.  It would be hard to pick a section of the book that didn't interest me.

Fascinating stuff and a good read.  Random House Publishers.  $27 list, but less at most stores.

Monday, March 28, 2011

Paradise Found

One of the things I like most about wine is that there are always exceptions to rules.  Case in point is 1997 Napa Valley Cabernets.  General consensus seems to be that this vintage was over rated, dried up and after all the hype, a disappointment in the aging department. Someone forgot to tell Caymus!

Due to some upcoming medical procedures Sunday was the last day until Friday or Saturday that wine could be a part of my day.  There was no sense to spend the day on something common so we pulled the cork on a 2007 Caymus Napa Calley Cabernet.  We paired it with a rack of lamb.

The cork came out of the bottle and it was like drinking cabernet sauvignon while sitting in a cedar closet.  Dark fruit and cedar aromas just oozed from the glass.  Luxurious mouth feel and ripe cassis, black currant and dark cherry flavors.  Perfect balance between sweet and savory, tart and luscious.  Perfectly mature wine that retained an appealing bit of understatement. 

The lamb was pan seared and then basted with a mixture of garlic,rosemary, thyme, olive oil and Dijon mustard.  It was popped into a slow oven and allowed to come to medium rare.

A bit of lamb, a sip of wine, and repeat-repeat-repeat etc.  Just a perfect match.  Wonderful food and spectacular wine. 

Pictured below is the lamb in the intermediate stage - after searing and before hitting the oven

Saturday, March 26, 2011

2006 Fontodi Chianti Classico

Only one wine this week because of work, but it was certainly a good one - a 2006 Fontodi Chianti Classico.  To start with there was some penne and tomatoes and spicy Italian sausage all cooked together in a skillet.  Red wine was necessary so we opened the Fontodi, the second of four bottles that I bought.

Rustic, red color in the glass and a wonderful aroma of earth and tart, red fruit.  It was nearly enough to just sit and sniff this wine.  Full bodied and full flavored, the tart red cherries were on one side of the tongue and the earthy, savory elements of soil, wood, herbs and a bit of smoke were on the other side.  They played off each other and neither ever got the upper hand.  At first sip the seemed that it would be sweet, but then it turned earthy and savory.  The sweetness came back on the lengthy finish but at the very end the acid washed away nearly everything but the desire for another sip.  The sweet and savory combination made this wine extraordinary. 

Great with the food but would have been great by itself. 

$32 and 14% alcohol.

Sunday, March 20, 2011

Steak and Red Wine

There's not a more ideal match than a good steak and good bottle of red wine, especially when the steak is at a reduced price.  Add in a red wine friendly side dish and one has a great meal.

The steak was a two inch thick prime rib eye.  It was allowed to come to room temperature after being salted with sea salt and lightly dusted with ground pepper, about a two hour process.  Good weather is still hanging around so the steak then went on the grill.

The wine of the evening was a bottle I picked up from a recent excursion out of state.  It was a 2009 Le Pigeoulet en Provence, a vin de pays de Vaucluse made by Vignobles Brunier, the folks behind Domaine de Vieux Telegraphe.  The wine was 80% Grenache, 10% Syrah,  and 5% each Cinsault and Carignan.  Bright, cheerful nose of fresh fruit and strawberries with a little darker and earthier side filling in a few spots.  Wonderful, pure fruit taste with a bit of dry earth and maybe a hint of cardamon in the taste.  It had great acid and good body and there was nothing extreme or out of proportion.  Super good stuff and a great compliment to the rich steak.

The side dish featured freshly dug leeks sauteed in butter and thyme and then added to a casserole on top of some paper thin slices of potatoes. Once the pan was empty of the leeks we added a bay leaf, some garlic and some cream and reduced that.  That went over the top of the leeks and at the end we added a mixture of Gruyere and Jarlsberg cheese.  In spent 40 minutes covered in the oven and about ten minutes uncovered to allow the top to brown and bubble.  Great side dish, but definitely on the rich side. It needed a wine with fruit and acid and that's what Le Pigeoulet provided.

14% alcohol and $15.  Good bargain.

Thursday, March 17, 2011

2008 Kinkead Ridge Riesling

Not that it ever went out of season, but it is definitely Riesling weather; sunshine, cool breezes, crisp evenings.  Throw in some good food and it makes for a great day.

The wine of choice was the 2008 Kinkead Ridge Riesling.  A good whiff of kerosene when first opened blew mostly away with some glass swirling.  Tart citrus and peach flavors blended with the remainder of the kero.  Interesting mix of flavors.  Just off total dry in the mouth with great acid and a clean, sweet feeling in the mouth. After dinner and after the wine warmed a little there appeared to be some papaya flavors coming out of the glass. 

So what was for dinner?  I went Asian again.  This time it was monkfish which was seared on one side in a wok.  After a couple of minutes we turned the fish and sprinkled it with chopped garlic, chopped ginger, and chopped red and green chilies.   In went a little soy sauce, some sesame oil, Shaoxing rice wine, lime juice and green onions.  We basted the fish with the sauce until it was done.  At the last minute we stirred in some fresh watercress.  A little brown, basmati rice completed the meal.

Very nice pairing with the wine.  There was definitely some heat from the chilies and the pungency of the ginger but the little bit of residual sugar in the Riesling took away the burn.  Cool and crisp finish to the wine after a bite of the food and that was exactly what I was looking for.  There were some definite German tendencies to this wine but there was a strong resemblance to Australian dry Rieslings as well.  Nice balancing act.

12.1% alcohol, 1,2 % residual sugar and $13.

Wednesday, March 16, 2011

It Might as Well Be Spring

With apologies to Rogers and Hammerstein for the title, the first crocuses bloomed today - four days before the actual start of spring.    Wonderful.

Tuesday, March 15, 2011

La Cana Albarino 2008

The end of the week saw some distractions and a now resolved problem, so on Sunday it was time to get into the kitchen and relax.  One of the ways I do this is to stand and stir a pot of polenta, but on this Sunday is was a day to use the stirring to build a risotto.  That decision was made easier by the local market featuring two types of imported rice for risotto, a superfina Carnaroli and a semifino Vialone Nano.  Some of each came home with me and the end result was a mixed seafood risotto.

Since it was seafood, shrimp and scallops, in the risotto the wine I pulled out was a 2008 La Cana Albarino.  It came straight from the 55 degree section of the wine fridge.  The nose was just glowing with ripe pears and a little bit of not quite ripe peach.  The wine was more yellow than I was expecting for a 2008 vintage and there were some definite legs running down the glass after swirling the wine.  The pears were dominant in the taste but there was a crisp Meyer lemon quality underlying the pears.  The wine was fully extracted and the mouth feel was more of a southern Rhone white than most Albarinos I've drank.  There was a great blast of citrus on the end of the wine.

I peeled the shrimp and made a light stock of the shells, heated the pan and tossed in a chopped shallot and stirred.  In went the Vialone Nano rice and I stirred until the rice toasted just a bit. Next in was a bit of the wine, and while that was evaporating I stirred in a small pinch of saffron that was pulverized with a mortar and pestle.  For the next twenty minutes I kept stirring and adding stock a bit at a time until the rice was wonderfully al dente.  In went the shrimp, some quartered scallops, some lemon zest and the salt and pepper.  I covered the pan for two minutes and that fully cooked the seafood.  In went some chopped parsley and the juice of half a lemon. 

It was therapeutic just to smell the aromas coming out of the pan, but that wasn't nearly as beneficial as eating the finished product.  Rich, creamy, earthy from the saffron, sweet from the seafood, tart from the lemon, it was totally comfort food and a beautiful  thing to pair with the wine.  The citrus at the end of the wine really cleared the palate for the next bite of risotto.  Good wine and great food.

13% alcohol and $15.

Sunday, March 13, 2011

Zinfandel and a Steak

Beautiful day on Saturday, breezy but sunny and a little warm.  It was a perfect day for firing up the grill.  When the charcoal was hot and glowing we tossed on a thick rib steak while a potato continued to bake in the oven. 

The wine was a 2005 Mazzocco Home Vineyard Zinfandel from Sonoma's Dry Creek Valley, an area that makes some outstanding zins.  This one was right up there with the good ones.  Dark in color the nose was pure Zinfandel - black, prickly fruit, black pepper and a little bit of cola action.  Great depth to the sweet blackberry fruit in the wine and still some nice tannins to support the fruit.  The wine was 15.1% alcohol but the acid was much more than I expected so that took away from the anticipated sweetness.  The black pepper was prominent on the finish along with a cherry cola or a Dr. Pepper effect. 

The potato got some sour cream and some black truffle salt while the steak was finished with a sprinkling of Malden sea salt crystals.  Wonderful steak and potato and the wine only added to the pleasure.  Nice pairing.  I have opened and drank several of Mazzocco's single vineyard Zinfandels and this was my favorite of them all.

15.1% alcohol and no price available since the wine was a gift from a friend. 

Thursday, March 10, 2011

Three 2009 Rieslings

Once in awhile the stars all seem to align into something wonderful.  that happened the other day when I wandered through one of my regular wine haunts and they had three 2009 Rieslings by Josef Leitz from the Rheingau open for sampling.  One of them, Leitz Out, I had enjoyed before and it was discussed earlier on this site (Leitz Out).  The other two were the Eins Zwei Dry 3 and the Dragonstone from the Rudesheier Drachenstein vineyard.

We began with the highest alcohol wine, the Eins Zwei Dry 3 at 12%.  This is a dry wine and very savory, almost salty.  Lots of herbs and grain and mineral tastes.  The fruit almost plays second fiddle here.  Sharp, taut, racy  and mouth filling.  If anything it reminded me of a Chablis because it finished with a blast of acid and tart apple.  $17 and a real steal at that price.

Next in line was the Leitz Out at 10.5% alcohol.    The apple and pineapple fruit aspect was much stronger in this wine, but it remained dry and tart.  The mint that was there in my first bottle was there in this one as well.  Excellent value at $13.

The final wine was the Dragonstone at 9% alcohol.  Bright, sharp and salty on the nose with hints of slate.  Great fruit and enough herbs  to set one's mind  searching.  Apples, a bit of pineapple and a touch of peach were mixed with mint and fresh green herbs in the taste.  Good balance, long finish and a nice kick at the end.  Top quality wine at $18, but on sale for $16. 

I could spend many a day drinking these wines and never get tired of them.  No favorites because I liked them all and on a given day my choices might differ.  Each was excellent value and an excellent wine.

Wednesday, March 9, 2011

Sunday, March 6, 2011

2002 Selbach Oster Riesling

Dinner on Sunday was some beautiful, fresh Alaskan cod and we made it in an oriental style.  It was smothered in thinly sliced red onions, finely minced fresh ginger and some thinly sliced garlic.  It was lightly dusted with some five-spice powder.  The fish was steamed in a bamboo steamer along with snow pea pods and served with steamed rice drizzled with a little fresh ginger juice.  When the fish was done it was sauced with lime juice, a splash of soy sauce, a light splash of fish sauce, a half teaspoon of mirin and three drops of toasted sesame oil.  Wonderful food.

The wine was a 2002 Selbach Oster Wehlener Sonnenuhr Kabinett from the Mosel, a wine with a touch of bottle age to it.  There was no small amount of kerosene on the nose when the cork first came out.  Some swirling of the glass helped dissipate this, but there was still enough left to be quite interesting.  The nose was crisp and sharp with hints of lemon and lime peel and damp slate.  The taste was quite forward with ripe, crisp apple, a bit of white peach and a touch of lychee.  The perception of sweetness was there in the mouth feel but when the wine was swallowed it was the acid and citrus peel that that sang a beautiful song.  There were zero signs of aging in this wine, and since there is one more in the cellar that might be the best news of the day. 

This was almost a perfect match with the food.  The lime juice and fish sauce and soy really picked up on the fruit in this wine.  The acid cut through the richness of the fish.  Wonderful wine and great food. 

8.5% alcohol and the original sticker of $16.  Life is good.

Saturday, March 5, 2011

Cheap Red

I love close out bins where wines are marked down because they either didn't sell or a new vintage is about to hit the market.  For $5.99 I picked up this bottle of 2008 Reserve de la Saurine, a blend of 60% grenache and 40 % carignan from the south of France.   The wine was marked down from $15.99.

Bright raspberry fruit from the grenache, tart and happy.  A darker, rustic side from the carignan with earthy flavors and a bit of green veggies.  Good acid, little or no wood, mice long finish and a decent wine at its current price.  It wouldn't have been a good buy at its original price.  Great with a hamburger.

A bottle of it's white counterpart was consumed last summer and discussed here.  It too was marked down to $5.99.

Tuesday, March 1, 2011

Pork and Beer

We had another warm day on Sunday so we fired up the grill to do some smoking.  In particular we smoked some non-prime parts of pork, shanks and feet, or as they are known in more elite circles - trotters.

They were brined for several hours in a solution of kosher salt, a small amount of sugar and water.  They were allowed to air dry for another hour and then tossed onto indirect heat on the grill.

I tossed some hickory chips that had been soaked in water over the top of the fire and then put the lid on the grill and let the smoke roll.  Thirty minutes later the pork parts were permeated with rich smokiness and were a glorious golden brown.

Next we sauteed some onions and celery in some olive oil and tossed the pork parts into the pan as well.  In went a fair amount of fresh sauerkraut, a few bay leaves and a bottle of a local beer, Mt. Carmel Springtime Ale from Cincinnati.  The pot was covered and went into a 325 degree oven for three hours. 

While we waited we sampled the beer.  It's a Scottish style ale that's only 4.5% alcohol.  Malted barley and aromas from highland heather are claimed on the label, along with the requisite hops.  Whatever they claim the heather component was obvious as was the barley.  Nice balance between richness and bitterness.  Good stuff and another local product worth consuming more frequently.

At the end of the day we finally got around to eating and it was more than worth the wait.  The trotters added a lushness to the dish with their high component of melted sinew and fat.  The shanks were tender, rich and smoky and the sauerkraut tart and prickly.  Nice combination with the beer and by the end of the meal it was obvious that we needed more ale, since the original six bottle carton was gone.  I added it to this weeks shopping list.

Good food, good beer.  $8.99 for six bottles.