Friday, December 30, 2011

Christmas Wines

It pays to have good friends at Christmas as witnessed by the two wines that went down very easily with a second prime rib of beef dinner of the holidays.  There were a few preliminaries but the highlight of the day was definitely the 2003 Stag's Leap Wine Cellars SLV Cabernet Sauvignon and the 1996 Robert Mondavi Reserve Cabernet Sauvignon, both from Napa Valley.  The Mondavi was a medium color and was turning to brick on the edges as it has begun to show its age.  Still full of fruit and spices, but the fruit had mellowed into a nice melange of cherry, cassis, cinnamon, vanilla and graphite.  Good acidity and enough tannin to carry everything the wine was offering.

The Stag's Leap wine was much younger and a much darker color.  The nose was less evolved but still full of dark cherries, a few blueberries, a tiny bit of vegetable that I found appealing and clean whiff of dry earth.  Full flavored with the cherries dominating.  There was a richer mouth feel to this wine, and the richer feeling stood up a little better to the beef than the Mondavi.  Good acid and a nice level of tannin at the finish made this wine a winner.

Very difficult to choose a favorite here as both wines offered their best efforts and were quite enjoyable.  I loved them both.

Prices unknown but the Mondavi was 13.3% alcohol and the Stag's Leap was 14%.

Wednesday, December 28, 2011


Second to wine my drink of choice is single malt Scottish whisky, and I was into this even before falling in love with wine.  I am particularly  fond of the whisky from the Isle of Islay.  A few weeks ago the New York Times was kind enough to taste twenty of these whiskys and publish their top ten choices. Sitting at #6 on their list was a new whisky to me, Kilchoman.  After a short search I located a bottle and picked it up a week or so before Christmas. 

Kilchoman is the newest distillery on the island by 124 years according to their website which you can find here.  It is a small, farm distillery which does the entire process from growing the grain to aging the whisky on site.  They began distilling in 2005 and began releasing whisky in 2010.   There are several whiskys listed on their website and the one I was able to find was the 2010 Winter Release.

One whiff of the whisky and it is obvious it is unmistakably an Islay.  The distinct peat and iodine aromas are there.  The smokiness is there also, though it is not as prominent as in a few of its longer established neighbors.  The taste is full of sweet grain, hints of orange and other citrus, and smoke.  There is a luxurious mouth feel to the whisky, but it is most definitely lighter than it's bigger neighbors.  The iodine and the peat sneak in on the finish.   All together this is good stuff and my search for a bottle was worth the effort.

46% alcohol (92 proof) and $60.

Monday, December 26, 2011

An Alexander Pope Christmas Eve

A friend  phoned two days before Christmas to ask a favor.  He lives on a large farm in the area and several folks were coming on Christmas Eve for a pheasant hunt and they were short a dog.  Scott volunteered to help them with their problem.  His manners weren't the best in a hunting sense, but he did find and point the birds well enough that the day was a success.  It was successful enough that as a reward he provided dinner on Christmas Eve.

"See! from the break the whirring pheasant springs,
And mounts exulting on triumjphant wings:
Short is his joy: he feels the firey wound,
Flutters in blood, and panting beats the ground."

Alexander Pope
Windsor Forest 1.111

The wine was one that I purchased three years ago based on past experience with it. It had been resting in the cellar since it arrived.  The wine was a Fontodi, Chianti Classico Riserva, Vigna Del Sorbo from the 2004 vintage, a blend of mostly Sangiovese with some Cabernet Sauvignon added.

For dinner we cleaned and then cut up the pheasant into serving pieces.  The pieces went into a pan with some rendered bacon and were browned.  I added some shallots, a small clove of garlic, a carrot, some bay leaves, white peppercorns, mint and parsley and a cup of red wine.  I covered the pan and braised the bird for half an hour.  The pheasant pieces were removed and some fresh cranberries and some honey were added to the pot and the sauce reduced until the berries popped and softened.  Add the last minute I added some sour cream.  There was also some soft polenta flavored with black truffle salt and mascarpone.

The nose on the wine was unmistakable as a Chianti, dry and dusty, fruity, cherry aromas and some herbs.  Very dark and very full bodied in the mouth, the cabernet gave an extra dimension to the wine.  Lots of acid and dry, earthy tannins here.  When the wine met the sauce on the pheasant they took things to another level entirely.  The cranberries and honey mixed with the dry, tart cherries in this wine for a nearly perfect flavor combination.  The flavors in the finish continued on for nearly 30 seconds.  Just a wonderful wine and a great match with the food - and there are two more bottles in the cellar.

14% alcohol and $80

Saturday, December 24, 2011

Look Homeward, Angel

"In the morning they rose in a house pungent with breakfast cookery,  and they sat at a smoking table loaded with brains and eggs, ham, hot biscuit, fried apples seething in their gummed syrups, honey, golden butter, fried steak, scalding coffee.  Or there were stacked batter cakes, rum-colored molasses, fragrant brown sausages, a bowl of wet cherries, plums, fat juicy bacon, jam.  At the mid-day meal they ate heavily: a huge hot roast of beef, fat buttered Lima beans, tender corn smoking on the cob, thick red slabs of sliced tomatoes, rough savory spinach, hot yellow corn-bread, flaky biscuits, a deep dish peach and apple cobbler spiced with cinnamon, tender cabbage, deep glass dishes piled with preserved fruits - cherries, pears, peaches.  At night they might eat fried steak, hot squares of grits fried in egg and butter, pork chops, fish, young fried chicken...."

Thomas Wolfe, Look Homeward, Angel.

No passage in a book has ever made me more hungry than this one, and Wolfe remains among my favorite authors.    Best wishes for great food and great wine during the holiday seasons. 

Thursday, December 22, 2011

Another Bunch of Bubbles

I'm still working my way through a group of American sparkling wines and this time it's back to California for Domaine Chandon and their Brut Classic.

Domaine Chandon led the European invasion to California to produce sparkling wines thirty years ago.  I've been to the winery on a couple of occasions and eaten at the winery restaurant both times, but it has been awhile since I tasted their wines.  This particular wine carries the California appellation, and not the Napa Valley one. 

This bottle was loaded with carbon dioxide.  When the cork came out of the bottle the Gordon Setters thought it was a gunshot and they were ready to go bird hunting.  That pop was clearly an omen as this wine bubbled like one of those tall bubble lights that go on Christmas trees.    This was the little engine that could for sparkling wine.

The nose had a definite apple aroma to it, with some citrus and maybe some pear.  There was also a hint of cardamon in the nose.  Wonderfully bright and fresh flavors of tree and citrus fruit, tart and sharp acid and lots of tiny bubbles all chimed in to produce a great balanced flavor profile.  This went down very easily.  At the finish the cardamon and perhaps some apple pie spice left a nice memory in the mouth.   

Dinner was a small piece of Alaskan salmon that was pan seared and then finished in a sweet and sour sauce.  There was no problem with this combination.  Very tasty.  After dinner we poured one more glass since there was no dessert for the evening.  There was a single, small square of white chocolate - the last piece in a package.  A bite of chocolate and a sip of wine and my mouth felt like it was at the circus  eating cotton candy and those large, orange, marshmallow circus peanuts.  This was totally unique and unexpected flavor combination and it made me laugh.  Note to self to buy another bar of the white chocolate and try this again with some other sparklers.

$15 and 12.5% alcohol

Wednesday, December 21, 2011

Clos Du Val Reflections

Clos Du Val opened in the early 1970's in Napa Valley, set off of the Silverado Trail in what would later become the Stags Leap AVA.  Their style was more European than most in California and has remained so over the years.  It had been at least twenty years since I tried one of their Chardonnays so I remedied that with a bottle of their 2008 Carneros vintage pictured in the glass above. 

The color in the glass was clear, bright and pale yellow.  The nose was a little bit woodsy but with citrus and pineapple coming through as well.  This was a nicely proportioned wine in the mouth, full without being overbearing.  Definite apple notes up front with pineapple and a bit of mango coming in at the end.  Nice mineral quality to the finish on this wine.  

Dinner was gray sole, dusted with a light coating of flour and pan seared in some clarified butter.  There was a pan sauce with a touch of the wine, some lemon juice, capers and parsley to finish it out.  The fish was rich and melting in the mouth and the wine was just about perfect with it.  Very easy meal to finish and sip more wine. 

13.5% alcohol and $24

Monday, December 19, 2011

Another Round of Bubbles

Prices for American sparkling wine continue be wonderfully low for the quality one gets.  This time I opted for a sparkler from New Mexico, the Gruet Brut. 

There was a lot of pressure on the cork as it came out of the bottle and quite a nice pop.  Light color in the glass with a good string of bubbles rising.  Tart and citrusy aromas with a good whiff of cotton candy.  Good fruit taste with ripe apple and Meyer lemon tastes predominating.  Delightfully tart but with a touch of sweetness to balance things out.  Full flavored and long lasting finish with some roasted nuts at the very end.  Very easy to drink.

There was an appetizer of shrimp and a main course of pan seared swordfish on a bed of brown, basmati rice.  The citrus quality in the wine was delicious with the swordfish - a nice marriage of flavors.

$15 and 12.4% alcohol.  

Friday, December 16, 2011


I purchased a case of assorted wines in October, and the case consisted completely of wines I had not tried before, either the winery or the grape. The Huber 2007 Zweigelt from Austria fell into the category of new grape for me.

I was in need of a red wine to drink with  some thinly sliced, left over flank steak and when a friend dropped by on an errand I twisted the cap off this wine.

The wine had a reddish brick color to it without a lot of colorization.  Dry, dusty nose with aromas of earth, spice, unripe berries and mushrooms.  Medium weight and body to the wine and the depth of flavor was somewhat lacking.  Good acid, a little tannin and a short finish completed the package.

There was nothing wrong with the wine, but then again there wasn't really anything right about it either.  It was not unappealing, but it didn't create much of an appeal.  In short - it was red wine. 

I'll try another Zweigelt when I see one, but I won't be rushing out to get another bottle of this one.

13.5% alcohol and $14.

Tuesday, December 13, 2011

Old Reliable

For more years than I've been drinking wine Louis Martini cabernets have been solid, honest wines.  The 2009 Sonoma County vintage is no different.  The bright, fruity nose with some earth and spice to it matched up with flavors that were more in the red fruit profile than black fruit. Ripe red cherries and berries overlaid a darker base, but the base simply gave more substance to the wine.  It never interfered with the bright flavors.  Good acid and the right amount of tannin.  The skies were clear,  the grill was lit, steaks were on sale, and so it was beef and honest, red wine for dinner.  Goof stuff and a straight forward wine.

13.8% alcohol and $16

Saturday, December 10, 2011


It's a hard choice as the whether sparkling wine or sherry is the best bargain in the market at the present.  This wine certainly makes a case for sherry.

The wine is a Lustau Solera Reserva  Dry Amontillado "Los Arcos."  The name is a mouthful and so is the wine.  Golden brown color and a wonderful aroma of toasted nuts, a bit of spice, and a dry, clean breeze.  Lots of dried fruit flavors in the taste but the overwhelming impression is of walnuts, almonds, caramel, and light touches of iodine.    Long finish that despite the use of the word "dry" finishes with just a hint of sweetness. 

There were remnants of a Stilton cheese and it went well with that, but it went better with a handful of toasted walnuts.  Experimenting a little farther we tried it with a few Picholine olives and that was another success.  However, I think we reached the summit with a cheap can of smoked almonds.  That was a flavor sensation I could repeat daily.  Really good stuff.

20% alcohol and $19.  An absolute steal at that price.

Wednesday, December 7, 2011

Young Burgundy

I was in an earthy mood last weekend so I made a rabbit and mushroom risotto.  I poached the rabbit lightly, then took the meat off the bones and used the poaching liquid as the stock for the rice.  Another part of the cooking liquid was the water from soaking dried porcini mushrooms.  Once the porcinis were soft I pureed them into a paste with some of the liquid and that got added to the pot as well.  There were also some sauteed, fresh mushrooms in the mix.  At the very end we added the chopped rabbit meat and some pecorino Romano cheese. 

My first option was a Nebbiolo D'Alba , but instead I opened a 2009 Michael Sarrazin & Fils Maranges.  I recently purchased this wine and decided to try it while more was still available in the market.  Good choice.

Lots of earthy aromas in the nose left no doubt this wasn't a new world pinot noir.  It took a couple of minutes for some fruit to begin peaking out of the glass.  Bright cherry flavors overlaying the earthy components, with good, sharp acid and just enough tannin to clear the palate.  Full bodied wine with a delicious and lengthy finish.  Great match with the mushrooms in the risotto, very complimentary tastes.  I picked up two more bottles to put in the cellar.

13% alcohol and $28. 

Thursday, December 1, 2011

Gloria Ferrer Blanc de Noirs

(Candida comes in with glasses, lemons, and a jug of hot water on a tray.)

Candida: Who will have some lemonade?  You know our rules: total abstinence. (She puts the tray on the table, and takes up the lemon squeezer, looking enquiringly round at them.)

Morell: No use, dear.  They've all had champagne.  Pross has broken her pledge.

Candida (to Proserpine): You don't mean to say you've been drinking champagne?

Proserpine: (stubbornly): Yes I do.  I'm only a beer teetotaller, not a champagne teetotaller.

George Bernard Shaw

It's a great time of the year to drink sparking wine because with the holidays approaching there are some tremendous discounts to be had.  While this Gloria Ferrer Blanc de Noirs is not champagne (it's from the Carneros region of Sonoma County, California) it certainly sparkles and bubbles.

There was a pretty copper color in the glass, and a nose of strawberries and lemons with a hint of cardamon, almost like a Christmas cookie   Tight bubbles and great fruit and cookie taste.  Just off dry with great acid and a wonderful fruity finish.  There was some fresh cod loin baked in ginger and sesame and some garlic and ginger spinach for dinner.  Good match with the wine as the fish retained its richness and the wine balanced that out.

$16 and 12.2% alcohol.  Super price for this wine.