Sunday, December 30, 2012

Friday, December 28, 2012

When Old Friends Turn on You

I don't drink a lot of port, but this is the time of year that most of the port I do drink is consumed.  It's definitely nice on a cold evening with some Stilton or other blue cheese and perhaps a handful of nuts or some fruit.

For a number of years the local stores always have a sale in December on Warre's Warrior Porto, their entry level wine.  It's fruity, warming, and delicious and goes down much easier than it should. This year they changed the label on the bottle and labeled it as a "Reserve."  The sale price was quite appealing at $15, regularly $21. 

I opened a bottle Wednesday evening after we collected six inches of snow.  Warre's must have changed the blend as well as the label, because this wine is vastly different from what I was accustomed to from this producer.  It is thinner, more acidic, less flavorful and tasted more like flavored sugar water than a reliable porto.  This was a very disappointing wine and one I won't be purchasing again.  Time to move on to perhaps Graham's Six Grape Porto.

Warre's Warrior Porto Reserve.  20% alcohol and $15 and a terrible buy at this price and a horrid buy at the regular price of $21. This is sad.

Wednesday, December 26, 2012

Christmas Eve Part II

The second bottle we opened for the Christmas Eve shellfish dinner turned out to be very unfair to the wine that was opened first - see below.  Bottle #2 was a 2006 Clotilde Davenne Chablis Grand Cru, Les Preuses.  It's nost that the Muscadet wasn't good - it was, but this bottle was from another world.

There were layers of perfectly ripe fruit with crisp apples being the lead fruit, but there were pears and a bit of citrus there as well. The wine filled the mouth with those flavors but the structure that was there kept this from being a fruity wine.  Sharp edges of acid and limestone cut through the fruit and brought everything to life.  There was nothing shy with this wine.  This was an elegant woman in her prime wearing a simple black dress and flashing a Mona Lisa smile.  Gorgeous.

The rest of the dinner was delicious, but the wine was the star.  The dinner, pictured below, was a smoky, multi-layered chowder full of potatoes, corn, crab, clams, cod and calamari.  Alongside there was a lobster salad that was steamed lobster dressed with mayonnaise, lemon juice, a tiny bit of fresh thyme and dill.  The Chablis and the lobster were simply perfect together.

2006 Clotilde Davenne Chablis Grand Cru, Les Preuses.  13% alcohol and $70.  One more bottle in the cellar.

Tuesday, December 25, 2012

Christmas Eve

The Christmas Eve oysters were briny, plump, sweet, cold and luxurious. An extra person showed up who was stuck in town rather than being able to travel home for the holiday so we were able to open one bottle of wine with the oysters and a second with the remainder of the seafood meal - more on the second half of the meal later.

 The first wine of the evening was a 2010 Domaine de la Quilla, a Muscadet Sevre et Maine Sur Lie from the Loire area of France.  The wine is made just inland from the prime French oyster harvesting area.

This is a wine that isn't about sweet fruit and makes no pretense about it.  It is sharp, tart, brisk, and just reeks of minerality and earth.  Warmed up a little some solid fruit underpins the wine, but this wine is about earth and minerals - primarily oyster shells.  Being aged on it lees gives it a resemblance of an uncarbonated, sparkling wine in that one gets a sense of the yeasts remains in the finish.

With the oysters it was a wonderful match, and there were a good supply of oysters to get us through the late afternoon.

And in honor of the title of this blog, yes, that is a flamingo and Gordon Setter guarding this particular plate of the oysters.

Merry Christmas to all.

2010 Domaine de la Quilla, a Muscadet Sevre et Maine Sur Li.  12% alcohol and $15.

Sunday, December 23, 2012


Very little wine this past week as a series of small problems kept interrupting the desired flow of my life. The best part was that most of my holiday shopping was done at the food and wine markets for some wonderful upcoming dinners.  The above photo of sweet peppers and fresh dill looked a lot like Christmas to me.  There is fresh salmon curing under the dill and it should be ready for Christmas Day.

The only thing left to pick up tomorrow for Christmas Eve is a bag of fresh oysters. I still must make  a decision on whether I will open a Chablis, a Muscadet or a bottle of champagne to go with them.  Life should always be about good choices.

Monday, December 17, 2012

Cabernet Franc

There isn't a lot of wine from Colorado that shows up in Ohio, but the several that I've had the privilege to drink have been good, serviceable wines.  That's the case witih the latest one, a Boulder Creek Winery 2009 Cabernet Franc.

This is a full bodied wine that still retains some agility in the form of good acid and a definite perkiness.  Lots of bright cherry and berry aromas and flavors in this wine and just enough tannin to support everything.  Nothing brooding and deep here, just a happy wine that went well with a meal of braised beef short ribs and some fresh polenta. 

Boulder Creek Winery 2009 Colorado Cabernet Franc.  14.1% alcohol.  The wine was a gift from a friend.

Thursday, December 13, 2012

To Have and Have Another

Often the off the wall things turn out to be the most fun, and that's exactly what the new book To Have and Have Another, A Hemingway Cocktail Companion by Philip Greene is.

Anyone who reads Ernest Hemingway knows the man loved his beverages, and this book brings all of that front and center.  The author went through all the Hemingway writings and did a chapter on each cocktail that appeared in a Hemingway book or in his letters.  Want to know how many times and where a daiquiri is mentioned?  That's all here and so is at least one Ernest original recipe for the cocktail in question.  Greene is kind enough to list the book and chapters in which each cocktail appears.  Want to have a brandy and soda?  Pull out your copy of The Sun Also Rises and head to chapters one and ten and drink along with the characters.

Unique, fascinating, and unlike most modern cocktails one doesn't need  exotic spirits and strange ingredients to make most of these drinks.

Almost 4:00 PM here so it's time for a Martini and Chapter 19 of The Sun Also Rises.

Total fun and an excuse to reread some good books.

To Have and Have Another, A Hemingway Cocktail Companion.  Philip Greene.  2012.  Perigee Books.  $24 for 293 pages of fun.

Sunday, December 9, 2012

Vintage Champagne

One of my frequent haunts was hosting a caviar and champagne tasting last Friday.  Quite tasty and very interesting, but what it mostly did was just make me thirsty for more champagne.  Fortunately that was a very solvable problem. A bottle of 2002 Lancelot-Pienne, Cuvee de la Table Ronde, Brut had been resting quietly in the cellar for a few years.  The wine is a blanc de blancs, or made from all chardonnay.   

I brought home a small amount of caviar from the store and rubbed a plump chicken with inside and out with an herb butter and popped it in the oven sitting on a bed of butternut squash chunks.  I quickly made a small batch of buckwheat blinis and pulled the cork from the champagne. What a nose on this wine with some bottle age to it.  If ever one needed an example of bread dough and brioche aromas in champagne this wine was it.  There were hints of cardamon as well.  We poured two glasses stoppered the bottle.

There were wonderful, tart and sharp flavors of ripe fruit and bread.  The bubbles were proper and not overwhelming and the amount of flavor and length were great.  The salinity in the caviar, a variety from California sturgeon, was remarkable with the wine.  The blinis were toasty and warm, the caviar and champagne cold and cool respectively and they blended together seamlessly.  The bubbles in the champagne were great with the light crunch of the fish eggs.

The wine was equally good with the chicken after it rested for a few minutes.  Warm chicken and squash, cool champagne and some happy people and soon the bottle was empty.  Still smiling.

Lancelot-Pienne, Cuvee de la Table Ronde, blanc de blancs, brut.  12% alcohol  and $50.

Thursday, December 6, 2012

An Old Friend Revisited

More years ago than I care to admit, and when I was coming out of my initial French phase in wine and moving into Napa Valley wines Sterling was one of my favorites.  They made good Cabernet Sauvignon, a wonderful Sauvignon Blanc and a reserve Cabernet among other wines.  I bought a number of the reserve wines from 1978 through the mid 80's.  All were good and at that time they were in the upper echelon of Napa red wines. 

Last spring while wondering through a wine store there was an unadvertised sale and the 2008 Sterling SVR Reserve was on sale for $40.  The wine is 70% Cabernet Sauvignon, 27% Merlot and 3% Petit Verdot.  I opened it last night with one of the last steaks from the grill before the December weather turns very crappy in this area. 

Nothing shy about this wine and a strip steak was just about the perfect accompaniment.  The wine was muscular but still supple with flavors of berries and medium dark cherries.  Their was a brightness up front to the fruit and a crispness from good acid.  There was a good amount of tannin here so the finish was very dry.  There were also some spices in the finish, hints of both vanilla and cinnamon and just a suggestion of sweetness.  All together it was quite a nice wine.  I'm not so sure that the $60 original price was fair, but it is a very good wine at $40.

It was nice to get reacquainted with Sterling and while they might not have the status they once had this was a good wine.

2008 Sterling Vineyards SVR Reserve.  14.9% alcohol and $40 on sale.

Tuesday, December 4, 2012

Lopez de Heredia Rioja

Sometimes the  a wine just makes me smile and the 2005 Vina Cubillo from R. Lopez de Heredia did that.  We opened this wine prior to a recent dinner along with a couple salamis and some cheeses. 

There was an unusual nose to this wine, unusual in that there was a strong hint of anise or licorice resting just under the surface of some very ripe fruit and a good bit of dry earth.  One person was a little put off by it, but I loved it.  Full flavored with dry, sweet fruit and the taste of earth.  Great acid here and just enough tannin to support everything.  Long, dry finish that made me want a bite of meat and another sip of wine.  By the time the wine was gone even the non-licorice loving person had fallen for this wine.  It was that good with food.

The wine is a blend of 65% Tempranillo, 25% Garnacho and the rest Mazuelo and Graciano and spent three years in the barrel before being fined with egg whites and bottled.

2005 R. Lopez de Heredia Vina Cubillo.  13% alcohol and $30. 

Sunday, December 2, 2012

A Feast for St. Andrew

Friday was St. Andrew's Day and while the day was lacking in Scottish attire, it wasn't lacking for the spirit of the day.

There were two thick lamb chops, a barley pilaf, a wee bit of smoked salmon and a dram or two after dinner.

The wine of the day was from Sonoma's Dry Creek Valley, A 2007 Michel-Schlumberger Coteaux Sauvages.  This is the premium Syrah wine from the winery and after a glass or two one could understand why.

Heavy aromas of black fruits and a small amount of earth in the nose.  Great and forward fruit flavors of blackberries and plums that were dense but never went into the heavy stage.  This was ripe fruit and not jam.  Great tannin structure that supported this fruit and kept it from being overbearing.  Good acid that gave it some interesting highlights.  Good length to the finish, though the very end was a touch sweet. Very tasty and well done.

The wee drams later in the evening were a 1991 Lagavulin Distillers Edition, the last two in the bottle.  Good day, good meal, good wine and good whisky.

2007 Michel-Schlumberger Coteaux Sauvage.  14.9% alcohol and $50.

Thursday, November 29, 2012

The Finest Wines of Germany

One thing missing from my wine library since that collection grew to the point it could be called a library was a book on German wines.  I had looked at several but they were rudimentary at best.  Just out is a new volume in the Fine Wine Edition from the team at The World of Wine Magazine.  Stephan Reinhardt is the lead author here, with an introduction by Hugh Johnson.

The book comes close to what I was looking for since there are introductory sections on geography, climate, soils, classifications, history, culture, grapes and more.  Good reading and an excellent source of information on the old and new classifications of German wines.

From there the book offers thorough looks at some of the leading producers and their wines from the various regions of Germany.  The selection of who to feature is that of the author and it is by no means definitive, but what is there is a great look at each region.

My only complaint is a small one.  There are some outstanding vineyards in these regions and they are often divided up among more than several producers.  There is not a section in this book that looks at the vineyard sites from the aspect of the vineyard itself.   The book only looks at the vineyards through the individual producers.  After finishing the book I still don't have an understanding of what qualities make Ockfener Bockstein an outstanding vineyard, though I know what makes several producers wines outstanding.  Small complaint, but I think a major one for me.

Good book, beautiful full color photographs, tons of information and worthy addition to the library though my hunt is still on for a good book on German vineyards.

The finest Wines of Germany by Stephan Reinhardt.  University of California Press 2012.  $19. 

Monday, November 26, 2012

Fontodi Chianti Classico

There are three Chianti producers who consistently make wines that please my palate, Fontodi, Felsina and Querciabella.  Last night I pulled out a 2006 Fontodi Chianti Classico to go with pan seared pork chops and a large pan of roasted carrots, butternut squash and sweet potatoes.  The carrots are pictured one post down.

Strong, fresh fruit and earth aromas blasted out of this bottle.  Tart, partly dried, partly sour, red cherry flavors were very up front here.  Tart and sweet on the middle of the tongue, the tannins kept the sides of the tongue dry.  Great length to the finish and just a wonderful tasting wine.  The fruit flavors were lip smacking with the pork and while I expected the earthiness to pair well with the roasted root veggies, it was actually the fruit that made the better music with them.  Very good wine at a fair price. 

There is some wine left and the remainder  of the root vegetables will be pureed into a roasted vegetable soup for dinner tomorrow.

One more bottle in the cellar, and it will be saved for a few years.

2006 Fontodi Chianti Classico.  14% alcohol and $21 a few years ago.

Saturday, November 24, 2012

End of Season

Yesterday was the last local farmers' market for the year and it was good to hear that despite the local drought they had good seasons.  It's also good to know first hand the folks growing a portion of my food, especially since a couple of them always save some extra good things for me.    One of the extra things was the very last of the local carrots for the year.  These will likely appear in some form with dinner on Sunday, but one of the purple ones was peeled and eaten raw yesterday - delicious.

Thursday, November 22, 2012


Today is Thanksgiving here and last night I found something to be thankful for in the wine world. I am very, very thankful for a bottle of 2005 Chateau Ferran from the Pessac-Leognan area of Graves.

I don't drink a lot of Bordeaux anymore, not because I don't like them, but only because they have become so pricey compared to other wines.  Bordeaux wines served as my training wheels   in wine.  Early on my cellar was 75% filled with those wines, and over the years they provided  a world of pleasure.  Since the late 80's and early 90's I doubt that I bought more than two cases of Bordeaux other than the very entry level wines just to remind myself of what used to be.

When the 2005 wines came out to such good reviews I bought six bottles, and two of them were the Chateau Ferran.  Graves has always been my favorite area of Bordeaux because of the intense minerality in a lot of the wines.  One of the best wines of my life was a 1982 Chateau Haut Brion, the very top of the hierarchy in that region. 

Last night I pulled this wine out and opened it.  Half went into a decanter while the charcoal did its thing in the grill. Two, thick lamb chops, free range from Colorado, went on the grill when the coals were ready.  That's when I stuck my nose into the glass.  Everything I remember loving about Bordeaux was there in a nutshell - sweet fruit, pencil lead, rocks and gravel, a touch of oak.   There were deep but dry fruit flavors of currants and dark fruit with none of the jammy sweetness of over ripe grapes.  Wonderful acid and tannin that supported all the fruit.  The finish was mineral driven with enough tannin to dry the mouth without puckering the back of the tongue.  Just perfect balance and wonderful flavors.  Add in the lamb and it was a long, pleasant dinner, long in the sense that there was no need to rush things.

Perhaps the most remarkable thing about this wine was the 12.5% alcohol by volume level. To achieve such a full wine without running the alcohol up to near 14% is just remarkable.

The Thanksgiving turkey dinner is early today and there will be no wine, but later today there will be another glass or two of this wine to end the day and I am already thankful for the second bottle that's in the cellar.

2005 Chateau Ferran, Pessac Leognan, Bordeaux.  12.5% alcohol and $31

Wednesday, November 21, 2012


To go with the swordfish below there was a wine that was somewhat new to me, a 2009 Jean Pierre and Alexandre Ellevin Premier Cru Chablis, Vaucoupin.  The producer was new to me as was the specific premier cru.

This wine had everything that makes a for good Chablis, bright color, wonderful dry aromas, good fruit, great acid and a sense of minerality at the finish.  Sad to say that sometimes it is how you put those parts together, and in this sense the wine fell flat.  Chablis always excites me and this one just seemed ordinary.  It was drinkable, it tasted fine with the fish, but it just tasted ordinary and generic.

I would have been somewhat disappointed if this had been a regular Chablis, but this was a premier cru Chablis and that made it a major disappointment. The Pouilly Fume discussed below was half the price and that wine was alive with energy and I would choose it every time.

If I see this producer again I'll try another bottle because I don't believe this was intentional on their part.  Let's call this a bad bottle and let it go at that.

13% alcohol and $32

Tuesday, November 20, 2012


I'm on poultry avoidance at the moment as Thanksgiving is coming up in two days, and between turkey on Thursday, leftovers on Friday and another turkey dinner on Saturday I thought it best to avoid early in the week.

The local market helped out with a sale on swordfish steaks.  It got my usual marinade of olive oil, lemon juice, garlic, lemon zest, red pepper flakes and salt and white pepper.  It was seared in a hot skillet and then shoved into a hot oven for five minutes to warm through.  A pyramid of rice and some broccolini that was on its last legs finished off the meal.  A premeir cru Chablis was a good match.  Notes on the wine tomorrow.

Friday, November 16, 2012

Pouilly Fume

Dinner a couple of days ago was a loin of Alaskan cod on a bed of chopped vegetables and wrapped in parchment paper and shoved in a hot oven for ten minutes.  Simple, quick, fresh and delicious.

The wine was equally good, a 2007 La Moynerie Pouilly Fume from Michel Redde et Fils.  Perfectly clear wine in the glass and a nose bursting with peach skins and wild herbs.  The initial flavors were tart peach and some tarragon.  Wildly wonderful acid in this wine and it totally filled the mouth with a crisp feeling.  Halfway through the first large sip the minerality of this wine kicked into high gear.  Except for the initial peach flavors this could have been a good Chablis.  There was a bit of lushness and body near the end before the acid and minerals kicked back end for the finish.  This wine was alive and having a great time and it was just about perfect with the cod. 

This wine was a fill in wine  - I was two bottles short of twelve mixed bottles to get a case discount so I picked this to fill out the case.  So far it's been the star of the entire case and I find it amazing that this wine and the Greywacke Sauvignon Blanc discussed a couple of posts below were made from the same grape.

Michel Redde et Fils Pouilly Fume La Moynerie.  13% alcohol and $17.

Thursday, November 15, 2012

Phoenix Ranch Syrah

When it comes to Syrah based wines I have my preferences and Napa Valley Syrahs aren't usually one of them.  They tend to be high in alcohol and extract and difficult to drink in anything more than a small dose.  Well, here's a pleasant surprise, a 2006 Phoenix Ranch, Napa Valley Syrah.

The wine was a medium, dark color in the glass and not black as midnight.  There was dark and rich fruit in the nose, but there was also some earthy aromas of dirt and dust.  A few more swirls and one could pick up a slight smell of raw meat.  Definitely not a Napa nose here, this one was more northern Rhone.  Beautiful ripe fruit in the taste that did not taste like jam or preserves, it was fresh and tart and alive.  Great tannins and acid in this wine and a dryness and earthiness on the finish. While I would never mistake this wine for a northern Rhone, it definitely was using that style of wine as its model.  There was fullness and restraint, and this wine made me very happy.

Absolutely perfect with a prime strip steak from the grill and some baked Delicato squash seasoned with salt, pepper, nutmeg and butter.

With a little research the restraint shown in this wine made some sense.  The wine maker for that vintage of Phoenix Ranch was Cathy Corison of Napa's Corison Winery.  She makes some of the most restrained and tasty cabernet sauvignons in Napa.  Phoenix Ranch is also a major supplier of grapes for Failla wines, a cultish pinot noir and syrah producer.  Happily for me there are two more in the cellar.

2006 Phoenix Ranch, Napa Valley Syrah.  13.9% alcohol and $30.

Monday, November 12, 2012

Pleasant Surprise

There was an additional bottle of wine the evening of the Grange discussed below, and it was the first bottle of the evening which we drank while cooking the lamb and letting the Grange breathe.

Over the last few years I stayed away from New Zealand wines, not because they were bad, but because the reasonably priced ones we seem to get in this area all tasted mostly alike.  Another reason was that when I started drinking them a good, basic and tasty one was $10 to $12.  Now they are mostly in the $20 range. With that said it should be apparent that I didn't purchase the 2011 Greywacke 2011 Sauvignon Blanc pictured above.  The wine is from New Zealand's Marlborough region.

The wine was fresh and pert on the nose with aromas of spring grass and flowers.  Good acid gave the wine a tart mouth feel that was full of mild fruit flavors and grass and herbs.  The cat pee smell that New Zealand sauvignon blancs are famous (infamous) for was missing.  The wine made a good start to the evening, especially with some shrimp and cheese to munch on while the lamb cooked and rested.

Greywacke Marlborough Sauvignon Blanc.  13.5% alcohol and $20. 

Friday, November 9, 2012

Penfolds Grange 1996

A beautiful fall evening led to a rack of lamb on the grill, seared over direct heat then painted with Dijon mustard and sprinkled with chopped fresh thyme and rosemary. The rack moved to indirect heat and finished cooking slowly. That in itself made for a wonderful evening, but add a wonderful bottle of wine that one gets to drink all too rarely and it became (with apologies to Walter Lord and his book about the sinking of the Titanic) a night to remember.

I had planned on a modest California syrah, but if a friend pulls out a properly aged Penfolds Grange the choice is easy. We decanted the wine an hour before the the grill was lit, and with the exception of one small sip each we left the wine alone for the next two hours.

Beautiful, medium garnet color in the glass and there was just a suggestion of orange at the very edge. Aromas of dark, earthy fruit, a bit of mint, a hint of chocolate, and some gaminess were anything but subtle. Ripe flavors of cherries and dark fruit filled the mouth. The acid was correct and the tannins were firm but soft and the finish was long with a touch of the mint and chocolate at the very end.

There was nothing extreme about this wine or out of balance. Nothing was exaggerated, it just all flowed together into a beautiful whole. It was a perfect foil for the lamb and the herbs. It accented the rosemary and thyme from the lamb, and the meat brought out the mint and gaminess in the wine. As good as the wine was, it was better with the food. It took us a long evening to kill the bottle and over the course of the evening the wine just seemed to get better. Remarkable stuff.

Penfolds Grange. 14.2% alcohol. Internet price if replacing the bottle - around $325.

Tuesday, November 6, 2012

Nahe Riesling

A couple of years ago I had good luck opening a 2004 Hexamer Riesling Quarzit from the Nahe region of Germany.  At six years out from vintage it was delicious.  I pressed my luck and did the same thing a couple of days ago, opening a Quarzit six years out from vintage.  This time it was a 2006.  Dinner was a pan roasted chicken breast with a chicken stock based sauce that also contained lemon grass, fish sauce, a scant drop of toasted sesame oil and a few shakes of hot sauce.  Also on the plate were some steamed brocollini and a mixture of fresh beans.

I'm currently finishing a new book on German wines (more about that later) and one suggestion in the book I found more than interesting.  The suggestion came from Joh. Jos. Prum and the suggestion was to decant a young (under ten years old) Riesling for an hour, but to keep the decanter cool.    We did this with the Quarzit.  An immediate glass was fruity with limes and lemons and apples.  It was fresh and tart.  The wine did show some aging because the fruit was more mature and riper tasting than in younger Rieslings.

After an hour, and with dinner the fruit had faded to a supporting role and the minerality in the wine was the star.  Dry rocks, slate, and that unique smell of cool rain falling on warm limestone rocks in the summer.  There was some sweetness to the wine and that gave this bottle a great mouth filling feeling.  The minerality and the acidity then kicked in  and the wine became totally refreshing.  I liked the decanted profile much better then the straight from the bottle profile.

The Asian flavors in the chicken sauce were wonderful with this wine. 

2006 Hexamer, Riesling, Meddersheimer Rheingrafenberg Quarzit.  10% alcohol and $18 at issue.

Sunday, November 4, 2012

Two from the Times

There are two new books that came out in October from staffers at the New York Times, and both are good reads.

On top in the picture is Thanksgiving by Sam Sifton, currently the National News Editor.  Among his former positions was restaurant critic and the guy who answered the phone on Thanksgiving to answer questions on how to cook the holiday turkey or the side dishes.  This is a brief book with some opinions and a number of recipes for the day.  His main point, and one I strongly endorse, is that this holiday is about tradition.  Don't experiment, don't change the basics, just cook them well and enjoy.  Quick and easy read and a story distilled down to its basics proving things don't have to be complicated to be good.

How to Love Wine, a Memoir and a Manifesto is by Eric Asimov, the chief wine critic of the Times. This one has much more length and is full of opinions. There's way too much in this book to discuss in brief notes here, but for years I've read his columns and articles in The Times and of the national or international critics currently working his opinions and his choices in wines are the ones I find resonate most with my mind and palate.  The book intermingles wine opinions with a good amount of  biographical information explaining how he got to this point and to these opinions.   Somehow I wasn't surprised to learn that one of the critics he 'cut his teeth on' in his journey with wine was Gerald Asher, former columnist for Gourmet Magazine.  I still have binders of photocopied pages of more than a hundred articles by Gerald Asher that I still re-read and refer to frequently.  Those well worn pages are full of the joy of wine and that same joy is what comes across here.

I do not like numerical ratings on wine and have never used them here, but if I did I'd give this book 97 points.  If it were twice as long I might give it a 100.

Thanksgiving by Sam Sifton.  Random House. October 2012.  $16 from Amazon.

How to Love Wine, a memoir and a Manifesto by Eric Asimov.   Harper Collins.  October 2012.  $17 from Amazon.

Tuesday, October 30, 2012

Austrian Riesling

When I open a Riesling more often than not it is German, or a good but modest Ohio Riesling.  I reached for another Riesling a couple of nights ago and instead pulled out a wine from Austria.  The wine was a 2009 Schloss-Gobelsburg Gobelsburger from the Kamptal region of Austria. 

Dinner was a simple roast chicken and I was in the mood for something lighter.  The Gobelsburger was just about perfect.  Light, refreshing, focused, and a great compliment to the food.

There was a good whiff of kerosene at the start but I decanted the bottle and after a few minutes that aroma faded.  Citrus peel and white flowers in the nose.  Medium body wine with great acid that flooded the mouth with texture, tartness and a taste of a cold, crisp apple.  Very good length to the finish and bone dry and refreshing at the very end. 

If one isn't a fan of the sweet sensation in a German Riesling this trocken (dry style) Riesling is a great alternative.  Truly nice wine.

Schloss-Gobelsburg Gobelsburger Riesling, Kamptal Austria.  12.5% alcohol and $20.

Saturday, October 27, 2012

The Yellow Birds

My reading habits don't often include fiction, but after reading a couple of reviews of The Yellow Birds by Kevin Powers I made an exception.

The book is set both in the U.S. and in Iraq during the war and is basically a descent into madness, an all too often side effect of war.  The story derives from a promise by a twenty-one year old soldier to the mother of an eighteen year old soldier to keep her son safe and bring him home alive.  If the promise were kept, there wouldn't be a novel and the reader is aware at the beginning that the promise wasn't kept.

Beautifully written book that describes what war does to the mind more so than what war does to the body.  By the end of the book I could close my eyes and picture a scene from the movie Apocalypse Now, the one near the end where Marlon Brando, as Colonel Kurtz, is holding a bloody knife and his two words of dialogue are simply, "The horror." 

The Yellow Birds by Kevin Powers.  Little, Brown and Company.   September 2012.

Wednesday, October 24, 2012

Copain Tous Ensemble

Copain wines get a lot of interesting press, primarily because they went from being over the top wines to more refined and elegant in the last few years.    They are also very hard to come by in Ohio, so I was quite surprised to find a bottle of pinot noir on the shelf.  This particular bottle was a Tous Ensemble, a blend from several vineyards in Mendocino's Anderson Valley.

The wine had a light color in the glass and looked more like a Burgundy than a California interpretation of pinot noir.  The aromas were somewhat reserved but eventually there was a mixture of red fruit, cherries and raspberries.  Medium weight and mouth feel to the wine, light, supple and pleasant.  Good, simple fruit flavors and a bit of earthiness combined to make this a very easy wine to sip and enjoy.  Good length to the finish and great acidity to clear the palate.  Light tannins contributed to the finish as well, and all together made this a wine that was hard to resist. Nothing earth shattering, and at $30 maybe a tad overpriced, but this is a good wine.

Dinner was a two inch thick rib eye steak and some roasted potatoes.  The beef was slowly roasted on the grill and then cut into slices after it rested.  Excellent match with the wine.

The second wine of the night was a 2001 Col Solare from Washington state, a joint project between chateau Ste. Michelle and Antinori of Italy.  The wine is a Bordeaux style blend.  Dark wine in the glass and powerful aromas of black fruit and spice.  Very noticeable oak in this wine.  Full bodied and mouth coating, but still some restraint and grace to it.  Fully mature with soft tannins and a nice acid balance that gave it some refreshing qualities.  Lengthy, sweet finish.  Very good with the beef.  Much more serious wine than the pinot noir.

Copain Tous Ensemble Pinot Noir.  13.1% alcohol and $30
Cole Solare.  14.2% alcohol and $55.

Tuesday, October 23, 2012

Autumn Morning

Cool days with cooler still, damp mornings now in late October.  Perfect weather for fungus to grow under one of the trees the squirrels use as an escape route while being chased by Scott.    This one survived the morning chase.  Not being a fungus pro I have no idea what they are, only that they are indicative of this time of year.

Sunday, October 21, 2012

2011 Riesling

The very last thing I needed in my area was a new wine store, but since it was there and since I would hate to see a wine store fail I had to stop.

What I brought home was the first sighting in this area of a 2011 German Riesling.  To be exact it was an Urban Mosel Riesling from St. Urbans-Hof, an estate whose wines I like. This is their introductory level wine made from grapes purchased from various sites along the Mosel River. 

Dinner was a spice rubbed half turkey breast roasted in the small oven.  The spice rub was white peppercorns, coarse sea salt, fresh sage and fresh thyme all whizzed together in a spice grinder to make a lightly moist rub.  The turkey got about two hours in this rub before being smeared with olive oil and roasted.  Wonderful aromas in the house while this roasted and both dogs guarded the oven in case a thief broke in with thoughts to steal it. 

There was a sauce with some of the drippings, a little flour, some duck fat, a wee bit of the spice blend, a good does of red pepper flakes and chicken stock. 

Pretty, clear greenish gold color to the wine.  Stone fruit aromas mixed with citrus notes in the nose.  Great mouth feel to this wine as it coated all parts of the mouth.  Sharp and tart at the front end, decidedly sweet in the middle and full and crisp at the finish.  Nicely balanced wine with a rather short finish.  Nice match with the turkey breast, and the sweetness in the wine worked great with the mild heat from the red pepper flakes in the sauce.  Nothing earth shattering here, but a nice little wine at a more than fair price.

Urban Riesling by St Urbans-Hof.  9.5% alcohol and a great buy at $11.

Thursday, October 18, 2012

From the Depths to the Summit

The last bottle of wine I reported on (see below) was sad and undrinkable and most of it went down the hole in the center of the kitchen sink.  So as Monty Python used to say, "...and now for something completely different."

The something was a 2005 Produttori del Barbaresco Barbaresco, the introductory level wine in their range of Barbarescos.  The wine was decanted through an aerating filter while a thick slice of porchetta did its magic slowly cooking on the grill. 

Wonderful nose of flowers, cherry and tea in the wine.  Big, mouth filling wine with gripping tannin in the first sip or two.  Fruit, earth and some herbs in the taste.  An hour later the tannins had subsided a bit and this became a very welcoming and warming wine.  Just about perfect with the porchetta as the tannins and acid cut through the fattiness of pork.  Medium to full body, lots of fruit flavors, strong and lengthy finish. Close eyes and dream of Italy.

2005 Produttori del Barbaresco Barbaresco.  14% alcohol and $26

Tuesday, October 16, 2012


Sometimes a wine is very disappointing and the recently consumed Michel-Schlumberger 2007 Dry Creek Valley Syrah, La Source, was one of them.  I was very happy with both the 2006 and 2008 vintages of this wine, but this 2007 bottle was tired. Dinner was a grilled flat iron steak cooked medium rare with minimal seasoning and a baked sweet potato with only butter, salt and pepper.  That's a meal that should shine with any good red wine.

Dark color to the wine and jam like nose of dark fruit.  Full bodied mouth feel and upfront, dark fruit flavors showed some promise, but about halfway through a large sip the tannin faded, the acid level seemed to decrease and the wine went flat.  I went into a major swirling fit to get more air into the wine, but that was of no use here.  This bottle was sadly dead on arrival.  The finish was syrupy sweet and brief.  I have to attribute this to a bad bottle since my other experiences with this winery has all been positive.

We finished the meal with a Left Hand Brewing Company Black Jack Porter.  Good beer.

2007 Michel-Schlumberger Dry Creek Valley Syrah, La Source.

14.5% alcohol and $30

Sunday, October 14, 2012

Braised Duck Legs

I keep getting reminded that the simplest things can sometimes be the best.  Case in point was some braised duck legs.  The legs went into a hot skillet, skin side down and the heat went down to medium.  They browned for about seven minutes and were flipped over to cook for two minutes on the second side.  They came out of the pan and a veritable ton of chopped carrots, celery and onion went in the pan to sweat in the duck fat left from the searing.  They got a little higher heat to get a bit of browning, the duck was returned to the skillet and chicken stock was added to come part way up their sides.  A clove of garlic went in also.  The whole thing went uncovered into the oven for forty-five minutes.

The result was totally crisp duck skin over luxurious meat and pot veggies "to die for."  The stock reduced down to a syrup and was spooned over the duck.  Simple and delicious.  I had done a version of this several times but this was the first time I braised the legs uncovered and it truly elevated this dish.

The wine was a 2006 Louis Jadot Cote de Nuits Villages, Le Vaucrain.  You can read about it here since this was a second bottle to go with a very similar meal.  The wine was allowed to breathe for the entire time it took to cook the meal and it helped the wine to bloom much quicker than the first bottle.

2006 Louis Jadot Cote de Nuits Village Le Vaucrain.  13.5% alcohol and $30.

Friday, October 12, 2012

Hard Apple Cider

Definitely autumn weather in this area and a new batch of hard ciders is showing up on the shelves of the local markets.  They are much more than a seasonal taste, but with barely warm and sunny days and brisk nights they do tend to be a little special at this time of year.

The latest to find its way home was a Crispin , Artisanal Reserve Cider.  This is a completely natural cider with nothing added except for some organic honey.  It's unfined and unfiltered so it is a cloudy cider with lots of sediment.

Definitely apples and yeast on the nose with bits of baked goods popping in  as well.  Bright, crisp, fresh and fruity taste of apples.  The honey is a grace note here, and there also seems to be an earthiness, almost a roasted mushroom taste as well.  There's a sweet sour finish that is very refreshing. 

Dinner was spiced and pan seared pork chops with sauteed apples and a reduced cider and mustard sauce to add more flavor.  Since a quarter cup of the Crispin Cider went into the sauce it matched up perfectly with the cider.  Good stuff.

Crispin Natural Hard Apple Cider, Artisinal Reserve.  6.5% alcohol and $6 for 22 ounces.

Thursday, October 11, 2012


One very interesting thing about the world being one, big wine market is that I keep getting to taste wines made from grapes I can't pronounce and that until the last ten years I knew nothing about.  That's the case with this bottling of Bodegas Docampo's Vina do Campo 2011 from the Ribeiro region of northwest Spain. The wine is a blend of 70% Treixadura and 30% Torrontes. 

The nose on this bottle was like a walk in a spring garden with aromas of clean, fresh, spring flowers and herbs. Tart and sharp on the front of the tongue, the wine was sweetish and full bodied along the sides of the tongue.  The flavors were a mix of orange zest and lime curd.  The mouth feel on the wine was surprisingly rich and full bodied, but the acid at the end gave it a palate cleaning refresh.  It reminded somewhat of a Gruner Veltliner from Austria. 

We drank the bottle with some loin of Alaskan cod that was coated in panko bread crumbs and baked quickly in a hot oven. The fish was sauced with just some lemon juice.  Good combination as the finish on the wine matched up well with the richness of the cod.  Well priced and tasty wine. 

2011 Bodegas Docampo, Vina do Campo.  12% alcohol and $15.

Tuesday, October 9, 2012

A Few American Cheeses

It wasn't that long ago that the term American cheese meant a square of nondescript, yellow-orange, slices that were mostly used to top hamburgers.  That's no longer the case as a recent sampling proved.  Clockwise from the bottom....

Reny-Picot, a brie style cheese out of Michigan.  Soft, buttery, rich and very tasty.  From cow's milk.

Meadow Creek Dairy's Appalachian from Virginia.  Medium firm cheese with notes of lemon and grass.  Almost toast like at the end.  Melted easily on the tongue.  Cow's milk.

Crave Brothers Les Freres from Wisconsin.  A washed rind cheese with a medium soft body.  Fruity and earthy with a hint of mushrooms.  Cows again.

Laura Chenel Chevre with herbs from California.  Tart, sharp, creamy and delicious goats milk cheese. 

All four were good but the Appalachian won my heart.  Great stuff.

Sunday, October 7, 2012


It has been unseasonably cool here the last couple of days.  That called for some late autumn or early winter food to warm things up.  What eventually hit the plate was some beef short ribs slowly braised in red wine and tomatoes for three hours, with some creamy polenta beside them on the plate.

The wine in the pot with the ribs was a 2011 Ali, Sangiovese di Toscana IGT.   Since the ribs didn't require the entire bottle the rest went down easily with dinner.

Very simple red wine here with a nose of pure Sangiovese cherries and herbs.  Medium to light bodied wine with pure and simple flavors, great acid and just enough tannin to hold the wine together.  The wine had no desire to be anything more than that.  Good juice to wash down a good meal.

2011 Ali Sangiovese di Topscana IGT.  12.5% alcohol and $9.99.

Tuesday, October 2, 2012

Post Pig Party Whiskeys

Following all the pig and the wine from a few weeks ago the evening ended with a sampling of Irish whiskeys - the ones with an 'e' before the 'y' as opposed to their Scottish brethren.

Starting at the left is Bushmill's single malt, 16 year.  It is aged in bourbon, sherry and port barrels.  Tons of fruit in this stuff with hints of nuts and a bit of malt.  Really tasty in the mid palate.  Warm and wonderful and classy in the back of the throat.  My favorite of the three.

Tulamore Dew Special Reserve 12 year.  This one saw three barrels also, virgin, bourbon and sherry.  Light and flowery with hints of honey up front and very mellow in the middle with no flavors predominating.  A little herbaceous toward the end.  Definitely the lightest of the three. 

Jameson Gold Reserve.  There was no age statement on this bottle and until recently it was only available in airport duty free shops.  Two barrels on this one - bourbon and Oloroso sherry.  Strongest and most interesting nose with cinnamon and vanilla  being most prominent.  Wonderful fruit and grain taste, rich and full with some peppery notes at the end.  Good stuff.

All were 40% alcohol.

Monday, October 1, 2012

Twin Peaks, Part 2

The second wine that was opened for dinner, and it was opened simultaneously with the Tresor discussed below, was also from 2001.    That wine was a Niebaum Coppola Rubicon from the Rutherford AVA in Napa Valley.

This wine had a broken cork problem and the only way to open the bottle was to push the remains of the cork into the wine and pour the wine through a filter into a decanter. 

This wine was a bit closed and not revealing a great deal for the first ten minutes, but after that it grew more and more remarkable the longer it breathed.  There were wonderful aromas of fruit and earth and the taste was full of sweet, dark cherries, some red currants and a bit of anise.  Super structure to this wine with the tannins being fully incorporated and the wine being smooth and refreshing.  The finish was long, full and delicious.  At the very end there was a touch of earth and leather that made this wine even more appealing.  The wine was a blend of 89% Cabernet Sauvignon, 5% Merlot and 3% Petit Verdot.  It's remarkable what one can do with grape juice.

These two wines differed in that the Tresor tasted a bit younger than the Rubicon to me, but that's not saying the Rubicon tasted old.   The Tresor seemed more fruit forward, but certainly could never be described as a fruit bomb.  The Rubicon seemed slightly more complex, primarily in that wonderful finish.   Both were remarkable wines and a true treat to drink.

Niebaum-Coppola Rubicon.  14.14% alcohol and a $100 release price.

Sunday, September 30, 2012

Twin Peaks

Once in a while with wine one finds oneself on mountain tops or peaks, drinking wines that go above and beyond being merely good.  When there's a simple but delicious dinner and both the wines selected for the food reach those summits it's truly a special day.  Friday evening was one of those days.

The first of those wines was one that I purchased several years ago on a trip to California, a 2001 Ferrari Carano Tresor, a blend of Cabernet Sauvignon, Cabernet Franc, Merlot, Malbec and Petit Verdot.  It is from a mixture of vineyards in the Alexander Valley in northern Sonoma County. 

Dinner was a three and one half inch thick porterhouse steak, seared in an ultra hot cast iron skillet on a grill and then slowly roasted over the grill.  The edges of both the strip section and loin section came out medium for the person who prefers meat thoroughly cooked, while the interior of each side came out medium rare to rare for the ones liking meat cooked in that manner.  A little salt and pepper was the only seasoning and after resting for ten minutes the steak was simply carved into slices.  While the steak was cooking we opened the wine and let it breathe.

It was obvious from the first swirl in the glass that this was a special wine.  The nose smelled of dark cherries and berries set over a base of dry, clean, just tilled earth.  The flavor was mouth filling with dark fruits, spice, cedar, and a light suggestion of chocolate.  The tannins were mature in that they were a big part of the wine but still soft and warming.  There was a wonderful, lengthy finish that left a taste of elegance in the mouth.    Classy wine, but sadly, my only bottle. 

2001 Ferrari Carano Tresor.  14.5% alcohol and $45 at time of purchase.

Friday, September 28, 2012

Nuits Saint George

The simple burgundy from last week whetted my appetite for something more substantial from that area.  That something turned out to be a 2005 Jean-Claude Boisset, Nuits Saint Georges, Premier Cru Chaines Carteaux.   The wine was much darker in the glass than the simple Faiveley bourgogne that spawned the desire for something more substantial.  Very good nose of dark red and blue fruits, some spicy earth overtones and a bit of squeaky clean leather.  The first sip was tart and a little tannic so I put the wine aside and fixed dinner, about a 45 minute project.

After time to breathe in the glass the fruit came more to the front in the wine.  There was a touch of red cherry, but a good does of medium dark cherries and the sense of clean earth.  The more I swirled the better the wine became.  Medium to full bodied, certainly not the biggest wine, but a well balanced wine with good tannin, great acid and a good finish just made me smile with its length.

Dinner was a spice rubbed, pan seared duck breast and a risotto of porcini mushrooms and roasted buttercup squash.  This was a great match for the wine as they each improved the other.  The fruit in the wine was great with the duck, as was the acid.  The earthiness in the wine highlighted the mushrooms and the squash.  Life can be very good - and tasty.

There is one more bottle in the cellar.

2005 Jean Claude Boisset, Nuits Saint Georges, Chaines Carteaux.  13% alcohol and $50.

Tuesday, September 25, 2012

Octoberfest Meal

The weather remains unseasonably cool - more like late October than late September, so for the first time since early April winter style food went into the main oven to braise.  And since it was a German inspired meal the wine had to be German as well.  The wine was a 2009 Max. Ferd. Richter Riesling Kabinett from the Veldenzer Elisenberg vineyard.  I picked up this wine when the current proprietor, Dr. Dirk Richter, was in town for a drop in tasting a year ago. 

The one pot meal was pork spareribs and shoulder cuts with sauerkraut, apples, onions, and celery all braised in just pressed, local apple cider.  For the last half hour some fingerling potatoes were added to the mix.  There was a wonderful interplay between the sweetness of the cider and the bitterness of the sauerkraut and the tenderness of the pork.  A similar interplay was at work with the wine - the bitterness of the sauerkraut and the off dry sweetness of the wine were dancing while the crispness of wine sang a duet with the pork and apple cider.  Wonderful match.

After a brief blast of sulfur the wine settled into an aroma of apples and pear and that unique smell one gets when fresh rain hits dry, exposed rocks.  A very tart taste up front was balanced by a mid palate sweetness that flowed into a wonderful sweet/sour finish.  Great as it was to just sit, sniff and sip, it was even greater with the food.  Sadly, this was my only bottle of Kabinett from this particular vineyard, though there are a number from some of Richter's other vineyards resting in the cellar, and a bottle of the Sp├Ątlese from the Veldenzer Elisenberg site.

8.5% alcohol and $20

Sunday, September 23, 2012

Modesty Has Its Virtues

This modest wine with little or no pretension appeals to me.  The 2009 Joseph Faiveley Bourgogne, or basic burgundy, has no dental veneers for a brighter smile, no silicone breast enhancements, no tattooed on eye liner, doesn't spend all day at the gym sculpting its body and it doesn't walk down a runway in an exaggerated, stomping manner to say "look at me."  It just tastes good.

The wine has bright cherry flavors with an undercurrent of clean earth and spice.  It perky with acid and the body is medium to light.  The finish is appropriate to the rest of the wine.  This is the cute, neighborhood girl who just smiles as she goes about her business of roasting a chicken on the grill and bringing it to the table to enjoy with her.

13% alcohol and $20. 

Friday, September 21, 2012


Lunch on the patio was interrupted today when a few late season grasshoppers kept landing on the table.  They were bright green having just come from munching on a bush that was revived by the latest rain.  In the time it took to go inside and get the camera one of them jumped to the fencing surrounding the patio.  In less than a minute the insect went from bright green to the striated colors of the wood that it landed upon.  A bit later it hopped off to munch on something else.  Time to repaint the patio fence.