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.