Wednesday, February 27, 2013

Well Said

To confirm still more your piety and gratitude to Divine Providence, reflect upon the situation which it has given to the elbow. You see in animals, who are intended to drink the waters that flow upon the earth, that if they have long legs, they have also a long neck, so that they can get their drink without kneeling down. But man, who was destined to drink wine, is framed in a manner that he may raise the glass to his mouth. If the elbow had been planted nearer the hand, the part in advance would have been too short to bring the glass up to the mouth; and if it had been nearer the shoulder, that part would have been so long that when it attempted to carry the wine to the mouth it would have overshot the mark, and gone beyond the head; thus, either way, we should have been in the case of Tantalus. But from the actual situation of the elbow, we are enabled to drink at our ease, the glass going directly to the mouth. Let us, then, with glass in hand, adore his benevolent wisdom; –let us adore and drink. 

Benjamin Franklin Letter to Abbe’ Morellet.  1779

Monday, February 25, 2013

Open That Bottle Night XIV

Saturday was the fourteenth annual Open that Bottle Night.  John Brecher and Dorothy Gaiter, who were at the Wall Street Journal when this began, came up with the idea.  Most wine drinkers have bottles squirreled away for special occasions, and often that special occasion never seems to come along.  These folks decided that the last Saturday in February would be the special occasion to open one of those bottles.  They have since moved on to Palate Press, but OTBN continues.

My bottle for the celebration this year was a 1990 E. Guigal Hermitage.  Twenty-two plus years was long enough to wait on this wine and since there were some braised short ribs and polenta rounds, it was time to open this particular bottle.

I am often hesitant to open older bottles and decant them too far ahead of time, and that was the case here.  I opened the bottle about an hour before dinner, decanted three quarters of it and vacuum sealed the rest for a second day.  No need to describe the color because that is it at the top of this post.  The wine had a beautiful aroma of red and dark fruit, earth and a bit of clean leather.  This is another wine that gave me almost as much enjoyment from sniffing it as it did from drinking it.

That color is not all what a young Hermitage looks like and there was much sediment on the bottom of the bottle that had settled for the week that it sat upright.

The taste was textbook for Syrah, meaty and gamey, full of ripe tart cherries and that sense of earth.  Full flavored, great acid with a truly remarkable sense in the mid-palate.  The finish lasted for more than 30 seconds and ended with soft tannins that were like a super soft towel wiping the palate in preparation for the next sip.  Northern Rhone wines are rarely described as elegant, but this one was.  My only complaint about the wine was that it was my last bottle.

On Sunday I poured about half the remaining wine in the bottle into a glass and then poured the rest through a very fine mesh strainer to remove the sediment, and it took more than five minutes for the wine to drip through that strainer.  The wine had not suffered in any way from being under vacuum overnight.  It had softened and become even more elegant.  Just a superb wine!

1990 E. Guigal Hermitage.  13% alcohol and $50 when purchased in 1995. 

Friday, February 22, 2013

Chateauneuf du Pape

Eight years ago I ran across a number of Chateauneuf du Pape wines that were marked down for clearance and more than several came home with me.    Over the last few years they have all succumbed to my thirst, the last being the 1999 Les Callioux which is now a memory.  Each of those wines were from the mid to late 1990's or 2000 before the Parkeriztion of that region into hugely alcoholic wines that I now find overbearing.  This one certainly wasn't.

The wine immediately went into a decanter, passing very slowly through a stainless filter in the process.  Other than a few old ports I can't remember a wine with this much sediment in the bottle.  Still, the wine was a beautiful medium brick color with a bit of orange at the edges.  The aroma was closed for a few minutes and then moved into ripe, dark fruit with a tremendous earthiness underneath the fruit.  The longer it spent in a glass the more wonderful it was to just sit and smell this wine.  The flavors were pronounced and full with the fruit being dominant.  There was nothing shy about the weight of this wine, it was big and muscular, but it still carried itself with some grace.  It was neither tiring nor overwhelming.  Quite a lengthy finish that finally ended with the earthiness coming to the fore. 

Dinner was some lamb shanks braised with onions, celery, tomatoes and fennel.  Once the shanks were done the vegetables were removed and the broth strained most of the accumulated fat.  Fresh vegetables went back into the pan along with the shanks and some white beans and a pinch of saffron, and everything cooked together for another thirty minutes.  

This turned out to be a remarkable pairing with the wine.  The sweet lamb was great with the fruit and the saffron added an earthiness to the broth brought everything together. 

1999 Les Callioux Chateauneuf du Pape.  14% alcohol and $45 eight years ago.

Tuesday, February 19, 2013


Lunch was mixed countries yesterday. The cheeses were Italian, the salamis from Indiana and the wine from Austria. 

Let's start with the cheeses.  The square cheese on the left is a Robiola Nostrana, a mixed cow and sheep milk cheese from northern Italy.  Rich, creamy and a little piquant from the sheep milk.  The triangular cheese on the right is a Robiola due Latti which is made with cow's milk.  A little more mellow than the other cheese, it tasted like a rich brie.

The salami on the left is a salami piccante with plenty of pepper, garlic and hot spices in the mix.   The one on the right is a lamb salami spiked with juniper and orange zest with a darker  and deeper flavor.  Both are by The Smoking Goose .  It would be very difficult for me to pick a favorite, but Scott, the dog, was spinning circles for the lamb salami.

The wine was a 2010 Weingut Brundlmayer Kamptaler Terrassen Gruner Veltliner from Austria.  A few posts down you will find a description of the 2006 version of this wine, but this one is a little different.  It's certainly fresher as there was some pressure release when opening the wine and a quick effervescence when pouring the first glass.  That freshness matched well with both the salamis and the cheeses and I'm certain was a better match than the 2006 version would have been. 

Weingut Brundlmayer Kamptaler Terrassen Gruner Veltliner.  12% alcohol and $17.

Saturday, February 16, 2013

Marques de Legarda Rioja

About eight years ago I drank a lot of Spanish wines and then they seemed to do a "California." They got bigger, more extracted and higher in alcohol.  Lately the Spanish reds showing up in this area seemed to have reversed that trend.  The alcohol levels are lower and the wines are again something I like.

The latest is Marques de Legarda Rioja Reserva from the 2005 vintage which came in at 13% alcohol.  Dinner was a small tri-tip beef roast that was done roasted to rare with an almond and charred tomato sauce    The wine got half an hour in a decanter before dinner.

Earthy aromas in the glass, and a very earthy flavor profile and I knew this was a little different.  After a few minutes the fruit emerged.  Medium depth and flavors of red berries and a cherry or two played nicely against the earthiness of the background.  The tannins were out but they were soft and drying.  Good length of finish in this wine, though nothing spectacular.  Very good wine with the food and one that went down very easy.  This is another honest and delicious wine for a reasonable price.

2005 Marques de Legarda Rioja Reserva.  13% alcohol and $16.  A bargain.

Wednesday, February 13, 2013

Barnard Griffin Riesling

Washington continues to make some of the best Rieslings in the U.S., and I don't think there's another U.S. location where the quality to price ratio is better.  That definitely applies to the 2010 Barnard Griffin Riesling.  I liked this wine a lot in its 2008 incarnation, listed as Columbia Valley rather than Washington State, and I like this one just as much, though there were some differences. There is a little more lime than apple in the 2010 vintage, though both are noticeable.  It shows some resemblance to a dry Australian Riesling, but there is also a bit of Germany in the wine. It was crisp, tart, and light on the tongue, but full of flavor.

Dinner was pan seared shrimp with ginger, hoisin, garlic, and rice wine served alongside some rice.  It was spicy without being hot and the wine and the spice were just great together.  Easy to drink and very complimentary to the food, and that's exactly what I wanted for that evening.

From a quality to price point of view I don't think anyone in Washington does it better than these folks.

Barnard Griffin, Washington State Riesling.  11.8% alcohol and a wallet pleasing $11.

Sunday, February 10, 2013

Barbera D'Alba

I seem to be stuck on Italian reds lately and the next one in line was a Franco Serra Barbera D'Alba.

Dinner was a strip steak from the outdoor grill which was basted with a cognac and butter sauce while it was cooking and a side dish of mixed mushrooms done in a pan on the grill with the same sauce.  Rich food when one adds the butter and cognac.

The wine was a bright, brick red in the glass, as opposed to the purples I've been looking at with the Dolcettos that have been consumed lately.  There was a fresh and perky aroma of cherries and an immediate blast of acid on the first sip.  Good fruit flavors, sharp and tart, and minimal tannins all made this wine refreshing and easy to drink.  No thoughts of pretension here, just an honest, red wine to wash down a steak.  The length of finish was short, but tasty, but this wasn't intended to be a world beater.

This would make a good party wine as it would please both the folks who are very casual red wine drinkers and don't like drying tannin, and it certainly wouldn't chase away those who are more serious about what's in their glass.

2010 Franco Serra Barbera D'Alba.  13% alcohol and a sweet $10. 

Friday, February 8, 2013


"It's good to be just plain happy; it's a little better to know that you're happy; but to understand that you're happy and to know why and how...and still be happy, be happy in the being and the knowing, well that is beyond happiness, that is bliss."
Henry Miller, The Colossus of Maroussi

This 2006 Weingut Brunndlmayer Gruner Veltliner, Kamptal Terrassen from Austria didn't result in bliss, but it certainly made me very, very happy on a cold but sunny February afternoon with a crab spread, some crackers and a few slices of salami picante.  Six years out from the vintage its shoulders have broadened a bit with maturity but it remains a delicious and giggle producing wine.

2006 Weingut Brunndlmayer Gruner Veltliner, Kamptal Terrassen.  12.5% alcohol and $16 a couple of years ago.

Thursday, February 7, 2013

Very Nice Bubbles

Since last Sunday was a semi-holiday (Super Bowl Sunday) I opened a bottle of sparkling wine, in this case a non vintage Scharffenberger, Brut Excellence from Mendocino County in northern California.  I had not tried this wine previously.

The wine is 2/3 chardonnay and 1/3 pinot noir and spends about two years on the lees before being disgorged. 

This was an incredibly balanced sparkling wine.  There was the sharpness of the acid balanced by a suggestion of sweetness that never really went too sweet.  Toasty aromas gave way to a crisp fruity taste with hints of lemon and vanilla.  A refreshing and tart finish had great length to it.

It was even better with dinner which was spinach pasta with roasted chicken meat, mushrooms, tomatoes and prosciutto in a light cream sauce. 

I would never mistake this for champagne, but it is obvious what it was trying to emulate, and it did a great job.  I liked this wine a lot and it goes on the repurchase list. 

Scharffenberger Brut Excellence, Mendocino Sparkling Wine.  12% alcohol and $20.

Tuesday, February 5, 2013

Still Life in Yellow

A plate of short ribs braised in white wine and chicken stock, and some mashed potatos with creme fraiche and butter.  Simple, aromatic and delicious with the last of the Sandrone Dolcetto discussed below.

Saturday, February 2, 2013

One Last Dolcetto

There was one last Dolcetto that was purchased a couple of weeks ago in a mixed case of wine.  The third one was a Luciano Sandrone 2010 Dolcetto D'Alba. The other two discussed below were the 2010 Domenico Clerico Visadi and the Aldo Conterno Masante.  All three are top end producers of Barolo, but their Dolcettos are affordable and approachable as youngsters.

The Sandrone was the most closed of the three, and even after two hours of exposure to air it was still wound up pretty tight.  I decanted the entire bottle but the put two thirds back in the bottle and put in the vacuum seal and pump.  The first two glasses were earth dominated with just some hints of fruit.  There was quite a bit of drying tannin and with a small steak it was still a tough wine.

Two days later the remainder of the bottle was wonderful.  The fruit came forward and the tannin softened.  The blueberries and strawberries were singing here.  The wine was still firm, but there was an underlying elegance that matched well with some braised long ribs of beef.  We spent the evening with the wine and the last few sips were the best.  In the end was was my favorite of the three.

2010 Luciano Sandrone Dolcetto D'Alba.  13% alcohol and $18.  The candle was a gift.

Friday, February 1, 2013

Heritage Pork Chops

There are a number of heritage breeds of pigs whose meat is available via the internet, but rarely do I see it in local stores.  The two, Berkshire pork rib chops pictured here caught my eye the other day when I wondered by the meat case in a local market.  Also known as Kurabota pork they were much more marbled with fat than the pork normally seen in the case and the fat along the edges had not been trimmed entirely away.  They were twice the price, but in the end they were worth it.

I dusted them with salt and white pepper and then lightly flowered them.  They went into a barely warm pan with some duck fat melted in it.  They sauteed slowly, the heat never getting above medium.  When they were done the crust was crunchy and salty and the interior meat moist and tender.  At the very end I found myself picking up the bone and gnawing off the last little bits of meat. 

The wine was the remainder of the Masante discussed below, and a couple of days under vacuum did little to tire out the wine.  Still delicious.