Guest blogger: Ricardo Burnelli

This Sunday’s post is by guest blogger, Ricardo Burnelli, who has recently delved into the wonderful world of wine reviews. His own site should be up and running closer to the end of the year.

With the recent cold snap ending and the temperature warming a bit, I thought we would take advantage of what might be one of the last few opportunities to enjoy a refreshing chilled white wine before the cold weather sets in permanently. Last night’s feast consisted of saltimbocca, wild long grain rice and a pear salad. I understand the controversy with veal and am not trying to step on anyone’s toes, however, it is worth trying at least once. The pear salad that accompanied the saltimbocca and rice consisted of baby spinach leafs, fresh Bosc pears, imported French blue cheese, glazed Georgia pecans and an oil and vinegar dressing touched lightly with local honey and grey poupon.

My favorite part of preparing for a fantastic feast involves the selection of the wine to accompany it. So, off I went to the wine cellar (also known as the former utility storage closet) to gaze over my vast selection (of maybe 20 bottles) and use my growing appreciation of wine to select a bottle for this warm evening. I narrowed it down to a white and, feeling adventuresome, wanted to sample one that I haven’t tasted yet. That only left a few to chose from, so I settled on Northern Italy’s Visionario 2011 by Allessandro Gallici. This bottle had recently arrived in one of my various shipments from a wine club I joined in the past year. It turned out to be quite a pleasant surprise as this dry white wine displayed citrusy notes and avoided any type of strong or bitter aftertaste. The wine is from Italy’s Veneto region and is a blend of Fruilano, Sauvignon Blanc, Gewurztraminer and several other white grapes.

As the weather cools, I will slowly be making a transition to the bolder red wines and reluctantly bidding a fond ciao to the cool and lighthearted white wines of what was a very long, hot summer.

Chilly weather wines

That cool autumn breeze these past few nights inspired me to venture back into the kitchen for something a little heartier. Two of my favorite comfort foods this time of year are a spicy Hungarian sausage and lentil soup and the all-American chili recipe. You can easily see which one I went with tonight. And although I typically reach for a cold beer with my chili, I wanted to find some wines that would match with both. I decided on some unpretentious Australian Shirazes.

First up is the Rubus Shiraz from Barossa Valley. Unlike all those in your face, heavily fruit-extracted Aussie Shirazes from 5 years ago, the Rubus is decidedly more focused. There’s plenty of fruit to go around, but it’s much more food-friendly then the previous trend. A whopping 2% Viognier is added to presumably soften the mouth feel and kick up the aromatics. There’s none of that licorice that the Wine Spectator claims but there is a whole lot of juicy cherry cola. Look to pay around $18.

A second one to seek out is the 2010 Thomas Goss Shiraz. From my favorite Australian Shiraz growing-region, McLaren Vale, the Goss needs a bit of time to open up. So twist off that screw top before you warm up the stovetop. A solid buy for under $15, the Thomas Goss is a concentrated mix of blackberry, raison and currant with a hint of matchstick on the nose.

Lastly, the Gosford Shiraz from SE Australia represents the safe budget buy for your pot-o-love. Lighter fruit and red berry notes abound around a supple backbone. Around $10.

The Evergreen State: A thorn in California’s side

Washington State persistently outshines California with tremendous everyday values and the Thorny Rose is another illustration of that trend.

Very vanilla aromas and sweet oak nuances open up to a gentler style Cabernet that isn’t shy in showing off a cluster of darker berry flavors.

The silky mouth feel and bottle-emptying sense of gulpability of the 2009 Thorny Rose Cabernet, helps to establish it as a new go-to case buy for a weekday or large event red wine.

Question from an old friend

What are your thoughts on wine clubs? Laithewaites etc…We recently joined and have received a pretty decent selection each time. It exposes us to some wines we may not have otherwise tried.

I have a convoluted answer to your straightforward question. First, you’re right; wine clubs do force the consumer to be exposed to wines that they probably wouldn’t have tried or purchased otherwise. And that’s a good thing! When it comes to trying something new, too many consumers shop with trepidation, especially when it involves a foreign label.

However, having been in the retail and wholesale side of the business for a dozen years, I’m always raising the red flag when I see a list of 12 wines for a wine club and I’ve never tried, seen or heard of any of them – ever. The clubs may not all be that way and the wines themselves may be fine, but the question of familiarity has to be raised, particularly when you consider the insider knowledge.

The other factor that I’m always worried about is the issue of private labels. Do these companies, contract and label their own wines, thus insuring no one else can then sell these wines and their profit margins go unchecked due to the lack of competition?

If you like the selections you’ve received then roll with it. But I also think building up a solid relationship with the same wine steward (at your favorite shop) who can get to know your tastes, is just as beneficial as knowing a good butcher or good mechanic. They’re in it to make you happy!

Garnacha gaining ground in Spain and beyond

Here’s the unedited copy of my column on Spanish Garnacha that appeared in today’s Knoxville News Sentinel. It’s not quite as riddled with grammatical errors.

The Spanish refer to it as Garnacha; the French call it Grenache or Grenache Noir. However, to most of the world it’s quickly becoming known as one of the most planted red grape varietals. Garnacha’s foothold in the Iberian Peninsula has established it as Spain’s go-to wine making grape.

Although Tempranillo is Spain’s current red grape production leader, Garnacha is increasingly being used in more blends and lands it at a respectable second. In fact, according to the California based RhoneRangers.org Garnacha or Grenache might be the world’s most planted red grape varietal, perhaps eclipsed only by the king of red wines, Cabernet Sauvignon.

Recently, I revisited one of my favorite Spanish Garnachas as well as a newer found love that both confirmed the distinction and dynamic potential of this wine. If this level of quality can continue and these wines work on marketing some of their attractive swagger, there’s no reason why Garnacha can’t continue to gain ground in the international wine market.

For the past few years, the Altovinum Evodia Old Vines Garnacha has been my hands down choice for accessible and affordable Spanish Garnacha. And the 2010 vintage is no exception! Alluring scents of white chocolate persist long after the bottle is opened, allowing the Evodia to tempt most any consumer back for a second glass.

Yet, the one thing I think Evodia most has going for it is its ability to effortlessly play the roll of the prototypical all-weather red wine. Its successful run of back to back to back vintages is remarkable in and of itself, but throw in the fact that the bottle price is holding steady at around $10 and the success is even more staggering. You’ll love Evodia’s plum and blackberry essence, just bear in mind that it totes a huge 15% alcohol by volume.

My newfound love, in the world of Spanish Garnacha, is the 2010 El Chaparral by Vega Sindoa. This old vines Garnacha flaunts the most fragrant and lovely aromatic display of any Garnacha I’ve tried. With an introduction of Indian cloves, El Chaparral’s busy bouquet develops into an olfactory feast of eucalyptus and wintergreen mint. Its refined tannins offer a sleek and polished frame that won’t go unnoticed, especially with a finish that is plump with gobs of very berry and cherry flavors.

Just like the Evodia, El Chaparral Old Vines Garnacha is a little punchier than many comparable red wines with an ABV of 14%. This is due in large part to the late harvesting that is required for the Garnacha grape to fully ripen. That late ripening may equate to more alcohol, but the varietal does an exceptional job during the wine making process of not becoming overshadowed by the higher alcohol content. One sip of either of these wines is all it takes to taste just why Garnacha is gaining ground.

And if you’d like to read the one that makes me sound like someone else wrote it, then click here to go to knoxnews.com

My old friend Barbera

Shuffling around in the wine nook tonight, I found this scratched up bottle of one of my favorite wines, Barbera. This affordable bottling of Araldica Barbera is from the city of Asti in the Italian northwest and imported through VIAS wines.

If Barbera’s ripe plum and juicy cherry notes aren’t indulgent enough, then bury your nose in the all-spice and smoky aromas. The Araldica Barbera makes for a versatile substitute when you need something to lean on at the last minute and don’t want to drop a big coin at the wine shop. Barbera is exceptional with a spicy Indian curry, complete with a cabinet full of flavors and smells like crushed cardamom, cinnamon stick, garlic, clove, cumin, coriander and masala.

Evolution of a wine

I’m guessing my friend Kelly would refer to this selection as the “Last of the Summer Wine.” The 2011 Evolúció Furmint was a well kept summer secret this year. Although it’s made of grapes (Furmint) that we never talk about in the US and comes from a country (Hungary) that few Americans consider when choosing wine (outside of Bulls Blood), this very tasty white has plenty going for it. My first impression of the Evolúció made me think of a lighter style German Riesling from the Mosel-Saar-Ruwer. Bright aromas and flavors of fresh market apples are accented by strides of cantaloupe. Its faint hint of tangerine is just enough to bid this summer a fond adieu.