PB and Chardonnay…

Italian Chardonnay?

Italian Chardonnay?

Leave it to the Tuscans to find a way to dress up Chardonnay. It’s like adding an extra stud to a Liberace belt. But as vanity would have it the swagger of this mighty grape just wouldn’t be enough without a little Etruscan influence.

Enter Pinot Bianco – stage right.

The 2012 Pomino, by Marchesi de’ Frescobaldi, takes the greatest world traveler of whites wines (Chardonnay) and sprinkles in a touch of the lesser known Pinot Bianco (PB) grape. More than just bouquet garni to the soup stock, the PB makes Chardonnay smile in a whole new way- a wry, sly kinda smile.

With noticeable citrus blossom aromas and herbal notes, the 2012 Pomino Bianco presents juicy pear flavors and a well-balanced, slightly creamy texture.

And what I like most about the Pomino Bianco is its versatile nature. Party kick-starter, many-an-antipasti meanderer, flag the host down for another refill of eau-de-easy please-me wine that is both unforgettable and uncommonly Florentine friendly.

Italian wine influence extends to Argentina

* A version of this column was first published in the on-line edition of Saturday’s Knoxville News Sentinel.

The modern Italian impact on the world of wine can be felt from the peninsula’s contemporary iconic families like Gaja, Frescobaldi, Antinori, and date all the way back to the Italian diaspora of the late 19th century, which would give the New World a sense of its own vintner legacy. North America and more specially California would see the influence of that fine Italian hand through the likes of families with now legendary names; Gallo, Mondavi, Sebastiani, Martini, Seghesio and dozens more.

Pesce del giorno at Nashville's Sardinia Enoteca!

Pesce del giorno at Nashville’s Sardinia Enoteca!

Perhaps not as dramatic or as forceful as it’s northern neighbors, South America and particularly Argentina would make way for the rise of it’s own celebrated equivalent in another Italian immigrant family, the house of Catena. With several quality-demanding vineyards that make up their Catena Zapata line and span some 56 acres, the Catena family has established their wines, their name and indeed their legacy as Argentina’s vintner kings.

A day trip to Nashville for a seminar on Catena’s collectible and celebrated wines presented the opportunity to taste just how amazing their wines have become. Over a remarkable lunch at Nashville’s new Sardinia Enoteca Ristorante, we were welcomed with two well-structured South American Chardonnays, the 2009 Catena White Stones and 2008 Catena White Bones.

Both of these Chardonnays are extremely allocated (with a price to reflect it) but offer a rare combination of California approachability with Burgundian style, nuance, and sophistication. The integration of the wine’s wood-influence teeters on perfection without being club-like, while the fruit of the wine is flawlessly consistent and enjoyable. Think Paul Hobbs meets Olivier Leflaive.

Catena’s ambassador, Jorge Liloy, also presented us with half a dozen of the winery’s marque Malbecs including multiple vintages of their flagship wine, the Nicolas Catena Zapata. And although you can’t find a bad one among their Adrianna, Nicolas and Argentino bottlings of Malbec, it was the very beautiful 2009 Nicasia Vineyard Malbec that stole the show.

The Nicasia is what Malbec should always be, approachable and alluring, with a sleek tannic structure, a violet bouquet and gorgeous rolling layers of decadent dark berry fruit. Forget about all those wannabe kitschy Malbecs with their hands in the air, begging to be picked. In the end they are almost always the same, brashly single minded, and over the top.

Perhaps it’s the style of that fine Italian hand, now generations removed that still distinguishes the wines of Catena. Or maybe it’s about something as simple as getting what you pay for. Regardless, the Catena collection will be available here this fall and it’s a must for wine fanatics to seek out, to share, and to enjoy.

Interested in buying an Italian Ferrari?

Revved up Rosé

Revved up Rosé

Seven years ago the Champagne house of Louis Roederer thought it made good business sense to insult African American rappers, many of who were some of the biggest vocal supporters of the winery’s flagship champagne, Cristal. If you’ve ever heard of Cristal or seen it on a retail shelf, then you know that IT AIN’T CHEAP!

So when the hip-hop community began a boycott of Cristal, distributors and retailers were left with a languishing number of bottles they couldn’t sell, at least not at the rate or price they were accustomed to. Many a headline of that time read something like, “Frenchman fills mouth with foot.” In the champagne world it was nearly on par to the shake up with foie gras and animal rights groups.

Throw in the fact that another recent and popular bottling of French Pinot Noir didn’t actually have any Pinot Noir in it, as well as the post “nina leven“ American boycott of all things French and it seems like the French gastronomical community hasn’t gotten a break in quite awhile.

WARNING: Here comes the flag for piling on!

I’ve always considered French Champagne to be waaaaaay too expensive. And unfortunately the domestic versions often fell short when it came to flavor and/or complexity. Of course there are always exceptions, but when a decent bottle of the French stuff usually means $60 and a like-minded sparkling rosé (at $90-100) can force a second mortgage, it’s time to look elsewhere.

Lucky for me, that moment of divine intervention came last week in the form of me – looking at a fresh sample of sparkling rosé from Italy. Enter the Ferrari Sparkling Rosé. A blend of mostly Pinot Noir (or Pinot Nero in Italian) along with Chardonnay, the Ferrari has aromas of wheatberry bread with supple strawberry notes.

The cap of the enclosure (seen above) offers a wonderful prelude to the salmon pink almost copper-ish color of the Ferrari Sparkling Rosé. And when it comes to descriptors of such wines, we’ve heard them all; finesse, elegance, etc. But how about the word “finally?”

Finally! Finally someone gets it. Great sparkling wine doesn’t have to require a lay away payment plan. In fact, the Ferrari Sparkling Rosé is almost a third the price of its French neighbors and delivers a consistently enjoyable flavor of strawberries and other wild berries with that unambiguous clean, dry finish. Your favorite shellfish dish is now summoning.

Travolta, pork bellies and one wine you shouldn’t overlook

The other white meat

The other white meat

“Fat is flavor, flavor is fat.” Or so goes the old culinary expression and defender of all things related to swine. Actually, maybe Vincent Vega said it better in Pulp Fiction: “Mmmm, bacon taste good, pork chops taste good.”

If the slight sweetness or savory saltiness of pork isn’t enough to make you a complete fanatic of the other white meat, then perhaps a little red wine or a little white wine will help. And that’s the real beauty of pork; not only is it salty and sweet but it also pairs well with a host of different wine varietals.

Typically, you’ll find the tried and true pork pairing of Pinot Noir to be the safest bet, as the lighter bodied red is a natural pairing for white meats in general. But the fatty, salty side of pork also allows it to be a solid counterpart to several California Chardonnays.

The 2011 Landmark Overlook Chardonnay was a sample I received a few months back. It was, coincidentally, one of the first nicer Chardonnays I tried upon entering the beverage industry almost thirteen years ago. A good mix of apple and pear fruit flavors, the Landmark bares all of the creaminess and oak influences that lovers of this style of Chardonnay seek out. Plus, it has a wonderful butterscotch note tagging along.

Paired with the perfectly pan-seared pork loin and shallot sauce pictured above, the Landmark provides an optimal choice for white wine drinkers. Think caramelization meets creaminess.

Look to pay in the mid-twenty range. Just don’t overlook this Chardonnay.

the 2011 Landmark Vineyards Overlook Chardonnay

the 2011 Landmark Vineyards Overlook Chardonnay

Quartet of unoaked Chardonnays worth sleuthing out

California Chardonnay and oak barreling go together like beans and corn bread. In fact, it can be a real chore to find a California Chardonnay that doesn’t see at least a brief stint in oak. With that in mind, I looked to the Southern Hemisphere wine-producing stalwarts of South Africa, Australia and New Zealand to find some great values in unwooded Chardonnays before returning to one of California’s great exceptions and a personal favorite.

n 2005 Westerland Unwooded Chardonnay (South Africa), $9.99. Westerland labels come packaged with that same cheesy decor that was so popular in the late ’90s. You know, the zebra-African antelope-giraffe motif that captivated a certain part of the population, just like Coca-Cola clothes did in the ’80s. If you can move beyond this bottle’s package, you’ll discover a solid attempt at an affordable unoaked Chardonnay.

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Wine blends to watch for

With Americans consuming more than three-quarters of a billion gallons in 2009, wine has increasingly found its way into the American home and claimed its spot at the American dinner table. Considering that our consumption has more than doubled since celebrating our bicentennial, wineries have sprung up on every hillside across our land as vintners try to stay above the grape press.

Not surprisingly, all this extra juice equates to unique opportunities for winemakers looking to create something special. 2011 should see an increase in approachable and delicious wine blends that have something to offer every wine enthusiast. The following two wines blends represent what some producers are doing in these modern times and what some are continuing to improve upon. And as far as red and white blends go, they are two of the better offerings that American winemakers are crafting.

n 2009 Bell Big Guy White

The Big Guy is back in town, or more specifically, Bell Vineyards’ beloved “Big Guy” wine. This time, there’s a twist on one of Knoxville’s favorite blends: Bell Vineyards has rolled out an innovative white blend from California. Comprised of an exotic blend of their famous Chardonnay, a floral touch of Viognier and a rounder, supple element of Chenin Blanc, the 2009 Bell Vineyards Big Guy White has all the trappings of a gracious Napa Valley white wine.

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There is life after Chardonnay

Walking past the aisles and aisles of wine at the store can be very informative. Over the years, you notice that many consumers are not only brand-loyal but are often loyal to a single varietal of wine. Knowing what you are getting can be very comforting and safe. Likewise, knowing what you’ve taken home means no big surprises when it comes to bottle-opening time at that next dinner party.

That being said, wine is like most things in life. By venturing out and trying new things, you can grow to have a greater understanding of things that are very different from what you’re used to, as well as growing to have a greater appreciation of what you’ve always known and enjoyed. So, even if you’re comfortable where you are, it’s still good to reach out and try something new, something off the beaten path. You may not fall in love with all the new wines you taste, but you won’t be disappointed in experimenting with something new or unique.

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Chardonnay: What’s old is new again

If the latest trend in consumption of Chardonnay wines is any indication, America’s taste buds are changing. That doesn’t mean we’re drinking less of the mother of all white grapes; we’re just drinking more of the steel-fermented style. Traditionally, we’ve championed the California style of heavy, oak-influenced Chardonnays that rolled over the tongue like a butter wheel. All that oak barreling and oak aging meant immediate gratification to the wine consumer, with creamy textures, toasty spice and the occasional scoop of butterscotch.

Perhaps though, the American palate is evolving, like a child’s who doesn’t quite go goober over a piece of Werther’s Original candy anymore. Maturation has led us to pursue something a little less obvious, more discerning in style and simpler. That maturation, at least for the Chardonnay grape, is causing more wine to be fermented in steel tanks and consequently, less in oak barrels. With the rise in demand for such wines, vintners have been busy over the past few years in generating and presenting the type of wines that will fill that supply line.

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