You REALLY need to try this wine

Rocking good!

Rocking good!

Even the snobbiest of wine snobs will secretly admit, every now and then all they really want is a big, delicious, mindless, do-a-jig fruit bomb. TaaDaa! … introducing Barrel 27’s Grenache from the California Central Coast.

Officially known as Barrel 27 “Rock and a Hard Place” Grenache, the grapes from this indulging wine were initialing obtained from a treacherous hillside vineyard in one of my favorite wine areas, Santa Barbara California.

Cherry, raspberry, vanilla and cocoa all combine to create this tongue rolling, pleasure-loving, almost epicurean wine. Well worth the $18 price tag, Rock and a Hard Place is both a conversation starter (one that usually begins with Damn that wine is good!) and an all too quick opening act for a second bottle (of hopefully the same wine).

Bottoms up!

Fabulous French Finds for the New Year

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

New Years aren’t just for resolutions; they’re also for doing something a little different, like getting out of the old comfort zone. 2014 has already offered some fabulous wine finds from the country that gave us both Lafayette and Lady Liberty. And keeping with that “road less traveled by” theme, these food-friendly French wines aren’t from well known Bordeaux or Burgundy. Rather, some of the first great finds for the New Year come from less heralded French regions like Languedoc Roussillon and the Loire Valley.

Ode to the food friendly French!

Ode to the food friendly French!

If the beautifully earth-toned mosaic label of the 2011 Tessellae Old Vines isn’t enough to rattle your curiosity to attention, then perhaps the aromatherapy it’ll deliver will be. From the Côte du Roussillon and made from a traditional GSM blend of Grenache, Syrah and Mourvèdre, the Tessellae has a wonderful appetite inducing bouquet of mixed berry fruit reduction, saddle leather and bacon fat.

Remember the old adage, “fat is flavor, flavor is fat?” You’ll want to pair this sultry French red with a salty pork dish like tenderloin medallions, covered in a creamy béchamel sauce with nutmeg and sweet onions.

Trying new things, especially wines, often produces the dual effect of causing both excitement and some trepidation. So, don’t let the moniker of this next wine scare you off or have you feeling alone. Instead, embrace its intended adventure!

The 2011 Flying Solo is a Grenache/ Syrah mix from France’s southern wine hub, the Languedoc Roussillon. Its peculiar microbiological aroma quickly opens up and gives way to some fast fruit. Cherry bombs continue to drop from one quick quaffable sip to the next. Great with a heart warming, youth inspiring comfort food like tomato soup, the Flying Solo could be your road map for better drinking in 2014.

When France’s Loire Valley is mentioned in the company of wine lovers, the first thing to come to mind is usually a white wine from Sancerre, Sevre-et-Maine or Vouvray. But this coastal influenced wine region also makes great Cabernet Franc. The 2011 Laporte “Le Bouquet” is a prime example of 100% Cabernet Franc from the Loire Valley. Herbaceous and earthy aromatics of asparagus and bell peppers are greeted by the wine’s lower alcohol level, producing a thinner easy-to-drink red with some notable red berry fruit. Look for a healthy pairing of marinated Mediterranean vegetables and some roasted poultry to go with the Laporte.

All these fabulous French finds will retail for under $20, making your New Year an even happier one!

What’s your Turkey Wine this year?

We’ve been charged with bringing dessert pie to Zia Carol’s Thanksgiving Feast on Thursday. If it makes it that long.

My, my, me oh my! Nothing tastes better than homemade pie.

My, my, me oh my! Nothing tastes better than homemade pie.

Since I didn’t write a Thanksgiving and wine column this year, I thought at the very least that I should send out a reminder of some styles that go well with a traditional Thanksgiving dinner. These wines tend to be very versatile and solid food supporters.

1 – Syrah & Grenache blends from the Rhone (French)
2 – Rieslings from the Mosel, (German)
3 – Dry Rose from Provence (French)
4 – Pinot Noir from Oregon
5 – Barbera from Piedmont (Italian)

Love to hear back about which wines you’re serving with Thanksgiving this year!

Happy Thanksgiving! – Roger

Alphabet wine- dumbing it down

I heard it through the grapevine, CDR was the preferred wine of the Fogerty Brothers.

I heard it through the grapevine, CDR was the preferred wine of the Fogerty Brothers.

Sometimes you don’t have to reinvent the wheel. That could be said for the simply named wine, CDR, from Domaine Select Wine Estates and winemaker Henri Milan. Great wines from the Côtes du Rhône wine region have been abbreviated and affectionately referred to as CDR’s for years now. So, it was only a matter of marketing time before a label came out bearing exactly that.

CDR is a blend of Syrah, Grenache and Cinsault, displaying a little brickishness and a whole lot of funky blue cheese. Flavors of dried cherry Luden drops develop into a brighter red berry medley with some lingering violet notes. An exquisite partner for a traditional beef tip southern stew, CDR retails for $13-15.

Social Lubrication

Over the last few falls and winters, we have taken to hosting more dinner and house parties. Something there is that loves the communion of various friends, the intimacy of the in-house setting and the planning/execution of rich, hearty, savory dinners. If only we had a second dishwashing machine, right?

Your next dinner party red!

Your next dinner party red!

My philosophy on which wines to serve has held a few basic tenets over the years. First, I like to have one choice each for red, white and sparkling. Experience has shown that too many selections will often turn into everyone focusing on that one “amazing” wine that is now empty and irreplaceable. “Too many to chose from” also inevitably leads to a sense of forgetfulness when it comes time to recall all the different wines one has sampled that night. Last, and perhaps more importantly, having a wine that is going to be versatile while simultaneously providing instant gratification will make your hosting duties all the easier.

The versatility assists you by having a wine that can pair up with the variety of foods in the feast ahead. But that instant pleasure, that the right wine can provide, helps your guests to become comfortable with meeting new people and settling into the moment… sort of a social lubricant. If they like what they’re drinking right away, then there’s a good chance they’re going to enjoy the evening altogether.

That’s the long way for saying; I’ve found which red wine I’m serving at my next house party. The 2010 Chateau d’Oupia displays interesting beefy aromas and some pepperiness. Follow that up with a black cherry flavor profile and dash of bittersweet chocolate at the end and you have all the ingredients for a wine with quick strike capability. The Chateau d’Oupia comes from Minervois in France’s Languedoc wine region. Its hillside vineyards account for well maintained Carignan grapes, the chief ingredient in the d’Oupia. The rest of the wine is comprised of Syrah and Grenache, so you know you’re staring at potential winner.

Imported by Louis/Dressner Selections, the Chateau d’Oupia comes in at an amazingly fair $13 price tag, something you’ll appreciate when it comes time to keep the post party-party going a little longer.

Will Grenache be the next big “It” wine?

*The syndicate of the wine world is always trying to prognosticate about what the next big wine is going to be.  During the rise (and leveling off) of Merlot in America, they ventured that it would be Pinot Grigio, Syrah and others, before being caught off guard by the national swell of support for Pinot Noir in the aftermath of the cult hit “Sideways.”

Since then, the syndicate has been trying to dictate what the next big “it” wine will be, as seen by the many investors setting up shop in Argentina and proclaiming the virtues of Malbec. It’s no irony that big name importers and producers just happened to have traveled there in recent years. Sure Malbec is good, but might all the excitement really be about the Benjamins these guys are making off of cheap real estate and labor, smaller taxes and fewer regulations? How many $10 bottles of Argentine Malbec does one have to try before they realize that they all taste relatively the same?

Malbec’s been around for years and there’s nothing wrong with it, but just as the Market (with a little nudge from pop culture) dictated the demand for Pinot Noir, so too will the consumer’s taste buds pick the next big grape.  With that being said and with no dog in this race, I’m going to venture a guess that the next big “it” wine just might be one that’s made with the Grenache grape. It’s already planted extensively throughout the Greek/Roman/Anglo influenced world, and it’s an approachable red that the masses of America might take to.

So, before Grenache is passé here in the States, let me give you the skinny on it. First of all, Grenache is one of those tomato words: the French call it Grenache and the Spanish call it Garnacha. Second, when the grape is planted in the Rhone region of France it’s usually blended with Syrah, while the Spanish grow it on stucco and often blend it in sangria, among other things.

The AUSTRALIAN Version: 2005 Tir Na N’og Grenache ($25.99)

It may have a funny name, but it’s a serious wine. Tir Na N’og Grenache is an amazing wine made from hundred year old vines in McClaren Vale, Australia.  Gaelic for “Land of Youth,” Tir Na N’og is easier to taste than to pronounce. Phonetically, (tier – nah – nohg) it may not flow all that easily, but this luscious red Grenache, starts off with a chewy wallop of rich black cherry fruit and spice before smoothing out to offer fine tannins and a ripe ample mid-palate.

The WASHINGTON STATE Version: 2005 McCrae Grenache ($21.99)

Here’s a great example of how Washington State is ahead of the California juggernaut when it comes to setting wine trends. The 2005 McCrae Grenache from Washington State is awesome.  Raspberry fruit and sweet spices linger from start to finish and make this Grenache completely enjoyable.  The brilliant fruit flavors are indicative of that new world push for fruit-forward reds that are ready to drink and don’t require aging. The McCrae has universal appeal and is a great treat for a weekend dinner.

The FRENCH Version

The French love to blend their Rhone varietals together, so I chose two that have been in the market for awhile and are indicative of what you’ll get in regard to the French production of Grenache. The first is the 2005 Chateau de Segries Cote de Rhone which is half Grenache blended with a nice chunk of Syrah and a few other Rhone grapes. It makes for an outstanding food wine with flavors of crushed berries and plum . A great value for $9.99.

For a second choice try the Domaine Brusset Cote du Ventoux, from the southern Rhone. Made from 60% Grenache, the Brusset is a drier style version with earth and leather notes. It’s another food wine that calls for grilled meats and may not be for everyone due to its austere character. Look to pay $11.

The SPANISH Version

Spanish wines always seem to be excellent values and when it comes to Garnacha the trend continues. The 2005 Castillo de Amansa is a great case in point. For a mere $9, the Almansa has a deep garnet color with flavors of black cherries and plums and a slight touch of heat. It’s great for autumn time stews and heartier soups.

Other alternatives include the well-touted Las Rocas Garnacha and the 2005 Almira Los Dos.  Grapey with notes of candied cherry, the Los Dos is fairly simple and would be a solid pizza or burger wine.  For $8 you can’t really expect more. And although the Los Dos isn’t a number one wine, it is a safe second in this Spanish listing.

A version of this column was published in 2007 in the Knoxville News Sentinel.

Spring brings the fab five of French Rose

Every spring is ushered in with seasonal indicators. In nature we notice the Wordsworth-inspiring daffodils, the golden forsythia and the pink quince bushes. Similarly, in the wine world, spring is distinguished by the arrival of Rose wines. These wines are often the first arrivals from the most recent grape crop.

This year’s first wave of Rose wines hails from France, specifically from the Costieres de Nimes in Southern Rhone. The two best Roses to enter the Knoxville market last year were the Chateau Guiot and the Grande Cassagne, both from that same region.

After checking last year’s notes, it became evident that two trends had emerged. First, both of these wines demonstrate the traditional French Rose style of strawberry nuances, completed by a dry finish. And second, both of these bottlings are really-really good Roses that won’t disappoint lovers of this style of wine.

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