The 2011 Urban Uco is a fifty-fifty combination of Malbec and Tempranillo from Mendoza, Argentina. Here you have an old world Bordeaux varietal in Malbec (that has become Argentina’s flagship wine) blended with Tempranillo (that the Rioja region of Spain popularized). Together they make this ultra-modern, new world style exemplified by its “everyman” flavor profile and immediate gratification. There’s no need to wait, to age, to breathe… just pop and pour. A rare South American treat from famed Spanish importer Jorge Ordonez, Urban Uco retails for a very reasonable $13.
How about some bowtie pasta, tomato sauce, basil and sausage with an affordable red wine from Toscana!
If you’ve been following my blog for a while, then you’ve probably surmised that my mom is Italian. Which means I ate well growing up… also that I’m pretty damn picky when it comes to Italian food, really just most food. Actually it’s more like most everything. So, when my bride decided she was going to start making and jarring her own tomato sauce, I was excited.
Supportive? I tell myself I was.
Apprehensive? Uh huh.
And my trepidation, what happened to it? It switched, from how bad could it be to oh shit, this tomato sauce is even better than my mom’s.
My bride’s soon-to-be-famous tomato sauce (like I’m going to share it with anyone else) took this everyday dinner of bowtie pasta, garden basil and sausage to a higher level. It’s rich sweetness beams from the fruit of legendary Grainger County tomatoes. And her additional smattering of anise is the bee’s knees.
Pair it with a very affordable $14 super Tuscan by Renzo Masi called Erta e China. This fifty-fifty blend of Sangiovese and Cabernet offers the depth of color and body of Cabernet with the dried cherry and licorice finish of Sangiovese. These two were meant to be together.
It is mid year and 2013 already has its mega-value Zinfandel. If you’re a Zin fanatic, then it’s compulsory for you to try the Old Zin Vines 2009 Old Vine Zinfandel from Lodi. Yep, that’s a mouthful to say… but one you’ll relish tasting.
The OZV is all-out succulent fruit, a real tongue teaser… waiting to be bathed in more. Lodi juice is always some of the best for Zins, and the OZV jams with the best of them. Think nectar-like hot blackberries swelling, nearly popping on the vine, from the blazing heat wave. And then there’s the ladles of black cherry fruit. Top the finish off with a sprinkling of cocoa flavor and you have a very self-indulgent glass of wine. At a scant $12.99, you’re not going to find a better value in Zinfandel this year. Zincredible!
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.
* A version of this column was originally published in Saturday’s on-line edition of the Knoxville News Sentinel.
This Father’s Day you may not be able to send dad on that much needed vacation touring the vineyards of the Tuscan countryside or to be pampered by any of the countless numbers of wineries in California’s Napa Valley. But you can bring the vineyard to him, at least the best part of it. On his day of appreciation, give dad a beautiful and distinctive bottle of wine that he may enjoy at his leisure. Who knows he might even open it the next time you’re around.
Some dad’s are all about comfort. They like to know or be familiar with something before they dive into it. These are the old school, map in hand Pops whom plan almost everything in advance and are going to want to at least be able to pronounce the wine gift you chose for them. Chances are they’re quite aware of Napa Valley and their award-winning litany of sturdy, reliable Cabernets.
With that in mind, the preferred Napa Valley Cabs that I recommend for Father’s Day come from Cliff Lede Vineyards and Bell Wine Cellars. The 2009 Cliff Lede Cabernet Sauvignon, in the Stags Leap District of Napa Valley, represents the tannic, bold style Cabernet with its firm structure and dark berry fruit. The Cliff Lede (pronounced lady) is a steak lovers Cab that will need to be opened well in advance of firing up the grill. Look to pay around $60.
Likewise, Anthony Bell’s 2009 Claret will amaze any wine enthusiast. Its local popularity was made possible by Mr. Bell’s continued presence in the market and by the long time listing on the wine menu at the Northshore Brasserie. A mostly Bordeaux blend of Cabernet Sauvignon, Syrah, Merlot, Cabernet Franc and Malbec, the Bell Claret is excellence defined. For the ready-to-drink wine man, only the layers of supple, luscious fruit surpass the Claret’s polished tannins and elegant mouthfeel. And it’s a very reasonable gift for under $40.
For the jet setter, aspiring world traveler or even the modern day “foodie” father, one needs to look no further than the vineyards of Tuscany for an impeccable bottle of wine and exceptional gift idea. Aged for three years in oak, the 2008 Marchesi de’ Frescobaldi Castelgiocondo Brunello di Montalcino is a delectable mouthful of 100% Sangiovese Grosso grapes. With dense black cherry flavors, a hint of anise and a finish reminiscent of wild berry reduction, the Castelgiocondo Brunello just begs to be paired with some braised lamb shank. Leather notes and holiday spices combine for an aromatic tour de force, so Dad will know his $70 gift was special the moment he leans in for his first sip.
Keep in mind that buying an expensive bottle is a commitment and not an investment. Always ask your local shop for a discount to defer some of the cost of your purchase. They should be more than glad to help you with such a special gift.
You’ve probably heard of the famed Spanish wine – Tempranillo. But how about an off-shoot clonal, called Tinta de Toro?
For lovers of the higher alcohol content and extracted fruit richness, the 2009 Monte Hiniesta Tinta de Toro may be for you. A hefty plum presence in the Monte Hiniesta finishes with a punchy, alcohol supported swirl. Not as thick as some of those crazed Aussie Shirazes from six years ago, it still has that same inky color but without being bossy. Ode to the grill as the Monte Hiniesta has plenty of smokiness.
A solid value for $13, it was still rocking on day three.
* This is a re-post of the blog’s most popular post for the first half of 2013. Enjoy!
The one thing I loathe the most about the modern “food movement” in America is the trite use of the word artisan or artisanal. Really, I’m just adverse to the word in general. It’s crap. Fartisan crap!
I first heard the word used in a food context about four or five years ago at a wine dinner. Some guy was waxing on about how the food was artisanal and the chefs were artisans and their artwork (food) was better than a regular chef’s food because well, once again, it was artisanal. Blah, blah, blasé.
I love Frito Lay brand chips. They now have “Artisan” chips. Haaah! And, quite possibly, the crust in tonight’s dinner and wine pairing might just have been made from mis-purchased “artisanal” dinner rolls. Artisan is the new black. So much, in fact, that it’s almost been worn out and faded to gray.
Nonetheless, this evening I used my wife’s five hundred pound marble rolling pin to re-roll the dough of a half dozen dinner rolls into a Fartisanal shaped pizza crust. Looks pretty good, after all it isn’t perfectly square or round or rectangular. Must be artisanal!
My Fartisan pie was topped with some of my Nonna’s recipe white sauce as well as a mixture of the “six super greens” like kale, spinach, chard, and romaine. Finish with mozzarella, parmesano and a few strategically placed but artisanally hatched hen eggs and you have a protein and fiber rich pizza that would have been done half an hour earlier if I’d only paid attention and purchased the desired rectangular pizza crust that rolls out a whole helluva lot easier.
To pair with it, I chose the new vintage of a French wine I fell for last year. The Guillermarine Picpoul de Pinet has simple citrus notes and some delicate apple flavors that don’t overwhelm the eggs and greens in the pizza. Plus, it’s French and different and hard to pronounce. If only it were artisanal.
Borrowing some more inspiration from Mario Batali, my bride and I put together another of his recipes, the Funghi Marinati which involves marinated and grilled shiitake mushrooms with spinach, red onions, Anaheim chiles and lemon zest.
It produces a lively fusion of properly prepared purplish/pink onions, lime-green colored Anaheims and lightly sautéed spinach leaves that is distinctly balanced in color and flavor by the earthy, marinated mushrooms.
There’s some delicate flavors in the mix here, namely greens. And then there’s some mild pungency from the red onions and peppers, along with the heartiness that the mushrooms provide. It’s not an easy pairing so look for a white wine with versatility like a Grenache Blanc blend from the southern Rhone. A second superb choice is a French Sauvignon Blanc from Sancerre in the Loire Valley. The dry, clean finish of a Sancerre, with its grapefruit and citrus flavors, plays nicely with the zest in the dish. We pulled out a bottle of the Pascal Jolivet Sancerre. Probably the most readily accessible Sancerre in the States, the Jolivet is generally one of the more affordable ones as well. Plus, it’s a slam dunk when it comes to versatility in salad type pairings.
Budget week wouldn’t be complete without mentioning the all-American hamburger (and what to pair with it). And although the scope of what goes on that burger continues to change, the central ingredient is customarily beef. From there, interpretation seems to be limitless, including this version of goat cheese, avocado, bacon and egg; all ready to join a chimichurri mixed beef patty.
And that’s the thing with the evolution of the iconic American burger; there’s a whole lot going on between the buns. Selecting one, all encompassing wine to match perfectly is a bit of a challenge.
That being said it’s usually a safer bet to fall back on a well-established red blend that has some combination of Cabernet, Merlot and Syrah. The Cabernet and Syrah are experienced partners for beef and the Merlot brings more fruit and a softening element to the wine.
Washington State is a great place to start in your search for a $10-12 red blend for burger night. They have a host of choices and should be readily available at your local shop.
But if you have a little extra coin left over at the end of the week, grab a bottle of Bell Wine Cellar’s 2010 Big Guy Red from California. This Syrah and Merlot blend (with a touch of Cab and Sangiovese) has a remarkably well polished texture, especially considering its under-$20 price tag. The Big Guy ranks high on the gulpability meter and when it comes to chowing down on a great burger, the land of all beef patties has no greater partner.
* ‘Pasta Night’ is part four in a series of recommendations for budget wines and what to pair with them.
The Umbrian town of Orvieto, in central Italy, is home to one of the classic Italian white wines. Named for the city Orvieto, the wine is a blend of grapes whose obscurity outside of the boot or outside of Italophiles can be attributed to the simplicity of remembering the city’s name compared to the names of the grapes themselves.
Tonight’s budget wine is the Sergio Mottura Orvieto, a blend of 50% Procanico, 25% Verdello and 25% Grechetto. Its vineyards lies on the Umbria/ Lazio border and boasts a small hotel, the La Tana dell’Istrice or Porcupine’s Lair. You’ll see the prickly little mascot on all the labels.
Orvieto is typically a safe perennial pick, as it’s light body and soft fruit offer the profile needed to ensure mass appeal. The Mottura Orvieto entertains with an aromatic display of mellow fruitiness and a flavorful finish of herbaceous minerality. And its delicate golden color makes for an attractive and appealing wine for under $15.
Our Orvieto was chosen to act as a refresher to a spicy but simple pasta dish, Fettuccine al Limone with jalapenos and pecorino romano cheese. We borrowed this recipe from Molto Italiano and that means when you see the word “limone” you better believe the lemon flavor shines through. Throw in the pizazz of some hot peppers and the saltiness of some pecorino romano and you have the basis for one very simple but intensely appetizing pasta dish.
Together, the Orvieto and lemon fettuccine pairing make for a colorful and flavorful ode to simplicity.
Budget week rolls on…
Our Bengali connection invited us over for dinner the other night; what better way to save during Budget Week than a full thrown East Indian throw-down at a friend’s house!
Longer readers of this blog will recall that last year I started admiring the combination of spicy, zippy California Zinfandel with a like-minded dinner of Indian cuisine. And there’s a not so small segment at your local wine shop in which any number of these California Zins would serve as suitable pairings. Here’s a refresher from Mama Desai.
But since it’s a dinner party (and more than likely a weekend) your selection needs a small step up in price and quality. The $15-20 dinner party wine is well worth the cost of not having to shop, cook or do the dishes at the end of the evening.
Knowing the parameters of the night’s menu in advance, I set out to test whether I could stretch my Zinfandel model into the Italian variety, a grape known as Primitivo. Doing so might accomplish two goals.
If the Primitivo pairs just as well as the California version (with this spicy East-Indian fare) then not only do I have more wines to choose from for future such dinners, but I also have a wine (in Primitivo) that I already know pairs well with beef, wild game, and red sauce recipes. And that means I’m covered when picking the right wine for several other dinner party menus.
The 2011 Cantine Baldassarre inPrimis nailed it. This Primitivo from Salento, in the southern Italian region of Apulia, has just enough of that alluring spiciness that we savor in California Zins but with darker fruit notes of fig, black cherry and prunes. So whether your next dinner party requires a BBQ friendly wine, a wine with an acidity level that sings the praises of a good tomato/red sauce, a selection that holds up to red meats (without being just another Cabernet) or a spicy paring for Indian food, then a Primitivo like the Baldassarre inPrimis will make you the Bollywood star of the next dinner party.
Special thanks to Ranjan and Nita!
*This week you’ll be getting the 411 on some inexpensive wines and their easy, every day pairings.
The older we get, the less we cringe when we hear or say the words, we’re – “in for the night.” And more often ‘late in the evening’ seems to come, well … more and more earlier.
This time of year when the night air is just right and the outside light persists much longer, it’s all the excuse we need to swap a night out on the town for a night on the patio.
My choice for such an evening remains Vinho Verde. The 2012 Arca Nova Vinho Verde contains that sprightly dazzling effervescence that the wine is well-known for without the heavy, often headache inducing amount you get from some all-out sparkling wines. Comprised of a blend of Portuguese grapes like Treixadura, Loureiro, and Arinto, the Arca Nova resembles an old school lemon/lime spritzer sans the sweetness.
Its approachable and crisp nature cooperates well with garden fare, and I recommend (though not essential) seeking out a fresh vintage. The trapped gas in Vinho Verdes helps a little with ageing, but not much. And although the non vintage dated Vinho Verdes (a blend of multiple years) are fine, some of the brighter citrus flavor can become muted.
The 2012 Arca Nova goes for about $10, which means you’ll have all the more money saved for your next night out on the town.
*This week you’ll be getting the 411 on some inexpensive wines and their easy, every day pairings.
Lunch at my preferred mom-n-pop Thai noodle shop went from seeking advice from a younger, hipster friend about social media to the reciprocity that she needed some advice as well. What does the budget strapped, just starting out, young professional (or any of us savers of an extra buck) with plenty of bills do for finding inexpensive wines… say for a quick take-out pizza or other typical any-day fare?
I think I have your answer. When it comes to pizza, your wine search should probably begin with what not to drink. Unless your local wine steward really knows their wines and your
tastes budget, avoid the go-to pairing of cheap Chianti. Cut-rate Chianti became overly acidic and fruitless about the same time Merlot become flabby and herbaceous – overnight. Both Chianti and Merlot were once shooting stars that streaked across the sky before getting lazy (quality plummeted) and flaming out. Something about laurel-sitting probably sums it up best.
Sure there’s still some fine Chianti finds for around $10; they’re just more rare and need some relationship building for you to get that introduction. In the meantime (of that wine steward romance), grab a bottle of Spanish Tempranillo. The Spanish juggernaut has an armada of choices that are unassumingly flavorsome and unashamedly economical.
I was in a local shop this weekend looking for some inspiration when finally I decided I was going to do what many wine initiates inevitably do (or at least what I did back in the 19$?’s) and that is to label shop. I could have dated myself here but that would’ve required some carbon.
Luckily, my shopping-by-label choice for “pizza wine” wasn’t all cover; it had some book to back it up. The Senda 66 may sound more like a Japanese filling station then a Spanish red wine, but it easily demonstrates both the quality and value that Tempranillo brings to the table. And although it’s not overly acidic, it still has enough to hold up to the tomatoes in a traditional red sauce pie.
Likewise, the Senda 66 Tempranillo manages to keep in line with the $10 budget conscious while offering plenty of red berry and cherry fruit. Something you’ll find magical with that star anise-studded Italian sausage, peppering your pie on pizza night.
* A version of this column was first published in Saturday’s on-line edition of the Knoxville News Sentinel.
Sticky, sweet and saucy savoriness can only mean one thing; the opening day of grilling season is upon us. Ladies and Gentlemen, it’s time to light that fire because we’re about to embark on some killer combinations of grilling masterpieces and thirst-quenching cocktails.
Pick any weekend in late spring or throughout summer, and most grillers will tell you that an outdoor barbecue starts with that all-American delicacy of a tender, mouthwatering rack of ribs. And whether your family preference is Memphis, Kansas City, Carolina or St. Louis style ribs, the common ingredient in the sauce or rub is none other than brown sugar.
The simple beauty of the brown sugar ingredient is just how well it adds a touch of sweetness to the ribs and concurrently makes for a natural pairing with a bourbon-inspired cocktail. Brown sugar and its caramelizing effect are frequently notable flavors in both ribs and bourbon. Sure you can’t go wrong with a cold beer to cool you down while hovering near the heat of the flame. But when it comes time to enjoy those succulent ribs try pairing them with an Old Fashioned.
The Old Fashioned is a classic bourbon cocktail that’s been around longer than most of us. Its timeless endurance is due in part to its simplicity as well as its reverence for letting the bourbon shine through. My recipe calls for a mash of one sugar cube, three dashes of bitters and a splash of soda. Add ice and pour in one to two ounces of your favorite bourbon, like Elmer T. Lee. Garnish with a fat cherry and the result is a bourbon and rib pairing that will have your palate doing a little skip just like dance partners in a Texas two-step.
Preparing ribs for a large cookout can be timely and expensive. For those budget barbecues that are a tribute to the staple of our domesticity, namely hamburgers, no greater cocktail pairing can be found than the Bloody Mary. The standard model of cheese, onions and tomato on a juicy, seasoned beef patty actually goes extraordinary well with the tomato juice, Worcestershire and pepper ingredients found in most Bloody Mary mixers.
A new mixer, called the Charleston Mix, is on its way to the market and offers a lively and spicy blend along with a rich tomato flavor. Just pour it over a glass of ice and an ounce or two of Ketel One Vodka and not only do you have something great to go with your burger (besides that heap of potato salad) but you also have the not-so-secret formula to the post party aftereffects.
No barbecue is complete without some representation by the king of cluck, Mr. Chicken. Whether it’s wings, thighs or pulled chicken barbecue, the presence of the bird is always a fan favorite. I’ve tried, to no avail, to mimic George’s competition chicken from Dead End BBQ off of Sutherland Avenue in Knoxville. So rich and tangy, that when I do take on this ode-de-chicken backyard challenge I make sure to have a refreshing beverage as its side-kick.
My go-to cocktail for BBQ chicken is the citrusy Bull Frog. Fill a tall glass with ice, then add two ounces of vodka and fill with Simply Brand Limeade. After a good stirring and some fresh lime garnish, you’ll have a bright, thirst quenching drink that can beat the heat of your spicy chicken rub as well as those fast-approaching and overly-scorching Frog days of summer.
I’m usually an incredibly social person who loves conversation and parties, so it may be a bit of a surprise to hear that one of my favorite food and wine memories was of luxurious solitude.
It was 2000 and I was in Denver on business. Having recently celebrated my new marriage and my even newer dream job, I took some local advice and my generous expense account to Fourth Story, a charming restaurant above an independent bookstore.
These were the halcyon days of dotcom startups and well before the personal and public distractions of e-readers, smartphones and social media. I settled into my table with a good book plucked from the shelf in the bar.
For a warm-up, I ordered a salad of arugula and mixed greens with roasted figs and a slab of goat cheese with a balsamic reduction. Peppery, sweet and creamy, it all blended for a lustful salad.
My entrée included the selection of a 1997 Flora Springs Merlot to pair with lamb chops, seared medium rare and served with a hearty couscous that was carefully seasoned with mint.
The wine’s earthy currant and black cherry hit my nose first. But it was the blackberry note that complimented the savory, juicy lamb. The Flora Springs had an amazingly soft finish that left no doubt; I’d found myself a new treasure.
The service was indulgent and the relaxed pace of reading and feasting made the night feel like a vacation. As they say “nothing gold can stay” and Fourth Story has closed its doors. I’ve enjoyed my share of Flora Springs and other Merlots since then, but none can compare to that single glass, that single pairing, that luxurious moment of splendid solitude.
* Kristine Chu is a freelance writer and the owner of 3C Communication, a professional writing service. You can find her at 3ccommunication.elance.com.
Winemaking in Italy is anything but complacent. The historical production of leading white grapes like Trebbiano in the Veneto or Cortese in Piedmont’s Gavi region, may at times be overshadowed by the transatlantic call for Pinot Grigio, Moscato and more recently Prosecco. But that’s not the end-all to what’s going on in the Italian countryside.
I’ve noticed more and more that Italian winemakers are dabbling in the world of Sauvignon Blanc. True, that puttering experimentation may mostly be in small production lots, but the results of Sauvignon Blanc by producers like Herbert Tiefenbrunner and Stefano Antonucci are netting an array of aromatic and approachable wines.
Most notably, Antonucci’s Animale Celeste could be a springboard that emboldens other Italian producers to stomp into the Sauvignon Blanc game. Animale Celeste roughly translates to heavenly animal or with a little imagination- celestial beast. If its strangely intriguing label (featuring an animal with the hooves and wiggly tail of a swine on top of a winged looking hell cat) isn’t enough to coerce the cork pull from the drawer, then imagine a Sancerre-like Sauvignon Blanc that is more flavorful, less acidic and very food friendly.
And since vegetarian was on the menu Monday night, prep quickly developed into a gamut-like-run of baking, sautéing, boiling and tossing. The colorful finish was a platter full of Mexican sweet potatoes, garlic sautéed spinach, vegetarian spaghetti Carbonara (maybe it had a wee, tiny, little bit of pancetta) and mixed leaf lettuce with orange bells, Gloucester and almonds.
But it was the Italian Sauvignon Blanc that brought it all together. The Animale Celeste from Antonucci’s Santa Barbara Winery proved to be a palate cleansing wine with rare tropical notes, the right amount of acidity – to wade through the assortment of veggie flavors and more body than I would expect to find in a white wine from Italy’s Marche region. Something the pasta didn’t seem to mind at all.
Well maybe not earth-shattering, however a strange but inspirational moment did materialize today as I was headed in to have my doctor tell me that I probably needed to get my cholesterol level down….again.
This blog, What’s in the Bottle, has become a finalist for two North American Wine Blog Awards. What’s in the Bottle is one of five finalists for the Best Original Photography category and one of six finalists for the Best New Wine Blog category.
So, for the first time since running for public office as a way-too young, right-out-of-college, going to save-the-world candidate some 20 years ago, I’m once again asking for your vote.
I ask that you click on this VOTING LINK and vote for What’s in the Bottle under:
Category 1. Best Original Photography
Category 7. Best New Wine Blog.
I appreciate your vote and more importantly your readership, comments and support.
Special thanks to my muse- Katharine, Russ, Jigsha, WordPress and Brent along with Kelly, Cathy, Gloria, Skip, David, Mr. Horton, Ashley, Iacovino, Jim, Mike, Carla, Jeff, Jerry, Teresa, Todd, Al, Arun, HL, Wally, Janet, Edward, Mom, Sharon, Carol, Andrew, Richard, Patrick, Terri, Tracey, Tony, Don, Lee, Doug, Mr. Hillegas, Ricardo Burnelli, Jack, Scannapiego, Lauren, Patrick, Deanna, AJ, Krissy, David, Sheldon, Maria, James, Nini, Angie, Penny, Tara, the O-Clan Eight, Dr. Henley, Susan and the Knoxville News Sentinel, Sheree, Pam, Brittany, Chris, Dick, Eric, Rich, Bill, Rachel, Rob, Shannon, Lou- the Mayor of Rocky Hill, the Wine Blog Award creators and judges and all of the blog’s readers and followers.
Extra special thanks to Anthony, Layla and Max.
* A version of this column was originally published in Saturday’s on-line edition of the Knoxville News Sentinel.
Original and interesting white wines are always emerging in the market this time of year. And this spring I’ve noticed a continued effort by winemakers, importers and distributors to move beyond the old trappings of Chardonnay and other more prolific wines into offerings of lesser-known and more curious creations. These bottlings express fresh, lighter bodied wines and include new interpretations of wines from an obscure Rhone or southern hemisphere Gewurztraminer to a pumped-up Portuguese white.
Parents, teachers, coaches will all tell you the same: you’re never done learning. So when I opened a newer label of French wine named Marc Roman Terret, I had to quickly discover more about this unfamiliar grape. Sure I knew that Chateauneuf-du-Pape wines were blended. But I had no idea that one of those grapes (sometimes used in production) is Terret. The Marc Roman bottling may be one of the few if only 100% Terret wines in the market, but you shouldn’t dismiss it.
A great all-rounder especially for hot weather drinking, the Marc Roman possesses a salty oceanic zephyr essence and a minerality that make for a natural “fruit of the sea” pairing. I highly recommend it with some fresh halibut that’s been lightly rolled and pan seared in panko crumbs before being added to a tortilla filled with coriander chutney, diced vidalias, sour cream and a hit of lime juice.
The first thing that comes to mind, when one thinks of Chilean white wines, is probably not Gewurztraminer. In fact, the more popular locale for such a wordy wine is the old world strip of land between Germany and France known as Alsace. Still, the 2011 Miquel Torres Santa Digna Gewurztraminer is a surprising effort for a wine that’s not grown extensively in the southern hemisphere.
A minimal touch of sweetness, a cleansing finish and a mouth-full of stone fruit flavor make this wine a natural sparring partner for spicier food. Almost universally recommended with fiery Asian cuisine, Gewurztraminer like the Miquel Torres also matches up nicely with some plump gulf shrimp combined with buttery grits and spicy Andouille sausage.
I’ve often referred to the Portuguese wine known as Vinho Verde as a lite-beer lover’s wine. Its lower alcohol content, slight fizz and lighter body position a Vinho Verde to be a simpler white wine, that is both refreshing and easy-drinking. What I like most about my new favorite version, the Conde Villar Vinho Verde, is that it goes a step beyond the typical green-apple notes of the wine.
Recently, I blogged about the Conde Villar’s tropical tendencies. After an unexpected but ephemeral whiff of cotton candy aromas, the Conde Villar Vinho Verde exposes its equatorial inclination with some softened pineapple and guava flavors. Perhaps the quintessential pairing to most spring-fresh green salads, the Vinho Verdes like the Conde Villar also couple-up nicely with a plate of seasonal fruits from strawberries and pineapple to cantaloupe and honeydew.
All good wine stories have some component of food intertwined within them. Mine started with a passion for pasta and was linked well before my time, perhaps to the old photo above. It features the team of the Cumberland Macaroni Company which includes my grandfather, Ruggero Pisaneschi.
What’s in the Bottle would like to feature one wine and food story written by a follower of this blog. If you’re interested, please contact me at firstname.lastname@example.org. Cheers!
Pairing up these plump spring strawberries and other fruits is generally quite easy. And although it is a bit of a cliché, strawberries and champagne are often “set up on a date” for the simple reason that they are magical together. Kind of like attached-at-the hip dance partners, it all seems sleek and effortless; slide strawberry into flute and cover with champagne.
Similarly, the coupling of chocolate and wine is often expressed best in a bold but dark fruit-laden red like a Cabernet Sauvignon or possibly Merlot. It, too, is almost like an equation: CHOCOLATE + RED WINE = MMM HMM!
But dip those mouthwatering strawberries or tropical bananas inside of dark chocolate and you quickly realize that you have a pairing challenge.
So, I had to go off the radar in my search for a wine that hits the right stride with both dark chocolate covered strawberries and dark covered bananas, that are also topped with shaved almonds. And for me “off the radar” turned out to be an oft forgotten, old school wine.
My quest led me to Madeira. Named for the Portuguese island from where the wines are made, Madeira is a blend of indigenous grapes like Verdelho and Malvasia, and is fortified (higher alcohol content) giving it a longer shelf life. Over time Madeira has become its own cliché, suffering the pretense that it is singularly a cooking wine.
Fortunately, that image is changing; Madeira isn’t just for pasty, weathered-looking British chefs, anymore.
Served slightly chilled, Madeira like the Blandy’s Rainwater or Sandeman’s Rainwater is an unctuous wine, with a liquid gold color. It manages to walk the fine line between being sweet and cloyingly sweet. The nutty and rich caramel flavor of the wine pulls off the two-step with the chocolate and almonds, while it’s orangey, citrus flavors mingle nicely with the strawberry and banana fruit … like tropical expatriates doing the cha cha at a long overdue reunion.
Ahhh, mid Spring! The evenings are still cool, the bugs yet to annoy and these vibrant moments in May are some of the best times to sit outside and enjoy a little cheese and vino. When my bride and I were still dating, we’d slip outside almost every evening to feast on some of our favorite cheeses, walnuts, figs and fresh fruit. Last night was a nice reminder of those free and pristine evenings.
Likewise, it gave us the perfect scenario to enjoy one of our favorite drinks, the Venetian Bellini. A simple half and half mixture of authentic, dry Italian Prosecco and peach purée, the Bellini is sunshine in a glass. With the fragrant south Georgia peaches arriving soon, be sure to treat yourself to this classic cocktail. And when shopping for a bottle of Prosecco, make sure to look for one from either Valdobbiadene or Conegliano; the nowadays knock-offs tend to be too sweet when mixed with those sweet, succulent peaches.
About ten years ago, I was giving a political speech (in Spanish) to a very patient and ultimately forgiving group of local Latino-Americans. In the middle of trying to inspire and call to action, I somehow inadvertently mispronounced a word. Rather than rhetorically asking the group what something was worth, I instead referred to one of body parts… and no, it wasn’t my arm. Ever since then I’ve made it my public policy to limit any foreign language endeavors to just a few words; and in this case it’s “mas tacos por favor.”
More tacos, please! That’s exactly what you’ll be saying or asking for after trying this recipe and wine. There are two make-or-break ingredients to these addictive tacos. First, you have to get down to your local Indian shop for a jar of coriander chutney. The bright green spread is not only visually appealing, but it’s also a concentrated zip of spiciness and fresh cilantro. In Knoxville, you’ll find it at the India Market off of Downtown West Blvd. And my son, Anthony, can’t wait until he’s a little older to try some with his Jigumasi.
Second, you really need to use Japanese panko crumbs when frying your preferred fish. There’s something about the crunch. Plus it doesn’t overwhelm the delicacy of the fish like a beer-battered version does. Add diced onions, fresh lime juice, sour cream, and yes more cilantro to the mix and you’ll be putting these away like popcorn.
As of late I’ve been on this white Rhone kick. If you’re looking for an easy to find and yet affordable one, then grab a bottle of the Chapoutier Bila Haut Blanc. Although white blends have become ubiquitous, this Cotes Du Roussillon mix of Grenache Blanc, Grenache Gris and Macabeo grapes sets itself apart from the pack because of its simplicity, food friendliness and gulpability. Its salty, mineral penchant makes it a natural for fish foods, while its pink grapefruit and touch of lime finish will have you eyeing the bottle for a quick refill… and more tacos to down it with. Please!
Here are some extra Vini d’Italia pics from Tuesday’s trade show in Nashville.
I was able to meet up and
tour taste through the line-up with my Nashville connection and old colleague, Russ Wright, as well as one of my clients, Chef Shannon Ritzhaupt of Café Roma in Cleveland, TN.
The Nashville leg of Vini d’Italia was hosted at the Gaylord Opryland Resort & Convention Center and featured hundreds of fine Italian wines, grappa and a few spirits. Keeping in mind that events like these are a marathon and not a sprint, we tasted through some old favorites from the forty plus wineries that were represented on the tour, including Castellare, Allegrini, Montevetrano, Ceretto, Tiefenbrunner, Di Majo Norante and the list goes on.
Winebow has a strong portfolio so it’s never easy choosing which wine or wines were showing the best. Getting through the tasting in a limited amount of time can be daunting enough, but a consensus for which wines were “Best of Show” winners did arise.
Although there wasn’t as much competition in the rosé wine category, we did try one that blew the socks off any other rosé we’ve had this year. The 2012 Valle Reale Vigne Nuove Cerasuolo d’Abruzzo was magic in a bottle and our pick for “Best of Show – Rosé Wine.” I had first discovered this wine about six years ago doing a review for the Knoxville News Sentinel and the 2012 vintage is proof that the vintners at Valle Reale have nearly mastered rosé vinification.
Rich flavors of extra-ripe strawberries and a lengthy finish are remarkable for a rose made from 100% Montepulciano grapes. The watermelon aroma is a wonderful surprise as well. Located in the central Italian region of the Abruzzo, Valle Reale and the Pizzolo family have done an impressive job of mastering Montepulciano especially when you consider that the winery was started just thirteen years ago.
Competition was a little fiercer when it came to “Best of Show – White Wine” Category with a wine from Piemonte edging out great whites from the Veneto, Alto Adige and a neighboring competitor. The 2012 Monchiero Carbone Recit Roero Arneis reminded us just how special the Arneis grape is.
The uniqueness of the Recit Arneis is in being both a well-structured, beautiful wine and concurrently a simple and approachable one. Its layer upon layer of stone fruit flavors and peculiarly alluring bouquet, make this 100% Arneis wine charming, interesting and repetitively drinkable.
The “Best of Show – New Wine” in the Winebow collection comes from the Lake Garda area. Winebow’s long time partner – Zenato (and more specifically in this case, Nadia Zenato and her mother Carla Prospero) have a relatively newer venture called Sansonina.
The release of the 2010 Sansonina Lugana shows you just how far Trebbiano wines have evolved. This golden bottling of one of Italy’s most taken-for-granted grapes simultaneously shows off orchard-fresh fruit flavors and a well-balanced mineral complexion. Let’s hope these last two white wines come to market and soon.
Trying to select a “Best of Show – Red Wine” from any Italian portfolio, let alone those selections of Leonardo Locascio, is like to trying to pick a winner from an international beauty pageant. I must say that the Barolo Zonchera from Ceretto was beyond impressive and the Castellare I Sodi di San Niccolo out of Toscana made one wonder if cuisine could actually come in liquid form.
However, we kept coming back to an un-traditional find from a winery located in Southern Tuscany, near the Umbrian border. My Nashville connection referred to the 2009 Il Bosco Syrah Cortona as a stunner – “this wine exemplifies a new level of terroir-focused plantings combined with a modern styling and structure. The result is a complex yet refined bottling that can rival the best Syrah offerings from around the world.” I couldn’t agree more; this wine from the Tenimenti Luigi d’Alessandro winery is like grafting a historically Cote Rotie vineyard to that fine Siena style.
And finally if you’re looking for a mega-value (and safe case purchase) then you have to lay your hands on a box of the 2012 Di Majo Norante Sangiovese. At $9 a bottle you’ll have an inexpensive wine to both serve and impress your guests with at the next big cookout.
“I came to the sea to see; the future, the past, the magnificent sea.” – Anonymous
Our annual trek to Saint George Island off Florida’s “Forgotten Coast” yielded several discoveries of beach appropriate wines, including the Conde Villar Vinho Verde. Vinho Verde (or green wine) remains the most widely known Portuguese white wine. A blend of several indigenous Portuguese grapes, the wine is meant to be consumed young thus obtaining its “green” moniker. And quite often, Vinho Verdes will have similar styles and characteristics comprising of a lower alcohol content, a slight fizz and a mineral-laden flavor profile.
Although the Conde Villar follows this pattern, it also possesses a little more depth of flavor and complexity than your run-of-the-mill Vinho Verde. With a quick flash of cotton candy aroma and a low-key pineapple/ guava essence, the Conde Villar Vinho Verde adds a little of that tropical note that makes the salty air, the soft sands and the sea front views all the more fitting.
* A version of this column originally ran in Saturday’s on-line edition of the Knoxville News Sentinel.
I like to drink, you like to drink and I think that’s exactly where we’ll end up.
K-town’s swanky, hip, and mood enlightened drinking establishment, “Drink.” opened a few months ago after years of fashionable planning. The latest venture by Knoxville restaurant magnate, Randy Burleson, “Drink.” is a posh and sleekly polished wine bar located next door to his flagship restaurant, Bistro by the Tracks.
Bistro’s longtime wine and spirits manager, Lana Shackelford, has also taken over the portfolio of Drink.’s three self-serving wine dispensers as well as its full and eclectic collection of spirits. Her aptitude for selecting incredible and unique wines for Knoxvillians to sample is a tribute to her personal research and patient commitment to doing the homework. You’ll notice that just as soon as you circle the collection of wines to choose from, coming across both dependable selections as well as several exclusive wines you’re going to want to instantly learn more about.
Lana’s creative application of thought provoking and conversation-starting names for her seasonal cocktails are just as appealing as the wine selection. And a recent meet up offered a challenge to her innovation by crafting imaginative cocktails using the nearly 100-year-old classic Italian aperitif known as Aperol.
In Italy, Aperol and Prosecco (Italy’s famed sparkling wine) go together as well and as often as prosciutto and cantaloupe. Known for its orangey, herby flavor profile and vivid blood orange color, Aperol’s lower alcohol content makes for an irreplaceable and inspiring mixer in cocktails.
Take for example Lana’s enhanced and Italian-inspired rendition of the aforementioned Aperol and Prosecco spritzer. The “Vespa” cocktail adds the influential elderflower element of St~Germain Liqueur to the traditional recipe. The result is an off-sweet cocktail, with a slow and soft fizz development. The “Vespa” successfully combines that subtle orange undertone to an inquisitive floral cocktail. It will have you humming along for the ride.
A second experiment in Aperol mixology spawned “Rosemary’s other baby.” With a clever take on Nashville- made Corsair Gin, Lana was able to balance some of the Aperol’s fruity nature. Corsair creates one of the more unique gin interpretations with its woodsy aromas and Indian-like spiciness. Throw in a little muddled rosemary and you have an angelic combination of the herb’s evergreen fragrance, the gin’s offbeat attribute and Aperol’s predisposition towards bright citrus and freshness. It’s the kind of shared drink that makes for better neighbors.
One might think Aperol’s flexibility would have been proven well enough after tasty run-ins with Italian Prosecco, or French liqueur or Tennessee gin. But a rendezvous with tequila shows its strength as well in appealing to south-of-the-border libations, namely Mexico’s distinctive Don Julio Reposado Tequila. With lime juice, honey, and bitters mixed together with the Aperol and Don Julio, the “Spaghetti Western” is reborn. This is Italian fashionista meets Cinco de Mayo, simultaneously chic and festive.
Let’s hope that “what’s in the bottle” was put together better than what’s on the outside of the bottle! How many spelling, punctuation, run-on mistakes did you find?
So… after a few sketchy attempts at paella earlier this month, we decided to invest in an authentic paella pan. In this case, the word authentic meant two things to me. First, the label had to at least make me believe that it was actually made in Spain. And second, the label could not bare the word “artisan” anywhere on it. Yes there does exists a little contempt for the word “artisan!” Click this post link for a quick reminder.
Since we were having company over for a little outdoor early Spring dinner, I was also looking for a grill-friendly paella pan. The traditional all steel pan in the picture above cooked up one spicy and filling paella of grilled chicken, three beans, saffron rice, Andouille, chorizo and as you can see… a handful of plump shrimp.
Conventional wisdom pairs spicy Spanish paella dishes (like the one we grilled) with a Garnacha or Tempranillo based wine. It is an appropriate choice, but if your local shop is sluggish in the Spanish wine category then a rich, fruit-loaded Petite Sirah from California can pinch-hit well.
And truly when it comes to Petite Sirah the best place to start is where the varietal actually got its famous American beginning; the Livermore, CA based winery of Concannon Vineyards. Last year Concannon’s Petite Sirah blend, Crimson & Clover, was runner-up for best red blend in my annual “Best Wine Values” review for the Knoxville News Sentinel.
But their mastery isn’t limited to one wine. From their entry level “Selected Vineyards” Petite Sirah (with its punchy, cherry drop profile) to their “Reserve” Petite Sirahs (whose range can show off blueberry and plum notes as well as a touch of cinnamon or mocha), Concannon has this wine covered.
Journey back in time, some 500 years ago, and you’ll become astonished at how history can (uncannily) repeat itself.
Envision an old Italian vineyard. The farmstead lies quietly, just off the banks of Lake Garda, in the northeast region of the Veneto. The manicure of the Roman Empire has long since been windswept. The land here is flatter, but a jaunt up the coast reveals a lake nearly encapsulated by the southern arms of the rugged and mountainous Italian Alps. Arguably, Lake Garda is the birthplace of the Violin, the love poem and poignantly (on this ancient farm) the original Octomom.
It seems wine, music and poetry span timeless generations. Probably due, in no small part, to the notion that when properly mixed they lead one generation to make the next. And so it was with the original, nameless Octomom of lore. The winery, now named Ottella in honor of the multiple birth folktale, was the Renaissance era birthplace of eight (otto in Italian) little bambinos.
And what greater way to honor a woman that has probably just labored for the better part of a week, than to name a winery after her legend? She’s probably going to need a drink or two and it sure beats giving her a “movie” gig.
The Ottella Winery has been home to my favorite Italian white wine since a visit to Lake Garda seven years ago. Subsequently, I’ve made sure when Spring rolls around to order a six-bottle case of their turbo-charged Trebbiano wine, the Ottella Le Creete. A refreshing minerality and snappy citrus essence are what distinguishes Le Creete from other Trebbiano wines that tend to be flat or one dimensional in nature.
Paired with orecchiette pasta, cherry tomatoes, zucchini and Parmigiano-Reggiano, the Ottella Le Creete makes for an agreeable evening outdoors, perhaps overlooking you’re favorite new bluff view, the cool water below and a kaleidoscope-like spring sunset.
And speaking of birds-eye water views, perhaps an aerial map of Lake Garda might explain all that fertility.
“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.
Stefano Antonucci wines have finally made it to the South, and more importantly they’re in our own backyard of Knoxville. The first arrival landed this spring and it’s one of the real workhorses of his Santa Barbara Winery.
The 2011 Rosso Piceno comes from the Central Italian region of the Marche and is a snappy blend of Montepulciano and Sangiovese. Its food pairing versatility runs the gamut from prosciutto topped pizza and spicy Asian pork burgers to pasta with red sauce or a Mediterranean influenced menagerie of grilled vegetables like zucchini, eggplant, peppers and tomatoes.
The Sangiovese shines through on the dry finish with enough cherry and dried plum favors that any professor of wine acumen could appreciate. And for around $13 retail, I’m guessing even the winemaker had no clue of just how good this wine really is. They could – so very easily -charge more.
Thank you to all of this blog’s followers and readers. What’s in the Bottle has been nominated for a handful of wine blog awards including Best New Wine Blog via the North American Wine Blog Awards.
I’ll keep researching, sampling, cooking, pairing and writing and you keep reading, experimenting and enjoying! Finalists for the awards will be announced in early May. Special thanks to an old friend in Nashville and to my very svelte bride.
My muse and I have been on a soul searching Syrah kick for the past five months. So before we totally committed to the cyclical wine changes, we had to explore one more from the Central Coast. The 2010 Qupé Central Coast Syrah starts as a firm, gripping wine that you surmise won’t let go of your imagination anytime soon.
Over in the food-explorative and restaurant-friendly city of Nashville, my aesthetics aficionado compares the Qupé’s aromatic infusion to a big city steak house. You’ll know what he’s talking about when you catch that first whiff… or if you’ve had it, then ooh la la… lucky you. It offers vine ripe blackberry undertones and an inimitable flavor of an old-fashioned (but properly Southern) rhubarb pie – not overly sweet but lustrous and appetizing.
This is part two of my interview with Ronnie Sanders, owner of Vines Street Imports.
RK: What wine trends do you see for 2013 and into the next year or two?
SANDERS: There is no question that the Australian wine category is coming back, but what I think is most interesting is in the style of wines coming out of Australia that are becoming popular. They are wines from singular sites, that are bio-dynamically or organically farmed and are generally lower in alcohol. These are wines of balance and finesse rather than wines that club you in the head. Also there seems to be more adventurous winemaking including whole bunch ferments, longer maceration times with more skin contact, less formulaic winemaking and more thoughtful winemaking.
RK: What are you drinking tonight? What would you pair it with?
SANDERS: Tonight it’s a fish night and it’s looking like a Lethbridge Riesling from Geelong. A beautiful, crystalline wine.
RK: What is your favorite wine country to travel to and explore?
SANDERS: That’s pretty easy and I guess as an Australian specialist this is not the politically correct answer, but its Piedmont and Barolo specifically. Damn I love Barolo!
RK: What is the hottest super-value that you have in your portfolio this year that consumers should be trying and why?
SANDERS: Two wines. The first is Boxhead Shiraz and Cabernet Sauvignon both from South Australia and the second would be any of our Poggio Anima wines, which are all mono-varietal wines from their indigenous place of origin in Italy. I personally like the Primitivo from Basilicata the best: it’s made by rock star winemaker Emiliano Falsini.
RK: What was the wine “wow” moment that first peaked your passion for wine and started you on the path as a wine importer?
SANDERS: My father was a great wine Enthusiast with a passion for Bordeaux, so I tasted a lot of great wine when I was a kid but it was really a 1954 DRC La Tache and then a 1961 Gaja Barbaresco. I tried them both around 1994 and that really got me hooked.
RK: What advice do you have for young wine-enthusiasts who are eager to break into the business?
SANDERS: Be prepared for a ton of work and to not make a ton of money.
RK: What is your “deserted island” wine varietal or specific bottling?
SANDERS: It would be Barolo and anything from Bartolo Mascarello, Edoardo Sobrino or Roberto Conterno.
RK: If you had the power to change one thing about the wine industry, what would it be?
SANDERS: It would have to be the reliance on the major press channels and that seems to be already happening
RK: What’s the hardest thing about the importing business?
SANDERS: That’s easy, the US Dollar which has been brutal for us with the Aussie dollar being at all time highs in the last couple of years.
Anderson Valley has always been my chosen home for tremendous Pinot Noir. Unfortunately a few years back, massive wildfires put a layer of ash and smoke in or around the vineyards. The resulting influence was dubbed “smoke taint” and anyone who opened a bottle of the 2008 vintage (and some may argue 2009) would easily catch a scent reminiscent of an old ashtray or used matchstick.
The good news is that the Pinots in the 2010 vintage from Anderson Valley have shown a return to their polished, urbane style. The 2010 Breggo Pinot Noir is the pudding’s proof with rich black cherries and that marvelous cola-like mouth feel. Say goodbye to poopie Pinot; Anderson Valley has found its mojo and it’s time to start strutting again.
* This column was originally published in Saturday’s on-line edition of the Knoxville News Sentinel.
Once you’ve met him, Ronnie Sanders is one of those people you won’t forget. The animated owner behind the bustling wine import company Vine Street Imports has brought some of the most interesting and conversation-starting Australian wine labels to the U.S. Some of Sanders’ eye-popping labels include Cycle Buff Beauty, Barrel Monkeys and The Mistress.
Q: You have some fantastically insane visual designs on the labels in your portfolio. Where do these producers and/or yourself derive these creative influences?
SANDERS: I’ve always been fascinated with record albums, and when I was kid I bought records according to the album cover. Of course, there were mistakes (Meatloaf’s “Bat out of Hell” comes to mind), and for me I really equate what I loved as a kid with albums to wine label art. It’s hard to put a finger on it but I’ll see an artist that I really like or a concept maybe in a magazine or the cover of a book, and that just gets the creative juices flowing. Considering that I have absolutely no artistic ability at all, I’ve aligned myself with people who are super-creative and let them do their thing.
Q: Do you have any new endeavors on the horizon that you’d like to share with us?
SANDERS: We are having an event in Philadelphia that I am pretty excited about called “Defend Australia,” which is essentially a master class. The vast majority of our distributors nationwide are coming in, including your very own Rich Dixon from Knoxville Beverage as well as many top retailers and sommeliers from around the country. Although we feel the pull again on our category, we wanted to give it a push, as well as feature many of our new wines from wineries that are brand new to the market.
Q: What’s your opinion on the changing of the guard at Wine Advocate now that founder and owner Robert Parker has sold it?
SANDERS: Lisa Perroti-Brown is an incredibly gifted person and I think she’ll do a great job. So far I think her Aussie reviews have been on point. I’m curious to see who will review Italy now that Antonio Galloni is no longer doing the Italian reviews for the Advocate.
Q: Do you think the ongoing debate about the 100-point wine rating system in America (where one or a handful of people crown a wine as king) will lead to any real change in the near future?
SANDERS: I never had a problem with the system as it stands. Nowadays, I think that the average wine-drinker seems to be more comfortable with their palates, but I still have friends who will only buy on press. Hopefully, that will eventually change.
The second half of this interview will be posted on Friday.
* The final post of Spanish Week features guest blogger, Lou Arpino – The Mayor of Rocky Hill
The Spanish came to the New World in search of sparkling gems and metals. Today, they are returning the favor by sending us a sparkling liquid in the form of Cava wine.
In the US, Cava has become a very acceptable, economical alternative to French Champagne. The Spanish produce Cava using the same “traditional” fermentation method used in the French Champagne industry, but they have added a unique automatic riddling process which eliminates the costly hand process used by the French to slowly remove yeast sediment which builds up in the bottle during the fermentation process.
Cava is produced in a number of regions in Spain, with Catalan being the largest producer. Three grapes are blended to produce Cava. Referred to as the “holy trinity” by Spanish winemakers, a blend of Macabeo, Xarello and Perllada are blended in varying degrees (depending on annual growing conditions and the personal preferences of each winemaker) into each bottle of Cava.
Just like its French cousin, Cava comes in a range of dryness depending on its sugar content. Cava has an alcohol content of between 12 and 14 percent and can be generally described as having an aroma of light yeast and biscuit, a flavor of orange, pear or green apple and a smooth, slightly acidic finish. Cava, when poured, treats you to lively, youth full bubbles and a creamy mousse.
Keep in mind that Cava is a younger wine compared to Champagne, so it has a shorter shelf life, usually one to two years. You may be surprised to know that because Cava is inexpensive and very approachable it has become the largest selling sparkling wine in the world.
So, what are you waiting for? Your wine retailer should have a selection of Cavas in his or her sparkling wine section, give one a try the next time you are about to grab that bottle of Champagne or Prosecco.
Spanish Week wouldn’t be complete without recommending more than one Tempranillo based red wine. And although most people automatically think of the Rioja region for their Tempranillo fix, the nearby region of Ribera del Duero produces some stiffly competitive ones. You can’t go wrong with the classic selection of Tinto Pesquera, but for Spanish week I wanted to introduce one that I was previously unfamiliar with, Finca La Mata.
Imported through the Grapes of Spain, Finca La Mata is 100% Tinta del Pais.
Wuh? …..I thought you just said it was a Tempranillo based wine?
And herein lies the tricky part if you don’t have your smart phone with you at the wine shop. Let’s just say that the Spanish do things…. a little differently.
I’ve discovered this week, for instance, that they cook backwards. You’ll know what I mean if you tackle any of the main dishes I feature this week. And as I was familiar with going in, they use lots of local names for various grapes varieties. So, simple old Tempranillo is called Tinta del Pais in Ribera del Duero and confusingly enough it’s called Tinta Fina in several other regions. Simpatico.
So what about the Finca La Mata?
Located directly north of Madrid (in the wine region of Ribera del Duero) Finca la Mata is made from 100% Tinta del Pais (Tempranillo) and comes across as a less-fruity, meatier version of what I usually taste in like-priced Riojas. Aromas of bacon fat and flavors of prunes and dried black fruits persist from start to finish. All this wine really needs is some chorizo and peppers, tagging along for an upbeat lunch date.
Just saying Salsa Barbacoa Catalana will probably make you hungry!
The Spanish dinner (pictured right) not only looks and tastes good, but it also sounds pretty damn appetizing! That’s Pollo con Salsa Barbacoa Catalana, Maíz Español and Espinacas a la Catalana. Or for us bilingually challenged, that very roughly translates to grilled Spanish chicken topped with Catalan Barbecue Sauce, Spanish Corn and Spinach with raisins, pine nuts and anchovies. Probably had you hooked until you read anchovies!
The Spanish region of Catalonia is home to the Spanish cultural juggernaut of Barcelona and lies to the northeast, rubbing shoulders with the Pyrenees and France. Catalonia plays host to two of the recipes above, as well as being ground zero for delectable Spanish sparkling wines and their Cava houses.
The garlicy, nutty BBQ sauce and baked corn casserole needs a wine that is very food friendly, especially when you throw in a cooked spinach dish. And since we’re dealing with a Catalonian recipe then a home turf wine (like a Priorat) is an ideal source to draw from.
The 2004 Ardévol Priorat Coma d’en Romeu comes at you with a distinct and appetite building aroma of high dollar olive oil that is both earthy and smoky. And if you’re lucky enough to have a little left over on day two, then you’ll also notice a developing plum jam element in the flavor.
Predominantly a blend of Carinena and Garnacha (with a smidgeon of bordeaux varietals added), the Ardévol’s small production level and cha-ching price tag may make it a little more difficult to track down… but well worth the endeavor.
That’s Spanish for closeup, as in you better scroll to the bottom of the post and see the closeup pic of the paella.
Over the past few years, Albariño has slowly become one of my favorite white wines. And I know I’ve waxed about it poetically a hand full of times on my blog. This article makes for a little refresher course: All about Albariño.
The only thing better than getting to enjoy one of your favorite white wines in early Spring is getting to enjoy it twofold. This is where my muse and I found ourselves last night, with two affordable and accessible bottles of Albariño to accompany a seafood paella recipe.
First, the time-honored and old school- Martin Codax Albariño- provided lively aromas of peaches. It is one of the more acclaimed and historic Albariño producers. In fact you’ll see it recommended in several of the more venerable books about wine.
And while the Eidosela Albariño is more of a neophyte, its flavor profile of fresh pear and honeydew melon means that it probably has some staying power.
Albariño’s simplicity and freshness makes for a natural partner for seafood dishes. And it being Spanish Week, I knew that eventually I would have to delve into the unchartered waters of paella. So, I sought out a paella recipe with a seafood component and GOT AFTER IT.
The key to good paella is getting the rice just right – a perfectly crusty bottom that’s neither dry nor fluffy. We added prawns, crawfish and mussels to the Paella Alicantina mix and although the rice wasn’t as “just right” as it should be, the melding of seafood and saffron probably could have made cardboard taste good.
Back in my retail days, there was a winery rep who use to come ‘round promoting his wares. Without fail, he would always refer to his (really below average) wines as having “that wow factor.” All I could really think was yes – they sure do have that wow factor, as in WOW these wines really suck! From that point on I promised myself not to use the W-word lightly.
I had forgotten all about the swill peddler and that moment until just a few weeks ago when I popped open a very inexpensive wine for the first time. It went something like this:
And before the wine could reach my lips…
And so the symphony began for this 100% pure Spanish Tempranillo.
The 2011 Sinfonia grabs your attention like Mrs. G-Clef getting down to a clash of cymbals. Its bouquet, not only offers that W-moment, but also provides enough captivation to keep you coming back for a discovery of lovely cedar notes, woodsy cigar box aromatics and peppy dark fruits.
The Sinfonia’s juicy texture flowed over with crazy-good raspberry flavors and a thirty-second finish. This deep, dark purple Tempranillo is produced by Bodegas Abanico and imported to the US through the Grapes of Spain. And if you didn’t catch enough the second whiff around, then upon subsequent visits the mysterious and elusive spice-box menagerie will truly amaze you.
Let me count the ways I love some Laya. A 70/30 blend of Garnacha and Monastrell, Laya is one poser of a wine – showing off bright, vivid red hues with plenty of lip popping succulence. Think of the always-fruity Evoida Garnacha but with more textural preference.
Discernable by its cornucopia of strawberry and raspberry flavors, the 2011 vintage is layered with gobs of luscious spring inspired fruit. Its bodega, Atalaya, hails from the eastern Spanish wine region of Almansa, near the Mediterranean. And for such a great bottle of wine to come such a long way, it’s an astounding find that falls right in that holy-grail price point of only $10.
* A version of the following article was first published in Saturday’s on-line edition of the Knoxville News Sentinel.
Back in the 1980’s vodka took its first small step into the world of flavored spirits. With the American launch of Absolut Peppar, the world of Bloody Mary’s and indeed vodka would never be the same. Today, flavored vodkas are everywhere and being made by almost everyone who distills vodka. A stroll down the vodka aisle shows just how much the category has grown from the pepper or citrus-based beginnings to the threshold-pushing flavors of bacon, bubble gum and even birthday cake.
Muddling through the bizarre efforts of some vodka distillers can be formidable, so recently I sat down at the Grill At Highlands Row to talk turkey (did I just create a new flavor) with Chad Barger, general manager at the Grill. Along with bartender Laura Musgrave, we wanted to examine some of the more culinary-driven flavored vodkas and see just what creative and enjoyable mixed drinks we could invent.
A few years ago the Sazerac Company (purveyors of outstanding Bourbon) launched an organic vodka with unusual flavors of cucumber and lime called Rain. Musgrave, who has been with the Grill At Highlands Row since it opened in 2010, took the Rain Vodka and quickly focused in on a mojito influence with the mixing of muddled mint, lime and simple syrup to the already cucumber enhanced vodka. The result was a savory, balanced cocktail with an air of freshness to it.
With Musgrave’s creation, dubbed the Muddler in the Rain, she was able to walk the fine line of the citrus influence. Too much would have overshadowed the cucumber and not enough would have meant loosing that crispness and thus balance of the drink.
With the Nielsen ratings showing that premium vodkas were up over 33% last year, it was no surprise when the trendsetters at Absolut rolled out a new premium vodka in 2013. Little did anyone know; however, that the line extension would include the popular herb of cilantro.
Cilantro is one of the few things that my wife and I disagree on. You either love it or hate it for its floral, herbaceous nature. And obviously Absolut was thinking of culinary-influenced mix drinks when they created this herb-guided vodka. So, I was enthusiastic when Barger and Musgrave collaborated to concoct two killer cocktails with this uniquely flavored spirit.
The first creation was a mix of the Absolut Cilantro and Lime with some ginger beer, lemon and lime juice. For all of those who enjoy a nice pre-dinner cocktail to stimulate the appetite, this “Appetizer Cocktail” is just for you. The piquancy of the ginger plays out nicely to the late arriving but appetite-building cilantro.
Second, they fashioned a full-circle tribute to the whole reason Absolut introduced its first pepper-flavored vodka 27 years ago, the iconic cocktail – the Bloody Mary. With the Absolut Cilantro and Lime being mixed with Musgrave’s zinged up rendition of Zing Zang Bloody Mary Mix, they added a garnish of in-house jalapeño stuffed olives. It’s the perfect prelude to some shrimp and grits for Sunday brunch.
Finally, as a lover of all things Italian I was eager to sample a third flavored vodka invention, the “Epic Bellini.” A natural twist on the Italian Bellini, it is a simple mix of prosecco and Knoxville’s newest vodka brand, Epic. Wonderfully aromatic and true to its fruit source, the Epic Peach flavor offers a jazzed up version of the classic Venetian cocktail with a garnish of blood orange.
Straight off the shelf, flavored vodkas may not be for everyone. But with the proper mixology and some professional advice culinary delights can be a sip away.
Finally it’s complete. And man is it good!
My good friend Lou, swung by this week so that we could finish up our month long project of making limoncello. The second part of the project involved a little stirring of the high proof alcohol that for the past four weeks had played host to a lemon tree full of zest. The aroma was strong but fresh and clean.
After making and cooling a simple syrup of water and sugar, we added it to the lemon zest/alcohol mix and set it aside for one more night. The next day I bottled about three liters worth of limoncello using some of the old labels and bottles from the last go-around as well as a few new ones. The color is just as amazing and tempting as the pic above. And the taste? Let’s just say, the Neapolitans have nothing on us.
Besides sharing and enjoying the final product with friends, the only task left to do is give the limoncello a label name. My last batch was named in tribute to my grandparents. This year we have narrowed down the label name to the following and would appreciate your input:
(1) Distillato Clandestino (Moonshine)
(2) Chiaro di Luna (Moonshine)
(3) Contrabbando di Italiano (Italian Contraband)
(4) Boot Hooch (cheap liquor from that country shaped like a boot)
FLASHBACK: * This article is a re-print from a two-part series written for a retail newsletter back in the Spring of 2009. I thought it was appropriate since it’s about time for the Merlot Kings to initiate a second round of resurrection. Or for those who were in denial about Merlot last time to adopt the same
approach mistake about Pinot Noir.
Across our domestic wine scene, there’s a united front building up in support of reinventing Merlot. Since the movie Sideways came out, I’ve seen more and more consumers make the switch from Merlot to Pinot Noir. So, it was only a matter of time before growers in Napa and Sonoma were going to have to get a game plan together and try to stop the bleeding.
Similarly, “new red wine drinkers” are now starting out with Pinot Noir as opposed to the old go to, Merlot. Retail teams in various markets seemed to follow the trend as well and started recommending more and more Pinot Noir just as mid-price and high-end Merlot bottles worked on their dust tan.
So, what’s a Merlot producer to do? Well for starters, like a lot of declining businesses, they were seemingly in denial at first. Then, when many vintners started throwing down Pinot Noir vines and buying up fruit sources across the West Coast, France and even Northern Italy, the “old schoolers” in Napa and Sonoma knew that Pinot Noir was here to stay. After realization set in, the long time Merlot Kings worked on holding the line on price and trying to gobble up as many high ratings and reviews as they could. Inevitably though, the writers and critics followed the popular trend to Pinot Noir as well and started to share in the love, the press and the trend.
The next wave of counter attacks came in March, when both a popular national newspaper and an independent wine periodical ran somewhat similar slants calling for the revival of Merlot.
First, The Wall Street Journal ran a wine article on Merlot being on the comeback trail. Co-writers, Dorothy Gaiter and John Brecher of the WSJ pointed the finger at greedy wine producers, over planting and over production. They then went on to list their suggestions for value-oriented Merlots, including Blackstone. Some retailers got excited about promoting Blackstone Merlot, again, and bought into the united front. After all, who would doubt or question such a reputable news source.
The second round was fired off that same month when the normally connoisseurs at Connoisseurs’ Guide ran an exposé demanding in very adult-to-child like condescension that “the temptation to treat Merlot as a less than serious version of Cabernet Sauvignon needs to stop, and it needs to stop now.” They too blamed the decline on over planting, poor climatic choices, high demand perceptions and of course what’s his name from Sideways.
CG (Connoisseurs’ Guide) gives out ratings based on a 100-point scale and signifies anything over a 90 rating as a Two Star Wine on a Three Star scale. So after they reviewed 72 Merlots for their latest issue, what did we learn? According to their scores 11 out of the 72 wines reviewed got a Two Star rating. That means 15% of the Merlots they reviewed were higher then a 90 and considered “distinctive.” What the untrained eye doesn’t see is that only 2 of those “distinctive’ Merlots were under $42 (ouch!) And on average those reviewed higher than a 90 would cost you $61.82 plus tax. Thanks but no thanks. For that kind of money, I’d rather buy two or three Pinot Noirs.
Back in the fall, my muse made an outstanding brisket with braised carrots. So savory and rich, her brisket is usually a cool weather staple. But I was craving a last bite of winter fare and she surprised me one night, a la an unexpected rendezvous with brisket.
With the arrival of the vernal equinox, we’re finding our tastes making the natural and expected migration towards white and rosé wines. So having one last supper of hearty meals (like brisket) meant a last chance at a thicker, more engaging red to join in the mealtime regalia.
Its cedar nose and aromatic display of eucalyptus and mint were almost intoxicating. The Traditions promptly offers an immediate gratification of rich and dense dark berry fruit. Its delicious offering of black cherry and currant fruit camps down in the mid-palate and acts like it isn’t going anywhere fast.
What I like most about this (“drinks like a $30”) Washington State Cabernet is that it’s under $15. Damn! This is one to buy by a buggy full.
Your steak, hamburger, barbeque chicken, crawfish, pizza, err brisket will thank you. Once again Washington State brings the heat and Milbrandt makes other similarly priced Cabs taste like Milquetoast.
To all the home-vintners and garage juice makers who will never be discovered for their exploratory contributions to the world of wine, may each consecutive vintage be your best. And a special shout-out for my great Uncle Skip (whose last vintage you see here); may the afterworld offer fields of elderberries and all the tomato vines a man could harvest.
Mizz Jackson came to dinner the other night, and she brought some nasty wines. Nasty Good Wines!
Yes I know… I risk dating myself with the weedy, lame musical reference… carbon dating.
My wife’s good friend joined us for dinner with the challenging assignment of pairing a wine with risotto that’s been prepared with parmesano, lemon zest and mint. It would have been a simple task had the risotto not included the grilled Southern shrimp and a small cap of homemade pickled red onions. And before I go any further I need to fess up that the recipe came from my old college roommate and owner of Café Roma in Cleveland, Chef Shannon. He is living proof that you can trust a skinny chef.
So with this daunting endeavor in mind, Mizz Jackson arrives with…CHOICES! Amen to that! Because after all, the thought process goes something like this: peas and rice probably a dry white, cheesy risotto needs something to balance… err maybe cut through the creamy texture, the host really likes Italian red wines, seafood normally equates to white but it’s been grilled and no telling what seasonings have been added, pickled red onions… man you’ve got me there, I better just bring some… choices.
Excellent choice Mizz Jackson!
Our token white was the 2011 Round Pond Sauvignon Blanc with Rutherford, Napa Valley. Citrusy aromas and a straightforward flavor profile framed a balanced fruit-driven sauvignon blanc, that’s not overly acidic. Quite simply, it’s a good match for unpretentious food and wine pairing.
The compulsory (keep the host/ cook happy) Italian red was an awfully generous gesture- the Fanti Rosso di Montalcino, Toscana. I’ve tried Fanti’s dessert wine – Vin Santo recently, but it’s been a good decade since I took a bite out of one of their elegant dinner reds. The Rosso di Montalcino poured into the glass with the customary brickish red that many wines from the area are known for. The surprise was seeing this wonderful orange and vibrant halo encapsulating the wine. Aromas of licorice and leather catered well to the crushed red cherries and Luden-like nostalgia of the Fanti’s essence.
The often overlooked, Santa Ynez Valley represented a third level of diversity in our wine line-up. Andrew Murray’s 2011 Tous Les Jour Santa Ynez Syrah carted out scents that were reminiscent of a late autumn hike through a well-trodden forest trail.As it tries to be coy with this almost dismissive spice note, it holds absolutely nothing back in an all out barrage of blueberry flavor. Lots of wineries and wine labels talk about having or displaying the really elusive blueberry flavor in wine. But the Andrew Murray Tous Les Jour Syrah is one of only a handful of wines that actually delivers. It reminds me of the deep, rich and decadent blueberry pies my great Aunt Susie use to make while visiting her farm as a boy. With such explosive flavor, the Syrah is a blueberry lover’s dream.
Mizz Jackson agreed. And although dinner was fantastic, the wines were a showstopper.
* A version of this column originally ran in Saturday’s online edition of the Knoxville News Sentinel.
Get ready! They’re going to be here before you know it; the annual and swift invasion of fresh French rosé wines will touchdown in the East Tennessee marketplace in early April and won’t let up until mid summer. So it’s time to shake off those rainy winter blues and to start to think – pink.
Over the past few years, importers like Robert Kacher, Fran Kysela and Dan Kravitz of Hand Picked Selections have done a remarkable job at bringing reliable, high quality rosé wines to the US. With the rosé portfolio of Hand Picked Selections fetching wines from France that are incredible and rousing, this year is no exception. Here are five Hand Picked choices worth asking for at your neighborhood shop this spring.
Finding value in a wine category where prices tend to inch up every year can be formidable. For this very reason, I wanted to seek out at least one French rosé that is both under $15 and still rocking and rolling. That quest led to the discovery of the $13 Le Cirque Rosé. The indulgent and tempting fruit-laden essence of Le Cirque matches its grape make up of being half Grenache and nearly as much Mourvèdre. A unique hint of clove as well as a lively cotton candy color would seem intriguing enough. But throw in a melon patch of summer time flavors and suddenly it’s like having an amusement park in your glass.
Although the previous vintage may have been a little uninspiring, I’m a big fan of the 2012 Domaine de Malavieille Charmille Rosé. Organic conscious wine drinkers will appreciate the extra effort by the winery to attain its biodynamic certification. A dry, Syrah-based wine with richer than normal rosé-like flavors, the Charmille pairs up well with some garden ripe strawberries and a slice of shortcake. In fact, it’s one of those wines with a long and winding, if not meandering, finish that ends right at the point where you find your lips meeting glass for yet another sip.
If you don’t mind paying a little more, then you won’t be able to get enough of the 2012 Chateau de Lancyre Rose from the Languedoc. With spicy notes and a gulp full of tangerine and grapefruit, this wine has been one my favorite rosés for the past few years. A classic blend of Syrah, Grenache and Cinsault, Lancyre is a clean representation of all that is good and fresh in the world or French rosé wines.
Finally, lovers of the bone-dry and mineral style rosé won’t be disappointed with either release of the 2012 Commanderie de la Bargemone or the 2012 Château du Donjon Minervois rosé wines. With cheery cherry, strawberry and quince notes both of these wines make it easy to think pink as the new batch of springtime rosés roll into town.
That is one scrumptious looking spoonful of good eats!
Last weekend, I finally got around to making my own version of a Tuscan seafood stew that I’d put off for too long. Slow cooked, and by that I mean sslloooooww cooked, this zesty Italian recipe included lots of basil and tomatoes and oregano along with a sea-worthy cornucopia (think hugh conch shell) of all that mother ocean has to offer- calamari, clams, a school of your favorite finned creature – with shrimp and scallops added late. This recipe is the sea’s mighty bounty simmered long and delicately, with the bright sweetness and acidity of good tomatoes all in one bowl.
One of Italy’s old-school and often dismissed white wines is Verdicchio. Typically, mineral-laden and singularly focused, Verdicchio’s simplicity is a natural pairing for a lighter stew that is both fish based and tomato influenced. The 2010 Azienda Santa Barbara Verdicchio dei Castelli di Jesi is an exceptional representation of the varietal. That extra year or two of age has given it a truly golden color. And although most wine drinkers don’t equate aging and Verdicchio, the lush mouthfeel and soft rolling stone fruit flavors are beautiful balancers that allow the wine (as well as the stew) to shine through.
Kale chips are quickly becoming one of the healthiest snack fads. Easy to make, nutritious and quite tasty, the finished product has the texture of popcorn with the crunch of a classic American chip.
Lightly coated in olive oil and tossed with your favorite single season, the kale is then baked for about ten minutes at 350 degrees. The trick is to make sure the kale pieces are de-stemmed, torn into bite-size pieces and not touching on the cookie sheet before you pop them in the oven. That way they’ll firm up properly and result in this hard to believe crunchiness.
The best I’ve made so far is olive oil and Parmigiano Reggiano. Don’t skimp on the cheese. Get the king of parmesan and not the sand that comes out of that plastic shaker. Other good single seasonings include smoked paprika, garlic or just a dash of sea salt.
Chris Morton of the Bearden Beer Market recommends an easy-drinking pilsner that won’t overshadow the kale, like Finch’s from Chicago or even the very hot-selling Bitburger Pilsner. Best of all, kale chips appealing duet of being healthy and tasting good, leaves a little extra wiggle room for that extra beer.
* A version of this column originally ran in the Saturday on-line edition of the Knoxville News Sentinel.
It’s easy to tell a consumer what the good wines are from year to year. The more difficult, or truthful, aspect is telling them which wines or at least which wine categories to avoid completely. Getting that extra special, insider information usually requires building up a respectable relationship with your favorite wine merchant. And that can take time, especially if your favorite store has a lot of turnover.
Like any year, there will be some hits and some misses. But based on personal experience these are three wine categories that I’d be hesitant to embrace this year, along with a little rationalization as to why.
First, inexpensive and domestic red blends have been hot for over two years now. Everybody, and by that I mean every supplier, has gotten in on the trend of putting out a cheap, but quite enjoyable red blend. Originally, this was done because a lot of wine producers had some quality, left over juice. Now that most have depleted their extra baggage, they’re left to sourcing cheap wine from wherever they can find it. This typically means a lower quality of wine that is often reflected in the taste.
Have you ever wondered why a certain red blend just seems to get lighter and lighter or sweeter and sweeter from one vintage to the next? Often the answer is money. It costs more to produce quality wine, but many wineries know that they won’t be able to sell as much from one year to the next if they raise their prices. And if they’re out of the good, leftover juice, then they have to resort to finding a cheaper and lower-grade supply line. After putting out a great value their first vintage, many producers (of the trendy red blend) will assume they have you hooked on their brand and not necessarily maintain the quality into the second or third vintages.
Second, sidestep the cheap Pinot Noir shelf. Since the movie Sideways came out, vineyards in California have ripped up more vines and replanted them with more Pinot Noir grapes than most of us have ripped up and replaced our new year’s resolutions. That means the bottle of cheap Pinot Noir is being filled with juice from vineyards that aren’t very mature. It’s kind of like asking a newborn to recite the alphabet…backwards.
Third, oaky-style Chardonnays have started to take a backstage to the trendy, un-oaked version. Some aficionados argue that this is happening because American tastes are changing. However, the argument could be made that the movement is actually driven by costs. The production of oak barrels and subsequent aging in them is quite expensive, so wineries could be looking for ways to cut back.
Over the years, they have used the insertion of oak staves into the grape juice to impart the creamier textures and buttery nuances that oaky style Chardonnay lovers prefer. And in more recent years, they have used a “dusting” of oak in the Chardonnay to accomplish the same goal. That being said, it may be best to avoid oaky-style Chardonnays under $10.
Once again the reason is simply a matter of dollars or in the sometimes smelly case of wine, scents.
Last Sunday, I returned from a mini vacation to Louisville. The home of legendary horse racing, the greatest boxer of all time and some renowned bat making, also had a few wine shops that were swinging away. It wasn’t soon after returning home with some mixed cases of first time wines, that I discovered a favorite new everyday white wine. The 2011 Mar de Viñas Albariño (Rias Baixas, Spain) proves that you can find a varietally correct Albariño without having to overpay.
The Mar de Viñas cost me about $14, much less than comparable ones inching toward the $20 range, but had just as much depth of flavor and enjoyable fruit. Green apple aromas were followed by a flavor profile of tropical influences like bananas, kiwi and guava.
Great with your favorite sea offering, the Mar de Viñas’ freshness and vibrancy are evidence of its versatility and also acted as an inspiration for a little beach time getaway. For more on Albariño, check out my column from last year; All About Albariño.
This January we celebrated our fifth annual Burns Night Supper. Named for Scotland’s most famous poet, Robert Burns, the dinner is celebrated every year on the late poet’s January 25th birthday. Although there are slight variations on the evening’s itinerary, the gist of it involves a traditional meal (and scotch), some background on the old bard (more scotch), readings of his work (as well as some personal venting or ribbing) and two signature toasts. RobertBurns.org and Scotland.org have two of the better sites for replicating your own tribute to Burns and all things Scottish.
Our previous four Burns Night Suppers varied in size from a humble group of 7 to a rowdy mob of 19 just last year. This January we settled into a comfortable table of eleven that included my son Anthony Joseph. This is Anthony decked out in his tartan shirt and enjoying his first Burns Night Supper at the ripe age of seven months. He had to skip the haggis, and actually everything else, but was allowed to guzzle some milk and chow down on some delicious applesauce.
The haggis arrived ready to cook from the Caledonian Kitchen. After five years of doing this, we highly recommend them for all your Scottish supplies and we highly recommend steaming the haggis as opposed to other cooking methods.
When we hosted out first Burns Night Supper back in 2009, we were adamant about keeping with tradition. But this year we decided to mix up the menu a little, while still trying to honor some of those Scottish roots. Besides the obligatory haggis and HP sauce, the menu included a lamb stew puff pastry pie with some Indian influenced rice and spicy vegetables.
And although we didn’t have cousin Brucie’s irrestible Scottish eggs as an appetizer, we did manage to round up some killer desserts including a Tipsy Laird Trifle and heavenly sweet Banoffee Pie.
Special thanks to Mama Desai who traveled 400 miles in the blistery blizzard for her fifth Burns Night and for taking these pics, as well as Sweet Bonnie Mary for the skeetch, Gerry for the best damn Irish bread ever, the Gang of two for the Indian influence and Kritti for some spot on B-A-N-A-N-A meet toffee – pie. That pie was bananas!
Here it is! Protein meet Mr. Green! You pick the lettuce, green or mix of your choice then..
Top with a pinch or two of goat cheese, bacon that isn’t obnoxiously over-smoked, fresh avocado wedges, beautifully rare- aged beef, and a sliced (picture evident) perfectly boiled egg. Finish with a drizzle of blue cheese or green goddess dressing and you have a killer, filler of a dinner.
Here’s the tricky part! What wine do you pair with a steak salad?
With most everyday, run-of-the-mill green salads the answer would revolve around a white wine. But with some big steak and fatty pork, things get a little tougher. You don’t want a huge beastly, tannic red like Cabernet or Syrah because the flavors of the greens and avocados will disappear. And the typical white isn’t going to stand up to all that heavy meat and protein.
The answer lies in this little beauty from the Italian region of Emilia-Romagna… the Otello Nero di Lambrusco. I had this captivating and exquisite wine in Parma about nine months before my son was born. Try not to think of 1970′s American-preferred jug Lambrusco. Although there is a little sweetness to the Otello, it has enough tannic structure and dry finish to play along with both the greens and the beef in this salad. And unlike its namesake, the Otello doesn’t have your typical wicked operatic ending.
If you can’t find a drier-style Lambrusco your next best bet may be an Italian Dolcetto.
This past Tuesday, I got together with an old colleague for my third attempt at limoncello. What I discovered between round one and round two made a world of difference in the final product. First, don’t use any pure grain alcohol (PGA) or Golden Grain when concocting this homemade hooch. Instead, opt for a 100 proof vodka (Smirnoff blue label works well) and be thankful you paid a little more. Likewise, spring for some organic lemons. You’ll have no nuance of a chemical component in the final product since the lemons (and thus skins) aren’t treated with mouth-numbing carcinogens.
My second experience in making limoncello also taught me to use big, fat lemons. Handling and zesting the little guys can get tricky and it’s hard enough just to keep the white pith from the lemon zest. My friend, Lou “the Mayor of Rocky Hills” demonstrates the perfectly zested lemon. Here is just another instance in which that Fine Italian Hand comes in… well… handy.
There are a hundred recipes on line for limoncello and most are fairly similar. Using only four ingredients (vodka, lemons, sugar and water) means these little tips will be the difference between good limoncello and furniture cleaner.
After the zesting is complete, the vodka is poured over top then sealed and stored for anywhere from two to four weeks. Ours is resting in this airtight plastic gallon drum, where we will revisit it in March for step two which involves the addition of some simple syrup and a little more Italian patience.
He tried to get loose.
Chicken doesn’t have to be just chicken. So leave the boneless, skinless, tasteless chicken breasts in the freezer for another week and tie up one of these. Roasting a whole chicken really isn’t hard. Stuffed with lemon and rubbed down with some garlic and oil, a whole chicken only requires some additional time in being strung up and rotated a few times in the oven.
The beauty of roasting the whole bird is the increase in flavors brought on by having a juicier inner core surrounded by a crispy layer of finger pulling, can’t wait to dinner sampling, Kentucky Colonel inspiring, perfectly cooked and delectable chicken skin. Better yet, the additional flavors and textures mean more wine pairing possibilities.
This would include anything from the great French Rose wines that are about to come out this Spring to a pinot noir-based red to a (depending on the amount of butter you might use) creamy Chardonnay. My reliable Reliance connection recommended the Davis Bynum Chardonnay from the Russian River Valley. Think cream, toasty oak, vanilla and Royal Riviera® Pears in a bottle accompanied by some divinely roasted chicken and a well stocked (thank God Spring is almost here) picnic basket.