Mischief & Mayhem

Mischief & Mayhem: one thing leads to another

Mischief & Mayhem: one thing leads to another –

There are two words that are seldom seen together when someone references a red wine from Bourgogne; value and quality. Seems like purchasing an amazing red Burgundy (Bourgogne) first requires the vending of one’s arm or leg or both. And the cheap ones? We’d all rather guzzle down an overly fruity domestic Pinot Noir than wonder why the wine taste like nothing. There is no there, there.

And then, the dust clears (from the un-purchased bottles on the lower rows of the French wine section) and what emerges is a havoc wrecker for the complacent “old guard.” The 2009 Mischief & Mayhem Bourgogne finally set things straight. Its a wine with a soft tannic structure and dry finish, whose flavors are balanced by the presence of both red berry fruit and some ambrosial earthiness. Plus this Johnny-come-lately winery doesn’t pull any punches with a stooopid $40-80 retail price. Try about $20-something for a 100% Pinot Noir from old world Bourgogne!

Interested in buying an Italian Ferrari?

Revved up Rosé

Revved up Rosé

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

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

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

WARNING: Here comes the flag for piling on!

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

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

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

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

Fiore de Sol Timpano & Pinot Noir

Are you hungry yet? Yes it’s edible. Introducing my own spin on the master of all dinner flytes from the classic cult film, Big Night!

Before you try to wrap your spatula around just what it is, I really recommend you grab the movie off Netlix. Starring Stanley Tucci, Isabella Rossellini, Tony Shalhoub and a very young Marc Anthony, Big Night is a story about… well… a lot…including the restaurant business, the quintessential love triangle, the Italian American immigrant story – of trying to make it big, as well as being about music and yes FOOD. Or in this case a big bundt pan full of humble pie!

I knew I couldn’t make my timpano look quite as good on the inside (as the one in the movie), so I asked my girl to put a little makeup… errr food coloring on the outside. The result was a nice looking sunflower timpano, stuffed with tomatoes, cheese, soft-boiled eggs, sausage, pork, funghi, pasta et al.

Since it was more of a pork-based timpano, I popped a bottle of Pinot Noir. The 2011 Belle Glos Clark & Telephone Pinot Noir is a whole lotta luscious love, layered with more fresh fruit flavors than a subscription to Harry & Davids. I found the Belle Glos on sale at Pop’s Wine & Liquor in Powell for $28 and quickly realized that I should’ve purchased a second bottle. Just remember not to mix your starches!

What to drink: 2011 Acrobat Rosé of Pinot Noir

In this wide, wonderful world of wine overproduction, conglomerates are continually creating new brands and labels and blends with the emphasis more on eye catching artwork or clever catch phrases rather than what’s actually in the bottle. So, when established brands (like King Estate’s Acrobat) peel off another new wine label, I’m quick to raise the red flag. This year the king of Oregon wineries rolled out a new rosé comprised of Pinot Noir. And after trying it, I promptly lowered the old flag.

The 2011 Acrobat Rosé mirrors the brilliant color of sashimi grade salmon. Not excessively dry, it delivers refreshing summer-inspired flavors of raspberry and ripe strawberries. If they can keep the price and quality in line with the rest of the Acrobat wines, over time King Estate may go three for three with their entry-level brand.

Frugal finds for the New Year

* One of your resolutions this New Year may be to save a little money. That doesn’t mean you have to give up good quality, especially when it comes to wine.  In fact, you can find some good value wines between $8 and $12 representing several different categories.  So if you haven’t resolved to be on the wagon this year, then peruse your way through this exercise in frugality.

Sparkling Wine: Codorniu Cava ($8)

Here’s one of those rare moments when the wine is actually worth more than the going price.  Codorniu is a Spanish sparkling wine with roots dating back to the 16th century.  Although modern bottling didn’t start until 1872 it is considered the “Original Cava” and truly blows the competition away.   It has persistent beading, a nice balance of fruit and medium yeastiness, without being doughy.

Sparkling wine should not be reserved for special occasions, because it does pair well with many foods. That being said you can grab a case of this Super Value for about $87 and pull for your favorite team at the upcoming Super Bowl party.

Pinot Noir:  2005 Silver Ridge Pinot Noir ($11)

Fred Franzia and the Bronco Wine Company continue a long trend of offering solid wines at very fair and affordable prices. If you consider some of their other super values like Coastal Ridge and Napa Ridge then you know they’re all about passing the savings on to the consumer.  The 2005 Silver Ridge Pinot Noir from California is no exception, or slouch for that matter!  With cherry notes and a tart finish, this Pinot Noir makes for a good food wine on weeknights. Plus, unlike a lot of value priced end Pinot Noirs, this winery doesn’t seem to be running out of juice anytime soon.

Riesling: 2005 Bonny Doon’s The Heart Has It’s Riesling ($11)

If the Salvador Dali inspired label on this bottle of wine doesn’t grab your attention, then the uniqueness of its flavors will.  The Heart Has It’s Riesling by Bonny Doon Vineyards is an all west coast Riesling produced in California with grapes grown in Washington State.   Low in alcohol at 8.3%, it has flavors of Gala apples, aromas of slate stone and funky fruit nuances that may remind you of fresh mangos.  It might best be described as an American Riesling with a German flair.

French: 2004 Le Paradou Rouge ($10)

A few months ago I sent out an email about a “local boy done good.”  Jon-David Headrick is a graduate of the University of Tennessee and worked at the Orangery for years. After school his passion for wine grew and bam, before you know it, he’s personally selecting wines from the Loire and Rhone regions of France!

The 2004 Le Paradou Rouge is a blend of 60% Grenache and 40% Syrah.  Aromatic and spicy, the blend has silky tannins, delicious black fruit flavors and no oak influence. It’s so good you may be tempted to finish the bottle or even return to purchase a case.

Merlot: 2004 Capolan Sonoma Merlot ($12)

From the Purple Wine Company, makers of the beloved Avalon Cabernets, comes a new Merlot from Sonoma County called Capolan. Unlike a lot of similarly priced Merlots that are overloaded with green herby flavors, this wine has none of those obvious flaws.  It is rich and round, with a medium body and soft tannins but successfully avoids being “tooty fruity.”  Look for the bottle with the bright red parrot on the label.  Polly may want another.

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

The right wine completes the Thanksgiving feast

I’ve enjoyed quite a few Thanksgiving feasts and completely appreciate that this is one holiday where tradition rings true. It’s easy to put on that “Thanksgiving Thirteen” over an extended four-day, gluttonous weekend of white turkey meat, brown turkey meat, gravy, sweet potato casserole, oyster stuffing, homemade buttery bread, tasty cranberry sauce, garlic mashed potatoes, pecan pie, chess pie, pumpkin pie, apple pie and, of course, the long string of leftovers and sandwiches.

The one trap in all of this tradition and “deadly sin” exercise is falling prey to the wine ideologues. These are the ones with the all-too-repetitive suggestion that one should drink boring French Beaujolais Nouveau for another Thanksgiving holiday just because Lafayette happened to show up at the American Revolution. Instead, do as Clark Griswold did in the movie “Christmas Vacation” when the squirrel attacked inside his home. After telling his son, Russ, to get a hammer, Clark’s wife questioned what the hammer was for. “I’m gonna catch it in the coat, and smack it with the hammer.” This year do the same with Nouveau – before it ruins another holiday.

Some may ask: Why not Nouveau? Simply put, there are a lot of flavors going on in a traditional Thanksgiving dinner: the many fruits like cranberry and pumpkin; the sage in the stuffing; the savory and saltiness in the gravy. So, if a traditional Thanksgiving feast is on tap this Thursday, then don’t be fooled by the lure of a bright and colorful label of houses or flowers that looks more like an Easter appropriate watercolor than a fall harvest wine. Instead, go with something that can not only complement those flavors but also offer up some style. No one wants that turkey to split open and ruin the night like it did at the Griswold family Christmas dinner. And no one wants to smile and pretend that Nouveau tastes good with anything other than fruitcake.

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Give the gift of vino for the holidays

There are a few things that go without saying this year. The holidays are busy and the stock market will make you dizzy. The mall is packed full. Sometimes we have to remind ourselves that the definitive moments with family and friends are what make this time of year special. So, the quicker you can finish that holiday gift shopping and get home, then the quicker you can enjoy being around your favorite people.

Wine, like food, is terrific for bringing people together. So for all those hard-to-shop-for people on your holiday gift list, there’s a wine that can equal their style and preference.

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Pinot Noir is still hot but affordable ones are not

Over the last few decades, wine makers from California and the American Northwest have made great strides in replicating and outdoing their European rivals, especially the French. The U.S. has been consistently successful in replicating Bordeaux gems like Cabernet, Merlot and Sauvignon Blanc, as well as producing Chardonnays that rival if not exceed the Burgundies of France.

However, when it comes to the cat-like Pinot Noir grape, it has taken the U.S. much longer to catch up.

Most of the delay dealt with issues of terroir and weather and finding the right place to grow Pinot Noir. If you’ve been fortunate enough to try a Miner, Beaux Freres, Siduri, Lucia or Merry Edwards Pinot Noir, then you know that when it comes to high-end Pinot, the U.S. has definitely arrived.

Consequently, where we’ve lagged behind is in producing quality Pinot Noir that is everyday affordable. Though I had to taste quite a few bottles of $10 (or, for that matter, $20) swill to find some respectable low-end Pinot Noirs, there are some notable ones coming out of California and Oregon.

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