Stickybeak, a wine to be nosy about

In the knows...

In the knows…

Few wines have the ability to transport us to a warm weather, summertime state of mind like a California Sauvignon Blanc does. The Intense flavors and aromatics of the wine quickly take us away to the juicy and fresh fruits that are so abundant mid year. And with this Yeti-like winter we’re having who hasn’t been dreaming of a break from it all? A sabbatical would be nice, but most of us would probably settle for whatever recess we could muster at this point.

With the snow sticking around just long enough to keep us on guard, I thought it was appropriate to share a recent sample of Sauvignon Blanc that came my way. The 2012 Stickybeak Sauvignon Blanc from California’s Russian River Valley offers up a temporary ticket to ride. Vibrant aromas of lemon and delectable tangerine act as a trigger, sweeping any hot weather dreamer off to a warm shoreline, a sun dried spot of grass or just la-la-land in general.

And in case you didn’t know St. Valentine’s Day, like Lupercalia tomorrow, marks the halfway point between winter and spring. So there are several reasons to pop a good bottle of wine and celebrate that we’re finally on the other side of the Yeti’s mountain.

Wines from the Western Cape

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

Some of South Africa's Best

Some of South Africa’s Best

South Africa’s Western Cape serves as the Rainbow Nation’s cradle of vineyards as well as its celebrated wine-producing hub. Most notable is the Stellenbosch area near Cape Town, where vacationers will stumble across endless rows of vines. The Mulderbosch vineyards, located in the hill country along Stellenbosch, has carved out a big presence on the South African wine scene in a very short period of time.

Founded less than a quarter century ago, Mulderbosch Vineyards started flexing its muscle almost immediately with rave reviews from big name wine critics. The winery’s success started with well received bottlings of popular white varietals like Sauvignon Blanc and Chenin Blanc and has more recently evolved into stellar production of fabulous rosé. They’ve managed to do what only a handful of major South African wine exports have, namely move beyond misconceptions about South African wines and the pigeon-holed Pinotage variety that many Americans equate with the South African wine scene.

Likewise, Mulderbosch bottles waste no time in separating themselves from international wine label conformity, instead opting to use a bottom to top ribbon label that is both eye catching and textural. After trying them, you’ll see why these wines are definitely worthy of their beauty pageant sash.

I recently had the pleasure of trying a handful of Mulderbosch wines that included both their big hitting whites and their newly released 2012 Rosé. Made from 100% Cabernet Sauvignon, the 2012 Mulderbosch Rosé is a fuller bodied rosé with a deep color that you’ll notice immediately. If this isn’t the most vibrant and brilliant colored rosé that I’ve seen this season, then it was beaten out by the whiskers of a horse’s nose.

With a bejeweled pink grapefruit color, the rosé has wonderful watermelon flavors and that “gotta have more” red berry presence. An excellent and prolonged finish with a perfectly refreshing mouth feel separates the Mulderbosch Rosé from the field. Enjoy after some summertime gardening or as a Sunday brunch showstopper.

If the moniker weren’t already snatched up, Mulderbosch might market this next wine (with it’s golden hues) as their mellow yellow. The 2011 Mulderbosch Chenin Blanc reveals entertaining scents of Asian pear and bubble gum. Often referred to as Steen in South Africa, Chenin Blanc wine like the Mulderbosch also walks that Johnny Cash line of not being too sweet or too dry. A profile of simple, honeydew melon and pear persists from start to finish, allowing the wine to be approachable to most wine drinkers.

And when it comes to the 2011 Mulderbosch Sauvignon Blanc, I asked winemaker Adam Mason what made this wine so special. “Being about 5 miles from False Bay we are blessed by cooling afternoon winds that make a big difference to freshness and aromatic intensity. The wine sits in a really lovely place for Sauvignon Blanc, not too green and herbal like you would find in a New Zealand Sauvignon Blanc, but with some riper citrus, melon and gooseberry notes that give a slightly softer element.” I couldn’t have said it better myself.

Pascal Jolivet is a fun guy

Hungry for the Funghi

Hungry for the Funghi

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.

A beastly wine for vegetarian night

Eat your greens!

Eat your greens!

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.

I think that white spot is suppose to be a Milky Way like galaxy

I think that white spot is suppose to be a Milky Way like galaxy

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.

What to drink: Justin Monmousseau Sancerre

Remarkably fragrant, with aromas of lemon, lime, pink grapefruit and a hint of tangerine, Justin Monmousseau’s Sancerre is 100% Sauvignon Blanc and equally vibrant. I recommend it with some grilled artichoke (lime butter on the side) and a fresh catch of red snapper softly seasoned with tandoori powder, olive oil and lemon. The savory, peppiness of the Indian spices brings out a unique zesty characteristic in the Sancerre.

Sassy Sauvignon Blanc is all about the grapefruit

Napa Valley’s most notorious cult winery, Screaming Eagle, just released its whopping 600-bottle production of Sauvignon Blanc through its preferred customer list. Normally this wouldn’t be news, except for the fact that the release price was a staggering $250 per bottle. What makes this story more ridiculous is that some of those customers were able to re-sell the same bottle for upwards of ten times the original asking price.

And if that weren’t enough to get a circus magnate screaming “sucker,” then the fact that the wine is a Sauvignon Blanc (an abundant white grape that’s easy to vinify and not the most noble of keepsakes) should be. Regardless of the inclination of some consumers to overpay for certain wines, Sauvignon Blanc shouldn’t be one of those.

Sauvignon Blanc-based wines have universally become associated with the essence and flavor of grapefruit. Although it is planted and made into crisp, refreshing wines from California to France to New Zealand, Sauvignon Blanc holds true to this expressive citrus character despite its globetrotting presence.

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The Great Sauvignon Blanc Debate

One of the best buys in white wine has to be Sauvignon Blanc. There are few categories of wine in which you can still find a slew of choices for less than nine bucks. With high gas prices and oil profiteers sucking up our greenbacks quicker than the mint can print them, I picked out three cheap Sauvignon Blancs from California and three from Chile. These wines accurately represent the dry, cleaner style of the grape, while at the same time filling the niche for white wine drinkers who are seeking out that refreshing summertime drink.

n 2007 Terra Andina Sauvignon Blanc (Chile) $6.75

With all the hoopla being spewed out in regards to Argentinian wines, many consumers have forgotten about the super savers from neighboring Chile. When it comes to Sauvignon Blanc and cheap whites, Chilean wines have the low price tag that buyers are looking for and the respectable quality to boot. Sharp lemon notes and thirst-satisfying grapefruit flavors are exactly what the doctor ordered with a bottle of Terra Andina Sauvignon Blanc. With a case discount, you can walk out the door with a bottle of wine for less than $6. Seriously, for $6 this is a winner.

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Great Whites for the Dog Days of Summer

My border collie, Layla, reminded me the other day that the dog days of summer are here. She laid out back under her favorite shade tree for about 30 minutes. Then politely, Layla camped just outside the back door in anticipation of re-entering the air-conditioned Mecca that is her house. I don’t blame her. With these hot, summer days, I’m also always looking for something cool and refreshing. Luck has it for me; there are plenty of faithful old white wines to do the trick and a few new whippersnappers as well.

n 2007 Kung Fu Girl Riesling ($11.55)

After visiting quite a few local restaurants with some hot and spicy food on the menu, I discovered there was a new wine in town that all the restaurants were promoting and that “everyone was Kung Fu Fighting” over. The 2007 Kung Fu Girl Riesling is a new creation from Washington State. It’s a semi-sweet Riesling with a honeysuckle bouquet, a touch of viscosity and a host of apple and pear flavors. Kung Fu Girl matches well with spicy Pan-Asian fare and an array of other hot-tongued dishes. The label may be “a little bit frightening,” but the truth is it’s so good that you’ll guzzle down this little bottle as “fast as lightening.”

n 2007 Hugues Beaulieu Picpoul ($9.55)

One of my go-to, old faithful companions is the Hugues Beaulieu Picpoul. From the Languedoc, this French value is soft and simple with sleek mineral notes. It’s been a tried-and-true value in the market for some years now and consistently impresses consumers both in price point and quality. Imported by Kysela Pere et Fils, the 2007 Hugues Beaulieu Picpoul is a spot on match for a bowlful of fresh shellfish and a sky full of hot sunshine. Just ask for picpoul.

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Dream of spring with this sampler of wines

Brrr! It’s been a long, cold winter. Cabin fever is spreading like cream cheese on a hot bagel, and no one seems immune to the symptoms of missing sunshine. I could tell you the obvious: that if you keep a close hand on big, bold red wines all your woes will pass, or at least fade into a finer shade of warmth. But that would be the easy way.

Instead, I’m going to push you to play a little make-believe. The only thing that will make spring arrive sooner is some good old-fashioned daydreaming. This is an early spring sampler of four Sauvignon Blancs that may not raise the temperatures outside but will hopefully lower that dastardly cabin fever in each of us.

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