30 April 2006

Leg of Lamb Dinner

I had dinner over at my brother's place with a friend last night. My sister-in-law and niece were out of town, providing the opportunity for a good guys' night. Things were kept pretty simple: I made some roasted potatoes with rosemary (I've just been craving this recently), and while my brother grilled the lamb (boneless, laid flat on the grill), I made a sauce to go with it. A cup of Dijon mustard, a quarter cup of peach jelly, and a half a cup of bourbon. Sounds odd but it was delicious.

The first bottle consumed was the 2003 The Lucky Country GSM from the Barossa Valley in Australia. I had this at a tasting in February and enjoyed it, but it went particularly well with the lamb. Excellent fruit and low tannins. The second bottle was the 2001 Mt. Oso Cabernet Sauvignon - Cellar Select. Lots of blackberries on the nose and palate, and it still tastes like a fairly young wine.

25 April 2006

2004 The Wishing Tree Shiraz

About a week ago I tried to treat myself to a steak and bottle of red for one... The steak didn't turn out so well, so I tried it again tonight. It had been a rough day at work, and thus on the way home I lucked into a massive T-Bone that had been marked down to a ridiculously low price. Grabbed some small russet potatoes, and headed home. I'd also set out a five-pack of frozen chicken thighs to thaw in the fridge overnight, but upon getting home decided that the combination of meats and nice weather meant it was time for the First Barbeque of the Year.

I roasted the potatoes in the same manner as I did for the Combinations dinner, with some melted butter and fresh rosemary. I smoked the chicken thighs for about an hour on the cool part of the grill, basting occasionally with some leftover hard cider. The steak was a work of art on its own, and really just needed a little salt and pepper and some careful grilling for about twelve minutes (it weighed in at around 1.5 lbs or .68 kg!).

And the wine? I decided to revisit the charmingly named 2004 The Wishing Tree Shiraz. I tasted this back in August, but didn't much care for it at the time. There's a chance that was an off bottle, or that (because it was a blind tasting) the bottle had been misidentified later. I was much happier this time, as it tasted like a good $15 Shiraz oughta. Two thirds Western Australia and one third South Australia... Dark berries and a little leather on the nose, with bold fruit flavors on the tongue and a peppery finish. The tannins give it a nice little bite but aren't mouth-drying or overpowering. Definitely recommended.

I'll also point out that this is the second wine in a row that I've had from The Australian Premium Wine Collection. There's been some good articles written in the past couple of years about finding an importer you like and following his or her wines. Sometimes this takes a bit of work (such as for Dan Phillips' Grateful Palate). However, John Larchet has been kind enough to include a neck label on each bottle in the collection to help identify it. I've been happy with these two wines, and will be on the lookout for more.

21 April 2006

Combinations #1 - Benito Rises to the Challenge

Here's my entry for the First Combinations challenge: Baked Mackerel with Rhubarb Sauce. I couldn't find fresh mackerel anywhere near Memphis, so I decided to substitute rainbow trout fillets. I wanted to use young whole rainbow trout, but one of my regular supply lines dried up. And I had the damnedest time finding cider, so I'll start with that image. I drank a lot of hard cider (as we call it in the states) back in the late 90s, which is when it was really first introduced in this market. That coincided nicely with my turning 21. I was particularly fond of the Woodchuck Granny Smith Draft Cider. But I stopped drinking it at some point, and haven't touched the stuff since. Hey, there's been too much good beer and wine that's come my way recently. Anyway, I picked up a six pack of Hornsby's Cider, bottled by the Gallo wine conglomerate. I had a bottle this afternoon and loved it. Great apple flavor without being sweet or having that vinegar flavor that I grew to despise in hard cider way back when.

Here's how the meal turned out... Instead of boiled potatoes, I chose to make roasted eighths of new potatoes tossed in butter and fresh rosemary from the kitchen garden. Joining me for this dinner was my longtime friend and fellow blogger Paul. The sauce looked a little limp, but was quite flavorful, and I'm pretty sure this is the first time that I've ever eaten rhubarb. Yeah, I've gobbled up baby octopus and have eaten plenty of live ants, but somehow I never got around to rhubarb. The trout turned out OK in my opinion; I think it would have been better pan-fried or grilled, and I'm sure that this baking method was much more suited to the gutted mackerel than a mostly flat fillet. However, it was all eaten and enjoyed, and the dogs circled the table hungrily.

And now for the wine... This afternoon I wandered through the wine shop, looking for something appropriate. I could have gone with a tried and true favorite, but I really enjoy trying a new bottle. So I'm walking along, thinking I'd like an interesting white blend, and what do I find? A wine with my first name on it. (Yes, I'm a Benjamin, Benito is just a nickname.) Thus my wine of choice for this dinner was the 2002 Hill of Content "Benjamin's Blend" from the Margaret River region of Western Australia. Plus, Barbara's from around there, so I figured karma was on my side. The wine is a mix of 50% Chardonnay, 39% Sauvignon Blanc, and 11% Semillon, all unoaked. The wine is all about the peaches: on the nose and on the tongue and on the aftertaste. A nice wine to drink cold with a hearty bit of seafood, and a good bargain at $15. It matched well with the fish--the forward fruit and balanced acidity provided a counter to the sometimes fatty fish, and yet it complemented the sweet rhubarb sauce going along. The roasted potatoes mainly cleansed the palate between fruit explosions.

20 April 2006

Jack Daniel's Distillery

Last weekend the girlfriend and I visited the Jack Daniel's Distillery in Lynchburg, Tennessee. I've got the story and pictures up at my personal site.

Journey to Jack Daniel's Distillery

Unibroue Trois Pistoles

In a followup to the post from two weeks ago, I'm trying another great Canadian beer from Unibroue. Tonight it's the Unibroue Trois Pistoles, a strong dark ale from that great brewery. The malts are really quite prominent in this beer, and that's a good thing. Additionally, there's flavors of dried apple all over the place, with hints of coffee and chocolate. I don't really get the Port comments that everyone makes about this beer, but I certainly agree that it could be enjoyed in the same manner as Port. Certainly at the end of the meal, with some cheese and fruit or even a bit of cheesecake.

It has a slightly sticky feel in the mouth on the aftertaste, with lingering cherry flavors when you lick your lips. At 9% alcohol, you've got to be careful--one regular bottle is basically like half a bottle of a light Riesling or some other mild white wine. As for the name, the English site doesn't give any clues, but the French site seems to hint at the legend of a black horse that signified the devil, which would make sense with the flaming winged equine on the label. You know, these are great beers, but all of the names and labels seem to come straight out of a Goth's daydreams.

I'm still amazed that a single 355mL beer bottle can provoke such thoughtfulness. I just wish it were colder--my AC is out at the moment and it's been up into the 90s this week. But I'd still highly recommend this to anyone that wants to drink a beer that they can savor and taste and appreciate over the course of an hour.

19 April 2006

2002 Bonny Doon Madiran Heart of Darkness

In anticipation of a steak for dinner, I stopped by a newly remodeled wine shop in the area and picked up a bottle of the 2002 Bonny Doon Madiran Heart of Darkness. I hadn't seen or heard of it before. I do love Bonny Doon wines, but they're a little scarce around here. The label bore blood-spattered designs by the great Ralph Steadman, as well as a map on the back that was similarly spattered. It seemed to point to an area in France near the Spanish border, but there was no other information.

The steak turned out OK, but I was really impressed with the wine. I decided to drink it "blind" with dinner and see if I could determine the mystery grape, as I wasn't familiar with the Madiran region. First off, this is a dark wine, almost black. So we're talking about a small grape... But it wasn't herbal enough to be Cabernet Franc or Petite Verdot, and wasn't fruity like Petite Syrah. It made me think a lot of Malbec, though it wasn't quite that either. So after dinner, I raced to the computer to figure out the mystery, and found that it was made up mostly of the oddball Tannat, a grape that is currently enjoying a boom in Uruguay of all places. Appellation America chose to illustrate the grape with a werewolf.

It's definitely tannic, and looking at some pictures, it is indeed a tiny grape with a dark skin. This particular wine is blended with Cabernet Franc and Cabernet Sauvignon, but the percentages tend to vary depending on which site you check. Relatively high alcohol--14.2%. I realize that it's managed by an American company, but this is a four year old French wine that could knock you on your ass if you're not careful. Not subtle in the slightest, but a good match for hearty fare.

Now that I've had time to sit with it for a while, I'm getting some of the vegetal, woody qualities on the nose. Reminds me of woodcutting, oddly enough--fresh cuts into a green tree. There's some black cherry on the tongue, but mostly what you're tasting are tannins and... darkness.

All in all, a fascinating wine, and definitely one for some strong food. Take it along to your next blind tasting party to stump your friends!

16 April 2006

Microgreens Photoessay

Earlier this month, I got a packet of seeds for growing microgreens, the little infant versions of tasty lettuce varieties. At right is what I made with the first harvest after twelve days of growth, sort of a gourmet appetizer version of the classic BLT sandwich.

On my personal site, I've posted my Photoessay on Microgreens. Enjoy!

15 April 2006


This review was originally published back in January. The original post is as follows, with the correction in bold.
Wine 9: 2003 Chateau de Mattes-Sabran. Corbières, Languedoc. South of France, probably a lot of Carignan and who knows what else. Soft beginning, some black cherry flavors. Slightly unbalanced, but a good little wine. Really begs for some food. $15. Correction: Syrah, Grenache, and Mourvedre. No Carignane in this wine. The owner of the winery contacted me with the correct information. Thanks!

11 April 2006

Tasting Notes for April 8, 2006

All of the wines listed below came from either Rudolf Müller or Dr. Thanisch, in the Mosel region of Germany. The winemaker for both vineyards is the elegant and charming Barbara Müller, who was there to answer questions. Even though I don't drink a lot of Riesling, I liked just about every wine at the tasting. At the end, I complimented her on the wonderful wines, shook her hand, and then in my most formal Hochdeutsch, I nodded and said, "Danke Schön, Frau Müller." She actually bowed slightly and replied with a smiling "Bitte."

Hey, two years of high school German had to pay off eventually.

Note: Keep in mind that except for one notable exception, all of these wines were of the same grape and of the same vineyards. So a lot of these tasting notes are going to look similar, but there were subtle differences that are sometimes hard to put into words for the amateur blogger and general non-enthusiast of Riesling. Also, these are listed in the order of the printed note sheet, but they were actually tasted in a different order arranged by Frau Müller.

Wine 1: 2004 Rudolf Müller "Bishop of Riesling". This is their most well-known offering, from what I understand. I found it a little thin, but not sweet. Clean and tasty. $12.

Wine 2: 2004 Rudolf Müller Kabinett. Mild and smooth, with some honey flavors involved. $13.

Wine 3: 2003 Rudolf Müller Piesporter Goldtröpfchen Kabinett. Honey sweet, tart beginning and smooth finish. $15.

Wine 4: 2003 Dr. Thanisch Bernkasteler QBA "Classic". Light and lemony, dry and tart. $18.

Wine 5: 2003 Dr. Thanisch Bernkasteler Badstube Kabinett. Musky and sugary, sticky and just a little too sweet for my tastes. $21.

Wine 6: 2004 Rudolf Müller Spätlese. Some lemon, thin yet sweet. $14.

Wine 7: 2003 Dr. Thanisch Gracher Himmelreich Spätlese. Tickles the tongue, some medium acidity. Really enjoyed this one. $24.

Wine 8: 2003 Dr. Thanisch Bernkasteler Graben Spätlese. Similar to the previous wine, but with more fruit flavors. $28.

Wine 9: 2003 Dr. Thanisch Bernkasteler Doctor Spätlese. Very sweet but with a dark flavor, reminded me of peach nectar. Even though I don't normally seek sweet wines these days, I loved this wine. $53.

Wine 10. 2002 Dr. Thanisch Pinot Noir. Actually the first one we tasted, followed by a rinsing of the glasses. What's this? A German Pinot Noir? The next thing you know polar bears will be waddling through the Sahara. Seriously though, this was an awesome wine. Berries all over, slightly tart and ultimately delicious. Assistance provided by a winemaker from New Zealand. I would definitely recommend this wine for a blind tasting to completely screw over your friends. $23.

Wine 11. 2004 Rudolf Müller. Good and well rounded. Honey flavors, but a little too sweet for me.

Wine 12. 2004 Rudolf Müller Eiswein. Not that sweet, but with elements of petrol and minerals on the nose. Delightful dry-style Eiswein. $23.

Wine 13. 2002 Dr. Thanisch Bernkasteler Doctor Auslese. Actually the last wine tasted. Wow. Honeysuckle, firm acids, lemon tart... Utterly wonderful. I was sniffing my glass for a few minutes after I'd wrung out the last drop from the sample. $46.

08 April 2006

Wine Blogging Wednesday #20

The theme for Wine Blogging Wednesday #20 is to pick a white wine outside of the big three (Chardonnay, Sauvignon Blanc, and Riesling), or any blend using those three. I was going to be a smartass and grab some obscure Hungarian white or perhaps one of the foxy Native American varieties. But instead, I was lured away by something that just came on sale at one of the local shops. For my entry, I present the 2005 KWV Steen, which I picked up for around $7.50.

KWV is the giant wine cooperative of South Africa, and Steen is what they call Chenin Blanc in those parts. There's not much on the nose here--in that respect, it's almost like Pinot Grigio. However, it has a much stronger presence in the mouth. The overwhelming element is firm acidity, with medium tartness and a short finish. No dominant flavors other than the baseline "white wine" taste. The wine on its own isn't that impressive, but it paired quite nicely with dinner: a cup of butternut squash soup and a grilled sandwich containing havarti cheese, thin slices of d'Anjou pears*, and smoked ham.

Not a bad little wine for the beginning of spring.

*A somewhat appropriate pairing, as the Chenin Blanc grapes originally come from around Anjou in France.

07 April 2006

Memphis Zoo Wine Benefit

Tonight I was fortunate to receive some tickets to the "Wild World of Wines & Beer" benefit at the Memphis Zoo. Now, I've got a membership to the zoo and go there often. It's celebrating its 100th birthday this year, but the past twenty years have been amazing, as they decided to upgrade from the "concrete and cages" model to more natural habitats for the various animals. Over the years they've built Cat Country (all major large cat species), Primate Canyon (everything from lemurs to gorillas), the China Exhibit (pandas and more), and recently they've added the Northwest Passage exhibit (polar bears, black bears, etc.). At the right is a photo I took of one of the polar bears last month.

In honor of the Pacific Northwest theme, most of the wines came from that region. I skipped a few, as I had tried some of them before and they were pouring rather generously. I had to drive myself home, plus I really didn't want to fall in the baboon pit. Also, I was wondering beforehand if my notes would include things like, "this Merlot smells like elephant dung", or "this Riesling has the musky undertones of the tiger habitat". But all of my wine drinking happened indoors, so no outside olfactory influences were involved.

Wine 1: 2003 Foolish Oak Chardonnay. Columbia Valley, Washington. Light and fruity with a crisp finish. Great way to start off the evening. $11.

Wine 2: 2004 Hedges CMS White. Columbia Valley, Washington. I've had this before, but I was able to appreciate it more with a bigger sample. Very crisp, with a clean feel and herbal tones. Mix of Chardonnay, Marsanne, and Sauvignon Blanc. $15.

Wine 3: 2004 Ste. Michelle Riesling. Columbia Valley, Washington. Drier than I expected. Crisp with firm acids. Slightly bitter aftertaste. $10.

Wine 4: 2003 Columbia Crest Two Vines Chardonnay. Columbia Valley, Washington. Oaky and buttery, with some cream and vanilla highlights. $10.

Wine 5: 2003 Foris Pinot Noir. Illinois River Valley, Oregon. Mild cherry and strawberry flavors, with strong tannins and a short finish. $20.

Wine 6: 14 Hands Merlot. Columbia Valley, Washington. Black cherry, spice. Fortified by 22% Cabernet Sauvignon, so it's a surprise on the tongue. $12.

Wine 7: 2002 Red Diamond Shiraz. 3% Viognier blended in there. Berry and pepper flavors with a dry finish. A great little wine. I'm definitely going to give this one a second try when I can really focus on it and enjoy it. $12.

Of the three remaining wines that I didn't try, one was a White Merlot I skipped on purpose, one was a Cabernet Sauvignon I'd had before and enjoyed, and the last was a Fumé Blanc that looked promising, and I'll see if I can find it around here.

Unibroue Maudite

The local wine shop has begun offering "big beers" from the esteemed Quebec brewery Unibroue. A pack of four 12 oz. (355mL) bottles runs around $7.50, which is a good deal for a well made beer. This isn't the kind of thing that you throw back after a long day of yardwork. This is something you pour into the appropriate glass in the Belgian style and savor for a long time.

Pictured at the left is the Unibroue Maudite, a strong dark red beer. My dog Wolfgang looks on approvingly. What's fun with a beer like this is that you can close your eyes and try to pick out all of the subtle flavors and aromas. The Maudite (French for "The Damned") has a lot of nutmeg, with a little orange peel and maybe just a touch of cinnamon. More than anything it reminds me of a really well spiced tea blend. It's mildly bitter, and despite the 8% alcohol, not as strong as you might think.

You can't easily see this in the picture, but the beer itself is a little cloudy. This is due to the presence of yeast, which permits a secondary fermentation in the bottle and will allow the beer to improve with age, much like a fine wine. I'm probably going to do some more reviews of beers like this (including some amazing barleywines I've tried). Seriously, these are beers that a wine lover is really going to appreciate, and there are certain meals where beverages such as the Maudite are going to be a better fit than a particular wine.

05 April 2006

Combinations #1

As a quick followup to the previous post, Andrew has thrown down the gauntlet with the first Combinations challenge:

Baked Mackerel With Rhubarb Sauce

Make the dish and pair it with a wine, and send the results to Andrew by April 24.

As for me, I'm looking forward to trying out this unusual recipe, but I might not be able to get my hands on fresh, small mackerel. If the culinary gods will forgive me, I might have to substitute fresh rainbow trout, which is pretty much the only one-pound full body fish that I see around here on a regular basis. Granted there's some Asian markets where I can get a live catfish or bullfrog butchered on the spot, but the mackerel is going to take a bit of work.

02 April 2006


Wine- and food-blogger Andrew left a comment in one of my posts below, and we continued the conversation via e-mail. Andrew has a vision for a new monthly participatory project in the vein of Wine Blogging Wednesday. But instead of a themed wine, the idea is to post a recipe, then everyone cooks it and pairs it with a wine, and reports on how well that wine matched the dish. Andrew calls it Combinations, and has blogged about it here and here.

I think it's important to look at this not only for foodbloggers to think more about wine, but also for winebloggers to think more about food. In the words of Rogers & Hammerstein, "The Farmer and the Cowman Should Be Friends". We've all got the opportunity to learn a lot, broaden our horizons, and have some damned good food and wine in the process.

I fully support this project, will promote it to the best of my ability, and look forward to participating in it in the months to come.

01 April 2006

Segura Viudas Aria NV

So I bought an inexpensive Spanish cava a couple of weeks ago and served it last night. And in doing so, I made some sort of a statement about Spanish politics. Andrew mentioned this a while back, and pointed to an informative article on the subject. Though I'm enchanted by the Catalan language, I really don't have any opinions about the autonomy question and wouldn't stop drinking delicious, affordable cava because of it.

The wine in question was the Segura Viudas Aria, which is a Pinot Noir-based sparkling wine. 100% Pinot Noir, grown in Catalonia and sold just for the American market. It's made by Segura Viudas, but there's nothing about this wine on the website. It's a pretty deep pink, almost red color. Some hints of strawberry, but for the most part it's light, crisp, and refreshing. To be honest, I didn't get to drink much of it--the sparkler was served along with a spread of cheeses and a traditionally prepared Caesar salad, and the ladies drank up most of it before I was able to sit down and think about the various attributes. So for that reason alone the wine gets an A in my book.