29 April 2011


Ah, Soave. One of the magical wines that will pair with practically anything. When it's time for a basic white wine, I'm usually happy with something from Italy. The price is generally affordable, they're not hard to find, and make a nice change of pace from the usual Chardonnays and Sauvignon Blancs. And because it's not something that's become hugely popular like Pinot Grigio, your guests or dinner companions get a chance to try something a little different but non-threatening. Here's a pair of wines I received recently from the Soave Consortium.

2009 Re Midas Soave
100% Garganega
$10, 12% abv.

Light and mild, with a round mouthfeel and low acidity. Touch of pineapple and lemon on the nose, minerals on the aftertaste. The style of this wine is somewhat close to Pinot Grigio. Named after King Midas, the wine is packaged in a slightly odd bottle--not strange enough to call it a novelty like one of those VOGA bottles. The bottom is a little more narrow than a standard bottle, and it expands with a gentle curve up to the shoulders. And with the purple and gold color scheme, it seems like a great target for Lakers fans. Or perhaps more appropriately, for fans of the Los Angeles Kings.

I've reviewed this same vintage of Fattori Soave before, and the following is a rare repeated review:

2009 Fattori Giovanni Motto Piane Soave
100% Garganega
$15, 14% abv.

Tropical fruit, flowers, firmer, stronger, a touch of minerals, with a nice round mouthfeel. Fermented both in oak and stainless steel. Between the two, consider this one if you prefer bigger, bolder flavors, but it's still a relatively light wine. Pack it along with a picnic and I think that you'll find that it goes beautifully with cold fried chicken, potato salad, and other summertime delights.

Note: These wines were received as samples.

28 April 2011

Oskar Blues Beer

Last year I got to try a fascinating beer by the name of Ten-Fidy. As dark and thick as used motor oil, it was a truly powerful but delicious beer. It's made by Oskar Blues out of Longmont, Colorado, a town north of Denver and not too far from Boulder.

They've made a splash by putting high quality craft and "big" beers in aluminum cans, which provide a few advantages: better seal against oxygen than bottles, light doesn't come in, the overall weight is less for shipping, and recycling is easier. I'm finally getting to try some of their better-known products, and I've listed them in order of body/strength.

Old Chub Scotch Ale
Scottish Strong Ale
8% abv.
You'd think this would be one of the stronger ones, with a name that sounds like a hefty biker from Aberdeen, but it derives its flavors primarily from malts, not hops, and is quite mild. Like Guinness, it's a good reminder that dark brown beers can be soft and easy even if this particular brew has nearly three times the alcohol of Guinness. It's rich and brown like beef stock, and deserves to be sipped on a cold night alongside a savory shepherd's pie.

Mama's Little Yella Pils
5.3% abv., 35 IBUs
I love a good pun, and this one is hilarious. Pilsner is the Czech style of beer that led to the American Adjunct Lager that's so popular (Budweiser, Coors, etc.), so it's important to go back to the original style and see what was so good before it got watered down. I've listed the International Bitterness Units for those that rate on the scale. (For comparison, Coors Light is around 10 IBUs, barely bitter at all.) This Pilsner has a nice barley aroma with a surprisingly full body. Your eyes are telling you that it's thin and crisp, but it's got depth and structure. The bitterness is going to be a surprise if you're not used to it, but hop lovers will adore it.

Dale's Pale Ale
6.5% abv., 65 IBUs
Nice toasty aroma with a strong bitter profile. The flavor is a little bittersweet, with just a touch of orange peel. Substantial body, and one that needs to be taken slowly. Slightly sticky as it dries on the glass. Perfect with a good salty sandwich like a Reuben.

G'Knight Imperial Red
Double IPA
8.7% abv., 60 IBUs
Tremendous hops with great bitterness and a solid roasted malt flavor. Although it does have a strong start, it finishes fairly smooth and refreshing. This is one of those beers where the second pint tastes even better than the first. It's my favorite of the group with the Pilsner a close second. Get thee to the grill and lay upon it vast amounts of sausage, mostly of the pork persuasion.

Note: These cans were received as samples.

25 April 2011

2010 Bogatell Garnacha Blanca

Grenache Blanc (or in this case, Garnacha Blanca) is the fifth most widely planted grape in France and popular in Northern Spain, but it's not something that you see by itself that often. It's typically used as a blending grape to go along with Rhone-style wines. But whenever you get an opportunity to try a grape like that on its own, jump at it. It's a great way to isolate what that grape can bring to a wine.

2010 Bogatell Garnacha Blanca
Terra Alta
100% Garnacha Bianca
$11, 12.5% abv.

The initial impression is of bright grapefruit aromas. Not overwhelming like some Sauvignon Blancs, but still dominant. After a few swirls and warming, additional aromas of lime peel and flowers emerge. It has tart acidity, with a clean, bright body, and a crisp finish. I've always felt that a really good white wine needs to perform well both cool and at room temperature, and this one passes the test. As far as a dinner pairing goes, I find myself wanting something like quail or game hen with this--some sort of small poultry with a creamy sauce.

The name Bogatell comes from a beach in Barcelona, reflecting Savorian owner Elke de la Sota's 12 years of living in Barcelona. On that note, here are some summer and winter views of the Bogatell beach courtesy of Elke. (I Googled around for some other photos, but didn't want to have to put up a warning due to the delightfully lax rules regarding bathing suits.) Being of the pale and quiet persuasion, the winter shot looks absolutely perfect to me.

Note: This wine was received as a sample.

22 April 2011

Hamad and Claret

Most parts of the lamb are tasty, but often seriously overpriced. When I saw a single rack of lamb going for $40 (not organic, not free range), I couldn't believe it. It's possible to get great deals on lamb at Costco or at middle Eastern butcher shops, but sometimes specials show up at the regular grocery store. Shanks are delicious, and most people will pass right by them in favor of a perfectly triangular loin chop. Recently I've been digging these shoulder chops, which work either as steaks or as the main ingredient in a savory stew. Vacuum sealed and about $4 a piece, they are a great way to satisfy that occasional wolfish craving for tasty little lamb.

I decided to improvise a bit and add beets this time. While it simmered away, I wondered if anyone else had the idea, and discovered that I had independently recreated hamad, an Iraqi Jewish recipe prepared for Rosh Hashanah. Nothing new under the sun, folks. Alas, my recipe here isn't kosher (but it's close) and it's Passover right now, which demands a whole different set of rules. But because lots of people of all faiths are eating lamb this weekend, I figured I'd go ahead and share it. (If you're interested in some other obscure Jewish cooking, check out this article on Libyan-Jewish cuisine as it's served in Rome.)

The top photo shows about 1.5 lbs. of lamb shoulder, three beets, two parsnips, a small onion, half a pound of sliced mushrooms, a can of diced tomatoes, and some chicken broth. I've also used wine and beer with great results, but it's not absolutely necessary. (If you're looking for a good kosher beer, there's lots of options out there that might surprise you, but why not go with He'Brew: The Chosen Beer?) Peel and dice your root vegetables, being sure to strip out the woody core of the parsnips. Brown the lamb shoulder, remove, and then brown the onions in the rendered fat. Add in the parsnips and beets and allow to cook for a bit.

Return the lamb to the pot. If you want, you can add everything at once, but I like to layer my liquids. Start with the tomatoes and some rosemary and thyme. Let it simmer until the tomato juice is cooked down (but never burned or caramelized). Then add some chicken broth, reduce down, then add some beer or wine. I used Newcastle here, since it's nutty and similar to a dark meat broth. Let everything simmer uncovered for a couple of hours, add in the sliced mushrooms, then put a lid on it and let it simmer for an additional couple of hours. Total cooking time was around five hours, though it can go longer. Fishing out the rich marrow for yourself is the chef's prerogative.

Towards the end of cooking I took some of the rich liquid and combined it with a tablespoon of corn starch and a tablespoon of dried mustard. Return this slurry to the pot and let it cook for another 30 minutes or so. This will give the broth a silky, thicker mouthfeel. At this point, simply serve and watch out for small bones. If you're going the hamad route, serve it on a plate over rice. But I think it's pretty good just on its own, and even better the next day. I'm happy with the performance of the beets, which provided a little earthiness and sweetness that matched up well with the other elements.

We opened up a bottle of Coppola Claret. Of the Diamond series, I like the Sauvignon Blanc but the Claret is an old favorite. I was first introduced to it at a wine tasting in 2005, and I think I've had every vintage since then. It's a solid, reliable performer, and isn't too difficult to find. In the past few years it's been distributed with a decorative gold net around it, which makes it an easy last minute gift.

2009 Coppola Diamond Claret
$20, 13.5% abv.
81% Cabernet Sauvignon, 10% Petite Verdot, 5% Malbec, 3% Merlot, 1% Cabernet Franc
This particular vintage is all about the berries: blackberry, black cherry, and blueberry. While the fruit is at the front of the nose and flavor, it's not overbearing or jammy. There are hints of coffee as it warms up, and the tannins are reasonable. It certainly worked out well with the lamb and the occasionally buttery chunk of fat. All right, I'm getting hungry again, time to warm up some hamad...

20 April 2011

Moscato Cava Rioja

Wine samples arrive in different forms. Sometimes it's all one producer, sometimes it's based around a single grape or region, and other times there's a group of unrelated wines that are promoted by the same public relations company or importer. Instead of splitting these out, I decided to keep this trio together. The general theme for this group is Easter: two sparklers for brunch, and a serious red for that roast lamb dinner.

And something about saying "Moscato Cava Rioja" reminds me of Vicky Cristina Barcelona, which is a bit appropriate since the Cava does in fact come from right next to Barcelona.

2010 Caposaldo Moscato
Provincia di Pavia IGT
100% Moscato Bianco
$14, 7% abv.
Initial aroma of peach and honey. The wine is fairly sweet, with peach flavors with a little bit of tartness. Light fizz and a very low alcohol content. This style of wine has become pretty popular with those who want their wine sweet and not too strong. I've always loved it with cheese and fruit as a dessert course, but there's no reason why it wouldn't work well for your brunch guests that want something fun with their eggs, ham, waffles, and other goodies.

NV Poema Cava Brut
Penedès, Spain
40% Macabeo, 40% Xarel-lo, 20% Parellada
$12, 11.5% abv.
Clean and crisp with lemony acidity. Big bubbles and a slightly yeasty aroma. I've heard from some people in the restaurant industry that this is a popular choice for an inexpensive sparkling wine that's still serious. Cavas are always great to have on hand for those occasions when you're craving some bubbly but don't want to break the bank. And they work well for mixing Mimosas and similar cocktails.

2006 Bodegas Roda Reserva
Rioja, Spain
81% Tempranillo, 14% Graciano, 5% Garnacha
$45, 14% abv.
Blueberries, blackberries, touch of jam, little cocoa and leather. The flavor is strong with dark fruit, medium tannins, and a brief, mild finish. I enjoyed this while watching the sunset on a warm spring evening, and it was a true delight. While I'm sure it would go well with all sorts of roast or grilled meats, it stood on its own as an extremely well-balanced and well-aged wine.

Note: These wines were received as samples.

18 April 2011

Chilean Pinot Noir & Syrah Tasting

Twice a year I get an opportunity to participate in an 8 bottle tasting run by the folks at Wines of Chile. Previous tastings have occurred around the same time as disasters (earthquakes or the trapped miners), but this time everything was fine, and we also got a chance to see how Chilean Pinot Noir is quickly getting better and more refined.

I loved the format for this one, since it broke the tasting into four Pinot Noirs and four Syrahs. It also explored a few valleys that we haven't visited before, like Limarí and the Lolol within Colchauga. One of these days I'll get to scratch Bio Bio off the list.

2009 Valdivieso Reserva Pinot Noir
Casablanca Valley
100% Pinot Noir
$17, 14.5% abv.
Strawberry, with touches of leather and oak.

2009 Viña Casablanca Nimbus Estate Pinot Noir
Casablanca Valley
100% Pinot Noir
$20, 14.5%
Strawberry, light, mild, round. This and the Valdivieso are pretty equivalent to New Zealand Pinot Noir in the same price range.

2009 Veramonte Ritual Pinot Noir
Casablanca Valley
100% Pinot Noir
$20, 14%
Some bacon fat, leather, very thin body, mild, no noticeable tannins. This was my favorite Pinot Noir of the tasting, and one that made me really crave salmon.

2008 Cono Sur Ocio Pinot Noir
Casablanca Valley
100% Pinot Noir
$65, 13.9%
Blackberry and boysenberry, tart and firm acidity, almost too much. Probably too early to taste this one, as it reminded me of young Barolo.

Despite the improving performance of Chilean Pinot Noir, I still preferred the Syrahs overall. The Tamaya and Loma Larga were clear favorites.

2009 Tamaya Syrah Reserva
Limarí Valley
97% Syrah, 3% Viognier
$17, 13.3%
Black cherry touch of licorice, nice fruit but mellows out beautifully over about two hours, whereupon it becomes perfect. Probably even better in a couple of years, and it's always nice to see that dash of Viognier in there.

2006 Loma Larga Syrah
Casablanca Valley
100% Syrah
$29, 14.5%
Tobacco, green pepper, black cherry on the flavor, properly softened tannins. One of the strangest yet most delicious Syrahs I've ever had. It had much more of a Bordeaux profile than Rhone.

2009 Undurraga T.H. Syrah
Leyda Valley
100% Syrah
$25, 13.7%
Black pepper, leather, coffee, meaty, barnyard, tart raspberry finish, soft tannins. Lots going on here, and again, I think it will get better in a few years.

2009 Hacienda Araucano Reserva Syrah
Lolol Valley
100% Syrah
$13, 14.5%
Dark plum and spice, stewed fruit, touch of ash. I probably would have moved this up to the top of the Syrah list, since it had the most subtle flavors. Unlike the other Syrahs, I'd save this one for a milder pork dish.

Note: These wines were received as samples.

15 April 2011

Single Malt Scotch

I've always thought of Scotch as an extremely sharp knife. It's not sweet, it's not thick or viscous, and it will cut through whatever else is on your palate at the first sip. If you come from the area famous for Tennessee whiskey and Bourbon, it's easy to think that whiskey should be sweet and dark brown like our iced tea.

I'm not a Scotch expert, but I've had the opportunity to try amazing versions and really horrible versions. It's also a product that I really didn't like at all until my late 20s. When presented with a proper Scotch menu after dinner, I'll generally pick something at least 12 years old and preferably from an island. A nice Islay that reeks of peat and smoke, and causes nearby diners to shift their chairs away? Pure heaven.

Here's a pair of single malts that I recently got a chance to try. Both were sampled in my preferred form, neat. I might add just a small dash of chilled water, but I never add ice.

17 Year Glengoyne
$50/750mL, 43% abv

Classic and solid Scotch, warm and spicy nose with just a hint of sourness. Bracing start and a smooth finish. No peat is used, and this is made at a distillery near Glasgow.

18 Year Highland Park
$100/750mL, 43% abv.

The Highland Park has a great peat and barnyard aroma, and a crisp edge that will immediately clear out your sinuses so that you get the full, funky aroma. Requires a longer period of sipping than the Glengoyne. This comes from the Orkney Islands and is the northernmost whisky distillery in Scotland.

Thanks as always to Paul for the generous use of his liquor cabinet while I'm housesitting.

13 April 2011

Spanish Wines

Spain is such a fun region for wine, since there's so much of it, the prices are great for the quality that you're getting, and it's possible to get delicious wines in every category you could want. Even the rosés are wonderful, often with a slight orange tint. I've often given people the advice to just pick up a half dozen Spanish wines under $15 and they'll end up with a selection that will work for parties, dinner, or whatever.

I've done something similar here, grouping together a bunch of bottles that have come in over the past few months.

Let's kick things off with a Cava. I've sung the praises of these wines many times, and along with Prosecco it's a great option for keeping a few bottles around the house at all times.

NV Jaume Serra Cristalino Cava Brut
50% Macabeo, 35% Parellada, 15% Xarel-lo
$10, 11.5% abv
This sparkler has a lovely crisp green apple nose, with strong tart flavors that follow. Medium size bubbles and a pleasant fiz. It's not out of balance, but you're going to want to pair this with fatty or oily foods, like prosciutto and olives. In other words, perfect for appetizers. Also, this label is a bit amusing because of the big disclaimer that it's not Cristal. Even though the packaging looks nothing alike, I figure if you think you've gotten a sweet deal by knocking $190 off the price, you might as well be happy in your ignorance.

The following four wines are from Bodegas Montecillo, a 150-year old winery that's currently owned by Osborne.

2009 Montecillo Verdemar Albariño
100% Albariño
Rías Baixas
$14, 12.5% abv.
Tropical fruits, light and crisp, medium body and lots of fruit. If you're a little burned out on Sauvignon Blanc, I think Albariño is a good substitute. This one is begging for shellfish.

2007 Montecillo Crianza
100% Tempranillo
Rioja Alta
$12, 13.5% abv.
These three wines provide a great opportunity to try the same grape, same region, through three different styles. Crianza wines are the youngest and least expensive. This one had a dominant profile of stewed fruit and prunes, with low tannins and a quick finish. Definitely what I'd call a Tuesday night wine, the kind that you open up with a burger or pizza.

2003 Montecillo Reserva
Rioja Alta
100% Tempranillo
$18, 13.5% abv.
Rich black plum, spice, leather, touch of chocolate. Raspberry flavors and a tart, quick finish. Certainly more sophisticated, and it paired well with a grilled steak.

2001 Montecillo Gran Reserva
Rioja Alta
100% Tempranillo
$25, 13% abv.
Very similar to the above, even smoother and lighter. Melts in your mouth. This one is a real steal at $25, and while I don't know how much longer it's going to improve, at ten years it is perfectly aged and balanced. I sat and thought about this one for hours of slow sipping.

2009 Martin Codax Albariño
Rías Baixas
100% Albariño
$12, 13% abv.
I've written in detail about this wine before, and there's a nice back story behind the name. This is lemony and fruity with plenty of tart acidity. Hints of jasmine and herbs. As with the other Albariño listed, I would highly recommend this with shellfish.

2006 Campo Viejo Reserva
85% Tempranillo, 10% Graciano, 5% Mazuelo (Carignane)
$14, 13.5% abv.
A good inexpensive Rioja. Aromas of cherry with a touch of vanilla. It has mild tannins, a light body, and a smooth finish. Consider something like this for a BBQ, where it will go well with smoked pork and other goodies.

* * *

There you have it, a slate of seven solid Spanish wines. All affordable, all tasty, and all meant to be enjoyed with food. Give them a try if you're looking to break out of the Chardonnay-Cabernet Sauvignon-Merlot rut. No offense to those delicious grapes, but there's a lot of great options out there that deserve some attention.

Note: These wines were received as samples.

11 April 2011

Terra Fossil Wines

Terra Fossil is an American wine company that primarily imports from Argentina, though they have recently added a Pinot Grigio from Italy. They've made a big social media push, using Facebook and Twitter and the other channels these crazy kids are into. There was even a national casting call to hire a spokesperson for a reality show.

The dinosaur theme with the slate of wines has to do with fossils that were found beneath one of the original vineyards used by the company. (Argentina is a great place for paleontology. Lots of unique finds have come out of Patagonia.) These wines seem tailor made for museum fundraisers: inexpensive, recognizable grapes, and a fun theme. Heck, the six year old inside of me was giddy at the dinosaur silhouettes and felt it was time to pull my wooden Stegosaurus model from the shelf. Yes, I may have made some roaring and growling sounds while nobody was looking. Dinosaurs are the coolest.

2008 Terra Fossil Cabernet Sauvignon
Mendoza, Argentina
100% Cabernet Sauvignon
$6, 13.7% abv.
Harsh initial presence with black cherry and black pepper and a strong tannic finish. This is fermented only in stainless steel, which is a little odd for a Cab Sav. I think the balance is off here, and perhaps a healthy dash of Merlot would smooth out the edges.

2008 Terra Fossil Malbec
Mendoza, Argentina
100% Malbec
$6, 13.7% abv.
Jammy with plum aromas, mellow tannins and a smooth, round mouthfeel. Definitely my favorite of the two, and it got better over the course of a few hours. Both wines were tasted alongside a few grilled sausages and asparagus, though I suppose I should have served something like turtle or alligator.

In addition to these two wines, Terra Fossil also produces a Sauvignon Blanc, Chardonnay, Pinot Grigio, Pinot Noir, and Merlot.

Note: These wines were received as samples.

08 April 2011

Appleton 12 Year Old Rum

My friend Paul maintains a well-stocked liquor cabinet full of his favorites. On a recent housesitting gig I discovered a bottle of Appleton rum, something I hadn't had in a long time. Appleton Estate is the oldest rum distillery on the island of Jamaica, having been established in 1749. From the Nassau Valley, Appleton produces five varieties, from a basic V/X to the limited 30-year old. This 12 year old version rests in the middle of the product line.

Appleton Estate 12 Year Old Rum
$30/750mL, 43% abv.

Orange peel, vanilla, and an overall bittersweet character. As it warms in the hand, some earthy elements emerge. There's very little of the sugar character left here, instead the flavor is driven almost entirely by the oak aging.

My rule of thumb with rum is that if it's more than 5 years old, I don't mix it. Don't get me wrong, rum cocktails are great, but that's what younger white, gold, and dark rums are for. A Cuba Libre is delicious and refreshing, but you really don't want to cover up a well-aged rum with Coca-Cola and lime juice. Treat an aged rum like good whiskey. It can be sipped neat, but I'll admit to liking a little ice in mine.

Most people associate rum with fun, fruity cocktails or beach vacations, but please take the time to enjoy something like this. After dinner, in a proper snifter or tumbler, perhaps even with a cigar. You'll discover the depth and range that is possible with this spirit.

06 April 2011

Napa Smith Beer

When I think about golden barley goodness, a crisp beer enjoyed during a baseball game, or a tasty brew enjoyed after a long day of slow smoking pork shoulders, my mind goes immediately to Napa Valley.

OK, so these are actually the first beers I've ever had from Napa, but it does cause a little cognitive dissonance like seeing a wine from Milwaukee or St. Louis. Napa Smith Brewery makes about a dozen different beers in styles that should be recognizable to fans of brew pubs and craft breweries: porters, pale ales, pilseners, etc. About half of them fall into the big beer category, a vague definition that varies by state. In general it means a higher alcohol level, somewhere above 7% and often sold alongside wines and spirits rather than with the regular 3-4% beers.

Thanks to United Liquors and Natalie's Liquor Warehouse for this chance to try these two. This is the first "big beer" carried by United, and if you drop by Natalie's tell 'em I sent you. No special deals or discounts, but I always like for readers to let retailers know where they heard about something.

Napa Smith Lost Dog Red Ale
$2.50/12 oz. bottle, 7.2% abv.
Nice sweetish aroma, bright flavor with just a touch of bitterness and a toasty finish. A red ale is just lighter than a dark ale, and derives a lot of its flavor from the malts. That's where the slightly sweet aroma comes from, but the beer itself is not sweet. This one is begging for some steamed bratwurst and sauerkraut.

Napa Smith Organic IPA
$2.50/12 oz. bottle, 7.1% abv.
Strongly bitter with orange peel and a touch of spice. There's a nice little pine aroma which gives the whole thing a very Christmasy profile. Because it's so aromatic, this is more of what I would consider an after-dinner beer to be enjoyed like a Port or Amaro.

There are different subcategories of big beers. There are the traditional Belgians, barleywines, and other beers that have always hit the higher alcohol levels. There are the insanely creative beers that come from places like Dogfish Head that use ingredients like pumpkin, raisins, honey, grapes, etc. as well as special techniques and processes. And then there are those that are higher octane versions of classic ales and lagers. These two fall into the last category, and again, the Napa Smith products remind me a lot of the kind of handcrafted beers that you get from brewpubs, which generally don't go for gimmicks.

Note: These bottles were received as samples.

04 April 2011

Riesling in Spring

Willkommen! It's time for another pair of Rieslings from the folks at Wines of Germany. I tend to associate Riesling with fall weather. Maybe it's just because that's the time of year when I want roasted pork, baked apples, braised cabbage, and other Teutonic comfort foods. But this grape works quite well year round. Since you can serve it cool and the alcohol level is generally low, it's an especially good choice as the weather starts warming up.

There have been lots of arguments recently about alcohol levels in wines, with people arguing 14.5% vs. 15.1% or setting a hard limit for their purchases. Frankly if the wine is balanced, I'm not really concerned, but every time I try one of these mellow 9% German wines, it's such a refreshing change of pace. Even 12% is low compared to a lot of wines on the market today.

2009 Dr. Pauly Bergweiler Bernkasteler Badstube Riesling Kabinett
$22, 9% abv.
Always interesting to see German wines with a Doctor's name on the label. It seems to be a uniquely German practice, with the rare exception like New York's Dr. Konstantin Frank. This Riesling is medium sweet with amazing apple cider aromas and flavors. There's a little touch of honey, and a delightful acidity that balances out the sweetness so well.

2008 Dreissigacker Riesling Trocken
$17, 12% abv.
This one is dry with pears and jasmine on the nose. It has a tart acidity with a dark undertone and a bit of minerality. As the picture shows, I tried out these two wines with a BLT, some potato salad, and what turned out to be some very disappointing pickles. (The unnatural neon color should have been a clue.) It's the first time I've paired Riesling and a BLT, and I've got to say that it works extremely well. The acidity is great with the mayo and bacon, and as for the L&T, well, I've always loved Riesling with salad.

Note: These wines were received as samples.

01 April 2011

Civil War Wine Reviews

There is a time in your life when you start to become fascinated by genealogy, and for many this time is accompanied by a general thinning of the scalp and the odd grey hair in an otherwise red beard. My interest in wine is not new to my family tree: I had ancestors in California back at the turn of the last century and various fruit wines were produced at home by the many farmers in the woodpile. I had thought that I was the first wine writer in the family until I stumbled upon a forgotten relative from the 19th century.

Sgt. Beauregard Benitus Carter, III (1827-1903) was a member of the British Army (St. Lawrence Canadian Regiment). This was an awkward position for him, as England was not involved in the war, but marginally favorable to the Confederacy, while Canadians were generally supportive of the Union. As an observer, he stayed out of actual battle but was ordered to photograph and document the war. A serious wine fan and importer for the Hudson's Bay Company, his focus was rather narrow and of limited use to the Crown. Below are a few of his photos, sketches, and notes.

The Union controlled the 19th century winemaking powerhouses of Ohio, Missouri, and New York. As such, there were frequent raids by Confederate forces who had grown tired of low grade whiskey. Here, a pair of Union soldiers defend the last barrel of 1856 Pichon Longueville.

"One may venture to inquire as to why soldiers would shield themselves with the very treasure they were entrusted to protect. Due to lamentable losses in the early stages of the war, barrels were double-walled with a layer of steel between them. While this required much extra work from the coopers, such protection was paramount to ensuring safe passage and storage."
— Sgt. B.B. Carter, III. March 8, 1863.

The much stronger, thicker barrels required some new technological advances. The iron forges of Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania provided the first prototype of the M1857a Napoleon Tactical Corkscrew. It took three mules to pull the cart, and ten strong men to position and operate the corkscrew. A half dozen bags of powder were required to pierce through the thick oak and metal plating.

"I wept as a crew of new recruits overloaded the Napoleon and sent the steel worm-screw completely through the barrel. Our precious Michigan Chambourcin flowed upon the ground like so much blood has been spilt in this tragic conflict."
— Sgt. B.B. Carter, III. March 8, 1863, addendum

Tastings were not always happy affairs. When supply was scarce, only the generals got to consume wine. But at other times, like in this sketch from Chancellorsville, Virgina, many were able to sample the latest arrival. Regardless of class, the only accompaniments were small slices of salt pork, dry squares of hardtack, and the odd bit of artisan goat cheese plundered from nearby farms.

"A strict hierarchy is enforced during the degustation. Officers are served first and in descending order of rank. Officers are served five-ounce pours, while the enlisted men are provided with three-ounce pours. Some enterprising men have been known to drill out the stems of their glasses or run a section of pig intestine down their sleeves in order to swindle a deeper ration. Those honourless thieves who are discovered are whipped at dawn and restricted from attendance at future tastings."
— Sgt. B.B. Carter, III. November 12, 1864

Individual bottles did still exist at the time, and in areas with good access to uninterrupted train tracks and postal service, some were able to maintain their wine-of-the-month subscriptions from back home in Boston or New York City.

"As a non-commissioned officer I often spent time with soldiers of my own rank. Infantry Sgt. Wellington stared at his latest wine-subscription bottle, and mourned, 'For the love of God, our nation, the innocent souls of my children, and all that we hold dear, why on Earth did they send me yet another corked Merlot? Gentlemen, these are the times that try men's souls.' Morale was poor that month during the cholera outbreak, and the last thing those men needed was a spoilt claret."
— Sgt. B.B. Carter, III, undated caption on back of photo

For more on the subject, be sure to check out the detailed History of Canadian-American Wine Photojournalism During the Civil War at the Smithsonian website.

Many apologies to Mathew Brady, Edward P. Doherty, my ancestors on both sides of the conflict, and others too numerous to mention.