31 August 2011

Graffigna Wines

Here's a couple of wines from Graffigna in Argentina. I've written recently about the Pinot Grigio, and my amusement at an Italian grape and an Italian name coming from Argentina. This really shouldn't be surprising, since there was a lot of Italian emigration to Argentina, and roughly 60% of Argentinians have some Italian heritage. Italian is the second most spoken language in the country after Spanish.

South America has so many fascinating immigration stories, like South Asians in Trinidad and Tobago or the influx of Japanese in Peru, including former president Alberto Fujimori. But let's get back to the wine...

Graffigna was founded in 1870 by Italian immigrant Don Santiago Graffigna, and his wines were the first Argentine wines to be exported abroad. There's an interesting history with the introduction of trains and radio and the devastating earthquake of 1944.

2010 Graffigna Pinot Grigio Reserve
San Juan
$12, 13.5% abv.
This wine holds up as well as the first time I tried it. Light touch of chalk and lime curd, substantial body with a mild citrus profile and a slightly tart finish. Great for seafood, and this isn't your "mommy in the bathtub" Pinot Grigio.

2008 Graffigna Malbec Reserve
San Juan
$12, 14% abv.
I've always admired a simple and inexpensive Malbec. This one starts out with black cherry and cassis, but then there's a touch of rich, savory tobacco. Medium tannins with a good fruit profile, though it avoids being jammy or over the top. Utterly delicious with a bacon cheeseburger.

Note: These wines were received as samples.

29 August 2011

Samuel Adams Brewmaster's Collection

Samuel Adams has a long history of putting out sampler packs, sometimes based around the season and sometimes a group of new styles they're promoting. The Christmas pack that comes out is pretty popular, including my favorite beer name: Old Fezziwig Ale. I'd heard great things about the Latitude 48, but decided to try it as part of a sampler sixer to see what else they're working on.

Samuel Adams Irish Red
Irish Red Ale
5.8% abv.
The ale is nutty and toasty with great malts and solid bitterness. Way better than Killian's, and a great all-purpose beer. I'm not sure how available any of these beers are, but this is one that I would love in a restaurant.

Samuel Adams Coastal Wheat
American Pale Wheat Ale
5.3% abv.
This is supposed to be a twist on Hefeweizen, and there's a lot of debate out there on putting lemon or orange in your wheat beer. I like it sometimes, but prefer to pick my citrus and the amount. Unfortunately, this one includes the lemon peel as part of the brewing process, and it doesn't have the crisp burst of acidity that you get from fresh lemon. Not bad, but disappointing.

Samuel Adams Latitude 48 IPA
American IPA
6% abv.
The idea behind this IPA is to blend six different hops from various points along 48° N latitude. Just like with wine, coffee, chocolate, and tobacco, there are various belts in the north and south hemispheres that are perfect for certain crops. In this case they combined: Hallertau Mittelfrueh Noble from Germany, East Kent Goldings from England, and Zeus, Simcoe, and Ahtanum from the Yakima Valley of Washington. It's deep, dark, deliciously bitter, with a great balance of malts and hops. Little bits of chocolate and toast and citrus and herbs and all sorts of amazing aromas and flavors. Highly recommended.

This beer is also available in a limited "deconstructed" set, in which the beers are separated out by each of the five hops so you can see how each contributes to the flavor. I first heard about the set from my friend Thomas Rickert, and there might be a pack waiting for me in Nashville or Indianapolis... stay tuned!

26 August 2011

Rioja from Campo Viejo

Paul helped me out with this online tasting of Campo Viejo wines with Assistant Winemaker Roberto Vicente Miguel. It's tough to enjoy three great wines with steak, but he soldiered through. With online tastings I like to open early and take some notes, and then I can devote more attention during the actual video/Twitter/etc. while also providing notes on how the wine has opened up over time. All three of these are great bargains, and I'd recommend purchasing all three if you get a chance. Open them all at once and take a look at the differences between the three. Spanish wines provide some outstanding quality-price ratios, but when you hit the Gran Reserva on this set you won't believe how fantastic it is.

2007 Campo Viejo Rioja Crianza
$10, 13.5% abv.
85% Tempranillo, 10% Garnacha, 5% Mazuelo (Carignan)
The youngest and simplest Rioja is Crianza, aged for two years, one of which must be in oak. This one was fruity with black cherry aromas and flavors. Dark and dusty with medium tannins. Tasty and uncomplicated, and not bad at all for a sawbuck.

2006 Campo Viejo Rioja Reserva
$14, 13.5% abv.
85% Tempranillo, 10% Graciano , 5% Mazuelo
Reserva means that it's been aged for three years, again, with at least one of those years in oak. This one was similar to the Crianza, but smoother with light tannins. As it warms, you get a nose of light eucalyptus, tobacco, and green pepper.

2003 Campo Viejo Rioja Gran Reserva
$20, 13.5% abv.
85% Tempranillo, 10% Graciano , 5% Mazuelo
Gran Reserva wines get two years in oak and three years in the bottle before release. This was an amazing wine. Light leather and smoke aromas. On the palate there are mild tannins with hints of black cherry and chocolate. The overall structure is light and delicate, and it just melts on your tongue. Highly recommended.

Note: These wines were received as samples.

24 August 2011

Santa Julia Wines

Santa Julia is a subset of the Argentine Zuccardi wine family, named after the young Julia Zuccardi. (Hey, more Italians in Argentine wine!) Everything is organic, done by hand, and cared for at every stage of the process. While they compost goat droppings and all of that, they do use a small amount of sulfites which means that the wines are not officially organic under U.S. law. This is a common problem that you run into not just with imports but also with some domestic produce: you can grow an organic product, but if you don't follow the precise letter of the law and get the proper certification, it's not Organic. It's a frustration that you'll hear often at the farmer's market.

I've seen some interesting things with wines from Argentina, but I really love it when winemakers focus on the particular grapes that seem to thrive there: Malbec, Torrontés, Bonarda, etc. Don't get me wrong, it's great when people experiment, but I've never had as much joy from an Argentine Cab Sav or Chardonnay as I have from the three or four grapes that truly flourish in the shade of the Andes.

2010 Santa Julia Malbec
$10, 13% abv.
Plum and a little nutty aspect on the nose. Roasted nut flavor continues on the palate with deep dark fruit flavors. Medium tannins, and a long finish. Solid middle of the week wine, and well recommended for something salty like a nice Reuben.

2010 Santa Julia Torrontés
$10, 13% abv.
I've seen a lot of Torrontés recently, and it's such a fun grape. This one has a nice peach and apricot aroma, but there's also this deeper dusty character combined with candied ginger that is amazing. While normally I'd pair a wine like this with shrimp or a salad, I really enjoyed this one all by its lonesome.

Note: These wines were received as samples.

22 August 2011

Round Hill Chardonnays

The Grace made it clear that she wanted a white wine with her steak during her visit to Hot Springs, Arkansas a couple of months ago. And thus, she developed a love for Pinot Gris that might not have happened otherwise.

Wine iconoclasm can be annoying ("I only drink wine out of coffee mugs and I put coffee in my wine! I even throw a little Hershey's Syrup in there when I feel like it, Old Man!"), but often the various rules that are associated with wine are not quite on the level of the Ten Commandments. Red wine with red meat and white wine with fish or poultry is common wisdom, but not a law or physical constant of the universe. Drink what you like and drink what makes you happy. As long as you're willing to try different wines with different foods, and enjoy the pursuit, I'll never criticize your choices.

Frankly, I enjoy Chardonnay with steak sometimes. If it's not heavily seasoned or cooked over fire, rare beef can be light and buttery, perfect for a Chard. (And obviously veal goes great with white wine, so there's established precedent.) Indeed, if you get a dark and heavily oaked Chardonnay, you really need something stronger than a steamed chicken breast with a specific number of green peas that's ordered every day at noon by an elderly dowager in New York.

These wines are from Round Hill via Rutherford Wine Company.

2010 Round Hill Oak Free Chardonnay
97% Chardonnay, 3% Muscat Canelli
$12, 13% abv.
Hallelujah! A great name for unoaked Chard. Much better than something like "grapes who have dreams that they are at a meeting stark naked, and you can taste the shame". This wine has a light nose of pear and apricot. Mild acidity with a soft, pleasant, and refreshing character.

2010 Round Hill Chardonnay
98% Chardonnay, 1% Pinot Grigio, 1% Muscat Canelli
$8, 12.5% abv.
While this one is oaked, it's not overdone. Just mild butter and vanilla tones with a touch of green apple and a hint of sweetness. It's fun to taste the two back to back, but I definitely prefer the unoaked version.

Note: These wines were received as samples.

19 August 2011

2008 Educated Guess Cabernet Sauvignon

During the early summer, I spent a lot of time over at Paul's place in a combination of housesitting and hanging out with him before his departure to Nashville. One one of the "steak nights" he produced a bottle of the 2008 Educated Guess Cabernet Sauvignon from Roots Run Deep Winery. I had the 2005 two years ago and really enjoyed it then.

Frankly the label is still one of my favorites, and makes me a bit nostalgic because you don't see chalkboards that often these days. Yes, whiteboards are easier and don't involve a lot of dust, but I love the classic slate and chalk as well as that palimpsest quality you get from the previous erasures. There's also the ritual of the chalkboard: you begin the semester with soap and water, washing it all. You carefully shake a stick of chalk out of the pack--heavier than a cigarette, but more delicate. Do you bang the erasers together or whack them against a brick wall? Chalk dust accumulates in dunes down in the rail, and at the end of the semester, it's time for another thorough washing.

We enjoyed this wine with a set of ribeyes, creamed spinach, and wedge salads, as God intended.

2008 Educated Guess Cabernet Sauvignon
Napa Valley
$20, 14.5% abv.
89% Cabernet Sauvignon, 5% Merlot, 5% Cabernet Franc, 1% Petit Verdot

Please give this at least half an hour to breathe. It doesn't necessarily need to soften, but it requires a short period of time to fully open up so that you can enjoy all the characteristics. There's a rich mix of leather, licorice, and black cherry. Underneath there is a touch of toasted caramel. On the palate, the wine has a deep black cherry and spice flavor with medium tannins and just a little acidity. This is a California Bordeaux-style blend done right at an incredible price. Highly recommended.

17 August 2011

2009 Concannon Crimson & Clover

I get a lot of e-mail from wine publicists, but this one hit just the right spot in the old cerebellum. "Would you like to try the Concannon Crimson & Clover?" Although the song was originally recorded by Tommy James and the Shondells, the version that I know and love is by Joan Jett and the Blackhearts. The mere mention of the song takes me back to 1983. A roller skating rink in Southaven, MS, just south of my home in Whitehaven, a small surburb of Memphis. I've been eating popcorn. I've been playing the pinball machine that has some racy Boris Vallejo artwork. I'm wearing the cleanest white t-shirt I have because it looks so awesome when they turn on the blacklights.

Once an hour, they set aside a song for a couples' skate, which is pretty ridiculous when everyone is under the age of ten. Mom encourages me to skate with my cousin, and I refuse. Instead, I hang on the rail and watch while nervous boys and girls slowly turn left for three minutes and Joan Jett wails over the speakers. Shortly thereafter, we get some Van Halen and I'm getting some great bruises on my shins.

This wine isn't officially tied to the song: the crimson refers to the deep red of the wine, and the clover for the Irish heritage of the Concannon family. But while sipping it you'll hear that song in your head over and over.

2009 Concannon Crimson & Clover
Livermore Valley, California
$18, 13.7% abv.
50% Petite Sirah, 25% Cabernet Sauvignon, 15% Syrah, 10% Zinfandel

Great dark fruit, needs to breathe for a while. Dark, deep, concentrated and tannic. This is chomping a bunch of blackberries and then drinking some tea right afterwards. (Which I've done on many occasions. Ripping out invasive blackberries is a pain, but I'll help myself to any fruit that's ripe, and have often taken a break with unsweetened, bitter iced tea.) I think it's a great expression of Petite Sirah with some excellent supporting cast members.

I got to pair this with some fun stuff that I was playing with in the kitchen and backyard. When it comes to smoking beef, brisket is the king. But I've never successfully prepared a brisket worth serving to anyone who's not starving, and the size and shape of that cut can be problematic if you don't have a big smoker. I had a chuck roast in the freezer, but didn't want to make a roast or beef stew with it.

I covered the defrosted chunk of beef in Dijon mustard and spices, and then smoked it with fresh apple wood for three hours. Then an hour in the oven wrapped in foil, and after resting it was time for serving with the delightful corn salsa that I whipped up. (Garlic and orange bell peppers roasted on the grill, combined with fresh corn, diced shallots, fresh line juice, toasted cumin ground by hand in the mortar, fresh cilantro, diced tomatoes, and a dash of salt.)

To assemble the tacos I used the smoked beef (pulled, not chopped), and used white corn tortillas, the homemade corn salsa, some pickled jalapeños for flavor, and a few crumbles of cotija cheese. The combination of everything was amazing, and I was really happy with the way that it all turned out. Chuck roast is a hell of a lot easier than brisket to cook, and the flavor/mouthfeel is comparable. I've spoken to my father about this revelation, and we think that spreading the word could revolutionize backyard BBQ. If you do any smoking, grab a chuck roast and give it a shot. I think you'll be impressed with the results.

Note: This wine was received as a sample.

15 August 2011

Rieslings and Glass Stoppers

Although it happens every three months, I'm still pleasantly surprised each quarter when a pair of bottles from Wines of Germany shows up here at Casa de Benito. It's a chance to decipher the dozens of words on the front label, but the use of umlauts causes problems all the way down the chain. In accordance with my upbringing, I compose all blog posts on paper in Parker penmanship. Said drafts are submitted to the typing pool, where one of the young lovelies will bang it out on the electric typewriter. From there, the post goes to the press, where lead type is placed backwards on massive metal plates to produce a sheet proof. This is then mailed (second class) to a facility in Princeton, NJ where said proof is scanned on the university mainframe and uploaded to the internet. Many have wondered why my posts tend to lag a couple of weeks behind the current events of the day, and I can only respond so quickly given the technology at hand.

2009 Dr. Pauly Bergweiler Bernkasteler Badstube Riesling Kabinett
$22, 9% abv.
I've tasted and reviewed this one previously , but it stands up as a solid German white. Again, nice apples, touch of sweetness, and a light, refreshing body. Really delicious with smoked chicken.

2008 Schloss Reinhartshausen "Old Vines" Riesling
Erbacher Hohenrain, Rheingau
$20, 12% abv.
This dry but relatively strong Riesling has a nose of ripe peach with an interesting touch of cedar. Firm acidity with a taste of pineapple and a long aftertaste. On first sip it's clean and quick, but it rewards a long appreciation.

The second wine was enclosed with a glass stopper. These have shown up in the past few years but it's not a widespread alternative to cork. It's cute and reminds me of apothecaries and ampoules, but I'm not a fan. It doesn't do anything to hurt the wine--it's just glass on glass on wine. But the glass stopper is covered by a metal screwcap... so why not just use a screwcap? And if you pull the chilled white wine from the fridge or cellar, the stopper is covered with condensation and is too slippery to remove.

I'm going to hang on to this bit of glass, because it never hurts to have a spare stopper for an open bottle, but I don't think it's a great choice for wine moving away from cork.

Note: These wines were received as samples.

12 August 2011

Michael David Winery

I recently had lunch at the charming Flight with fellow wineblogger Fredric and Mike Phillips, CEO of Michael David Winery. (His brother, David, is the president and completes the winery name.) The logo for the winery is a reference to Mike's extensive corkscrew collection, and I like the simple, elegant design. What's even more interesting is that out of the many wines produced by the winery, there's no standard theme. Each bottle has its own unique and appropriate layout. For a change, all of the images in this post come from the company website as opposed to my own photography. For some tastings, it's not convenient to clear the table and find good lighting.

The Phillips family has been farming in Lodi since the Civil War, and after the establishment of the winery the following generations have continued to work the land. Talking to Mike was interesting, because it's often convenient to forget that with wine, we're talking about an agricultural product. Speaking with him was more like talking to my great uncles and other relatives that grow cotton and corn rather than discussing the end product with a PR rep. Mike grew up on the farm and picked fruit and drove tractors. If you want to talk about terroir, at some point it comes down to muddy boots.

2010 Seven Heavenly Chards
$14, 14.5% abv.
This is a counterpart to the popular Seven Deadly Zins, both of which involve taking grapes from seven different vineyards and making a well balanced wine from them. There's a little butter on toast aroma. The taste is creamy with a touch of peach. Just enough oak to get the point across (30% oak, 70% stainless steel).

2008 Incognito Rouge
$18, 14.5% abv.
21% Syrah, 18% Carignan, 18% Cinsault, 13% Tannat, 11% Souzão, 10% Cab Franc, 6% Mouvedre, 3% Petite Sirah
Tannat and Souzão! The winery is not afraid to experiment with various grapes, and this is a blend that would get you shot in France. I found that this red had a nice cherry and plum aroma. Smooth, medium tannins and a long finish. This would be so wonderful with properly cooked venison.

2009 6th Sense Syrah
$16, 15.5% abv.
Mostly Syrah with a bit of Petite Sirah and Petit Verdot
On the surface this is a classic Syrah: black cherry, black pepper, good dark fruit, long spicy finish. A solid, reliable wine. At times I prefer a more subtle Syrah, but this one would be great at a BBQ or for pizza night or for another casual dinner. It's always fun when you find someone in California that's really into the Rhône style, and folks in the South of France know the joy of a grill and a solid red as well as those of us in the South of... the South.

2008 Petite Petit
85% Petite Sirah and 15% Petit Verdot
$18, 15% abv.
I'm biased here, because I adore this wine and have loved it every time I've sipped it. Two of my favorite grapes dancing elegantly. Delightful dark fruit, dark berries, not jammy, touch of smoke. Interesting note on this label: when I reviewed this wine last year, the label artist commented on my post.

2006 Earthquake Cabernet Sauvignon
Mostly Cabernet Sauvignon with a little Petite Sirah
$26, 15% abv.
Here in Memphis we're always wondering about the next big earthquake. We sit on the New Madrid fault, source of the violent quakes of 1811-1812 that were powerful enough to make the Mississippi River run backwards and screwed up the state borders. This wine is a far more quiet and pleasant experience. It is light with a mild body of cherry and licorice. Tannins were bit strong at first, but after an hour this had mellowed out considerably. I think this one will be much better after an additional three or four years in the bottle.

Note: These wines were received as samples.

10 August 2011

2009 Biltmore Reserve Pinot Noir

The Biltmore Estate is a mansion in Asheville, North Carolina built for George Washington Vanderbilt II (1862-1914). It's the largest home in North America, and the landscaping was done by Frederick Law Olmsted, who designed Central Park in Manhattan.

George Washington Vanderbilt II was the grandson of "The Commodore" Cornelius Vanderbilt, who founded the university that bears his name. (Lots of great memories competing at Vandy during my Quiz Bowl days. During a particular slice of life, I knew how to navigate a bunch of college campuses in the middle of the night: UT Knoxville, Georgia Tech, Washington University of St. Louis, etc.) Of course, I've always been interested in the Commodore's 1849 plan to build an Atlantic-Pacific canal through Nicaragua.

A vineyard was established in 1971, and due to the estate's draw as a tourist attraction, it's the most visited winery in the United States. I've previously reviewed one of their Chardonnays and was excited to try the Pinot Noir. The Chardonnay was grown and produced in North Carolina, while in this case the grapes came from California but the actual production occurred in the Tar Heel State.

With an aristocratic wine from a mansion, I'm pairing a lawn that needs a mow and a scruffy mutt that needs a good brushing. Yet somehow Wolfie put on a regal stance, as if to remind me that I'm the servant that brings him his food.

2009 Biltmore Reserve Pinot Noir
Russian River, California
$25, 14.5% abv.

This Pinot Noir has a fairly standard first impression of wild strawberries. But as it opens and develops, you get a touch of bacon fat and black cherry. The finish has a little cough syrup, which isn't a bad note--it implies a fruit character with bitterness and dark herbal aspects. If it's too prominent it's obviously a bad thing, but I like it in small doses. While a lighter and more delicate Pinot Noir would be a good match for salmon, I think this one would stand up fairly well with hearty meat dishes. I enjoyed it with smoked beef brisket.

Note: This wine was received as a sample.

08 August 2011

2007 Markham "The Philanthropist" Cabernet Sauvignon

Markham Vineyards has been around since 1978, but the land was home to wine grapes as far back as 1874. This makes it the fourth oldest continuously operating winery in Napa. They produce a Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Sauvignon Blanc, and a Chardonnay, but they also make two very special wines: The Philanthropist and The Altruist are dedicated to recipients of charitable grants issued by Markham (more on that below). There are wines that are associated with specific charities or causes, but I like this one because each year there's a different recipient and a broad spectrum of subjects are covered.

2007 Markham "The Philanthropist" Cabernet Sauvignon
Yountville, Napa
$55, 14.5% abv.
511 cases produced
It's a rich and complex Napa Cabernet Sauvignon with an initial aroma of chocolate and leather. As it opens up you get hints of black cherry and fig on the palate. The profile is deep, strong, and full bodied with firm tannins and a long finish. In another couple of years it should be even better.

I enjoyed it with a thick grilled ribeye and baked potato. There are times when you want a big cab and a classic steakhouse dinner, and this was just such an occasion.

Here are the organizations that recently received grants from Markham:
In the fall of 2010, Markham will release the 2007 vintage of The Philanthropist and The Altruist dedicated to the 2009 Mark of Distinction winners, Island Sled Hockey, of Lynbrook, NY, and the Paul Ruby Foundation of Geneva, IL.

The Long Island Sled Hockey program for both physically and mentally handicapped athletes in Lynbrook, NY, is the nation’s largest and most inclusive sled hockey program in the country. The Paul Ruby Foundation for Parkinson’s Research in Geneva, IL, is committed to funding clinical research to extend the knowledge, treatment and awareness of Parkinson’s disease.

Note: This wine was received as a sample.

05 August 2011

Shiner Ruby Redbird

Irish folklore involves a lot of plots involving the geis, a rule or taboo specific to the hero. Generally the hero has multiple geasa that cause logical conflicts with each other. This means that the old scribes of Éire used the same plot device as Captain Kirk when he needed to make a computer self destruct in the original series of Star Trek. The most famous example probably comes from the story of Cú Chulainn. One geis says that he can't eat dog meat, and another geis says that he can't refuse free food from a woman. And normally there's nothing wrong with having these two rules in your life--to be honest, I'd add them to the Ten Commandments, and I don't think Moses or Charlton Heston would argue with me. But an evil old woman offers him some free dog meat, and he has no choice but to eat it and then die from his breaking of the geis. That's why Irish folktales make such happy bedtime stories for kids. (There are hundreds of arguments to be made here involving various strains of logic and religion, but there's no need to get into that right now. Suffice it to say that this gentile enjoys the creative arguments of the Talmud when it comes to interpreting the strict laws of the Tanakh.)

I was thinking of Cú Chulainn as I stared at the six pack of Ruby Redbird from the good folks at Shiner. I've never had anything from Shiner I didn't like, and I am a big supporter of their history and continued commitment to obscure European beer styles made deep in the heart of Texas. On the other hand adding red grapefruit juice and ginger to beer seemed like a silly gimmick aimed at the Mike's Hard Lemonade crowd. On the gripping hand, it's technically a premixed shandy, and thus traditional, and I've had a powerful craving for grapefruit recently.

Complicating matters is the fact that grapefruit is an important crop in Texas, and as a child I loved the bitter and acidic Texsun grapefruit juice in the can, which required the key to punch holes in the top lid. So we're supporting a local crop here. I decided to tempt fate and grab the sixer, just because I was so curious.

Shiner Ruby Redbird
$7/6 pack, 4% abv.

It's a lot better than it sounds, because it's not sweet or goofy. You get the full tang of the grapefruit and the sting of the ginger, without a bunch of unnecessary sweetness. At the same time, you don't get to appreciate much of the actual beer flavor, but somehow it all just works. I could even see myself dropping a sliced jalapeño pepper in there to add another dimension. I tasted this on its own during a sweltering Memphis afternoon, but a lot of the flavor reminded me of the various spiced lemonades that my Gujarati friend's mother would make when she came to town. And thus I will say that this beer would be absolutely perfect with Thai, Indian, or Vietnamese food. I was craving rich spices and exotic flavor combinations, and it's not often that you get a beer with the perfect acidity and spiciness to match such cuisines. Try it out, and let me know how it works for you.

03 August 2011

CalNaturale Wines

I've said it before, but when it comes to alternative enclosures I have two favorites: screwcaps and Tetra Pak cartons. Screwcaps are obviously convenient and easy, while Tetra Pak cartons are environmentally friendly and more convenient than bag-in-box wines. Also, you can grab a few Tetra Pak cartons and throw them in the pantry next to the chicken and beef stock. They don't take up a lot of room, and you can even toss a few into a cooler along with the beer and sodas for a BBQ.

The wines of CalNaturale come in both half litre and full litre Tetra Pak cartons and are certified organic. I like the 500mL format: it's perfect for two people to share with dinner, but even keeping one to yourself over the course of an evening isn't crazy. It's two thirds of a standard 750mL bottle, which means that it contains 3⅓ regular glasses.

2009 CalNaturale Chardonnay
$7/500mL Tetra Pak carton, 13% abv.
The nose is full of papaya and peach, with a light body. There's no oak, and it's fruity but not sweet with a decent mouth presence. A really surprising bargain that would make a great house white. Great with any chicken dish.

2008 CalNaturale Cabernet Sauvignon
Paso Robles
$7/500mL Tetra Pak carton, 13.8% abv.
This one is mellow and uncomplicated with a profile of blackberry jam. There are low tannins and a good overall balance. Inexpensive Cabernet Sauvignon is usually pretty rough, but this is a decent table wine. Highly recommended for cooking, since there's nothing harsh that will negatively impact the flavor of your recipe.

Note: These wines were received as samples.

01 August 2011

Fee Bros. Black Walnut Bitters

Time once again for new bitters from "the House of Fee by the Genesee since eighteen hundred and sixty-three". Fee Bros. just released their Black Walnut Bitters.

When I was a child my paternal grandparents had a walnut tree in the backyard. One massive limb served as the support for a tire swing, but my brother and I discovered that the tennis ball-sized unripe walnuts were fun to throw at each other. And when cracked open, contained a juice that would stain your hands for days. I don't recall eating any of the fully mature walnuts--somehow pecans were a more popular harvest in my family. But walnuts are delicious, and I enjoy using them in a lot of different dishes, particularly as part of a stuffing for thick pork chops.

This new product has a dark and earthy profile with a wonderful walnut aroma. I found it to be a nice addition to a mediocre Bourbon, where it added complexity and depth. But I'd really love to use a few dashes of this in a batch of cookie dough.

When it was time for a cocktail, I thought that the nutty bitters demanded a pairing of jelly. Fruit preserves have been used in cocktails for a long time, and are recently making a comeback as part of the mixology craze that's hit the hipsters. The pectin gives the drink a slightly silky mouthfeel, but mainly you're getting a concentrated fruit flavor and you don't have to worry about what's in season. Use good stuff (here I used Oregon organic strawberry preserves) and watch out for the sweetness, but even a dollop of cheap marmalade will help you when you don't have any orange peel on hand. Want to get crazy? Put a little jalapeño jelly in your next batch of margaritas. Plus, while you're mixing you can throw out old phrases like "It must be jelly, cause jam don't shake like that!"

Benito's WB&J Cocktail
2 oz. White Rum
½ Tablespoon of Fruit Preserves
Dash of Black Walnut Bitters

Combine ingredients in a shaker with ice. Shake thoroughly and strain into a glass filled with ice. I like remnants of fruit in my cocktails, but if you prefer a cleaner presentation, strain through a fine mesh screen.

Yes, it does taste a bit like a peanut butter and jelly sandwich. Not an everyday kind of cocktail, but amusing and tasty for an afternoon experiment. This brings the bitters collection up to fifteen. Currently I keep them in a box in the living room, but I'm thinking that an enterprising bartender could wear them all on a bandolier for quick access whenever a cocktail needs just a little something extra.

Note: This product was received as a sample.