31 October 2011

Happy Halloween

I got pitched a lot of wines for Halloween, and as I wasn't attending any parties and the kids in my neighborhood don't trick-or-treat anymore, I wasn't really thinking about the holiday. (And a full bottle of wine will punch straight through one of those cheap plastic sacks.) But I got a puckish combination, and it didn't hurt that I had lunch with the CEO of Michael David Winery back in August.

On Facebook I invoked the voice of the late Vincent Price to say that this wineglass was... a scream. But honestly, take a trip down the seasonal aisle of your grocery store and grab some stupid wine glasses. They'll come in use eventually and over time you'll have enough for a proper October party. (See also my favorite Champagne flute.)

2010 Incognito White
63% Viognier, 21% Chardonnay, 7% Muscat, 5% Sauvignon Blanc, 4% Roussanne
$18, 14.5% abv.

Peach and apricot nose with just a hint of banana creme pie. Bright and light fruit flavors that include pear and tropical fruits, but restrained and dry without any sweetness. Easily quaffable and a fun mix of competing grapes. Absolutely amazing with fried shrimp and a hot chili sauce. It's also approachable enough that folks making the transition from sweet whites should really enjoy this.

2009 7 Deadly Zins
Mostly Zinfandel with some Petite Sirah and Petit Verdot in the woodpile
$16, 15% abv.

Blackberry jam aroma with hints of leather and bacon fat. Deep dark fruit flavor, mostly blackberry with edges of black cherry and plum. Soft tannins while cool, firmer as it warms up. Great with grilled burgers.

Note: These wines were received as samples.

28 October 2011

Benziger Wines

These are the wines sampled during a recent online event with Benziger of Sonoma. I visited Benziger back in 2009, and I had a great time. It's a beautiful property and the commitment to sustainable grape growing was impressive.

All of these wines are biodynamic from Sonoma Mountain. If you're not familiar with the method, it's sort of an organic meets folk wisdom philosophy. Arguments fly back and forth about the subject, but at the end of the day my opinion is this: I don't make wine decisions based on whether it's blessed by a priest or a rabbi, whether it came from a country that beat my team in the World Cup, or whether it is certified organic, vegan, biodynamic, or otherwise. But if you give grapes the kind of love and attention that Benziger does, in a great region, in small batches, you're going to make some amazing wine.

Since we're dealing with small production here, remember that 1 barrel = 25 cases = 300 bottles (750mL).

2007 Benziger Oonapais
63% Cabernet Sauvignon, 20% Merlot, 10% Cabernet Franc, 6% Petit Verdot and 1% Zinfandel
$50, 14.2% abv.
8 Barrels Made
Yes, just 8 barrels. You probably won't get to try this wine, but I lucked out. Rich plum and chocolate, with a hint of juniper and spice. Mellow tannins and a soft fruit presence of black plums. Should be great with grilled lamb or braised lamb shanks. Both of the Oonapais wines use the Miwok name for Sonoma Mountain, an extinct volcano.

2006 Benziger Oonapais
58% Cabernet Sauvignon, 17% Merlot, 14% Cabernet Franc, and 11% Petit Verdot
$50, 14.5% abv.
110 Barrels Made
Similar aroma and flavor, but surprisingly bolder and more tannic than the above. I really wish I had the chance to set most of these wines aside for a few years to let them age and develop.

2008 Benziger Obsidian Point Cabernet Sauvignon
49% Cabernet Sauvignon, 22% Cabernet Franc, 19% Merlot, 10% Petit Verdot
$65, 14.6% abv.
245 Cases Made
I mentioned that Sonoma Mountain was a volcano above, and this name refers to black volcanic glass that can be found in the soil (and can make razor sharp knives). Delicate aroma of fig, cherry, and blackberry with medium tannins.

2007 Benziger Obsidian Point Cabernet Sauvignon
49% Cabernet Sauvignon, 22% Cabernet Franc, 19% Merlot, 10% Petit Verdot
$65, 14.5% abv.
24 Barrels Made
Very similar to the 2008, but lighter, milder, and more refined. With all of these wines I had the chance to share them with a group of friends and it was so much fun to let everyone sip back and forth between two adjacent vintages.

2008 Joaquin's Inferno Zinfandel
73% Zinfandel, 27% Petit Sirah
$50, 15.5% abv.
186 Cases Made
I tried the 2005 a few years ago, and I found that it was surprisingly consistent over the years. As I said back then, it's named after the vineyard manager's complaints about farming high up on the hill, out of reach of mechanized equipment and on a steep slope. Dark fruit and a hint of cinnamon and black pepper. Lovely balance.

2007 Benziger Tribute
84% Cabernet Sauvignon, 10% Cabernet Franc, 3% Merlot, 3% Petit Verdot
$80, 14.6% abv.
102 Barrels Made
The real star of the show, and lovingly enjoyed with a savory ribeye roast as God intended. Mild wonderful, delicious. Blackberry and tea, with hints of leather, chocolate, and tobacco. Long, lingering finish that caused one attractive guest seated to my left to repeatedly catch every stray drop from the neck of the bottle and lick it off her finger. As I was standing there trying to explain volcanic soils and fermentation, it was distracting to say the least. But not in a bad way.

A really spectacular lineup, and I loved the opportunity to try these. But I've got an additional five Benziger wines that I've tasted in the past month, and will have those up soon...

Note: These wines were received as samples.

26 October 2011

Ocho Carménères Chilenos

The latest group of bottles from Wines of Chile comprised an octet of Carménère. Yes, they drop the accent marks for most marketing these days, but I never pass up an opportunity to use special characters. Your fancy iPhones and modern web browsers support Unicode, so why not make use of it? Someday I'll finally get to review something in the Eastern Canadian Inuit language ᐃᓄᒃᑎᑐᑦ.

One of the themes of the online tasting and video conference from Chile was curry. I made a curried custard pumpkin with one of the spice blends, and will do something with the other blend soon. More later... Let's get to the wines.

2010 Emiliana Natura Carménère
Colchagua Valley
$17, 14% abv.
Black cherry, dark and tannic, rough start, slow finish. A common theme throughout these wines is that every single one was better the second day. They're all a little young and brash at the moment.

2008 Casa Silva Los Lingues Gran Reserva Carménère
Colchagua Valley
$22, 14% abv.
Bell pepper and green tobacco, a solid example of the grape if you want to introduce a friend to it.

2008 Santa Rita Medalla Real Gran Reserva Carménère
Colchagua Valley
$20, 14.1% abv.
Light cherry and spice. Bit of tomato leaf. Definitely more subtle than some of the others.

2008 Montes Alpha Carménère
Colchagua Valley
$24, 14.5% abv.
Strong tobacco leaf, dark plum, deep tannins. A heavy hitter, and definitely in need of breathing, but then it can stand up to pretty hearty fare.

2009 Carmen Gran Reserva Carménère
Apalta Valley
$17, 14% abv.
Pretty solid with some tobacco and smoke, black cherry and cinnamon. With leftovers, a great burger wine.

2009 Santa Carolina Reserva de Familia Carménère
Rapel Valley
$20, 15% abv.
Bright cherry, firm tannins, softer finish. A lighter Carm if you're looking for a milder experience.

2009 Concha y Toro Marques de Casa Concha Carménère
Rapel Valley
$20, 14% abv.
Definitely one of the smoothest and well balanced straight out of the bottle. Black cherry and just the tiniest green pepper notes. Restrained in every regard and quite lovely. Tannic finish that will probably soften in a few more years.

2007 Haras de Pirque Cabernet Sauvignon/Carménère
Maipo Valley
$13, 14.5% abv.
My utter favorite label of the tasting, because I love simple black and white design and reversed text. The wine is way too heavy on the green and vegetal scale, though. Which is doubly surprising because this is the oldest wine of the tasting. It still smells and tastes like freshly cut tomato leaves, and the tannins have not softened. I will say that this one was considerably better after being open for a day.

Note: These wines were received as samples.

24 October 2011

3rd 35th Birthday Dinner

This is the third dinner party celebrating my birthday (after dinners 1 and 2) and the first in which I didn't lift a finger or bring a bottle. It also had by far the most impressive wine lineup of them all. The legendary Mike Whitfield and his wife Darlene invited my parents and me over for dinner. I brought along The Roommate, and when I saw the chalkboard menu outside the house wishing me a happy birthday and listing the courses, I knew I was in for a magical evening.

Mike and my father have been friends since the 60s, and in the 80s and 90s Mike was responsible for introducing me to good wine. Over the past few years he's given me the opportunity to try some incredible bottles, such as the tasting of Barolos from 1967-1996.

We started the cheese and fruit course with a 1998 Domaine A.R. Lenoble Blanc de Noirs. With all due respect to Chardonnay, my favorite sparklers come from the red grapes. And I hope that this selection meets with Samantha Dugan's approval, given my usual routine of Prosecco and Cava. This bubbly had nice notes of yeast and toast with just a touch of dried apricot aroma. Good acidity and tiny bubbles, a well-constructed Champagne all around. I particularly enjoyed it with the Comté and Cranberry Wensleydale.

Oh yes, that's some capicola in the background. Love the cured pig cheeks and jowls. There's also a tumbler of Kentucky whiskey back there, but I'm saving the spirits for another post.

The first course was an unbelievably smooth cauliflower soup made with vegetable stock and topped with truffle oil. Rich and savory, and Mike did a great job of coaxing maximum flavor out of the humble vegetable. I did have to admit that the last time I had cauliflower soup, my grandfather heated it up on the engine block somewhere in northeastern California during a road trip.

He paired this course with an Amontillado that I neglected to photograph or jot down, but it had a deep and meaty beef broth profile, and did not overwhelm the soup. In fact, it amplified the flavors and went particularly well with the truffle oil.

Have you ever seen an Alsatian magnum? I hadn't before last night. It is freakishly tall and messes with your sense of proportion and depth perception. This bottle is 48cm/19 inches tall, and carrying it by the neck feels like you're swinging a baseball bat. It is a bottle format that doesn't fit in anything. Back at the house, it won't even go under the cabinets. For storage purposes you have to get creative, sliding it in sideways or diagonally.

That being said, this 1998 Trimbach Pinot Gris Reserve was out of this world. The winery was established in Alsace in 1626, and I got an instant craving for choucroute garnie. It's always fascinating to see what happens when a wine region is in a transitional area between two countries and two different wine traditions. The wine has turned a dark golden color but the mild peach aromas and flavors have survived. Dry with a round mouthfeel, and any acidity has disappeared by now. Just a little hint of petrol and minerals.

The dish served with the Pinot Gris was a complete surprise to me: fish korma. I love Indian food, but that's a bad way to explain it. If you say you love American cuisine, are you talking about Cajun jambalaya, Maine lobsters, Hawaiian poi, or fried chicken? Korma comes from the Mughal years and is associated with northern India, Pakistan, and Bangladesh. And of course, the Indian seafood traditions take advantage of the subcontinent's long coastlines.

The biggest compliment I can say about this dish is that The Roommate loved it. She enjoys Indian food but can shy away from anything too hot. This was heavily spiced, but not hot, a distinction that a lot of people miss. The fish was tender and flaky, and the sauce was just thick enough to scrape up with a fork and slide on the fish. The Pinot Gris was a nice match.

1995 S. Anderson Cabernet Sauvignon. Napa, Stags Leap. Great Bordeaux style wine with classic Napa character. Mild and soft at this point, but not too delicate. It maintains a full flavor with dark plum and a little whiff of bell pepper.

The whole evening was like this: Mike bringing various treasures out of the cellar. I can remember going to some wine and cheese parties with my parents and Mike 15 years ago, and someone would pull out a bottle and everyone would ooh and aah. At the time, I really didn't understand what constituted a great wine, and didn't know all the names and grapes and regions. This time, I could recognize the bottles from across the room and already start drooling in anticipation.

(Take note of the dinner table that has panels from wooden wine cases under glass. A few bear the numbers scrawled on there by the late John Grisanti.)

For the main course, a savory fall dish: braised short ribs over polenta with green beans and brown mushrooms roasted in red wine. We had been smelling this dish throughout the entire evening and it was great to finally tuck into it.

The meat was tender and fell apart, and the polenta had the perfect consistency--not too thick or thin, just standing up properly on the plate. I will confess that I did not finish this, because I started waxing poetic about all sorts of things and neglected my food. But it was wonderful and something that I hope to recreate soon.

The pièce de résistance, and the final surprise of the evening that almost brought me to tears: a 1976 Faiveley Morey-Saint-Denis. I've always wanted to try a wine from the year of my birth, and over the years Mike has been on the lookout for one. We don't really have a lot of auctions or old bottles for sale in this area, so such an acquisition involves private collections or travel. I don't know how or where Mike got this, but it was very special to me.

I opened it without any cork issues, but at first I was a little concerned. A garnet color, the nose hadn't opened up yet... I was fearing oxidation. Mike encouraged me to let it wake up, and in about fifteen minutes the wine showed its true profile. Complex and slightly tart with dried figs and bright red cherry, smooth and a really long finish. I took a photo of my parents together with the wine, and just relished in the experience of touching the past, wondering where that bottle had been during its 35 year journey from the vineyard to my lips.

Over the years, my father and Mike and I have eaten hot dogs and Cokes, BBQ and beer, and some of the highest cuisine and finest wines on the planet. Yet the jokes and stories and friendship have remained the same, and with luck will continue well into the future. Thanks to everyone who made this special night happen, and I hope it's not too long before we pull some more corks together in fellowship.

P.S. Blogger now presents photos in a convenient slideshow. Click on any photo for a bigger version, and you can go through all the pictures for that post.

21 October 2011

2010 Nine Walks Sauvignon Blanc

The character on this blog formerly known as The Girlfriend became a serious fan of Vietnamese food after I introduced her to a local soup joint. More local to her part of town than mine, but Memphis has a wide range of options when you need to get your phở on.

I love the spring rolls with shrimp and lettuce and peanut sauce, the quail, the occasional odds and ends that show up as specials... I'm by no means an expert on Vietnamese food and my knowledge of the language and proper pronunciation is horrible. But I know good food, and when you get that craving for phở, nothing else will work.

So it was with much excitement that I got such a craving on a Sunday afternoon and grabbed myself a takeout kit of Phở Bò Viên from Green Bamboo, a little Vietnamese restaurant within walking distance of my house. I throw pretty much everything in there, and I like to eat the sliced beef before it gets too cooked. The basil and bean sprouts are really my favorite part. I have a great set of Japanese noodle bowls that The Roommate gave me over a decade ago, you just have to hold it the right way if you want to do the traditional slurp and shovel.

2010 Nine Walks Sauvignon Blanc
Marlborough, New Zealand
$11, 13% abv.
The nose is floral with notes of peach. On the tongue there is nice tart acidity, but it's not citrus, rather a general overripe fruit note that I like. Touches of minerality on the aftertaste.

How'd it work with the Vietnamese food? Freakin' awesome. I skipped the lemon wedge when building the soup bowl, and let the wine do the acidity balancing for the meal. Letting the wine do some of the work made the whole experience even more fun, and by the end I was ready for more.

Note: These wines were received as samples.

19 October 2011

Stuffed Pie Pumpkin

I've made a couple of these recently and have mentioned them as an afterthought here on the blog and on Facebook. And people have been fascinated by them, so I feel obligated to put all the answers in one place.

Before I go any further, everything here involves the small pie pumpkins, smaller than a volleyball. Do not use big pumpkins for this. Buy a couple of pumpkins, because some will have thick walls (good, but holds less custard) and some will have thin walls (bad, easier to collapse), and it's hard to tell from the outside.

Back when I was a wee lad, Jeff Smith (The Frugal Gourmet) wrote about baking a whole pumpkin with custard, and that it was one of George Washington's favorite dishes. Of course, the only reference for that factoid is Jeff Smith, so take that as you will. Smith's recipe involves cooking the custard and the pumpkin together at the same time. I think this is a bad idea, because you've got a shell that will eventually fall apart and a custard that might not set in time. I prefer to bake the shell until just tender enough, and then pour the cooked custard inside. You'll get a little additional cooking as the gourd cools, but you don't have to worry about it all collapsing in an orange mess. Always bake in a pie tin and keep it in there until serving, just to be safe. It can be squishy by the end, and the bottom tends to get soft.

For the regular pumpkin I made a few weeks ago, I just used a little salt inside the cavity. Last weekend, I decided to use a spice blend I had on hand. The Wines of Chile folks sent along eight bottles of Carménère along with two curry blends. The one marked Tandoori had a hint of cinnamon and clove, and I thought it would be fun with the pumpkin, and I wanted a nice aromatic custard. I made one for the tasting and did a second attempt a few days later for the gathering of the wine bloggers.

Neither of the curry ones worked out perfectly, and most people reacted with "interesting, but no". For one, the spice had more of a hot chili kick than I expected, and it only showed up on the aftertaste. Also, you really have to like the flavor of cooked, unsweetened pumpkin, and not have adverse reactions from opening baby food jars in the middle of the night.

I dusted the interior of the pumpkin with the spice and roasted it. Meanwhile, I incorporated it and a bit of buttermilk into my custard, just enough to tinge it yellow and make it flavorful. My earlier, purely sweet custard was scented with Chinese five spice powder, which was incredible but would have been a jarring contrast with the curried pumpkin walls.

Even though none of these were huge successes, I love experimenting with flavor combinations, and you can't deny that these are a lot of fun to make and look really adorable on the table. And if you just make a plain vanilla custard, anybody who doesn't like the pumpkin can just spoon from the center. Which is what happened to pumpkin #1 that got mysteriously drained of all custard one night. I blame Wolfie.

P.S. Also check out my 2007 post on carbonada criolla, an Argentine stew that involves meat, fruit, and vegetables baked in a pumpkin.

17 October 2011


I had the distinct pleasure of spending time this weekend with two fellow winebloggers here in my home state of Tennessee, in my home town of Memphis: Californian Samantha Dugan of Samantha Sans Dosage and Georgian Joe Herrig of Suburban Wino. Both were in town for different reasons, those reasons being red, white, and sparkling. Longtime friend Grace served as hostess for this epic meeting, Lady A brought dessert, and we spent a leisurely afternoon with good food, good wine, and lots of fun conversation.

UPDATE: Joe's Story, Sam's Story regarding the meetup.

I met Samantha through her comments on my blog years ago, and have kept in touch ever since. I've always admired her unique voice and thorough knowledge of French wines, and though we'll never agree on Pinotage I know I'll always get a hug when I see her.

This is actually my second time meeting Sam and her husband Carl in person--they came by last July and we had a blast. Can't wait for them to come back again.

I don't recall the first time I encountered Joe, but it was around the time that I was taking notice of the growing community of Atlanta winebloggers. I think I noticed one of his comments on another blog, followed the link, and began reading his site. A guy who enjoys barbecue and peppers his wine reviews with 80s pop culture references? How could I not read Suburban Wino.

The fun thing about meeting Joe in person is that he's exactly like he is on the blog. The conversation moved from e-mail to verbal seamlessly, and machinations are in place for a future Nashville gathering. Stay tuned!

Friday night we met in the Cooper-Young district for dinner at The Beauty Shop, one of my local favorites. The good thing about Cooper-Young is that if someone in your group changes his or her mind, there are a lot of other options nearby. But they trusted me, and we enjoyed an amazing dinner. Joe and Carl went for the seafood while Sam and I were chowing down on rare red meat. Hers was a cherry smoked ribeye and I had a pair of lamb chops in a berry sauce, accompanied by fingerling potatoes smashed with goat cheese. I also had a martini made with a gin from Little Rock, Arkansas, but that will have to wait for another post.

Saturday at noon we all gathered at Grace's house for wine and food. I was particularly excited to try this gem that Joe brought along:

2009 Wolf Mountain Blanc de Blancs Brut
Dahlonega, Georgia (about 75 miles NE of Atlanta)
$26, 12.5% abv.
Made in the traditional méthode champenoise from Chardonnay. This is the first Georgia wine I've ever had, and I fear any more in the future will be a disappointment. This is a well-made sparkler with hints of yeast and toast on the nose that give way to a crisp and dry flavor with just enough acidity to balance things out.

Fried chicken is such a great natural pairing with sparkling wine, and due to the regional associations it would be easy to suggest that. But I really found myself craving oysters when I tried this wine. Maybe with a tiny dash of cilantro-serrano-grapefruit salsa on top of each twitching bivalve.

I don't have detailed notes on these wines. I was mostly just having fun and enjoying wine without overthinking it, which everyone needs to do from time to time. Many thanks to Joe and Sam for doing the heavy lifting on the wine here, and for hauling everything across multiple time zones. But here's a few links in case you want more information.

NV Ulysse Collin Blanc de Blancs Extra Brut

NV Quattro Mani Franciacorta Brut

2004 Agrapart & Fils Blanc de Blancs Extra Brut Minéral

Dagueneau Blanc Fumé de Pouilly

2009 Domaine Ostertag Pinot Noir

2008 Ronchi di Cialla Colli Orientali del Friuli Rosso
Got to add a new grape to my list with this one, made from Refosco and Schiopettino ("gunshot").

There was also a Vouvray, and I think I'm forgetting some others, plus my sole vinous contribution: a Pfeffingen Beerenauslese that was quite nice. More notes on that later...

This post has gone on way too long, so I'll conclude with some photos from lunch:

After some cheese and olives, I did a simple salad with spinach, strawberries, Gorgonzola, and a balsalmic vinaigrette.

The night before, I made bœuf bourguignon using most of a bottle of Chilean Carménère. I used leeks and shallots instead of onion, and was happy with the results.

The tandoori-spiced pumpkin custard was not a big hit (I'll give full details in a future post), but Joe provided a pairing of Moon Pies and RC Cola for those that had never experienced that Southern treat. It was the first time I'd ever seen RC Cola served in delicate espresso cups. The real dessert was Lady A's gift of apple pie and gelato.

After cleaning up and a lot of goodbye hugs, this guy went home and slept for a few hours. A great time was had by all, and thanks to everyone who contributed and made it possible.

14 October 2011

Brancott Wines

Brancott wines were some of the first New Zealand bottles I ever tried, and an early introduction to the often confusing corporate ownership of certain brands and vineyards. At the time, Brancott was run by Montana Wines out of New Zealand, but that name was confusing for the American Market. (New Zealand is exotic but safe because they speak English, while wines from the state of Montana might not be the ideal association for customers.) Then Montana was purchased by Allied Domecq, then by Pernod-Ricard.

When it comes to the business side of wine, I'm mostly fascinated by marketing and production methods rather than whose signature is on the lease. And while I've had higher-end NZ wines that are much more delicate, these three are still solid performers for a casual lunch or picnic.

Also, I'm only picturing one of the wines here to show how I'm tasting a lot of things these days: down in the kitchen with the trusty MacBook in front of me. I still like handwritten notes, but I can just snap pictures, plug in the camera, and taste, and have everything in one place. When you try a lot of wine, you have to focus on efficiency at some point. At some point I'll submit my full streamlined process for ANSI or ISO 9000 certification. I'm working on my Lean Six Sigma Burgundy Belt.

2010 Brancott Pinot Grigio
Marlborough, New Zealand
$13, 13% abv.
Lemony and crisp with good minerality. I had brought this along to a gathering for my sister-in-law, a Pinot Grigio fanatic, but she was unable to attend. It did end up being a great match with my heirloom tomato gazpacho.

2010 Brancott Sauvignon Blanc
Marlborough, New Zealand
$13, 12.5% abv.
Pretty aggressive grapefruit peel, bitter nose. Not a bad thing, because a lot of times I like this style, and I crave bitter flavors. Crisp mouthfeel with a bit of minerals again. I'm proud of these two bargain whites for having stony qualities--you don't see that a lot at this price point. Guilty pleasure: I paired this with fried chicken, and the acidity cut through the grease in the most delightful way.

2010 Brancott Pinot Noir
Marlborough, New Zealand
$13, 13% abv.
Dark strawberry nose with a dusky aroma. Much brighter strawberry fruit flavor and touch of acidity, short finish. I prefer a softer, lighter Pinot Noir, but this one's good with grilled salmon or a salty ham sandwich.

Note: These wines were received as samples.

12 October 2011

Organic Beaujolais

About a year ago, I finally made it through the tenth and final Cru Beaujolais. Having tried at least one of each, I breathed a sigh of relief and then didn't think about the region for a while. About a month ago, I got a sample pack of organic wines from Discover Beaujolais, three of them Crus.

I think people tend to forget Beaujolais when pairing foods, thinking that the meat course is going to have the heavy reds and the seafood and salad courses are going to have lighter whites, but the reality is that a good Beaujolais will pair with just about anything, and they're affordable enough to open in the middle of the week or whenever you are in the mood.

2009 Christian Bernard Fleurie
$22, 14%
Light and delicate, with very mild notes of strawberry and earth. Tannins creep up on the finish. A wide favorite for the online Twitter tasting. There's an interesting thing about this label, which is that the front refers to it as "Select Block Gamay". It's only on the back where it's identified as a Fleurie in tiny letters.

2010 Chateau Cambon Rosé
$16, 14%
Bright cherry and happiness, light acidity on the first taste but it smooths out immediately. Touch of lemon and watermelon, orange blossom, and dried fig. Stewed fruit as it warms up, which is something I've never experience in a rosé. I know that sounds a little like heat damage, but it wasn't like that at all, just a very deep and complex rosé. Perfect here in the waning days of summer, which in Memphis extend into November.

2009 Domaine de la Voûte des Crozes Côte-de-Brouilly
$20, 13% abv.
Deeper red flavor than I was expecting, with black cherry. Great structure with medium tannins, and it should be delightful in a few years. I got to enjoy this with some smoked lamb where it was strong enough to stand up to the flavor.

2009 Domaine J. Chamonard Morgon
$24, 13.% abv.
This one has a splash of bright acidity with an overall profile of ripe raspberries. There's even that hint of nuttiness you get from chewing up the raspberry seeds. Mild tannins and a light body.

Note: These wines were received as samples.

10 October 2011

I get by with a little wine from my friends...

I am richly blessed in that I have the opportunity to try wines from around the world at no cost to me. It is often an embarrassment of riches, and I feel a bit of nagging Presbyterian guilt every time I pour excess wine down the drain.

Despite the fact that I am the last man on earth who needs a bottle of wine as a gift, I always welcome said bottles with grace and keen interest, and set them aside so that I may enjoy them properly on my own time rather than just popping another cork at a big dinner with friends or during a marathon solo tasting session.

Alas, both contributors must remain anonymous per their wishes, but I cherish their friendship and very much appreciate the gifts.

First up is a Norton wine from Stone Hill Winery. I've had a few Nortons and Cynthianas over the years, and while I'm not an expert on this particular French-American hybrid, I do believe that if any such grape is going to break out as a star on the national stage, it's going to be Norton rather than Seyval Blanc or Baco Noir or hundreds of others.

2008 Stone Hill Norton
$19, 13.5% abv.
100% Norton
Hermann, Missouri

Hermann sits west of St. Louis in what's called the Missouri Rhineland on the south bank of the Missouri river. German immigrants planted the first vineyards, and native American, European, and hybrid grapes were planted in such volume to make Missouri the #2 wine producing state before Prohibition. So how does it fare in the glass? There is a light nose of blueberries and leather, with just a touch of cinnamon. No foxiness or harsh aromas that you might have encountered from other hybrids, but there is a slight hint of smoke and oak. On the palate it is light and smooth, with a slight tannic tang on the finish. Bit of bright cherry acidity, and flavors that stay on the high side of overripe raspberries and plum. Really quite refined and a great example of how wine can achieve greatness in The Other 46.

Moving along, we have a delightful wine from the south of France. And it's appropriate here, because Missouri was settled by French Canadians from the north and French Louisianans from the south. Where did you think the Show Me State got names like Saint Louis and Sainte Genevieve?

2006 Mas Cal Demoura L'Infidèle
$25, 13.5% abv.
Blend of Syrah, Grenache, Mourvèdre, Carignan, and Cinsault.
Terasses du Larzac
Coteaux du Languedoc

Here we've got a classic wine from the South of France. A blend of luscious Rhône grapes with Old World style. The winery name Cal Demoura means "one must remain" in Occitan (one of the dozens of Romance languages in the NW Mediterrean region), and the rest says "The Infidel" in French.

The nose is initially full of black cherry and pepper from the Syrah. But then you get a smooth and perfectly balanced mix of red grapes that is truly wonderful. The tannins are almost gone at this point with five years of aging, and the bottle exhibits exquisite aromas of violets and lavender. Mellow, relaxing, and perfectly balanced in terms of acidity, tannins, and fruit. Truly one of the best wines from the South of France that I've had in some time, with the exception of that amazing rosé from Xavier Flouret.

Note: These wines were received as gifts.

07 October 2011

Wagner Family of Wine

Always excited to get to try tiny 50mL wine bottles from TastingRoom.com. In this event, I'm trying samples from the Wagner Family of Wine based out of Napa. I think Caymus and Conundrum are the most well known products, but it was fun to try some of the others.

2009 Mer Soleil Silver Unoaked Chardonnay
Santa Lucia Highlands
$22, 14.8% abv.
Oh, just delightful. Some musky aromas combined with peach, with a very smooth and round body and a light finish. Just a touch of acidity, and a brief finish.

2008 Mer Soleil Barrel Fermented Chardonnay
Santa Lucia Highlands
$32, 14.5% abv.
Not too heavily oaked, but with obvious buttered toast and vanilla. Toasted coconut and tropical fruits with, again, low acidity and a brief finish. These two wines are great to try side by side.

2009 Conundrum
Proprietary blend of Sauvignon Blanc, Muscat Canelli, Muscat, Viognier, and Chardonnay
$22, 13.5% abv.
The Muscat notes come through immediately with that dark and dusky aroma and flavor. Not as sweet as many people assume, and it's relatively well balanced. Buttery and smooth on the palate, and it's often suggested as a good pairing for spicy Asian fare, by which I mean the thousands of different culinary traditions practiced by two billion people.

2009 Meomi Pinot Noir
Sonoma/Monterey/Santa Barbera
$22, 13.9% abv.
Black cherry and pie crust, with a touch of smoke and spice. Good fruit flavors and a nice tannic kick on the finish. Fairly substantial Pinot Noir.

2009 Belle Glos Pinot Noir
Santa Maria Valley
$44, 14.4% abv.
Mild wild strawberry and leather aromas, with a rich and delicate body. Delightful. Where's my slightly rare veal?

2008 Caymus Cabernet Sauvignon
Napa Valley
$68, 15.2% abv.
Leather and plump with a touch of spice and black pepper. Dark and rich, and while the tannins are definitely present right now, I imagine this will be incredible in a couple of years.

Note: These wines were received as samples.

05 October 2011

Dinner Party at my Parents' House

My parents moved into a new and much larger home late last year, and have been wanting to entertain guests. And they also wanted to have dinner with my brother and me for our recent birthdays. I had a lot of wine on hand and felt like cooking, so we arrived at a compromise in which I planned the meal, they got the ingredients and had all of them ready and waiting for me. Everything came together spectacularly, and we all had a great time throughout the long evening.

In attendance last Saturday night were my friend Michelle, her charming boyfriend from France, my parents, my brother, and the elusive Lady A, making a surprise last minute appearance.

I'll be writing about the wines later so that I can keep them together with their respective groupings. As I write it all out, I realize there's no great theme with this dinner--I bounce from Spain to France to Greece to generic Mediterranean... I think I just wanted one last hurrah of fresh produce here at the end of summer. On with the food!

After a round of good cheeses and crackers with the Cru Beaujolais, I began things with a teacup of gazpacho I'd made the night before. I lucked out on a few pounds of heirloom tomatoes for a song (Cherokee Purples, Yellow Brandywines, and others, all nice and soft). Yes, I toasted the cumin seed and ground it by hand, and had just the right number of jalapeños to give it zing without heat. Here I served the Conundrum and Brancott Pinot Grigio, two light wines to begin the evening.

The next course involved saumon en papillote although this time I didn't cook it on the car engine. Chopped fennel bulb on the bottom, then a salmon filet, then seasonings and olive oil and sliced Meyer lemons and fennel fronds. I cooked it just so it was a little rare in the center, and it was light and delicate. Here I opened up a trio of wines that would go well, all from the Benziger Signaterra line: a Chardonnay, a Sauvignon Blanc, and Pinot Noir.

Καρπούζι με φέτα again! I haven't quite made it for everyone I know yet, so I can cycle through it at various dinners. But I'm craving it, and it's fun and easy to make. Everyone loved it, and I hope more people give it a shot. I tossed it all with chopped mint, a little olive oil and vinegar, black pepper, and some pink Himalayan salt. I let it drain through a colander during the prior courses, so that the final salad was not soggy but had a concentrated fruit and salt flavor.

The main course was designed to show off Dad's new grilling and smoking rigs. The leg of lamb was covered in Dijon mustard and fresh rosemary and then trussed up and smoked for a few hours at low temperature on Dad's new Big Green Egg. While resting, the fire was cranked up to allow for a quick grilling of yellow squash, zucchini, eggplant, asparagus, radicchio, and endive, each of which had been marinated in a variety of vinaigrettes. There at the end of the table are the two standbys for roasted meat in the summer: homemade horseradish sauce and parsley-cilantro-mint chimichurri.

Here the big reds came out: Signaterra Three Blocks and Signaterra Cabernet Sauvignon. Perfect pairings, and as stated, I'll have links and details and tasting notes later. We finished up the evening with a wonderful apple pie and a couple of Ports.

As good as all the food was, I think everyone really enjoyed the 30 minute pauses between courses, allowing for leisurely digestion, much sampling of wine, and boisterous conversation that sometimes involved the whole table and sometimes broke off into separate groups. Many thanks to my parents for hosting, and I'm looking forward to doing this again.

03 October 2011

When a problem comes along, you must...

A while back I participated in an online tasting from Wente that included some of the Murrieta's Well line, again named after the inspiration for Zorro. One bottle was missing from many bloggers' tasting kits, and I didn't think too much about it. But last week, I received the missing bottle with a kind letter, and was excited to give it a try.

2010 Murrieta's Well "The Whip"
Livermore Valley
$20, 13% abv.
31% Sauvignon Blanc, 27% Viognier, 15% Semillon, 11% Pinot Blanc, 8% Orange Muscat, 8% Muscat Canelli

Nose of nectarines and lemon zest with a slightly musky undertone from the Muscat. Bright lemony acidity, with a nice tart mouthfeel and just a bit of sweetness. It's a very approachable and casual white wine, and the obvious comparison is with Conundrum, which I happened to taste just yesterday.

Comparing the two, I prefer The Whip to Conundrum. Part of it is the sweetness factor, but while both wines are perfectly serviceable, The Whip fits my palate better. I'm enjoying it with some cheese and marinated olives on a quiet Sunday afternoon.

And just as a random note, when I saw Devo's video for Whip It back in 1981, it was not that strange. Oh sure, it didn't make any sense, but there was no standard format back in those days. You might have puppets, or animation, or moody black and white, or long stories, or all sorts of crazy stuff. Mark Mothersbaugh wearing an energy dome and whipping the clothes off a woman in a western setting? After 1980's Fish Heads we were ready for anything.

Note: This wine was received as a sample.