30 July 2012

East Coast Italian Reds with Veal

I received a pair of wines from the east coast of Italy, namely the Adriatic states of Le Marche and Abruzzo. A march is sort of a border frontier land that's established against a different country or group of barbarians, and while we don't use the word in English a lot the person who rules over a march is a Marquess or Marquis, much more familiar words. These are two very mountainous regions of Italy and are not well known for wine outside of that country. I've visited both (briefly), but it's important to appreciate all of the many wine regions of Italy. If you're looking to become a member of the Wine Century club you could do so some thirty times over while traveling through the boot.

2008 Saladini Pilastri Pregio del Conte
Le Marche
50% Aglianico, 50% Montepulciano
$12, 13% abv.
Dark plum and black cherry aromas with mild tannins and an easy, enjoyable body. Great table wine for pizza or other casual Italian fare.

2009 Fratelli Barba Vasari Montepulciano d'Abruzzo
100% Montepulciano
$10, 13% abv.
Wow! Fruit berry bomb! Tons of blackberry and blueberry and deep, rich fruit flavors. Aromas are comparable and this wine requires some more robust accompaniment. I would highly suggest this for summer barbecues, in which charred flesh and highly seasoned sauces will be the perfect match for such a bold and fruit-forward wine.

With these wines, I decided to look for inspiration from Le Marche as well as a twist from the local produce available at my nearby farmers market. I started with Fabio Trabocchi's cotoletta di vitello al miele, a simple dish of veal chops cooked with honey, grapes, and various aromatics.

Instead of seedless grapes, I used local muscadines, and for a side dish I continued the theme with a pot of fresh lady peas slow simmered with bacon, onion, chicken broth, white wine, and sage. They emerged delicate and with just enough of a texture to appreciate the bite. The veal was spectacular, and while some may still bristle at the thought of eating veal*, I think it's a unique and wonderful flavor that should be appreciated on the American table. Even better if you can make such a flavorful sauce.

Both of the wines worked out well, though the Le Marche was a better fit and its subtle tones worked better with the flavors of the dish. However, the bold approach of the Abruzzo wine combined with the Muscadines brought back a fond memory of drinking Fragolino with Fredric. For those not familiar, Fragolino is a forbidden wine of the Veneto region made from illicitly planted Muscadine vines. More popular years ago before the law cracked down on native American and hybrid vines in Europe.

Note: These wines were received as samples.

*My quick veal rant: if you eat any cow-based dairy products--butter, cheese, yogurt, milk, ice cream, etc.,--you fund and support the veal industry. Heifers don't start producing milk until giving birth. If the calf is a female, it will be raised for future dairy production. If it's a male, it's pretty useless. It can be castrated and raised as a steer for steak, or if it's a particularly spectacular specimen, may be raised unmodified to collect genetic material. But almost all male calves are going to be slaughtered for veal. If you choose not to eat veal, I respect that, but if you purchase and consume dairy products, you're generating all those veal chops that end up in the butcher counter.

27 July 2012

2010 Meulenhof Erdener Prälat Riesling Auslese

This wine is the companion bottle from the recent Wines of Germany shipment of the Sekt I got to try. The PR firm is currently busy with a US tour by Annika Strebel, the 63rd German Wine Queen.

Although the date on the logo of Weingut Meulenhof says 1238, the website claims that the winery dates back to 1337, and operated as a convent between 1477 and 1802 when Napoleon auctioned it off to a local merchant. The current owners are the Justen family, who have been making wine since 1950.

This bottle is classified as Prädikatswein, the new name for the old Qualitätswein mit Prädikat designation and the highest level of German wines.

Erdener Prälat means "The Bishop of Erden" and is a small vineyard in the Mosel Valley that is nestled between red slate cliffs. Nearby are other vineyards like Ürziger Würzgarten (Spice Garden) and Erdener Treppchen (Little Steps of Erden).

2010 Meulenhof Erdener Prälat Riesling Auslese
Mosel Valley
$33, 7.5% abv.
50 Cases Made

This is a spectacular wine, and it's a shame that so few will get a chance to try it. It is a bit sweet, but the acidity and structure of the wine are so perfectly balanced that it's not cloying or thick. The low alcohol content really allows you to enjoy the complex aromas of dried peach, ripe apricot, tropical fruits, and hints of spice. There's a lot going on with this wine and it merits some quiet attention. On the palate there's a wonderful mineral structure, good acidity, and ripe fruit flavors that continue with a long finish.

While I'm sure there are some mild cheeses that would pair well with this wine, I think it would be better enjoyed on its own as a magnificent example of German Riesling. Highly recommended.

Note: This wine was received as a sample.

25 July 2012

Laurenz V. Grüner Veltliner

Nearly two years ago to the day, I wrote about the wines of Laurenz V. from Austria. I got a press release recently about their newest Grüner Veltliner, a slightly sweet wine called Forbidden and marketed around the story of the serpent in the garden of Eden. It certainly sounded interesting, but alas, the wine is not yet available in the United States. But the PR firm was happy to send me the recent releases of Singing and Charming, the two wines that I tried in 2010.

The bottles still have a lot of great things going for them: affordable prices, friendly labels, convenient screwcaps, and food-friendly flavors. Grüner Veltliner is coming in a close second to dry rosé as my favorite type of wine for the summer. There's no heavy oak, no heavy acidity, just a pleasant and well-balanced white wine that goes well with so many different foods.

2011 Laurenz und Sophie Singing Grüner Veltliner
Kremstal Region
$16, 12% abv.
Crisp and refreshing with a light ripe apricot aroma and just a touch of lime peel. It's an easy drinking wine that would be an outstanding introduction for a first time Grüner Veltliner drinker, and it will pair well with a lot of light summer dishes like grilled chicken salads and cold pasta.

2010 Laurenz V. Charming Grüner Veltliner
Kamptal Region
$30, 13% abv.
This is a more serious wine with more earth, more minerality, and greater balance. Once again, I found myself craving seafood but also enjoyed sipping this one after dinner. While it's great cold, this one maintains its elegance even as it warms up, something that I always take as a sign of a great white wine.

I made enchiladas verdes with pork shoulder that I smoked over cherry wood. What does Austria have to do with Mexico? How about the 1864-1867 reign of Austrian Emperor Maximilian I of Mexico. He overthrew (and was later overthrown by) President Benito Juárez, who happens to be the second most well-known Benito in history after that bastard Mussolini. Some day I'll overtake them both...

The wines worked well with the enchiladas and it was fun to maintain a "green" theme with the meal. On a second helping I added a bit of ghost pepper sauce and discovered that Grüner Veltliner can hold up to some pretty serious heat, something to consider for future pairings with Thai and Vietnamese food.

Note: These wines were received as samples.

23 July 2012

2009 Luke Donald Claret

I've recently reviewed a wine made by the golfer Ernie Els, and today it's time for a Napa red by way of the current World Number One, Luke Donald. Originally from England, Donald entered into a partnership with Terlato in Napa and released his first claret-style wine in 2008. The first Chardonnay came out the following year.

Thanks to the TTB, you're not going to see many American wines labeled as Claret in the future... It's still possible to use names like Burgundy and Champagne if you're grandfathered in, but this particular name restriction has always bugged me since A) it's a fairly generic term and B) the French don't really use it to market Bordeaux.

2009 Luke Donald Claret
Napa Valley
45% Cabernet Sauvignon, 41% Merlot, 13% Cabernet Franc, 1% Petit Verdot
$40, 13.8% abv.
933 Cases Made

Rich and deep, with black plum, chocolate, leather, and a hint of white pepper. Balanced dark fruit flavors that don't overwhelm the palate. The medium tannins smoothed out with about a half hour in the decanter. It was outstanding with a dinner of grilled steak and asparagus.

Note: This wine was received as a sample.

20 July 2012

The 2012 Wine Blog Awards

I've been nominated as one of the finalists for the 2012 Wine Blog Awards in the category "Best Wine Reviews on a Wine Blog". Since the awards were introduced in 2007 I don't think I've ever been a finalist, but someone usually submits this site for consideration. I'd like to thank the panel of industry and wine blogger judges that selected my blog out of the now thousands of English language wine blogs online.

Want to show your support for Benito's Wine Reviews and some other great blogs? Get out and vote! Only eight categories, and you don't have to create a login or give an e-mail address or anything like that. Thanks, and cheers!

18 July 2012

Vinho Verde

Ah, yet another blistering summer in the South... While we have had a brief rainy respite over the past week, it's ramping back up and we've got a long way to go. It's the perfect situation for throwing some light Vinho Verde in the refrigerator and enjoying a cool glass with dinner.

Over the past couple of years I've gotten to try a lot of different wines of the Vinho Verde region, including still reds, whites, and rosés. But these are the slightly fizzy green wines that most people associate with the name.

Gateway Vinho Verde
Vinho Verde, Portugal
Blend of Trajadura, Loureiro, Arinto and Azal
$10, 9.5% abv.
After telling so many people that Vinho Verde is a good gateway wine for novices, it's fun to see one actually called that. Fittingly, this is a very standard representative sample of the style. Light pear aromas, a touch of sweetness, a good amount of fizz, and low alcohol.

2011 Arca Nova Loureiro
Vinho Verde, Portugal
100% Loureiro
$10, 11.5% abv.
I'd never had this grape on its own before, and was expecting a still wine. But it was fizzy, and yet very different from the first. Very low fruit with darker, floral aromas. Completely dry and fuller bodied with a long finish. More of a thinker, and one that I found myself exploring more as it warmed up in the glass.

Julia and I enjoyed both of these with lamb gyros and hummus, and the Mediterranean flavors worked out great even if we're talking about opposite ends of the sea.

Note: These wines were received as samples.

15 July 2012

How Social Media Put an Herb Garden on my Windowsill

I've only recently started using Klout.com, which is a site that measures your social media influence. I'm not overly concerned about my ranking on such lists, but there are real world discounts and upgrades and other goodies that don't require any active effort on my part, so I thought, "Why not?" I was inspired to check it out after tech blogger Joey DeVilla was able to get into the SFO Cathay Pacific First Class lounge with a score higher than 40, even though he was flying on a different airline. My score of 55 is decent enough, and I recently received my first "perk": an herb garden and $10 from Bing, Microsoft's search engine.

This post is not sponsored by nor is it an advertisement for Bing or Klout (see official disclaimer below). In fact, it would take a lot to move me from using Google (which also owns Blogger.com and hosts this blog). But the whole promotional garden is part of The Bing Summer of Doing. Every day during the summer, there's a new keyword or concept, with suggested activities. Some are fun, some are solo, some are meant for groups, and some are charitable. Many of us are too busy to really need a suggestion about how to spend our scant free time, but there's nothing wrong with encouraging people to make the free time to go for a hike or plant an urban garden or visit a museum rather than sitting in front of the TV or computer.

The kit came with three cups, three compressed soil pellets (about the size of a stack of six quarters), and three tiny seed packets of basil, parsley, and chives. I've grown herbs before and have a pretty good source of fresh ones these days, but this is more of a little decorative kitchen garden for me, and something to tend to each day in quiet meditation.

The condensed soil pellet is awesome. As soon as you add water it explodes to fill the entire cup, and continues to drink up water until you've got a rich, spongy soil. This would be a lot of fun for kids. I prepared the three cups, planted the seeds about half an inch deep, and then added a bit more water. We'll wait and see how they grow.

DISCLOSURE: I was given a free product or sample because I'm a Klout influencer. I was under no obligation to receive the sample or talk about this company. I get no additional benefits for talking about the product or company.

13 July 2012

Cadaretta SBS & Cabernet Sauvignon

Cadaretta is part of Middleton Family Wines and is based out of Washington. I first tried the SBS back in 2010 and was glad to have a chance to revisit that blend as well as their Cabernet Sauvignon. Although the Middleton family has been involved in lumber in Washington since 1898, they diversified into grapes in California in the 1980s and came back to make wines in the Walla Walla Valley in 2005 with the Cadaretta line, named after one of their old lumber schooners from the 1920s.

2011 Cadaretta SBS
Columbia Valley, Washington
76% Sauvignon Blanc, 24% Sémillon
$23, 13.1% abv.

Stainless steel fermentation. Two great grapes that were meant to be together: born in Bordeaux, finding each other again in the Evergreen State. Floral and honey aromas with a slight musky note and hint of sweetness that is balanced out by all of the great acidity from the Sauvignon Blanc. I truly adore Sémillon but this particular balance is so wonderful. Highly recommended.

2008 Cadaretta Cabernet Sauvignon
Columbia Valley, Washington
86% Cabernet Sauvignon, 6% Petit Verdot, 3% Cabernet Franc, 2% Merlot
$40, 14.9% abv.
Aged in French oak. Violets and black cherries and green pepper on the nose, medium tannins with a rich plum flavor and a slightly spicy finish. Solid balance and still vibrant after four years. Great combination of sensory experiences with this, and it paired nicely with slow roasted lamb shoulder and some lightly cooked cherries.

Note: These wines were received as samples.

11 July 2012

2008 Raumland "Cuvée Marie-Luise" Blanc de Noirs Vintage Brut

Every quarter, I get a pair of wines from the folks at Wines of Germany. It's usually Riesling (like the second bottle for another post), though there is immense diversity within that one grape. When this arrived, I thought it was a mistake.

The name and label made me think it was a California bubbly, but in tiny letters at the bottom you can see Sekthaus Raumland. Yes folks, this is vintage Sekt, and while I've been familiar with the style for a long time I had never actually tried it. The name has gone back and forth as a generic and specific name for sparkling wines from German-speaking regions, but I don't think it's a recognizable enough term for other countries to want to appropriate, as happened in many places with Champagne.

Sekthaus Raumland was founded in 1984 by Volker Raumland, who studied oenology at Geisenheim. While they are a relatively small production winery, they do produce a wide variety of labels, covering traditional, high end Champagne-style wines with some sparkling Riesling and a trio of inexpensive seccos. This and the Cuvée Katharina are named after the Raumlands' daughters.

2008 Raumland "Cuvée Marie-Luise" Blanc de Noirs Vintage Brut
$45, 12% abv.
100% Pinot Noir
Made in Rheinhessen, Germany

While this has 8.5 g/L of residual sugar, the tart acidity makes certain that it doesn't come off as sweet. There are light aromas of apple and lemon, with just a little toast underneath. It's a very pale Blanc de Noirs with none of the salmon tinge you occasionally see. Crisp and mild with medium sized bubbles and a clean finish. Excellent with a plate of cheeses and cured meats as a party is just warming up. This may be difficult to find in the United States, but it's worth trying if you want to expand your life list a bit.

Note: This wine was received as a sample.

09 July 2012

2008 Terlato Devil's Peak

Terlato Wines International markets luxury wines from all over the world, and according to the website accounts for 10% of all bottles over $14 sold in the United States. There are a number of brands in the portfolio, many of which have been featured here, but today I'll focus on Terlato Family Vineyards, with operations in Napa and Sonoma since the father and sons company was founded in 1996. The twelve labels represent ten reds and two whites, with a focus on high-end, smaller production wines (250-3000 cases).

2008 Terlato Devil's Peak
Napa Valley, California
50% Cabernet Franc, 39% Merlot, 6% Malbec, 5% Cabernet Sauvignon
$48, 14.2% abv.
1100 cases produced

You have to love a California Bordeaux-style blend that front loads with a plurality of Cabernet Franc. Black plum and black cherry aromas with a hint of tobacco. On the tongue it provides a deep black fruit flavor with a slight roasted nut element. Mellow tannins and a good overall balance. This is drinking beautifully right now.

While I enjoyed it with a steak, I found myself craving a thick cut pork chop with an apple cider and maple glaze.

Note: This wine was received as a sample.

06 July 2012

Simple Saturday Brunch

I've been making crêpes more and more recently, and had forgotten how much fun they are. For a recent Saturday brunch I made two different kinds of blintzes, folded in the pillow style rather than rolled in a tube. One has a cottage cheese filling and is topped with strawberries reduced in balsamic vinegar. The other is stuffed with wilted spinach, ricotta, ham, and topped with sour cream and cracked black pepper.

I don't have a proper crêpe pan, but I do have a skillet wide and flat enough to do the trick. If you make a dozen crêpes you'll quickly figure out what works and what doesn't, and if it's hot and dry (as it's been here in Memphis recently), you'll need to add some water along the way to make the batter thin again. Uniformity of thickness is really important, and if your pan has any curvature there's going to be a tendency to be thick in the middle and paper thin on the edges, which is still tasty but doesn't roll or fold well. There's no golden ratio of ingredients, but I've found the ones with more eggs to work better and taste better. In reality you're making something that's somewhere between a pancake and an omelette, and that soft, steamy, eggy dough tastes better when it's a little closer to the omelette side.

The wine pictured is my standard go-to sparkler when I'm out of bubbly samples: the NV Domaine Ste. Michelle Blanc de Noirs from Washington State. I've written about it so many times here that I'm not going to review it again, but will say that it's never disappointed me and went wonderfully with brunch.

04 July 2012

Wente Chardonnays

Another quick note: there's a new article up at Serious Eats on my favorite local Mexican torta.

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Time once again for another tasting with Karl Wente and lots of fellow winebloggers at TasteLive. We've participated in a lot of these, and at this point we have a pretty chummy tasting group.

The theme for this tasting was Chardonnay in its various forms. There's not just one way to enjoy this white grape, and Karl talked about the different production methods while the rest of us communicated in the chat log and on Twitter.

2010 Wente Morning Fog Chardonnay
Livermore Valley, San Francisco Bay
$13, 13.5% abv.
Fresh apricot with a big mouthfeel and just a bit of acidity. Lots of fruit. Half oak, half stainless steel. It's a great entry-level Chardonnay that will work well with all sorts of chicken dishes.

2011 Wente Eric's Chardonnay
Livermore Valley, San Francisco Bay
$22, 13.1% abv.
All stainless steel fermentation, so this wine was light and refreshing with mild aromas. Overall profile of apples and pears with a light mouthfeel and a soft finish. Great summer wine.

2010 Wente Riva Ranch Chardonnay
Arroyo Seco, Monterey
$20, 13.5% abv.
Getting into some serious oak with this one. The nose starts out with floral elements before revealing the buttery vanilla undertones. Well rounded with a medium body and a long finish. A classic California Chardonnay.

2010 Wente Nth Degree Chardonnay
Livermore Valley, San Francisco Bay
$45, 13.6% abv.
Nth was always my favorite Scrabble word for grabbing a few points in a tight corner without vowels. This is a remarkable wine that combines tropical elements like pineapple and orange flower with a great balanced oak structure. It is decidedly New World but has incredible structure. Just enough acidity, just enough oak, and just enough fruit... While it's much better at cellar temperature I did enjoy sipping on this one for a while one rainy afternoon.

Note: These wines were received as samples.

02 July 2012

2008 Quickfire Merlot

Brief note: I'm getting the old itch again and am tweaking the blog a bit. We're now in a three-column layout with a wider design to take advantage of modern monitors. I will likely be changing the background pattern and header soon, but for now let me know if there's any glitches or problems. Now, on to the wine!

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The wines of Quickfire are co-branded with Bravo's reality show Top Chef. I have to admit to not actually having seen the show, though I am aware of it through general cultural osmosis. The name Quickfire refers to an early challenge about making a dish with specific restrictions within one hour. A lot of friends ask me why I never go on these shows, and I point out that I'm A) not a professional chef and B) I prefer making my friends and family happy at my table. If you don't like it, you don't have to come over for dinner. Easy enough. This Iron Chef will eliminate you! "Allez Cuisine!"

I don't see the Merlot on the website, but this wine showed up as part of a broader package of Terlato wines designated for Father's Day.

On this particular day, I had actually hung up my knives and pans and ordered a "gourmet" from Johnny Brusco's Pizza. It's a vegetarian pizza with feta, sun-dried tomatoes, artichoke hearts, olives, and other odds and ends. While I'm a committed omnivore I love a well-balanced vegetarian pizza, and this one never disappoints. It was a delightful way to spend a Friday evening after a long day at work. Good pie, a light and refreshing red, and a brainless movie on the laptop.

2008 Quickfire Merlot
Primarily Merlot with a little Cabernet Franc and Cabernet Sauvignon
Napa Valley
$22, 13.7% abv.

Bright red cherry aromas and flavors with mild tannins and a light, fruity finish. A classic California Merlot that displays a lot of fruit and a focus on the brighter, lighter flavors as opposed to deep earthy ones. Certainly a delightful pairing with the pizza, and fun for an occasional glass of red over the following weekend.

Note: This wine was received as a sample.