31 October 2012

Vinho Verde for Thanksgiving

The holidays are coming up, and with them comes the rush of samples and the flurry of questions about what to pair with Thanksgiving or Christmas dinner. As always, the answer depends a lot on what you're having for dinner, and I'll get more into my pairing philosophy later on. But with these two bottles of Vinho Verde, you've got a great solution to the eternal problem: "What do I serve to people who don't drink wine on a regular basis?"

I'm not saying that these aren't serious wines--far from it. It's a very traditional wine for that region of Portugal. But they're light, low in alcohol, a little sweet, and non-threatening. There's no aroma of barnyard or tobacco or cough syrup, and when chilled they're really easy to drink. Vinho Verde is perfect for the novice wine drinker or someone who's been scared off by more powerful wines in the past. There's a style of wine out there for just about every occasion, and even I really enjoy this type with turkey and sweet potatoes and cranberry sauce.

You can also consider the ten other bottles I've reviewed over the years.

2011 Adamado Vinho Verde
Loureiro, Arinto, Trajadura
$9, 10% abv.

This is the classic Vinho Verde that most people know: light and slightly fizzy with a crisp, short finish. Low alcohol and a mild body mean that it's light and refreshing. This one has light citrus notes with just a hint of sweetness. This is a great bargain, and with over 100,000 cases made, it shouldn't be too difficult to find.

2011 Cruzeiro Vinho Verde Branco
Loureiro, Arinto, Trajadura
$9, 9% abv.

White Vinho Verde is not as well known here in the US. It is drier and not fizzy, but maintains a delicate body and again, low alcohol. This one has very faint earth and mineral aromas with a light body. Rounder mouthfeel than the above with a smooth finish. This would be incredible with milder seafood dishes like a clam chowder or baked trout.

Note: These wines were received as samples.

29 October 2012

Sweet Potato Soup

I learned a lot of my cooking methods from my father, who was far more about intuition and going by scent and taste rather than strictly following a recipe. He also taught me that you might as well share "secret" recipes, since skill and equipment are going to matter more than precise ingredients. Get a dozen people to make the same hollandaise sauce and you're going to get twelve very different results.

But I've had a few requests for this one, and I might as well share it here. I'm not the first to make sweet potato soup, but this is the way I do it and my dining companions are always happy with it.

Benito's Sweet Potato Soup
Makes roughly four litres/a gallon

5 large sweet potatoes
1 large yellow onion
5 cloves of garlic
a knob of ginger
1L or qt. of chicken broth
half a bottle of white wine
2 apples (Golden Delicious or Granny Smith)

Start by roasting the sweet potatoes in the oven until soft. They don't have to be fully baked, just enough to get the skins off easily. About an hour after you put them in the oven, dice the onion and begin sautéing it in an enameled cast iron pot or stock pot. Before the onions brown, add the minced garlic and ginger, being careful to keep either from burning.

Next, peel and dice the apples. Add to the pot and continue stirring over medium heat. When caramelization first starts happening, add in the wine and chicken broth and bring to a slow simmer.

By this point the sweet potatoes should be cooked enough and you can remove them from the oven. Peel carefully so as not to get burned and roughly chop the tubers. Add to the pot and allow to slow simmer for an hour with the lid on. Don't let it boil, and it can go like this for two or three hours if desired. About thirty minutes before serving, hit it with a stick blender and blend until it's the consistency of baby food. Turn the heat on its lowest setting and stir occasionally to keep it mixed well.

For garnish, I usually grate some nutmeg on top, and do a little design with thinned sour cream. Do a few lines in a row and then drag a knife through them like I did, or you can do a simple spiral or a spider web or all kinds of other cool things like my goofy "square root vegetable soup" idea. If you screw up, just stir the cream into the soup and start over. Nobody will know the difference. Sometimes I top with a few chopped scallions.

As for other variations, depending on my mood I either add Southwestern seasonings that involve smoked chiles, or an Indian garam masala flavor, or even Chinese five spice powder when I'm in the mood. You can adjust this quite a bit to either fit your mood or what you're serving during the following courses.

It's a simple sweet potato soup, but it's made a lot of people happy and I'm glad to be able to share it with my readers.

26 October 2012

2009 Zantho Zweigelt

Zantho is a joint effort by Weingut Umathum and Wolfgang Peck (not Puck) from Winzerkeller Andau. The brand is named after an old Hungarian word for "village", which was another name for Andau where the wine is made. Andau is in Burgenland right on the eastern Austrian border with Hungary, and such linguistic swaps between two very unrelated languages pop up often.

The lizard used on the bottle is the Pannonian woodland lizard (Zootoca vivipara pannonica). It is the second reference that I know of in terms of Austrian wines and lizards (Smaragd is the highest classification of white wines in the Wachau and is named after the local emerald lizard), and it warms my inner herpetologist. I have skinks and other little lizards in the backyard, and one will occasionally get into the kitchen. I try to get them back outside without the unfortunate loss of a tail. I'm also pretty kind to the various snakes that inhabit the backyard. I'll take reptiles over mice and insects any day of the week.

2009 Zantho Zweigelt
Neusiedlersee, Austria
$11/€8,50, 13% abv.

Zweigelt may sound like a bit of a mouthful, but it's far superior to the alternative and unmarketable name Rotburger. All stainless steel fermentation and aging plus a glass stopper enclosure makes this one of the most wood-free red wines you'll ever try. The wine is bone dry but lightly tart, with a strong profile of raspberries both on the nose and palate. With almost no tannins this is a clean and smooth drinking red. Low alcohol helps with the mildness. I'm not really sure how I would pair this with food--it is so different and fascinating that I think it's one of those best enjoyed with a book or a movie instead of with dinner. Highly recommended if it's available in your area, and please let me know if you've tried it.

Note: This wine was received as a sample.

24 October 2012

Frank Family Wines

Frank Family Vineyards was founded in 1992 but they operate out of the historic Larkmead Winery built in Calistoga in 1884. That was around the time that some of my ancestors were working and farming out in the the Golden State. My great-grandfather E.J. Langdon was part of that branch of the family tree, born at the turn of the century. I was honored to grow up knowing him and listening to his stories. He played ragtime piano songs well into his 80s, not because it had something of a minor resurgence, but because that was the popular music of his teenage years.

Unlike the classic tunes of Scott Joplin, these wines are of a much more recent vintage and are not yet available for purchase on the website.

2011 Frank Family Vineyards Chardonnay
100% Chardonnay
Napa Valley
$35, 14.2% abv.

Medium acidity and all French oak barrels make for great balance. Dried apricot, white raisins, and a little hint of ginger come through on this wine. Medium body with a mild, lingering aftertaste. The oak gives just the slightest touches of toast and caramel, while the fruit never turns sour or too acidic as it reaches room temperature. For a distinguished Chardonnay like this, you're really going to want to serve it with something like guinea hen, pheasant, quail, or another mild game bird.

2010 Frank Family Vineyards Zinfandel
Mostly Zinfandel with a splash of Petite Sirah
Napa Valley
$37, 15% abv.

Deep aromas of cassis and blackberries, and not a hot aroma that you might think 15% alcohol would deliver. The tannins are still pretty young on this one and still dry out the palate a bit, but another two or three years of age will take care of that. Dark fruit and spicy finish that lasts a long time. I'm going to continue the wild game thing and suggest serving this with wild boar or venison and a variety of roast vegetables like rutabagas, turnips, and parsnips. Wait until it's cold and have a earthy dinner to go along with the rich berry flavors of this wine.

Note: These wines were received as samples.

22 October 2012


A lot of people ask me, "What do you do with leftover wine samples, and can I have them?" I'm not going to drive all over town dropping off half-empty bottles. Sometimes I'll pass them along to friends or family, but often a lot of the excess goes down the drain.

Sometimes I'll use the leftovers for cooking, but my favorite application is to make sangria. In this case I used three tangerines (two juiced, one sliced), one honeycrisp apple, one Granny Smith apple, and a handful of strawberries and chopped pineapple. I used a lot of California Zinfandel mixed in with a little vodka and sugar. I like this glass jar and always serve the sangria straight from the jar with a steel ladle.

It's important to let the whole thing rest overnight so that the flavors can marry. Though on the second day as the reserves are depeted, you can top it off with more leftover wine and the wine-soaked fruit will continue to contribute flavor. It's also good to serve it with some lemon wedges for those that are looking for a little more tartness, as well as club soda for those that want a lighter, fizzier drink.

Julia and I enjoyed this with smoked goat and chicken tacos, a pleasant meal for a warm autumn day.

19 October 2012

Behind the Scenes at L'École Culinaire

My latest SeriousEats.com article is about a Beer and Bacon Dinner at the nearby L'École Culinaire cooking college. In that post, you can see all of the photos and descriptions of those delicious dishes. And for those that are interested, I've added a little link in the left column of this site to direct you to my previous articles for them. It's been a lot of fun so far and I look forward to more work with them in the future.

There were three stories that I could have intertwined for a longer piece (the food, the beer, and the cooking school), but the editors were looking for a focus just on the food. My notes on the beers are minor (though I enjoyed them), but I did want to use my blog to go into some more depth on the school, as well as a little behind-the-scenes look at writing a food article.

When you're doing a restaurant review, the ethical thing is to be as anonymous as possible. When you're covering a dinner event and you're working as both writer and photographer, it's a little different situation. My main goal was not to get in the way, and the students were pretty excited that someone was covering it. I got a table to myself near the host with decent lighting, and got to take pictures of all the beer labels before dinner was served.

The Presentation Room is the student-run restaurant on campus. Students taking this class are studying different aspects of the restaurant business, so your waiter might be a line cook and your sous chef might be an aspiring restaurant manager. The room is run by Chef Julie, who will take the dinner service as an opportunity for a real life teaching moment. She would gently swoop in and make little corrections, or have a student re-do a table setting. Little hints like moving fast when serving ice cream. Cards on the table request patience with the students, though I never experienced any problems or delays while 30-odd people were served five courses and five different beers.

I was a little spoiled in that Chef Julie would intercept a tray and pick out the best looking plate for me, but I can attest that the differences were miniscule. The students were enthusiastic and all planning big things in the restaurant career. That energy is infectious and creates a different atmosphere than a traditional restaurant setting. I found myself really enjoying it, and a lot of the students wanted to pose for photos (not allowed due to media restrictions, I'm afraid).

A week later I arranged a tour of the school with the Campus Director, and I happened to show up on a day of final exams. Each lab contained a flurry of activity as students were making cakes, braising beef, shaping the garnish, etc., all racing the clock until having to deliver the final plate to the instructor.

In addition to the Presentation Room (which is open to the public), there is a deli on campus run by and for the students who cycle through lunch duty. The idea is to give them a low cost option that also keeps them close to school. I found wondering when that concept is going to filter into modern companies. Right now it's your day to make the coffee or buy the donuts, but at some point you might be making sandwiches and soup one day a month. I once worked for a bank headquarters that was far enough away from civilization to warrant a really good cafeteria, and I thought it would have been more interesting work than making credit cards and debit cards while locked in a vault for eight hours a day.

While I was there, lunch was just getting started in the Presentation Room with their first customer of the day. I got to hang out in the kitchen while his pork shank was finished and plated. The prices are great for the kind of food you're getting. This pressure-cooked shank with anise-pork jus and Vietnamese style pickled vegetables is only $12. There's also a very reasonable prix-fixe menu at $10 for two courses and $15 for three. They've just gotten their liquor license and will be opening for dinner soon, which should draw a lot more traffic. Because it's so close to my house, I can see myself stopping there for dinner on the way home.

The school also offers a wide range of one-day cooking classes for the public, as well as various themed dinner events in collaboration with local companies. For instance, this dinner was hosted by Steve Barzizza of Southwestern Beverage Distributing to promote some great beers that have more depth than Coors Light. (We have a lot of mutual friends and I got to talk with him quite a bit during the meal.)
Both the meal and the tour were a great experience, and I'm glad to have had the chance to write about them. I was listening to an interview with the actor Andrew McCarthy recently. Most know him as part of the Brat Pack, but he's got an entire second life as a travel writer for magazines. In reference to his recent book The Longest Way Home, he mentioned that with any published article, there's the story you read, and then there's a much longer story about how it happened and what got left out. Look for more details in my 2025 memoir Decant Me: Confessions of a Wineblogger.

17 October 2012

Online Tasting with Four Vines and Cryptic

Tuesday night I attended an online tasting with The Purple Wine Company, a winery that makes wines under a variety of brands like Avalon and Bex. For this event we focused on big reds under the Four Vines and Cryptic labels.

Lots of these are blends without precisely labeled percentages, and winemaker Britt Moore referred to blending as something akin to putting all of your Lego blocks on the floor and building something until you're happy with it. The online tasting with fellow winebloggers was a lot of fun, and we got to try some delicious bottles.

2009 Four Vines The Sophisticate Zinfandel
Zinfandel with a little Petite Sirah
Sonoma County
$27, 15.6% abv.
2,678 cases made

The mildest of their blends, this one was engineered to be smooth. Chocolate, coffee, and leather with mild tannins and a touch of spice on the finish. Smooth but very dark and luxurious.

2010 Four Vines Maverick Zinfandel
Zinfandel with Barbera and a little Petite Sirah and Mourvedre
Amador County
$22, 14.8% abv.
10,200 cases made

Loads of black pepper and cassis on the nose, with brambly tones. Wild and a little brash on the palate with medium tannins. Definitely a great match for grilled meats.

2009 Four Vines Biker Zinfandel
Paso Robles
Zinfandel with a splash of Mourvedre
$27, 15% abv.
7,001 cases made

Lots of blackberry and a touch of fig with deep black fruit notes. Mellow tannins with a soft but long finish. Quite pleasant and relaxing. Serve with lamb or roast pork.

2010 Cryptic
Paso Robles, Amador County, Lodi River Delta
$18, 14.3% abv.
44% Zinfandel, 24% Petite Sirah, 23% Cabernet Sauvignon, 9% Other Red

Cryptic is the newest brand and perfect for a Halloween party. The bottle arrived in a black veil, like that goth chick from back in high school. Ah, memories. This is full of dark berry flavors with spice deep under the fruit. Very affordable and stylish, and I love the mystery of the logo and simple cryptography on the back.

Note: These wines were received as samples.

15 October 2012

Alsatian Quartet

I'm so happy that fall is here, with darker skies and cooler winds. I've come to figure out that folks in the north view hot summer days the way that we in the south view snow: when you don't get it very often, it's a lot of fun. When you have to deal with it for half of the year, it's terrible. I'll still be mowing my yard well into November, but I know I'll get excited if we get a light dusting of snow in January. When I was working in Cleveland, I discovered that a long winter means that dirty, nasty snow just piles up for months into mountains on the sides of roads and in parking lots, and in the spring, all the garbage is spread out again with the March melt. It really destroyed the magic and wonder of snow for me. Let's get back to happy topics.

All of these wines are 100% Pinot Gris from Alsace, and the publicist suggested mushroom pairings for each wine. This presented me with a conundrum, because I love mushrooms but Julia and The Roommate are not fans. Unable to just have a fungus-themed dinner party without them, I am including the suggested pairings at the end of each review, and I like all of them, but in some cases I had different ideas. My actual pairing for the tasting was a rerun of this memorable lunch, thinking that sandwiches with ham and pears and smoked cheddar (plus all the appetizers) would be perfect with these gentle Alsatian wines.

2011 Willm Pinot Gris Réserve
$13, 13% abv.

The first sentence on the back really encapsulates the French-German heritage of the region: "The Willm vineyard, combining Grand Cru Kirchberg de Barr and the well-known Clos Gaensbroennel, was planted in Barr in 1896". This one pours a dark golden color, making me suspect that those grapes have little flecks of red on the skins. This one is silky smooth and incredibly mild, with very low acidity. Very pleasant and a slow sipper. Suggested pairing: Steamed Halibut with Chanterelles and Shallots

2009 Schlumberger Pinot Gris Les Princes Abbés
$20, 13.5% abv.

Spicy quince and lemon curd notes on the nose. Bright acidity and a crisp, short finish. Definitely the most acidic and sharp of the selections. I'd match it with grilled shrimp, but... Suggested pairing: White Truffle Risotto with Freshly Grated Parmesan Cheese

2009 Meyer-Fonné Pinot Gris Réserve Particulière
$22, 13.5% abv.

Rich and mildly sweet with apple and pear flavors. Medium acidity and a body that's just begging for some slow cooked veal sausage and beans. Slight element of freshly cut grass on the nose. Suggested pairing: Pan-Seared Scallops with Morel Cream Sauce

2011 Domaine Mittnacht Frères Pinot Gris "Les Petits Grains"
$22, 14% abv.

The text on the front "...pour que tes yeux scintillent comme une étoile" translates as something like "for your eyes sparkle like stars", which is delightful. By far the driest and mildest of the group, this one has exceptional minerality and a slightly earthy edge. Dark aromas of wet stone and straw. Slightly bitter edge and a long finish. Highly recommended. Suggested pairing: Portobello Turkey Burgers with an Apricot Chutney.

Note: These wines were received as samples.

12 October 2012

Bonterra Wines & Dinner

Bonterra Organic Vineyards started out as an organic wine project at Fetzer Vineyards in the early 90s. I tasted their wines for the first time in April and loved the little design elements of beneficial animals that are encouraged to keep the vines free of pests.

Julia's parents were coming in town for some Sunday shopping, and when life gives you three bottles of good wine, you gotta make a three course lunch. It's good to be a wineblogger.

I started out with a simple spinach salad, including walnuts, bacon, and crumbled gorgonzola. I made a vinaigrette with olive oil, an egg yolk, balsamic and white wine vinegars, minced garlic, black pepper, a touch of honey, and a little Dijon mustard. Sounds complicated but it's dead simple, and you can also make a reasonable amount for just a few people.

2010 Bonterra Chardonnay
Mendocino County
Chardonnay with a little Muscat and Viognier
$14, 13.6% abv.
123,000 cases made

The mix of 70% oak and 30% stainless steel makes for a pleasantly balanced structure. There's just a little hint of buttered popcorn on top, with rich tropical fruit flavors coming through on the palate. This was also the only one of the three enclosed with a screwcap.

The nearby international market has a great deal on quail, about a dollar per bird. I split these in half and cut out the spines before tossing them in a bag with soy sauce, ginger, garlic, and chopped scallions. (If it were just for me, I would have added a few Thai chiles.) This turned out to be a bad idea, since the little cut rib bones poked tiny holes in the plastic bag. I double bagged it before any mess was made, but next time I'll use a plastic tub. These were cooked over a hot gas flame before being allowed to continue baking on the cooler side of the grill through indirect heat. They emerged tangy, tender, and savory, served with a little steamed broccolini.

2010 Bonterra Merlot
Mendocino County
Merlot with a little Petit Sirah, Syrah, and Carignane
$16, 13.6% abv.
28,000 cases made

A soft and supple California Merlot with a good black cherry profile and just a bit of black pepper. Mellow tannins and a brief, fruity finish. It was a good pairing: a softer red with a more aggressive poultry, though I think that the seasoning of the quail would have been too strong for a Pinot Noir.

I took four veal chops and dusted them with a little Rendezvous dry rub. Again, I did a combination of searing over hot fire then letting them slow cook on the cool side while I prepared the toppings. I braised sweet cipolline onions with balsamic vinegar and a splash of Chardonnay. In another skillet, I was cooking down white button mushrooms with butter and white wine, finally adding in reconstituted boletes for an extra punch of earthiness. Right before serving the dish I quickly melted butter together with lemon juice and fresh sage leaves and drizzled that over the chops. It was a big hit at the table, and satisfied several cravings I'd been having for a while.

2009 Bonterra Zinfandel
Mendocino County
$16, 14.5% abv.
Zinfandel with a little Petit Sirah
23,000 cases made

It's been a while since I've had a good Zinfandel, and we're certainly heading into the perfect weather for it. Rich plum and leather with a body that edged on jammy without being overpowering. Spice and cinnamon were present in the flavors, and the overall dark nature of the wine matched perfectly with the mushrooms. The wine was probably a bit strong for a meat like veal, but the char from the grill, the roasted onions, and the mushrooms all took it into a deeper, more savory flavor.

Note: These wines were received as samples.

10 October 2012

The Label Project Revealed... Jacob's Creek Reserve

The mystery wines that I tasted from the Label Project at the end of September have been revealed: they're all from the Jacob's Creek reserve line. The idea was obviously to see how large production, widely distributed wines would be reviewed minus the major brand name. (Part of me was thinking that it was a Yellow Tail stunt, but the wines were more refined than that.) I've enjoyed the Jacob's Creek wines in the past and this particular project was a fun exercise for the wine bloggers that got to participate around the world.

I didn't publicly post my full guesses, but the only one I got dead on was the Cabernet Sauvignon from Coonawarra. That didn't come from an intense knowledge of the region but rather the red soil clue. I was way off the mark on the Shiraz, thinking it was a hot region Merlot.

2011 Jacob's Creek Reserve Chardonnay
Adelaide Hills
12.5% abv.

2009 Jacob's Creek Reserve Shiraz
14.1% abv.

2009 Jacob's Creek Reserve Cabernet Sauvignon
13.9% abv.

Note: These wines were received as samples.

08 October 2012

Samuel Adams Harvest Pumpkin Ale

Julia got me a pair of acrylic skull mugs, which I have used here for the purpose of pouring a Halloween themed beer. Some would say that the Scandinavian version of cheers (Skål!) is derived from the word for skull and thus represents drinking from the hollowed out bones of your enemy. The words are related but not that closely...

For a party this weekend I was told to bring regular Sam Adams lager. I did that, but also brought along a sixer of their Pumpkin Ale, looking for something seasonal and also an opportunity to celebrate the rich history of pumpkin beers. Our founding fathers often had to use strange ingredients in order to fill up the beer barrels.

Samuel Adams Harvest Pumpkin Ale
5.7% abv
14 IBUs (not a bitter beer at all)

Sam Adams does a great job of documenting the production details online, which is how I know that the hops used in this beer are East Kent Goldings and English Fuggles, which sound like two rival primary school soccer teams. This one has a pronounced pumpkin aroma and flavor, with that little sour tang of cooked squash flesh.

The dominant flavors come from the cinnamon, ginger, nutmeg, and allspice, which in addition to a pumpkin pie profile also provide a nice little bite to the beer. This is delicious and well worth checking out if you've never had a pumpkin ale before. We had it on a cold and rainy night with four or five different pizzas, and everyone enjoyed it.

05 October 2012

Spelletich Wines

Spelletich Family Winery was founded in 1994 by Tim and Barb Spelletich in Napa. They make about 3,000 cases a year under the Spelletich label and 5,000 cases a year under their daughter Kristen's Spell Wine brand. The family operation makes a wide range of bottles from $18-75, and cover the classic grapes of the region. I got a chance to try four of them recently.

2006 Spell Wine Syrah
Napa Valley
$20, 14.4% abv.
250 Cases Made

Black pepper and plum with firm tannins and a long, lingering finish. A bold red that will stand up to a dish of lasagna with plenty of spicy sausage in it.

2007 3 Spells Blend GHK
Napa Valley
57% Merlot, 28% Sangiovese, 15% Cabernet Sauvignon
$26, 14.2% abv.
300 Cases Made

Black pepper and cherry with a solid tannic structure. While delicious now, I think this wine could age for another couple of years with great results.

2006 Spelletich Cellars Reserve Merlot
Napa Valley
$45, 14.2% abv.
400 Cases Made

Classic hints of plum and leather with a soft finish. I usually go with Pinot Noir when it comes to salmon but this could be a contender.

2009 Spelletich Cellars Reserve Chardonnay
Napa Valley
$27, 14.5% abv.
200 Cases Made

Light splash of lemony acidity and a bright profile, restrained flavors with mild oak and a touch of vanilla. Break out your best lemon rosemary roast chicken for this one.

Second-generation winemaker and Director of Operations Kristen Spelletich was kind enough to take a break from harvest to answer a few questions for BWR:

I grew up around the Memphis International Airport where my Dad worked, so I got to fly a lot and help with de-icing equipment and run around all kinds of cool airplane equipment as a child. What's it like growing up when the family business is an "adult" beverage that you won't really get to experience or appreciate until you're much older?

Funny you should ask that questions, When I was super little I used to have little sherry glasses and my mom would have dinners parties all the time and she would pour me wine and ask in front of everyone what I thought, they found it so funny that a 7 year old could talk about French wines. And when we moved to St. Helena when I was 12 and they started things... I had no desire... I wanted to get into pathology and do something like a CSI would do. I got caught sneaking out in 9th grade and my punishment was hand labeling our entire first vintage. But as I grew and got into college and was studying abnormal psychology and I got a job at the French Laundry everything changed. I had a palate for food and wine... and everything I had grown up with clicked. And I knew that this is where I should be.

Your Spellwine bottles have some pretty interesting names. Can you pick a perfect pairing of one of them with a fantasy or horror movie to enjoy as Halloween approaches? And why did you choose that particular pairing?

I am a horror movie freak, even as a child I loved them... I even named my son after a character in a Stephen King book. Wow this is hard... to pick just one... As a child, I loved The Shining, that is still one of my top five. Killer Klowns From Outer Space was another one I really liked. When I was super little I saw Piranha and I had nightmares for a few months after that. We may have to talk more about that... or give me some more time.

I love that you named one of your wines after your son. [The GHK blend/Gage Henry Kahler.] Does he do any work in the vineyards, and is he interested in the wine industry?

I wish...we need to wait a few more years for that. He turns 4 in December. He does come and help as he can... but mostly spends the day riding on the forklift and pretending to fix things with his Papa’s (grandfather's) tools. He did spend the first year of his life here every day. We used a macro bin as a play pen. It was great!

How has interacting via social media helped your company? What works best, Facebook, Twitter, the website, etc?

I am a big facebooker; Twitter is still very foreign to me. I think Facebook is worked very well and now I hear I need to figure out Pintrest…so many things to keep up on...but it’s great that so much marketing is at my fingertips for free!!

Note: These wines were received as samples.

03 October 2012

Monteverro Wines

I think this is the first time I've gotten wine samples in half bottles (375mL). I've certainly received dessert wines in that size, but that's how they're usually sold. I'm a fan of the format but it doesn't seem to be that popular in the US. Imagine dinner at a restaurant: you get one half bottle of white and one half bottle of red and the two of you leave sober yet satiated, without the unfortunate Russian roulette of getting wine by the glass.

I know from talking to distributors and retailers that half bottles are a hard sell, but I still have a fondness for them. And for some more special wines, they'll age a little faster than bigger sizes, giving you a preview of what the regular bottles might be like in a few years.

These wines are sold in the full size 750mL format, but I had to take a picture of them with a regular wine bottle in the back for comparison. Small bottles and corks can really mess with your depth perception. Part of me wants to serve them with Cornish game hen and quail eggs and baby corn and other wee foods.

All of these Monteverro wines are IGT Toscana designation from Maremma. Georg Weber decided to leave Bordeaux and experiment with French grapes in Italy back in 2003, and the first release of the Monteverro wines came in 2011. I don't have price or alcohol content info on these wines, but will update this post if I find them later. Update 10/19/2012: The US importer provided me with that information. All of the prices are for 750mL bottles.

2009 Monteverro Chardonnay
100% Chardonnay
$120, 14% abv.
Strong oak presence with lots of toasted popcorn and vanilla on the nose. Underneath there's a tart ripe peach profile with bold acidity and a lasting, oaky finish. Powerful and one that demands a strong poultry dish for pairing.

2009 Monteverro Tinata
80% Syrah, 20% Grenache
$125, 14.5% abv.
Bright strawberry aromas, which initially made me think of a Pinot Noir from a hotter climate. Firm tannins and a big fruit presence make it seem very Australian in its composition.

2009 Monteverro Toscana
45% Cabernet Sauvignon, 35% Cabernet Franc, 10% Merlot, 10% Petit Verdot
$175, 14.5%
The first of the two Bordeaux blends is a solid red with some great potential in couple of years. Delicious plum and cassis elements with balanced tannins and a touch of leather on the nose.

2009 Terra di Monteverro
$75, 14.5%
40% Cabernet Sauvignon, 40% Cabernet Franc, 15% Merlot, 5% Petit Verdot
My favorite of the group turned out to be this blend, which built upon the prior wine but also had bits of tomato leaf and tobacco, with milder tannins and a rich, smooth mouthfeel. Definitely the most French-like of the four wines, and a great bottle to take to a blind tasting to have fun with your wine loving friends.

Note: These wines were received as samples.

01 October 2012

Autumn Rieslings

My kitchen table topped with German wines and a Japanese lens... If this photo was taken 70 years ago I'd be considered a traitor and possibly a collaborator. I often wonder how people felt about this in previous centuries--given the constant warfare in Europe over the past thousand years, how long did people wait before becoming comfortable with the wines of a former enemy?

On happier topics, it's time once again for a pair of Rieslings from the folks at Wines of Germany.

While I never recommend wine with breakfast in the early morning, it doesn't mean that wine can't work well with breakfast foods at more reasonable hours. I've always been a big fan of "breakfast for dinner" and it reminds me of childhood, when we'd celebrate Christmas on Christmas Eve when the clock hit midnight at Greenwich Mean Time and have pancakes and waffles and other goodies. I decided to make eggs benedict with sausage instead of Canadian bacon and chop up a pineapple (not pictured). The very simple adjustment to the classic recipe was delicious, and I added a little Trinidadian Scotch bonnet/papaya hot sauce to mine. While it shouldn't be a surprise, eggs and butter and sausage go particularly well with Rieslings...

2011 Wittman 100 Hügel Riesling Trocken
$21, 12% abv.

Green apples and delightful mineral structure. Bright acidity that puckers your lips just enough to please, but not sour or astringent in the slightest. Dry but fruit-forward and I love to expose this style of Riesling to people for the first time.

2011 Weinkellerei J. & H. Selbach Spätlese Riesling
$18, 10% abv.

The sweeter bottle has a honey profile. A little dark, a little musk, but not overwhelmingly sweet. Ripe pear aromas and that luscious nectar flavor. While this worked well with the breakfast food, it was a surprising pleasure with a simple lunch of hot dogs on the following day. Who would have thought that a German wine would pair well with a Frankfurter? < sarcasm > Seriously, I wasn't using artisan Berkshire pork and wild turkey sausages with natural casings, just normal everyday Oscar Mayer franks. Have you tried great Riesling with a hot dog? Give it a try and connect with the tube meat traditions of Deutschland. It's a fun alternative to the beer and brats tailgating ethos, and one that I would highly recommend during football season.

If wine is going to be an important part of the American food culture, it has to get served during football games. The great part is that all of the great kickers come from classic European wine regions, so you can pair by country. It might be hard to find a Czech or Luxembourg wine in your area, but you can still toast and celebrate a victory with grapes that were stomped as hard as the losing team.

Note: These wines were received as samples.