30 April 2013

2011 Graffigna Malbec

I am notoriously bad about wine PR holidays. This wine and glass came about as a result of Malbec World Day on April 17. Well, it's nearly May, but here goes...

Ridel has unveiled a Malbec glass, tall and with a bowl that is almost egg-shaped with the tip sliced off. It's slender and does not quite fit in any of my cupboards, but is quite elegant. I admire the craftsmanship that goes into Ridel's crystal, though I don't own much of it--I have dozens of unmatched glasses, and over the years some break and get replaced by gifts or samples like this one.

Do you really need a special Malbec glass? For that matter, is it vital to have different Pinot Noir glasses for Burgundy and Oregon?

I am a natural skeptic, and poured the wine into the special glass as well as a regular wine glass, and was prepared to point out to Julia that it didn't make a difference, and then... color me surprised.

I won't say that the wine was better in the Malbec glass, but sniffing it was a much different experience. The fact that you're sniffing in a smaller aperture tends to concentrate and focus the aromas. Going back and forth was a fascinating experience.

2011 Graffigna Centenario Reserve Malbec
Tulum and Pedernal Valley, San Juan, Argentina
100% Malbec
$16, 14.2% abv.

While in the regular glass I got just dark fruit, the Riedel glass focused in on more specific dried plum and leather aromas. Hint of coffee in the background, and great structure from the oak. The taste was not impacted in either direction, though on the palate it was mild with gentle tannins and a long, dark fruit finish. I served it with grilled chicken, and then later enjoyed it with a pepperoni pizza. Perfect match with the latter on a quiet Saturday night, watching a movie and relaxing.

Note: This wine was provided as a sample.

29 April 2013

Snooth PVA: Ribera del Duero

During my weekend in New York, I kept getting whisked away to a different cuisine or wine region every few hours. At moments, I was reminded of the classic quip "If it's Tuesday, this must be Belgium." And thus on Saturday at noon, we gathered for lunch at the Spanish restaurant Salinas in Chelsea, featuring the wines of Ribera del Duero.

Ribera del Duero perches on a plateau about 200km/125 miles north of Madrid. Wine production there is difficult and yields are small but spectacular. The land was scraped and destroyed by retreating Moors in the 15th century, leaving it almost useless for farming. (The environment is so harsh that even phylloxera has a hard time surviving.) The focus is almost exclusively on the Tempranillo grape. Legally wines in the Denominación de Origen are required to have at least 75% Tempranillo (or Tinto Fino as they call it), but most of the 280 producers do not blend.

Why stick around in such a harsh area, making wine from only one grape? This is also Basque country, where the people are tenacious and tied to their native land, language, cuisine, and wine. As our host remarked, "Before God was God and rocks were rocks, the Basque were Basque."

While we were fed exceptionally well over the entirety of the weekend, this was my favorite meal, starting off with...

ensalada de jamon con peras: baby arugula, shaved Serrano ham, d'Anjou pear, Manchego cheese, vinaigrette

A light and refreshing start to the meal, and while I would have loved a crisp Albariño, it was time to dive into the reds.

2009 Bodegas y Viñdeos Ortega Fournier Urban Ribera, $14: Dark cherry and firm tannins, touch of leather.

2011 Bodegas Félix Callejo Flores de Callejo, $20: Firm tannins with a plum character, just enough oak.

2011 Bodegas Barco de Piedra, $15: Smooth red cherry profile with mellow tannins, and a mild, melt-in-your-mouth finish. Great bargain.

2007 Bodegas y Viñdeos Montecastro, $41: Robust and bold, with a strong body and firm tannins. Earth and plum aromas once it breathes a bit.

caldo de temporada: Galician style pumpkin-chicken soup, smoked bacon, chorizo, potato, broccoli rabe

I've been craving this soup ever since I got back. Why haven't I made it yet? So simple yet so savory, and it's just the kind of thing I need to fix before it gets too warm here in Memphis.

2005 Legaris, $36: The first wine of the day with the enticing whiff of mint on top. Underneath were rich and dark aromas of plum and coffee.

2006 Bodegas Convento San Francisco, $34: One of my favorites, with lots of vegetal aromas. Bell peppers, a little brett, and earth. This wine brings the funk in the best possible way.

2009 Bodegas Cepa 21 Malabrigo, $66: Ripe red fruit, low tannins, and a bright character.

2010 Bodegas Astrales, $40: Red cherries, with firm tannins and a tart, rich finish.

costilla al vino tinto: Ribera del Duero braised short ribs, confit fingerling potatoes, crispy leeks

I found this a novel way to serve short ribs--just two ribs and sliced potatoes in a crème brûlée ramekin. You get just enough of the rich flavor without it getting too heavy. I was reminded of Thomas Keller's mantra about the palate dulling after three bites. I restrained myself and did not pick up the crockery to lick it clean.

2009 Selección de Torres Celeste, $28: Plum and spice with notes of leather. Pleasant, medium tannic finish.

2001 Explotaciones Valduero, $160: The mint came back on this wine, which also featured aromas of plum and bacon fat. A really complex, fascinating, and well-aged wine. I kept coming back to it at the end of the meal, picking out new elements and layers.

2005 Bodegas Hnos. Pérez Pascuas Viña Pedrosa, $85: This one started out closed and tight, and only after an hour did it start opening up to reveal cassis and a little cedar.

2001 Condado de Haza Alenza, $100: Another earthy one that I loved, this time with licorice and coffee on top of a solid black cherry base. Beautifully aged.

For dessert we had a lovely assortment of Spanish cheeses and quince paste, a mix that was so good with the wine that I neglected to take a picture.

Spain continues to surprise me. Just when I think I have a grasp on the country and its many wine regions, I get an opportunity to delve deep into one that is new to me, but has been producing wine for thousands of years. As part of my fascination with Mediterranean wines, I hope to try some bottles from the Balearic Islands in the future. Hopefully as part of a year long trip, sailing around the sea in a small boat and docking every few days to try the local bottles and dishes, maybe take in a little fishing as well. One of these days I'll retrace the old Phoenician wine routes...

Check out these other great reviews of the same tasting! Brunello Bob "Ribera del Duero Lunch - Salinas NYC", The V.I.P. Table "Ribera del Duero: Thriving through Adversity", Wine Julia "#SnoothPVA: Experiencing Spain in New York City with Ribera del Duero Wines at Salinas", Reverse Wine Snob "Reveling in the Wine of Ribera del Duero Plus 3 Top Value Picks from this Region", Vindulge "Wine and food are a great match for Ribera del Duero", My Vine Spot "#SnoothPVA: Ribera del Duero Lunch at Salinas", Avvinare "Ribera Del Duero Tasting During SnoothPVA at Salinas"

I don't post a lot of photos of myself on this site, but my buddy Dezel snapped a shot of me hard at work tasting the delicious wines of the Ribera del Duero. I'm hoping he can make an excuse to come to Memphis to enjoy some wine with proper barbecue.

Note: This trip was provided by Snooth.

26 April 2013

Lunch on the Mountain

In late April, I made my second visit to the Winthrop Rockefeller Institute on Petit Jean Mountain in central Arkansas. Julia's friend Molly runs the restaurant at the Institute, and we picked a weekend to run up there again and enjoy a peaceful and relaxing vacation away from the city. This time we were lucky to include my longtime friend, brother from another mother, mister please please please himself, Paul Jones. I hadn't seen Paul in forever, and he was kind enough to bring his better half Anna along with him.

While it's not a bad drive from Memphis (4-5 hours depending on traffic and I-40 construction), the last leg is well off the beaten path, so it's good to pack a few coolers with all the essentials. And I brought many essentials. Three different kinds of vinegar, sixteen different kinds of bitters, a mixed case of a dozen wine samples, plus a ton of food. Paul was 90 minutes behind us with a ribeye roast and the ingredients necessary to make a proper Manhattan. These things are important.

Friday evening we had our dinner with a lot of Julia and Molly's friends at the River Rock Grill at the Institute. Loads of great dishes and conversations that night, but I'm going to dive into our lunch Saturday, when I decided to bring the Munchkin burger to Petit Jean Mountain.

I formed 2 oz. hockey pucks of ground beef, liberally seasoned with soy sauce, Worcestershire sauce, and in this instance, Penzey's Mitchell Street seasoning. Butter grilled slider buns, a healthy dollop of my famous red onion marmalade, a scoop of Cambozola, and a few other fixins paired with kettle chips and a homemade aïoli tinged with Sriracha sauce. I also did cheddar toppings for those that preferred a milder burger, and of course I opened a jar of garlic-dill gherkins that we've come to know as baybay pickles.

When I say I came prepared, I came prepared.

Friend of both Paul and me, the inimitable Dave R. passed along the following bottle that brought back a lot of good memories. I was a huge fan of the Bogle Petite Sirah in my early wine days and continue to admire the winery for the great bottles they produce.

2010 Bogle Essential Red
31% Zinfandel, 26% Petite Sirah, 24% Cabernet Sauvignon, 19% Syrah
$11, 13.5%

Lots of great fruit in this wine, with aromas of plum and bright red cherry and pie crust. Firm tannins show up on the finish, but overall it is a great jammy sipper that paired quite well with the lunch, and given the great price, this one has a great QPR and is highly recommended.

Earlier in the meal I opened up a pair of Paso Robles wines from Tower 15 Winery.

2012 Tower 15 Sauvignon Blanc
Paso Robles
100% Sauvignon Blanc
$19, 13.2% abv.

Loads of bright acidity here, with flavors of lemon and apricot. Nice crisp finish. Should be served with shellfish and salad.

2012 Tower 15 Sunset Rosé
Paso Robles
93% Grenache, 7% Pinot Noir
$19, 13.7% abv.

Great raspberry elements in this dry but crisp and tangy rosé. Light, onion-skin color, with a great tart finish. These two wines were perfect for appetizers of cheese and pickles, and the convenient screwcaps were even better, because I could just hand a bottle to someone and have him serve it without fumbling for a corkscrew. Highly recommended for the upcoming summer.

Burgers with red onion marmalade, even made in the petite form, do still require a hearty red wine, and I had a pair of Argentine bottles from Alamos Wines. These were great with the griddled Munchkin burgers...

2012 Alamos Red Blend
Mendoza, Argentina
Proprietary blend of Malbec, Bonarda and Tempranillo
$13, 13.5% abv.

Brambly with those nutty elements of raspberry seeds, with good touches of earth and a slightly vegetal finish. This wine was well-received around the table.

2012 Alamos Malbec
Uco Valley, Argentina
100% Malbec
$13, 13.7% abv.

I preferred this one, which was a solid bargain Malbec. Notes of plum and spice with medium tannins and a long finish. I've had this wine so many times over the years and still consider it a solid performer in its weight class.

Coming up soon... Dinner on the Mountain!

Note: These wines were received as samples.

25 April 2013

BWR Classic: ANZAC Biscuits

Warm wishes on ANZAC Day for all of my good friends in the antipodes. Your service is not forgotten. Here's an authentic recipe from one of my friends from Perth.

* * *

I keep an eye on holidays that aren't part of the usual US calendar. I noticed that ANZAC Day was approaching on April 25, a holiday that I knew mostly because of the little cookies (more properly, biscuits) that show up in grocery stores each April. ANZAC stands for Australian and New Zealand Army Corps and the day began as a memorial for soldiers who served in WWI, though today it covers a general remembrance for veterans from the two countries. It's a very important and solemn day, marked by traditional Dawn Services.

I was thinking about the holiday, my relatives who served alongside troops from AU/NZ in the world wars, and the myriad connections that America continues to hold with members of the Commonwealth. I also thought about the incredible wines that I've tried from Down Under, and how lucky I am to be able to enjoy them in peacetime, with clear shipping lanes between our continents.

And lastly, I thought about the biscuits.

The store-bought ones are tasty, but homemade is always best. I Googled around for some authentic recipes for ANZAC biscuits and began to get concerned. After all, if someone wanted a great BBQ sauce recipe, the internet might direct them to some perverted source in Texas or Kansas, surely a travesty against all that is good and holy in this world.

So I e-mailed Jane Cleary, my contact in Western Australia who has sent me many interesting wine samples through The Country Vintner. I asked her advice, and within an hour she called up her 93-year old grandmother and retrieved the family recipe. With her permission and my deep gratitude, I reprint it here, only slightly modified for American cooking units and spelling:

Nanna's ANZAC Bikkie Recipe

1 cup rolled oats
1 cup plain flour
⅔ cups sugar
¾ cup dried coconut flakes
2 tablespoons golden syrup*
1 stick butter
1 teaspoon baking soda
2 tablespoons hot water

"Preheat oven to 320°F. Mix the oats, flour, sugar and coconut in a bowl. Place the golden syrup and butter in a saucepan over low heat and melt. Mix the baking soda with the water and add to the butter mixture. Add to the dry ingredients and mix well. Sample some of the mixture (go on--it is so hard to resist!) Place tablespoons of the mixture, leaving space between each one for spreading, onto baking trays lined with non-stick baking paper and flatten to about 3 inches in diameter. Bake for 8-10 minutes or until a deep brown. Cool on trays for 5 minutes, then transfer to wire racks to cool."

Now, as longtime readers know, I don't have a sweet tooth, and I almost never write about desserts here. But it doesn't mean that I don't know how to make them. I'm actually pretty good at making cookies, and used my air-flow baking sheets lined with parchment paper. It's just that I don't often find myself in need of several dozen bourbon-pecan-chocolate cookies.

Let's get back to the ANZAC biscuits... Utterly delicious. Great balance of the butter, coconut, sugars, and oats. Next time I might even add a few crystals of sea salt on top just to play against that caramelized sugar flavor. A lot of cookie recipes require a dollop on the cookie sheet that will flatten over time, but these do need to be pressed into roughly the size and shape of the finished product, with just a little room left for expansion. These are fun to make, particularly with the heating of the butter and syrup, which negates the need for mixers. In fact, the brilliance of this recipe is that it relies almost entirely on dried ingredients that ship well--butter is the only perishable, and there's no chocolate that might melt. Butter/margarine/shortening/lard can last for a good while at room temperature and could probably be scrounged up somewhere, while traditional cookie ingredients like eggs or milk require fresher sources.

It's also worth noting that once baked, these cookies could survive a long, unrefrigerated sea voyage from the ports of Sydney and Auckland to the fields of Verdun and Gallipoli, a welcome treat for brave lads thrown into a war far from home.

*Note: Lyle's Golden Syrup is like a very light molasses (more properly a treacle) without any bitterness and with a luscious butterscotch flavor. You can substitute corn syrup or honey if absolutely necessary, but it won't have the purely authentic flavor... er, flavour. Lyle's invented the process and is the most popular producer. Founded in 1883, it has held a Royal Warrant to supply the British royal family since 1911. This stuff is tasty. I want to pour it on cornbread and distill rum from it.

The can and lid are the same style as wood varnish, and the logo is perhaps one of the ugliest in the world, depicting a lion corpse surrounded by bees. It's a Biblical reference, check out the link for more details. Also, I've heard this is really difficult to find in many parts of the US, so you can order it online if you like.

24 April 2013

Snooth PVA: Wines of Brasil

Over the years, I've had wines from Argentina, Australia, Austria, Belarus, Brazil, Bulgaria, Canada, Chile, France, Georgia, Germany, Greece, Hungary, India, Israel, Italy, Lebanon, Macedonia, Mexico, Moldova, Montenegro, New Zealand, Portugal, Romania, Slovenia, South Africa, Spain, Switzerland, Turkey, and the United States (cue Yakko). And of the last, I've tried wines from Arizona, Arkansas, California, Colorado, Hawaii. Illinois, Indiana, Mississippi, Missouri, New Mexico, New York, North Carolina, Ohio, Oregon. Tennessee, Texas. and Washington.

The point of this is not to brag (well, maybe a little), but more to show that I've got a pretty open mind when it comes to the wine regions of the world. Some of these have been more enjoyable than others, but overall I've had more pleasant surprises than unfortunate disappointments. And thus, I was particularly excited about the tasting hosted by Wines of Brasil.

Brazil is a relative newcomer on the international wine scene. The first Portuguese settlers were in the hot and humid north, a region that was terrible for wine grapes. Proper wine production didn't begin until the turn of the last century when Italian immigrants settled the cooler, drier southern regions like Campanha on the border with Uruguay. This is still a developing wine region: we tasted wines from the past seven vintages, and while nothing was spectacular, I think that there is some great potential. I've been tasting Chilean wines since the mid-90s and find them getting better and better each year. As the winemakers dial in the proper balance of grapes, soil, and style, and find the appropriate markets, I think they'll find a way to play to their strengths. In the meantime, an amusing anecdote...

I asked our host about how often Brazilian wines show up on the wine lists of fine dining restaurants in Rio de Janeiro and São Paulo. He chuckled and said, "When you are in one of those restaurants and see someone drinking Brazilian wine, that is a tourist. The Brazilians are only drinking European wines." Even with some growing interest in the beverage, the average Brazilian only consumes .33 litres of wine a year, and I've poured more than that into a single glass.

Check out these other great reviews of the same tasting! Wine Julia "#SnoothPVA: Wines of Brazil", My Vine Spot "#SnoothPVA: Brazilian Wines Master Class", Avvinare "Wine Countries: Brazil – Wines of Brazil Tasting At Snooth PVA", Wannabe Wino "What’s better than wine for breakfast?"

Note: This trip was provided by Snooth.

22 April 2013

BWR Classic: 2007 Plantaže Vranac Pro Corde and Ćevapčići

This post brings back so many great memories, and should be a reminder that wine treasures can be found in the most unexpected places.

* * *

Last week I had the pleasure of spending an evening with the incomparable Samantha Dugan at the home of fellow Memphis wineblogger Michael Hughes. She and her husband had planned a visit to Louisville to visit their son on his 21st birthday, but decided to make a detour in order to meet up with Michael and me and to see some of the interesting sights of our dear River City. We had an amazing dinner of braised lamb shanks, stuffed eggplant (courtesy of Justin & Amy), roasted corn, and other delicacies, all accompanied by a slate of spectacular French wines that Sam brought with her as well as some wonderful Pacific Northwest wines provided by Michael. It was also the first time in ages that I've just sat down and simply enjoyed a bunch of great wine without taking notes, so hopefully Sam or Michael will fill in some of the blanks.

In the e-mails and messages leading up to the visit, she offered to bring me a bottle of wine, and told me to go to her store's website and pick something out. Would I make her day and pick a nice Champagne or Burgundy? No, a leopard can't change its spots and neither can a freckled wine lover. My eyes went straight to the Wines of Eastern Europe section, and I asked her for anything from the former Yugoslavia. She consulted her boss and brought me the 2007 Plantaže Vranac Pro Corde. $17, 13.5% abv. 100% Vranac (which means "black stallion") from the Podgorica region of Montenegro. Pro corde is a sort of Latin tag for "heart healthy", which is interesting because such claims are generally forbidden in the American wine market. The label used to feature a little EKG graph.

This starts out a little tart and tannic, but with only half an hour of breathing it smooths out and reveals its true character. The wine is mild and light with dominant black cherry and black pepper aromas. Touches of leather and chocolate. Cherry and fig flavors follow with a long, smooth finish. A lot of Eastern European wines are far more mild and subtle than you might think. Somehow it went really well with the hearty portion of garlic in the meal shown below.

When Yugoslavia broke up in the 90s, Montenegro was an on again/off again part of Serbia. It's an independent nation as of 2006, and I had intended to do a whole Montenegrin dinner. However, it's difficult to find recipes that specific in English, and Serbian cuisine is a bit more well-represented by the international food writing community. What follows are Serbian recipes and spellings, though my understanding is that variations on these dishes exist throughout the former Yugoslavia.

(Side note: in my research phase I realized that the only person I know of Serbian heritage is an eight year old boy who's a quarter Serbian based on ancestors that came over to the US over a hundred years ago. Grace informed me of the boy's opinion of Serbian food sampled at a family gathering: "They have good cheese." I've always wanted to publish his cheese reviews here--another project for another day.)

I made a batch of ćevapčići, little skinless sausages that are grilled and served with flatbread. Often these are made with some combination of ground meats, but I didn't want to make a lot of them. I stuck to beef and used plenty of paprika and garlic to amp up the flavor. I prepared a tub of tzatziki sauce the day before and served the ćevapčići in the style of a gyro or döner kebab. I threw some onion marmalade on it, and there's a little spiced brown rice hiding in the background. These little sausages are amazing, and pretty easy to make. I think it might be a fun way to play around with different sausage recipes without the grinders and casings and everything else.

In looking over recipes and reading about Serbian food, I kept seeing references to cherries, particularly sour varieties that are preserved, made into spreads, and baked into desserts. I had a lot of sweet Rainier cherries on hand, and decided to use those in višnjak piskóta, a very eggy cake that's sort of like Yorkshire pudding. I added some Luxardo Maraschino liqueur to the batter to increase the cherry flavor. It's good, but probably better for breakfast where the massive egg content makes more sense.

I plan on investigating Slavic cuisine further, since it's such an interesting fusion of Greek, Italian, Hungarian, Austrian, Turkish, and other traditions. In the meantime, sincere thanks to Sam for her gracious gift, and I promise I'll try to pay some more attention to French wines in the future.

The Montenegrin Coat of Arms shown above is a Creative Commons-licensed image from Wikipedia.

Line 39 Sauvignon Blanc

You can do a lot to grape vines with fertilizer, and once the wine is made there are lots of alterations that can be done with various ingredients, but there are a few things that are harder to fake. You can't really install a 100 million year old volcano under your soil, and you can't really change your latitude. Weather and periods of sun exposure are determined by precisely where you are between the equator and one of the poles, and how the Earth tilts as it revolves around the sun. If you go too far out of a certain latitude range it's very difficult to make good wine.

Cecchetti Wine Brands makes Line 39, a range of wines named after 39°N latitude, which runs right through Lake County, north of Sonoma and Napa. In Europe, that line runs through the middle of Portugal and Spain, hits southern Italy, and continues through Greece. (39°S runs through the north island vineyards of New Zealand, between Australia and Tasmania, and just south of the wine valleys of Chile.)

Line 39 Sauvignon Blanc
Lake County, California
$10, 13.6% abv.

This is a good bargain at $10. Although my personal preferences are going towards lighter white wines these days, this is a solid performer in the citrusy Sauvignon Blanc category. Grapefruit peel and lemon zest with big, tart citrus flavors. Crisp with a long finish. The wine is enclosed in a convenient screwcap, which would make this a good picnic wine. Give me some spinach, chicken salad on a croissant, and a cool glass of this and I'm happy to sit in the park listening to the symphony.

Note: This wine was received as a sample.

19 April 2013

April Alsace

My personal wine preferences shift over time. When it comes to white wine, I started out liking them sweet, then I preferred a lot of oak, and then I was all about heavy citrus, and now I'm enjoying the mild, mineral, and surprisingly complex wines of Alsace. Early in my wine education I'd found them flat and boring, but now there's so much more that I can appreciate when I open those tall, slender bottles.

I reviewed two of these Alsatian whites in January for the Super Bowl, and they remain great. But I was excited to try the third from a producer who is new to me. I hope to explore many more wines from this fascinating region in the future.

Domaine Paul Blanck & Fils goes back to 1610 when the family's Austrian ancestor purchased his first vineyard in Alsace. They have a broad product line, though this one represents the introductory level with a convenient screwcap.

2011 Blanck Pinot Blanc
Kientzheim/Riquewihr, Alsace
100% Pinot Blanc
$14, 12.5% abv.

This is probably the most German-style wine I've had from Alsace. The nose was a little musky with a hint of petrol, and might easily be mistaken for a Riesling in a blind tasting. The style is medium dry with a round mouthfeel and the darker flavors continue on the palate. I had the pleasure of serving this with Easter lunch, where I found that it was incredible with ham and deviled eggs.

Note: These wines were received as samples.

16 April 2013

2011 Sauska Kadarka

After my recent review of some wines from Sauska in Hungary, I got a note back from Andi & Christian Sauska. They saw my brief mention about the lack of Kadarka in the sample lineup (I wasn't complaining!), and while that wine is not currently available in the United States they offered to send me a bottle. I was more than happy to give it a pour.

I first had Kadarka as one of the blending grapes in Egri Bikavér, the famous "Bull's Blood of Eger", but I've never had it on its own. The grape is most commonly associated with Hungary but is also grown in Bulgaria and other nearby countries. It's not as popular as it once was in Hungary, but I think it's still worth a search for any wine lover with a sense of adventure. There's more to the world of wine than Chardonnay and Cabernet Sauvignon!

The Hungarian wine industry suffered in both production and reputation during the long years behind the Iron Curtain, but the past two decades have seen a resurgence of traditional quality winemaking. So many Americans are wary of Eastern European wines, but if they would just taste a great Tokaji or Kékfrankos, you'd see Hungarian wines on lists throughout the US.

2011 Sauska Kadarka
Ördög-árok, Villány, Hungary
100% Kadarka
14.5% abv.

Kadarka is a troublesome grape that is prone to disease, and its finicky nature and mild body inspire obvious connections with Pinot Noir. This one has a lovely bluish-purple hue in the glass, with a very mild plum aroma with light hints of cedar. The body is gentle with bright pomegranate flavors and an easy, mellow finish. Medium tannins and an overall forward fruit persona without being tart or sweet. I enjoyed it with smoked brisket and pork shoulder, and found that it was a great accompaniment to the traditional southern fare.

Note: This wine was received as a sample.

BWR Classic: The Stetson Salad & Grauer Burgunder

I found myself craving this salad tonight, though I did not gather the dozen ingredients necessary to make it. I still have fond memories of this salad, and will make it again soon.

* * *

I was scrolling through Facebook when I saw that a friend named Juli Eck (who graciously invited me to a private wine tasting a while back) had posted a photo of something called a Stetson salad. It looked good even though I had no idea what was in it. It was obviously something like the famous Cobb salad, in which the ingredients are laid in stripes. The idea is that the waiter tosses the salad tableside and serves portions to each diner, but that's rare these days, and the salad plates aren't big enough for proper tossing, so you see people just eating the salad with an attitude of "Oh, here's a bit of avocado, next I get to try some bacon! Can't possibly try them at the same time..."

The Stetson salad comes from Cowboy Ciao, a Scottsdale, Arizona restaurant with an eclectic, creative menu. The salad appears to be their best-known dish and is no doubt widely imitated around the country by other restaurants, dinner party hostesses, and humble wine bloggers. I've never been to the restaurant but the menu looks solid, and the wine list weighs in at a hefty 94 pages with 3,200 different wines.

There's no bed of lettuce here, and I've seen variations that call for putting the whole mess on a bed of quinoa. There are many recipes, and the one I used seemed to be closest to the actual restaurant photos. My only substitution was the use of fresh corn kernels instead of dried kernels (not like popcorn, but more like dried green peas or other healthy snacks). I couldn't find dried corn, but I think outside of additional crunch I wasn't missing too much. If you're making this for a lot of people, put it all on a big platter, mix, and then serve. If you're dealing with multiple people who dislike or are allergic to one ingredient (but of course, it will never be the same ingredient), lay out the elements and let them build their own. I made mine with everything.

Here you have diced tomatoes, corn kernels, toasted pumpkinseeds mixed with dried currants (most recipes seem to leave out this step), arugula, Israeli couscous (I made mine with garlic and chopped shallots and chicken stock), and the final touch--smoked salmon.

But wait, there's dressing.

(Let me step aside for a moment and say that, as much as I love this salad and as delicious as it is, it's a lot of work and requires a lot of ingredients. So you either want to make this for a lot of people or be prepared to have variations of it for days afterward.)

In accordance with the dressing recipe I made a batch of aïoli and mixed it with diced shallots, buttermilk, and basil pesto (I just used jarred pesto, there were only so many things I could make from scratch before noon). Mix everything together and pour over the salad, and then take a fork and spoon and gently toss everything together. Unlike many of the creamy salads that sit in the deli counter for hours, this remains really fresh with easily distinguishable flavors and textures. And what a combination! No one element overpowers the other, and it really stands as a meal on its own. I'd intended for it to be a first course, but after an initial round of cheese and olives, the salad completely filled all three of us.

2009 Graf v. Schönborn Grauer Burgunder Spätlese Trocken
Franken (Franconia)
13% abv.
Pinot Gris

I couldn't wait too long to try this mysterious bottle from Wines of Germany. It's from the Schloss Hallburg in the Franken region northwest of Bavaria, and no, I don't know how much it costs. I don't even know if it's available in the US. I've seen prices from €16 to $45, so take from that what you will.

The vineyard is owned by the Schönborn family, an noble line that goes back to the 12th century and includes a lot of Catholic prelates, including the current Archbishop of Vienna. The Baroque castle Schloss Weißenstein in Pommersfelden was built for Prince-Bishop Lothar Franz von Schönborn in the early 1700s. The family formally registered their wine business back in 1349 and it is currently managed by S. E. Paul Graf von Schönborn, who studied banking in the United States.

It's a bronze-tinged late harvest Pinot Gris with lovely floral aromas like jasmine and white rose. Good acidity with just a touch of sweetness and a light apple flavor like a Golden Delicious. It has a firm, rich body and substantial weight . It worked well with the salad, but this is such a unique experience that I'd suggest enjoying it on its own with light appetizers of German cheeses and white sausages and a few fellow wine enthusiasts.

Note: This wine was received as a sample.

15 April 2013

Provençal Lunch with Château d'Esclans Rosé

When three bottles from Château d'Esclans arrived at the house, my first thought was not about the right glass or temperature for the wines, but rather about what I was going to eat with them. Rosés are amazingly food friendly, but I knew these would be delicate, closer to white wines than your bolder, fruitier pinks. While my menu was made with a nod to France and the Mediterranean, it is perhaps not 100% Provençal, but delicious nonetheless.

The Château goes back to 1201, but it spent a few years in the 90s under the ownership of a Swedish pension fund. Since then, it has been purchased by Sacha Lichine who has restored the winery to its former glory and has made what is perhaps the finest rosé in the world, something that was mostly a legend to lovers of dry rosé like me: Garrus.

I've had crudo multiple times in the past two months and it's my new favorite food, which is unfortunate when you're so far from the ocean. This was my first attempt at making it myself, using a block of frozen yellowtail tuna from the international market. I know that sashimi-grade is not a legal classification, but I felt it was the best bet for what I was doing. Just a little extra virgin olive oil, parsley, sea salt, lemon zest, and thin slices of serrano pepper. So many incredible flavors and textures in such a simple dish.

2012 Château d'Esclans Whispering Angel
Côtes de Provence
Proprietary blend of Grenache, Rolle, Syrah, Cinsault and Tibouren
$20, 13.5% abv.

Due to the stainless steel fermentation, this is the most traditional rosé of the lineup. Light aromas and flavors of wild strawberry, with no tannins and low acidity providing a mild and mellow experience that melts on your tongue. An excellent bargain that is highly recommended.

Next, I served an asparagus tart. A pastry base pre-baked, then topped with a goat cheese/egg/milk mixture and the tops of some tender asparagus. At the last minute I sliced spring onions to top the tart, and baked it until just golden brown. The asparagus still had a little crunch to it, but the cheese mixture was well-set. Quite tasty, and perfect for a spring afternoon.

2011 Château d'Esclans Les Clans
Côtes de Provence
Proprietary blend of Grenache and Rolle (Vermentino)
$60, 13.5% abv.

This wine spends some time on oak, though the end result is far more like a well-crafted white Burgundy than anything red. Hints of vanilla, butter, and caramel on top are dead giveaways, and in a blind tasting this would easily pass for a French white wine. The added structure provides some additional strength, allowing it to stand up to heartier cuisine than the Whispering Angel.

I don't know why cassoulet hasn't really caught on in the US. It's dead simple and combines so many of our favorite things. I started with a fresh duck (not confit), which I butchered and roasted in the oven to render out most of the fat. Bacon, cannellini beans, tomato sauce, chicken stock, an onion, loads of garlic... A few other ingredients were combined and allowed to simmer in the enameled cast iron pot for a few hours. The resulting dish was full of deep duck flavors combined with some earthy structure from the Weißwurst. The beans held up well and did not become too mushy, and thanks to some judicial skimming during cooking, the dish was not laden with duck and pork fat.

2011 Château d'Esclans Garrus
Côtes de Provence
Proprietary blend of Grenache and Rolle (Vermentino)
$120, 14% abv.

Not a lot of this wine is made--between 2-3,000 bottles per year, and it's something I've always wanted to try. The oak elements are far more balanced in this wine, and there is a rich peach and floral nose. White fruit and berry flavors intermingle on the palate along with a round body. The finish is gentle yet long lasting, and every sip makes you come back for more. For such a rare style of wine, it is delicious and should be on the life list of every serious wine lover.

Note: These wines were received as samples.

14 April 2013

Having Fun With Wine: the Sippy Cup

Going to Europe when I was 20 was an instructive trip in many regards, but above all else I learned not to take wine too seriously. It doesn't always have to be solemnly decanted from a bottle into a crystal glass. Often it was poured from crockery into a tumbler, yet we enjoyed it just the same.

There are times to take wine very seriously, but for the most part, wine is food and there's no shame in eating off paper plates from time to time. I had that feeling while trying out this little gadget recently... The full name is the the Vino2Go™ wine sippy cup tumbler ($16), but around the house we just called it the wine sippy cup.

I felt a little odd drinking from it (I kept expecting a hot coffee-flavored beverage), but it was still enjoyable with the mild Vinho Verde that I used in the testing. Julia found it to be fun and I let her keep the sample glass for her own amusement. The inverted wine glass style appeals to the math geek in me. I can't say that there are a lot of social occasions where I might use this (though BBQ season is coming up), but Julia highly recommends it for Bachelorette Parties and Girls' Night gatherings. The Vino2Go comes in many different colors that may just match the shade of bridesmaid dress you've selected for your wedding.

Note: This product was received as a sample.

12 April 2013

Snooth PVA: Oregon Wine Board Dinner

After the Wines of Scarpa tasting, my fellow bloggers and I were dismissed for a half hour while hundreds of wine glasses were swapped out to make room for the Oregon Wine Board dinner at the Peking Duck House in Manhattan. We were joined by three winemakers, one at each big table. There was the mystic bearded Brian O'Donnell of Belle Pente, the quick and verbose Jim Bernau of Willamette Valley Vineyards, and I was sitting with Earl Jones of Abacela. Earl reminded me a lot of some of my great uncles. His background is in the sciences, he's got a passion for Spanish grapes, and his Twitter handle is @EarlofLaMancha. More on them in a bit.

The restaurant is a monument to the old style 1950s Americanized Chinese cuisine. Waiters in tuxedos, all the well-known dishes served in a classy manner, and the big production and display of Peking duck complete with the head thrust up in the air with a nod to A Christmas Story. My own attempt at making Peking duck at home was not a success, but I was happy with the result at the restaurant. The skin was crazy delicious. The rest of the dishes are something of a blur, as I hadn't eaten in 24 hours, had been up since 4 a.m., and was enchanted by the great storytelling from the winemakers. I was a little disappointed that most of the meal could not be eaten with chopsticks--there's a whole branch of my family that's Chinese and I've been versatile with 筷子 since the age of six. There was that residual fear of "I'm a southerner in New York and I need to demonstrate that I know what I'm doing, also, thanks to the Civil War I had to apply for a visa to enter the state". Once the bowl of fried rice arrived I engaged in a little Guangzhou-style shoveling between sips of Pinot Noir.

One blog post can't contain everything that we experienced at this dinner. You'd really need to write a book to truly communicate all of the tasting notes, background details, and stories shared that evening. One I will mention is that Brian talked about the winemaker Jimi Brookes who died before harvest at the tender age of 38. Six other Oregon winemakers pitched in and devoted one day per week to make sure that all of the grapes got picked and processed properly, and a trust was set up for his young son. You'll find similar stories around the wine producing regions of the world, but Oregon is unique in America for being mostly comprised of this particular communitarian group of small family wineries that help each other out.

Among my favorites of the night were the Abacela Albariño, the WVV Estate Pinot Noir, and the Cliff Creek Syrah. I had a few one-on-one conversations with Earl, mostly about cotton farming in Missouri and the labeling laws for American "Port". We also bumped into each other a few times throughout the weekend at the Snooth PVA event and on a random street corner in the city. These guys were so friendly and engaging, and they all welcomed us to come and visit their wineries and offered the use of a few beater cars around the farms if we needed transportation. Like my trip to Preston in Sonoma, I fear that if I go out there I might drop all of my Memphis ties and settle down as a cook and goat-herder for some small Oregon winery.

Oregon is also unique in a few other regards. You've got winemakers making serious Vermentino and Albariño far from their home soils. There are temperature swings that are much broader than California, and when you drill down to microclimates you've got mountains and valleys and deserts and other biomes in a relatively small area. It's also the only region in the world where Pinot Gris is the most-planted white grape--Friuli is #2 and Alsace is #3.

Overall I was impressed with the wines, and while I could share a ton of technical details I found this particular tasting to be the most meaningful of all that I attended during that weekend in New York. The winemakers opened their hearts and souls to share their love of winemaking and stewardship of the earth. Likewise, by that point in the evening all twenty of us had been together just long enough to start having some real conversations, and what is amazing is that we've had lots more communication between each other since then. You can read their stories about this same tasting through the following links below these micro reviews of the wines:

Check out these other great reviews of the same tasting! Vindulge "Meeting Abacela Winery — 3,000 miles east of Oregon", VineSleuth "Collaboration in Oregon Wines", Reverse Wine Snob "Oregon Wine - Pinot Noir and Much More", Wine Julia "#SnoothPVA: Oregon Wine Out Shines the Lights of New York City", My Vine Spot "#SnoothPVA: Oregon Wine Board Dinner", Brunello Bob "Oregon Wine Dinner Makes a Great Impression"

Note: This trip was provided by Snooth.