31 May 2013

iichiko Silhouette Shōchū 焼酎

I was asked recently if I'd like to try a sample of shochu from Japan. The nice thing about e-mail is that I got the opportunity to figure out what shochu is before replying. While the name was vaguely familiar, I knew nothing about the distilled spirit, and initially confused it with some horror stories about baijiu from friends that have spent a lot of time in China. I was very mistaken.

Shōchū (焼酎) is not saké, but instead is a sort of mild vodka that originated in Persia and made its way to Japan by the 16th century. Unlike the usual 40% common with gin, rum, whiskey, and vodka, shochu is usually just 25% alcohol and is often further diluted with water or tea. Sometimes hot, sometimes cold.

This is the entry level shochu from Japan's best selling producer, Sanwa Shurui Co., Ltd., who only began making it in 1979 as an offshoot of their saké production. The name iichiko is the Kyushu dialect variant of ichiban, meaning "number one" in English. Throughout this review I'll keep it in all lowercase as it appears on all of the promotional material, and also because Iichiko looks a bit confusing in many fonts.

iichiko Silhouette Shōchū
Ōita Prefecture, Japan
Distilled from barley
$23, 25% abv.

I tried it straight at room temperature. It's milder than you initially expect, with just a little bite on the back end. There's a slight nuttiness combined with a hint of citrus. Oddly, it reminds me of certain brown ales even though it is nothing like beer. Imagine distilling the essence of just the notes that are in the background, and that's what this is like.

I'm in general not a fan of warm alcoholic beverages, but one of the many ways shochu is enjoyed is with iced oolong tea. (I'm more of a tea drinker than a coffee drinker, though I rarely write about the former.) With a 3:2 ratio of tea to shochu and the addition of ice, you're getting a pretty mild beverage.

This was delicious. The oolong I picked up was particularly earthy and vegetal, two aromas that I adore. The shochu brightens it up a bit, and while it's obvious that there is a distilled spirit in the glass, it's not overpowering. Quite tasty, and highly recommended for my fellow southerners who want a fun way to enjoy this product that is starting to get quite popular in certain parts of the country.

Note: This bottle was provided as a sample.

29 May 2013

Snooth PVA: Wines of Rioja

Our final tasting for the Snooth PVA weekend was focused on the Rioja region of Spain and supplied by Vibrant Rioja. People ask me for wine recommendations all the time, and there are a few shortcuts that I take. If someone says, "I like a good red wine, not too expensive, not too--" and I say "Rioja." "OK, but I don't want it to be too tannic, and--" I once again say "Rioja." "But I need something that I can find in my local wine shop like--" "RIOJA!"

If you want a proper red wine for dinner with a few years on it and don't want to spend a lot of money, it's hard to beat the quality-price ratio you get out of the Rioja region. Whether Crianza, Reserva, or Gran Reserva, your odds are great for getting a delicious wine. And stored properly, the best of these bottles can survive for fifty years or more, meaning that the various houses have some phenomenal libraries if you are privileged to visit. However, most people I know are of the "drink now" mentality, and across many producers you can easily find these bottles throughout the United States.

Due to an early flight I did not get to spend a lot of time with each of these wines, but I did hear most of the presentation by our hostess Ana Fabiano, author of the book at right:

The Wine Region of Rioja
Ana Fabiano
Sterling Epicure, June 2012
$20, 256 pp.

While I gave a one word answer as a recommendation, Fabiano drills down into every detail of the history and geography and enology of the Rioja region. In the 80s, she was part of a team that helped privatize the Spanish wine industry after decades of national control via the Franco regime. Currently she is Brand Ambassador for DOCa Rioja and U.S. Trade Director for Vibrant Rioja.

The book is full of scenic shots of the Rioja region as well as her own observations and reflections, delivered with a combination of passion and true affection for the vineyards and producers.

One thing that struck me was when she pointed out that Spain is the second most mountainous country in Europe after Switzerland, and I doubt most people would be able to answer that question in a trivia contest. More importantly, the mountains and the people who live amongst them have had a profound impact on the development and character of the wine made in Rioja. If you're interested in the region I would highly recommend reading her book.

As mentioned earlier, these are very brief impressions of each wine and should not be taken for full reviews.

2007 Marques de Riscal Reserva, $14: Red cherry, slight profile of herbs and twigs.

2007 Marques de Murrieta Reserva, $22: Tart red cherry with firm tannins.

2004 Manuel Quintano Reserva, $48: Black cherry with high, bright acidity. Very interesting.

2005 Muga Prado Enea Gran Reserva, $53: Another with a black cherry profile, but this time milder and with deeper black fruit flavors.

2004 Conde de Valdemar Gran Reserva, $35: Leather and plum aromas dominate, dialing in on the Rioja profile that I adore.

1994 Marques de Riscal Reserva, $45: Slight garnet/copper tint from the age. Earthy and barnyard aromas with an underlying dried cherry flavor and a delicate finish.

1994 Marques de Murrieta Reserva, $52: This one surprised me with the mineral aspects, bringing out a little ash and stone above the fruit. While this wine was a little closed on my sampling, I am sure it would open up with time and decanting.

1994 Manuel Quintano Reserva, $60: Rich nose of sour cherries that follows on the palate, and I mean that in the most delicious way possible. Amazing that such bright acidity can last so long, coincidentally from the year I graduated high school.

1994 Muga Prado Enea Gran Reserva, $76: Spice and dried fruit. Slightly sweet on the tongue, yet with a black tea finish. One that rewards long thought. My favorite of the lineup.

1985 Conde de Valdemar Gran Reserva, $99: In a blind tasting this one could have easily been five or ten years old instead of eighteen. While this one had the acidity and cherry elements found in many of the other wines, I found a little of the tomato leaf notes found in some of my favorite vegetal wines.

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Before everyone had finished tasting, my buddy Dezel and I split early to catch our flights. Standing on 6th Avenue with our bright pink gift bags, we hailed a cab and made it back to LaGuardia in time for him to get back to D.C. and for me to get back to Memphis.

While this post concludes my series on the Snooth PVA weekend, it does not conclude my relationship with that website nor my friendship and collaboration with the many wonderful people that I met on that trip. We've all been in frequent communication with each other since, and there are great things to come in the future. Stay tuned!

Check out these other great reviews of the same tasting! Vinesleuth "What is Rioja Wine?", The V.I.P. Table "Rioja: An Untapped Resource", Vindulge "Cellar Worthy Rioja", My Vine Spot "#SnoothPVA: Wines of Rioja Farewell"

Note: This trip was provided by Snooth.

27 May 2013

Dry Creek Rosé

We're enjoying an unusually cool May here in Memphis, but it's still warm enough to break out the dry rosé. This lineup of Sonoma pinks come from Dry Creek Valley, a region I had the pleasure of visiting in 2009.

A good dry rosé is the perfect pairing for summer, whether you're talking about a picnic or a barbecue or dinner on the deck with friends. Don't know what your host is serving for dinner? Bring a dry rosé. Even if it's not a perfect match for any of the dishes, it will still be fun to sip while everyone is milling around.

When I'm fixing a multi-course meal, I'll generally start with the rosé and then figure out what would work best with that particular wine. Sometimes it's a salad and sometimes it's the seafood course, but I'll often find myself going back to it later in the meal as a refreshing treat.

The first of these is emphatically not a White Zinfandel. It is a dry rosé that happens to be made from Zinfandel grapes, and should not be confused with the super-sweet product that comprises about 10% of all wine sales in the United States.

NV Pedroncelli Dry Rosé of Zinfandel
Dry Creek Valley, Sonoma
100% Zinfandel
$12, 13.9% abv.
1,800 Cases Made

This is a fairly deep red for a rosé, with bright raspberry aromas and flavors. Firm body with a bold and fruity finish. A little on the tart side. Recommended for the lover of California reds that is interested in branching out into lighter wines. This could hold up well with a big antipasto platter with lots of cured meats.

2012 Mauritson Rosé
Rockpile Vineyard, Sonoma County
40% Cabernet Franc, 35% Malbec, 25% Merlot
$19, 13.5% abv.
297 Cases Made

Here's a fascinating mix of Bordeaux varieties, and you don't see a lot of Cabernet Franc in rosé. This one has a softer profile with aromas of strawberry and a touch of watermelon. Mild and refreshing with balanced acidity, and I would suggest pairing this one with seared tuna topped with a mango salsa.

2012 Kokomo Pauline's Vineyard Grenache Rosé
Dry Creek Valley, Sonoma
100% Grenache
13.1% abv.
628 Cases Made

This is the most delicate of the three, and my favorite with a nice pale pink color that looks beautiful in sunlight. While restrained the dominant aroma is of red cherry, but there's a hint of ash and earth in the background. Mild acidity and a light body lead to a gentle finish.

Note: These wines were provided as samples.

24 May 2013

Interview with Julia Crowley of Wine Julia

Julia Crowley was the first wine blogger that I met in NYC, after I sent out a tweet asking if anyone wanted to share a cab to our first tasting of Scarpa Wines. Julia immediately accepted and met me in the lobby. However, fellow Snooth PVA bloggers (and former NYC residents) Megan and R.J. soon joined us, and we all took the subway uptown. It was an early precursor to the camaraderie that would follow online for weeks and months after the event. I met so many fascinating writers on that trip, and the purpose of this interview series is to introduce them to my readers.

Important note to avoid confusion: my girlfriend Julia, mentioned many times on this blog, and Julia Crowley are two different people. Additionally, neither were the inspiration for The Beatles, Robert Herrick, or the 1960s TV show starring Diahann Carroll. Hopefully that's clear for everyone.

Julia's site was named the Best New Wine Blog of 2012 by the Wine Blog Awards, and I wanted to get to know some more about her own history and philosophy surrounding the world of wine.

BWR: Did Oregon make you fall in love with wine or did wine influence your current state of residence?

Julia: Oregon made me fall in love with Pinot Noir, but years earlier, a visit to the Loire Valley of France made me fall in love with wine. My sister and I stayed one night in an absolutely amazing castle in Brissac, France, named Château de Brissac. We were the only two people staying in the stunning (and huge) castle, aside from the owners: the Duke and Duchess of Brissac. After an amazing dinner in the main dining room of the castle with the Duke and Duchess, the Duke handed us a bottle of 1998 Château de Brissac Cabernet Franc Anjou-Villages-Brissac along with two wine glasses. He then said, "explore, discover...the castle is yours tonight." We explored for hours - discovering unique rooms, several small theaters, secret tunnels with doorways hidden behind large hanging tapestries, fascinating art work and statues, fireplaces so big we could walk into them...all while enjoying every single sip of the first Cabernet Franc I had ever had. It was an unforgettable evening, and I fell head over heels in love with wine.

Years later, when my husband and I along with our two young boys moved from Florida to Oregon, I was completely unaware of the high-caliber Pinot Noirs in Oregon - until we attended a neighborhood association party at a nearby winery located in the South Willamette Valley named Iris Vineyards. During that party, I tried my first Oregon Pinot Noir: Iris Vineyards 2005 Reserve Pinot. Ultimately, I was blown away by the sheer elegance it displayed, the bright red fruits and distinctive earthy notes flowed onto my palate in seamless, silky waves. Soft acidity added depth of character without overpowering the alluring fruit and earth components. This was the very moment that Oregon Pinot Noir captured my heart.

Although Oregon wine didn't influence my current state of residence, it certainly influences my decision to stay-put and enjoy life in wine country to the fullest.

BWR: What's your favorite Oregon wine + local food pairing? Bonus points if the dish features fiddlehead ferns or wild mushrooms.

Julia: I like bonus points, and I love wild mushrooms. The best pairing I've ever had was a match made in heaven between Youngberg Hill's 2009 Natasha Block Pinot Noir and Beef Tenderloin Stroganoff prepared by Chef Chris Czarnecki of the famed Joel Palmer House. Definitely not your typical Beef Stroganoff, this one was made with wild Oregon Porcini and Trumpet mushrooms and served over rice. The earthiness of the mushrooms and savoriness of the creamy sauce paired flawlessly with the earthy finish on the Pinot. It was stellar.

BWR: My first introduction to wine came in high school through some great tastings and a lot of Napa wine that I could experiment with in the kitchen while I was teaching myself to cook. How do you intend to introduce your own children to wine as they grow up?

Julia: They've actually already been introduced to wine - not necessarily to the taste of wine, but to the culture of wine. My boys are just eight and nine years old, but they've always taken an interest in what I do. Not only do they sometimes read what I've written, but when they've come out to the vineyards with my husband and I (whether it's during a family picnic in wine country or to join me while I interview winemakers or vineyard owners), they are keen to what is going on and sponges to their environment. A couple years ago, when my youngest son was six years old, he correctly identified a cluster of Pinot Noir.

BWR: I also see posts on your blog from Sarah Tunnell. Is she an employee, a friend, a co-collaborator, or what? And do you set deadlines or is it more on a contribution basis?

Julia: That's a tougher question than one may think. I met Sarah through a friend, Heidi Tunnell, who owns a local bakery/restaurant/catering business in a very small town just south of Eugene, Oregon, named Creswell. Heidi, who earned her culinary degree at the prestigious Culinary Institute of America in New York City, focuses on local, sustainable products for both the menus at the restaurant and her famed summer Barn Dinners, which take place on her family's farm in a turn-of-the-century big red barn. During her barn dinners, where each course is paired with a wine from a local winemaker, the farmers, fisherman, winemakers and all those involved in each dinner are present to talk about their farms, food, vineyards and wine. At her restaurant, Heidi has the absolute best wine list in all of the Southern Willamette Valley. Twenty-something Sarah Tunnell, who recently became Heidi's sister-in-law, is the front of house manager at Heidi Tunnell Catering Company and also helps with building the notable wine list. Sarah is not much older than the current drinking age, so although she has an amazing palate for someone her age, she has a tight budget, and she's great at seeking out local, stellar wines that are under $20 dollars. With a desire to write about her Pacific Northwest budget-oriented discoveries, The Frugal Wino on WineJulia was created. Much like me, she loves wine and loves to write about it, so she writes the Frugal Wino piece once a week - just for fun.

BWR: How did you like running your own wine bar?

Julia: It was the hardest job I've ever had. From tasting each and every wine that went on the shelves to shopping for and cooking all the food, I did everything myself. Bookeeping, paying the bills, restocking the shelves, mopping the floors and cleaning the bathrooms were just a few of the many jobs it takes to run a business. It was as difficult, however, as it was rewarding. I was very proud of what I had built and accomplished. Within just nine months of opening my doors, my wine bar was voted one of the top five wine bars in Lane County, Oregon, and I believe that had a lot to do with my decision to focus solely on Oregon products. Everything in my shop, from the wine and beer to the artwork and furniture, was produced by local winemakers, farmers and artisans. I'm sure that my focus on local products is what got me through the recession. When word got out that I was supporting locally, locals in return, supported me. Julia's, was one of very few that had major success in such financially rough times - I believe wholeheartedly that my success was due to the passionate dedciation I had for Oregon's products. Aside from easing my way through the financially rough economy, I made some fantastic relationships with my regular customers, two of which actually purchased Julia's as soon as I put it up for sale.

Although I was teary eyed when I handed over the keys to what I had worked so hard for, there has been nothing more rewarding than spending time with my boys. My writing is done at home, on my own schedule, and I never miss a baseball game or a camping trip to the Coast. I couldn't be happer.

BWR: How did your experience with wine blogging change after winning the award for 2012's Best New Wine Blog?

Julia: After receiving the Best New Wine Blog Award, my experience with wine blogging went from an unsustainable passion to an affordable and exciting dream come true. Prior to the award, I was limited to writing only about what I could afford to buy and how far I could travel with the funds I had available. The award has brought on numerous wine samples (from around the world) and multiple media invitations from around the globe, providing me with content that is fresh and intriguing. Just last month, I was invited by the owners of Oregon's Duck Pond Cellars to celebrate their twentieth anniversary - we toured their vineyards, ate an ambrosial lunch in their greenhouse, sampled twenty year Pinot Noirs alongside barrel samples, had an amazing dinner prepared by a famed chef and ended our day with a stay at the beautiful Allison Inn and Spa in Newberg, Oregon. A few days ago, I received an invitation to Murcia, Spain, to explore the Jumilla, Yecla and Bullas wine regions, an area of Spain I've never been to. Words cannot describe the excitement I have about this opportunity to learn about and explore a wine region that I'm totally unfamiliar with.

I am so thankful for being recognized, it is truly an honor to be surrounded by so many great and talented writers. I've learned so much, yet I still have so much to learn. The path ahead is an exciting one, for sure. There is one thing that hasn't changed, however, I'm doing what I love, and I love what I'm doing.

Many thanks to Julia for participating in this interview, and be sure to follow her at Wine Julia and @WineJulia.

22 May 2013

2009 Château de Malengin

I've written about many wines from Cognac One, an importer that I know mostly from the Xavier Flouret marque. However, they import many other wonderful bottles, and have just brought a new bargain Bordeaux ($20) to the United States. If you read a lot of British novels written in the 70s and 80s as I did, you'd find many references to a "fine bottle of claret", opened at lunch in the case of Rumpole or at more appropriate hours in many other works. In these cases, they were referring to affordable, properly aged blended wines from Bordeaux.

Here we're talking about the right bank of the Dordogne in the small subregion of Montagne Saint-Émilion. The vineyard is owned by Baron Benjamin de Rothschild, the only son of Baron Edmond Adolphe de Rothschild, who held substantial investments in the Bordeaux region, and the famous family has been involved in French wine production for 150 years.

2009 Château de Malengin
Montagne Saint-Émilion, Bordeaux
70% Merlot, 20% Cabernet Franc, 10% Cabernet Sauvignon
$20, 13.5% abv.

The initial impression carries aromas of deep black cherry, and a little pencil shavings. Underlying tones of prune and spice. On the palate, you encounter smooth tannins and a light, mildly fruity body. Pleasant finish, and an excellent quality-price ratio. I enjoyed it with a bleu cheese burger and steak-cut fries with a rich aïoli. Excellent combination, and an affordable and delicious Bordeaux for the weekday dinner table.

Note: This wine was provided as a sample.

20 May 2013

Snooth PVA: Wines of South Africa

Immediately after the Wines of Austria tasting, we were whisked away to the Institute of Culinary Education, a cooking college in the Flatiron District of Manhattan. We were there to enjoy a tasting hosted by Wines of South Africa and a lunch prepared by Johannesburg native Chef Hugo Uys.

We started out with a sparkling blend of Pinot Noir and Chardonnay, the NV Graham Beck Brut, $18. Crisp and acidic with medium bubbles and a clean finish. I enjoyed it, but after the dozen Austrian wines sampled in the previous two hours, I was a little peckish and decided to dive into the little wooden bowl of dried fruit, nuts, and meat. And it was the best beef jerky I've ever had. Shortly thereafter, the host explained it.

In the photo it's a little hard to make out the details, but the wide flat pieces are biltong, a favorite snack of South Africa. A round roast or other large cut of tough meat is cut into strips (called tongs or tongues, but it's not actually tongue meat), marinated and air-dried. I loved it, and also enjoyed the little thin dried sausages known as droëwors. Try one of those and you'll never snap into a Slim Jim again.

I've long been fascinated by the history of South Africa (sparked in no small part by the adventure novels of Wilbur Smith), and while I have tried many wines from the country, this was my first experience getting to enjoy them with the appropriate cuisine and with folks devoted to this particular wine region.

Amuse Bouche
“South African Shot”: Peppadew relish in a parmesan cup, a guava juice shot topped off with a ginger foam

This was a pleasant little snack, just enough to wake up the palate and get us ready for the wines that followed.

2012 Thelema Sauvignon Blanc, Stellenbosch, $18: A little rough on the beginning, but it later opened up with jasmine and citrus notes. Certainly more in line with Chile and New Zealand than France.

2009 Raats Family Chenin Blanc, Coastal Region, $22: Mild and fruity with gentle floral aromas and a round body.

Curry Mussels: Lychees, shallots, white wine and dry sherry, in a curry emulsion

I love a good batch of mussels, and these were delicious. I would never have thought of adding lychees, but it made for a nice flavor combination.

2012 De Morgenzon Chardonnay, Stellenbosch, $15: The winemakers here play Baroque music to the vines to help them grow. Light white fruit aromas and flavors with just a little vanilla from the oak. Medium acidity and a short finish.

2009 Badenhorst Family White Blend, Coastal Region, $34: A rough edge at the beginning yields some herbal and vegetal elements in this Rhône blend of six white grapes. The winemaker made his first wine at the age of thirteen.

Smoked Ostrich: With roasted root vegetables, gorgonzola mousse, herb port reduction, homemade sultana/apricot chutney and an oven baked spicy potato chip

Excellent ostrich, and I'll be on the lookout for some thicker steaks to try and recreate this dish in the future.

2011 Warwick Pinotage Old Bush Vines, Stellenbosch, $19: Lovely aromas of ash and earth from the Pinotage, with a flavor of red cherries and raspberry seeds. The 12% Cabernet Sauvignon should help round this one out for those that are afraid of Pinotage.

2010 Hamilton Russell Pinot Noir, Hemel-en-Aarde Valley, $39: Spicy and smoky at first, giving way to aromas of tart red cherries with a thin, gentle body. Very unusual for a Pinot Noir, but I thought it worked out quite well with the ostrich.

2008 Kanonkop Paul Sauer, Stellenbosch, $42: This wine is named after a hilltop where, in the 17th century, a cannon would be fired to alert everyone that ships were entering the harbor at Cape Town. It gave everyone enough notice to load up their oxcarts with food and other trade goods so they could meet the sailors. The wine has complex aromas of green bell pepper, smoke, and leather. It's a deep and dark Bordeaux-style red made with 69% Cabernet Sauvignon, 12% Cabernet Franc, 19% Merlot.

2010 Boekenhoutsklouf Chocolate Block, Swartland/Citrusdal, $34: Due to the popularity of this wine, it is allocated in the United States and may be difficult to find. Interesting blend of 69% Syrah, 14% Grenache Noir, 11% Cabernet Sauvignon, 5% Cinsault and 1% Viognier. Cream and cherry aromas with, yes, a deep chocolate character. Deep yet smooth and very drinkable.

2009 Glenelly Lady May, Stellenbosch, $50: This venerable wine is made of 90% Cabernet Sauvignon and 10% Petit Verdot in a traditional Bordeaux style. Lots of bell pepper and black cherry with underlying notes of coffee and leather. Medium tannins indicate that this one could age for another few years. Highly recommended with your favorite roasted meats.

2010 De Toren Fusion V, Stellenbosch, $45: Another Bordeaux blend, but this one is still quite young with very firm tannins and a long tannic finish. There is a cherry profile to the wine but I found it a little tight and not quite ready for consumption. Check again in three years.

Tipsy Tart: Soaked in rooibos infused brandy, vanilla ice cream and a brandy date syrup

Sweet and savory and delicious, and the addition of rooibos was incredible.

2010 Ken Forrester T Late Harvest, Stellenbosch, $55: This 100% Chenin Blanc dessert wine was rich and golden with floral notes, honey, and a beautiful, slightly musky finish. Delicious and decadent.

Check out these other great reviews of the same tasting! Avvinare "New World Wines: South African Wines Continue to Excite Me", My Vine Spot "#SnoothPVA: South African Wine Lunch", Wine Julia "SnoothPVA: Wines of South Africa with Lunch at the Institute of Culinary Education"

Note: This trip was provided by Snooth.

17 May 2013

German Wines in May

Riesling and Pinot Noir from GermanyThe folks at Wines of Germany sent along their quarterly pair of samples. The first is a repeat, but one that I've enjoyed every time that I've had it.

2009 Dr. Pauly Bergweiler Bernkasteler Badstube Riesling Kabinett
Mosel, Germany
100% Riesling
$22, 9% abv.

Nose has a tinge of petrol and overripe white fruit, but gives way to a light and golden, medium-dry wine. Low acidity and a round mouthfeel, with a lingering yellow apple flavor on the palate.

The second wine was a bit of a surprise. I wasn't expecting a Pinot Noir, even though it's not that rare in Germany, where it's known as Spätburgunder.

2010 Franz Anton Pinot Noir
Baden, Germany
100% Pinot Noir
$37, 13.5% abv.

Cherries and bacon fat, mild nose, light and thin body with a lingering sour cherry flavor. This is by far the best German red wine I've ever had. My first experience was with a rather disappointing Dornfelder. This pleasant Pinot Noir would be delicious with kielbasa or other dense pork sausages.

Note: These wines were provided as samples.

16 May 2013

NV Ogio Prosecco

I've long been a fan of Prosecco, and have tried to promote it as a casual, fun sparkling wine to enjoy in the middle of the week with dinner. Whenever I have a Prosecco on hand at a party, I ask around for a show of hands.

"Who has never opened a sparkling wine before?" If anyone is curious, I'll let them practice on the bottle. Undo the wire cage, keep it vertical, gently twist, and for the last bit just let the pressure in the bottle do all the work without spewing good wine all over the kitchen and dining room. And then it's time to show the second trick: how well this wine works with things like fried chicken, popcorn, salty potato chips, and even Buffalo wings. These are the kind of pairings that will bring about a true and vibrant wine culture in the United States, coming from the everyday treats below, not from the haute cuisine at top.

Also, in accordance with Federal Trade Commission regulations, I have to disclose that in addition to the wine, I got a neat USB carabiner (loaded with the wine info) and a pair of Ogio-branded flip-flops. Neither influenced my review of the wine.

NV Ogio Prosecco
DOC Prosecco
100% Glera
$17, 11% abv.

Initial aroma of green apple peels and just a touch of honey. There's a hint of something wild and musky in this, like overripe peach. I thought it was perfect with a nice salad of baby spinach, smoked chicken, and roasted walnuts with a light vinaigrette.

Note: This wine was received as a sample.

15 May 2013

SakéOne Tasting

My first good experience with saké came thanks to the folks at SakéOne during an online tasting last year. The company was started in 1992 as an importer of quality Japanese bottles, but they began building their own kura and making their own brews. Today, Oregon has the highest per capita consumption of saké in the United States.

A few interesting facts from the tasting:
  • Rice quality is important, but saké is not really terroir-driven. The percentage of polish is more important, meaning how much of the outer layers are ground away.
  • Color is important in Japan (it should be clear), but in the US can be a little yellowed. The beverage is pasteurized, and thus is stabilized and can keep up to two months in the fridge after being opened. If unopened, good saké can be enjoyed within 12-18 months if stored like wine.
  • The Japanese sakés are in 720mL format bottles, while the Oregonian one comes in 750mL. The TTB requires certain sizes for wine, but saké is classified as beer thanks to our nation's bizarre tangle of alcohol regulations. 720mL is a traditional size denoting four 180mL servings.
  • Saké is fined and clarified with gelatin, but the industry is experimenting with a seaweed-based agent to make vegan saké.
Murai Family Tokubetsu Honjozo
Special Honjozo
$25, 15.5% abv.

The modern incarnation of this brewery dates back to 1889. Deeper barley-style aroma with a drier flavor. Earthy elements that appear as it warms. This family helped get the kura established in Oregon and provided a lot of early guidance. The label features the Nebuta warrior from Aomori Prefecture. Honjozo means that a little extra alcohol was added to round out the flavors, though not as strong as a fortified wine.

Premium Junmai Saké
$11, 14.7% abv.

Gentle, mild, lightly toasted rice aroma with a hint of sweetness. Easy drinking, approachable packaging with an easy-to-read label. The idea was to market something that would be easy to ask for and remember without an extensive knowledge of Japanese.

Yoshinogawa Winter Warrior
Junmai Ginjo
$27, 14% abv.

This brewery has been around since 1548. Hint of spice with mellow pear nectar, apple blossom, and herbal elements. Named after the kurabito, the workers who make the saké in the snow.

I had the opportunity to try something special with this particular bottle. Japan is not the only country that knows how to safely enjoy raw fish. In this preparation, I made yellowtail tuna crudo but with a more Latin twist. Slices of avocado, pickled red onion, and topped with a brunoise of habanero peppers and some delicate lime zest. A little sea salt and pepper on top provided the perfect crunch with each savory bite.

SakeOne G Fifty
Junmai Ginjo Genshu
Forest Grove, Oregon
$25, 18% abv.

American rice from California produced the superior saké. Bold pineapple and floral aromas, with rich fruit and a delicate finish. Very round and mild. A pleasant experience, and highly recommended.
But what to eat with it?
Snow crab legs turned out to be an exceptionally tasty combination. You end up hitting all of the flavor receptors with salt and sweet and savory and umami and the tart elements from the saké and lemon wedges.

* * *

I will admit that when I first tried through all four of these bottles, I had difficult telling them apart. My nose was thinking white wine, and everything was far too subtle. It's also possible that I had the bottles too cold, or that the combination of wild weather swings and massive amounts of pollen had dulled my senses. But as I went back through them the next day, I kept teasing out many different aromas and flavors, and found myself eager to enjoy a small glass with dinner or even while sitting at the computer in the evening.
You've got to recalibrate your nose and tongue a bit, but the effort is well worth it, and I highly recommend studying saké if you want to broaden your beverage literacy.

Note: These bottles were provided as samples.

13 May 2013

Snooth PVA: Wines of Austria

Sunday morning in Manhattan we left our Chelsea digs and headed over to a SoHo event space called Meet at the Apartment, a repurposed apartment with a big dining room seen at right, a kitchen, and a few other rooms. There we had our first of three Sunday classes. This one focused on the Wines of Austria and was hosted by Aldo Sohm, Chef Sommelier at Le Bernardin and recent maker of his own Grüner Veltliner back home in Österreich.

While waiting, we sipped on an Austrian sparkling wine, the 2011 Pfaffl Grüner Veltliner Brut, Weinviertel, $14. Gentle and relaxing with aromas of lemongrass, a slightly creamy texture, and mild white fruit flavors. In addition to Aldo, we were joined by other representatives from Wines of Austria, including Constance Chamberlain, who has been a long time supporter of this blog with samples and information. I've issued many thanks to Snooth for putting together the trip, but I also owe gratitude to the many wine publicity groups that put in a lot of work to make that weekend happen.

Each class had something special about it, and this one was superlative for having the greatest density of viticultural information combined with the fact that we all had to be dragged away from the table to make our lunch appointment. Aldo wanted to keep going even as we ran late, and nobody was eager to leave. He spoke about the general distinction between American and European sommeliers: Americans start with the fruit, and Europeans start with the terroir. There are obviously many outliers, but for this course we focused almost entirely on the soil and geology of Austria and how they impact the wine. Aldo spoke passionately about rocks, and passed around chunks of limestone that he had carried from different parts of the country. We heard about winemakers who would pick up a pinch of soil and chew on it to gauge how the grapes would go and how the wine would develop over time. It's also a nation in which a third of the wines produced are organic or biodynamic.

That we stuck purely to Grüner Veltliner should come as no surprise, but we got to see many different expressions. This lineup featured one small wine country, one grape, yet infinite diversity in infinite combinations.

There's far too much information in my notes for one blog post, but I would encourage you to explore the many and often very affordable wonders that are available from Austria. I mention the wine regions in each mini-review, but in brief, we're talking about the eastern side of Austria on the borders with Slovakia and Hungary.

  • 2011 Stadimann Grüner Veltliner, Thermenregion, $16: Bright green apple profile, dry and fruity with excellent acidity and minerality. Quite fresh and clean. I was craving oysters something fierce with this wine.

  • 2011 Huber Obere Steigen, Traisental, $22: Wet stone with a more brash edge to it than the prior wine. Touch of peach and white pepper. It is recommended that younger, tighter wines like this be decanted for a period of time serving--a great idea, but one that presents a challenge for warmer climates like my own.

  • 2011 Ebner Ebenauer Birthal, Weinviertel, $19: A bit of dust on the nose, but bright acidity, very floral and crisp. Gravelly and rustic, and one that would pair well with an earthy trout dish.

  • 2011 Graf Hardegg Vom Schloss, Weinviertel, $18: Lots of sandstone in this area, resulting in a wine that is richer, fruitier, but with medium acidity. Well balanced and a classic Grüner Veltliner.

  • 2011 Veyder Marlberg Kreutles, Wachau, $30: 100% organic from an eccentric winemaker. Tropical fruit, pineapple dominate this tangy wine with a slightly salty, bitter finish. Very unique yet enjoyable.

  • 2011 Sohm & Kracher Grüner Veltliner, Weinviertel, $38. Aldo's own wine, produced in small quantities--only 800 bottles in this release. There's a hint of mint on top, with very delicate apple notes underneath. Very soft and round with a mild, gentle finish. Incredibly delicate.

  • 2009 Moric St. Georgener Grüner Veltliner, Leithaberg, $49: Bigger alcohol content in this wine from a predominantly Blaufränkisch producer. Oak and a little oxidation, with a touch of bitterness.

  • 2011 F.X. Pichler Dürnsteiner Liebenberg Smaragd, Leithaberg, $70: Darker apple tones on this wine with a pure and silky body. Mysterious and fascinating.

  • 2011 Prager Stockkultur, Wachau, $90: Very ripe peach aromas dominate the nose of this powerful and rich wine. Big acidity and a slight sweetness round out the wine that has 4g/L of residual sugar. Yet another surprising facet of this versatile grape.

  • 2011 Ott Fass 4, Wagram, $26: Loess soil provides for a clean and charming wine dominated by minerals. Perhaps the most purely mineral-focused wine of the entire tasting.

  • 2011 Schloss Gobelsburg Lamm, Kamptal, $62: Dark and deep with a bitter edge. Austere and in need of much deeper inspection, yet we were running out of time.

  • 2010 Schloss Gobesburg Tradition, Kamptal, $50: From the same producer as above, but more mellow and approachable with a brightly perfumed nose.

Check out these other great reviews of the same tasting! VineSleuth "Gruner Veltliner: A Delicious Puzzle", The Reverse Wine Snob "Gruner Love Featuring Stadimann Gruner Veltliner", Jameson Fink "High Line Park and Gruner Veltliner: Contemplating Time and Space", Vindulge "So you think you know Grüner", Wine Julia "SnoothPVA: Terroir Driven Grüner Veltliners of Austria Create Food Friendly Wines with Distinctive Flavors", My Vine Spot "#SnoothPVA: Wines of Austria Master Class", The V.I.P. Table "My 2013 Vinous Revelation: Grüner Veltliner", Palate Press "Lingering Flavors, Lingering Questions: Tasting Grüner Veltliner with Aldo Sohm"

Note: This trip was provided by Snooth.

10 May 2013

Toad Hollow Wines

One of my favorite moments in O Brother, Where Art Thou? is when Tim Blake Nelson says to John Turturro, "We thought you was a toad!" Ah, my dear little toads...

Small grey toads with brown freckles (Bufo americanus) are pretty common around here, and pop up in flower beds and backyards often. Dogs I have known and loved over the years have occasionally picked up toads and spat them out, and I appreciate the fact that my amphibian friends eat annoying insects. Thus I was delighted to try a quartet of samples from Toad Hollow Vineyards, though it was not my first exposure to the winery and its amusingly named wines. Take the sparkling Amplexus, named after a very specific move that mommy and daddy toads do when they love each other very much. (I served it at my 33rd birthday and loved explaining the name.)

2011 Toad Hollow Unoaked Chardonnay
Mendocino County, California
100% Chardonnay
$14, 13.9% abv.

First tried this back when I made salade niçoise in a hotel room. Hints of apricot and peach are present on the nose, with a nice bit of acidity followed by a pleasant, round finish. A very fun and tasty example of an unoaked California Chardonnay.

2012 Toad Hollow "Eye of the Toad" Dry Rosé of Pinot Noir
Sonoma County, California
100% Pinot Noir
$12, 11.5% abv.

Bright wild strawberries with a tart lemon finish yet low acidity. Nice and round body with dry and fruity flavors. Serve this one with tapas or an evening gathering when you're just laying out a lot of appetizers. It will perform admirably with cheeses, cured meats, olives, and more.

2011 Toad Hollow Erik's The Red
Proprietary blend of Zinfandel, Syrah, Petite Sirah, Malbec, and Dolcetto
$13, 14.4% abv.

I haven't tried this wine since year one of this humble blog... Still a crazy blend of red grapes, but also a good blast of ripe red fruit. Aromas of cherry and red plum, low tannins, and particularly enjoyable when served a little on the cold side. A great bargain, and highly recommended for the mid-week pizza or burger wine.

2011 Toad Hollow Pinot Noir
Russian River Valley, California
100% Pinot Noir
$20, 14.5% abv.

Light strawberry and raspberry aromas, with a dash of ash on the nose. The body is mild and round with a quick, clean finish. Delightful berry aftertaste. Not quite light enough for salmon, but one that would be perfect with all sorts of pork dishes.

Note: These wines were provided as samples.

08 May 2013

Cardinal Gin from North Carolina

A major point of happiness for the 19th century Dutch colonists in Indonesia was when modern refrigeration arrived and allowed them to drink their beloved genever cold as a respite against the sweltering heat of the tropics. A lot of the spices required to make the beverage were farmed on the islands of the region, shipped back to the Netherlands as part of the lucrative spice trade, and came back to the colonists in bottled form. Until the 1942 Japanese conquest of the Dutch East Indies, but that's a longer story for another day.

The Brits had their own gin traditions related to their colonial properties, but that didn't seem to extend to their own occupation of our land of liberty here in North America. The Province of Carolina split into North and South colonies in 1729, and distillation of many different liquors was popular for many years. Yet the first Tar Heel State gin since Prohibition had to wait until Southern Artisan Spirits produced this particular spirit.

Cardinal American Dry Gin
$30/750mL, 42% abv.

I keep thinking about spice cookies whenever I first sniff this gin. Cardamom is definitely a dominant aroma, though there are many other floral and spice components. The first sniff will smell like cookies, the second smells like perfume, and the third reminds you of flowers. Every now and then there's a hint of clove, cinnamon, and nutmeg that brings you back to Christmas.

My primary reason for keeping gin in the house is for the purpose of making cocktails, but this one joins my beloved Hendrick's in terms of a gin that I enjoy simply on its own. Perhaps with a few ice cubes in a nod to those old Dutch settlers.

A few additional notes: the logo comes from the fact that the cardinal is the state bird of North Carolina, and the founders are twins. The company is branching out into additional spirits, with Carolina Rye and Butcher Whiskey coming along soon. You can read an extended story about the distillery in WNC Magazine, and oddly enough, I've had my photo of kudzu jelly published with my permission in that very publication.

Note: This gin was received as a kind gift thanks to my brother from another mother Paul and his main squeeze Anna.

07 May 2013

Snooth PVA: il gran giro d’Italia con dodici vini bianchi

White Wines of ItalyThe wine tastings at the Snooth PVA weekend fell into two categories: classes and dinners. I enjoyed both. The dinners hit upon my preferred opinion that wine is food and that the two should never be separated, and encouraged more convivial conversation among my fellow writers. However, the classes provided a lot more information from a top-down format and allowed for some serious study on a specific topic. And thus on Saturday at 2:30 in the afternoon, we entered the basement of the Altman Building to attend the White Wines of Italy Master Class.

This is a tasting that I've thought a lot more about since leaving the city, and one in which I wish I could have spent more time analyzing each bottle with some wine books and dizionari nearby. Our host was the genteel Giuseppe Capuano of Vias Imports Ltd.. Despite the fact that he is from San Lazzaro di Savena in Emilia-Romagna and quite attached to the native grapes of his home region, he took us on an incredible tour of the white wines of Italy and her islands. East, west, north, south, Sicily, Sardinia... Even the German-speaking vineyards of Alto Adige/Südtirol were represented.

A restaurant would be well-advised to steal the following list to make a special wine flight dinner to celebrate the white wines of Italy. I can imagine the following going quite well with a multi-course meal, rearranged a little to ensure optimal regional food pairing.

2011 Istituto Agrario di San Michele all'Adige, Nosiola Trentino DOC, $23

The institute is an agricultural college in northern Italy focused on wine production, founded in 1874. Think about this as trying something from UC Davis. The grape is Nosiola, and it's very mild on the nose with lots of bright lemon on the palate. Great acidity and minerality, and certainly a perfect start to the tasting.

2011 Strasserhof Kerner, Valle Isarco DOC, $27

There's a good bit of German/Italian overlap in language, family names, and grapes in the far north. My first Kerner was the 2003 Klaus Zimmerling Kerner Trocken Landwein, brought back by California Girl after her 2005 vacation in Germany. This one was rich with honey, overripe peach, and a rich mineral aftertaste. Later notes of nutmeg. This used to be a popular destination for Germans in search of affordable, delicious wine before the Euro currency unification.

2011 Luisa Friuliano, Isonzo del Friuli DOC, $21

Wet stone and a mild floral note, with bright acidity. This grape used to be known as Tocai Friulano until the EU came along and the name was banned to avoid confusion with Hungarian Tokaji.

2011 Luisa Ribolla Gialla, Isonzo del Friuli DOC, $22

Somehow this was my first exposure to Ribolla Gialla, and I look forward to exploring this grape in the future. Exotic and fascinating with a nose of jasmine and orange peels, but a light and delicate body.

2011 Argillae, Orvieto DOC, $17

The name means "spirit of the soil" in Latin, and this one was a powerhouse of acidity. I found it a little harsh and bitter, but perhaps better enjoyed with food that will balance it out properly.

2011 Cataldi Madonna, Trebbiano d'Abruzzo DOC, $17

Light and gentle with a delicate body. A little small and lost in the shuffle, but something that I'd like to serve with quail and white asparagus for a calm first course.

2011 Terredora di Paolo, Fiano di Avellino DOCG, $24

This wine is entirely soil-driven, with elements of mineral and ash, chalk, and balanced acidity. Fruit comes and goes, but geology is forever.

2011 Statti Greco, Calabria IGT, $23

Clean and fresh, with a light and mild body. I've had stronger Grecos in the past, but it's nice to see a more austere presentation.

2010 Feudi del Pisciotto Marengo Grillo, Sicilia IGT, $33

Nutty with fresh-baked cookie notes and an acidic finish. The oak gives some serious structure to this particular bottle.

2011 Nuraghe Crabioni Vermentino di Sardegna, Sardegna DOC, $21

Rustic and exotic with characteristics of flowers, nuts, and fruit. Deep, firm body and a strong mouthfeel. Everything I could have possibly wanted from a Sardinian wine.

2011 Colle dei Bardellini Pigato, Riviera Ligure di Poenente DOC, $19

My first experience with Pigato, and Greg pointed out that if you ever detect the aroma of pencil eraser in your wine, there's a 50/50 chance that it's Pigato. I wasn't really sure what to make of this particular wine (I think my bottle was a bit oxidized), but I'm holding that tasting note in my pocket to win a blind tasting in the future.

2011 Maison Anselmet Chambave Muscat, Vallée d'Aosta DOC, $27

We concluded the tasting with an odd wine from a very stubborn and independent winemaker. Only 6,000 bottles of this were made, and the result is a Muscat that has the characteristic aromas of honey and honeysuckle, but is completely dry. I think everyone was expecting sweetness and was pleasantly surprised at the flavor. I'm not sure how I would serve this (there's a perfect cheese just out of my mental grasp), but I found it to be another true delight from this master class.

Check out these other great reviews of the same tasting! The V.I.P. Table "A Regional Tour of Italian Whites", The Reverse Wine Snob "Excellent Italian Whites - Exploring the White Wines of Italy Including Two Bulk Buy Selections", Vindulge "Learning about the white wines of Italy with Snooth – one region at a time", Wine Julia "#SnoothPVA: Indigenous Varietal Italian White Wines From North to South", My Vine Spot "#SnoothPVA: White Wines of Italy"

Note: This trip was provided by Snooth.

06 May 2013

De Martino Organic Wines of Chile

This particular wine tasting came about as a result of my new relationship with Snooth as well as my friendship with fellow blogger and journalist extraordinaire Susannah Gold, who was working with Opici, importer of these wines to the United States. Somehow, I ended up with a double set of samples. This happens occasionally, and I tend to assuage any Presbyterian guilt by giving away the extra bottles as gifts to friends and family. I happen to have a couple of neighbors from Chile that are pretty friendly, and even friendlier when I can pass them some bottles of Chilean wine. Nothing makes me happier than taking the gentle suburban nod at the mailbox to the next level.

We're talking here about the organic Chilean wines of De Martino, tasted online with the folks from Snooth, the winemakers, a bunch of my buddies from the weekend in NYC, and other wine bloggers that I have yet to meet in person.

2012 De Martino Estate Sauvignon Blanc
Maipo Valley, Chile
100% Sauvignon Blanc
$14, 13.5% abv.

Light nose of lemongrass and grapefruit pith. Very mild body with balanced acidity and a brief finish. If there was ever a wine made to go along with raw fish, this is it. I enjoyed it with some salmon and tuna sashimi, and the wasabi didn't diminish any of the flavors.

2011 De Martino Estate Cabernet Sauvignon
Maipo Valley, Chile
100% Cabernet Sauvignon
$14, 13.5% abv.

For a bargain cab sav, this one is quite gentle and restrained with mild red cherry notes and low tannins. I'd suggest pairing this with roast pork and grilled vegetables.

2011 De Martino Estate Carménère
Maipo Valley, Chile
100% Carménère
$14, 13.5% abv.

Classic Carménère profile with heavy green bell pepper and meaty aromas, elements of leather and coffee. Once again, a good bargain, and strongly recommended with steak. I'm thinking a good, heavily seasoned New York strip grilled over fire with some chimichurri sauce on the side.

2010 De Martino Reserva Legado Cabernet Sauvignon-Malbec
Maipo Valley, Chile
$18, 13.5% abv.

This one was a lot of fun, with what I often think of as a "cherry pie" note: bright red cherries, toasty pie crust, and a creamy, mellow finish. That's not to imply that it's sweet, but whenever I encounter that particular combination it makes me smile. Definitely a testament to good blending. As is often the case, for this wine I don't have a specific food pairing but will instead say that it's a better match for a good book or a sentimental movie.

Note: These wines were received as samples.

03 May 2013

Dinner on the Mountain

Following our lunch on the mountain, I cleaned up the kitchen and zoned out for an hour while the others went to look around the Winthrop Rockefeller Institute and visit a local farmer's market. (I passed Julia a twenty and asked her to grab whatever she wanted--she brought back sheep's milk cheese, honey, and peach jam. All delicious.)

There's a substantial cattle raising operation on the mountain and surrounding area, focused on the Santa Gertrudis breed. Producing the Santa Gertrudis is a little complicated, requiring 3/8 Brahman Bos indicus and 5/8 Shorthorn Bos taurus. The benefit of this hybridization is a cow that puts on a lot of meat but can tolerate hot and dry climates. I was taking photos of some of the calves when this heifer started racing towards me.

Speaking of heifers, the Institute donates some cattle to Heifer International, a charity organization that provides livestock for people in developing nations. Instead of just sending food, they send healthy and hearty chickens and bees and cows and other animals that can help build sustainable food-producing operations in places where people are hungry.

For dinner that evening, I started out with a selection of cheeses, capicola, and pickles. Folks nibbled and sipped on a little wine before I served my sweet potato soup, requested by Molly and Julia. I made it a little differently this time, omitting the chicken stock and focusing on the flavors of sweet potato and ginger and Riesling. I liked it, but the soup is good either way.

2012 Bokisch Vineyards Albariño
Terra Alta Vineyard, Lodi, California
100% Albariño
$18, 12.5% abv.

Bright and tart with great citrus aromas and flavors. The acidity worked well with the slightly spicy soup. I'm excited about what American winemakers are doing with Albariño.

2012 LangeTwins Sangiovese Rosé
Lodi, California
100% Sangiovese
$13, 12.5% abv.

With the rosé, I made another repeat dish, grilled shrimp with sweet peppers and a salad. This pink wine had dominant elements of wild strawberry and lemon, dry but with full fruit flavors. A very pleasant weekend sipper.

Paul provided the main course of a ribeye roast while I prepared the side dishes: roasted cipollinis, grilled asparagus, and a homemade horseradish sauce. When you're putting this much beef on the table, it's time to open four wines. Continuing with Lodi:

2011 St. Amant Winery Mohr-Fry Old Vine Zinfandel
Lodi, California
$18, 15.5% abv.

Anna really enjoyed this particular wine, which was rich and dark with aromas of black cherry and pepper. Just a little hint of that chocolate and bramble that you can get from the older vines.

2011 Michael David Winery Bechtold Vineyard Ancient Vine Cinsault
Lodi, California
100% Cinsault
$20, 13.8% abv.

I was really excited to try this wine. You don't see a lot of single-variety Cinsault, even from France, and I had a great lunch with the CEO of Michael David when he came to Memphis a few years ago. Produced from 127-year old vines, this wine goes deep with an earthy nose of beef and leather, though red cherry elements start to emerge later. Smooth and tasty with a lingering finish. Highly recommended, and a great bargain.

We continued with a pair of wines from Argentina.

2010 Altimus Estate
Cafayate, Argentina
40% Cabernet Sauvignon, 35% Malbec, 15% Bonarda, 5% Tannat, and 5% Syrah
$35, 15% abv.

Aromas of prunes and dried cherries, with a tart and slightly acidic flavor. Quite a big wine, and one that was well suited to the slow-roasted beef.

2009 Finca Flichman Dedicado
Mendoza, Argentina
85% Malbec, 10% Cabernet Sauvignon, and 5% Syrah
$30, 14.5% abv.

The first thing that strikes you is that this is one heavy bottle, taller and thicker than usual. However, inside the wine is not something that needed to be in a maximum security prison--you get lots of great red fruit flavors, with red cherry, cassis, and raspberry. With breathing, deeper undertones of wood and leather begin to develop.

As is my custom, with everyone fed and multiple rounds of dishes washed and many courses served, I retired to the living room with a glass of the Cinsault and relaxed. Paul and Anna took care of the last round of dishes, and everyone milled around, trying the many wines of the evening, but mostly talking and having a good time. That's what a successful dinner party is all about, and why I was excited to recreate the ribeye roast dinner that Paul and I used to put on when he lived here in Memphis.

Anna took care of dessert with her pots de crème, made without completely melting the chocolate so that tiny chunks of solid chocolate remained, providing a toothsome texture. The eggs used to make the dish came from her own chickens, and the result was decadent and rich.

We stayed up past midnight, and then one by one retired to the back bedrooms of the guest house. Needless to say, I slept like a rock in the quiet, cool mountain air. Can't wait to go back!

Note: These wines were provided as samples.