30 May 2006

Memorial Day Dinner

This is the first in a series of postings in which I attempt to track down and recall what transpired Monday evening, during a Memorial Day feast. I got to meet a great chap and his wife that I'd previously known only through a mutual friend and e-mail lists. Tom brought down a bunch of wine for his visit, and I brought a few bottles and cooked dinner. To kick things off, I started out with my favorite sparkler, the Domaine Ste. Michelle Blanc de Noirs. The first course consisted of grilled tilapia over blood oranges and bay leaves, fried green tomatoes, and a fire-roasted red pepper cream sauce to go with both, garnished with goat cheese and microgreens. For the wine, I served the 2005 Domaine de la Petite Cassagne, from the great importer Robert Kacher. This is mostly a GSM blend, and has a deep and lovely lavender color. Bright strawberry aromas and flavors with a dry finish. It's also a biodynamic wine, and I think the first one I've knowningly consumed. I don't have anything against the method, I'm just not convinced it does any good. We also opened one of Tom's bottles, the humorously named 2004 Rosenblum California Côte du Bone Roan, Château La Paws. An unusual blend of red grapes, but the Zinfandel gives it some wonderful complexity. Great fruit flavors without heavy tannins. Oddly a great pairing for this first course.

For the second course, I made a deconstructed navarin d'agneau, a traditional lamb stew. But it's too hot here for a stew, and I had a vegetarian present at the meal, so it was more fun to do it in pieces. I slathered the leg of lamb in Dijon mustard, garlic, and fresh mint, and grilled it over hot coals. At the same time, I was roasting a bunch of baby vegetables: potatoes, carrots, turnips, onions, and fennel, all coated in olive oil and fresh rosemary. And off to the side, I was reducing down a hearty sauce of red wine and beef broth. For the wine, we had one of Tom's, a Spanish Rioja by the name of Sierra Cantabria. (I'll double check the name and vintage later, but it was from the late nineties.) We decanted it and let it sit for half an hour before consuming, and it was a thing of beauty. Deep, rich black fruit flavors, with mellowed tannins and a velvety finish.

Beyond that, the evening devolved into a procession of Port and whiskey and me slouched in the chair, stuffed and content that all had gone well.

2000 Skouras Saint George

On the second evening of festivities at Paul's house with Tom and Jenny, we cracked open a bottle of the 2000 Skouras Saint George, a Greek wine from the Peloponessos region. The wine is made from the Saint George grape, known as Αγιωργιτικω in Greece. I have zero experience with Greek wines, aside from hearing rumors of the heavily pine scented retsina reds. And for some reason, I find it hard to think of Greek wine in a modern setting, and imagine togas and Dionysus and lots of half-naked maidens carrying amphorae sloshing over with potent wine... Ahem.

However, this is a light and mild red wine, possibly having benefited from careful aging over time. I get hints of chocolate on top, with milder fruit flavors below. Low tannins--quite light, but with enough acidity to keep things interesting. Fun to try out if you can find a bottle of it. Thanks, Tom!

24 May 2006

Tennessee Wine Festival

On May 20th, my lovely traveling companion and I attended the A Toast to Tennessee Wine Festival. A good friend in Nashville scored us some tickets to the event, and we spent the day in Middle Tennessee both at the festival and visiting with my friend. The event was held at the Nashville Superspeedway, a NASCAR race track to the east of the city. As of now, I may be the only wine blogger who has attended a tasting at a NASCAR facility.

If you want to try Tennessee wines, this annual event is the place to do it. There's about two dozen wineries in the state, and fourteen of them were present. I tasted at least one wine from each winery, and out of the hundred-odd wines present I sampled 26. I primarily sought out wines made from grapes that were either Native American varieties or French-American hybrids. I tasted a few made from traditional European grapes. There were some more I wanted to try, but I think I reached the limit of my palate. For that reason I also skipped almost all of the fruit-based wines (berries, mostly, with one rhubarb wine). In addition to the wines, Tennessee cheesemakers and other food producers were present, offering samples of their wares. This was a nice treat--I got to try some great artisanal cheeses, as well as fresh salsas, sausages, etc.

There's not a lot of online information on these wines, though I've provided links to contact information. When referencing some of the more unusual grape varieties, I've provided links to the Appellation America Grapes Varieties Index, which provides humorous character profiles and illustrations of each grape in addition to hard information about the background and growing regions of said grapes.

Unless otherwise noted, nearly all wines were fermented in stainless steel. After a dozen unoaked wines, you find yourself craving oak. For those unfamiliar with Tennessee geography, West Tennessee is flat, Middle Tennessee is hilly, and East Tennessee is mountainous.

Lauderdale Cellars, West Tennessee
  • Tennessee Peach: A sweet white wine with peach juice added. A really beautiful color--it had that slight blush of salmon you see in homemade peach ice cream. Really sweet, though.

Chateau Ross Vineyard & Winery, Middle Tennessee
  • Viognier: Lemon and big fruit flavors, clear and clean.
  • Maison Rouge: Cabernet Franc, Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot. Creamy, spicy, some vegetable elements from the Cabernet Franc. Really quite nice.
  • Big Bitch Red: Amusing names were in abundance at this wine festival... A combination of many different red grapes. Soft, not too tannic, but the flavors are too heavily blended for anything to stand above the crowd. Good basic red wine.
  • Catawba: Native American grape. Smoky, foxy, but not sweet. I've had Catawba before that was as sweet as pancake syrup, but it was interesting to taste a drier version of the wine. The... earthiness can be offputting to some.

Beans Creek Winery, Middle Tennessee
  • Traminette: Very similar to Gewürtztraminer, which is one of the parent grapes of this hybrid. Spicy and sweet, but a rough aftertaste.
  • Chardonel: The flavors were similar to Chardonnay, but it needed more acidity. The name reminds me somewhat of the artificial vanilla substitute vanillin, or that it's a grey-market knockoff of Chardonnay.
  • Chambourcin Reserve: Wow. Tastes very similar to Merlot, but there's something in the background letting you know it's different. Mellow and fruit-forward, mild tannins. Definitely try a Chambourcin if you get the chance. This was aged in American oak for 8 months.

Keg Springs Winery, Middle Tennessee
  • Vidal Blanc: This hybrid grape is commonly used for making ice wine in Canada. Musky nose, semi-dry and lemony. Needs a little more punch, but definitely worth trying.
  • Crusade: Made from Concord grapes, which are native to North America. Sweet, but the flavor is a lot of fun. Rather than reminding you of wine, the taste is exactly that of purple grape juice and purple grape jelly. In fact, the flavor threw me back to Sunday School. Concord wines aren't taken seriously, but I found them one of the pleasant surprises of the day.

Sumner Crest Winery, Middle Tennessee
  • Sumner Queen: A white blend of Riesling and French hybrids. Very sweet, difficult to discern any dominant flavors. Reminiscent of a late harvest Riesling.

Holly Ridge Winery and Vineyard, Middle Tennessee
  • Hogeye Red: A sweet blush wine of unknown grapes. Good summertime wine if you like them sweet.
  • Seyval Blanc: A hybrid that's quite popular in England. Overly musky with a thin flavor.

Beachaven Vineyards & Winery, Middle Tennessee
  • Barrelhead Red: Chambourcin and Merlot Blend. Dry, mild fruit flavors and medium tannins. Excellent casual drinking red.

Stonehaus Winery, Middle Tennessee
  • Fairfield Red: Another Concord that was on the drier side, thanks to blending from some European grapes.

Highland Manor Winery, Middle Tennessee
  • Highland Red: Chambourcin and Marechal-Foch blend. Sort of rough, cough syrup flavor.

Mountain Valley Vineyards, East Tennessee
  • Cynthiana: Merlot-like, with cherry flavors abounding. Very enjoyable.
  • Mountain Valley Blush: Unknown grapes. Semi-dry, no prominent flavors.

Tennessee Valley Winery, East Tennessee
  • Appalachian Red: A combination of Cabernet Franc and Cynthiana, oak aged. Solid tannins, black cherry flavors, and decent balance. I'd definitely try this again.
  • Captain's Reserve: Chardonnay and Seyval Blanc blend. Burnt match nose, ultimately thin flavors.

Apple Barn Winery, East Tennessee
  • Vineyard White: Unknown grapes. Dry, with low fruit flavors and low acids. Similar to Pinot Grigio.
  • Applewood White: Made from Winesaps and other apples. I cheated here, because I love apples and really wanted to try an apple wine. It turned out to be my favorite out of the entire tasting. It's hard to describe: not terribly sweet, but amazing apple flavors and aromas. Unique feel and body that is distinct from apple juice, apple cider, and hard cider.

Savannah Oaks Winery, East Tennessee
  • Etowah Derailer: Sweet light red blend, bright cherry flavors. Think a sweet Beaujolais, but I'm not sure what grapes were used.

Striker's Premium, East Tennessee
  • Cynthiana: Also known as Norton in different parts of the country. Considered to be one of the Native American grapes with the best prospect for serious wine production. Peppery and spicy, low tannins and crisp acidity for a red. Definitely looking forward to trying more of these wines in the future.
  • Baco Noir: A hybrid red that I really didn't enjoy. Astringent nose and tasted like thin cough syrup.

21 May 2006

The Wine Century Club

Dr. Vino recently wrote about tasting his 100th grape and joining the Wine Century Club. Membership is free, and you get a certificate honoring your accomplishment. It works on the honor system, so it's mostly for fun. I went to a wine festival this weekend--more on that later--and got to try some unusual grapes. Late last night I decided to go through my notes and figure out how many grapes I've tried.


As in, exactly 100 after yesterday's encounter with some oddballs. I just finished going through the list and auditing it, removing any duplicates (Spanish grapes often have multiple names, and some Italian grapes have different names in Spain and France). But it looks like it's solid. And it may be slightly more--I stopped digging through my notes when I hit Welschriesling and made it to 100. (Of course, I think you could probably spend a month in Italy and hit 200 grapes easy, but most would be unknown outside of their various regions.)

The vast majority of these are from posts on this blog, though sometimes you might have to follow the link to the winemaker to get the grape varieties. A few others are from old handwritten notes before I started the blog, and some include the Port and Sherry grapes, of which I've had a lot but don't blog about often.

My list includes eleven that aren't on the Century Club spreadsheet, mostly French-American hybrids and some obscure Spanish grapes. But I've researched each one, and they appear to be unique varieties, just not terribly popular. Here it is:

  1. Albarino
  2. Aligote
  3. Arinto
  4. Arneis
  5. Baco Noir
  6. Barbera
  7. Bianca Fernanda
  8. Blaufrankisch
  9. Bobal
  10. Bonarda
  11. Brachetto
  12. Cabernet Franc
  13. Cabernet Sauvignon
  14. Canaiolo
  15. Carignane
  16. Carmenere
  17. Catawba
  18. Chambourcin
  19. Chancellor
  20. Chardonel
  21. Chardonnay
  22. Chenin Blanc
  23. Colombard
  24. Colorino
  25. Concord
  26. Cortese
  27. Corvina
  28. Dolcetto
  29. Dornfelder
  30. Gamay
  31. Garganega
  32. Gewurtztraminer
  33. Godello
  34. Grenache
  35. Gruner Veltliner
  36. Kadarka
  37. Kerner
  38. Loureiro
  39. Macabeo
  40. Malbec
  41. Malvasia
  42. Malvasia Nera
  43. Marechal Foch
  44. Marsanne
  45. Melon de Bourgogne
  46. Merlot
  47. Meunier
  48. Molinara
  49. Montepulciano
  50. Mourvedre
  51. Muller Thurgau
  52. Muscadelle
  53. Muscadine
  54. Muscat Blanc
  55. Muscat of Alexandria
  56. Muscat Ottonel
  57. Nebbiolo
  58. Negroamaro
  59. Niagara
  60. Norton
  61. Palomino
  62. Parellada
  63. Pedro Ximenez
  64. Petit Verdot
  65. Petite Sirah
  66. Pinot Blanc
  67. Pinot Gris
  68. Pinot Noir
  69. Pinotage
  70. Prosecco
  71. Refosco
  72. Riesling
  73. Rondinella
  74. Roussanne
  75. Ruby Cabernet
  76. Sangiovese
  77. Sauvignon blanc
  78. Semillon
  79. Seyval Blanc
  80. Steuben
  81. Syrah
  82. Tannat
  83. Tempranillo
  84. Tinta Barroca
  85. Tinto Cao
  86. Tocai Fruilano
  87. Torrontes
  88. Touriga Franca
  89. Touriga Nacional
  90. Traminette
  91. Trajadura
  92. Trebbiano
  93. Trepat
  94. Verdejo
  95. Verdelho
  96. Vidal
  97. Viognier
  98. Welschriesling
  99. Xarel-lo
  100. Zinfandel

17 May 2006

Galena Cellars General's Reserve Red

Following a trip to Chicago to visit some relatives, my sister-in-law gave me a bottle of the Galena Cellars General's Reserve Red. The label features the visage of Ulysses S. Grant, 18th U.S. president, Union Civil War hero, and favorite son of Galena, Illinois, where this wine is made. (It's basically the etching from the old version of the $50 bill.) Oddly enough, the label features one of my favorite fonts, Souvenir, alongside one of my least favorite, Snell Roundhand. Ah well...

I'm not really sure what grapes are in this. The back label claims that it's made from a blend of European and American Hybrid grapes, while various websites claim that it's a Bordeaux-style blend using grapes from Sonoma. Yet other websites claim that it's an unorthodox blend of Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, and Pinot Noir.

As I type this, I'm uncorking the bottle and trying it out... And the damned thing is eaten up with brett. Whenever I bring the glass to my nose all I can smell is rotten asparagus. The wine tastes OK, if a little bitter, but the smell is so overpowering that I can't stand it. I appreciate the gift, and will give this a second try if I come across it, but this bottle's going down the drain. And I've been looking forward to it all day...

15 May 2006


When it comes to growing plants, I never really had much of an urge. My maternal grandmother was a horticultural wizard, able to grow damned near anything. She had a bamboo grove in her backyard, and growing up my brother and I could have Star Wars-style lightsaber fights with 20 ft. long dried bamboo poles. She grew championship roses and African violets and tulips and daffodils and all sorts of other things. In fact, there wasn't a surface inside or outside that wasn't covered with a growing plant. She passed away a few years ago.

On both the maternal and paternal sides of my family, I'm descended from farmers. Mostly cotton, with some corn and the odd livestock for family provisions. What remains of the family farms are mostly used for cotton, which is still one of the major cash crops of the Mid-South. I never spent any time working on a farm, and aside from one summer when we raised corn and pumpkins in the backyard, I have no experience farming. However, this year I was for some reason compelled to grow things. Here's a list of what's currently growing in my various pots and gardens:

Microgreens, Basil, Chives, Rosemary, Greek Oregano

Tomatoes: Brandy Boy, Fourth of July, Yellow Pear, Big Mama, Sweet Baby, Sun Gold, Husky Red
JalapeƱo Peppers, Cilantro, four colors of carrots (yellow, orange, red, purple)

The herbs are going quite well, and I'm able to harvest them along the way and grow more as needed. It will be a month or two before I harvest any tomatoes, but I'm really looking forward to all of these unusual varieties. As for the carrots, I'll be amazed if any of them make it, but I'd really like to try a purple carrot at some point in my life.

Why am I doing this? There's some things you can't buy in the store or at the farmer's market. For instance, those little yellow pear tomatoes. The size of cherry tomatoes, but shaped like a pear and bright yellow, with a delicious flavor. Stick on a toothpick with a chunk of feta cheese and a basil leaf. Flavor bomb appetizer.

14 May 2006

Tasting Notes for May 13, 2006

I was looking forward to this tasting for a couple of weeks... All of the wines featured were going to be from The Grateful Palate, a popular importer of Australian wines. (The website doesn't have any wine information, but you can see a comprehensive list of the Grateful Palate wines here.)

I got there a little early, and was going over the tasting sheet, checking off the ones I'd tried before. I was certainly going to try them again, but I saw some of my favorite Australian labels on there: Paringa, Marquis Philips, and Trevor Jones. A guy came up, tapped me on the shoulder and asked if I was there alone. I figured he wanted the other seat, which I was more than happy to give up. Instead, he shook my hand and said, "Hi, I'm Dan Philips." As in, the owner of The Grateful Palate. Super nice guy. We talked off and on throughout the tasting, and in particular I asked him about the Nuriootpa High School wines, which are produced by a sort of vocational education program. The students pick the grapes and make the wines, and all proceeds go back to the high school.

I've tasted about half of these wines before. Last year I got to sit down with Trevor Jones at a tasting and go through his entire product line, but I was happy to see those wines again.

Wine 1: 2004 Trevor Jones Boots White. Barossa Valley, Australia. A mix of Riesling and Muscat. Sweet nose with apple aromas and smoky notes on the tongue. Balanced acids and not as sweet as you first think. $13.

Wine 2: 2004 Marquis Philips Holly's Blend. Padthaway, Australia. You know, I forgot to ask for the preferred pronunciation of "Marquis" when referring to this wine. Americans tend to pronounce the first name "mar-KEE" and Australians I've met have called it "MAR-kwiss". I didn't particularly like this wine, it's got a heavy vegetal aroma that was offputting. Rough finish as well. A combination of Semillon and Verdelho. I liked this last year, so I'm willing to bet it was an off bottle. $10.

Wine 3: 2004 Paringa Chardonnay-Semillon-Sauvignon Blanc. South Australia. Grapefruit on the nose, but the creamy feel and taste of Chardonnay. Crisp acidic finish. Interesting little bargain. $10.

Wine 4: 2002 Trevor Jones Boots Grenache. Barossa Valley, Australia. I liked this one so much I took a bottle home and devoured most of it with dinner. It's got a creamy cherry aroma, almost like a cherry tart with whipped cream on it and lots of butter in the crust. Big fruit and soft tannins with a medium finish. Touch of chocolate flavor. Bigger than a Rhone-style wine but not as aggressive as some California Grenache I've had, even though it ranked in at 15% alcohol. $14.

Wine 5: 2004 McLean's Farm Shiraz-Cabernet Sauvignon. Barossa Valley, Australia. Some black cherry and pepper on the nose. Very dry, with mild tannins and a short finish. More alcohol becomes present on the tongue as you go along.

Wine 6: 2001 Alliance Shiraz. South Australia. Plum aromas, with a mild scent of a ruby Port. Delicious, with tannins that melt in your mouth. Quite nice for the price. $14.

Wine 7: 2001 Brothers in Arms Shiraz. Langhorne Creek, Australia. Alcoholic, hot aroma, but with plenty of classic Shiraz flavor. Short finish. I actually preferred the Alliance to this one. $36.

Wine 8: 2004 Marquis Philips S2 Cabernet Sauvignon. South Australia. Buttery aroma, deep and rich feel, very dark and intense color, yet velvety smooth on the tongue. Wow. $35.

Wine 9: Trevor Jones "Jonesy" Tawny Port. Barossa Valley, Australia. An amazing Port for the price. Molasses and raisins dominate the flavor, with some figs and chocolate in the background. Alcohol is subdued, and it's not too thick or sticky. $10.

12 May 2006

Flying Dog Gonzo Imperial Porter

I've got a cool wine tasting to attend Saturday, and then the following Saturday should produce a rather unique wine writeup... And the week after that I've got a big wine-based dinner party planned. But for tonight, it's yet another big beer.

I've always enjoyed the beers of Flying Dog Brewery, and though it's a shallow reason, I've always loved the labels, which are drawn by the great Ralph Steadman. In addition to doing some wine labels for Bonny Doon, he's also written and illustrated several books that take you on a bizarre and irreverent tour through wine country and whiskey country. His writeup on "Brit", a short-lived English version of Port, is hilarious.

Steadman was a longtime friend and collaborator with the immortal Hunter S. Thompson. To commemorate Thompson's death last year, Flying Dog has released the special edition Gonzo Imperial Porter, which features a skeleton dressed as Thompson on the label, as well as an amusing quote from the good Doctor.

This is a hell of a beer. It clocks in at a whopping 9.5% alcohol, surpassing some wines. It's got a slightly sour aroma at first, but don't let that fool you. It's a surprisingly smooth brew, almost solid black with a very light head on it and almost no carbonation. The flavor is dominated by chocolate and coffee, with just enough sweetness to keep it from being too bitter. Still, this is a powerful wine, thick and almost sticky. It actually clings to the side of a glass like brandy (and, in fact, it was consumed out of large red wine glasses). Perfect for relaxing and sipping. A buddy and I consumed one each while watching a movie and could barely move afterwards.

A box of four 12 oz. bottles runs $10, which is a bargain for such a fine beer. A single bottle is plenty to savor over the course of an hour or two following dinner--drinking this with a meal would be like trying to drink espresso syrup. I can't imagine drinking two in a row. You know that lovely golden crema that forms on the top of a properly made espresso? That's exactly what the head on this beer looks like.

I'll close with a classic Thompson quote, the opening lines of Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas:

We were somewhere around Barstow on the edge of the desert when the drugs began to take hold. I remember saying something like "I feel a bit lightheaded; maybe you should drive..." And suddenly there was a terrible roar all around us and the sky was full of what looked like huge bats, all swooping and screeching and diving around the car, which was going about a hundred miles an hour with the top down to Las Vegas. And a voice was screaming: "Holy Jesus! What are these goddamn animals?"

07 May 2006

Two Beers

Fear not, this isn't turning into a beer blog. However, I'm getting access to a lot of fantastic beers these days, and it's a delicious voyage. Eric Asimov has been writing a good bit about fine beer recently, and while addressing wine drinkers' attitudes towards beer, wrote in part:
Would you only eat meat and never try fish? We all know people like that, and we laugh at them. But people who drink only wine and won't touch beer? They're considered sophisticated. Excuse me while I chuckle.

Now, I'm not attacking preferences here, only the refusal to consider alternatives. If you have explored beer and decided it's not for you, well, I toast your open mind.


This replies in reverse as well, beer drinkers ought to be more willing to try wine, but they're generally not snobbish about it.

In my continuing run through the Unibroue product line, I had a bottle of the Don de Dieu. It pours a cloudy golden color, but it's as hearty as many darker beers. When the notes say full-bodied, believe it. There's some spice there, and elements of dried apricot, but mostly you're enjoying a very rich and well-balanced beer. Almost sweet at times. And that 9% alcohol makes you drink this much slower than you would a light lager, for instance.

I also had the Sierra Nevada Bigfoot, which is a barleywine-style ale. Probably the heartiest and fullest beer I've ever had, and this is my second time ordering it at the nearby gourmet beer establishment. Served in a brandy snifter, this is almost solid black and is as strong as espresso. Heavily spiced and not fizzy at all. You get all sorts of wonderful complexity from the malts and hops. I know a lot of people who are terrified to drink Guinness Extra Stout because the strong flavor scares them; Bigfoot makes that Extra Stout taste like skim milk. I love this stuff, but you've really got to enjoy it as a final beverage after a meal or after you've drunk other beers. Afterwards, you're not going to be able to taste anything properly.