23 June 2006

Combinations #3: Flatbreads with Spiced Chicken, Pistachios and Roasted Peppers

It's time for Combinations #3, hosted by the chaps from Leeds. I missed the second one--a combination of work and forgetfulness got in the way, but Andrew was kind enough to remind me about it this month.

Speaking of which, if you go to Andrew's site, you can see the official Combinations logo, which I designed. I submitted a handful of designs to Andrew, he picked one, I refined it, and you can see the final result:

And here's my favorite alternate:

And the one that was probably a bad idea from the start:

On to the food! I managed to find most of the ingredients, even though I came up dry on my first visit to my favorite Persian-Turkish place. The lady of the shop gave me directions to another supplier, and in thanks I bought some baklava and assorted desserts. (I felt bad since upon seeing me enter she almost started making my standard döner kebab.) Upon arrival at the next place, I asked for lavash and za'atar. She didn't know what I was talking about, despite being from the region. I walked down the aisles with her, and found the za'atar. In the frozen section, she pulled out what looked like a baguette, and I said, "No, it's a flat bread." She began to hand me a bag of rolls when I found a few dozen flat bags filled with lavash, and with the word "Lavash" in big letters on the front. At the shop I also picked up some pisatchios sans shells. I couldn't find any sumac, but I could see plenty of the little red bits in the za'atar. I'll be giving the rest of the huge jar of this spice to my Syrian friend.

Way back in the day, my mother and grandmother used to occasionally brew sumac to make a sort of tea or "Indian lemonade", due to it's acidic and bitter flavor before adding sugar. Sumac grows wild all over the Mid-South, and everybody takes it for granted. Though the occasional hippie or art student will grab some for an herbal cure or pigment.

I made some slight modifications to the recipe: I used my homegrown chives instead of green onions, and I used minced green pepper for the chicken mixture rather than red. The original recipe from the New York Times suggests squares of six inches or fifteen centimeters. This provided me with twelve squares, and Paul and I consumed two each. Also, for the yogurt sauce (not pictured), I added a handful of my fresh mint, which provided a nice kick. And just because I could, I decided to pair the meal with fried green tomatoes.

Despite doubling up on all the spices and adding a lot of Tabasco sauce, I still found the meal dull. It wasn't bad, and it was definitely filling, but somehow the chicken mixture just didn't work for me. I really found myself craving a bit of tomato sauce and cheese to help it be more like a pizza. That may have something to do with my childhood friends of Lebanese descent, whose parents used lavash to make all sorts of fun fusion cuisine. (I also think this dish would have been better with lamb than chicken--it just needed more oomph.)

The wine I chose was actually a gift from my friend Tom, who dropped it off on his recent visit. I speak here of the 2005 Knobstone Traminette from Huber Winery in Indiana. Traminette is a Gewürztraminer hybrid. My previous experience with the grape was not pleasant, but this is fantastic. It tastes very much like a classic Gewürztraminer, but with a drier, crisper, and more lemony taste to it. As something of a random choice, it paired quite nicely with the Middle Eastern fare. The aroma is floral and mild, and the taste aside from the aforementioned spice and lemon has good elements of honey, with just a hint of acidity to keep things interesting. An excellent wine all around.

20 June 2006

2004 Cellier des Dauphins Prestige Rosé

Welcome to the Summer of Rosé 2: Electric Boogaloo!

Last summer I burned through as many dry rosés as my wallet and liver could handle. I intend to continue this quest this summer, with the goal as always of buying bottles I've never tried before. I've already had a couple in the past two months, but here's a great one to kick off the summer: the 2004 Cellier des Dauphins Prestige Rosé, a Côtes du Rhône rosé from around Provence that is made of Grenache, Cinsault, and Syrah. $12. The English site refers to the color as "deep rosé", but I prefer the French version, rosé vif, roughly vivid pink. In France, a lot of the same terms are used for describing rosé wines, actual roses, and lipstick. Some might make the association that drinking rosés is an effeminate act; on the contrary, I say that such descriptors are used much in the way that the manliest of men with a good grasp of their mother tongue will describe a car or boat in feminine, often sensual terms.

Rosés often don't have a lot to offer on the nose, and this one is no different. Yet it tastes wonderful. Good crisp berry flavors, bright and lively on the tongue due to some well-balanced acidity. Almost no aftertaste at all, which is perfect for a summer wine. Imagine raspberry lemonade that isn't sweet or overly tart, and you've got a good idea where this wine begins. After coming home from work and tending to the herbs and tomato plants, I drank this wine along with some grilled chicken and chorizo tacos, served on small white corn tortillas. Quite a good pairing, especially with some black beans on the side.

Side note: my bottle was the same old-fashioned shape as the one pictured in the link above, but the label was a little different. Similar design, but instead of a multicolored border, there was a simple and classy gold foil border around the calligraphic text.

19 June 2006

Welcome, Vino Keeno!

Over on the left hand side you'll see a new blogger link... I speak of Vino Keeno. Fun little wineblog, excellent graphics, and I immediately recognized a handful of wines I've tasted in the "Recent Wine Reviews" column. Give it a look, you'll be glad you did. And it really makes me think that I ought to spruce this place up one of these days...

18 June 2006

2004 Coppola Diamond Series Claret

In looking up the link for this wine, I discovered that Niebaum-Coppola is now going by the name Rubicon Estate. And apparently there's nothing on there about the old Coppola wines. A shame, as the Claret was always one of my favorites, as was the Sauvignon Blanc.

Dad took the family out to eat for Father's Day... I know that sounds odd, but he just wanted to see everyone for the day. We had dinner at Carrabba's, a chain Italian restaurant that's fairly decent. Dad had already ordered the 2004 Coppola Claret before I arrived, and I adjusted my entree selection for the wine. He had the sirloin, I had the pork chops marsala. The lentil and sausage soup was excellent, and I'd highly reccommend it to anyone who visits. Plus, their fried calamari is made with very small squid, so you get several tiny clusters of tentacles in addition to the standard rings. I almost made the rest of the table ill by claiming all the tentacles for myself. But truly, they're the best part.

The wine was quite good, full of dark berry flavors and just a hint of herbs and vegetation and leather on the nose. I think this bottle could have used another year, but I was happy with it. And it was good to split the bottle with Dad--no one else was drinking that evening. Dad's really responsible for my love of wine. He started getting a lot of wine as gifts back when I was in high school, and he let me cook with whatever I wanted. I was also encouraged to take a sip from the measuring cup, as long as I didn't tell Mom. (It was in that manner that I discovered the joy of a half glass of wine while cooking a big dinner. Just enough to relax you, but not enough to make you sloppy or forgetful.) Dad and I differ a bit when it comes to drinking: I prefer dark beers and powerful red wines, he prefers lagers and Merlot. However, Dad's a staunch fan of Scotch, and it takes me a while to work up to the point where I can truly enjoy the blessed whisky.

Here's to you, Dad. May we raise many glasses together in the years to come.

Tasting Notes for June 17, 2006

The theme for this tasting was supposed to be "Ugly Labels, Good Wines". I disagree with the statement about the labels for the most part--naturally it's a matter of personal opinion, but I've seen very few labels that are truly ugly. Some are better than others, but as long as it gets the information across and is distinctive enough to make it easy to remember, I don't have a problem with it. Hopefully the links will provide you with a chance to look at the labels, and just for kicks I'll give my opinion on each.

Wine 1: 2002 Rutz Sauvignon Blanc. North Cost, California. Major anise aromas, creamy and fruit-forward. Interesting flavor. $11. The label is obviously inspired by the work of Roy Lichtenstein, which I find cool. The "RVTS" thing is interesting, though I can't stand the font used for the thought bubbles.

Wine 2: 2004 Four Emus "Kylie" Sauvignon Blanc/Semillon. Western Australia. Big round fruit flavor aromas, but ultimately musky tasting and dull. $11. I don't have the huge aversion to animal-based labels that most people have, but a emu heads aren't the most attractive thing in the world. Still clever, and it seems to be successful for the casual wine drinking market.

Wine 3: 2003 Georges Dubœuf Macon Villages Fleur. Macon, France. This is an unoaked Chardonnay. Cake aromas, crisp and clean flavor, yet still elegant. I loved this one. $14. Once again, I'm fond of the floral Dubœuf designs combined with clean, easy to read text.

Wine 4: 2004 White Truck California White Wine. Oakley/Sonoma, California. A blend of Sauvignon Blanc, Viognier, Marsanne, and Roussanne. I enjoyed the Red Truck wine, and found it to be a fun casual sipper for barbecues and the like. This has aromas of apple, peach, and apricot. Pleasant fruit flavors and just a touch of oak. Good basic everyday white. $11. Hey, I've lived my whole live amongst old pickup trucks, and my first car was a 13-year old white pickup truck with large patches of rust and a gray tailgate. This label gets two thumbs up in my book.

Wine 5: Sushiwine. Loire, France. The wine is French, the website is in Italian, and you can read a little about it in English here. This is a Chenin Blanc made with input from Japanese chefs and designed to go with sushi. Specifically, to hold up to the strong flavors of soy sauce. It's also quite possibly the worst wine I've ever smelled or tasted. It smells somewhere between turpentine and a strong medical antiseptic. Really harsh and astringent flavors. One sip and I had to spit, dump the rest, and rinse thoroughly. Everyone else at the tasting had the same reaction, and we even opened a second bottle in case it was a fluke. The second was just as bad. My advice: stick with sake when eating sushi. $13. Despite all of that, I like the minimalist sketch of the fish and mountains on the label, and the Japanese text is a nice touch.

Wine 6: 2005 New Gewürz Gewürztraminer. North Coast, California. One of the driest Gewürztraminers I've ever had, which means I loved it. Very light, with floral and spice aromas dominating. Light spicy flavor. $10. The label's not spectacular but it's far from ugly. Traditional harvest images are used for all sorts of agricultural products with great success.

Wine 7: 2004 Vidanueva Rosado. Rueda, Spain. 100% Tempranillo. A really disappointing rosé. Butter and toast aromas, with wild strawberries, but almost no taste. Mild, no body, flabby acidity. $12. Couldn't find a website, but it's pink and burgundy. Again, not really ugly or beautiful.

Wine 8: 2003 Nobul Red Tempranillo. Madrid, Spain. Pure Tempranillo. It has an alcoholic, Zinfandel or Port-like aroma. Black cherry flavors, but thin and too mild. $11. This label does commit some fundamental graphic design errors: black text and drawings on a red background are difficult to read, and yellow and red can do weird things to the eyes when placed right next to each other.

Wine 9: 2004 Rex Goliath 47 Pound Rooster Cabernet Sauvignon. Central Coast, California. Oddly tastes like Pinot Noir--straweberry flavors and smooth. Nice drying tannins. Pleasant sipper and excellent bargain. I've passed by this wine a million times and never wanted to pick it up. $10. I love this label--it's based on an old circus poster.

Wine 10: 2004 Bodegas y Viñedos de Murcia Jumilla Mad Dogs and Englishmen. Jumilla, Spain. A blend of Monastrell (Mourvedre), Shiraz, and Cabernet Sauvignon. Unusual mix, but a great wine. Dark black cherry flavors, firm tannins, and a mild aftertaste. $11. I consider this a classy label with an allusion to an amusing song.

Wine 11: 2004 Eric Texier Côtes du Rhône. Rhone, France. A blend of Grenache and Gamay. You mostly taste the Grenache, but it's softer than that grape alone. Good raspberry fruit and big tannins. $16. Probably the only truly ugly label out of the bunch. Lots of overlapping text kills the readability factor, and a bunch of ugly colors don't help either. Reminds me of a school textbook cover from the 1970s.

Wine 12: 2004 Laurel Glen Reds. Lodi, California. "A Wine for the People", it claims on the front. A blend of Zinfandel, Carignan, and Petite Syrah. Smells like a white wine, like a light Sauvignon Blanc. Floral and with a little grapefruit. Tastes entirely different--the Zinfandel dominates, and it has a bold full flavor. Really bizarre experience (confirmed by several other tasters and the host), but good wine. $12. The label's not that bad, but I've always found Soviet kitsch to be in poor taste. Plus lower in the page, they show a statue of Mao Tse-Tung and claim "The Chairman would have approved!" Sure, after being responsible for the deaths of tens of millions of Chinese, why not pop open a bottle of wine? It's a screwcap now, but the corks used to bear the images of Lenin and Marx, as well as Americans accused of being Communist sympathizers. Granted, the Soviet Union has collapsed and the Chinese are racing towards capitalism, but you'd never market "Folkswein" with a big swastika on the front and a stern image of Göring on the cork.

16 June 2006

Google Analytics

I'm part of the beta test group for a new service called Google Analytics. It's free, but you have to ask to join and may or not be let in for the beta testing. It provides you with a ton of data about your site and who visits it. I've only been using it for the past week--the first time in a year and a half of running this blog that I've ever tried to track how many readers I've got.

This handy map shows the past 500 visitors, which is about a week's worth. The small dots are one visitor a piece, the largest dots around the Memphis area are 9 and 12 visitors (though most of those have got to be me checking the site or looking up a wine I tasted):

Click to enlarge

And here's a zoomed-in version for North America and Europe. This is just a screenshot--when you mouse over the real report, it shows you the name of the city as well as the number of visitors from that city:

Click to enlarge

I'd just like to thank all the readers and visitors out there, hope y'all enjoy this site, and I look forward to providing wine reviews and random musings for years to come.

12 June 2006

Tomatoes Update

This is an update on my tomato growing project, in which I've got six plants of various varieties planted in the backyard, just on the other side of my kitchen. In fact, in a few of the pictures you can see a glimpse into my tiny kitchen with it's little white tile table and four chairs.

Pictured above is one of my first actual tomato fruits, about an eighth of an inch or 3mm wide. I've had a lot of blossoms, but many of them have dropped off. My red cherry plant has got several of these set, and I'm going to be carefully monitoring the others.

Apparently you can make wine from tomatoes, but I assure you, all of these are intended for fresh consumption, tomato sauces, and the odd roasting as on a pizza.

06 June 2006

2001 Cantina Zaccagnini Montepulciano d'Abruzzo

I had leftover lasagne in the fridge, and on the way home really wanted another Italian wine. Luckily, I stumbled upon an old favorite: the 2001 Cantina Zaccagnini Montepulciano d'Abruzzo. (Say that six times fast!) Affectionately known as "twig wine" in some parts, because of their marketing tactic of using a reed to tie a piece of dried grape vine around the neck of the bottle, fastened underneath the front label. A cheesy bit of marketing, but it's way more classy than the wicker basket Chianti bottles.

This wine tastes incredible right now. Not sure how long it will age, but right now it's silky smooth and full of strawberry flavors and aromas. The tannins are soft, but there's a residual acidity that's fascinating on the tongue. It's hard to get a well-aged, five year old wine for $15. It went well with the lasagne also, and my dining companion loved the wine. I had most of a baguette left over from Sunday night, so I sliced it up and made bread pudding for dessert, topped with a little Godiva Chocolate Liqueur. It was either that or make Italian bread soup, but that seemed kind of redundant to have a starchy tomato dish along with lasagne. No, the pain perdu turned out to be a good idea.

05 June 2006

2004 Crane Lake Sangiovese

Last September, I ran through a lot of the Crane Lake wines, which are essentially "Two Buck Chuck" relabled for sale outside Trader Joe's. I think by now I've had everything but the Pinot Grigio, and I think I can skip that one. I like the Petit Sirah, the Sauvignon Blanc, and don't mind cooking with the Chardonnay. The Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot are forgettable. As for the Sangiovese? Eh, not bad, nothing to get excited about. Certainly preferable to really cheap Chianti. I'd say this would be good for an inexpensive Italian restaurant, maybe as a bargain house red. In fact, I served it last night with a vegetarian lasagne (lots of spinach and mushrooms) and some links of grilled sweet salsiccia. It was definitely serviceable.

There's a smoky nose with some blackberry flavors, but mostly it's surprising for having low tannins. You tend to expect young Italian wines (even if you're just using Italian grapes) to be pretty tannic, but apparently they held back on this. So it's smooth, but not complex.

Memorial Day Addendum

Here's two more wines and one clarification to add to last week's wine blowout.

First, the clarification. I referred to a Spanish Rioja. The wine we drank with the lamb was in fact the 2001 Sierra Cantabria Rioja Crianza. Beautiful, wonderful Tempranillo with just a dash of Graciano in it. I think I need to drink more Spanish wine this year.

And moving backwards in time, the first wine we cracked open--when I was washing vegetables and prepping sauces--was the 2004 Crossings Sauvignon Blanc from Marlborough, New Zealand. Light and crisp, with a touch of citrus aromas, but it's not overpowering. Sauvignon Blanc is rapidly becoming my favorite white grape.

Finally, on the second day of the festivities, Tom picked up a bottle of the 2004 Marquis Philips Cabernet Sauvignon on my recommendation. I've had this wine in an earlier vintage and loved it, but wasn't as impressed this time around. Good leather and chocolate flavors in addition to abundant dark fruit, but there's a strong vegetal nose that's hard to ignore. Sometimes that's a good thing; I guess I was just in the mood for a big fruit-forward classic Australian red.

04 June 2006

2004 Red Bicyclette Rosé

Last summer I burned through as many dry rosés as I could find... This summer I'm going to continue the voyage, and in my usual style, seek out new bottles that I've not tried before. Last week when I picked up the Cassagne the guy at the wine shop highly recommended the 2004 Red Bicylette Rosé. Don't follow that link, though--the website is annoying and doesn't have any information on this particular wine. If you want information, there are other options. The latter link provides me with what I really wanted to know: the grapes involved. For this little wine, it's a curious mix of Syrah, Grenache, and Pinot Noir.

Funny thing there... Aside from Champagne, are there any traditional wines that involve blending Pinot Noir? For some reason it alone seems to be sacred and thus protected from other grapes. You could say it's just a Burgundy thing, but Chardonnay gets blended with everything from Semillon to peach juice to 7-Up. I guess it's a little too soft and mellow and would disappear into the background of any blend, but that never stopped anyone from blending Merlot.

Anyway, back to the rosé. There's a classic rosé aroma that's hard to pin down. It's a sweet rhubarb-strawberry scent, but it's not overpowering. This wine has that, but it's good and dry. Very soft on the tongue, with a little kick of acidity at the end. Bright lemon and berry flavors abound. The color leans towards the lavender/grey side rather than bright magenta. Definitely a good, serviceable rosé for the summer, a great bargain at $8, and should be available damned near everywhere.

Tasting Notes for June 3, 2006

The theme for this tasting was Sauvignon... Sauvignon Blanc and Cabernet Sauvignon. The word sauvignon means wild, savage, or native plant in French, depending on who you ask. Surprisngly, none of these wines came from Bordeaux, the home of these grapes.

Wine 1: 2005 Zolo Sauvignon Blanc. Argentina. A good way to start the tasting--bold and fruity, with powerful grapefruit flavors and medium acidity. I remember enjoying the Malbec from Zolo, and this one is quite good as well. $13.

Wine 2: 2004 Rodney Strong "Charlotte's Home" Sauvignon Blanc. Sonoma County, California. Light nose, ashy flavor, a little flat. This and the Sancerre probably should have come before the more full-bodied whites. $14.

Wine 3: 2004 Chateau Potelle Sauvignon Blanc. Mendocino County, California. Charming story behind this winery. The husband and wife came over in the early 80s as tasters for the French government, but ended up settling in California and founding a vineyard. Very crisp, light fruit and a mineral quality that combines some of the best elements of California and France. $16.

Wine 4: 2004 Pascal Jolivet Sancerre. Loire Valley, France. Fresh bread aromas on the nose, light and mild. Easy sipper, and elegant. $25.

Wine 5: 2004 Pike & Joyce Sauvignon Blanc. Adelaide Hills, Australia. Citrus and pineapple aromas, similar flavors. Light and well-rounded with a smooth finish. $20.

Wine 6: 2004 The Jibe Sauvignon Blanc. Marlborough, New Zealand. Lots of grapefruit aroma, clean and clear but with mild flavors. $14.

Wine 7: 2005 Verget du Sud Rosé. Côtes du Luberon, France. A nice Provençal ros&0233; made from Cabernet Sauvignon. I don't think I've had Cab Sav as a pink wine before, but I enjoyed it. Lovely light salmon color, cherry tart nose with mild berry flavors and crisp acidity. $15.

Wine 8: 2003 Beringer Founders' Estate Cabernet Sauvignon. Napa Valley, California. Black cherry and cream aromas, jammy with medium tannins. Really impressive for the price. $11.

Wine 9: 2003 Chateau Ste. Michelle Indian Wells Cabernet Sauvignon. Columbia Valley, Washington. Mild spicy nose, very smooth plum flavors. Low tannins and a beautiful deep, dark color. I loved the Indian Wells Merlot, and am equally impressed with this wine. $21.

Wine 10: 2002 Artesa Napa/Sonoma Cabernet Sauvignon. 76% Napa Valley, 24% Sonoma County, California. Dark peppery aroma, fully tannic and dry. A bit too young in my opinion. Heavy red grape skin flavors dominate. $25.

Wine 11: 2003 Chateau la Grande Roche Cabernet Sauvignon. Napa Valley, California. Very little nose, no discernable flavors. Like the previous wine, I think it might need some time. $35.

Wine 12: 2003 Sbragia Family Vineyards Cabernet Sauvignon. Sonoma County, California. Part of the Beringer Reserve Club, made by the head winemaker. Spike cake on the nose, big round cherry flavors, hints of apple. Very dry, but not overly tannic. $35.