27 February 2013

2011 Hahn Winery Pinot Noir

The wines of Hahn Estates made their first appearance on this blog back in 2006, and by 2009 I was able to get the rooster logo question answered by the winemakers. (Hahn means rooster in German, a language I studied for two years. I assume agricultural vocabulary was a central feature of year three.)

Now in 2013, I'm getting a sample of the wine via a PR firm. I've bought many bottles over the years and have enjoyed the wines immensely, and they're quite affordable. The Cabernet Franc remains one of my favorites, and it's an inexpensive way to enjoy that particular grape on its own, rather than in the usual blend.

I mentioned the rooster above because I love the brushstrokes used to create the current incarnation of the logo, with a nod towards Chinese calligraphy and simple, elegant, two color design (with a gold foil signature of founder Nicky Hahn). 2017 will be the year of the Fire Rooster in the Chinese zodiac and we all know how much enthusiasm there is in China for wine these days... I'm seeing a marketing win here, folks.

2011 Hahn Winery Pinot Noir
100% Pinot Noir
$14, 14.5% abv.

Bright raspberry, smooth as silk with tannins that only show up on the second sip. With some breathing you get touches of brambles and black cherry. Very impressive wine for the price, while many other sub-$20 Pinot Noirs will leave you disappointed. Pair this with a platter of cured pork, good cheeses, olives, and even a few gherkins for a pleasant midweek nibbling while watching a movie.

Note: This wine was received as a sample.

25 February 2013

Trione Wines

Let's say that you buy a bottle of 2011 John Smith Merlot from California, and the label includes the winery address. Most people think that John Smith planted the vines, picked the grapes, squeezed them, and fermented them in a building, all in the same place. And the wine is 100% Merlot from John Smith's farm right next to the winery.

The reality is that lots of people grow grapes, lots of people make wine, most of the wine you'll ever drink in your life is some sort of blend of vineyards and grapes, and that some of the esteemed grapes that went into your $40 bottle were also used to make a $15 bottle under a different name. And none of these are bad things. It's agriculture, which is the heart of the wine business.

The Sonoma County Trione family has been growing premium grapes for other wineries for the past thirty years but recently started making their own. They sent me a set of well-aged samples in the TastingRoom.com 50mL format.

While all of these are 14% alcohol or higher, they are neither hot nor unbalanced, and most can be purchased via the company website. The wines without prices are either sold out or unavailable, though I will update this post if I get additional information. UPDATE: I've added the prices, and from Wine Educator Lori Fredrickson, I was told the following: "Yes, we are sold out of our 2008 Pinot, 2007 Red Wine and 2007 Cab. We recently started distributing our wines in restaurants so those vintages went fast! We are currently selling the 2009 Pinot, 2008 Red Wine and 2008 Cabernet."

2010 Trione Sauvignon Blanc
Russian River Valley
$23, 14% abv.
Grass and gooseberry. Medium acidity and a big full body.

2008 Trione Chardonnay
Russian River Valley
$30, 14.3% abv.
Rich golden color and nice aroma of toasted hazelnuts. Creamy, oaky body with a classic California Chardonnay profile. Gentle acidity and a melting finish.

2008 Trione Pinot Noir
Russian River Valley
$35, 14.2% abv.
Well aged and mellow with a pleasant garnet color. Light aromas of wild strawberries and pencil shavings with a light and mellow body. Perfectly aged at this point, I would say drink it now. It's so nice to get to taste something at an ideal age.

2008 Trione Syrah
Russian River Valley
$32, 14.8% abv.
Nice aroma of black plums and cured pork. Elements of black pepper. The tannins are mild but the acidity is firm, and lends to a slightly sour black cherry flavor. Great bracing Syrah that needs a thick pork chop topped with figs.

2007 Trione Cabernet Sauvignon
Alexander Valley
$64, 14.5% abv.
Rich cassis and leather with a little coffee underneath. Deep, dark fruit flavors with a round body and a pleasant finish. The tannins are quite mild after all these years yet still slightly present.

2007 Trione Red Wine
Alexander Valley
57% Cabernet Sauvignon, 35% Merlot, 4% Petit Verdot, 4% Malbec
$48, 14.5% abv.
Nice green tobacco leaf and green bell pepper with some delightful cherry underneath. Very herbal and Bordeaux-style. Tiny bite on the finish indicates that this one could still spend a few years in the cellar and emerge delicious.

22 February 2013

February's Wines of Germany

Time once again for the quarterly samples provided by the folks at Wines of Germany. On the same day the wines arrived, Julia was coming over for dinner and some mid-week TV, and I thought that some Asian food was in order (by wich I mean the hundreds of distinct cuisines consumed by a third of the human population). I wanted Korean, she wanted Thai... The solution, of course, was Pei Wei Asian Diner. While I always strive to support my local mom and pop establishments, sometimes time and convenience are more pressing, and frankly, I've always enjoyed the food I've had there. She had the Pad Thai while I enjoyed a spicy Korean beef dish with lots of carrots and green beans. A pair of egg rolls rounded out the quiet Tuesday night meal, but I got to serve them with some serious German white wines.

2010 Balthasar Ress "Von Unserem" Rheingau Riesling Trocken
$18, 12% abv.

Weingut Balthasar Ress began in 1870 as a small winery and hotel operation in Hattenheim just west of Frankfurt am Main. Konrad Adenauer and others met at the hotel in the late 40s to draft the new German constitution. Geschichte in mein Glas. The wine is light and crisp with apricot elements and wonderful acidity. Dry and fruity with a mild, short finish. Right below the convenient screwcap you'll find the VDP eagle logo, a sign of quality in German winemaking.

2008 Knebel Röttgen Riesling Spätlese
$40, 8.5% abv.

Weingut Reinhard & Beate Knebel is a bit younger, founded in 1990. It's a smaller operation, but I was extremely impressed by this bottle. Wow. Aromas of jasmine and dried fruit dominate with the barest hint of petrol. It has a smooth and round body with flavors of red apple and medium sweetness. The wine is pleasantly low in alcohol but still clings to the glass slightly when swirled. I tasted both of these wines before dinner, but with an array of spices, peppers, and hot mustard, this wine really opened up and showed a lot of range. Highly recommended.

Note: These wines were received as samples.

20 February 2013

Opening Night at Pasta Italia

This is not a restaurant review, because it's not appropriate to review a place on the first night that it's open. Rather, I'm just sharing an experience of revisiting a restaurant I loved that just came back to the Memphis area. And it was the day after Valentine's Day, so I was glad to splurge on a fancy dinner and introduce Julia to this very authentic northern Italian restaurant.

Pasta Italia
8130 Macon Station Dr. Suite 106
Cordova, TN 38018
(901) 751-0009

That's the basic address info, but I'm going to give some local advice since I can walk to this place from my house. It's near the corner of Germantown Parkway and Macon, but Macon is not a single street. Instead, it is an endlessly frustrating set of roads in Cordova that begin and end in different places, and there's one point where you can be at the corner of Macon and Macon. Simple directions: turn east between Walgreen's and O'Charley's and then take a right just before Gateway Tires. You'll find yourself in a charming little commercial development, and the restaurant will be on your left.

Much like the prior location in Collierville (and I assume in Chattanooga), the dinner begins with bread, olive oil, and carved chunks of Grana Padano cheese, a hard one that is well aged with little crunchy bites of naturally occuring calcium lactate crystals.

The restaurant does not have its liquor license yet, so I brought a couple of wines with me. One was a forgettable red blend, but the other was the superb 2011 Coppola Sofia Rosé from Monterey County. $19, 12.5% abv. 80% Syrah, 20% Grenache. Back in the day this used to be made from Pinot Noir, but I really enjoyed the Rhone-style blend. Dry, but with aromas and flavors of watermelon with a hint of lemon. Mild and fruity while exhibiting outstanding balance, and it was tasty with the antipasto di italiana ($23.50 for two) of cured meats and marinated vegetables. It was packed that evening, and while I had an advance reservation, I was sharing a four-top with Julia, and was feeling friendly. Maybe it was the opportunity to speak Italian with the chef and house manager, but I kept inviting people over to sit with us rather than stand outside in the cold, and the staff kept bringing extra wine glasses so I could share. I wouldn't do this to dent actual wine sales in a restaurant, but in a unique experience like this it was a lot of fun and everyone enjoyed the Sofia. The hostess even saved the empty bottle so she could purchase a full one later.

Julia ordered the cannelloni di spinaci ricotta ($24.99, pictured at the top of this post), a savory treat served in the earthenware roasting dish in which it was baked. The handmade pasta was delicate and the filling was rich without being heavy. (She also proclaimed that the béchamel sauce was better than mine, and I have to agree.) We ended up bringing two of the cannelloni home with us.

I knew from an early peek at the menu that I had to have the linguini di mare ($29.99). What arrived was a massive platter of homemade linguini and a lot of seafood. I've carved turkeys on plates smaller than this one. The lighting in the restaurant is dim and a lot of the seafood was under the pasta, so what I initially thought was a big shrimp turned out to the first of two lobster tails. There were both clams and mussels, and after digging through for a while I discovered tiny squid rings, baby octopus, and scallops. Amazingly, everything was cooked just right: not raw or tough. That's very difficult to do with so many finicky ingredients, and the entire pasta dish was swimming in just enough salty seafood stock with the gentle application of herbs and garlic. Bowing to tradition, no cheese was put on the seafood pasta dish, which made me immensely happy. I thought fondly of some great seafood mixes I had in Italy along the Ligurian coast, which included a lot of the day's catch and whatever was fresh. The mix of ingredients may not be the same next week, but flavor and freshness are far more important.

Neither of us were able to finish our primi piatti, much less check out any of the meat-based secondi piatti like lamb chops and chateaubriand and veal saltimbocca. But we did have to have a little dessert. The tiramisù was a bit freeform, but light and fresh, and unlike the solid versions that are becoming denser and more like cheesecake every year. The picture of dessert did not turn out well, but I did snap a shot (with permission, of course) of the complimentary end to every dinner at Pasta Italia: vin brulè, a hot mulled red wine rich with citrus and spice. The recipe was just as good as I remembered (though perhaps a bit different from the link I provided), and just an espresso cup's worth was the perfect serving. Julia was a little hesitant about trying hot red wine, but absolutely loved it.

Overall, we had a great time. Great ambiance, friendly staff, and amazing food. I'm hoping that some of the old favorites like osso buco come back, and am also excited to see which other traditional dishes make it on the menu. As always, I encourage my fellow Memphians to escape the I-240 loop and try some of the great food out here in the suburbs.

Note: This wine was received as a sample, but the meal was on my own dime.

18 February 2013

Rioja from Bodegas Franco-Españolas

Bodegas Franco-Españolas was founded in 1890 by a French négociant named Frederick Anglade Saurat. France at the time was suffering heavily from the phylloxera infestation and wine buyers were looking to establish operations in other countries like Spain. By the 1920s, the Spanish owners bought out the French partners but retained the "Franco" part of the company name.

For a long part of the company's history they have been focused on exports, so there are two main product lines: stronger Bordeaux-style wines under the Bordón name and lighter Burgundy-style wines under the Royal name. Note that I'm just talking about body here--all of the grapes are native to the region.

With the international wine market changing, they're focusing a lot more on the US these days, and if you go to the website you'll see that it's offerent in three languages: Spanish, English, and Chinese. While the Chinese wine market is exploding (particularly for high profile French wines), this is the first time I've seen a Spanish website with that option. You're much more likely to see an offering in the local language like Galician or Catalan.

2011 Rioja Royal Viura
100% Viura
$10, 12.5% abv.

Looking back through my notes it seems like a very long time since I've had anything with Viura in it. This mild white wine has bright acidity with a slight touch of ash and minerals. The fruit flavors are restrained but overripe, ending with a clean finish. A really great bargain and highly recommended.

2008 Rioja Bordón Crianza
80% Tempranillo, 20% Garnacha
$12, 13.5% abv.

Another good bargain, this more traditional Rioja has gentle strawberry aromas and flavors with mild tannins. More wood comes through on the long finish. Great wine with a thick ham sandwich on a rainy winter afternoon.

2006 Rioja Bordón Reserva
100% Tempranillo
$15, 13.5% abv.

Another great thing about Rioja is how you can pick up a six or seven year old wine for such a low price. And it's not just old, but properly aged. Light aromas of black fruit with very gentle tannins. Elements of plum and red cherry with a touch of leather and cedar. While it would pair well with rare beef, I found it very enjoyable just on its own.

Note: These wines were received as samples.

15 February 2013

Naked Rebel Wine

Valentine's Day celebrations will continue through this weekend. Who wants to celebrate on Thursday? You might miss one of the final episodes of The Office. And nothing says romance quite like a wine with a glow in the dark label.

Experience has taught me that drinking wine in the dark is a bad idea (worse with a significant other), but the little kid in me loved the bottle. In regular light the paint is a dull metallic color, but after charging up you can kill the lights and enjoy the phosphorescence of strontium aluminate. (This photo was taken in a bathroom with zero external lighting and no adjustment. To the human eye it's a little more green but CCD sensors pick up some additional wavelengths.) During the sticker craze of the 80s many unusual ones were prized--oil filled, scratch and sniff, hologram--but I always loved anything glow in the dark. Better living through cool chemistry.

Naked Rebel Winery is a young and irreverent operation with job titles like Wine Elf and Margarita Wrangler. Chip and A.J. Forsythe began making wine in college and the rest is history. The mustache motif comes from Chip's signature handlebar. I've never grown mine out quite that far, but it's always tempting. I opened these about a week before Valentine's Day with the lovely Julia, and she thought they were hilarious and tasty.

NV Naked Rebel Pink Panda
Alexander Valley, California
Pinot Noir
$18, 11% abv.

This is one of the strangest sparkling wines I've ever tried, and definitely unusual for Pinot Noir. There's a slightly musky aroma like Moscato with a crisp and sweet body that tastes a lot like Green Apple Jolly Ranchers. Your eyes and brain and nose and mouth are all experiencing different things with this wine. While a bit sweeter than I like, it was a fun wine to sip while watching a movie, and the dancing panda design is a perfect fit for anyone throwing a zoo benefit event. I was tempted to smuggle the bottle into our own Memphis Zoo for some photo ops with Ya Ya and Le Le.

Additionally, this wine has a charitable aspect to it. From the website: Help us "Save second base!" Every bottle you buy, we make donation to the Susan G. Komen foundation.

2007 Mustasche Mentors Naked Rebel
Napa County, California
Syrah from Amador Country, Cabernet Sauvignon from Oakville
$20, 14% abv.

Despite the listed grapes this wine has much more of a Zinfandel profile, with jammy black fruit and cookie and spice notes to it. Very low tannins--not sure if that's the style or the age, but it was pleasant and smooth and had a light, soft finish. Only 150 cases of this were made, so it might be difficult to find, but the leftover bottle is definitely a great conversation piece.

Note: These wines were received as samples.

13 February 2013

Gold's Prepared Horseradish and Beets

While strolling the aisles of the nearby international market, I spied a little bottle of prepared horseradish with grated beets. Forget the old peanut butter and chocolate ads, this is a combination of two of my favorite root vegetables in one convenient jar. I never knew that such a product existed, and had never even combined those two ingredients. All I knew was that I was hit with an intense craving, along with curiosity about how I would use it.

It turns out that Gold's is a Long Island family business that's been making kosher products for 80 years. Though Memphis is home to the largest Orthodox Jewish congregation in the United States, I don't live in that neighborhood and can miss out on some of the niche and delicious products available. After purchasing this jar I posted it on Facebook, where good buddy and fellow wineblogger The Wine Commonsewer shared it with his wife, a lover of beets and horseradish. Quickly, a friend of his gave a blessing to my desire to pair it with pastrami and also suggested that it was good with gefilte fish (which I adore). I had to wait a couple of days before finding some decent beef pastrami. Why in the hell does this city just have a bunch of turkey pastrami? Oy gevalt...

My sandwich isn't kosher, but I love some lacy Swiss cheese with my thick sliced, extra peppery pastrami. I toasted some seedless rye bread and slathered the bottom with a layer of brown mustard and then a thick layer of the Gold's Prepared Horseradish and Red Beets. I worried that the balance might be off, but I was craving both so much after a long and rough day at work that I threw caution to the wind.

And folks, this was amazing. I toasted the bread, heated the pastrami in a skillet and melted the cheese over it at the end, and threw some hot pickles and potato salad on the plate. I made and ate this sandwich about an hour ago, and I'm already tempted to go back downstairs and make a second. The sweetness of the beets really mellows out the heat of the horseradish, though the earthiness of both combine with the cured meat and savory bread to make for a dark and delicious meal. Serve with the darkest beer you've got and drool as it warms in the skillet.

11 February 2013

2010 Deadbolt Winemaker's Blend

I've been doing a lot of cooking recently, and need to post more about some of the culinary adventures. Not everything has been new and exciting, but during a relatively cold Memphis winter, I've enjoyed returning to the comfort of hearth and home to enjoy slow-cooked favorites.

This particular red blend was enjoyed with mini burgers served with beloved toppings like red onion marmalade and arugula. And I do have to give a shout-out to my colleagues at Serious Eats for this recipe for ploughman's pate, a simple cheese and butter spread with orange marmalade and other touches of magic. I'd suggest a few dashes of Worcestershire sauce, as it needs a little savory kick. Highly recommended with some crackers and pickles before lunch.

Speaking of lunch... A lot of my wine photos are taken at around eleven on a Saturday morning while I'm cooking but before Julia joins me for lunch. I typically tuck the laptop out of sight, but from time to time it's nice to let the good folks at Apple get a little free publicity. MacBook in the kitchen and on the road, MacMini on the upstairs main machine. Solid Apple user since 1982.

Let's get back to the wine...

2010 Deadbolt Winemaker's Blend
Proprietary blend of Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Zinfandel, Petite Sirah, and Syrah
$16, 13% abv.

Big black plum and jam aromas with a very mild black cherry flavor and almost no tannins. Just a touch of sweetness. Very interesting, and a good example of the non-European blends that are coming out of California. While all of these grapes are European in origin, the blend crosses too many borders to be true to any one tradition, making it a more modern (since the 1600s) California blend. As I've stated in the past, blends like this are probably closer to pre-Prohibition California wines than the stately offerings of Napa and Sonoma.

Note: This wine was received as a sample.

07 February 2013

Paul Cheneau Cava

A lot of times when I write about European wineries, I mention that the company goes back over a thousand years and the first labels were made from sheepskin parchment. While wine has been made in Catalonia for over two thousand years, Giró Ribot was founded in 1976, the year of my birth. I suddenly feel much younger.

Giró Ribot uses the motto "Family saga, Autochthonous, Gastronomic". While I think that there might be a translation problem from the native català, I love the use of the earth-born, native adjective autochthonous. Way better than terroir. The winery makes a variety of still and bubbly wines, and the Paul Cheneau marque was designed to showcase Spanish sparkling wines with French styling.

NV Paul Cheneau Brut Rosé
Penédes, Spain
85% Trepat, 15% Pinot Noir
$16, 11.5% abv.

I love a sparkling rosé, and it's even more fun when it's made from an unusual grape. I really wish I could have shown up to a party of fellow wine enthusiasts with a bottle of sparkling Trepat. It has bright cherry aromas and flavors but is completely dry. Tart and refreshing with a crisp finish.

NV Paul Cheneau Brut
Penédes, Spain
45% Macabeo, 40% Xarel-lo, 10% Chardonnay, 5% Parellada
$16, 12% abv.

Crisp and austere with slight nuttiness and toast. Dry with a mineral finish. A really pleasant Cava, and one that would be perfect to serve at a wedding or party.

NV Paul Cheneau "Lady of Spain" Brut
Penédes, Spain
45% Macabeo, 40% Xarel-lo, 15% Parellada
$13, 12% abv.

I got an extra bottle of this over the holidays and served it with appetizers at New Year's Eve. Green apple and lemon with big bubbles and tart acidity. Nice apple finish, and delightful with fried chicken. An excellent casual sparkler.

NV Paul Cheneau Demi-Sec
45% Macabeo, 40% Xarel-lo, 10% Chardonnay, 5% Parellada
$15, 11.5% abv.

Mildly sweet with a nice creamy body. Apricot flavors with a tart, quick finish. Definitely one for dessert with some fruit and soft white cheeses, and a few shortbread cookies.

NV Paul Cheneau Reserva Brut Blanc de Blancs
45% Macabeo, 40% Xarel-lo, 15% Parellada
$16, 12% abv.

This one was the most French in execution, and despite the native Spanish grapes, it could stand well against similarly priced blanc de blanc wines made from Chardonnay in France or California. Excellent balance of mild fruit and acidity with small bubbles and a light, tingling finish. It's probably one of the best Cavas I've ever tried, and is highly recommended.

Note: These wines were received as samples.

05 February 2013

NV Jaillance Cuvée Impériale

Situated in the middle of the Rhône Valley wine regions, Clairette de Die produces a sweet, lightly sparkling wine. Unlike Champagne, this is a naturally sparkling wine, though one with lower pressure that did not require the technological advance of the stronger Champagne bottle and corking methods. (Also a bit odd: the local rules establish a maximum content of 25% Clairette, with a minimum of 75% Muscat. Why not call it Muscat de Die?)

While this is my first time trying wine from this particular AOC, it was instantly familiar and I can see why it's being promoted now. In flavor, alcohol content, and sweetness, it is almost identical to the Italian Moscato d'Asti, which has become hugely popular here in the US. Sparkling Muscat wines are popping up from all sorts of places, and I've reviewed examples from Spain, Australia, Brazil, and Moldova. France can not be accused of just now jumping on the bandwagon, this style of wine has been made in the Die region for some two thousand years and was written about by Pliny the Elder.

NV Jaillance Cuvée Impériale
Clairette de Die AOC
90% Muscat Blanc à Petits Grains, 10% Clairette Blanche
$17, 7% abv.

Aromas of honey, peach nectar, and a slight musky undertone are present from the start. The wine is quite sweet, and just barely fizzy--enough to produce a small head of foam but not enough to really tickle your palate. While the alcohol level is very low (some beers are stronger), the sweetness creates a bigger body than you'd expect. I enjoyed it after dinner with soft white cheese and fresh strawberries, and it would make for a great dessert wine at a date if your significant other has a sweet tooth.

Note: This wine was received as a sample.