31 December 2013

New Year's Eve 2013/New Year's Day 2014

For New Year's Eve, here are 57 reviews of sparkling wine over the years, many of which feature multiple bottles per review. Short advice: if you have the cash, go with vintage or grower's Champagne. If you're going to be celebrating with wine geeks on a budget, go with the various French Crémants like Alsace, Limoux, Bourgogne... For everyone else, hit the Cava and Prosecco and have a great time. Drive safe and be careful with the corks.

In the meantime, I'm enjoying oysters and Sancerre. See you on the flip side.

30 December 2013

Spanish Sparkling Wines for the New Year

The next two days will see a mad rush for bubbly wine, meaning that wine retailers have cleared out the egg nog and chocolate liqueur to make room for a wide range of sparkling wines to meet every price point. Expensive Chamapagne is a true delight, and I have a deep fondness for the vintage bottles and grower Champagnes that I have had the pleasure to enjoy from time to time. But when I'm ringing in the New Year with folks who don't spend lots of time arguing over the importance of the méthode champenoise, I prefer good-tasting but more affordable bottles that still look classy. And as with almost everything I try, an ability to pair well with food for regular non-holiday consumption is very important.

Spanish Cava fits the bill nicely, and all of these wines are produced in large quantities and should be easy to find. You'll notice that I've used the press images for these wines: due to a corrupted SD card I lost a handful of wine images after the bottles had already been tasted and sent off to be recycled. I prefer using my own photography, but good PR shots exist for a reason, and I have occasionally used them in the past.

Update: I found the photo! Proof that these graced my own kitchen table, but for formatting purposes, I'm leaving the trade photos below.

NV Freixenet Cordon Negro Sweet Cuvée
40% Parellada, 35% Macabeo, 25% Xarel-lo
$12, 12% abv.

The black Freixenet bottle is one of the easiest to spot in the wine shop, though there are varying styles of sweet/dry available that all look similar. Many of the classic Champagne categories are counter-intuitive, since extra dry is actually a little sweet and falls in between brut (meaning dry and actually dry) and sec (meaning dry, but actually sweeter than extra dry). Putting Sweet Cuvée in the name is a great simplifier, and this one is not too sugary. It's a great dessert wine with cheese and fresh fruit, or one that will appeal to novice wine drinkers.

NV Segura Viudas Brut
D.O. Cava
50% Macabeo, 35% Parellada, 15% Xarel-lo
$10, 11.5% abv.

Backing up a bit to the previous wine, brut is more or less the standard sparkling wine level. Not bone dry but no appreciable sweetness either. The wine shows tart lemony acidity with a hint of pear. Great balance with a crisp finish. When I talk about pairing sparkling wine with everyday food, this would be a great go-to wine for spicy fried shrimp and an Asian cole slaw. Don't be afraid of the hot peppers, which will taste even better with the bubbles.

NV Segura Viudas Brut Rosé
90% Trepat, 10% Garnacha
$10, 12% abv.

Pink sparkling wines are a special category, one that can look feminine but often have more depth and structure than their golden counterparts. Often these are mistaken for being sweet (curse you White Zinfandel!), but I often gravitate to these or Blanc de Noirs when offered a selection of sparklers. And for those of you chasing your life list of wine grapes like a birder, you can add Trepat. Gentle aromas of wild strawberries and citrus peel, big bubbles, firm acidity and dry. I love a wine like this with cured meats and olives, even better if you can combine them with delicious bread to make a muffuletta.

NV Segura Viudas Reserva Heredad
67% Macabeo, 33% Parellada
$25, 12% abv.

Part of the glamour of sparkling wine is the bottle, and for $25 this one certainly delivers. Not only is it a great wine, but the metal base and crest allow for a bit of showmanship during the opening, and the burgeoning craft movement will mean that some fan of Pinterest will be begging you for the empty bottle. This one shows crisp mineral tones and medium acidity. Smaller bubbles than the other offerings and a more gentle finish. More refined, more elegant, and one that would go great with a wide range of brunch dishes including Eggs Benedict. And it's still affordable enough to incorporate into a Mimosa, a French 75, or a Kir Pétillant.

Note: These wines were provided as samples for review.

27 December 2013

Geyser Peak Uncensored

Geyser Peak Winery was established in California in 1880, making it one of the oldest wineries in the country and the 29th bonded winery in the state. The founder was German immigrant Augustus Quitzow, whose last name comes from a noble familiy of Brandenburg and could be an incredible Scrabble word (28 points without multipliers).

The two Uncensored wines represent a pair of multigrape blends at an affordable price point, which really goes back to the early history of California winemaking. West coast consumers of the late 19th century were not shopping based on precise percentages of Bordeaux grapes but rather what tasted good and would store well before the advent of central air conditioning.

2012 Geyser Peak Uncensored White Blend
Proprietary blend of Viognier, Riesling, Chenin Blanc, Chardonnay, Sauvignon Blanc
$14, 13% abv.
6,200 cases made

Sauvignon Blanc really dominates this particular blend. The bottle has bright acidity with notes of grapefruit and melon and a long finish. Should be great with grilled white fish topped with a citrus salsa.

2011 Geyser Peak Uncensored Red Blend
Proprietary blend of Petit Verdot, Petite Sirah, Tannat, Alicante Bouschet, Syrah, Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot
$14, 13.4% abv.
26,000 cases made

What a fascinating blend of grapes, and you don't see Alicante Bouschet much these days. These grapes combine to produce a big fruit wine that has dominant notes of plum. It's a jammy, dark fruit wine with low tannins and a slightly sweet finish. Great mid-week pizza and burger wine.

Note: These wines were provided as samples for review.

24 December 2013

Interview with Bob Fyke

Merry Christmas, dear readers! Hopefully by now you've all made your Christmas wine selections, and will be enjoying them with friends and family. Starting Friday, we'll start looking at wines for New Year's Eve, Orthodox Christmas, and assorted other holidays in the next few weeks. Have fun, and enjoy the day off work.

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In my continuing interview series featuring fellow wine bloggers, I got a chance to talk with Bob Fyke of Brunello Bob's Wine Blog. Bob's been blogging since February of this year but has long been a fan of wine, with a particular focus on Brunello, a style that I have only recently gotten to appreciate.

BWR: Looking back over the thousands of wines I've tried, there is only one Brunello in that list--a glaring omission on my part. What attracted you to this particular wine?

Bob: That is a good question, and I've been asked several times before. It does seem unusual to land on Brunello as a favorite. What's even more unusual is that I went from being a beer drinker to a wine drinker, and shortly thereafter to a fan of Brunello, a big, dry, red. Thinking about it, I believe part of it was the hype that surrounded the wine around the time a became interested. The 1997 vintage was a fairly recent release, and there were raves about it. In hindsight, it is not as incredible as many said it would be. Anyway, I heard about it through the press, and retail advertising. At the same time, I was educating myself about wine in general, and I liked the culture behind Brunello, the Tuscan hills, and the soulfulness of it, if that makes sense. And of course I love it's flavor profile. There's a certain depth of Earthy fruit and special spices that comes through consistently on the nose and palate; it really speaks of its place.

BWR: In New York we talked about your plan to plant some vines from Oregon on your Hudson Valley home. How's that coming along, or what are your plans for those vines?

Bob: Well, I didn't get the vines I was hoping for, and then the rest of the garden started taking off, along with the weeds, so it didn't happen. I did do a little re-con at a local vineyard, about 15 minutes from my house in the Hudson valley, Whitecliff Vineyard. I was tasting there and asked what grew rather easily for them, and they recommended Seyval Blanc. So...my plan is to take a shot with those next year. I did expand my garden this year, so I should have room for a few vines.

BWR: We both work day jobs that have nothing to do about wine. Does it come up often at the office for you? Do you get the odd phone call from a colleague who's stuck with a restaurant wine list or is at the shop looking for a gift?

Bob: I do occasionally get requests for wine advice from colleagues and friends, and I love it. It is very satisfying for me to put the knowledge I've accumulated and put it to good use, especially when I can help someone have a more enjoyable experience. I have actually encouraged people to reach out to me when they are standing in front of the shelves. It's disappointing seeing how many purveyors of wine are not equipped to make good selections, especially on restaurant wine lists. I like to help.

BWR: Are you a collector? And if so, what is your storage system?

Bob: I am to an extent. My collection is humble, compared to many friends. Mostly Italian (no surprise), with Chateauneuf, Bordeaux, Spain, Burgundy, and US wines. I have a hard time keeping my hands off what's in the "cellar", so my collection tends not to grow, although there are a few bottles that I know would be a waste to drink too young, so I let them be. The cellar is actually two wine fridge units in my basement. They sit right next to the spot where I'm going to build my cellar, just as soon as a finish a few more projects.

BWR: Do you find that you prefer different wines in Manhattan than back in the countryside?

Bob: No, I drink the same in either place. Generally, I favor wines with good acidity and structure, Sangiovese, Tempranillo, Pinot Noir, and the like. I suppose I drink more high-end wines in the city because of the number of events and dinners there, but my wife and I are not afraid to open something special with dinner on the couch in front of the boob-tube.

Many thanks to Bob for participating in this interview series. You can follow him at Brunello Bob's Wine Blog and on Twitter @brunellobob.

23 December 2013

Savory Bread Pudding with Crown Maple

When I first got contacted about trying a sample of Crown Maple and participating in a recipe contest, I thought that it was in reference to the Crown Royal Maple beverage that has recently hit the shelves in a less-iconic brown bag. When the package arrived I realized I was mistaken! I had three small bottles of high-quality maple syrup and a bag of maple sugar from Crown Maple based out of the Hudson Valley of New York. Really pure, certified organic, and well-acclaimed as a quality producer of maple syrup.

I grew up on the various commercial pancake syrups that are mostly corn syrup with either a token dash of real maple or the artificial Mapleine flavoring. However, at some point our family switched over to smaller quantities of real maple syrup, and I've never looked back. I don't mind paying more, and the flavor and texture is so much more rewarding.

The press release that came with these samples invited us to participate in a recipe contest, though with a twist. The dish would need to be savory in nature, eliminating most of the natural options for such a sweet ingredient.

Benito's Savory Maple Bread Pudding

1 thick loaf stale French bread
8 eggs
3 cups of milk
1/2 lb. brie
1/2 lb. ham
2 Bosc pears
maple syrup
maple sugar
sea salt
black pepper
balsamic vinegar

The night before serving, carve up the stale loaf of bread into cubes. Why stale? In the tradition of pain perdu, stale bread soaks up the flavors better. Peel and dice the pears, cube the brie (removing the rind) and cut the ham into small strips. Whisk together the eggs and milk with a few grinds of black pepper and a dash of light maple syrup. Combine these ingredients and toss in a buttered 9"x13" Pyrex dish until the bread has soaked up a lot of the egg mixture. Don't be afraid to stir it after a few hours.

In the morning, mix a cup of chopped walnuts, two tablespoons of butter, two tablespoons of maple sugar, and a teaspoon of sea salt. Mix this into a crumble and top the casserole. Bake at 350°F for 30 minutes.

While the bread pudding is baking, slowly cook 1/2 cup of maple syrup with 1/4 cup of balsamic vinegar until reduced to a gentle thickness. Let cool. When ready to serve, cut out a square piece of the bread pudding and drizzle a bit of the maple/vinegar reduction over the top.

Note: These sugary delights were provided as samples for review.

20 December 2013

Graffigna & Jacob's Creek Red Blends

"I only drink single varietal grape wines."

I hear this every now and then from fellow wine drinkers, though with some variations on the use of the adjective varietal as a noun and a belief in purity of certain grapes. Kind of like how modern food enthusiasts justifiably don't want their olive oil cut with canola oil or their guacamole made up of mostly shortening.

But on each occasion I point out that most wines throughout history and to this day are blended, and that a 100% rating of a certain grape does not necessarily ensure quality. Over the years I have grown to embrace the gentle art of blending, which allows for different grapes to come together in the pursuit of the most important characteristic of wine: balance.

Below are two wines that I brought along to Thanksgiving lunch with Julia in Jonesboro, Arkansas. A good bargain red blend can go well with a broad range of dishes, and that sort of structure is perfect for a traditional southern holiday meal.

2012 Graffigna Centenario Elevation Red Blend
20% Bonarda, 20% Cabernet Saugivnon, 20% Malbec, 20% Syrah, 20% Tannat
Tulum Valley, Argentina
$15, 14%

Very interesting blend here, with equal measures of all four grapes as well as a sighting of Tannat from Argentina. This one opened up with aromas of plum and cherry, while the flavors tended towards prune and stewed fruit. Medium tannins and a long, dark fruit finish. I thought it was particularly good with the roast pork loin.

2012 Jacob's Creek Red Blend
South Eastern Australia
66% Shiraz, 18% Cabernet Sauvignon, 12% Grenache, and 4% Petite Verdot
$10, 13.8%

Really dominant black cherry aromas, verging on cough syrup. After it breathes it softens up, allowing some of the more gentle blackberry and blueberry notes to show. A very curious blend of grapes that really needs a hearty steak with lots of seasoning.

Note: These wines were provided as samples for review.

18 December 2013

Hickory Farms Winner!

I had an independent third party (someone who doesn't know any of the commenters on my prior contest post) pick a name at random, and the winner is...


Thanks to everyone for commenting, and I hope you all have great holiday gatherings this year.

2011 Viña Ventisquero Grey Single Block Carménère

The Grey series from Viña Ventisquero explores the importance of terroir in winemaking. This particular bottle is made from grapes grown on soil that is rich in clay, granite, and pebbly sand. I'm not an expert in identifying geologic elements in wine by scent and taste alone--and indeed, many of the New World wines that I write about are not terroir-driven but rather built around the fruit, a schism explained earlier in the year when I got to attend a tasting hosted by Aldo Sohm in NYC.

Ultimately the soil does make a major difference both in the types of grapes that can be grown as well as the wine those grapes will produce. Ventisquero refers to a certain glacial formation in the Andes mountains, and while glaciers had a major impact on the landscape of the northern hemisphere, the sparser land mass in the southern hemisphere means that the impacts of glaciation were more localized. Glaciers are powerful things, and can even grind solid bedrock into rock flour.

Speaking of terroir, it's also great to try yet another Chilean Carmenérè. Although Bordeaux in origin, the grape really found its perfect spot in the small valleys of Chile.

2011 Viña Ventisquero Grey Single Block Carménère
Trinidad Vineyard, Maipo Valley
100% Carménère
$24, 13.5% abv.

Dark and deep aroma of prunes, leather, coffee, and chocolate. As it warms some of the green tobacco leaf scents pop up. Rich blackberry flavors with firm tannins and a long finish. A great match for roast venison, lamb, or any savory red meat.

Note: This wine was provided as a sample for review.

16 December 2013

Culurgiones with Brown Butter

A lot of my news reading these days is through RSS (I use Feedly). It's a quick and convenient way to zip through hundreds of websites in a short period of time. When something jumps out at me, I'll go to the originating website and read the article in full. Thus I discovered the obscure deliciousness of Sardinian culurgiones. In the article on TastingTable.com, Philadelphia chef Adam Leonti admits that he had to use YouTube to figure out the technique for making these little potato dumplings. Frankly, I don't think I could have accomplished anything remotely like the finished product without watching his video demonstrating the process.

There have been many times in my life when I've been entranced by a beautiful picture in a cookbook or magazine and then had to stare sadly at a poor, deformed imitation, or worse, flames erupting from the oven. My white whale is still the magnificent croquembouche. But through diligence and effort I have taught myself to make things that stymied a younger Benito, and considering my recent success with homemade pasta, I decided to give this a shot.

The recipe is fairly simple but there are some challenges. The dough is made without eggs, oil, or other proteins, though I found that it was remarkably easy to work with using the little hand-cranked pasta machine. The filling is ridiculously simple, although I don't think I've ever had potatoes, cheese, and mint in the same dish together. And making brown butter and shaving some Pecorino over the finished dish? No sweat.

The final product was delicious, though I will admit that my dumpling-making skills are somewhat lacking. This was the only one that looked good even though I made three dozen. Watch out for stacking the circles of cut dough, as they will stick together and by the end you can't separate them. If you're not looking to impress anyone, you might as well just crimp the edges with a fork, in effect making pierogies. It's great to make a thing of beauty, but the little pinch-and-twist trick takes some work and I had difficulty repeating it. I enjoyed the dumplings with thin slices of steak and a salad, and the dough is so easy to make that I'm considering exploring other stuffed pastas and Asian equivalents.

Smith-Madrone Wines

I had the blessed fortune to attend two Thanksgiving dinners this year, though nothing will quite match 1995 when circumstances collided to provide me four Thanksgiving meals within 48 hours. (I was also at the height of my bread baking phase, and made two dozen loaves of various classic European styles.)

The second harvest festival this year was held at the home of my parents along with Julia, The Roommate, my brother, and his wife and daughter. For the occasion, I brought along a trio of wines from Smith-Madrone Vineyards. There's a long tradition of serving American wines at the Thanksgiving table, and I was particularly excited to serve the small batch bottles of a classic Napa producer.

2012 Smith-Madrone Riesling
Spring Mountain District, Napa Valley
100% Riesling
$27, 12.5% abv.
798 cases made

Napa Riesling in tall green bottles was an early favorite of the Carter family back in the 90s. This one had gentle notes of green apple and was lightly sweet with earthy undertones and firm acidity. Really a spectacular balance of elements that could stand up to selections from Germany, and one that went particularly well with the side dishes like green bean casserole and my mother's rich sweet potato casserole.

2011 Smith-Madrone Chardonnay
Spring Mountain District, Napa Valley
100% Chardonnay
$30, 14.2% abv.
463 cases made

100% fermentation in French oak gave this California Chardonnay a nose of buttered popcorn with a touch of vanilla. Beneath that are scents of warm roasted peaches. Mild acidity and a round mouthfeel lead to a long finish. I found that it was a great match for Dad's pecan-smoked turkey.

2009 Smith-Madrone Cabernet Sauvignon
Spring Mountain District, Napa Valley
84% Cabernet Sauvignon, 8% Merlot, 8% Cabernet Franc
$45, 13.9% abv.
1,302 cases made

Dad also slow smoked a full, grass-fed, Hereford tenderloin that was rubbed down with a spice mix and cooked to a perfect medium rare. I was excited to pour this wine with the delicate beef flavors, and it did not disappoint. Rich cassis aromas with nice elements of bell pepper and tobacco. Berries show up on the aftertaste. The wine shows medium tannins and a long, lingering finish, and should continue to improve for a few more years. Highly recommended, and make sure that you have friends and family around to enjoy it.

Note: These wines were provided as samples for review.

13 December 2013

Chianti Trio

I've been making a lot of Italian-American dishes recently, born out of a joy of making tomato sauces, slow cooking, and recipes that freeze well. Things like baked ziti, spaghetti and meatballs, and even making my own pizza dough. I'd say that my biggest joy comes from making Sunday gravy with lots of different meats in the sauce, which can then be repurposed into multiple applications over the course of the following week.

When it comes time to serve wine with these dishes, I'm usually just grabbing whatever leftover red is available, but recently I had the chance to try three bargain Chiantis that are perfectly matched to the old school red and white checker table cloth cuisine.

2011 Bolla Chianti
Chianti DOCG
90% Sangiovese, 10% Canaiolo Nero
$8, 13% abv.

A real winner on the QPR. Currant and ash on the nose, with tart raspberry flavors and firm tannins. Long tannic finish. Delicious pizza wine.

2010 Cecchi Chianti Classico
Castellina, Chianti DOCG
90% Sangiovese, 10% Other Red Grapes
$12, 13.5% abv.

Blackberry aromas, with a little coffee and spice underneath. Firm tannins and a long finish, and a wine that benefits from decanting or breathing.

2009 Banfi Chianti Classico Riserva
Chianti DOCG
"Almost exclusively Sangiovese"
$16, 13% abv.

Interesting wine with a major focus on raspberries, followed by a little brambly character. Good tartness and a nice, long finish. Like the others, firm tannins, but a wine that was a perfect match for my baked ziti.

Note: These wines were provided as samples for review.

11 December 2013

Hickory Farms Gift Box with 2012 La Crema Chardonnay

When I was a kid, the family was always excited when a Hickory Farms gift box showed up at the house during the holiday season. Dad was crazy about the smoked cheese, Mom loved the little strawberry candies, and my brother and I would argue over the summer sausage. Even better were the occasional boxes that featured little mustards and sauces, which Dad and I would enjoy trying out in various combinations late at night while watching reruns of M*A*S*H.

During a weekend in which Memphis was hit by an ice storm (that proved to be far milder than in other parts of the nation), I received a sample of a Hickory Farms gift box that included a bottle of wine, with treats aimed at the wine lover. Let's talk about the wine first.

2012 La Crema Chardonnay
Sonoma Coast, California
100% Chardonnay
$23, 13.8% abv.

On the palate it shows bright acidity while the nose shows hints of pineapple and tropical fruits. A brassy California Chard with a gentle finish that goes well with the salty starters of the box but would be a great pairing for smoked salmon and other savory goodies that tend to show up on the table during the holidays. Like honey-roasted ham. This would be divine with a few slices of that and a dollop of Dijon mustard on the side.

Here's what you'll find in the Hickory Farms "Toast the Traditions" Gift Box
  • 2 Red D'Anjou Pears
  • 1 Crown Comice Pears
  • 2 Fuji Apples
  • Our Signature Beef Summer Sausage 5 oz.
  • Farmhouse Cheddar
  • Smoked Cheddar Blend 4 oz.
  • Mixed Nuts 4 oz.
  • Roasted & Salted Pistachios 4 oz.
  • Chocolate Covered Cashews 4 oz.
  • Le Crema Chardonnay
  • Net Weight 5.7 lbs.
Everything was delicious, and I'm still nibbling on the contents. Would you like to try this? Leave a comment below stating that you'd like to win this gift box, and I'll pick one winner at random in the next week. The only restriction from the company is that the winner needs to reside in the United States or Canada. Just let me know why you enjoy reading this blog, and next Wednesday I'll announce the winner and provide instructions on how to redeem your prize. Note: This gift box was provided as a sample for review.

09 December 2013

Snooth Argentina Tasting with Doña Paula

A while back, I got the chance to rejoin my friends from Snooth.com for an online tasting of wines from Doña Paula of Argentina. Founded in 1990, the winery offers a range of about a dozen wines.

2012 Doña Paula Estate Chardonnay
Valle de Uco
100% Chardonnay
$15, 14.1% abv.

The white wine has peach and floral notes, a round body, and brassy acidity. It would be great with roast duck, where the acidity would cut through the rich fat of the skin.

2011 Doña Paula Estate Torrontés
Valle de Cafayate
100% Torrontés
$15, 13.5% abv.

Tropical fruits, nice hint of pineapple, mineral base, medium acidity, stony. Dried fruit finish. Torrontés is an interesting grape and one that deserves a lot more attention. This one would be perfect with a nice crisp salad that included fresh fruits and walnuts along with bleu cheese.

2011 Doña Paula Estate Cabernet Sauvignon
Luján de Cuyo
100% Cabernet Sauvignon
$15, 14.1% abv.

Major notes of blackberry and blueberry, round dark fruit flavors, and a medium tannic finish. Definitely one to pair with savory roast pork loin.

2011 Doña Paula Estate Malbec
Valle de Uco
100% Malbec
$15, 14.1% abv.

Quite bright for a Malbec, with lots of tart red cherry aromas and flavors and a biting tannic structure. I would be anxious to try this one after another two or three years of aging to let it soften out a bit. For the moment, it would be a good choice for serving with a grilled burger topped with lots of onions, a dish that would fight back against the wine.

Note: These wines were provided as samples for review.

06 December 2013

Holiday Wines of Germany

Quick note: I've got a new article up at Palate Press about the challenges of being a wine lover in a hot climate. The timing is great--I wrote the article back in November when it was pretty warm, but yesterday it got to 73°F here in the River City. Alas, right now the temperature is crashing and we're bracing for a major ice storm with temperatures that might get near the freezing point. I'm sure all of my readers in the north are laughing as my city completely shuts down in the face of a tiny bit of ice and snow.

And now, let's take the opportunity to celebrate some delicious German wines that would be great on the holiday table.

* * *

Wines of Germany USA continues to provide this humble blog with quarterly deliveries of two bottles of wine. I'm always surprised by their selections--some are not available in the US, some are inexpensive while others are more pricey, but all are interesting and provide a valuable insight into the incredible diversity of German wine.

These producers also tend to have a lot of history behind them, and I love digging into that while sampling the wines.

2012 Selbach Riesling Kabinette "Trutta Fario"
Mosel, Germany
100% Riesling
$18, 9.5% abv.

Selbach-Oster has been around since 1660, formed from two families that lived on opposite banks of the Mosel river. This affordable bottle has a delightful German minerality combined with a splash of lemony acidity and just enough sweetness to round out the bottle. The nickname of the wine refers to the brown trout, and I think this would be a fantastic pairing for freshly caught trout cooked in brown butter and almonds.

2008 Lingenfelder Pinot Noir
Pfalz, Germany
100% Pinot Noir
$32, 14% abv.

Lingenfelder goes back to 1520, meaning that these vineyards got to witness the Reformation and all of the turmoil that followed. I've had mixed experiences with German red wines, but this one was quite well constructed. It has a profile of overripe wild strawberries, a touch of earth, low tannins, and a very mild body. It's just a little tart, and one that I'd enjoy serving with an appetizer platter of sausages and cheeses.

Note: These wines were provided as samples for review.

04 December 2013

2011 The Heritage Vineyard Zinfandel

In a recent post about Gnarly Head Old Vine Zin I referenced the Zinfandel Advocates & Producers event happening in late January 2014. Part of the organization's mission to promote California Zinfandel has been to produce a wine from the Heritage Zinfandel project, a series of vines planted at the UC Davis Viticultural Station in Oakville in the Napa Valley.

They've selected some of the best Zinfandel vines from various California wine regions and have planted them to study the grape and to produce the best possible wines from the state's iconic variety.

Each year, a different winemaker is selected to produce wine from the UC Davis grapes, and for the 2011 vintage, it was Scott Harvey, who works out of Napa Valley and Amador County. Harvey produces Zinfandels in the $15-45 range. This one, at $20, is an outstanding bargain if you're lucky enough to find a bottle of it, though attending any of the ZAP events should give you an opportunity.

2011 The Heritage Vineyard Zinfandel
$20, 15.2% abv.
120 cases made

Smooth and rich body with aromas of coffee and black cherry. Medium tannins and a long, lingering finish of chocolate-covered cherries. Outstanding balance for a California Zinfandel, and highly recommended. Forget the turkey and usual holiday pairing options--I say that this one really needs a good layout of cured meats and hearty cheeses, particularly on a cold winter night. Lay out a platter of your favorites and sit back to enjoy a Christmas movie with a blanket over your knees.

Note: This wine was provided as a sample for review.

01 December 2013

2011 Hahn Pinot Noir

A lot of poultry has been consumed over the past few days, and much will continue to be eaten throughout the holidays. With all of the turkey focus, the website Slate.com finally answered a question that has long been rattling around in the dusty cobwebs of my brain: Why don't we eat turkey eggs? (Short answer: economics.)

I got to enjoy a turkey on Thanksgiving as well as a second one Saturday night at my parents' house. Though Dad's smoked turkey was delicious (and with glorious mahogany skin), I was more impressed with the full grass-fed, Hereford tenderloin that was smoked to a perfect medium-rare and served with horseradish sauce. Though I often do a little secondary Thanksgiving after the holiday to stock the freezer, I've been busy with work over the past few days and am spending this Sunday simply roasting a chicken with which to make King Ranch Casserole.

Why all of the bird talk? Am I promoting This American Life's annual Poultry Slam? No, it's time to try another wine from Hahn, named after the German word for rooster.

2011 Hahn SLH Estate Pinot Noir
Santa Lucia Highlands, Monterey
100% Pinot Noir
$35, 14.5% abv.

This is the first wine from Hahn that I've had over $20. While I've enjoyed their $15 bottles in the past (and found them to be great bargains for the quality), it was nice to get a chance to try one of their higher end wines. It opened with a dominant profile of raspberry, and gentle wood tones with a touch of pencil lead. On the palate the wine shows low tannins but a bright tartness and a medium length finish. I recommend serving it with a nice leg of lamb, where the meat will help bring out some deeper earth tones from the wine.

Note: This wine was provided as a sample for review.