30 April 2014

Live from Lodi - Snooth Virtual Tasting Tonight!

I've participated in a lot of online tastings over the years, but tonight I'll be on camera along with my fellow wine writers and some of our hosts here in Lodi. The Snooth Virtual Tasting starts at 5:30 Pacific/8:30 Eastern. Tune in if you'd like to watch us discuss a quartet of wines and hear about the exciting things going on in the Lodi wine region.

28 April 2014

Greetings from Lodi!

Posting might be a little erratic this week, as I'm not sure how much time I'll have to finish up the dozen incomplete drafts I have sitting in the queue. But I'm not slacking off--I'm here in scenic Lodi, California with Snooth and the Lodi Wine Commission, and I'm about to start three straight days of winery tours, dinners, and tastings.

Yesterday was a long day, during which I traveled for 14 hours and capped it off with a massive three hour dinner here in the charming resort called Wine & Roses. The property is beautiful, full of redwoods, palm trees, olive trees, and more. The immediate area around us features the obvious vineyards, but also fruit orchards, olive and nut groves, dairy farms, and many other crops that I just glimpsed on our ride into town yesterday afternoon.

I'll probably save most of the stories and winery posts for my return home, when I've had a chance to sort through everything. But I will be posting updates on Twitter, where you'll also see the posts of my colleagues and hosts on this great trip.


25 April 2014

Headed to California

I'm posting during a big thunderstorm here in Memphis, so there's a chance that this post is going to evaporate as soon as the power goes out. But I did want to announce that I'm headed to California on Sunday for almost a week of wine tasting in the Lodi AVA. I've had a lot of wines from this area in the past, and I like their combination of tradition and experimentation. They do a lot of old school Zin, but are also willing to plant Albariño and see how it works out.

I'm going to be traveling with some of my Snooth pals. These are all good people, most of whom I've met before, and I'm going to provide some links below:

Gregory Dal Piaz - Editor at Snooth

Nannette Eaton - Wine Harlots

Amy Gross - Wine4Me

Dezel Quillen - My Vine Spot

...and looking forward to meeting Bill Eyer of Cuvée Corner.

I've got the schedule of all of the wineries and restaurants, even the menus of each meal we are going to consume. Frankly I'm headed into a 48 hour fast and cleanse to prepare for the trip. I'm looking forward to yet another great wine adventure with fellow writers I admire as well as winemakers whose products deserve serious attention. Next week I'll continue posting reviews of wines I've tasted in the past few months, but expect some great Lodi content in the first week of May.


23 April 2014

2011 Avignonesi Rosso di Montepulciano

I've written several times about my trip to Italy with my college girlfriend, back in the halcyon days of 1996. I've recently unearthed a lot of photos (back when we used to take those on film and get them printed at the pharmacy) as well as my handwritten journal from the trip (prior to Blogger, Twitter, Facebook, etc.). I've got enough content to fill a book, but at the end of the day I know that what was a life-changing event for me has been repeated many times over the centuries. Young folks go to Italy, drink some wine, look at some art, and try to avoid getting robbed while figuring out a crazy street system in each unique city.

It doesn't mean that I'll never write about that trip in detail, but it has been on my mind recently. I miss the adventure of trucking out on foreign streets and conversing in a foreign language. I would be more than happy to trade my half hour car ride through horrible traffic clutching a V8 or Diet Coke with a quiet, contemplative train ride that I could enjoy with a newspaper, caffe latte, and chunk of bread. Let me fill out the crossword in the International Herald Tribune in peace before I have to spend hours creating performance metric dashboards.

Back to the wine, which brought back fond memories of tasty Tuscan reds that I sipped with wild abandon back in 1996, never asking for alcohol percentages, grape composition, or how long the family had been making wine.

2011 Avignonesi Rosso di Montepulciano
94% Sangiovese, 6% other local red grapes
$19, 14% abv.

The wine shows classic Tuscan aromas of black cherry and plum with firm tannins and a long, lingering finish. It's chewy, a little tannic, and quite tasty when served with a rustic roast beef meal accompanied by grilled asparagus. Delicious and true to the region, and one that I hope you will enjoy here in the States as well as back in the home country.

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

21 April 2014

2012 Maculan Dindarello Moscato

This weekend I had the pleasure of hosting a baby shower at my parents' house for The Woman Formerly Known As The Roommate. Just around the time for her first wedding anniversary, she is due to give birth to her first child. I have been granted honorary Uncle status, and wish everyone the best.

The baby shower was a lot of fun, as it was co-ed and I brought along a dozen bottles of wine. Dad smoked chicken drummies on the Big Green Egg, Mom helped coordinate everything, and Bella ran around begging for appetizers. It was a pleasure to catch up with so many friends and to celebrate the Easter weekend together.

I brought along this particular wine specifically for my mother and my sister-in-law, who are connoisseurs of the sweet wines. This Italian sample performed admirably...

2012 Maculan Dindarello Moscato
Veneto IGT
100% Moscato
$22/375mL, 11.5% abv.

Intensely floral nose. Great honeysuckle and jasmine with hints of citrus flower. On the palate it shows a deep, sweet, and musky flavor sparked by a great tang of lemony acidity. Not terribly cloying, and it doesn't hang on the glass that long. This is a great dessert wine that is not explicitly a dessert wine; more a tasty after dinner wine that needs to be served with good cheese. Highly recommended.

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

18 April 2014

A German Grape Takes a Tour of Europe

I've always been interested in studying transitional geographical regions--places that have changed hands over the centuries and today contain elements of the various cultures that have occupied the physical area. Granted, a lot of that involved war, religious persecution, or other horrible things, but they remind us that national borders are not firm laws set down from time immemorial, but often redrawn when one side has more power, and endure when the other side doesn't feel like fighting back for the dozenth time.

I've written a lot about Alsace and how I feel it is its own unique European region nestled between Germany and France, hence the reason for using the flag of Alsace rather than the tricolore. In today's post, I'll extend the same courtesy to the Alto Adige region of Italy, an autonomous state that borders Austria and Switzerland. I make these decisions not for political reasons but more for cultural ones--Trentino-Alto Adige (or Südtirol) was part of the Austro-Hungarian Empire until after WWI, and German is still spoken there. In both cases, you've got German-speaking folks living on the borders of other countries, growing their grapes for a long, long time.

Although this particular quartet of Gewürztraminer presents a fun orthographical dichotomy: Italy uses the umlaut, France doesn't. I'll respect the choices for the names of the wines, but since the grape is more commonly spelled with the umlaut, I'll use that for the varietal name... So ist das Leben.

2011 Hugel Gewurztraminer
Alsace, France
100% Gewürztraminer
$23, 14% abv.

This bottle showed up sweet and spicy, round with low acidity. Really a classic Gewürztraminer and one that would fall in well with both German and New World versions.

2008 Domaines Schlumberger Les Princes Abbes Gewurztraminer
Alsace, France
100% Gewürztraminer
$28, 13% abv.

I found the Schlumberger similar to the above, but more earthy and with a honey element. Obviously it has aged quite well without becoming cloying. There's a lot of depth here as well as structured acidity, which almost pushes this into dessert wine territory. A great bargain for a well-aged wine.

2013 Elena Walch Selezione Gewürztraminer
Alto Adige, Italy
100% Gewürztraminer
$20, 14.5% abv.

It showed great apricot and floral notes, almost perfume-like, but in contrast to the Alsatian wines this was quite dry with low acidity and a round mouthfeel. Good minerality. Excellent wine made in the Austrian style.

2012 Elena Walch Kastelaz Gewürztraminer
Alto Adige, Italy
100% Gewürztraminer
$32, 14.5% abv.

Coming to the end of the quartet, I've got to say that Alto Adige won me over, and this particular bottle was my favorite of the four. It has many of the attributes of the former Elena Walch wine but with a luscious honeysuckle aroma that captures my heart every time. However, this bottle had better acidity, firmer body, making it a more serious wine all around. Serve this with roast quail and a winter vegetable purée and you've got a magical combination during this lingering cold weather.

* * *

Thanks for reading, and remember that you can still follow GrapeCollective.com and register to win two Riedel wine glasses:

a Rafflecopter giveaway

Note: These wines were provided as samples for review.

16 April 2014

Riedel Wine Glass Giveaway with Grape Collective

I was recently interviewed on GrapeCollective.com, as was my dear friend Fredric Koeppel. Both were conducted by my SnoothPVA pal Jameson Fink, but the site also features the work of Managing Editor Meg Maker, another SnoothPVA friend. Wine brings folks together, and thanks to this website, you now have an opportunity to get some fancy Riedel glasses if you follow Grape Collective on Twitter and Facebook. Here are the details:

a Rafflecopter giveaway

They're putting out some great writing and great interviews, and I urge you to check out the site. If you like it, follow the links in the above section and you'll be registered to win some Riedel glasses. The contest period is open from 2014-04-16 at 12:00 a.m. to 2014-04-21 at 12:00 a.m.

14 April 2014

2011 Faust Cabernet Sauvignon

There's nothing quite like a good Bordeaux blend, even if it's made in California (and sometimes especially if it's made in California). I tried the 2005 Faust in 2008 and was delighted to try a current release here in 2014.

This blend uses all five of the Bordeaux red grapes to achieve outstanding balance and a bottle that will certainly improve over the next five to ten years. While I love experimentation in wine and don't mind some of the crazy blends coming out of Paso Robles and Lodi, there are reasons why certain classic combinations have endured for so long.

I am also a big fan of the label, which has changed slightly over the years while retaining certain critical elements. The 2011 label displays a heart of vines full of leaves. It's an odd situation in which the exact same design looks perfectly elegant on a wine bottle but would have a somewhat different impression if tattooed on the upper right breast of a biker chick at Sturgis.

2011 Faust Cabernet Sauvignon
Napa Valley, California
78% Cabernet Sauvignon, 17% Merlot, 3% Petit Verdot, 1% Malbec, 1% Cabernet Franc
$55, 14.2% abv.

The wine has a rich nose with deep cassis and chocolate, touches of cedar and pyrazine (tomato leaf, tobacco). On the palate it is full of dark fruit flavors, medium tannins and a long, lingering finish. I would recommend decanting at this stage in its development, though in the coming years it will most likely soften and be ready to serve right away.

Memphis is in a weird weather spot right now, as it was in the 80s yesterday but a few days from now it will be in the 30s at night. Since today was cloudy and quiet, I took the opportunity to celebrate the end of winter with one last glorious casserole dish. I made a simple veal and spinach lasagna served with a little red leaf lettuce and Roma tomatoes. Splash of vinaigrette and we're done. It hit the spot, and I celebrated a glorious combination of great wine and hearty food with a healthy nap, accompanied by Bella who snored away at my feet.

In the words of my grandfather Chuck, "Fellers, it just don't get any better than this."

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

09 April 2014

Stinson Vineyards of Virginia

Years ago, I was surprised to taste a wine with an Italian name that was from the Galilee region. At the time I thought it was somewhere in California, settled by particularly religious settlers from Sicily. Nope, it was an Israeli wine from the original Galilee.

Someone could have a similar reaction to pulling out a bottle that says Monticello. Italian? No. From somewhere in the New World settled heavily by Italians, like California or Argentina? No. This one bears its name from the home of Thomas Jefferson in Charlottesville, Virginia. I've visited a lot of presidential homes and libraries, particularly during the year I worked in Ohio. I even passed up an off-hours dinner with co-workers to zip west to check out the Rutherford B. Hayes Presidential Center in Fremont.

Stinson Vineyards is located near Jefferson's estate and continues on the tradition of growing Vitis vinifera grapes in the Old Dominion since the 18th century.

If you're interested in Virginia wines, bloggers from that state tend to be highly engaged in their local wines, and a list of them can be found at my Winebloggers In The South sister site.

2012 Stinson Rosé
Shenandoah Valley, Virginia
100% Mourvèdre
$17, 13% abv.

The wine pours with bright acidity, mostly expressed in overripe strawberry elements and a slightly ashy finish. I actually tried this last year but got an off bottle. This one was enjoyable and presented in the French profile, and made for a delicious pairing with a croque madame.

2012 Stinson Cabernet Franc
Shenandoah Valley, Virginia
80% Cabernet Franc, 10% Merlot, 10% Petit Verdot
$23, 12.8% abv.

Light plum aromas with a touch of spice, followed by firm dark fruit flavors from the tiny grapes. The tannins are fairly mild and there's a long dark fruit finish. Cab Franc and Petit Verdot are two of my favorites, and while this doesn't taste Bordelais, it doesn't taste Californian either. Excellent example if you want to explore the influence of Virginia terroir on French grapes.

Note: These wines were provided as samples for review.

07 April 2014

2013 M. Chapoutier Belleruche Rosé

M. Chapoutier is a négociant based in the Rhône region of France. That means that the grapes are purchased from nearby vineyards and made into the various bottles that bear the Chapoutier name. This is not a practice that is isolated in France, but I don't think that any other countries have a specific name for it.

I love rosé year-round, and was absolutely delighted to get to try this tasty pink wine in the spring...

2013 M. Chapoutier Belleruche Rosé
Côtes du Rhône, France
Grenache & Syrah
$8, 13% abv.

Light aromas of tart raspberry with flavors that follow, including a burst of lemony acidity. Round mouthfeel with a beautiful salmon color and a long, tart finish. Incredible bargain and highly recommended. I had some very specific ideas about what sort of meal I would pair with this wine.

Spring has not entirely arrived here in my dear River City, something that brings me much joy. We had a few warm days last week but thankfully it's dipping down near freezing at night. However, I acknowledge the longer days and greening of the foliage with a proper Provençal lunch: stuffed clams, asparagus tips, and grilled lamb chops. Such a delicious pairing with this rosé and one that I hope you will enjoy at your own table.

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

04 April 2014

2012 Gnarly Head Malbec

A little site news first... Be sure to check out my latest post on PalatePress.com, in which I discuss awkward wine moments I've experienced. I've told a few of these stories here before, but I go into more depth in this new article. Also, I was recently interviewed by Jameson Fink for Grape Collective. There are some neat stories coming up in the next month, but I don't want to spoil anything quite this early.

On to the wine!

Even though the weather is getting warmer, it's still nice enough to enjoy some great reds before the searing Memphis heat turns our attention toward clean, crisp whites and fruity rosés. While Gnarly Head is most known for their Old Vine Zin, they've launched an Argentine Malbec as well. I would recommend both for your steak and burger nights, perhaps like the old 3Bs guys' nights that Paul and I enjoyed for years while he was still living in Memphis (3Bs = beef, booze, bad movies).

2012 Gnarly Head Malbec
Mendoza, Argentina
100% Malbec
$12, 13.5% abv.

Mild and fruity with great black plum aromas and flavors. Gentle tannins and soft acidity contribute to the round mouthfeel, and the good dark fruit shows well at a range of temperatures. Good bargain and it should be easy to find anywhere in the country.

Look at that! A sighting of a Nomacorc! It's pretty cool knowing that I've seen the actual machine that produced and cut that cork, as well as all of the equipment used in the testing and research. While I'll have some more details on the cork factory in the future, I'd highly recommend checking out this video of the factory shot by my friends at Wine Folly. It will give you the brief tour of how the synthetic corks are extruded and sliced.

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

01 April 2014

Red Wattle Hog

In nine years of swine blogging, there are always old favorites that you return to year after year. I most recently wrote about the Red Wattle pig last year for the Cochon Heritage Pork event here in Memphis, where that breed (and a few Berkshire hybrids) were used in the cooking of over forty distinct dishes using every part of the pig except for the oink.

The Red Wattle is easy to identify even at a young age, due to the presence of the distinctive "wattles", or pair of fleshy tags that hang down from the neck. These serve no evolutionary or culinary purpose, but remain as iconic as the beautiful chestnut roan color of the hair. The breed is known for being friendly and easy to handle, and the sows reliably deliver litters of up to 15 piglets. They're great if you've got a lot of oak trees, since they love to forage for acorns and that will definitely help deliver the classic heritage breed flavor. They are on the lean side, though the meat is not bland like most of the current lean hogs used for mass production. You can correct for that by wrapping chops in bacon or through the use of a larding needle for roasts. Whatever you do, don't overcook it.

There are varying theories about the origin of the Red Wattle breed. Some point to Texas, but I've always preferred the more legendary origin of French colonists bringing the pig to the US in the 1700s from the island of New Caledonia, a collectivité sui generis française located in Melanesia east of Australia.

Pigs were first introduced to the South Pacific some 3500 years ago, and pig roasts remain popular for special feasts throughout the islands. It is not improbable that some random mutation from an East Asian pig resulted in the familiar Red Wattle profile, though breeding records from those areas are highly unreliable. Still, the breed is making a renaissance in the United States, and I hope to see more of them in organic farms and in discerning butcher shops throughout the country.