28 July 2014

Nuvino Wine Pouches

While tasting the wines from Nuvino packaged in foil pouches, I did not think about Capri Sun as much as I did the space program, and how it felt like the kind of beverage packaging that one would need in zero gravity. That took me back to something I made last year for an April Fools post that I ended up scrapping, but I still like the fake label that I made for a hypothetical wine made on board the International Space Station.

On the 45th anniversary of the Apollo 11 moon landing, I found myself sipping wine out of a foil/plastic pouch of the sort that would be very convenient on the ISS or other spacecraft. Indeed, fellow Presbyterian Buzz Aldrin celebrated communion on the moon with a little vial of wine, and of course the Russians have had no problem sending up adult libations over the years. (There was an early idea to provide astronauts with sherry on Skylab, but that got nixed and since then the US space program has had a zero alcohol policy.)

These four wines are packaged in 187mL pouches made by PreservPak and marketed by Nuvino. Each pouch is a single serving and retails for $4, which is a fairly good bargain since you're getting a fourth of a bottle versus the traditional fifth in a glass.

2013 Sauvignon Blanc
Maule Valley, Chile
13% abv.

Clean and mild, gentle Meyer lemon flavors. Round body and a quick finish.

2013 Chardonnay
Cape Winelands, South Africa
13.5% abv.

Light apricot, no oak, mild finish. Really very delicate for a Southern hemisphere Chardonnay.

2013 Malbec
Maipu, Argentina
14.5% abv.

Dominant profile of prune and stewed fruits with a little ash and leather.

2013 Red Blend
Swan Hill, Australia
13.9% abv.

Blackberry and chocolate with firm tannins and a long, lingering finish.

Note: These wines were provided as samples for review.

23 July 2014

Protea Wines of South Africa

Protea Wines employs a curious brand strategy. The fronts of the bottles say nothing about the wine, and a small, removable label on the back just lists the required details and UPC barcode. The rest of the bottle is printed directly with a floral design courtesy of South African fashion designer Mark Eisen. They promote the beauty of the leftover bottles with the Save Your Bottle campaign, encouraging people to re-use the glass for storing olive oil, vinegar, for use as candle holders or vases, cut into drinking glasses, etc.

Protea (PROH-tee-ah) is named after a group of South African flowers that were in turn named after the shapeshifting Greek god Proteus. This is due to the fact that the flower comes in many different forms. The most well known is the King Protea, which like many of its genus, requires going through a wildfire as part of its life cycle.

Continuing with the attention to commercial design, the samples included a bottle coaster made by American ceramics designer Jono Pandolfi. If you've never used a bottle coaster, it's for keeping stray drips from staining your table or tablecloth. You see them in silver, some folks use their leftover crème brûlée ramekins from the dessert case at Whole Foods, or the less classy wad of paper towels. I like the earth tones in this one and look forward to using it for its intended purpose for years to come.

2013 Protea Chenin Blanc
Coastal Region, South Africa
100% Chenin Blanc
$18, 13.5% abv.

Once you peel off the label you can call it Steen and be true to the region. This is a delicate summer sipper with a profile of lime zest and pear, light white fruit, low acidity, and a gentle finish. Perfect for mild seafood dishes like steamed mussels where the salt will bring out the flavor in the wine.

2012 Protea Red Blend
Western Cape, South Africa
53% Cabernet Sauvignon, 47% Merlot
$18, 14% abv.

This wine brought back a lot of memories from my South African wine tasting and dinner in NYC. Luscious aromas of dark cherry and coffee with hints of chocolate. Dark berry flavors and medium tannins with a long, lingering finish. Highly recommended for grilled lamb dishes.

Note: These wines were provided as samples for review.

21 July 2014

July Wines of Germany

The concept of selecting wines seasonally is a great one and an approach that I highly recommend. However, even within a class of wine, pairing food seasonally is also a way to bring more joy from a certain bottle. For instance, let's look at Riesling. I always serve it cool, not cold, which would seem perfect for the summer. However, it is wonderful in the fall and winter with classic hearty German fare. Even though our Memphis summer has been fairly mild so far, I'm not really in the mood for a heavy plate of Weiβwurst und Spätzle. When it's hot outside, I love the combination of Riesling and spicy food with lots of fresh ingredients, so those tall thin bottles get opened up in the presence of Thai, Indian, Vietnamese, and Japanese food. Even Mexican, though more along the lines of ceviche and bright coastal fare rather than goopy Tex-Mex. The chiles play nicely with the sweet or dry grapes, and the low alcohol provides for light refreshment.

Here are four bottles that I've had the opportunity to try recently:

2010 G.H. von Mumm Rüdesheimer Berg Rottland Riesling Trocken
Rheingau, Germany
100% Riesling
$13, 13% abv.

This bottle has an overall profile of light pear elements. Good acidity with a dry and crisp finish. The wine has a big enough body to stand up to heavily spiced dishes, so I had it with a lamb vindaloo.

2012 St. Urbans-Hof Ockfener Bockstein Riesling Kabinett
Mosel, Germany
100% Riesling
$22, 8% abv.

Gentle ripe apple aromas with an earthy undertone, slight sweetness, low acidity and a round mouthfeel. I found it absolutely delightful with sushi and gyoza dumplings.

2012 Reichsgraf von Kesselstatt Riesling
Mosel-Saar-Ruwer, Germany
100% Riesling
$20, 10% abv.

Dark aroma of honey and jasmine, medium sweetness with a little lemon on the finish. This one was a natural match for a bowl of phở tái bò viên with lots of crushed basil.

2012 Alexander Laible Riesling Trocken Chara
Baden, Germany
100% Riesling
$20, 13%

The fourth bottle was sampled on its own but had a fascinating nose of quince and herbs. Dry and tart with a mineral finish, it represents a very Old World style and is one of those wines that you keep coming back to in order to pick out the complex aromas and flavors. Highly recommended.

Note: These wines were provided as samples for review.

16 July 2014

Belle Ambiance

Belle Ambiance is a marque under the Delicato Family Vineyards umbrella. Tasting notes and details can be found under the latter website, and I've seen the displays in local wine shops. With the low prices, pastel labels, and simple yet classy presentation, these seem like the perfect wines for weddings, baby showers, and similar occasions. Lest anyone think that I am classifying an entire line of wine as feminine, I would like to point out that I catered a wedding and baby shower within the past year with tremendous success. A classy, French-inspired, Art Deco type label works much better in such an occasion than a Spanish wine label that celebrates bull testicles (more on that in a future post).

2013 Belle Ambiance Pinot Grigio
100% Pinot Grigio
$10, 13% abv.

I have a complicated history with Pinot Grigio, and this is not my favorite presentation of the grape, but it has its place as something gentle that a lot of people will enjoy at a big event. Light and crisp, tiny touch of lemon peel, gentle body and an overall refreshing profile. Great for mingling and talking in lieu of a sparkling wine.

2012 Belle Ambiance Chardonnay
100% Chardonnay
$10, 13.5% abv.

This California Chardonnay shows a touch of honey and a little sweetness. Firmer body than the Pinot Grigio, with a little oak to provide depth and a hint of vanilla and caramel. A good one to go along with the chicken covered in a creamy mushroom sauce at the wedding reception.

2012 Belle Ambiance Pinot Noir
100% Pinot Noir
$10, 13.5% abv.

This one surprised me with a little more complexity than I was expecting. Classic strawberry profile but there are nutty and earthy undertones on the nose. A mellow body with low tannins contributes to a real crowd pleaser for folks that may not be ready for a strong Cabernet Sauvignon. Obviously the best choice for everyone whose seating card has a red tag.

Note: These wines were provided as samples for review.

14 July 2014

DeBarge Vineyards and Winery

DeBarge Vineyards and Winery is the culimination of a series of projects headed by Dr. Raymond DeBarge, an eye surgeon in Fort Oglethorpe, Georgia. The urban winery is located in Chattanooga, Tennessee (a city right on the Georgia border) in the Southside Historic District, not too far from the campus of UT Chattanooga. The vineyards are in Northwest Georgia on Pigeon Mountain. The winery allows for people to experience winemaking without making a trip to the countryside, while the vineyards provide a bucolic background for weddings or other special events.

Dr. DeBarge has had a passion for grape growing and winemaking since the 90s, and the urban winery opened in 2012. He faced a conundrum familiar to Tennessee wine lovers: the grapes that grow best here are French-American hybrids, and the native style is sweet and strong, while the mainstream wine enthusiast goes in the opposite direction. The palates of Tennesseans are changing, and an interest in milder wine styles combined with the growing locavore movement presents a great opportunity for this winery. With a combination of traditional European varieties as well as the hybrids, there's a little something for everyone.

The first four wines come from the Georgia vineyards, while the last two are made in Chattanooga from west coast grapes. Thankfully, the bottles are not misleading at all and the back labels explain the origins. It's a refreshing contrast to the shenanigans in Texas. All of the wines sampled here are enclosed with screwcaps and most are available from the website. Two of the whites had just been bottled and were shipped as advance samples before the labels had been delivered.

NV DeBarge Chardonnooga
Chardonnel & Cayuga White
$15, 13% abv.

Humorous wine names are common in the southeast, and this one got a laugh out of me. The nose is somewhere between Chardonnay and Moscato but the flavor is very mild, dry, and has a clean finish. Some initial foxy notes but overall it is light and pleasant. I've had a lot of hybrid grapes in the past and this is by far the most elegant presentation that I've tasted. I would strongly recommend it as a Thanksgiving wine, not just for the American nature of it, but also the approachability from both wine novices and more experienced palates.

NV DeBarge Chattaboogie Blanc
Traminette, Cayuga White, Vidal Blanc, and Viognier
$18, 12.5% abv.

This is the type of musky and sweet white wine that is indicative of the region. It opens up with hints of clover and honeysuckle that bring back memories of hot summer days. While sweet, it is not cloying and comes across as refreshing with a light picnic of cold fried chicken and potato salad.

2013 DeBarge Albariño
$18, 13% abv.

Albariño has been surprising me a lot recently, having tasted outstanding versions from Oregon and California, lands far from its Spanish home. I was excited to try this one and it did not disappoint. Intriguing lime zest aroma with very restrained citrus flavors and a gentle, mineral finish. A little bigger body than cold climate Albariño, but really quite nice and a wine that would go great with roast trout and fresh asparagus. Also a good one to bring along to your next blind tasting party just to stump everyone.

NV DeBarge Labyrinth
45% Cabernet Franc, 45% Cabernet Sauvignon, and 10% Chambourcin
$27, 12.5% abv.

A little Bordeaux-style with a hybrid contribution from the Chambourcin. Lovely plum and black cherry aromas. The dark fruit profile follows through on the tongue, with firm tannins and a little tea in the background. I'd love to see this one paired with a well-roasted venison sirloin.

2009 DeBarge Cabernet Sauvignon
$25, 13.5% abv.

The grapes for this wine were sourced from Washington. Again, the Bordeaux influence is evident with this bottle. Very light with a nice whiff of green tobacco and leather. Gentle cassis flavors with mild tannins and a smooth finish. Open up for steak night and enjoy an after dinner cigar under the moonlight.

2012 DeBarge Zinfandel
Wine Club Exclusive, 17% abv.

Sourced from California, in the grand tradition of Zinfandel grapes headed to the east. This is a big wine, clocking in at alcohol levels near Port and reminiscent of some of the big Shiraz that came out of Australia in the past decade. Lots of fruit flavor but not sweet, with a focus on blackberry and chocolate flavors. It is rich with medium tannins, and I'd recommend this with soft white and bleu cheeses as a tasty dessert course.

Note: These wines were provided as samples for review.

10 July 2014

Summer of Vinho Verde in Memphis

Vinho Verde continues to produce wines that are a great bargain and go well with the kinds of foods we eat here in Memphis during the summer. It's easy to think that you've only got that little green, slightly sweet wine, but the region has a great deal of diversity and I hope that everyone has the opportunity to explore this delightful region. I've reviewed eighteen bottles of Vinho Verde in the past and with these two am proud to round up to twenty.

With this pair, I've got a slightly fizzy rosé and a still white, yet you could grab both for just a little over $20. I talk a lot about "gateway" wines, and Vinho Verde certainly fits the bill. It's not just about giving someone their first taste of wine, it's also about convincing the beer drinker that, as much as we all love beer, there are other BBQ beverages out there. Ditto for Prosecco, Cava, various Crémants from France... Also, The sparkling Vinho Verde wines are great practice bottles for folks that haven't opened up a lot of sparklers. There's not a lot of pressure so if the cork pops out, nobody's going to get hurt. As I tell everyone, twist gently and let the air pressure remove the cork. No need to hit someone in the eye and dump a third of the bottle all over your trousers.

NV Las Lilas Rosé
Vinho Verde, Portugal
60% Vinhão, 30% Borraçal and 10% Espadeiro
$9, 10% abv.

Fun, slightly sweet with just a touch of fizz and a light profile of watermelon and strawberry. Pair with raw oysters and sea salt.

NV Adega Ponte de Lima Loureiro
Vinho Verde, Portugal
100% Loureiro
$12, 11% abv.

Light and crisp, delicate body with a mineral base and slightly tart touch of lemon. Even better with boiled shellfish. Speaking of which...

I took these bottles along when my friend Melissa invited me over to her horse farm for a shrimp boil on Memorial Day.

Moments after this photo was taken, the aluminum trays were dumped onto the newspaper covering the picnic tables, and we all dove in to eat shrimp and li'l smokies and corn and potatoes as God intended: with greasy fingers and stray kernels in the beard. The Portuguese have their own traditions of pig roasts and mussel festivals, but their wines adapt quite well to our traditions here in the Delta. I hope that as the summer continues, all of you are able to incorporate affordable European wines like these into your American cookouts. It's a great way to connect culinary traditions across centuries and oceans.

Note: These wines were provided as samples for review.

07 July 2014

Crémant d'Alsace

There's really no wrong time of year to drink Crémant d'Alsace. It's tasty and affordable, so I often recommend it for weddings or winter holiday parties where you're serving a large group. Here in the summer, it shines with BBQ and picnic foods. Bubbles never have to be saved for a special occasion, and if you've never experienced the joy of fried chicken and sparkling wine on a breezy summer afternoon, you're really missing out.

All four of these are dry and tart, and I was glad to be able to sample two rosés and two blancs.

NV Dopff & Irion Rosé Brut
Alsace, France
100% Pinot Noir
$20, 12% abv.

Think of this as raspberry lemonade with little nutty undertones and large bubbles. Outstanding with a pressed Cuban sandwich but it would pair well with any platter of olives and cured meats.

NV Charles Baur Rosé Brut
Alsace, France
100% Pinot Noir
$20, 12.5% abv.

This bottle presents a dominant profile of crisp ripe strawberry. The tart acidity zips away with a quick finish. On the picnic front, you'll find it fun to taste this with creamy sides like deviled eggs and potato salad where it provides a nice contrast.

NV Lucien Albrecht Brut Blanc de Blancs
Alsace, France
80% Pinot Auxerrois, 10% Pinot Blanc, & 10% Chardonnay
$20, 12% abv.

Lean and mineral with light notes of green apple. A classic that I highly recommend for sipping while mingling in a crowd.

NV Gustave Lorentz Brut
Alsace, France
Proprietary Blend of Chardonnay, Pinot Blanc, and Pinot Noir
$17, 12% abv.

I found this to be the most tart of the group, with a shot of lemony acidity and a milder pear flavors underneath. Take a wheel of brie, top it with honey and walnuts, and bake until runny. Pour the wine, grab a baguette, and you can waste away a delicious hour or two with friends.

Note: These wines were received as samples.

01 July 2014

Dinner in Memphis for July 1, 1914

While nosing around on some sites about Memphis history, I found a particular curiosity well-suited to this here blog. Historic-memphis.com had a series of photos of the old Goldsmith's department stores, and buried within that set was a menu from exactly 100 years ago.

Goldsmith's was founded in Memphis in 1870 and was a local institution until 2005 when the name was completely absorbed into the Macy's chain. I got a lot of dress shirts and school clothes from their stores when I was a kid, and still remember getting sweaters for Christmas in those white boxes with the embossed lids.

The menu is from a celebratory dinner for Jacob Goldsmith, one of the founding brothers (and the lone survivor at the time) who was 64 in 1914. The brothers were from Germany and immigrated to Memphis after the Civil War. The dinner does not reflect German, Jewish, or Southern cuisine, and frankly seems a little bland. In fact, I can say with authority that I have had more spectacular meals on airplanes (minus the cigarettes and cigars).

Of course, not everyone from that era was having the epic 1912 last dinner for first class passengers on the Titanic. While now we might adore our roughly chopped and heavily seasoned roasted Provençal vegetables, at the time, this was a classy dinner for high society in our little river town. The Haut Sauterne wine was likely not a fine Bordelais dessert bottle but rather a domestic white blend of French-American hybrids.

The more I look at the menu, the more it reminds me of fine dining and weddings and my grandmother's flower society gatherings back in the 80s. French nouvelle cuisine and California modern hadn't hit Memphis yet, and things like stuffed tomatoes were considered pretty fancy. I'm thinking that next year I ought to recreate this menu in full for a dinner party. Who's up for some planked white fish?