Saturday, February 26, 2005

Easton Update

I have already reviewed the line of Easton wines, but it is always interesting to watch a winemaker and his wines develop from one vintage to the next. So while I struggle over my review of the ‘vin nature’ tasting, I’ll follow a path of less resistance and offer up the skinny of one my favorite Californian winemakers.

Enigma 2002, Sierra Foothills, Terre Rouge ($34.. saq)
While the 2000 was a delicate and refreshing mix of honey and flowers, the 2001 is much more Rhone style with those typical ‘heady’ aromas of tea and smoke. With less acidity than the 2000, this Enigma compensates with more length and richness. Both are great but I could see Bill’s pride swell when I made the Rhone style comment. This could be an early favorite for lobster season.

California House 2003 ($20.. importation)
A blend of Syrah and Cabernet and Easton’s first foray into a new price bracket, I found it very Californian with super ripe fruit and a hint of residual sugar, but with none of that suffocating oak. An interesting bouquet with whiffs of horse fart made me laugh and like it even more. One of the better under $20 Cali reds that I have tasted.

Mourvèdre 2000, Amador County, Terre Rouge ($35…saq)
Five dollars cheaper and way better than the 1999, this is Mourvèdre Bandol-style wrapped in a silky Californian bath robe. More of that ‘funky,’ animal bouquet and with way softer tannins, the 2000 is rich, tasty and very ready to drink while the 1999 was a bit austere. A great buy and bring on the filet with a blue cheese and wild mushroom sauce.

Late-Harvest Zinfandel 2000, El Dorado County ($33… importation…500ml)
My first ever late-harvest Zin, it had just enough residual sugar to be a late-harvest as opposed to a botched, over-ripe ‘dry’ Zin. Interesting but how to use it was a bit of a puzzle. Perhaps a spicy, red-wine sauced fois gras or maybe some sort of chocolate, mushroom and cassis cake… or probably just straight up, or maybe….?

Monday, February 21, 2005

My Dinner with Barbera

My recent foray into Italian wines has been a revelation with respect to the difference between ‘good wine,’ and ‘good- food wine;’ wines that drink well and those that ‘eat well.’ The Italians are masters of food wines, wines that can transform and morph into the perfect companion to whatever is on your plate. If you can get close, the bottle will take you the rest of the way, making even a so-so choice a pleasant experience. I kinda botched this one but Barbera bailed me out.

I gave Nate, my 3 year old son, a meat tenderizer and let him take care of the veal. I then baked the scallopines in a half pound of fresh shitake mushrooms, garlic and basil. A semi-successful attempt at home-made gnocchi was the side dish with a classic ceasar to round out the table.

Barbera d’Asti 2001, La Tota, Marchesi Alfieri ($26..saq)
I am a novice when it comes to this Piedmont grape. However, the majority of Italian wines are not ‘fruit driven,’ so I was a bit shocked by the rich notes of blackberries and other dark fruits. Super silky tannins with a just a hint of vanilla, I found it very linear, almost meaty, and lacking any of those sexy earthy notes that characterize so much of Italian wine, and what I wanted to go with my mushroom laden veal. But as we ate, the wine forgave, and subtle notes of spices came through the brin of fruit. It was still better on it’s own, and maybe made for pasta, but it did it’s best to take a backseat to the food; a decent match but not fantastic. I was left wondering wether this was typical barbera... the investigation has begun.


Friday, February 18, 2005

5 Favorite Wines… A Cellar Update

I have been spending most of my evenings working the floor these days so dinners have been 15 minute scoffs as opposed to my normal blog fodder. At least the work food is generally quite exceptional. So in the spirit of maintaining my bi-weekly posting, here are some of my favorite wines that I have opened over the last couple of weeks (in no particular order).

Rosso Piceno Superiore 2000, D.o.c., Il Grifone, Tenuta Cocci Grifone ($52…importation)
A unique wine from an obscure appellation in the Italian Marches, this mix of 70% Montepulciano, Sangiovese and Cabernet Sauvignon represents what is best in Italian wine. Magnificently fluid, it has an amazing amplitude and incredible length. Hints of leather, tobacco and black licorice with a very ripe cassis, it works wonders with the tournedos of deer on our tasting menu. Beautiful now, in a couple more years it might approach epic.

Ribera del Duero, 2000, Domino de Atuata ($40...saq)
Ribera or Rioja? Ribera! For those who want the richness and earthy bouquet that are so characteristic of Spanish wines, but without the cumbersome oak and sullen flavors of 100% Tempranillo, this is for you. A mix of Tempranillo, Cabernet and Merlot, all tastefully aged in French oak, this is Spanish at it’s most elegant. Superb now, it will age with grace and beauty.

Ribera del Duero 1995, Gran reserva, Pequera ($96..saq)
100% Tempranillo and 30 months in new American oak, this is the not for the faint of heart. It still needs an hour in carafe to lose a bit of the wood, but once it is there, for the fans of Bandol and more ‘rustic’ bouquets, this will satisfy. A nice acidity and well –integrated tannins assure a long life, but will it slowly decay into those rotting forest odors that kill so much of Rioja? I would go the route of the carafe and not take the chance.

Engelgarten 2000, Marcel Deiss ($48… rare)
The master of the assemblage, Deiss’ Engelgarten combines Riesling, Pinot Gris and Muscat into an almost German feeling mountain wine. A wonderful minerality with notes of lemons, orange peels and honey, the touch of residual sugar adds just enough richness to calm the acidity. Still tight, this will get better for a long time. Yeah, I have 2 bottles.

La Belle Epoque 1996, Perrier-Jouet ($120…saq)
I have never been a bubbly guy, and that is to a large part due to it’s outrageous price. However, this bottle floored me. Made mostly with Chardonnay with a touch of Pinot Noir and Pinot Meunier, it was soft yet complex, rich yet refreshing, I could go on and on. Thanks to the client from New York who gave me a glass. Cheers.

Monday, February 14, 2005

A Vertical of La Chapelle and Other Wines

I have a penchant for small, artisinal producers and an admitted prejudice against much of the Goliaths of the wine world. However, houses such as Jaboulet which have been around a long time (in this case 170 years), often have a crowning jewel, that one mythic wine which justifies it’s part in the history of the world’s viticulture. For Jaboulet it is La Chapelle, from the Northern Côtes du Rhone appellation of Hermitage. Thanks to Vincor for arranging this tasting which was animated by Nicolas Jaboulet.

Hermitage Blanc 1999, Chévalier de Stérimberg ($81..saq)
A Classic Marsanne-Rousanne blend and a favorite of the tasting. Brilliant deep gold color, a complex and enticing bouquet of stewed apples, cloves, honey and xeres. It tasted much as it smelt, rich yet still fresh, with an almost pepper like finish. It also worked as a fantastic mouthwash as my taste buds got worked by the big reds.

Crozes Hermitage 2001, Domaine de Thalabert ($31…saq)
Magnificent and ‘meaty’ bouquet with very ripe dark fruit, and just enough of that barnyard twang to make it interesting. Perhaps a touch thin on the finish but extremely elegant.

Crozes Hermitage 2003, Domaine de Thalabert ($31…saq)
The summer of scorching heat which resulted in a 66% drop in production of many of their brands. Only in bottle for 3 weeks, this was a tester Nicolas brought with him. Though still a little edgy, it had deep color, a wonderfully smokey bouquet and rich, ripe fruit backed by a fantastic acidity that kept it fresh. Californian producers should go there and take a course on how to make non-chewey reds with super-ripe grapes.

Hermitage, La Chappelle ($149…saq)
Made with grapes from 40 year old vines from 7 different parcels of land, each with their unique terroir, this is very serious Syrah that can easily live 30-40 years in good vintages. Here’s the vertical in the order it was served.

2001…. Incredibly dense yet with remarkably supple tannins, the bouquet had a complexity that I had a hard time decorticating. There was cassis, chocolate and pepper in the mouth but one had the feeling that there were so many other layers of flavors and spices that it was an injustice to judge it right now. Wow.

2000….Weaker year so I felt much less guilty casting judgement. A brilliant color of red plums and a super sweet bouquet of ripe juicy berries that fit perfectly with an almost sweet strawberry finish. Very pretty but by no means soft, the length was extraordinary alternating from fruit to spice and back to the fruit.

1999…. Another big year but where the 2001 had integrated tannins, the ’99 was a bit astringent, making it difficult to judge. Felt like I was eating cotton.

Here is where I had another glass of the white.

1991…. Very purple with tinges of brown, this is a Chapelle in it’s prime. So much fun to smell, and even more of a delight to drink. Hints of sweet cloves, red peppercorns and a slightly jammy fruit were supported by a smokey, dense bouquet. Really good.

1985…. At 20 years, I felt that this was on it’s way down. Nicolas said it was a ‘fragile’ vintage and has been since bottling. It lacked depth and was veering into those cooked fruit port flavors that I tend to dislike.

Wednesday, February 09, 2005

A Tale of Two Wines (and One Dish)

At L’Eau we offer tasting menus which match Anne and Nancy’s cuisine with wines from various regions or countries. While the food selection changes once every 3 months, we change the wines at 6 weeks, thus offering us inquisitive ‘wine and food heads’ an opportunity to look at a food pairing from two different angles. Here’s the story of the seafood duo.

The Plate
A tartare of scallops mixed with wild ginger and mustard is served in a floret of arctic char which was marinated in lemon and coriander. This little package of fun is served on a bed of jicama (yam bean or Mexican turnip) with a soupcon of flying fish row.

Wine #1

Château Rochemorin 2002, Pessac-Leognan ($22..saq)
Brimming with pink grapefruit and lemons, this is classic white Bordeaux from a year that was very kind to northern French whites. While it doesn’t have the toe-curling acidity of Sancerre, it still remains extremely fresh and is perhaps a touch richer. A mix of 90% Sauvignon and 10% Semillon with a hint of oak, there are notes of garden herbs, sorrel and basil to complement the citrus twang. The match was extraordinary with the herbal notes blending with the coriander in the fish marinade, and the citrus component acting as if squeezing a half ‘pink lemon’ over the scallops.

Wine #2

Vermentino di Sardegna 2003, Cala Silente ($22..importation)
While it maintains a healthy acidity for a warm weather white, this Sardinian offering has much more body than the Rochemorin. It smells like a bouquet of spring flowers with notes of pear and a hint of lemon. In the mouth it has an almost honey like feel and finishes grassy and menthol, which keeps it really light despite it’s richness. Here the play is on the mustard and ginger in the scallops, and where the Bordeaux put the emphasis on the fish, the Vermentino brings out the luscious texture of the scallops.

Two wines, One dish, coming from opposing directions but each working perfectly. This is starting to get real fun.

Thursday, February 03, 2005

Gewurztraminer and Curry :
Myth, Match or Magic?

No wine is more fun to drink than a great gewurtz. Aromatically, it is both sweet and complex, and with a phenomenal richness and density of flavors in each glass. The problem is finding food that can benefit, and not be buried, by a wine this opulent. The classic is cumin-laced münster cheese, and building on this cumin theme, Asiatic and Indian cuisine has often been recommended as a worthwhile pairing. I love cumin and cook with it often, but usually drink a slightly aged, dry Jurançon, or white Chateauneuf, wines that tend towards mild oxidized flavors.
So, in dutiful service to blogdom and with a Thai-style chicken curry on the table, out pops the cork of one of my favorite gewürztraminers, and so begins the study.

Gewurztraminer 2001, Clos des Capucins, Cuvée Théo, Weinbach ($45…saq)
A solid yet elegant Gewurz, the Théo is the result of both organic and bio-dynamic farming. It is classic gewurz: a beautiful copper hue, notes of lychees, apricot and pineapple confit, with just a hint of residual sugar and a finale of zest of burnt oranges. But it’s the dense, heady aromas that is the beauty of the gewurz, almost like walking into a flower shop. My curry, laced with cumin, coriander and ginger worked well with the aromas but had a tough time defending against the weight of the flavors. I found myself spending a lot of time sniffing the wine and then my plate, and then back to the wine.
I would call it a match, not quite made in heaven, but definitely worthy of more study.
Your dutiful blog servant