Tuesday, May 30, 2006

Garden Rosé Tasting #4

Our first taste of 30C (86F) temperature of 2006 was as welcome and satisfying as a lazy Sunday morning coffee. While in typical northerner fashion I will soon bemoan the heat as oppressive, and rue every drop of sweat that rolls off my nose that is not a result of physical exertion, yesterday I welcomed the first real summer day with relief and open arms. Equally welcome was a chilled glass of pink as I took a stroll amongst the flowering lilacs, ‘rhodos,’ apple and pear trees.

Costières de Nîmes 2005, Domaine Saint-André (saq..$13.75)
Against a backdrop of apple blossoms, the Saint-André Rosé hails from the easternmost Languedoc appellation of Costières de Nîmes (due to its soil and climate, however, it is more Rhône than Languedoc).This blend of 45% Syrah and 55% Grenache is surprisingly delicate for a rosé de saignée. Its pretty and floral nose with hints of raspberry seemed a bit incongruent with its color, and even more surprising was its crisp acidity with slightly darker fruit and baie rose in the mouth. While it would work with a light fish, this is a classic dry rosé de terrasse, refreshing and clean.

2006 rosé ranking
1. Toscana Igt 2005, Rosato, Carpineto
2. Coteaux du Languedoc, Château de Lancyre 2005
3. Costières de Nîmes 2005, Domaine Saint-André
4. Saint Chinian 2005, Clos de L'Orb

Friday, May 26, 2006

Lobster and Wine
With lobster season upon us, it’s time to break out the white wine and enjoy this most delectable of our ocean’s bounty. But what to drink? The enigma that is matching wine with food, which seems to mystify so many people, is once again on the table. But fear not, in honour of one of my favourite seasonal foods, here is the caveman’s guide to all things seabug. And remember, kids love (to play with) lobster!

The Principle of the Pairing
It might seem obvious but we are matching the wine to the food. Think of your wine as if it were a spice or accompaniment, as another element to augment the flavours and textures of your cooking. While other elements such as the time of day (lunch or dinner), outside temperature and the colour of your dinner mate's eyes can also affect your choice of wine, let’s start simple. So as we look at the lobster, the first question is how is it cooked, and then, what is it served with?

Can’t I drink red…. please?
Let’s get over this one right away. Nope. Tannin in red wine and the iodine in the lobster will react to make the ensemble taste metallic, it’s basic chemistry...sorry. On another level, the natural saltiness of the lobster (as with most seafood) will amplify the flavours of whites while turning tannic reds slightly bitter. So what about Beaujolais and other low-tannin reds? The answer is still no as the lobster’s delicate flavour will be overpowered by even the most subtle Gamay.

So how do you like your lobster?
Are you grilling, boiling or poaching the lobster in beurre blanc? Are you serving it with cream sauce? Is it part of a salad? Our rule of thumb is the richer the preparation, the bigger the wine. And in terms of wine style, the iodine in the lobster tends to match better with more ‘mineral’ and less fruit-orientated wines.

Chilled lobster in a salad
Because of the vinaigrette, you will need a wine with a higher acidity or a hint of sweetness. Remember that your wine should always have more acidity than what is on the plate or else it will taste flat. Sauvignon Blanc, Chenin Blanc and a german style Riesling are spectacular choices with the nod going to the Sauvignon if it is served with asparagus or the Riesling in a more conventional salad.

Château des Matards 2004, Premières-côtes-de-blaye (saq..$15)
Deidesheimer Leinhöhle riesling kabinett Rheinpfalz 2002 (saq..$23)
Pouilly-fumé 2004, Pascal Jolivet (saq...$26)

Boiled, with and without the garlic butter
This is the classic. I tend to have the garlic butter on the table though I don’t dunk each juicy morsel. If you don’t go for the garlic butter, try a good quality Albarino, Viogner, Chablis or Pinot Blanc, wines which tend to be unoaked and have a natural richness without being too big. If you go garlic butter, try a Roussanne or white Grenache based wine (like a Côte du Rhone), Gruner Veltliner or Alsatian Pinot Gris. These grapes tend towards more vegetative notes which work well with garlic and that have enough body to stand up to the richness of the butter.

Without the garlic
Vinde pays d'oc 2005, Viognier, Domaine Cazal Viel (saq..$16)
Coteaux du Languedoc 2004, Château Saint-Martin de la Garrigue (saq...$18)
Albarino 2004, Pazo de Senorans (saq...$24)
Chardonnay 2004, Diamond Collection, Francis Coppola (saq...$28) * this chardonnay is mostly un-oaked
With garlic
Cote du Rhone 2005, Guigal (saq...$19)
Marsanne/viognier 2003, Enigma, Terre Rouge (saq...$30)
Grüner Veltliner Kellergard Smaragd 2003, FX Pichler (saq...$76)

Are you sure I can’t drink a red?
Good wine is good wine, and good food will always be good food. When the two are in harmony then the experience is that much better. Your choice.

Lobster in cream sauce
This is where texture comes into play and our choices become a touch more limited. This degree of opulence requires a substantial wine with white Burgundy being the quintessential match. Think Meursault, Monrachet or a more budget-oriented Pouilly-Fuissé as opposed to a California-style Chardonnay. The less fruit-oriented Burgundy’s greater acidity and less oak makes for a more delicate match.

Mâcon-igé 2004, Château London (saq...$22)
Pouilly-fuissé 2004, La Maréchaude vieilles vignes, Manciat-Poncet (saq..$27)
Chassagne-montrachet Château de la Maltroye (saq...$58)

Grilled lobster
If there is a place for oak and fruit, then it is here. The ‘charred’ and smokey flavors which result from grilling are ideal forums for the more ‘new world style’ whites which bring with them toast and smoke flavours as well as an abundance of ripe fruit. Australian, South American or Californian Chardonnays would be excellent choices.

Chardonnay 2004, Alamos Ridge Argentine (saq..$15)
Mercurey2002, Les , Château Génot-Boulanger (saq..$31)
Sicilia i.g.t. 2004, Chardonnay, Planeta (saq..$35)

Wednesday, May 24, 2006

Garden Rosé Tasting #3

The sacrifices I make for this blog know no end. With weeks of straight rain and sub-par temperatures, there have been few opportunities to drink pink. So as the thermometer slowly crawled up to my magic ambient tasting temperature of 18 Celcius, and under the first blue sky that we have seen in weeks, I could not but take advantage of this perfect tasting moment (even though it is only 10:30am).

Coteaux du Languedoc 2005, Pic Saint-Loup, Château de Lancyre (saq...$14.35)
Nestled amongst bottle high garlic, this classic Languedoc blend of Grenache and Syrah is more red than rose, and thus needs a bit of food to show all that it can do. Deep pink with orange overtones, the first sip refreshes the palette with summer berries and a decent acidity, but it’s slightly creamy finish of red peppercorns, ‘eau de vie de framboise’ and a touch of tannic astringency cry out for some paté, terrine, or other more 'substantial' canapé. Last year I used a couple glasses to poach some salmon and then drank the rest with the meal. So not the ideal pre-lunch beverage but the Lancyre would be a good start to evening meal with some interesting hors d’ouevres.

2006 rosé ranking
1. Toscana Igt 2005, Rosato, Carpineto
2. Château de Lancyre 2005
3. Saint Chinian 2005, Clos de L'Orb

3 inch high peas and the waiting trellis

Friday, May 19, 2006

Hooking Up With the Foodies

For one beautiful day (today), we have all gone Martha. This month’s combined effort of ‘Wineblog Wednesday’ and ‘Is My Blog Burning’ forces us to look at the complete package: the food and the wine. So welcome to wineland, dear foodies. In deference to all your great work, I could only seek inspiration for the culinary part of this exercise from one your sites. As I often lurk on a number of food blogs, I decided to jam on a recipe from one of my regular reads, Anne’s Chicken in Every Granny Cart.

As it has been cold, dreary and rainy for what seems like two months straight, I was in the mood for something spicy, something that tasted of sunshine. And for me, any vechicule for eating lots of fresh coriander makes me feel as though summer is around the corner. So here is my kid- and time-friendly take on Anne’s:

Pollo con Mole Verde & Frijoles con Puerco (detailed recipe here)

The Mole Verde
It’s May and I live in the country, so there was no way I was going to find fresh tomatillos. Couple this with the fact that I had an hour and a half to get this on the table, corners had to be cut. One of the remnants of my summer 2005 preserves was a half-litre bottle of salsa verde, so I decided that I would use this as the base for my mole. I sweated off the onion and garlic, added lime juice, my salsa (made from last summer's garden-grown tomatillos, coriander and scorching hot chiles), and let it reduce for 45 minutes till it was nice and thick… super fresh mole! Long live canning!

The Frijoles
This is killer. As the Mole was way too spicy for even my gastronomically adventurous children, I had to tone down the heat on this course. I followed Anne’s recipe except for using red wine instead of verjus , and replacing the jalapenos with a green bell pepper (as the chorizo already had some heat). I threw in a handful of fresh coriander at the end and topped it off with yoghurt instead of crème fraîche. I just finished the last of it with my morning eggs. Long live leftovers.

The Pollo
Again I followed Anne’s inspiration by pan-searing some chicken thighs, placing them on a dollop of mole and finishing them off in the oven. On the side, I made a basic white rice and a tomato-cucumber-coriander salad. As Anne so succinctly put it, holy frijole!

The Wine
Toscana Igt 2005, Rosato, Carpineto ($14…saq)

Corona exists for a reason. This type of mouth-blistering heat, while oh-so-satisfying, does little to accentuate the finer points of any wine. I just wanted cool and fresh and for me, that spells Rosé. As far as pinks go, Carpineto’s Rosato always makes my top three every summer. With grapes sourced from Greve in Chianti, this fuschia-tinted rosé is all fruit, with super ripe raspberry and cherry in the forefront. Great acidity and a surprising richness make this an excellent meal rosé…and it worked wonders with our little Mexican heatwave.

2006 ranking: #1 of 2

Tuesday, May 16, 2006

Bruno Clair’s Burgundy

Few wines combine depth and elegance like Pinot Noir. And when done right, it can be the apogee of red wine drinking. Unfortunately, there is a fine line that separates the great Pinots from the simply good, and the good from the banal. It is indeed a precarious balancing act. The best Pinot strikes that perfect balance between acidity and tannin, between fruit, earth and spice. It is soft, delicate, yet powerful.

While more and more good pinot is being made around the world, much of the great is still to be found in Burgundy. Nowhere is the argument in favour of the existence of ‘terroir’ more evident than here; for as one travels the Côte de Nuits down through the Beaune, one encounters many seductive shades of Pinot, where subtlety and nuance is the barometer of difference.

As I sat down for lunch last week with Marsannay-based Bruno Clair at Club de Chasse et Pêche, I had my taste bud sensitivity on high (and my stomach ready and waiting). Bruno has an excellent website which details his vision, approach to winemaking and his full catalogue of wines, so I will not rehash that here. However, Bruno is a winemaker that produces some of Burgundy’s purest examples of Pinot, adopting an approach that involves back-breaking vineyard work and minimal intervention winemaking. Pierre’s invitation promised classic great Burgundy from one of the nicest winemakers I would ever meet… he was right on both counts. Here’s the rundown.

Morey-St. Denis Blanc 2002, En la Rue de Vergy, Bruno Clair (saq...$75)
A rich yet delicate chardonnay that maintained its freshness despite its obvious concentration. It reminded me of a Puligny-styled white Burgundy, lots of finesse with hints of citrus flowers combined with an almost sweet, almond-hazelnut nuttiness. Excellent.

Marsannay 2002, Longeroies, Bruno Clair (saq...$42)
Typical of this northern outpost of the Nuits, heavier tannins and darker fruits combined with a hint of minerality show a wine with more power than finesse. I would like to see this bottle in a couple of years.

Savigny-les-Beaunes 2000, 1er Cru, La Dominode, Bruno Clair (saq...$76)
Savigny-les-Beaunes 2002, 1er Cru, La Dominode, Bruno Clair
100-year-old vines and a relatively rich soil combine to give a wine with deep colour, earthy pinot notes, dark cherry flavours and a hint of sweet spice. Most striking was the lineage and the remarkable constistency between the two vintages. While the 2000 had added hints of raspberry and chocolate overtones, the 2002 was incredible with big, rich yet approachable tannins, super racey fruit and more licorice-type spice.

Gevrey Chambertin 2000, 1er Cru, Clos du Fonteny, Bruno Clair (saq...$97)
Bruno described it quite appropriately as the ‘Chambolle of Gevrey.’ A wonderfully soft and fragrant Pinot, and while it paled slightly when tasted next to the more robust Cazetiers and Dominode, its ethereal bouquet of strawberries and delicate mouth feel were the best of the bunch with my salmon tartare, and a close second to the 1990 Cazetiers with my dorade; never underestimate the value of finesse.

Gevrey Chambertin 2002, 1er Cru, Cazetiers, Bruno Clair
Gevrey Chambertin 2000, 1er Cru, Cazatiers, Bruno Clair (saq...$97)
Gevrey Chambertin 1990, 1er Cru, Cazatiers, Bruno Clair

I'll put these three together, as the lineage was exceptional. As this bottle gets older, it simply amplifies the more enticing elements in the younger vintages. This is a satin-textured Gevrey with floral notes and exceptionally ripe, red fruit flavours. The 2000 had an incomparable lushness and the 1990, with its lilacs and even softer, more delicate fruits, is testament to how well Burgundy can age. The best of the best.

Friday, May 12, 2006

Garden Rosé Tasting #1

Aside from the pure, unadulterated, 100% joy and bliss that comes from lazing about on the grass on a warm, summer day (I’m still coming out of wintershock), the change of seasons in favour of warmth also means rosé season is upon us.

I make it a personal mission to taste as much pink as possible, unfortunately, my other summertime passion keeps me away from the keyboard. Ah, time, that most fleeting of riches! So, in an effort to pass the word on to all of you pink passionates, here is the first in a weekly tasting of the 2006 SAQ rosé selection against the backdrop of the evolution of an organic vegetable garden.

Editors note: In an effort to maintain a level playing field, all rosés will be drunk under similar conditions:
1. When the ambient temperature is above 18 Celsius (65F)
2. While sitting in the sun
3. Drunk from the same, weed-picking, garden-friendly glassware (in-flight cocktail style).

Garden Update (Tuesday May9)
First signs of life, radish sprouts (see photo above)
Tarragon made it through another winter (photo at left)

Saint Chinian 2005, Clos de L'Orb ($14...saq)

With all the hooplah surrounding the 2005 vintage, our first taste of what many winemakers are calling the 'perfect' year will be via the rosés. This cherry-come-candy-apple hued Saint-Chinian from the excellent Roquebrun co-op is a blend of 65% Syrah and 35% Grenache. The nose is packed with ripe cassis and raspberries, turning towards baies roses and other spicier notes. While I found it a bit too heavy as an aperitif, it was well-balanced, stayed fresh and worked well with the curry-tamari-honey marinated chicken brochettes.

2006 Ranking: #1 0f 1

Monday, May 08, 2006

Caveman Austrian Wine Adventure (CAWA*)

I might come as a surprise to many of you, but there is more to Austria than DJ Hamster and leiderhosen. On a wine level, I have always been impressed with the few examples that I have been able to get my hands on. So as the Austrian Wine Marketing Board roared into the luxurious ‘Lion D’Or’ with over 30 wineries represented and hundreds of wines to taste, I was the Spongebill, mouth open and ready to learn.

As a white wine lover, I am naturally drawn to a country where two thirds of planted acreage is dedicated to white varietals. And representing 36% of all vines planted, the ‘König vom Hügel’ is by far Grüner Veltliner. Grüner is a remarkable grape that can be many things depending on where it is grown and its concentration. Inexpensive Grüner reminds me of muscadet; brisk, fresh, but with spice and herbal notes replacing more typical Muscadet minerality. At its more monumental, it is rich and powerful, with a spice and herb component that harkens memories of great Rhône Roussane.

I was most impressed with the Riesling. For those put off by the ‘petrol’ quality of Alsace Riesling, or the sweetness of German offerings, Austrian Riesling has an ‘aerian’ (not Aryan) quality that endows it with an irreproachable finesse and elegance, no matter what the eventual concentration. The wines are dry, very ripe and tended towards the stone fruits though some of the best examples showed ginger and other spice highlights.

By far the most impressive bottles came from Weingut Bründlmayer, whose wines combined finesse and complexity like few Rieslings I have ever tasted. Though a touch pricey, the Zöbinger Heiligenstein Riesling Alte Reben Kamptal 2002 ($64…saq 10369266) is an outstanding mix of minerality and exotic fruit and one of the best Reislings at the tasting.

Rounding out the whites were interesting interpretations of Pinot Blanc and Traminer, with the majority of the bottlings leaning towards freshness as opposed to richness. Unfortunately, the sweet wines were not adequately represented, though Weingut Nittnaus’ super exotic Welschriesling TBA was extraordinary, and one of the best sweets that I have tasted in a long time (loaded with confit of ginger, nutmeg and apricots).

While the whites impressed, the reds in general left me a bit cold. Varietals like Zweigelt, Blaufränkisch and the Pinot Noiresque St. Laurent, while interesting, do not make very elegant wines. In general, I found them slightly chewy, too thick on the palette, which is often a sign of lacking acidity. There were a couple of bright spots however, in particular the Pannobile 2003 from Gernot & Heike Heinrich (80% Zweigelt mixed with 20% Blaufrankisch).

For the moment, the choice is pretty slim at the SAQ. However, if I had a wish list, it would include the following wineries (weinguts)…
Bründlmayer, Huber, Schloss Gobelsburg, , Heinrich, Loimer, Pichler, Kracher and Nittnaus.

* For the real thing, keep an eye on Basic Juice to keep abreast of Beau's promenade through Austrian wine country. Is he the missing 4th hamster? Will he wear leiderhosen? Does he like schnitzel? Stay tuned.

Monday, May 01, 2006

Spring Garden Update and a Rosé Testing Ground
Global Warming or Ma' Nature's Pity?

For my regular readers (300 or so of you per day...thanks!), I must warn you that I tend to post a little less during the summer months. We northern types get 4 months or so of warm weather, so the idea of wasting precious rays on hyperbole and pontification, even on something SO DAMNED IMPORTANT as wine, is well, just that.

But I am not just drunk and laying about on the beach. My aspirations of gentleman farmership and wannabee great chefiness are both tied to the success of my 3000 sq. foot organically enriched vegetable garden. A bit of sweat is required to keep the gnomes happy. So in an effort to keep the blog current as the temperature rises, I hereby declare the start of a brand new feature on the Caveman... Garden Rosé Tasting. Starting next week, and hopefully at least once a week throughout the summer, a pinky will be sampled while seeding, inspecting for evil bugs, watering and weeding. Let's call it Bill's Buco-holic summer adventure! And like always, all you locals are more than welcome to join me in the tasting (and in yanking a weed or two).

So to lay the groundwork for this new feature, here are the three plateaus as they are today, tilled and half-seeded. It must be noted that that this is by two weeks the earliest that I have been able to work the earth (zone 4B), even more shocking considering that this was the snowiest winter of the last 20 years. Is it global warming or has Mother Nature answered my prayers by liberating me from my dependance on the supermarket?