31 May, 2010

A Rose not to miss.

Okay, okay. I'm on a bit of of a rose kick right now. But when friends request a rose tasting, who am I to refuse, especially when they agree to pair them with tapas. Many of the wines I picked I had tasted at the Solo Vino pink wine tasting but I also wanted to try something new. So off to Byerly's Wine Shop where I spied this little number. The label caught my eye and then the wine consultant in the store started to rave about it. I was hooked and couldn't wait to try it.

Charles and Charles 2009 rose is a collaboration between Charles Smith of KVitners and Charles Bieler of Three Thieves, both of Washington state. This wine is a knock out and was the favorite wine of the evening with flavors of strawberry, raspberry, a little black pepper and even citrus on the back of the palate. It's dry and refreshing and perfect for a summer evening. But you better get it now as once it's gone, it's gone. And at only $12.99 a bottle, it will go fast.

And by the way, this group of friends noticed that almost all of the wines tasted better after they had warmed up a bit. Not room temperature, but not straight from the fridge. Just let it warm up for about a half hour after you pull it out off the ice or out of your chill chest (to quote Alton Brown.)


27 May, 2010

An inexpensive summer red.

I love red wine but tend to lean towards whites during the summer for their cool, refreshing quality. But we grill an awful lot all summer long and often red wines pair well with the beef and pork we toss on the grill.

I discovered this great inexpensive red wine at a tasting at Surdyk's last summer and immediately fell in love. I've since taken it to several friends who are also impressed. They're even more impressed when I tell them I was able to pick it up for about $8 on sale.

Then today, imagine my surprise when I found Evodia  featured on the WSJ blog, On Wine.  Lettie Teague featured it as a low tannin wine, making it a very smooth red to drink. This Spanish wine is made from Grenache (or Garnacha if you're in Spain) so expect the juicy wine to express flavors of  raspberry, blackberry and black pepper. Enjoy!


26 May, 2010

Wine Word Wednesday: Tannins.

 (Photo credit: colourise)

Have you ever made a cup a tea and left the tea bag in too long? That strong tea probably made the insides of your mouth feel very dry and left a bitter taste. Or perhaps you've taken one of those stir stick from the coffee shop and absently chewed on it a bit. Again, you probably noticed that it wasn't that pleasant, leaving that dry sensation behind. These are both the result of tannin.

Tannin (geek speak: polyphenols) are present in a great deal of plant life, grapes not excepted. It comes from the skins, the seeds or pips, and stems of grapes or from the wood that a wine has been aged in. You'll notice it as a sensation or mouthfeel more than a flavor. However, it may have a bitter taste for some. I notice tannins mostly on my gums and my cheeks. You may notice it on the roof of your mouth. Next time you have a young red wine (or brew up some strong tea just for this test) swish the wine around to cover many areas and see where you notice this drying sensation the most.

Tannins act as a perservative for red wines (just as acid acts like a perservative for white wines.) Wines that are tannic when they are young benefit from aging. As the wine ages, the tannins will break down and join with other compounds in the wine to soften out and evolve into something much smoother. Wines like Bordeaux, Nebbiolo and Syrah (from the Rhone) will come across rough and crude in their youth but will evolve letting more of the fruit shine through as it ages. Many winemakers have become masters at managing tannins in more youthful wine, particuarly California Cabernet and Australian Shiraz makers.

While tannin is mostly found in red wines (the grape skins are left in contact with the juice longer) it is present in some whites, however, you'll see it more often described as astringency rather than tannin.

Try putting this into practice. This would make a very interesting tasting comparison. Try serving a young Bordeaux wine next to a California Cabernet of the same age and you'll notice a difference in tannins between the two. As a side note, I often do this wine comparison with guests at dinner parties with great success. Or maybe my guests are just humoring me.

25 May, 2010

Unexpected wine from an unexpected place.

I love New World wines, Oregon Pinot Noir and Australian Shiraz are two particular favorites. In fact, I'm a bit intimidated by Old World wines. The labels are hard to understand; it's difficult to determine if you're going to like what you're buying. I've been trying to expand my wine knowledge through trying more Old World wines. So when I heard a trusted source rave about Croatian wines this last week, I needed to try for myself.

While we haven't heard much about Croatia here, wine has a long, long history there. They've been cultivating wine several centuries BC, most likely introduced by the Greeks. In more recent history, the political upheaval of the region has destroyed many of the vineyards. Vineyards are still littered with land mines and it is predicted that they will not be cleared until 2020. That, of course, has not stopped the spirit of the small producer and entrepreneurship triumphs again.

It is now believed that Zinfandel, that classic American wine, has its roots in Croatia. Crljenak Kastelanski  is considered to be its parent and Plavic Mali is considered a close relative. Whites are Croatia's predominate type with 2/3 of the production coming from white varieties. It was a rave about a white, about Korta Katarina Posip, that prompted my trip to the wine store.

Pronounced po-ship, this wine is delicious! A little darker yellow in color, you can expect this wine to have a fuller body than many other summer wines like Sauvignon blanc, however, it still has that punch of acid that you won't get from many Chardonnays. On the nose you'll get hits of mango, pineapple and even peaches. Take a sip and you'll see how creamy it tastes, just before you get that bright hit of acid, making this one refreshing wine. (That creaminess, by the way, comes from 6 months in french oak barrels.) Serve this with luxurious seafood: crab, lobster, scallops, grilled prawns and the list could go on. However, the price tag is not all that luxurious. I purchased this at Solo Vino for about $15 on sale. Fantastic!

My lesson here is to not fear new regions or new wines. Sure you could get a dud, but you could also get something amazing. Now it's time to do a side by side tasting of Zinfandel and Crljenak Kastelanski.

(Cheers or to life in Croatian)

23 May, 2010

Flights and fun with friends.

The quest for new wine experiences and new wines to be tasted drew me across the river to St. Paul's newest wine bar: Bin Wine Bar. It's located in the newly revived Lowertown along with Bario and The Bulldog (my favorite place for beer and tater tots, but that's another post). Along with me were friends Maija and Jenna (who, by the way, writes a great blog called Eat Drink Pretty) who both have a good handle on the Twin Cities scene.

We started off with a flight of whites and one rose that we had never tried before.  One of the great things about Bin Wine Bar is that you can buy wine by the bottle, the glass or the the taste. We each ordered a taste of 4 wines. Apparently, they typically serve wine in flights of 3 as our wine arrived in this wooden crate, pictured above, which I found really awkward, but my companions found charming. The fourth was served on the side. Each wine comes with a card listing about 4 tasting notes. Our wines:

Concannan Rose: this was the favorite of the flight. Beautifully colored, it tasted of strawberries, raspberries and melon. Very fruity and refreshing! I went to the Concannan website to get more information on this wine, but there was little. It does say it's a blend, but of which grapes, I'm not sure.

Famega Vihno Verde: Very crispy and almost effervescent, this wine is tart like a green apple and very light. Vihno Verde literally mean green wine and this definitely tastes green. A great summer wine.

Osborne Solaz Blanco: This Spanish wine is made from 100% Viura, a grape that is native to Spain. It's very aromatic and had notes of apricot and flowers. If you're a fan of Chardonnay or Viognier, this wine might be a welcome change for you.

Seven Daughters White Winemaker’s Blend: Made of French Colombard, Chardonnay, Riesling, Symphony, Orange Muscat, Gewürztraminer and Sauvignon Blanc this too was very floral in it's nose. The tasting notes say tangerine, orange blossom, and melon. To be honest, I wasn't sure what I was tasting.

Overall, we liked our wines. Food on the other hand was less impressive. It wasn't bad, just nothing to write home about. As one of us said, "but I could do this at home, I expect more when I go out." Here's what we had:

 We started with the Cheese Plate and the Charcuterie Plate. Both were fine with ample crackers (a pet peeve of mine is the lack of bread/crackers that comes with both of these at most establisments) but the server failed to describe what types of cheeses and smoked and cured meats were on the plate. The cheese plate did include these delicious chocolate almonds. And the Charcuterie Plate had a few pickled items that nicely cut the fattiness of the meats. 

This was the smoked salmon plate, probably our favorite nibble of the evening. I like the interactive nature of being able to put together my own perfect bite and it makes it easy to share. It paired nicely with wines we were drinking. 

We also tried the wild mushroom and fontina flatbread. The crust seemed underdone and too chewy.

Lastly, we tried the goat cheese and beet crostini. Again, this tasted fine, but as you can see in the above photo, this just looks sloppy.

Bottom line, if you're looking for a nice night out with friends Bin Wine Bar will be a fine place to enjoy an easy glass of wine. If you're a foodie who's looking for a wine experience, you're likely to be a bit disappointed in Bin. I'm hoping they'll work the kinks out of this place as I really want Lowertown to do well.

If you've had an experience at Bin Wine Bar, let me know what you think.


21 May, 2010

Rose Tasting: Odds and Ends

This will be my last post on the Rose Tasting. Today I'll focus on a couple of the unusual wines as well as some other fun ones.

Lopez de Heredia Rioja: Pictured above in the center, this was the oldest wine in the tasting. A 1998 vintage, this Spanish Rioja Rose was an orange or dark peach color. Not surprsing as wines turn more amber colored as they age. However, it is unsual for for a rose to be aged as they are typically meant to be drunk young. Also, this rose was unusual because it had been aged for 4 1/2 years in barrels. This rose didn't have any of the qualities you would expect in a rose, instead it was full of dried fruits like raisins and prunes and a hint of caramel.

Chateau Deffends: This rose is a classic from the region that's known for rose, Provence. Pictured above center it's a beautifully pink blend of syrah, grenache and cinsault. Flavorwise, it is typical for the region. For me, it had notes of strawberry, tea and olives. Tasty indeed.

Whispering Angel: Above center, Don't let the pretty label fool you, this isn't a fluffy sweet wine. From Chateau D'Ecslans in Provence this is a great food wine. Made from grenache and rolle (a white grape used for blending, some believe it is identical to vermentino in Italy) this wine had a good balance fruit, sweetness and acid. I liked the light red fruit flavors of strawberry and cherry.

Pavao Vinho Verde: This white pictured on the left is from Portugal. Vihno Verde literally means green wine and that is what you'll taste. This great summer sipper has almost a fizzy quality to it and tastes green like an underripe apple or pear. Plus, this wine is only $8.00 ($6.39 until Memorial Day at Solo Vino's sale).

Okay, last up. If you're looking for an alternative white for the summer consider a falanghina from Italy. This grape is grown in the Campania region of Italy and makes wines that can be very fragrant. This wine, pictured left, is the San Martino. It was citrusy, minerally and had loads of green flavors. This, too, is a very affordable summer wine at only $10, even less at the sale.

Well, I think I'm officially ready for summer and I hope these posts have given you some ideas for your next picnic or barbecue.


19 May, 2010

More Tickled Pink: Sparkling and California

One of my favorite ways to enjoy Rose is in a sparkling wine. There were a few that I tasted at the Rose Tasting Event:

Riondo Pink: The wine consultant that was pouring described this wine (pictured above) as being made from cabernet sauvignon grapes. I Googled this wine to get more information, but was unable to find a review on it. I don't think I've ever seen a Cabernet rose, so it's quite unique from my point of view. It was delicious, too. Sweeter than most, but still delicate, I wrote "like candy" in my notes. I've always like Riondo's Prosecco, it's a great value and a highly rated wine by Robert Parker. Brides take note: this is a perfect wedding wine.

Novacento Rosado: This sparkler comes from Argentina. It was perhaps a bit too sweet. It reminded me of Angel food cake and a friend at the tasting described it as tasting a little artificial, like low fat food. Not a highlight.

Baumard Cremant de la Loire Rose Sparkling: Since Champagne can only legally be used on wines from the region of Champagne, France, other regions that use the same method of making sparkling wine are called Cremant. This wine is from the Loire Valley and is therefore, Cremant de la Loire. I was not as impressed with this wine, in fact it had distinct green pepper taste to me.

Now for some of the American wines:

Alexander Valley Sangiovese Rose: (Third from the left in the photo above.)  Made from the same grape as Chianti, many California wineries are having success with Sangiovese rose. A pretty fuschia color, this reminds one of raspberries, has some nice spice notes and a dry finish.

Matchbook Tempranillo Rose: (Second from the right, above) I've had this wine served at a very elegant dinner yet it's an affordable backyard sipper. It's made with the same grape as Spain's Rioja so look for strawberry, raspberry and a touch of wood. Yet it's not overly dry so it makes a great summer sipper.

Cline Mourvedre Rose: (Second from the left, above, sorry but the label isn't showing) Mourvedre is a grape that's popular in France and Spain (called Monastrell). Cline makes very good Ancient Vines Mourvedre and Small Berry Mouvedre and doesn't disappoint with this rose. Expect lots of earthy notes and some nice spiciness on this one.

Wine Word Wednesday: Saignee.

This French term means "bled". This refers to the technique of running off (or bleeding) some juices from crushed red grapes to make rose wines. The length of time the juice is left on the skins determines the intensity of the color. Sometimes, the juice is run off after only a few hours resulting in a very pale rose. However, not all the juice is run off the skins and that which is left on will be come a very concentrated red wine.  Two birds with one stone you might say.

18 May, 2010

Pink wines tickle me pink.

Sunday was an absolutely perfect day for the Solo Vino's Second Annual Rose Tasting. It was sunny and warm and with just a slight breeze to remind us it was spring. Gorgeous.

The event itself was perhaps one of the best wine tastings I had ever been to in the Twin Cities. Solo Vino featured about 130 different wines. I had anticipated they would all be Rose, but there were also some reds, whites and sparklings. All were chosen specifically for the ability to please during summer months.

I managed to taste about 40 of these wines and I will confess, note taking wasn't easy and didn't get easier as the day went on ;). I was juggling the catalog, note taking, my glass and my camera all at the same time. I wish I had taken more pictures, but I guess I focused more on tasting than picture taking. Because note taking was more challenging than I had expected, I limited myself to choosing 3 or 4 focused words to describe each wine. I'll try and post a number of wines a day for a few days.

 First, a few words about how Rose is made. (Forgive me if you already know this.) When grapes are fermented the juice is left in contact with the skins. Rose is made by pulling that juice off the skins earlier in the process. The lighter the wine, the less time the juice was in contact with the skin. Rose can be made from many varieties of grapes including but not limited to grenache, zinfandel, pinot noir, sangiovese, mouvedre, tempranillo and more. They will range in styles from still to sparkling, from sweet to bone dry. If the word Rose conjurs up images of Sutter Home White Zinfandel, well, then we have a lot to talk about. There is a whole world of Rose out there to be discovered. Hopefully, this will give you a new perspective.

I started my journey in Northern France, the Loire Valley to be specific. None of these wines were the sweet variety you would expect. All were very reasonably priced, from $10 to $15 (not on sale, but note, all the wines I will write about are on sale through Memorial Day.)

Domaine de Figueirasses Gris de Gris Rose: this is a very pale pink wine made from Pinot Gris, the same grape as Pinot Grigio. Even though you would expect this to be a white grape, they are indeed a grayish purple color. I found this wine to be bone dry, with citrus, strawberry and cranberry notes.

Vingnerons des Saumur Cabernet de Saumur Rose: Saumur is a region in the Loire that grows both Chenin blanc and Cabernet Franc. They are more know for their sparkling wines but Cabernet Franc rose was very dry and was like a spicy strawbery.

Vingerons des Saumur Vendomois Cocagne Rose: This is most likely also made from Cabernet Franc (notes have failed me here). It was very pale and had much more citrus flavors, lot of grapefruit.

Saumur Blanc Les Pouches: A white from the Loire, this is made from Chenin Blanc. While many expect Chenin Blanc from the Loire to be off-dry (or slightly sweet) this one is not. It was very fruity but dry, sharp on the tongue. Lots of apples and pears and citrus. Tastes more like cousin of chenin blanc rather than chenin blanc. (I really liked it by the way and it's only $10.)

Tomorrow I'll post about some of the sparkling wines I tasted.

15 May, 2010

More reading on Terroir.

Earlier this week I wrote about terroir, how it gives a wine a sense of "somewhereness." Well, as I was reading my latest Food & Wine issue, I came across a short article about dirt in cooking and food, which of course is translates to terroir in wine.They feature a quick blurb on different terroirs and how they affect the flavor of the wine. For example, in Mosel Germany the soil is composed of slate which in turn gives the Riesling that's grown there a "distinctive flinty edge." Likewise in Chablis France, home to great Chablis (which is made from Chardonnay that is unoaked and is a great wine, not what American's drank in the '70's and '80's from jugs) the soil has a great deal of limestone in it. That makes the wine smell like crushed oyster shells (cleaned, of course.)

Online at Food & Wine, I also found an article by Lettie Teague on searching for inexpensive wines that have a good expression of terroir. Not surprising the wines she talks about all come from the Old World: France, Italy, Spain, Portugal and Greece. It gives you a number of wines (either by grape varietal or by region) to seek out and try. And all of the wines are about $15 or less. Just think, you can explore Europe through wine, with out leaving your city.

Speaking of exploring, tomorrow I will be attending Solo Vino's 2nd Annual Rose Tent Tasting. I don't know much about Roses so this should be intersting. I'll report back on what I find.


14 May, 2010

Seconds on Chianti.

Well, at my house I'm the only wine drinker most nights (my husband prefers craft beer) so I still had some Chianti left over from the week's earlier dinner. I thought I would pair it with a tried and true pasta recipe that we turn to whenever we're too lazy to go to the store: Easy red clam sauce. I first found the recipe at Martha Stewart but I've made it so many times, and evolved it in the process that it's changed a bit from the original recipe. One of the great things about this recipe is that it uses pantry staples so it's always an option for a quick dinner.

Now, the pairing this with the DaVinci Chianti Riserva wasn't as inspired as I would have hoped. The wine was just too big for the sauce. I would have been better off trying to pair it with a lighter red (maybe a non- Riserva Chianti would have been more subtle) or a Sauvignon Blanc. Regardless, we'll be making this pasta for years to come.

Easy Red Clam Sauce with Pasta
Serves 2 a for main course
  • 1 tablespoon salt, plus more for seasoning
  • 4 to 5 ounces of pasta
  • 1 - 2 Tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
  • 2 garlic cloves, smashed and peeled
  • 2 (6 ounce) chopped clams, drained
  • 1/4 cup dry white wine
  • 1 14 1/2 ounce can diced tomatoes
  • a pinch of hot red-pepper flakes
  • Freshly ground black pepper
  • 1/4 cup fresh flat-leaf parsley


  1. In a large covered pot, heat a gallon of water to a boil. When water boils, add 1 tablespoon salt and pasta, stir well, and cover until boiling. Uncover, and boil until just tender to the bite all the way through.
  2. Meanwhile, make the sauce: In a skillet (with a lid) large enough to hold the pasta later on, heat oil over medium-low heat. Add garlic, and slowly cook, stirring, until golden, about 2 minutes.  Add wine and reduce a bit to burn off some of the alcohol. Add tomatoes with their juice and red-pepper flakes. Stir, reduce heat and simmer until tomatoes begin to break down. Just about a minute before you are ready to add the pasta, add the clams and give the sauce a stir. 
  3. Reserving 1/2 cup cooking water, drain pasta in a colander. Add the drained pasta, parsley, and salt and pepper to taste to the sauce, and mix well, adding a few tablespoons of pasta cooking water if needed to coat the pasta evenly. Cover, and cook 1 minute. Serve immediately.

12 May, 2010

Buy today for delivery in 2011.

Photo credit: Mshades

 I'm talking about Bordeaux Futures here. The 2009 vintage has been recently reviewed by the critics and praised for perhaps being the best vintage in decades if not the century. When reviews like this come in many wine enthusiasts and collectors buy "futures." Basically, you agree to buy a certain allotment of wine at an agreed upon price for delivery at a future date. The advantage of doing this is you're expecting the value of the wine to increase over the next year, so you'll get this sought after wine at a much lower price.

When you take delivery you have the option of selling it at the now increased price, drinking it, or holding it for years to come and watch the price increase further. However, there's always the risk that the wine will turn in the bottle, critics could change their mind or Bordeaux could become the new white zinfandel (highly unlikely), therefore decreasing the price to below what you paid for it.

Now, I confess, I've never purchased futures of anything, let alone wine. Heck, I wouldn't know how. But today any of us can do this through Wine.com. Just sign up and when they get word from the Chateaus, they'll send out an email with the price and take orders on a first come, first served basis. They make no mentions on minimums, etc., but if you're interested is some of the more popular Chateaus, I'd be prepared to act quickly.

I'd also be prepared with my check book. I doubt this will be cheap.

Here's a link to Wine.com. I'm going to sign up for the emails and will report on what I see happening. This should be interesting.

Wine Word Wednesday: Terroir.

Photo credit: jimbrickett

This term is often used when talking about French wines,  and in fact, the French believe strongly int the concept of terroir. This French word refers to "the total impact of any given site -- soil, slope, orientation to the sun, and elevation, plus every nuance of climate including rainfall, wind velocity, frequency of fog, cumulative hours of sunshine, average high temperature, average low temperature, and so forth." This definition was written by Karen McNeil in The Wine Bible and I've found none better.

Often terrior and soil are used interchangeably but as the above description indicates, that would be a mistake. The French, those in Burgundy in particular, believe so strongly in the concept of terrior that they do not have a word for winemaker. Rather, the vigneron or vine grower's duty is to express the terrior. It is their job to read the weather, the grapes and the environment and determine the right steps to take to create that ultimate expression.

This concept is not without debate. For example, some believe the presence and abundance of eucalyptus trees contribute to the often detected mint flavors in Australian Shiraz. Others say if that were true, we should be able to taste the exhaust from all the traffic in Napa Valley Cabernet.

Personally, I'd like to think that environment would make a difference. I'd like to think a tomato grown in my gardern (if I had one) would taste different (and better) than one grown with hydroponics. Perhaps I just like the romantic notion of it. Afterall, I still prefer real corks even though there's plenty of evidence to suggest screwtops are a better closure.

10 May, 2010

Italy in a glass.

 Photo credit: B*2's flickr

When most of us think of Chianti, we conjur up images of a straw covered bottle (called a "fiasco" in Italy) on a red checkered table cloth. However, Chianti is a region in Tuscany that makes wines primarily from the sangiovese grape varietal. Like many old world regions there are several laws that govern the production and therefore labeling of Chianti.

Typically you'll see Chiantis labeled as Chianti Classico and Chianti Classico Riserva. By law, Chianti Classico must be made up of 75% to 100% sangiovese, up to 10% canaiolo, up to 15% other red grapes including cabernet sauvignon and merlot, and up to 6% white grapes. Chianti Classico Riserva abides by the same laws, except white grapes are not allowed. However, Chianti Classico Riserva has additional requirements, namely oak aging. By law they must be aged in the barrel for at least 2 years and in the bottle for three months. Riservas are not typically made every year, rather winemakers make them only during the best vintages and from the best vineyard sites. Hence, you should expect them to cost more and they typcially do.

Flavor wise, you'll see that Chianti Classicos are dominant in red fruit like cherry and plum and have fairly high acidity. Riservas benefit from that aging in oak and take on much more complexity including cedar, vanilla, smoke, spice, fig and chocolate.

We opened a 2005 Davinci Chianti Classico Riserva the other night. We were having pasta with broccoli rabe, italian sausage and onion and we thought an Italian wine would be a perfect match for this classic Italian pasta dish. This is a wine that doesn't disappoint. True to expectations, it has a great deal of complexity and quite a bit of acidity, making it a good wine for food.

This deep ruby red wine has aromas of cherry, cranberry, and cedar. Like most old world wines, it is earth driven and you can smell the dusty, earthiness plus a good deal of smoke and cured ham, almost like proscuitto. On the palate you can still detect all that red fruit and earth plus a good dose of wood from the aging. It has moderate levels of alcohol and has a fair bit of tannin. Even though it was good, it could be even better with a couple of more years in the bottle to smooth out the tannins.

It was a far cry from the straw covered bottle. Give it a try sometime if you get bored with cabernet sauvignon.


08 May, 2010

Fear of Riesling?

Last night I met a friend for happy hour at the Loring Kitchen and Bar. It was my first time there and I loved it. They have a great wine list yet they don't ignore the beer either. I was in the mood for something new and different and I spied the Hugel & Fils Gentil. I was pretty sure this was French and since I don't know much about French wines I thought I would give it a try.

The wine list described it as a French Blend. I had a hunch that it might be Riesling so I asked the bartender what grapes were it in. She got an odd look on her face and said, "Well, it doesn't taste like what it's made of. It's Riesling but it isn't sweet, it's dry and minerally. I really like it and I don't like Rieslings."

It's too bad that Riesling has such a bad rap, mostly created by American Rieslings that are often cloyingly sweet. It's no wonder most people shy away from trying them. But in fact, Riesling is very flexible and makes wines is a wide variety of styles, from bone dry to dessert. They are typically very fragrant, fruity and minerally. They can also have a streak of acid in them that not only provides great balance to all that fruit, but makes them a mouthwatering partner to food.

So how do you find a dry Riesling? Here are a few tips:

1. Avoid anything labeled Late Harvest, Auslese, Beerenauslesen, or Trockenbeerenauslesen . These are made from grapes that are picked later and are therefore riper and more sweet. Typically these labels refer to dessert wines.

2. Look for the work "dry" on the label (or trocken on German wines). Many U.S. wine makers are labeling their Rieslings counter the expectation that it will be sweet.

3. Look for wines from cooler regions of the U.S. Both Washington and New York are making fine examples. In fact, Eroica from Chateau. Ste Michele of Washington never fails to impress fellow drinkers. 

4. Leave the U.S., figuratively, of course. Riesling is grown all over the world and does especially well in climates that are a bit cooler. Germany, France (Alsace) and Austria make wonderfully dry Rieslings. In Germany, look for those that are labeled Kabinett to ensure one that is drier. That said, Riesling is gaining ground right now in Australia despite the hot tempurature.  Look for those grown in the cooler region of Victoria.

So, how was the Hugel & Fils Gentil? It was delicious and perfectly refreshing. This wine is a blend of riesling, mucat, gewurztraminer, pinot gris and sylvaner. Pale straw in color, it has aromas of flowers, limes, green apples and just a hint of petroleum (which is characteristic of Riesling, by the way and not at all as off-putting as it sounds). On the palate it has all kinds of juicy citrus flavors as well as that streak of acidity and minerality. A perfect way to start off an evening. 

06 May, 2010

Red wine with fish.

Most of us have heard the wine pairing rule of thumb: white wine with fish, red wine with meat. This rule will typcially serve you well. However, like a lot of rules, things get a bit more interesting when it's broken.

I'm talking about pairing Pinot Noir with salmon. Salmon is an oily fish that doesn't have a particularly strong flavor, yet you wouldn't call it delicate either. It's hearty enough to offer some fat and balance out the light tannins you'll find in a Pinot Noir. Pinot Noir is a wine that goes with almost any food. In fact, if you're at a dinner where lots of different foods are being ordered, you won't go wrong in ordering Pinot Noir. It has both white and red  wine properties that makes it a very flexible food wine. It's almost mistake proof. Almost.

Last night I opened a 2006 Clos Pegase Mitsuko's Vineyard (in part in honor of yesterday's post about the word clos.) I thought this might be a good pair with our dinner of marinated roasted salmon, green beans and potatoes. (Truth be told, I bought the salmon at Costco; it's comes marinated and frozen and all you have to do is pop it in the oven for 30 or so minutes. It was all I had energy for last night.) Salmon and Pinot Noir are a classic pairing in the Pacific Northwest where both are local ingredients. (Also following the "if it grows together, it goes together" rule.)

While the wine was good, it wasn't the best pairing with this particular salmon dish. First, lets tackle the wine notes. The Clos Pegase was delicious. Ruby and garnet in color, a quick swirl of the glass shows that this Pinot has more body than many. Give it a sniff and you'll note the big cherry and raspberry aromas. While there's a bit of earthiness to this wine, there's also quite a few vanilla notes indicating it's been exposed to new oak. (Indeed, a quick look at tasting notes reveals that it has.) On the palate you'll taste all that cherry and vanilla and even a bit of cola and baking spice. I also found it a bit hot or alcoholic. And at 14.8% I find it a little too high in alcohol for my taste.

It's this high level of alcohol that overpowered that salmon. It wasn't a bad match, but I think I would have liked a more subtle wine for the fish. Rather, this wine might have been better paired with something a bit heavier like lamb or beef. In fact, Oregon Pinot would have been more subtle. Typically, they are a little more delicate than California Pinots. California, on the other hand, typically has a more full bodied, juicier style, which this was.

Well, all in a day's work, I say. I'll still enjoy finishing this bottle.

05 May, 2010

Wine word Wednesday.

Today's word is clos. This is a french term that stands for enclosure. It refers to any vineyard or plot of land that is enclosed by a wall. It is commonly found in the region of Burgundy, but has also been used outside of that region. You'll see wineries, especially in the U.S. using Clos in their name, even though they don't have a wall.. For example: Clos du Val or Clos Pegase in California. In Burgundy, the most famous walled vineyard is Clos Vougeot. Here's a picture of their vineyards that I downloaded from their website. If you look very closely, you'll see the wall hug the roadside.

Photo credit: JL Bernuy

Similar in meaning is climat, also French. It refers to a single plot of land or field. Each climat is reported to have it's own terroir. What is terroir? Ahh, you'll have to wait until next Wednesday.

03 May, 2010

Zindandel for dessert?

You've probably tried White Zinfandel at some point in your travels through wine, in fact, it was probably one of the first wines you ever tried. And chances are you've also come to appreciate, or even fallen in love with Zindandel's spicy, gutsy complexity. But have you ever tried a Late Harvest Zinfandel?

As the name suggests, Late Harvest means that the grapes are left to hang on the vine after the normal harvest time. They are picked later so they are riper and have a greater percentage of sugar.  When you see the words you can be assured that the wine you're looking at is a dessert wine. While many people cringe at the thought of dessert wine, I think they are delicious and often perfer to have a good dessert wine over dessert.

On a recent trip to Sonoma County, I visited Bella Winery on the recommendation of a fellow wine lover. I had never heard of it, but was eager to try anything this friend liked. What a treat. Bella is a small production winery that is not only is it beautiful but the people are wonderfully welcoming.

This is their wonderful, inviting lawn in front of the the tasting room.

 They had their caves open and beautifully lit by candle light the day we visited. (Pardon the picture quality as I only had my iPhone with me that day.)

It was here that I got to try a wonderful Late Harvest Zinfandel paired with a peanut butter cup dotted with a little sea salt. The wine had great depth and complexity with lots of dried fruit flavors; it was dark, rich, spicy and smooth. It had enough umph (a technical term) to stand up to the classic partnership of peanut butter and chocolate. This would be an amazing way to charm your guests at the end of a meal. It's simple, fun and delicious. Kind of takes you back to childhood, sans the alcohol, of course.

Now, the woman in the tasting room wouldn't tell me where the peanut butter cups were from, but I recently came across similar ones at Trader Joe's. Add a bit of Maldon Sea Salt on top and you've got a winner. Give it a try and let me know what you think. 

01 May, 2010

A taste of Provence.

I was shopping at the Costco wine shop and came across this absolutely beautiful bottle of wine. It's from Francis Ford Coppola's Sofia line. While I have had the sparkling Sofia, this rose was one I had not seen before. A quick look of the website and I learned they have been making it for a few years.

It's a blend of Grenache and Syrah, just like you would find in the rose's from the south of France. It's a beautiful dark pink color that looks as great in the glass as it does in the bottle above. On the nose you will detect strawberries, cherries and hints of fruited iced tea. In fact, it reminds me a little of hibiscus tea, because it has very nice floral notes as well. It's fairly light in body, with the alcohol level is at 12%. On the palate, you'll taste those strawberries and cherries as well as citrus notes. What you'll love about this wine is that it isn't sweet like a lot of blush wines, yet it's fruitier than many of the roses from France. It's a perfect summer wine. And at only $11.99 at Costco, it's a great value. I'll be stocking up on this one.

One tip on serving this wine: I found I enjoyed it much more a warmer temperature. I would recommend that you chill it for about 30 minutes before serving, or let it warm up a bit if it's been in the fridge for awhile. You'll see that the fruit flavors are more forward and the wine is less acidic at a warmer temp.

To go along with this lovely wine, I was inspired to try something from the south of France, Provence to be exact. I love seafood so I thought I would try the traditional seafood stew, bouillabaisse.  This works perfectly with the wine because it has just a slight sweetness from the tomatoes and the fennel. The seafood is light and so is the wine. A red would likely overpower the more delicate flavors of the seafood.

Here's the (approximate) recipe I used to make the bouillabaisse. (I usually only follow recipes loosely.) To put a twist on the traditional recipe, I garnished this with some fried chorizo. That makes it a bit spicy so feel free to omit if that's not your taste.

Spicy Bouillabaisse (adapted from Mark Bittman's How to Cook Everything)

2 links of chorizo
Olive oil
2 medium to large onions, diced
1/2 large fennel bulb, diced
Zest of one orange
4 – 5 large cloves of garlic
Pinch of saffron
Cayenne pepper to taste, large pinch
2 – 3 cups of diced tomatoes; canned, is fine
1/2 cup dry White wine
Chicken stock or seafood stock, optional
3/4 lb cleaned squid, cut into bite sized rings
3/4 lb scallops, cut in half if necessary
3/4 lb white fish, such as snapper or rock fish, cut into 1 inch pieces
1 lb mussels, cleaned
Salt and pepper to taste
Chopped parsley for garnish

1.       Cook chorizo sausage, if purchased in its raw state.  I simmered 2 links in about ½ inch water until water evaporated. Brown the chorizo in the rendered fat until cooked, this will take about 10 minutes or so after the water has evaporated. Set aside.
2.        Heat oil in a dutch oven or high sided pan. Add onion and fennel and lower the heat. Sweat the onion and fennel until translucent, about 10 minutes. Add half of the garlic and cook until fragrant, about 1 minute. Add the saffron, cayenne pepper and orange zest.
3.       Add the white wine, and bring to a boil to cook off some of the alcohol.
4.       Add tomatoes and bring to a boil. Immediately reduce to a simmer. Cook this mixture over low heat until the tomatoes begin to break down and the mixture becomes sauce like, about 10 to 15 minutes.
5.       If you like the stew to be less thick then add some stock to thin.
6.       Add the squid, scallops and fish. Stir to incorporate. Place mussels on top of the stew and cover the pot to steam. Seafood and mussels should be cooked through in about 5 - 7 minutes. Mussels will be open, discard any that do not open. The remaining seafood should be opaque.
7.       Check for seasoning, adding salt and pepper to taste.
8.       Spoon into warmed bowls.
9.       Garnish with parsley and chorizo.
Serves 6.