Monthly Archives: February 2008

Kegs and Kitchen

But enough about wine; let’s talk about me and my friends for a moment:  my husband is a home brewer and a bit of a hop-head, which means that despite the fact that he’s not very into wine, we can at least relate vis-a-vis our respective liquid fascinations. I’m way much totally more of a foodie than he is, and in that realm he just demonstrates the patience and enjoyment of my pleasure that makes him the only man I would ever be married to from now on. Plus, I have foodie friends with whom I can geek out about obscure cuisines and new cooking techniques.

Kegs and Kitchen is written by a good friend of ours who is my Main Man to tell about a neat way to cook beets or a new source for organic, local goat cheese. He does most/all of the cooking in his marriage, as do I, and his love for beer is fairly equivalent to my love for wine. There are two things I really enjoy about his blog, which for the record I would love whether I knew him or not: great writing and fascinating beer and food pairings.

How can you not love a blog in which a barley wine‘s texture is described as feeling “like I’m pouring wet cement in my mouth”? Or pairs caramelized apple crostini with a witbeer that tastes “like you got a smack upside the head from Granny Smith”? He gives you recipes for all the dishes he prepares, and he photographs them all just beautifully.

He’ll probably kill me for hyping him up, as he’s been having trouble getting the time to post much, but you should really scamper over to Kegs and Kitchen. The recipes are divine, the beer reviews are inspiring and the blog itself really extends the genre, as all good writing should do.

Tasting Veramonte Reserve Sauvignon Blanc 2007

Veramonte Rsv SB 07Trying to clear out the fridge, readying the kitchen for the remodel, so thought I’d cook an old stand-by on Sunday, greek chickpeas with spinach. This is a great, cheap, quick meal that I can just eat forever. Served it on brown rice with petite peas, topped with feta cheese.

On the way back from the grocery store (just for the feta, I swear) I stopped by World Market, having been told one too many times that they have great prices on wine. They were having a tasty little sale on about 50 wines, 10% off when you buy 4. The selection is just as I recalled it being, rather pedestrian, but with a few interesting points. They did have a neat selection of Texas wines, impressively.

I picked up a South African Chenin Blanc for $8.99 and this Veramonte Sauvignon Blanc for $9.99. Also a lovely throw pillow for half-price. I won’t be reviewing the latter. I was on the fence as to which wine to drink with dinner; the Chenin Blanc would have the roundness and body to stand up to creamy flavors like chickpea and feta, but the dish is really lemony, with tomatoes and spinach, which made me lean in the direction of the SB. As it turns out, the pairing couldn’t have been better.

Almost completely clear in color, maybe only slightly straw-tinged. Bright, zesty aromas of passionfruit, grapefruit and melon. Hints of floral notes and a big grassy shalamazzama. Driving, intense acidity on the palate with steroid-pumped lemons and grand swaths of green grassy flavors. And, oddly, you know that strangely mellow bite of a really unripe banana? That, too.

Greek chickpeas with spinachThe wine went well with the chickpeas; the spritziness met the lemon in the dish, and the herbal character winds up around the spinach and shows it how to jig. I had expected some trouble from the feta, but it all came out very nicely, as did the creamy flavor of the chickpeas. We stay with an overall lemon flavor, very pleasant, after the jubilee’s all done.

Veramonte is a Chilean winery, founded in 1996 by Agustin Huneeus. You may recognize him as the founder of Concha y Toro, Franciscan, Estancia and Quintessa. All now belong to large corporations except for Veramonte and Quintessa. Veramonte is a really reliable, inexpensive wine brand that nearly always delivers. Their Sauvignon Blanc is well-known and quite delicious all the dang time. One thing about wines from the Southern Hemisphere to keep in mind, especially in the case of Sauvignon Blanc which you almost always want to be young, is that they’re on the opposite seasonal schedule from us northerners. Thus if you’re shopping for Chilean SB in February of 2008 in Texas, 2007 is just right. 2006 will do, 2005 is a bit past it, and 2004 is OK only in a pinch.

In any case, I’ve spent $10 a lot worse this week, and so will you, unless you spend it on this lovely, wrought-iron delicate Sauvignon Blanc.

Book Review: Vino Italiano

Vino ItalianoHow do you best learn about wine? Do you prefer to memorize facts? Watch a movie? Meet a winemaker? Visit a region? Take a class? Talk to a sommelier? Drink and read? Read and drink? Just drink?

Me, I’m bad at reading non-fiction books. Don’t get me wrong; I have the capability, but DAMN I need some powerful motivation. And retaining the knowledge I gain when reading a non-fiction book is touch-and-go, too. I really need a story, even when I’m reading about wine.

Luckily for me, Vino Italiano: The Regional Wines of Italy is a book that works very hard at being all things to all people. It includes profiles of struggling and successful winemakers, typical regional recipes, lists of regional grape varieties and their typical flavors, cold hard facts about regional yields and geography, and recommended wines from producers that can be found in the US. It even provides an ample appendix of Italian wine importers, which I imagine to be useful only to distributors, but hey, why not help them find some good wine too, while we’re at it?

I confess that I read some of this book about two months ago and then crammed for much of Sunday to write this review. But that’s another nice thing about Vino Italiano: it lends itself exceptionally well to periodic reading. You don’t need to read the chapter on Tuscany to understand the chapter on Puglia. Hell, you don’t even need to read the whole chapter on Trentino-Alto Adige to figure out what that Alois Lageder Lagrein that you bought on impulse, not even recognizing the varietal, will taste like. One wonderfully unique thing about the book is that it’s equally an excellent reference and a great read.

Another thing I really liked about this book was that it doesn’t skimp on the obscure region chapters. Even if Basilicata only has one wine region, dominated by one cooperative and producing only one DOC wines, by gawd they’re going to tell you about the cool local tradition of local winemaking. And if most of the region is dedicated to large quantities of blending wine, they’ll tell you about the man trying to convince the growers that they’ll make more money by harvesting fewer, better grapes. That’s the kind of thing that will really make me go out and hunt down a bottle.

The book is divided into three parts: Part One gives you an overview of Italian wine, its history and its (rather arcane) laws. This is a great place to start if you’re not at all familiar with Italian wines, or as a refresher.

Part Two is about individual regions: chapters are divided up into an introduction, in which you are introduced to a person in the winemaking biz in the region and told some history. Then you get a map. Then you are told of wines made in the area, usually in sub-chapters titled Vini Bianchi, Vini Rossi, Vini Dolce, etcetera. Then you are given some very dry facts of the area, and you get a list of all the grapes grown in the region and where. Then you’re given a description of how the wines taste, along with a few reliable producers. Finally, a typically regional recipe, complete with wine recommendation.

Part Three is a collection of indices, including all the grapes, wine terms, and wine zones mentioned in the book. This is where the book becomes a great quick reference.

For people studying wine, France and Italy are like Shakespeare and Joyce (not necessarily respectively). There are seemingly millions of books on the subject and long, laborious histories, all of which are intimidating and seemingly insurmountable. But there’s no choice; if you want to have any kind of intellectual spending currency on the subject, you must tackle them. Books like Vino Italiano: The Regional Wines of Italy makes the process inductive, which is to say, they draw you in, show you things you might have otherwise missed, and encourage you to explore. I certainly wish there were an equivalent book about every other country that makes wine.

Thanks to the inimitable Dr. Debs at Good Wine Under $20 for founding the Wine Book Club! And to David at McDuff’s Food and Wine Trail for hosting this month! Salud!

Winebat Tales: Oregon Pinot Noir

I represented Oregonians with a brief talk at last Monday’s Winebat tasting of Oregon Pinot Noir, and had a blast doing it. The wines all showed beautifully, and the resulting tasting was an orgiastic, olfactory delight.

Here’s a summary of the infotastic blurb I introduced the wines with:

“As with most areas in the US, winemaking in Oregon dates back to pioneer days and was halted by Prohibition. Oregonians waited over 30 years after the Repeal to get back to stomping the grape, though, and it was actually Californians who brought the impetus and the grapes to plant in the Willamette (rhymes with “damn it”) Valley in the late 60s and early 70s. A milestone for Oregon wine was when a Pinot Noir from Eyrie Vineyards won the Wine Olympics in 1979. Oregonian wineries, like those in Texas, tend to be small and family-owned.

The Willamette valley, home to the largest concentration of Oregon wineries, is located at roughly the same latitude as Burgundy, with cold, wet winters and warm, dry summers. No, it doesn’t rain all the time everywhere in Oregon. Pinot Noir makes up about 70% of the wine output of the state.” Or something like that.
Then I laid down a brief description of What You Might Be Smelling and Tasting and commented on how PN is well known for its uniquely silky texture. And we all set to the serious business of sniffing and sipping. I’ve listed the wines below in order of my preference, but really all of them were lovely business.

Penner Ash WV PN 05Bethel Heights Casteel Reserve Pinot Noir 2005, $50: Gorgeous minty, Bing cherry, lavender, mushroom and forest floor aromas. Bright, sweet explosion of acidity on the palate, with really integrated tannins and lovely Portobello and clove flavors. The texture is truly fine, solid but satiny. Extravagantly good.

Penner Ash Willamette Valley Pinot Noir 2006, $48: Very fragrant, with mint and truffle, vanilla and strawberry syrup on the nose. HUGE on the palate, with bright cranberry and concentrated cherry cordial. Very intense, spicy tannins, and rich, unctuous, concentrated structure. Flamboyant, but sleek.

Benton Lane Pinot Noir 2006, $26: Candied cherry, vanilla, rose petals and over-the-top strawberry. Slightly on the astringent side, the palate has cranberry, earth tones and sharp-edged tannins, with a little Prince of Wales tea on the back end. Very structured.

A to Z Oregon Pinot Noir 2006, $19: Kind of a whang on the nose at first, but that blew off to show really distinct strawberry and cherry, with a really earthy palate of plum skin, crazy overflowing spice and ripe mushroom. The finish goes on and on.

Erath 05 PN labelErath Pinot Noir 2006, $19: Nutmeg and distinct strawberry cream cheese on the nose. Smooth and sensuous on the palate with black tea and bright cranberry cocktail. Sexy, sexy.

Solena Cellars Grand Cuvee Pinot Noir 2006, $25: There was this chewing gum in Mexico that came in the flavor “violet,” and this had that smell, kind of chemically flowers, along with some slightly charred truffle. Soft and supple on the palate, without much grip. Kind of mediciney.

I’ll be at the Winebat blind tasting tonight at Green Pastures, where we’ll be enjoying six Spanish reds and matching light apps for only $25. Coming?


In which there are evidently no new ideas at this site

Hey, you know who’s been writing haiku wine reviews since 2005? Not me. Nope; it’s none other than Lane Steinberg, at the Red Wine Haiku Review. Thanks to Amy Rootvik for the post that I finally got around to reading after another insanely hectic week.

And for the record, Joe also wrote a lovely haiku for WBW #42.  And then he was told (in haiku format) that he had missed an important aspect of haiku writing, as I did apparently, by missing the reference to a season.  I think perhaps in the writing of winehaiku, perhaps a wine descriptor word (oak, fruit, tar) should replace the kigo?

If there is someone out there writing wine reviews in sestinas, I demand that they step forward immediately.

Tasting Yarden Odem Vineyard Organic Chardonnay 2005

Yarden Chardonnay 05I received this wine as a sample for tasting. I’ve had Yarden before and enjoyed it, but that was a long time ago – before I had really started learning about wine.

Bright gold in color. Nose of butter, honey, hazelnut and cream. Woodsy on the palate, with candied apple, tropical flavors and rounded creamy tones. Slight bitter astringency from oak tannins, a hint of copper penny minerality and a lingering finish of Golden Delicious apple.

Yarden and pork loinI was hoping that this might pair well with maple-glazed roast pork loin with rosemary that I had planned for that evening, and I whipped up some creamed spinach and creamy polenta with garlicky mushrooms. I rarely prepare Cooks Illustrated recipes, as they are usually complicated despite their relative perfection. This pork loin, however, looked quite simple and seemed to result in a minimum of pans to clean. Of course, I mucked that up for myself by making those two side dishes, but there you are.

Pork Loin dinner plateThe Chardonnay took the pork easily, and the rosemary was felicitous, but the maple syrup glaze brings a candied element to the wine. The wine was divine with the creamed spinach; creamy flavors met buttery wine, and the spinach tasted clean but without bitterness. The polenta was an interesting pairing; the oak tannins quarreled with the corn flavors, but the parmesan was oddly OK with it all. It was kind of like the stereotypical Italian family, where yelling is the norm but no one takes it wrong.

The Galilee region of Israel is the northernmost wine appellation in the country, and the coolest growing region. The Odem Vineyard has been farmed organically since 1998, and is located at an elevation of slightly under 4,000 feet.

Israel, of course, has been making wine since time immemorial. One big blip in this millenia of history was when Baron Edmond Rothschild aided a group of Jewish immigrants to Israel in 1882 by sponsoring their attempt to found a winery. They struggled for a while, but in the end Rothschild built two wineries in Israel. His son donated the wineries back to the growers cooperative in 1957.

Israeli vineyards started modernizing in the 70s, and now owe more to California than they do to France; this Chardonnay is certainly testament to that.  Golan Heights Winery, which produces Yarden as well as two other labels of wine in Israel, is one of the houses that’s lead the charge to bring the entire industry up to world standards.  I’d say they’re there.

Addendum to WBW#42: words and wine

Reviewing a wine in 7 words: it was the best of ways, it was the worst of ways.

I know that the idea behind the Wine Blogging Wednesday #42 seven word limit was meant in a whimsical way, but it got me to thinking about the words we use to talk about wine. Of course, this has been a subject on my mind lately, as evidenced by the poll I’ve been running for a week or so about whether or not winespeak makes it difficult to learn about wine.

The results to the polls indicate that while occasional words are confusing (technical words like carbonic maceration and battonage, I’m guessing), on the whole people get what we wineaux mean when we babble on about aromas and flavors. Or at least, 8 of the 13 voters said so.

I can’t blame them; some of the more technical words having to do with wine are not things that you’d natrually just pick up on the side of the etymological road.  And you won’t get a chance to use them very often, unless you have lots of wine geek friends or you work in the business.

So that’s been kicking around in my head, along with all the other maundering thoughts of recession, elections, new jobs and the old What I Should Be Doing Right Now.  And then Andrew Barrow of the British wine blog Spittoon (love that tag line) proposed that we review a wine in only seven words, I thought “Boy, that’s going to be tough.”   My reviews tend to run about 200-500 words, and the tasting notes alone run 30-80, depending on the wine.  How to truly sum up a wine for my readers in a mere seven?

Poetry to the rescue!  Mr. Rogers got me writing poetry since before I could write (I dictated to my mother); I don’t write many poems these day, but if you want to communicate a lot of sensation in few words, a poem is your magic bullet.  So I figured I’d take those shockingly few seven words and make them a haiku.  It was tough, but I was happy with the results.

So now I’m thinking… why not other poetic forms? Why not a sonnet about a wine you love dearly? A villanelle about a wine you drink often? Drinking a wine that’s so complex it seems almost impossible, try a sestina! For a rustic vin de table, a limerick?   If poetry communicates the ineffable, then it seems made for wine, as anyone talking about wine is describing a completely subjective, sensual experience.  Poetry and wine!  Game, set, match.

Ikea to the rescue

Fancy cellarThe last note for a while about my burgeoning cellar, I promise: when shopping at Ikea recently for kitchen cabinets (we’re remodeling our kitchen at the end of the month, a fact which fills me with unreasoning dread), my beloved and I stumbled across a wine storage system which would store 80+ bottles… for only $100!

While Tom could very easily make me a wine rack, we’re embroiled in this remodel currently, and he’s also working on building us our own tear-drop trailer. So we figured to take the easy way out, and he put them together for me yesterday, an unusually cold rainy Saturday which would have kept him in doors anyway.

We located the new rack in the hall closet. I don’t know where we’re going to put all the camping gear that lived in there before – it’s hunched in the corner of the guest room, whimpering and bewildered.

For those of you that dream of someday owning your very own wine collection, bottles gently aging toward perfection, there are a few things you need to consider in the placement of your treasure trove. Firstly, light: wine hates it, and you don’t want your wine to learn to be a hater. Choose a wine storage location away from light.

Secondly, temperature: we call wine collections “cellars” because traditionally wine was kept in the basement, because there is little to no temperature variation underground. Sure, if you spring for a refrigerator to keep your wine in, you can store it at 55 degrees Fahrenheit, just like it would be kept in a cellar. Or if you actually have a basement (something largely uncommon in my neighborhood of houses built on solid limestone, and not so much with the tornados), you can keep your juice there with much sense of tradition. But simply giving your wine somewhere to sleep that will have a constant temperature (in my house, this means in the center of the home, close to the floor) is completely acceptable. Especially if you’ve got the dark part taken care of.

Thirdly, inclination: with the advent of the Stelvin closure, this is becoming less vital, but if you are storing bottles closed with corks, you need them to stay wet. Horses may sleep standing up, but wine doesn’t like it. Treat your wine better than the airlines treat all of us, and let it lay down to rest. Your corks will stay moist and pull-able, and everyone will live happily ever after.

Nominations for the American Wine Blogging Awards are Open

Tom Wark’s American Wine Blogging Awards 2008Tom Wark at Fermentation has opened nominations for the 2008 American Wine Blogging Awards, and you have until the 27th to nominate your favorite blogs for one or all of the 8 categories.

Said categories include: Best Wine Blog Writing, Best Single Subject Wine Blog, Best Wine Review Blog, Best Wine Podcast or Video Blog, Best Winery Blog, Best Wine Business Blog, Best Wine Blog Graphics, and the good old stand-by, Best Wine Blog. You can nominate up to three blogs for each category, as long as they were in existence during 2007 and had at least 52 posts during that time. (In case you’re wondering, I posted about 75 times in 2007.)

Last year’s winners include Dr. Vino (for both Best Writing and Best Blog, which reminds me of the old Oscar quandary of Best Director and Best Picture), Pinotblogger, Vinography, The Good Grape, Wine Library TV and The Wine Collector Blog.

I remember when I was thinking of starting a wine blog, I did a lot of reading of the sites that were nominated for the Wine Blogging Awards, hoping to learn from the best. This is the most positive aspect of an online award that is awarded by both the community and a panel of judges; it calls attention to those who are recklessly committing excellence in the wine blogosphere.

If we’re all not careful, we might learn something.

Don’t delay; nominate your favorite wine blogs today!

Grande Dame

Jamie and Hugh DaviesI’m saddened to hear that Jamie Davies passed away on Tuesday at the age of 73. She and her husband Jack Davies pioneered sparkling wine in California when they founded the iconic Schramsberg Vineyards in 1965 in the Napa Valley. In addition to producing some of the best sparkling wine in the world for over 40 years, the couple had three sons.

Hugh Davies began to work for the winery in 1996, and Jamie and the family continued to run the winery after Jack passed away in 1998. I had the pleasure to work with Hugh when I represented his wines in the US Virgin Islands; he visited the market multiple times, and I was always impressed with his gentle, cheerful manner and infectious enthusiasm for sparkling wine.

My heart goes out to the entire Davies family at this difficult time. For a full obituary of Jamie Davies’ life, try the Napa Valley Register or the San Francisco Chronicle.

Jamie Davies , Grande Dame of Calistoga, will be sorely missed. All of us here at Wine Scamp International raise a glass in her honor.