Monthly Archives: March 2011

Amazing Austin Tasting Alert for 3/30/2011

If you are in Austin and happen to be free between 4 and 6 pm today, I highly recommend you go to Austin Wine Merchant and taste wines from Tablas Creek.  I will not be able to attend, alas!  But everything Tablas Creek does is phenomenal, and you will not regret the expenditure of time.  Winemaker Tommy Oldre, will be there – ask him about his trip to Chateau de Beaucastel last year.

AWM tastings are awesome, anyway.  And they discount the wines they’re pouring, usually.  Which, FYI, is not to be sneezed at when you’re tasting Tablas Creek wines – they’re not ruinously expensive by a long shot, but they are high of quality and priced fairly given that fact.

Oh!  And I just noticed… dude.  Dude.  They’re going to pour the Esprit de Beaucastel Rouge 2008.  (expletive)   That is some gen-you-wine premium juice, Austin.  If you can possibly manage it, get your wine drinking self to this tasting, my friends.  And then tell me what you thought!   You don’t mind me living vicariously through you, right?  Awesome.

Tasting Middle Sister Drama Queen California Pinot Grigio

My dear friend spent a decompression day at my house after SXSW Interactive, and brought me this wine, which she says someone dropped off at the WordPress booth.

Free!  Free wine is my favorite price.

I confess that the marketing of this wine has me on the fence. I like accessible, approachable wines that straight-up tell you what to expect. I especially like them when they’re affordable and easy to find. I feel happy when they help people feel more comfortable with drinking wine, a beverage that so often is perceived as exclusionary and snobbish.

But I don’t like it when I feel I’m being pandered to, and I recognize it’s a fine line. The Middle Sister wine brand is one of  ten brands developed/owned by Canopy Management. Their brands all “tell a story,” which to my ear means that what’s selling the wine is the marketing/packaging, and not necessarily the wine’s flavor or quality.  Which, to be fair, could be said about nearly any foodstuff or beverage that I have not tried already or researched before buying. So, OK: hall pass.

Canopy Management also owns a company (site? group? concept?) called Wine Sisterhood, which describes itself as “celebrating and sharing the world of wine from the female point of view,” and encourages people (women people, presumably), to “actively participate in the creation of the next new hot wine brand.”

All this is prompted by the fact that women drink more of the wine in this country.  Plus, we do most of the shopping.   The wine industry wants to figure out how to get women to buy their wine, stat.

Enter Canopy Management and their Middle Sister brand.  It’s ingenious in many ways; it fulfills the consumer’s need for personalize-able variety.  It appeals to the oft-ignored middle sister, and every woman, no matter her birth ranking, has felt like the ignored girl.  Each wine has its own “personality;” what’s more, on their website, you can take a Cosmo-style quiz to see “which middle sister you are.”

It’s been a while since I’ve done a magazine quiz… and guess what?  My Middle Sister Wine Personality is actually the wine that had randomly been brought to me!  Spooky! Fate!  Something!

Here’s my Middle Sister Wine Personality synopsis (with comments):

Drama QueenYou’re a Drama Queen. Nobody does quite like you do.* You like to make an entrance. You know the best color/cut/face/eyebrow/wax lady.** You are friends with the bartender, the chef, the kid who started Face Book and the mayor.*** You’re a social butterfly.**** When it’s time to land, it’s poolside in South Beach with a glass of Middle Sister Drama Queen Pinot Grigio. And a cabana boy.*****

This actually describes some women I love dearly, who wish I would buy sassier shoes and less schlubby clothes (and probably, secretly, that I would wax my eyebrows).  I like to take them shopping with me, because then I look much more elegant than I would if I dressed myself.  But I have yet to discover what this persona has to do with Pinot Grigio or those who like it.  And, while I enjoy being arbitrarily how fabulous I am by a quiz just as much as the next gal, it’s a reach to connect gender to personality to wine preference, if you ask me.

Anyhow, let’s taste what’s IN the bottle, shall we?

Pale straw yellow in the glass.  Nose of pear, lime and melon.  Very heavy honeydew on the palate, with a spritz of lemon and a white grape juice finish.  Not frightfully… dramatic per se, but quite pleasant and easy to drink.  Keep it cold – when at a cool room’s temperature, it gets a little clunky.

Brass tacks: if you like kitschy wine labels or gimmick names, I can extrapolate from this one wine’s quality that Middle Sister makes drinkable, uncomplicated wines which will not let you down. The Drama Queen is very pleasant.  I will mention that when I want a wine to “tell a story,” I prefer the story to be about a region, a grape or a winery’s vision.

*(thanks, that’s very kind and pretty much true of everyone)

**(Actually, I don’t know any of these people; I go to the salon about every 6 months, and have never waxed anything, ever.)

*** (Except for the last three.)

****(more of a groundhog – oops! shadow!)

*****(If his name is Tom.)

 

Tasting Schramsberg Brut Rose 2006 (with Deb Harkness at Wink)

Last night I went to Book People to see fellow wine blogger and NYT bestselling novelist Deb Harkness speak about her fantastic novel, A Discovery of Witches.  Go buy it.  Right now.  It’s OK, I’ll wait.

Cool.  Anyway, after the talking and the signing, Deb and I went to Wink for some wine and conversation, which were equally delicious.  I will comment at this point that, while Yelpers reference issues with attitude and portion size at Wink, our experience included an exceptionally warm, gregarious staff and what I considered reasonable portions.  But then, we just had wine, cheese and dessert, so I’m not sure my portion size wisdom is worth much.  I was very pleased with the host and our server, however – we had actually intended to just go to their wine bar, but when we stumbled in to the restaurant first, the host walked us over to the wine bar… and then offered us a table at the restaurant if we preferred.  We did, as the wine bar was packed.

When reviewing Wink’s list online, I had my eye on the Schramsberg Brut Rose 2006, as I (1) love sparking wine SO MUCH, (2) love Schramsberg SO MUCH and (3) thought it was really reasonably priced on their list at $60.  Seriously, it practically retails for that.  (Please don’t tell Wink.)

THEN, when Deb and discussed, I discovered that she had never tried Schramsberg’s vintage wine, which had me agog with horror (on their behalf, and hers), PLUS 2006 is when she started blogging, so it was… let’s be honest.  It was Wine Fate.  Sometimes Wine Fate takes hold of your life, and it’s senseless to struggle.  Just let go, and let wine.

Schramsberg was the first winery in California to make sparkling wine, let alone methode champenoise (meaning in the style of the Champagne region) sparkling, and I still think their vintage bubbly rivals great Champagne.  They’re a Napa house, though the 2006 Brut Rose contains grapes sourced from Mendocino, Napa and Sonoma.  The 2006 vintage was 68% Pinot Noir and 32% Chardonnay.

Dear, dear readers – it was SO GOOD.  This wine was a perfect, glittering jewel box of salmon pink, with pinpoint bubbles that never quit.  The nose was of the most flawless wild strawberry on Heidi’s mountain.  I confess I did not linger there because I so desperately wanted to taste… the palate was crystal clear and whistle-clean, yet simultaneously creamy and slightly spicy, with complex flavors of strawberry, apple and nectarine, and a finish that could go all night.  Sublime.

We ate “lightly,” ordering the Texas cheese plate (which included CKC Farms Baby Caprino, Sand Creek Gouda, Texas Gold Cheddar, and Bosque Blue), and then going on to dessert.  We had fun tasting the wine with the four cheeses, agreeing that the Baby Caprino was the best match for the wine, though the other cheeses were also very delicious.  The cheddar was beautifully nutty, and the blue was fabulously rich and pungent.

Based on our experience with the cheese, we were excited about pairing the wine with Wink’s chevre cheesecake, which sits on a shortbread crust with a riesling syrup reduction, little balls ‘o pear, and candied pecans.  We also got the Wink trio, which included their flourless chocolate cake, creme brulee and lemon merengue pie/confection.  But mostly I need to tell you about the cheesecake.

The chevre cheesecake was, on its own, resplendent in its perfection – and with the wine, it hit a superlative level that blew us away.  The tanginess of the chevre, balanced with the buttery shortbread and then mixed with the pear and the frosted nuts… THEN combining all THAT with the creamy yet crisp wine, with the pear coaxing out more of the Chardonnay than we had tasted before, transforming both the food and the bubbly… it was one of those alchemical pairing experiences, when 1 and 1 make 3, that all wine & food lovers treasure.

The other three desserts paled in comparison with the above, so I won’t bore you with it – but I will mention that the bubbly did a great job with the intense chocolate cake, gratifying me in my memory that Schramsberg Brut Rose is an awesome chocolate wine.

Deb and I talked of everything under the sun, including wine blogging, feminism, fiction, academia, Texas, motherhood, self-actualization and cowboy boots.  The whole evening was a blast, and I am so grateful for a world that has Deb Harkness in it, both for her whip-smart, generous self and her engaging, complex fiction.  Can’t wait until next time!

 

Live Blogging James May’s Road Trip Premiere (on BBC America)

One of the few shows my husband and I get equal enjoyment from on the television is the BBC’s Top Gear.  He likes cars, and I like intelligence and funny.  And British.  So when I came in from my evening bike ride (daylight savings time, I forgive you) and saw that Top Gear announcer James May’s new show with Oz Clarke, James May’s Road Trip, was premiering tonight on BBC-A, it was like the universe was helping me out with that whole “what do I blog about on a Monday when I have two old bottles of wine in the fridge to finish before I open any more and I have no good wine-related ideas” thing I was wrestling with.  Thanks, TV!

Taking a page out of one of my favorite blogs, Haiku of the Day, I’m going to live blog the premiere of the show.  (If you get bored of this process, you should go read this or this, by Kari.) Watch along!  Comment!  or read the whole thing tomorrow and go read Deb Harkness’ fabulous new novel A Discovery of Witches, which I finished last week and can’t stop thinking about.

So, some reservations I have about this show: James May?  Old white guy.  Oz Clarke? Old white guy.  Possibly some of the least interesting people to listen to/watch, talking about wine? Two old white guys. How will they make this show NOT make people think that Good Wine is for Old White Guys?

Granted, Oz Clarke is famous for being accessible in his wine reviews, and James May has that kind of Alan Alda/bumbling but well-meaning/non-threatening white guy thing happening… so it’s not like Bordeaux was in any danger of testosterone poisoning when the boyz drove in.  Still, I’d be a bit more pumped if this show were… I don’t know, Adele and Eddie Izzard?

What? you say May and Clarke have done multiple successful shows together since 2006? Everyone loves them, and I know nothing? Ah. Well, that’s what I know.

9:20 Who starts a show at 9:20?

9:21  What? there’s nudity?  And we’re talking about what mature Chardonnay does to women’s nipples?

9:23  I feel for May, looking for the best way to spend his ten pounds, and worried about hating his traveling companion.  Clarke’s talk about wine seems pretty annoying, so far.  Am I like this when I talk about wine to people?  Gah. Shut up already!

9:25  Ha, Clarke made May get down on his knees and smell manure.  Not sure I agree that a whiff of barnyard is a fault, though, to be fair.

9:33 OMG James May is touching a 1940 Bordeaux – Oz Clarke’s ass is so tight right now.  Don’tdropitdon’tdropitdon’tdropit…

9:36  Will my teeth be that scary if I drink as much wine as she does?  Wait, there’s no way that’ll ever happen.  Shew.  Wait.  Is it worth it?

9:38  Judging from the ads, the network totally sold this show as a car show. And possibly a show about hating the telephone company… and fruit cocktail. Psych!

9:41 Not sure how we’re all going to teach James May about wine if he has to be the designated driver all over Bordeaux.

9:43 They’re sleeping in a tent together and reminiscing about past romances? Wow, that’s not homoerotic at all.  And now everything’s all wet?  Gracious, how did that happen?

9:46 Grape facials – possibly not the most wine-educational thing in the world. “Feel all that gelatinous flesh rubbing over your face.” Cough.

9:47  Wait.  IS Oz Clarke gay?  Didn’t he see that Glee where the gay kid learns it’s impolite to make a pass at guys you know aren’t interested?

9:48 That’s a lot of older naked guy skin. I’m going to need more popcorn.

9:56  Do you have to be British or Robert Parker to love Bordeaux this much?  Maybe I just can’t drink pricey enough to love it this much?  Also, James May is totally not ready to taste this stuff.  Why doesn’t Clarke have ME drive him around in my 2005 Honda Civic?  He could leave a banana on my dashboard if he wanted.

9:58  OK, James May is cracking me up right now.

9:59 Pink sweater totally wants to do James right now.

10:00  Wait.  It’s over? That’s it?  I’m confused.  What did we learn?  Was the whole point of today’s show to get May to smell tobacco on a Bordeaux?  Because I think they could have done that a little bit earlier and then just spent the rest of the time on the budding courtship between May and Clarke.

And now it’s Top Gear again.  Wow, BBC-A has a lot of confidence in the appeal of Road Trip to a wine-loving audience.  I dunno – it was fun enough, with the whistle bit to keep the Wine Bore chatter to a minimum.  Maybe a little less “here, smell this” next time, guys?  or is that just a natural hazard of a TV show about wine?  Teaching us to smell stinging nettle seems a bit much.

Well, since no one’s going to drive up in a Jaguar to pack the kidlet’s lunch tonight, I must, alas, say adieu to both screens.  Thanks for coming along for the ride, gentle reader!  (Pun unintentional.)

Tasting Rene Barbier Mediterranean White NV

The clever folks at Good Cheap Vino clued me into the fact that Cost Plus World Market is having a white wine sale all month long.  As Jeff Lefevere at Good Grape writes in his post about World Market, it’s a good place to find decent, reasonably priced wine that is terribly likely to have a little class.  I don’t think they have the best deals in Austin, for the record, but this particular sale brought them down about a dollar a bottle lower than comparable stores… on most things.

Plus, I could bribe the toddler to stay in the cart while I stocked up with a small blue froggie.  (I’m virtually certain Specs does not stock bath toys. Hint, hint, y’all.)  And yes, I take my preschooler wine shopping.  How else is she going to learn?

So Good Cheap Vino was interested in the Bogle Chardonnay ($8.99), Pacific Rim Riesling ($9.99) and Hess Sauvignon Blanc ($11.99), among others – which definitely piqued my interest.  However, once I made one round (and with the family budget in mind), I set myself the challenge to “get down, girl, go ahead, get down.”  And whaddyaknow if I didn’t walk out of that store with 8 bottles of white for $60 (plus $3 for the above-pictured blue froggie. He goes “puff-puff-puff.” It’s pretty awesome.)

But the most exciting thing… do you want to know the MOST EXCITING THING?  The thing that will probably get me BACK to Cost Plus World Market, heaven help me?

Dude.  Dude.  This $3.99 Rene Barbier Mediterranean White.  It’s sick. I want to bathe in it.

And it’s only $3.99, SO I CAN AFFORD TO.

Lemon yellow in the glass. Lemon/granny smith nose, floral notes and a whiff of the seaside. Bright and lively on the palate with just a feint of sweetness before the refreshing lemon/lime flavors and the edge of the edge of petillance chase that off. Nice medium weight, and a respectably long finish of mineral and (hey, what a coincidence!) lemon peel. Really delicious. Yum.

Rene Barbier is a pretty respected winery in Spain (owned by the Ferrer family – they of Freixenet – since 1984), and from what I can tell their Mediterranean White (also comes in Rose and Red, btw) is Made For the USA.  Which, um, yeah – cool with me.  I’m going to drink the crap out of this wine over the summer.

The region spouting this tasty jooce is Catalunya, which is the most northeastern area of Spain, on the Mediterranean.  The grapes in the wine are a blend of Xarel-lo, Macabeo, and Parellada – all grapes used in Spain’s signature sparkling wine, Cava.

The alcohol level is higher than my other go-to summer wine, Vinho Verde, at around 11.5%.  Which is fine, since this is a lovely food wine – anything you can imagine squeezing lemon on will pair well with this.  And the food will soak up some of the alcohol you’ll have ingested when you realize that somehow you’ve drunk half a bottle all by yourself.

When you go get some – and I encourage you to do so in the next couple of weeks, before the price goes back up to $5.99 – please don’t buy it all.  I’m almost done with this bottle already.

Tasting Santo Cristo Garnacha 2008 Wine Blogging Wednesday #71

Here’s how it went, today at 5:50: “Hm, I guess while the kiddo is watching a special treat TV show before dinner, I’ll surf around wine blogs for a sec.

Wait, is it Wednesday?

Wait, isn’t there a WBW coming up?

Wait, is today the effing 16th?

GD it, I was going to drink that crisp white in the fridge tonight.

Hell.

Do I even have any Rhone varietals in the closet?

Cotes du Rhone, Morgon, Bourguiel… Oh!  I forgot about this little Garnacha.

Campo de Borja, cool.  $7.50, easy to open for no other reason than blogging.

Plus, that’s all I’ve got that works.

OK, let’s crack it open, snap a photo and get to writing.”

So I poured out a glass and got started 10 minutes before dinnertime.

This is a pretty little wine; purple in the glass, with ruby-red tints, it smells of raspberries and mint. Tart on the palate, with pepper and flavors of unripe blackberry now, as well as a hint of… tar?  Then the tannins come and chase everyone out of the room; the finish is pretty long, with cane berry flavors re-emergent and lingering.  A decent level of complexity for this wine I spent $7.50 on at Austin Wine Merchant, though more of a quaffing wine and less of a food wine, to my mind at least.

I am confident of the latter statement because I happened to make barbecued chicken thighs, anasazi beans and baked sweet potato fries tonight for dinner, which was, I thought, fortuitous.  I like Rhone varieties with barbecue flavors – Syrah especially, of course – but Spanish Garnacha can be so heavily extracted that they can sometimes pull off that sweet fruit/charred notes match.

With the Santo Cristo, though, the barbecue sauce on the chicken really brought out the tarry notes in the wine.  Maybe if there were more acidity in the wine to offset the tomato… but the creamy sweet potatoes and beans didn’t match very well either.  If I knew then what I know now about this wine, I’d put it with a fattier meal, like a grilled sirloin, or maybe just not tricky-dick barbecue sauce.

Garnacha is my ticket in to Wine Cast’s Wine Blogging Wednesday #71 because it is the Spanish version of Grenache, that staple grape of the Southern Rhone.  Grenache/Garnacha is a high-producing vine that is known for its spice, ample berry fruit and high sugars (which translate to high alcohol).  When the Spanish vinify their really old, old vines, however, the resulting Garnacha wine bears only superficial resemblance the French Grenache.

OK, so this is probably my worst WBW post ever.  I did not plan, so I have not had time (had people over this evening after I got the kid to sleep, and it’s late – for me at least – now) to really research the producer or write a cogent breakdown of the region or the grape. I really like the Campo de Borja region for wines that drink way above their price tag, just so you know.  And I am in favor of Rhone varieties wheresoever they are planted.

Drink Garnacha.

Scamp out.

Wine Flour? Wine Flour!

I was listening to a KCRW Good Food podcast today and heard about this new (to me at least) product called wine flour. This company Vinifera For Life out of Canada makes it – and has been doing so since 2006 – so it’s not like this is breaking news, just to be fair.  But now this firm called Marche Noir makes food for sale using wine flour made from Cabernet Sauvignon grapes, including brownies and pasta.

Wine flour is made from the grape skins and seeds (sometimes called pomace) that are left over from wine making; Vinifera for Life sources its product from the Niagara wine region in Canada.  You may recall me mentioning that most of the taste of a wine comes from the grape’s skin; grape skins are where polyphenols like tannic acid, anthocyanins and flavenoids live, and winemakers generally get those compounds into wine by crushing grapes and letting the juice extract flavor and color for a period of a couple days (in the case of rose) to a couple weeks (in the case of red wine).  One of the most famous polyphenols in wine is called resveratrol, which is famous for its anitoxidant properties and other reputed health benefits.

It’s the health benefits of resveratrol that has been garnering a lot of internet interest in wine flour.  I confess that my interest is more from a taste perspective: I keep thinking about what one could do with a pasta that tastes like Cabernet Sauvignon.  My favorite notion is a blue cheese alfredo sauce with toasted walnuts; blue cheese and walnuts are great together and are also great with Cabernet.  Other interesting pairings might include shredded duck breast tossed with cabernet pasta… what do you think? How would you prepare the perfect dish of cabernet pasta?

Unfortunately, I have yet to be able to talk myself into paying $8 for the pound of pasta and another $8 for shipping it to lovely Austin, Texas from California.  I can’t find a local producer of wine flour pasta, and I confess that I am too lazy/busy to make my own.  So I guess I’ll have a lot of time to kick around recipe ideas in my head… until I get over my cheapness, or Whole Foods decides to pick up Marche Noir’s fascinating new products. (hint, hint)  If you’ve tried something made with wine flour, or worked with it yourself, I’d love to hear about it!