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Thursday, January 27, 2011

Gewurztraminer - My First Love in the Wine World

Some years back, when I wasn’t a wine drinker, I heard a word that caught my attention – Gewurztraminer.  It was hard to say and even harder to spell, but I was curious about it.  Little did I know that I was about to find my first love among wines.

When I first got to try a Gewurztraminer, I was immediately taken by the aromas of flowers, spice, and exotic fruits (I would later learn that this was in fact lychee, a fruit I’ve grown particularly fond of).  And then the light golden wine reached my taste buds, and I knew at once that the somewhat dry sweetness of this Gewurztraminer was a perfect match for my very young palate.

Gewurztraminer from Alsace, France

About a decade later, I’m still very much in love with Gewurztraminer.  The wine, aside from being beautiful in the glass and having a lovely flavor, is unique in that it’s a white wine made from pink grapes, and it is known mainly for its extraordinary and showy aroma.  I’ve paired Gewurztraminer with light dishes, cheeses, and have grown to love it with Thai food, as the spicy cuisine pairs very nicely with the off-dry yet partly sweet taste of the wine.

Lucky for me, the wine region closest to me (North Fork of Long Island) has been experimenting with Gewurztraminer as it grows well in our fairly cool climate, most notably at Bedell (as a single varietal as well as in blends), Duck Walk (as a late harvest sweet wine produced in the ice wine style), and Lenz (dry style single varietal).

After trying the Long Island Gewurztraminers as well as some Californian Gewurztraminers (most recently Fetzer, a good white wine for an even better price), I still come back to my favorite, the Pierre Sparr Gewurztraminer from the Alsace region of France.  This wine is a beautiful light golden color with the typical Gewurztraminer aromas of fruit (of course including lychee), caramelized sugar, a bit of citrus, and spice, and flavors of lighter fruits and spiciness with the perfect balance between acidity and sweetness.  The finish is long and memorable.  To this day, the Pierre Sparr Aslace Gewurztraminer remains one of my all-time favorite white wines.

2005 Pierre Sparr Alsace Gewurztraminer

And I dare anyone to try and resist the beckoning aromas of a beautiful Gewurztraminer.

Sunday, January 23, 2011

R Wines Permutations Pinot Noir

So many times I’ve wanted to try an Australian Pinot Noir – I’ve tasted so many Australian wines and have my favorites of course (but that’s an entry for another day), but I’ve heard time and time again that the Pinots from the wine regions of Victoria are to die for, particularly those from Yarra Valley.

I’ve had a difficult time finding Australian Pinot in restaurants but I was surprised at the scarcity of Australian Pinots even in wine shops, but this weekend during a shopping spree at Hamlet Wines nearby, I picked up a California Chardonnay, a Barolo, and finally an Australian Pinot.  I considered myself lucky since there were only two to choose from and one I’ve never heard of.

The wine I chose was the 2008 R Wines Permutations Pinot Noir from Victoria to pair with my dinner – a shell steak topped with gorgonzola sauce and chives and accompanied by sautéed Portobello mushrooms (I did add a bit of the Pinot to the pan).  The Pinot was different from the others I’ve tasted before, probably due to the fact that it’s from Australia, and the Pinots I’ve tasted are from Long Island, California, Oregon, Chile, and of course Burgundy.  I poured the wine and immediately the color was very indicative of the grape type – a rusty red with a lighter rim – but after catching the aroma and taking the first sip, I decided to let it breathe a while.  And it changed quite a bit after about 40 minutes; it opened up nicely, displaying aromas of red fruits, berries, and cherries, some herbs, pepper, and spice, and flavors of fruit with a hint of spice.  The finish was nice, especially after the wine was let to breathe for some time.  What was interesting and unique about this Pinot is that it had the characteristics of warm sunlight – usually the Pinots I’ve tasted have had a coolness about them, but Permutations was warmer.  I do realize that Victoria has the coolest temperatures of all the wine growing regions in Australia making it suitable for growing Pinot, but even still, the wine feels warmer than the typical Pinot Noir.
R Wines 2008 Permutations Pinot Noir

Overall, I was pleased with the wine and with the pairing, and considering the wine is inexpensive, it’s very good.  I’d like to be able to compare it with other Australian Pinots if I am able to find others.  As a side note, Permutations has many different labels – 24 I believe – all with interesting (and silly) illustrations, diagrams, and sayings about life.  The highlight of the evening was taking a bite of gorgonzola and a bite of dark chocolate and then while the two very different flavors lingered on the palate, taking a sip of the wine.  I don’t think I’ve ever tasted anything quite like that before and it’s hard to describe but the tanginess and bitter-sweetness followed by the fruity yet well-structured wine was absolutely divine.

For the steak and gorgonzola sauce recipe, see my recipe page.
Shell steak with gorgonzola sauce and chives, accompanied by sauteed portobello mushrooms, and paired with R Wines 2008 Permutations Pinot Noir

Wednesday, January 19, 2011

Bringing Merlot Back

One of the things that troubles me the most is when I realize that people are not thinking for themselves as individuals but rather following trends fed to them through the media or, even worse, through Hollywood.  Now please don’t get me wrong, I very much enjoyed Sideways and have watched it so many times I’ve probably worn out the disc by now.  However, if people need to be told by a movie that they should drink more Pinot Noir, and then they subsequently treat Merlot as an outcast, that isn’t saying much for their real opinions about wine.  Sure, it’s good that people are drinking more Pinot – Pinot is wonderful and deserves to be enjoyed, and those who are open minded enough to step outside their zone of comfort and try something new deserve to be enchanted by Pinot.  But that doesn’t mean Merlot’s got to go.

What I’m trying to say is that since I first watched Sideways, I’ve been on a quest to bring Merlot back.

Raphael 2007 Estate Merlot

Here on Long Island, in our wine regions Merlot is one of the most successfully grown grapes, along with Cabernet Franc and Chardonnay.  I don’t doubt there are some Merlots lacking complexity or any other characteristic of a good wine, but that can happen with any grape type, and for wine drinkers to leave Merlot in favor of Pinot and insist it’s for whatever reason they can fabricate, I still say it’s because of that one line in Sideways that everyone seems to remember so well.  And that sort of close-mindedness has no place in the wine world, as it does a terrible injustice to a grape that’s clearly withstood the test of time as a single varietal as well as in blends, and has achieved greatness – a prime example is Chateau Petrus.

The Merlot I first got to know was Blackstone, and since then, I’ve found a few favorites, mostly from Long Island.  The Wolffer Estate Merlot from the Hamptons is a very enjoyable wine, very smooth with notes of dark fruits and berries and hints of chocolate and earthiness.  I’ve never paired it with food before but enjoyed it very much on its own, and it is probably my favorite red wine from the South Fork of Long Island.

My present go-to Merlot is the Raphael Estate Merlot from the North Fork – in fact I’ve even used it for cooking.  The color is elegant and beautiful and deep, and the wine is full of characteristics indicative of a Long Island Merlot, with notes of dark fruit, chocolate, herbs, and smokiness, a graceful and pleasing texture, and a long finish.  My most recent pairing for this wine was with veal in a sauce of this Merlot, shallots, and sage.

Raphael 2007 Estate Merlot paired with veal with sauce of Merlot, shallots, and sage, with sauteed baby leaf spinach

The most extraordinary Merlot I’ve tasted from Long Island is a blend with 73% Merlot, the Bedell Cellars Musee.  This is by far the most elegant and unique Merlot I’ve had the pleasure to experience, very rich and full in color, aroma, and flavor, displaying characteristics of dark berry and spice.  Don’t just take my word for it – Musee was rated 91 by Wine Spectator.  Everyone I know who has tasted Musee has been very impressed by it.

With wines like these available, how can anyone turn their back on Merlot?

Saturday, January 15, 2011

Cantina Zaccagnini

2006 Cantina Zaccagnini Montepulciano d'Abruzzo

I’ve been a Zaccagnini fan for the past several years, as Cantina Zaccagnini Montepulciano d’Abruzzo is relatively easy to come by here in New York, and priced modestly considering its excellent quality.  The 2006 vintage is a beautifully balanced Italian red wine very indicative of its region, but it should be permitted to breathe for some time, maybe half an hour or so, and decantering it seems to work wonders, as it opens up nicely.  In the glass it’s a deep red, and displays aromas of both red and dark fruits, berries, and some spice, as well as the barrel, and after a few moments the fruit will ease up.  The flavors are wonderful and appear to come from a much more expensive wine, with a balance between earth and fruit flavors and hints of smokiness.  The finish is long and memorable.  It’s an easy wine to drink and pairs well with normal Italian fare, pasta dishes, firmer cheeses, and could easily stand up to meats.  For the excellent quality and value, Zaccagnini is by far the most popular wine in our house, and it has greeted nearly all of our guests at some point – and each time I taste it, it seems better and better.  It’s the kind of red wine that can be enjoyed on any evening, and as of now it is my favorite comfort wine.

However, this evening, dinner consisted of fresh cod fish dredged in seasoned flour and cooked in a sauce of olive oil, butter, lemon juice, and white wine (Rene Barbier White Catalunya – the white wine we usually use for cooking), as well as broccoli, and a Parmigiano Reggiano risotto.  The wine I chose was the white wine produced by Zaccagnini, a Pinot Grigio.  I had only heard about this wine until recently, as no distributors nearby had it in stock, but just before the holidays, I found it in one of the local wine shops, and grabbed a bottle as a gift for my sister on Christmas.  A week or so ago, my sister let me know that she and her husband enjoyed the wine very much, and that while it was very much a Pinot Grigio, it was not particularly acidic.  So naturally, I picked up a bottle and planned dinner accordingly.  The pairing was absolutely perfect – the wine, a 2009, was extremely pale in color, almost completely clear, with notes of lemon, green apple, and, surprisingly, an aroma that resembled the breathy sweetness of rose petals.  And, as my sister had remarked, not as acidic as would normally be expected from a Pinot Grigio, but clean and crisp, and cleansing to the palate, with a long finish.  Needless to say, I was so happy that after falling in love with Zaccagnini’s red wine, its white wine was just as pleasing, and will undoubtedly become a regular in our house.

2009 Cantina Zaccagnini Pinot Grigio, with fresh cod cooked in sauce of olive oil, butter, lemon juice, and dry white wine

Friday, January 14, 2011

The Journey

After spending the past several years getting better acquainted with wine appreciation and wine pairing and having the opportunity to read the blogs of many friends about lots of different topics and interests, I’ve decided it’s time to start up my own blog about my favorite topic – wine.  The blog will include tasting notes, observations pertaining to wines I’ve tried, wines I’d like to try, and wine facts I’ve learned and wine opinions I’ve formed, but it will also include plenty about food (as my experimenting in the kitchen has furthered my interest in wine), and in all likelihood, my own food and wine photographs.  I believe food and wine, like just about anything else, are a form of art, and I regularly like to capture both in photographs, so even if my palate’s memory fades a bit, my photos will help it along the way.

My approach to wine appreciation is often somewhat different from the approach taken by others, in that I am easily befriended by wines and occasionally romanced by them, as evidenced in my tasting notes.  Many of my food and wine experiences I would like to share with others and that is largely the purpose of my blog, as well as to watch my own tastes and opinions develop.

So please join me on my journey through the world of food and wine and feel free to converse with me about my postings.

Australian lamb chops with garlic and rosemary, sauteed baby leaf spinach, and Sterling Vineyards 2006 Napa Cabernet