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Friday, February 25, 2011

Sauvignon Blanc - Vive la France!

I’ve noticed in the past year or so that fewer and fewer people are going for Chardonnay and Pinot Grigio and more are picking Sauvignon Blanc.  But everyone seems to be reaching for New Zealand Sauvignon Blanc (and I myself happen to like Oyster Bay, Kim Crawford, Matua, and Monkey Bay, to name a few).  And there are some American Sauvignon Blancs I enjoy, namely the lovely herbal Raphael Sauvignon Blanc from the North Fork of Long Island, and the clean and very affordable Rock Rabbit Sauvignon Blanc from the Central Coast of California.

But my favorite Sauvignon Blancs are often from France, from the Loire Valley in particular.  On opposite sides of the river are Pouilly-Fume and Sancerre, with some of the most wonderful Sauvignon Blancs in the world.  The white wines produced here are smoky, crisp, and dry, and generally lovely, as well as being quite food-friendly.
A very nice example of Pouilly-Fume is the Domaine Alain Cailbourdin Les Cris.  This was the white wine chosen by my sister for her wedding.  It was a very good pairing with the swordfish entree and it was a perfect pairing with the appetizer which was a chilled lobster sampler.  The wine is light and crisp and classy yet energetic, with notes of citrus and white fruits and herbs with mineral characteristics, and has a lengthy finish.  Unfortunately, the wine is not particularly easy to find in wine shops, but if you can locate it, I highly recommend it.

2008 Domaine Alain Cailbourdin Pouilly-Fume Les Cris

I’ve been very fortunate to try a few excellent wines from Sancerre, and my favorite is the Domaine Hippolyte-Reverdy.  The first time I tried this wine, I paired it with lobster and goat cheese, and it was an ideal pairing for sure.  The wine is light in color, and has a beautiful floral bouquet straight from the bottle to the glass, and once it opened up a bit, the exotic fruits became apparent, along with the expected mineral characteristics.  The wine is complex, smooth, and elegant, and the finish was a bit longer than anticipated, which I enjoyed, since I love this wine so much.  And after each taste, I felt compelled to go back for more, as the wine continued to change and demonstrate a whole repertoire of lovely flowers and fruits, while maintaining its cleanliness.  And I am happy to report that this wine is fairly easy to spot in wine shops, and with its beautiful label, it’s hard to miss.  If you love Sauvignon Blanc, this wine is a must.

2009 Domaine Hippolyte-Reverdy Sancerre

Friday, February 18, 2011

A Pioneer in Champagne

I just finished a fantastic book by Tilar Mazzeo, The Widow Clicquot: The Story of a Champagne Empire and the Woman Who Ruled It.  The book was entertaining and informative and a must-read for anyone who loves Champagne.

The Widow Clicquot: The Story of a Champagne Empire and The Woman Who Ruled, It by Tilar Mazzeo,  accompanied by a bottle of Veuve Clicquot Ponsardin Yellow Label Brut NV

Veuve Clicquot Ponsardin, my favorite Champagne producer, rose to greatness under Barbe-Nicole Clicquot Ponsardin in the years following her husband’s death.  The winery came to her through marriage to Francois Clicquot, and at the time, Madame Clicquot was only 27 years old and the winery was quite small, but her natural ability with business and her talent with winemaking, and above all, her strength even in times of desperation and nearly insurmountable challenges brought her winery to great success.
Madame Clicquot is credited with the development of “riddling.”  When the bottled Champagne has aged, the sediment must be accumulated and removed.  At this time, the bottles are placed on racks with angled holes in them, with the cork facing downward.  The bottles are regularly turned and shaken and the sediment continues to accumulate in the neck of the bottle.  This process, known as riddling, was developed by Madame Clicquot for a more efficient way of removing the sediment from the bottles of sparkling wine.  Today, only Prestige Cuvees of Champagne are made with manual riddling, and the rest are made using a mechanized riddling.  The development of this process is what placed Veuve Clicquot ahead of the competition in producing and consequently in reaching the consumers.
The Widow Clicquot is a woman to be admired, not just for her business savvy and for defying the odds during a tumultuous time for France, and as a woman guiding a large and important business in what was still a men’s world, but also for her generosity with her family and the people of Reims.  Behind the sharp woman of business was a kind hearted lady.
Barbe-Nicole Clicquot Ponsardin truly paved the way for other women to play a major role not just in the wine industry but in all areas of business, and for that, many of us are forever grateful.
As for the lovely sparkling wine of Veuve Clicquot, from the radiant and affordable Yellow Label Brut NV to the extraordinary La Grand Dame, the Champagne of Veuve Clicquot is spectacular.
Yellow Label Brut NV is a regular around our house.  A very pale sparkling gold in color, the wine displays characteristics of white fruits and green apples and a bit of sweetness, with hints of slight smokiness, excellent balance, a clean texture with such fine bubbles and assertive presence, with a long and wonderful finish - it’s all that a Champagne should be.  My favorite pairings are brie with lingonberry dressing, fresh crabmeat, and chilled lobster.
So, the next time you toast with a flute of Veuve Clicquot, please remember the lady who made it all possible.

Wednesday, February 9, 2011

Beneficial Diseases?

It still amazes me how some diseases can be beneficial in winemaking, that is, if they’re properly understood and used to the winemaker’s advantage.  The two I’m thinking of, responsible for some of my favorite wines, are commonly known as “noble rot” and “dead arm.”
“Noble rot,” very briefly and without getting too technical, is a form of the fungus Botrytis cinerea, which occurs in damp conditions.  The infection generally affects already ripened grapes, and after the grapes become raisined, the process of drying is the noble rot.  The flavors become concentrated, and the wines become sweet yet balanced with proper acidity, and some of the better known examples include Sauternes and Tokaji.
Some of my favorite wines are French Sauternes.  Sauternes, from Bordeaux, and consisting of Semillon, Sauvignon Blanc, and Muscadelle, are often regarded as dessert wines, due to their sweet taste.  As for me, I tend to enjoy my Sauternes with an appetizer of pan seared Hudson Valley foie gras, as foie gras is a classic pairing for the sweet golden Sauternes.
My most recent experiences with Sauternes include the 2003 Castelnau de Suduirat and the 1998 Chateau d’Arche.
The 2003 Castelnau de Suduirat, absolutely golden in color and a bit on the syrupy side, displays the expected characteristics of sweet orange and apricot with just a hint of wood.  The wine is slightly less balanced than I thought it would be, due to its lack of acidity, and it is also slightly lacking on the duration of the finish.  WHile the wine was paired with a pan seared foie gras, it did purport to be more of a dessert wine due to its sweetness and thick texture.

2003 Castelnau de Suduirat Sauternes

The 1998 Chateau d’Arche, a Second Cru Classe and also made up of Semillon and Sauvignon Blanc, is a bit more food friendly than the Castelnau du Suduirat.  It is also a lovely golden color, as expected, with a floral and fruity aroma that is quite exotic and lovely, and flavors of peach, apricot, sweet orange with a hint of zest, light nuttiness, tropical fruits, and natural honey.  The texture is so smooth and luscious, and the finish is respectable.  This was also paired with foie gras, and appears to be a good choice for the appetizer, as opposed to dessert, based upon its good balance of sweetness and acidity.

1998 Chateau d'Arche Sauternes

The other disease that comes to mind which affects wine and can bring about a positive result is “dead arm,” also known as grape canker.  Dead arm, unlike noble rot, affects the wood of the vine, whereas noble rot affects the grapes directly.  Dead arm occurs when two fungi, Eutypa lata and Phomopsis viticola, cause a disease to rot the wood of the grapevine, which causes one or more arms of the vine to die.  This allows the grapes growing on the healthy arms of the vine to intensify, producing a rich flavored wine.
d’Arenberg, a winery in McLaren Vale, South Australia, produces an excellent Shiraz known as The Dead Arm for this very reason - the grapevines are affected by the disease, causing the grapes on the healthy arms of the vines to intensify.  Dead Arm Shiraz is a wonderful wine, made entirely of Shiraz from the affected vines.  It is very deep in color with a more ruby rim, and displaying characteristics of rich fruit, spice, earth, and warmth, and the full, bold wine occupies the entire palate until it winds down with a long, spicy finish.  Bold and fruit forward though it is, The Dead Arm is a distinguished and elegant Shiraz with excellent aging potential.  In our household, the pairing is Beef Wellington, cooked medium.  This wine will probably always be one of my favorites.

2005 d'Arenberg The Dead Arm Shiraz

Tuesday, February 1, 2011

A Weekend of Italian Reds

This past weekend I got to try three new Italian reds, all of which were different from the others, and all of which were very good.

On Friday night at dinner with my parents at Casa Rustica, a nearby Italian restaurant with an excellent wine list and a wonderful selection of Italian reds, my appetizer was a mushroom strudel and my main course was a filet mignon wrapped in pancetta and cooked in a Barolo sauce.  The wine I chose was the 2005 Beni di Batasiolo Barbaresco, made of Nebbiolo from the Piedmont region of Italy.  The wine is dark red in color, and at first the aroma mainly was of damp earth and shavings of new American oak barrels, and as it opened, it took on characteristics of dark fruits and berries.  The earthy nature of the wine paired very nicely with the mushrooms, and the fruit characteristics that followed were a wonderful match for the filet mignon and the salty pancetta.  The texture of the elegant wine is very smooth, and the finish is lovely.  I’ll admit I have not come across a Barbaresco that I haven’t liked, but this one is very nice and I would go for it again anytime, it is elegant yet unpretentious and a very enjoyable wine.

Saturday at dinner with friends, I was introduced to a new Chianti with Italian antipasti.  The wine is the 2006 Donna Laura Bramosia Chianti Classico, a blend of Sangiovese and Merlot.  Deep red in color and with aromas of red fruit and cherry, spice, and oak, the wine is smooth and nicely balanced and not overpowering in any way, with a respectable finish.  Very drinkable with Italian fare or on its own, Donna Laura Bramosia is well put together but uncomplicated and quite approachable.  This wine is an excellent alternative for those who find some Chiantis to be a bit on the acidic side, as the wine has a very pleasant texture to accompany the enjoyable flavor.

With Saturday’s main course of pasta in a marinara sauce, meatballs, Italian sausage, and pork braciole, the pairing was the 2007 Cesari Mara Ripasso Valpolicella Superiore, a blend of Corvina, Rondinella, and Molinara.  I took a special liking to this wine actually.  It is a dark purple color with a deep ruby rim and displays characteristics of dark fruit, berries, and plum, with a nice ripeness and gentle spiciness.  The Valpolicella had great presence and texture and a lasting finish that paired absolutely perfectly with the very traditional Italian dinner.

I have always liked most Italian red wines, some being among my all-time favorites, but the variety of wines this weekend was especially enjoyable, particularly with such wonderful company.