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Thursday, April 28, 2011

Much Love for American Pinot Noir

A few months back, in a post on Merlot, I mentioned that Hollywood had a damaging impact on the population’s view of Merlot (this instance was of course Sideways).  At the same time, in the same film, Hollywood managed to influence the people into drinking more Pinot Noir.  I’m pleased that more people are enjoying Pinot Noir, but Pinot doesn’t need Hollywood plugging for it.  Pinot speaks for itself.

Pinot Noir is generally regarded as the most sensual of wines; it’s smooth, elegant, and mysterious.  We all know someone with the Pinot personality - by nature, slightly temperamental and laden with secrets, yet maturing into an individual of understated beauty, complexity, and extraordinary character...and a hidden naughty side.  It can take us months, even years, to work our way through the many layers of this individual’s persona, discovering and appreciating the subtleties and nuances.  And then, just when we believe we finally understand what makes this individual tick, it seems a surprise has awaited us, and we’re back to solving the mystery.  It’s this person’s air of mystery that keeps us coming back for more.  But one thing is for certain - this is the person who leaves a lasting impression upon our minds and our hearts.
And that’s just the way it is with Pinot Noir.
The most prestigious of Pinots come from the Burgundy region of France, but the grape has grown successfully in other regions as well, particularly Champagne (where it is used for the greatest sparkling wines in the world), California, Oregon, the Marlborough region of New Zealand, and Yarra Valley of Australia.  Pinot generally prefers a cooler climate and chalky soil.  Unfortunately, Pinot is a difficult grape to grow, due to its sensitivity to weather conditions and its susceptibility to diseases on account of its thin skin.  The upside to Pinot’s sensitivity is that it accurately reflects the terroir where the grapes were grown, thus contributing to the many subtleties and characteristics that vary from one Pinot to another.

For lovers of Cabernet and Syrah, Pinot at first may appear light and not quite packing the punch that bigger, fuller, rounder reds do.  But this is Pinot’s intention, to target a more discerning palate of the wine drinker with patience, who is willing to take the time to experience the soft and subtle layers and facets of Pinot Noir.

In this post I will discuss a few of my favorite American Pinots.
The 2007 Argyle Willamette Valley Pinot Noir from Oregon’s WIllamette Valley is a great Pinot at a fairly reasonable price.  It’s happy yet suave, a modest purplish color with a brighter red rim, with fruit aromas and flavors of cherry and tart red fruit, hints of vanilla and chocolate, and a bit of damp earth.  The texture is silky smooth and the wine is so nicely balanced, with its classic Pinot characteristics and just a touch of sweetness as it rounds out, to finish with great length and an invitation to come back for more.  I sipped this Pinot for a while on its own, then introduced sourdough bread with two cheeses - gruyere and emmentaler - and the match was excellent.  I finished off the bottle with a double dark chocolate gelato, and the pairing was divine.  I would like to try this wine with roast chicken or duck with a berry reduction, as its classic American aromas and flavors would make an American dish complete.  Fortunately, Argyle Pinot Noir is very easy to find in wine shops, and I’ve even heard it’s been known to grace other continents with its presence.

2007 Argyle Willamette Valley Pinot Noir

In the same price range as the Argyle is another of my favorites from Oregon’s Willamette Valley, it’s the Benton Lane Estate Pinot Noir.  This wine is an excellent example of its terroir, with its deep ruby color, and characteristics of cherry, raspberry, and red fruits, with light vanilla spice.  The texture is so gentle with very soft tannins that make it extra smooth, the wine is neither too light nor too heavy, and the finish is wonderful as the berry flavors linger.  Benton Lane Pinot is very food friendly - I have had it with roast Cornish game hen, braised leg of lamb, crispy sweetbreads, and quail, and I’ve enjoyed it so much each time.  I’ve been able to locate it in several wine shops, and have been very lucky to find it on the wine lists of several restaurants.

2007 Benton Lane Estate Pinot Noir

My first love among Pinot Noir is the Gary Farrell, and my most recent experience was with the 2005 Gary Farrell Russian River Valley Starr Ridge Vineyard Pinot Noir from California’s Sonoma County.  I absolutely adore this wine; it’s a dark red with a slightly lighter rim, light floral and smoke aromas, and somewhat bold characteristics of both red and dark fruit, intense cherry, some vanilla oak, and again that hint of smokiness.  The texture is that of a perfectly smooth and elegant Pinot that’s matured several years, and the finish is luxurious and memorable.  I’ve tasted the Gary Farrell with lightly seasoned lamb chops, and more recently with leg of lamb, and I probably wouldn’t prefer it any other way.  This is perhaps the most elegant American Pinot I’ve experienced, and I do believe it will always remain among my all-time favorite wines.

2005 Gary Farrell Russian River Valley Starr Ridge Vineyard Pinot Noir

Thursday, April 21, 2011

Good Value

So many people whose palates have begun to develop suddenly shy away from the wines in the lower price ranges.  But there are lots of bargains to be found, wines that will not disappoint, at a fraction of the price.  This can be applied to many situations - keeping an open mind is best.  It would be unfortunate to miss out on some great wines by being fooled by the price tag.
Dr. Loosen “Dr. L” Mosel Riesling has become a household favorite after a bottle accompanied my sister and me to a spicy Thai dinner.  The wine is very light in color, and displays a floral bouquet with gentle notes of fruit.  On the palate, sweeter characteristics of peach first appear, reflecting the sweet aroma, laced with just a hint of spice, but the wine soon snaps to attention, becoming crisp and leaving the palate clean and ready for more.  I’ve tried this wine with the Thai dinner, with sauteed pork chops, and turkey, but Dr. L is also a nice way to unwind after dinner, with its sweet beginning and clean finish.  At approximately $13, it’s an elegant, multifaceted wine and a great find.

2008 Dr. Loosen "Dr. L" Mosel Riesling

For a white wine that’s fun and easy to enjoy, the Rock Rabbit Central Coast Sauvignon Blanc is a great value wine at only about $14.  The wine is approximately 90% Sauvignon Blanc and 10% Gewurztraminer, pale in color with citrus notes of lemon and lime, very crisp, fresh, and upbeat and finishing cleanly.  This is a perfect summer wine, pairing nicely with fresh goat cheese, and lighter dishes of chicken and seafood.  My favorite place to enjoy this wine is out on the porch in warm weather.

2009 Rock Rabbit Central Coast Sauvignon Blanc

Mirassou Pinot Noir is a versatile red that pairs up nicely with an elegant dinner or puts that touch of class into a rustic dish.  The grapes come from vineyards in Sonoma and Monterey.  A lighter red in color, Mirassou shows characteristics of cherry, berry, and ripe red fruits, a soft texture, and a respectable finish.  This wine is not intended for aging, and should be enjoyed fairly young, to best appreciate the bright red fruitiness.  My favorite pairings for this wine are roast chicken, and a soup of butternut squash, apple, and sage.  This is a very good Pinot for around $14 and is very easy to find in wine shops.

2008 Mirassou Pinot Noir

An Italian red that is very easy to pair or enjoy on its own is the Corvo Nero d’Avola Sicilia, a Sicilian red of mostly Nero d’Avola, the most recognizable grape in Sicily, blended with Nerello Mascalese and Pignatello.  A fairly deep red in color with a lighter rim, the wine smells and tastes a bit darker than it looks, with characteristics of plum, dark berry, and cherry.  Corvo is dry, uncomplicated, and smooth, with a fairly long finish.  It pairs nicely with Italian cheeses and antipasto, and Southern Italian cuisine including pasta with a simple marinara sauce, and Italian meats.  The most I’ve enjoyed Corvo was with a traditional Sicilian dinner of pasta with a sauce made with sardines and fennel.  A wine this versatile is a must-have, at only approximately $10.

2008 Corvo Nero d'Avola Sicilia

Liberty School Cabernet Sauvignon from Paso Robles is a good yet inexpensive Cabernet for around $14.  Deep in color and character, the aroma is reminiscent of dark fruit and blackberry, oak, and a bit of spicy clove, and the flavor accurately reflects the big, bold aroma.  The Cabernet is a bit on the acidic side, with firm tannins, lots of texture, and a long finish - however, after allowing the wine to breathe for perhaps half an hour, it was not nearly as intense.  I tasted this wine on its own, but would like to try it with steak.

2008 Liberty School Cabernet Sauvignon

So keep searching for those wine bargains, and don’t be too quick to avoid wines with lower prices, or you might just miss out on a great deal and a new favorite value wine.

Friday, April 15, 2011

Pairing Wine and Cheese

Many people are well aware of wine’s longstanding relationship with cheese, but in order to enjoy the experience fully, it’s important to determine which wines pair best with which cheeses, and why.  Below I’ve picked out a few of my favorite wine and cheese pairings.

Champagne and good brie are an excellent match.  The bright bubbly texture of the Champagne provides a good contrast to the creamy and slightly dense texture of the brie, which softens if served at room temperature.  In addition, the earthy undertones of the Champagne, generally comprised of Chardonnay and Pinot Noir, enhance the flavor of the brie, which has notes of mushroom from its soft white rind.  I’m a firm believer in the idea that if both the wine and the food are from nearby locations, they tend to pair nicely, and Ile-de-France, near Paris and where the brie is produced, is only about 70 miles away from the Champagne region.

Brie drizzled with wildflower honey

At my sister’s wedding last year, one of the hors d'oeuvres was brie with raspberry sauce, which I tasted with the Champagne chosen for the wedding, the Moet & Chandon Brut Imperial NV.  The pairing was ideal, and so recently I had the same Moet Imperial with a brie drizzled with Swedish lingonberry.  The balance between the sweetness and tartness in the berry, the mellow earthiness of the brie, and the yeasty yet crisp Champagne is a winning combination, and a must before an elegant dinner.

Brie drizzled with Swedish lingonberry, paired with Moet & Chandon Brut Imperial NV Champagne

My favorite white wine and cheese pairing is without a doubt Sancerre and chevre.  Wines from Sancerre, a subregion of the Loire in France, are made from Sauvignon Blanc, and are generally bright, crisp, and elegant.  Chevre, soft cheese made from goat’s milk, is also produced in the Loire region.  The goat cheese is very creamy and tangy, with some acidity and a relatively sticky texture.  Sancerre wines are bright and have an acidity that compliments the tanginess of the goat cheese, and a crisp texture that cleanses the palate effortlessly, making it a nice followup to a taste of goat cheese.

Goat cheese

Last year with an appetizer that involved goat cheese, I opted for a Sancerre which is presently my favorite - the Domaine Hippolyte-Reverdy.  This wine has notes of a fresh floral bouquet, herbs, and tropical fruit, and as the wine was let to breathe a bit, the characteristics were enhanced, and the elegant Sauvignon Blanc worked very nicely with the goat cheese.

2009 Domaine Hippolyte-Reverdy Sancerre

I’ve tried parmigiano-reggiano cheese with many different wines as it’s probably my favorite cheese to indulge in, and so far the most successful pairing has been with a Valpolicella.  From the Emilia-Romagna region, after aging for about two years, the hard cheese displays a big flavor, which means it needs a wine with a big flavor to accompany it.  The cheese is piquant, with sweet and nutty undertones and a very slightly oily texture, and its characteristics match very nicely with an Italian red wine with layers of ripe fruit and gentle spice.
The reasonably priced Cesari Mara Ripasso Valpolicella Superiore stands up to the presence of the parmigiano-reggiano very well.  From the Veneto region of Italy, this Valpolicella wine is made up of Corvina, Rondinella, and Molinara.  It displays notes of ripe dark fruit and a hint of spice, and has a long finish.  It pairs nicely with the parmigiano-reggiano whether the cheese is served sliced or crumbled from a wedge, or grated over a traditional Italian pasta dinner.

Parmigiano-reggiano, paired with 2007 Cesari Mara Ripasso Valpolicella Superiore

The last of my wine and cheese pairings is full of bold aromas and flavors - Danish blue cheese and New World Cabernet Sauvignon.  Danish blue cheese is semi-soft and crumbly, with a pungent aroma and a sharp salty flavor.  The bold characteristics of this cheese call for a bold wine to stand up to the aroma and flavor.  New World Cabernet Sauvignon is generally full bodied, fruity, and oaky.

Danish blue cheese

My regular go-to American Cabernet is the Edge Napa Cabernet, deep and bold with characteristics of dark berry, oak, and vanilla spice and a lasting finish.  Each time I pair this wine with Danish blue cheese, I enjoy it even more.  The sharp saltiness of the cheese is matched with the strong fruit in the Cabernet, and while the pairing is intense and flavor-packed, I just can’t seem to have enough of it.

2008 Edge Napa Cabernet Sauvignon

Thursday, April 7, 2011

Barossa Wine Taste & Tweet

Last weekend was the Barossa Wine Taste & Tweet, a virtual wine event organized by Sommelier Rick Bakas during his Australia visit.  It was a fun and interesting experience, as wine lovers from around the world were able to follow the event on Twitter while sipping our own bottles of Barossa wine and posting our tasting notes.
The wine I chose for the event was the 2007 Yalumba Bush Vine Grenache, which was a bit hard to find but thanks to the always-accommodating staff at Hamlet Wines & Liquors in East Setauket, I was able to get my hands on a bottle, and I posted tasting notes, photos, and observations throughout the tweetup event.

2007 Yalumba Bush Vine Grenache
I usually experience Grenache in Rhone blends and Spanish blends, with Syrah, Mourvedre, or Carignan; this time I got to enjoy Grenache on its own.  The wine is fairly light in color, an almost ruby red with a lighter rim.  I poured it into the decanter and let it sit for nearly an hour before sampling it.  The first aromas to reach me were those of ripe red fruits and berries, raspberry, cherry, and perhaps a touch of blackberry and plum, followed by some gentle oak, spice, and smoke, and some earthiness and saddle leather.  The flavors reflected the red fruit and berry characteristics.  I found the texture to be soft and very enjoyable, the wine is nicely balanced, not overly tannic, with a long finish reminiscent of sour cherry and darker fruit.

I would highly recommend this wine for Pinot Noir lovers, as it is a soft wine with lots of red fruit, light spice, and a bit of earthiness, and I would also recommend this Grenache for anyone who wants to experience something a bit different from what we usually taste from Australian producers, which seems to be mostly Shiraz.  I enjoyed it very much and if I can locate another bottle, I would like to try it with roast chicken, duck, or lamb.

Friday, April 1, 2011

Oaky Chardonnays

I’ve been hearing lately that Chardonnay is out of style.  I can’t understand that, since Chardonnay is so versatile and in my opinion no two Chardonnays are the same.  Some are light, bright, and crisp with citrus hints, and some are fuller and deeper with more exotic characteristics.  I find that people these days shy away from those fuller Chardonnays that seem to display a degree of modernism, but I still enjoy those bigger whites that tend to remain on the palate just a bit longer.  To me they are intriguing and full of soul, and while those crisp French Chardonnays are lovely for sure, sometimes I prefer to reach for a few of the fuller, more textured Chardonnays from the United States.

My first real memory of a slightly fuller Chardonnay was at the tasting room at Pindar Vineyards right here on Long Island.  I tried the Sunflower Chardonnay Reserve and instantly loved it for so many reasons.  It’s a medium golden color and when the bottle is first opened and the wine poured, the aroma reflects oak, citrus, apple, pear, and a bit of sweetness and a floral bouquet, with a flavor similar to the aroma, but after it’s been breathing for perhaps half an hour, pineapple and caramel appear as undertones and linger throughout the finish.  The wine is smooth and elegant.  My favorite pairing for Pindar Sunflower Chardonnay is salmon.  While I do like crisp wines such as Sauvignon Blanc to cut through the somewhat buttery texture and bigger flavor of salmon, the Sunflower Chardonnay tends to run parallel to the texture and flavor of the salmon instead, and the pairing is excellent.  Every time I visit the Pindar tasting room I sample the Sunflower Chardonnay which means I’ve tried several vintages, and I enjoy the wine more each time I have it.

A fuller Chardonnay I tried last year was the 2007 Wente Vineyards Nth Degree from the Livermore Valley.  A rich golden color, this is a full bodied, oaky Chardonnay with characteristics of vanilla and baked apple.  A bit on the buttery side, this is not a wine for those who prefer the light and crisp Chardonnays.  The texture is extremely smooth and the finish is very long, and this was one of the most enjoyable and most unique Chardonnays I’ve tasted in years.  The wine is also more versatile than I expected - considering the Chardonnay is full bodied, I had picked it to pair with my braised veal entree, however it also paired very nicely with the appetizer of Maryland crab cakes.  I would like to try this Chardonnay with a variety of cheeses such as brie, gruyere, and perhaps something a bit sharper, and I would also enjoy this wine with a fruit dessert, namely with peaches, pears, or a fresh apple pie.

Wente Vineyards Nth Degree Chardonnay

The most recent example of a Chardonnay with a bit more body that I’ve tried is the 2008 Sterling Vineyards Napa Valley Chardonnay.  Slightly lighter gold in color, this Chardonnay was enjoyable immediately and continued to improve as I let it breathe, over the course of perhaps an hour or so.  The characteristics were those of a lovely floral bouquet, oak, lemon and orange, apple, pear, and some tropical fruit such as pineapple but perhaps even a bit more exotic, and undertones of baked bread.  Another smooth Chardonnay with nice balance and a long finish, I paired this wine with a baked brie drizzled with wildflower honey and lingonberry and imported prosciutto.  This wine would also pair very nicely with fish and shellfish, chicken, and lighter dishes.

Sterling Vineyards Napa Valley Chardonnay

I find that comparing wines of similar style is more reasonable than comparing wines that may be of the same varietal but not of the same style or region.  Lately many people I speak to about Chardonnay tend to compare the fuller, more oaky and buttery examples to the lighter and crisper ones.  I don’t find that comparison particularly helpful, and prefer to compare oaky Chardonnays to other oaky Chardonnays - and based on my experiences with those fuller Chardonnays, my favorites are the Pindar Sunflower Special Reserve, the Wente Vineyards Nth Degree, and the Sterling Napa Chardonnay.