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Friday, December 30, 2011

Not Just Wine...

It’s wine that I always write about, because it’s wine that most inspires me.  But I do enjoy vodka, tequila, rum, and, most recently, gin.  And now I tried something new recently thanks to a thoughtful gift - Junior Johnson Midnight Moon Apple Pie Moonshine.  And I loved it!
I wasn’t sure how smooth it would be or how moonshine could taste like apple pie but it’s a lot smoother than I had expected, and it really does smell and taste like a properly spiced fresh apple pie.
Trying new things is important to me but usually something “new” means a less-than-common grape type from a lesser known wine region - Mondeuse from Savoie, Petite Arvine from Vallee d’Aoste, Petit Manseng from South West France, or Nerello Cappuccio from Sicily - but the apple pie moonshine is a new favorite for sure.

Tuesday, December 27, 2011

Christmas Wines - Part 2

Christmas Eve dinner in our house is centered around the traditional Feast of the Seven Fishes, so of course the wines are white, to pair with frutti di mare, lobster, shrimp, and assorted fried fish.

The first wine of the evening was the 2010 Grosjean Freres Petite Arvine (Vallee d’Aoste) - I know it sounds French but it’s actually Italian - and it’s lovely.  I had never tried a Petite Arvine before so I didn’t know what to expect.  The wine is a light golden color with characteristics of soft citrus and even softer orchard fruit notes, particularly peach, very soft spice, mineral, and a hint of yeastiness, with clean acidity but a slightly creamy feel and a long finish.  The wine is fascinating and fortunately very food friendly so it paired perfectly with the fish.

2010 Grosjean Freres Petite Arvine and 2009 Ferrando Erbaluce di Caluso La Torrazza

The next white, also Italian in keeping with the dinner theme, was the 2009 Ferrando Erbaluce di Caluso La Torrazza (Piemonte).  Another exciting new wine for me, it’s perhaps even more golden in color than the Petite Arvine, with somewhat rich characteristics of exotic fruit, white flowers, bitter nut, and a hint of fennel/anise with white stoniness and a crisp, clean texture and slightly bitter finish.  This wine was also an excellent pairing with the fish.

Overall, I was very happy with the white Italian selections for Christmas Eve dinner - both had just enough weight to them while staying crisp and clean and cutting through the fried fish, and both wines were fascinating and very enjoyable.
Dinner on Christmas Day was traditional lasagne, and the wine was the 2010 Mario Marengo Dolcetto d’Alba, a dark wine, purple with a pinkish rim, with rich characteristics of dark berry and lots of plum, purple flowers, and soft spice, and a nice balance of bright acidity with smooth tannins and a long enough finish.  The wine is uncomplicated on the palate and unpretentious, and perfect for pairing with traditional Italian pasta dishes.

2010 Mario Marengo Dolcetto d’Alba

To finish off our Christmas wines, we sipped the 2006 Joseph Phelps “Insignia” (Napa - 95% Cabernet Sauvignon, 5% Petit Verdot) - this wine is luscious with a dark, dense purple color, with characteristics of dark fruit, black currant, rich baking spices and vanilla, dark chocolate, oak, stony earthiness, and a briny hint.  The balance is excellent, with a bit of brightness but mostly soft plushness and smooth, elegant tannin, and a very long finish mostly reflecting the dark fruit and spice.

2006 Joseph Phelps Insignia

Friday, December 23, 2011

Christmas Wines - Part 1

We began our Christmas festivities last night, and usually for holidays, I like to go with dependable wines - there’s always time to experiment and try more “unique” wines so I’d just rather stick with something I can trust on a holiday - although sometimes I can’t help but choose something a bit different.

To open last night, I chose the 2010 Domaine La Prevote Sauvignon Blanc Touraine (Loire), a light and enjoyable white to pair with cheeses before dinner.  The wine is very pale in color, with lovely aromas and flavors of white citrus and flowers and a bit of herb, and cool stony characteristics, with just a hint of a tropical note.  The best pairing for the wine from the cheeses, as I figured, was the fresh chevre, but the wine was bright and crisp and clean enough to work with all cheeses on the board.
With dinner (a delicious roast cooked medium rare) the wine was the 2008 Franciscan Estate Cabernet Sauvignon (Napa), and the pairing was perfect (and the wine was consumed a bit quicker than anticipated, as it was so enjoyable).  The wine is dark purple in color, with characteristics of cassis, dark berry, vanilla, a bit of chocolate, and smooth baking spices.  Full and luscious, the wine has a lovely texture, enough acidity to work well with the roast but would pair nicely with lots of hearty dishes, and big tannins, with a long finish.
Before dinner was over, I had to turn to a backup bottle, but fortunately there are so many to choose from - so I selected the Bodegas La Cartuja Priorat, a dark red wine with warm characteristics of dark fruit, smoke, and scorched earth, a lovely smooth texture with a bit of brightness to it, and a lasting finish.

Christmas Eve and Christmas Day might just bring some “unique” bottles to pair with traditional Italian Christmas dinners and I look forward to trying some new wines and sharing my observations!

Monday, December 19, 2011

Shaw Vineyard 2007 Pinot Noir

A couple of weeks ago I admitted that I had never tasted a wine from the Finger Lakes region until I tried a Sauvignon Blanc from Shaw Vineyard and really enjoyed it.  Over the weekend I got to try another wine from Shaw, the 2007 Pinot Noir.
I’ve mentioned before that I had been spending much more time lately trying Old World wines, and my reasons being that I had been disappointed by a great many American wines from several regions, and also because of my general preference for Old World style wines.  So many of the American wines I’ve tasted have been too “big” and catering to the notion that bigger means better, and others have been thin, or lacking in expression, depth, or complexity.  Sure, there are many American wines that I really enjoy and many American producers for whom I have great respect (as evidenced in many other blog posts), but there had been so many disappointments lately that I directed almost all of my attention to Italy, France, Spain, and Germany.
And then I tried that Shaw Sauvignon Blanc and was very impressed, so I was really excited to taste the Pinot Noir, which would be the first red from the Finger Lakes that I’d ever try.  And I was even more impressed with the Pinot - and it seems I have a new favorite East Coast Pinot Noir now.

Shaw Vineyard 2007 Pinot Noir

True, Shaw’s wines are reminiscent of Old World wines and I appreciate that style, but the expressiveness of the wines allowed me to perceive something different in them, different from other American wines - and I realized why it was different.  The two Shaw wines I’ve tasted express the terroir, and since I’m generally unfamiliar with Finger Lakes terroir, I believe that’s what was unrecognizable and fascinating for me, and that’s one of the reasons why I found something different and unique in those two wines.  For me, it’s essential that a wine show me its identity, and that’s exactly what happened, especially with the Pinot Noir.
The Pinot is a fairly bright red with a clear rim and looks beautiful in the glass and the decanter.  The characteristics include bright but very smooth red fruit, especially cherry, cinnamon spice and a touch of vanilla, nice earthiness, and a wonderful balance with a smooth texture that leaves the palate feeling very clean, and a long finish that shows a lot of cherry and some more of that spice.

2007 was an excellent year for Finger Lakes reds with a dry spring and summer and an extended growing season, and this much was evident in that Pinot.
Some more information on the Shaw Vineyard 2007 Pinot Noir:
300 cases produced 
36 months in French oak
Harvest date: early October 2007
Brix at harvest: 22.1
Tons per acre: 2.5
Seneca Lake Appellation
50% estate fruit, 50% leased acreage

Friday, December 16, 2011

Champagne and Pinot Noir at The Country House

People talk about being “home for the holidays,” but it’s a good time not just to be home but also at a “home away from home” which is where I was the other night - at one of my very favorite restaurants, and I’m lucky enough to live only a few minutes away from it.  That restaurant is the Country House in Stony Brook, and Bob Willemstyn (the owner of the Country House, and a dear friend of our family) makes each dinner and event special.

The Country House - Stony Brook, NY

The other night, Bob had selected the Laurent-Perrier Demi-Sec Champagne to pair with small lobster tails in a wonderful butter sauce.  It’s been ages since I’ve had a Demi-Sec style Champagne (while Demi-Sec sounds like it should mean “half-dry,” it’s actually a bit sweet in comparison to Brut style Champagne, with a sugar content between 32 and 50 grams per litre), and Bob had recently mentioned this particular Champagne and had it ready when our family arrived at the restaurant, and I was really excited to try it.  It paired excellently with the lobster appetizer.  The Champagne is a blend of Chardonnay, Pinot Noir, and a bit of Pinot Meunier, with a golden color and great depth and complexity, including white citrus and orchard fruit, nut, and a bit of a baked characteristic, but the feature that stood out most for me was the sweetness, mostly floral and honeyed.  I had been expecting the Champagne to be even sweeter, but in fact the sweetness was relatively subtle and the clean feel and smooth texture made for an elegant, luxurious experience.

Laurent-Perrier Demi-Sec Champagne

With dinner (I had duck), I chose the 2006 Buena Vista Carneros Pinot Noir.  I can hardly believe that it was my first time trying a Buena Vista wine but it was, and it certainly lived up to its reputation of being dependable, expressive, and of good quality.  Very “Pinot” in color, it’s red with a clear water rim, and characteristics of bright fruit, soft spices, an almost sophisticated earthiness, and lots of smokiness, with nice acidity and good balance, soft tannin and a long finish.  The wine is lovely and very food friendly and I’m so happy I finally tried a Pinot from Buena Vista.

2006 Buena Vista Carneros Pinot Noir

Monday, December 12, 2011

2010 Guenoc Lake County Petite Sirah

Winter is finally arriving here on Long Island and I’ll be focusing on some good reds for the colder months, for pairing with hearty winter dishes, sipping by the fireplace, or both.  I don’t care much for cold weather but it does give me an excuse to enjoy some reds that are a perfect match for winter.

2010 Guenoc Lake County Petite Sirah

After Christmas tree shopping and watching the local parade last night, I chose the 2010 Guenoc Lake County Petite Sirah to sip for the evening.  Petite Sirah I always reserve for winter months.  The wine would pair up nicely to a hearty winter dish but it sips very nicely on its own.  It has a very dark color as expected from a Petite Sirah (and yes, it left my tongue and teeth purple, also expected from a Petite Sirah).  The wine showed characteristics of plum and dark berry, and freshly baked blueberry pie with a hint of wildness, a bit of soft chocolate and very soft spice, and violet.  The texture is very smooth and luscious, not too acidic and really just very full and delicious with a finish reminiscent of the blueberry pie.  A winter wine should be full, elegant, and fun, and that’s exactly what this Petite Sirah is.  Another treasure from Lake Side Emotions Wine Boutique in nearby Stony Brook, it’s a reasonably priced red that delivers, and it’s a perfect wine for a winter evening.  And remember - Petite Sirah is not to be confused with Syrah - it’s actually also known as Durif.

Friday, December 9, 2011

2006 Shafer One Point Five

Many times when I’ve decided to order steak for dinner I’ll look over the wine list and usually decide on a Cabernet Sauvignon since I never tire of them.  And lots of times I’ve considered the Shafer One Point Five Cabernet (Napa - Stags Leap District) but hadn’t had it yet, until last weekend when I chose the 2006 Shafer One Point Five.  It was worth the wait and quickly took its place near the top of my list of favorite American Cabernets.

2006 Shafer One Point Five

The wine was decanted for some time before dinner, and the aromas were so powerful that even though the decanter was on the other side of the table while I sipped my Matua Sauvignon Blanc with my appetizer, I could still catch bold fruit, spice, and wood aromas coming from that decanter.

Finally it was time for Cabernet.  The wine is a dark red with a lighter rim, not much brick and definitely still leaning toward a pinkish rim, indicating a fairly youthful wine, and it really coated the glass when swirled.  The aromas were intense - both dark and red fruit, lots of berry and a bit of wildness in the fruit, chocolate, coffee, purple flowers, spices, smokiness, wood, and earth - so many layers - and the aromas were confirmed on the palate as well, particularly the darker fruit and lovely sophisticated spice.  The wine is nicely balanced as I fully expected it to be, with plenty of acidity to accommodate the dish yet very present tannins, drying the palate and giving it a beautiful texture, and the finish is long.

I do love trying new things and opening bottles of wine that promise surprises and unexpected results, but there is something to be said for choosing a bottle from a very reputable region and producer, and the Shafer surely did not disappoint.  I really enjoyed it and after a bit of an absence from American Cabernet, it was a welcome return.

Monday, December 5, 2011

Shaw Vineyard 2008 Sauvignon Blanc

For some time now, I’ve been saying that I really need to try wines from the Finger Lakes.  And I did intend to, but somehow kept getting caught up in trying wines from lesser known producers and regions of France and got distracted from my plan to try more local and domestic wines.  Still, it’s a little ridiculous that after all this time, I hadn’t tried any Finger Lakes wines - especially since, even though I live pretty close to the North Fork region here on Long Island, Finger Lakes are still technically “local.”
Also, I hate to admit it, but I’ve been disappointed by a great many American wines over the past year or two, from many regions around the US.  So while I remain very open minded about wines from every region of the world, I’ve been noticing my strong preference for Old World style wines.  But I still wasn’t happy to admit, even to myself, that I still hand’t tried any wines from the Finger Lakes.

Shaw Vineyard 2008 Sauvignon Blanc

And on Friday evening I finally tried my first Finger Lakes wine - and I’m happy to report that it was excellent and I enjoyed it very much.  It was the Shaw Vineyard 2008 Sauvignon Blanc.  The wine is relatively light and seems really food friendly and versatile - it has characteristics of bright lemon, orchard fruit, and floral aromas, with lots of mineral characteristics, and crisp acidity and a clean feel.  The wine reminded me more of an Old World style Sauvignon Blanc with its own identity, and perhaps that’s why it appealed to me so much.  But I really enjoyed the wine and I look forward to tasting more Shaw wines, and I hope to try more wines from the Finger Lakes in the not too distant future.

Friday, December 2, 2011

2005 Sacco Barolo

I’ve been meaning to write this one up as it was quite impressive - the 2005 Sacco Barolo, which I had with my birthday dinner of traditional fresh ravioli in a meat sauce.

2005 Sacco Barolo

It’s no secret that Nebbiolo is near the top of my list of favorite grape types; in fact it’s been vying with Cabernet for “favorite red” for some time now.  I love bigger reds with a lot of character, particularly the kind that tend to age well, as I love to track their progress and compare them.  And I do have an affinity for wines from Piemonte, so this wine was perfect for a birthday dinner for me.

I decanted the wine and allowed it to breathe for at least an hour.  In the glass, the wine is very much a bright ruby color, reflective and ruby to the center with a rim leaning slightly brickish, indicating some age, although I think it’s got a bit of aging time left.  Characteristics include both red and dark fruit with lots of elegant spices, wood, and potpourri with a hint of the “dirt road” characteristic.  The wine shows nice acidity and the tannins are still very much present, which was not surprising to me.  I’d like to try this wine again (if I can find it) in a few more years, to see how well it’s aged by then.  The finish is long, and the pairing with the ravioli was perfect.