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Friday, March 30, 2012

Old World, Followed by a Napa Craving - Edge Cabernet

By far, this has been my busiest month in ages - tasting, pouring, writing, etc.  The blog has had more hits this month than any other since I started it in January 2011 - March postings began with Finger Lakes vs. The World and it’s wrapping up today with one of my favorite California Cabernets.  Thanks so much to everyone who has been taking the time to read my posts and tasting notes and musings!
It’s no secret that my palate tends toward Old World style wines.  I’ve been spending time tasting wines from so many regions of Europe, particularly from lesser known regions and sometimes lesser known grape types.  I get questioned regularly on why I spend so little time on American wines - my explanation is fairly simple - my palate prefers the expressiveness generally found in Old World style wines, reflecting the soil and weather patterns where the grapes were grown and the wines were produced.  I also prefer low to medium alcohol content, and sometimes California wines are just a bit too high in alcohol for me, often over 14%.  Also, Old World wines seem to pair best with my cooking.  Yet another reason why I tend toward European wines is that it seems like a challenge to me to follow my reading and research with wines from each region or subregion - and some of the wines have been hard to find!  Thanks to some exciting tastings I’ve attended this year, as well as the fascinating and extensive inventory at Lake Side Emotions Wine Boutique near where I live (I am SO fortunate to be near this wine shop), I’ve been able to locate lots of the wines I’ve been searching for.  These regions include South West France, Savoie, Jura, Valle d’Aosta, Umbria, Basilicata, Franken, Mittelburgenland, Wagram, and so many others.  The more I learn, the more questions that arise in my mind and on my palate, and that tasting journey has led me to wines from all around Europe.

This week, however, I had the crave for a big California Cabernet Sauvignon.  I have several favorites from California, but one that’s been especially satisfying to me (especially at only around $25) is the Edge Napa Cabernet.  There are some times that I want to deviate from the earthy Old World wines with lower alcohol content, and this was one of those times.  Edge is a big wine with a big presence - and alcohol content at 14.8%.  But the alcohol doesn’t throw off the wine’s balance at all.  It’s got the ripe fruit characteristics expected from a Napa Cabernet, particularly cooked raspberry and some dark fruits, and it has the strong vanilla oak characteristics, as well as some herb, chocolate, coffee, and a bit of warm earth, and a hint of the “pencil shaving” note.  The acidity is there, balanced nicely with the fruit, and considering the wine’s young age (it was the 2008 vintage), the tannins are remarkably smooth and not at all overpowering.  Sometimes the tannins in California reds are a bit excessive for my palate, but not in the case of Edge.  It’s so smooth, and the finish is long, and each time I have this wine, I enjoy it so much.

2008 Edge Napa Cabernet Sauvignon

There’s something about the presence of this wine that speaks to me as well.  It’s kind of an Alpha Male in that section of my wine rack - big presence, big characteristics, big aromas, and put together in such a way that it demands attention but is in no way overpowering.  And in some ways, I’d almost liken it to a genie in a bottle.  I open the bottle and aromas come rushing out, filling the space around it and immediately drawing me to it, and it certainly does grant wishes - “Edge, I wish for something delicious, luscious, smooth, ripe, versatile, exciting, and reasonably priced.”  And each time I open a bottle of Edge, the answer is, “your wish is my command.”
So while it’s true that I tend toward expressive wines from regions rich in wine history, generally Old World, there are some days when I need my fill of American wine!


Monday, March 26, 2012

Weekend Roundup

Two interesting wines from this past weekend were a Beaujolais and a Cahors.  I never drink Beaujolais because I’m simply not a fan of Gamay based wines, but this was a Beaujolais I’d be happy to drink again. The Cahors was nothing short of awesome - but if you’ve been reading my blog over the past year, you already know that I’m a huge fan of wines from South West France.  Still, this Cahors exceeded my expectations.

The Beaujolais was the 2009 Domaine la Prebende.  I bought the bottle a couple of months ago but last week at Kevin Zraly’s course I had two Beaujolais wines and began to wonder whether I wanted to open mine at all - I just don’t like Gamay.  So when I opened my own Beaujolais, I was pleased right away by the lovely delicate aromas and my confidence in the bottle returned.  It’s a fairly bright red color with a clear rim and low viscosity, with characteristics of bright red fruit, cherry, berry, a hint of red plum, fresh herb and soft spice, a bit of a floral note, white mineral, and bright acidity but smooth feel, very clean, and low tannin as expected.  It’s an easy drinking wine with a respectable finish, very food friendly and versatile.  I’m glad I’ve finally found a Beaujolais that’s right for my palate.

2009 Domaine la Prebende Beaujolais

Last night I challenged myself to a cassoulet.  Ever since I first saw one of the Food Network several years ago, and after having one at a restaurant about three years ago, I’ve been curious to try it at home.  After discovering my affinity for wines from South West France and deciding a cassoulet would be perfect with one of my bottles from South West France, I made a duck and pork sausage cassoulet last night.  The wine I selected was the 2002 Oriel Falerne Cahors.  It’s 100% Malbec (or as the locals of the region would call it, Cot), aged for 21 months in new French oak barrels.  The wine is very dark - it’s a dark red and the rim is beginning to show a bit of brick coloring, but the wine becomes almost black, and has relatively high viscosity.  The characteristics include macerated raspberry, dark fruit and blueberry, blackcurrant, a bit of plum, bold baking spices, licorice, a bit of dark chocolate, coffee, leather, some cool herb, earth, and truffle mushroom, with a nice balance of fruit/acidity/tannin, the tannins are smooth and velvety and the wine is aging nicely, and the finish is long and reminiscent of the fruit and spice.  It was a perfect pairing with the cassoulet, as expected.  I was really pleased with this wine.

2002 Oriel Falerne Cahors


Friday, March 23, 2012

Summer Whites & 2010 LiBella Pinot Grigio

This week I got to try a lot of fun wines perfect for the upcoming warmer months.  I tasted my first Silvaner, the 2010 Winzer Sommerach Silvaner Trocken from Franken, Germany, which showed characteristics of lemon, honeydew melon, blossom, and white mineral.  I also had the honor of spending Wednesday with Magali Combard-Couvignou of Domaine Saint Andre de Figuiere (Provence), and got to try her two fascinating white blends, four delicate and lovely dry roses, a delicious red blend, and a fantastic and unique extra brut sparkling rose.

Yesterday I tasted yet another wine ideal for summer - the 2010 LiBella Pinot Grigio, produced by Shaw Vineyard in New York’s Finger Lakes.  An Alsatian-inspired New World Pinot Gris, it’s bright and lemony with a bit of white mineral and a hint of sweetness, and finishes off cleanly.  Pair with cheeses, salads, and shellfish, or sip on the dock, the porch, or at a summer party - it’s a really fun wine at a great price.

2010 LiBella Pinot Grigio (Finger Lakes)

Single Vineyard Pinot Gris from the East Side of Seneca Lake
400 cases produced
Residual sugar 1.25%
Alcohol 12%
All stainless steel

Suggested retail price $15 

Monday, March 19, 2012

New Pairings

This weekend I tried some of the new recipes I mentioned in a recent post - a Hungarian goulash and gnocchi Bolognese, with the wines I had selected for them (or should I say, I picked the recipes to pair with the wines).  The dishes turned out nicely and the pairings were perfect.

With the goulash, I had the 2008 Weninger Hochacker Blaufrankisch from Mittelburgenland, Austria.  The wine is reddish with a rim just beginning to pick up a brickish color, with characteristics of ripe red fruit, cherry, berry, lots of cinnamon and bold intense baking spices, rose petals, and a nice texture with bright acidity and very present tannin making it smooth.  The wine is very dry and food friendly, somewhat “big,” with a long finish reminiscent of the fruit and spice.  The acidity and dryness of the wine perfectly contrasted and cut through the creaminess of the sauce in the goulash, the spices mirrored the spice in the dish, and the wine stood up well to the meat and dense character of the dish.



With the gnocchi Bolognese, I had the 2006 Casa Maschito Basilicata Rosso, an Aglianico from Southern Italy.  Italian reds are generally known to be food friendly due to their high acidity, and this wine was certainly in that category.  The wine is very red leaning brickish, particularly on the rim, with characteristics of red fruit, cherry, berry, a hint of wild berry, and plum flesh, with smooth spices and a bit of oak and earth, bright acidity making it very food friendly, smooth tannin, and a long finish.  I was really pleased with this pairing as well - the flavors and characteristics worked well together.


Gnocchi Bolognese

Friday, March 16, 2012

Good Value Reds from this Winter

Over the winter I came across some excellent value wines perfect for weeknight sipping or pairing with winter dinners.  Lots of regions produce some good quality, relatively inexpensive wines - some of the first to come to my mind are Languedoc-Roussillon and some regions of Portugal including Douro.
One of the first good value wines that I tried when the cooler months began was the 2006 Chesnelong Rendez-Vous from Languedoc-Roussillon.  It’s a blend of Cabernet Sauvignon, Grenache, and Mourvedre, dark red with characteristics of bright and slightly tart red fruit, cherry, berry, spice, and a hint of smoke, with some “outdoorsy” earthiness and a bit of “animal” characteristic, making it particularly expressive of Languedoc-Roussillon.  It’s an uncomplicated wine with a fairly smooth texture and bright acidity, making it very food friendly.  At around $14, it’s a great buy.  Lots of people are under the assumption that France produces only expensive wines - while it’s true that some very pricey wines of special significance are produced in France, it’s also true that good value wines are produced in France as well - look to Languedoc-Roussillon, Southern Rhone, South West France, and Beaujolais for some good quality wines often under $20.

2006 Rendez-Vous

I love Italian reds, especially when they’re properly balanced fruit/acid/tannin.  Piemonte isn’t exactly known for its value wines - Barolo, Barbaresco, and other Nebbiolo from Langhe, as well as Gavi whites, tend to be on the pricey side.  However, Dolcetto and Barbera provide a more reasonably priced alternative from Piemonte.  I had the 2009 De Forville Barbera d’Alba last month and could hardly believe the wine was just under $20.  It’s beautiful in the glass, a dark red with a slightly ruby colored rim, with characteristics of ripe dark fruit, berry, plum, and even some raisinated fruit, lots of oak and earth, some dry flowers, and a nice spiciness.  The wine is very well balanced with enough acidity to make it very food friendly and versatile, and smooth tannin, and a long finish.  This Barbera is absolutely delicious and I’d have this wine again in a heartbeat.

2009 De Forville

The most recent value wine I had was just a few nights ago - the 2008 Carm Douro Reserva from Portugal.  Portugal produces some excellent value wines and sometimes I honestly ask myself why I don’t drink more of them.  Another delicious wine under $20 and also very beautiful in the glass, it’s a blend of Tinta Nacional and other Portuguese grapes, dark red and showing characteristics of warmth, ripe fruit and berry, smooth spices, and a bit of pepper and herb, with nice balance, smooth feel, and a very respectable finish.  I was really satisfied with this wine and it’s another I’d go back for right away.

2006 Carm

Recently I was asked about finding alternatives to Pinot Noir as the price of Pinot is sometimes kind of high.  My answer was that there really is no way of replacing Pinot Noir, but rather it’s best to look for value Pinots.  I had a fun one for only around $15 this winter, and paired it with one of my favorite “easy” recipes - balsamic chicken stuffed portobello mushrooms.  The wine was the 2010 Villa San-Juliette Fat Monk Pinot Noir from Central Coast, California.  It’s fairly deep red with a youthful light red rim, and characteristics of ripe fruit, cherry, herb, smooth spice, earth, and some smoke.  It’s nicely balanced and very smooth with a nice finish reminiscent of fruit and smoke.  Very “New World” in style, it’s a good Pinot under $20.

2010 Fat Monk

An even less expensive American Pinot Noir that I had last week was the 2010 Martin Ray “Angeline” California Pinot Noir, made from grapes grown in Sonoma, Mendocino, and Santa Barbara.  The wine is only around $12 and I never would have guessed it was so inexpensive.  It’s a soft dark red color, youthful but ready to drink, with characteristics of soft dark and red fruit, berry, smoke, ash, earth, soft spice, and nice balance and smooth texture, very food friendly and versatile.

2010 Angeline

Monday, March 12, 2012

“In Wine One Beholds the Heart of Another"

“In water one sees one’s own face; But in wine one beholds the heart of another.”  -French Proverb
This is one of my favorite quotes about wine - it’s a beautiful sentiment but it’s also true.  This past week, I tasted wines from the United States (Long Island, Finger Lakes, and California), Italy (Basilicata and Valle d’Aosta), France (Languedoc-Roussillon and Burgundy), and even my first Lebanese wine (Bekaa Valley).  I’ve always said that wine is one of the things that can bring so many people together.
A few nights ago I was pouring a tasting.  Twice that evening, I was asked if there were any good Sicilian wines in the shop.  I’ve tasted plenty of good Sicilian wines over the past few years, but recently one Etna Rosso made a difference - I was lucky to have it twice in the same week last month.  It’s the Palari Rosso del Soprano, a blend of Nerello Mascalese and Nerello Capuccio - I had the 2008 at home (it was a Valentine’s Day gift that I bought for my Dad and our family enjoyed it one Sunday evening last month) and the other was the 2009 which I tasted at Tre Bicchieri.  My description of the wine is that it’s the most elegant Sicilian red that I’ve ever tasted; it’s a lighter red with a bright rim, low viscosity, and characteristics of bright cherry, red fruit, gentle spice, herb, soft floral notes, bright acidity and lots of earthiness very representative of a good Old World style wine, with the tannins beginning to soften on the 2008, and it’s very food friendly and lovely and complex.

2008 Palari Rosso del Soprano

I was really happy to recommend this Palari as I enthusiastically described it to a few people attending the tasting (even though it wasn’t one of the wines I was pouring).  One very pleasant couple approached the bottle of Palari on the rack of mostly Italian reds.  The gentleman commented on the price - indeed it’s more expensive than most Sicilian reds one would find in a wine shop.  But the lady picked up the bottle, and told him she wanted to buy it for him.  She told him, “you’re worth it.”
And I just melted.
I really hope they enjoy that wine as much as I did.  It’s a wonderfully expressive wine with such finesse.  I’m also happy that they’re going to get to experience this wine together.  While I’ve done a lot of tasting alone, I still believe that wine is best experienced with other people.  I also feel a connection to the people who planted the vines, grew and harvested the grapes, and made the wine, when I open a bottle, especially such an expressive wine.  And I believe it’s then that we “behold the heart of another.”

Etna Rosso

Friday, March 9, 2012

New Wines, New Recipes

There was a time when I stuck to the basics - Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Syrah, occasionally Pinot Noir, Chardonnay, Pinot Grigio, Sauvignon Blanc, and a few Italian wines.  These days, I feel like every time I go into a wine shop, I’m looking for something new to try, something completely different from anything I’ve ever had.  It’s partly the desire to learn about wines I’ve only read about, and it’s partly to “keep it fresh” and interesting, and it’s partly an excuse to find new recipes to pair with wines I’ve never tried before.  For me, new aromas and flavors from a grape or region I’m not experienced with call for a recipe I’ve never attempted - usually something challenging.
Less common Italian wines have led me to experiment with less common Italian sauces and dishes, or to take on more challenging recipes.  This year I taught myself to make ravioli and I’m currently coming up with new flavors for ravioli filling, and now I’m planning to attempt a gnocchi dish with an interesting Aglianico.  After trying a few different Aglianico wines over the past few months, I’ve decided it’s a good candidate for my cooking style and it’s inspired me to look for new recipes and even write some of my own. (I have a strong preference for writing recipes as opposed to following recipes.)

“Raw” ham and cheese ravioli

Caprese ravioli

My fascination with wines of South West France has also inspired me to learn to create dishes to pair with the mysterious, bold, and irresistible characteristics of wines from Cahors, Madiran, and Gaillac.  A good quality and relatively inexpensive Madiran, Domaine Le Serp, came to my attention a few months ago and I decided roast duck would be a good pairing - except I had never made duck before.  It turned out nicely - pan roasted duck with a raspberry sauce and portobello mushrooms with this blend of 80% Tannat and 20% Cabernet Franc was a wonderful pairing.  I’ve got a Gaillac waiting for a proper pairing, and I’m thinking of cassoulet.  No, I’ve never attempted a cassoulet before, but I do love cassoulet and it’s been a while since I’ve had any - so I think that will be the pairing, and within the next few weeks, I’m hoping to try it.

2008 Domaine Le Serp Madiran

Roast duck with raspberry sauce and portobello mushrooms

I finally got my hands on a Blaufrankisch from Austria, and while I haven’t decided exactly what to pair with it, it seems it’ll be a meat dish, perhaps something braised.
Generally, it’s my desire to learn that pushes me to try new wines, but it’s the new wines that make me want to attempt new recipes, and my belief is, what’s the worst that can happen when experimenting in the kitchen?  Other than usually having a pretty big mess to clean up after trying something especially challenging, there’s a lot to gain from trying new recipes, and for me, the inspiration is the wine and the pairing.  And I’m sure I’ll never run out of wines to try, or recipes to attempt.

Monday, March 5, 2012

“Wine Generalizations"

Generalizations about wine can be pretty frustrating.  If I had a dollar for every time I heard someone say, “I don’t drink Chardonnay,” I could retire comfortably.  Or, “Pinot Noir is my favorite.”  Or one of the things that confuses me most, when I hear that someone only drinks white or only drinks red - and seems to have no interest in budging on that.  In my mind, I’m thinking, “How is that even possible?”  Yes, it could be worse - they could be singing the praises of White Zinfandel.
But the question in my mind is usually, “Do you even know what Chardonnay tastes like?” or, “Do you even know what Pinot Noir Tastes like?” and so far, I haven’t actually asked anyone that.  No, I’m not expecting everyone to be able to pick out the grape they think is their most loved or hated in a blind taste test, but at least try and be familiar with the characteristics you like in a wine.  It might just help you understand why you prefer one grape type or producing region or style over another, or help you to find more wines you might like very much.
I’m often curious about people’s love or hate for Chardonnay, and while the debate of “oak or no oak” continues (I wish that would come to an end), I do often wonder if it’s the characteristics imparted by oak contact that attract or repel wine drinkers.  For me, the “kiss of oak” is just about right - some baked orchard fruit and gentle caramel and butterscotch characteristics and just a bit more weight than the unoaked counterpart are what appeal to me in a Chardonnay.  But I do realize that might be an acquired taste and not everyone wants a white wine that tastes and feels like that.  For them, perhaps an unoaked or very lightly oaked Chardonnay with lemon and white mineral notes might be best.  But instead of making a blanket statement about not drinking any Chardonnay, it pays to see what Chardonnay - French or American, oaked or unoaked, is best for each individual drinker’s palate.  Last week I offered a glass of Chardonnay to someone who said she doesn’t drink Chardonnay, and what was the result?  “Oh, it tastes like...caramel!  This is very nice.  Is it really Chardonnay?”  Yes, it’s really Chardonnay.

Chardonnay - Chablis, France and unoaked

Chardonnay - Sonoma, California and oaked

Pinot Noir, in my opinion, is at the other end of the spectrum.  It’s been trendy to drink Pinot Noir for the past several years and while lots of people probably won’t admit it, it’s largely because Hollywood said so.  So when I pour a Pinot Noir, I like to ask, “Oh you like Pinot Noir?  Good.  French or American?”  And my favorite response is usually, “Is there a difference?”  That’s perfect, because it gives me a chance to explain a number of differences between the New World and Old World styles of Pinot Noir.  The differences are many, and each individual palate is different, so it’s a good idea for the “Pinot Noir drinker” to determine which style they prefer - the bigger New World style Pinot Noir, with higher alcohol content, fuller bodied, and characteristics of raspberry and macerated fruit, or the Old World, Burgundy style Pinot Noir, with elegant texture, often higher acidity and lower alcohol content, and characteristics of cherry and earthiness.

Pinot Noir - Burgundian style

Pinot Noir - New World style

I’m pretty opposed to generalizations, especially with wine.  No two of them are the same, and wine drinkers might do themselves a disservice by neglecting at least to know some of the characteristics of the wines they enjoy, and remaining open minded enough to try others and make fair comparisons.

Friday, March 2, 2012

Finger Lakes vs. The World

A few nights ago I attended the “Finger Lakes vs. The World” tasting at Spina Restaurant in NYC.  Even though I live in New York, I have very little experience with Finger Lakes wines - in fact, this winter I tried some for the first time - all Shaw Vineyard wines.  The purpose of the event was to blind taste Finger Lakes wines versus European wines of the same grape type and compare them.
Match #1 was Riesling, and the wines were the Hermann J. Wiemer Magdalena Vineyard Dry Riesling 2010 (Finger Lakes) and the Messmer Muschelkalk Riesling Kabinett 2009 (Pfalz, Germany).  I tasted the German Riesling first and noted its very bright acidity and citrus characteristics with just a hint of effervescence.  For me, the wine was a bit too austere (which was a surprise, considering I prefer austere Riesling) and a bit acidic for my palate.  I then tried the Wiemer Riesling - lovely and light, with characteristics of soft orchard fruit and white blossoms.  I wasn’t sure which wine was German and which was Finger Lakes, but the hint of fizz in the first wine I tried made me guess that it was the German, and in fact I was right.  The pleasant surprise - I strongly preferred the Finger Lakes Riesling.
Match #2 was Cabernet Franc.  Anyone who has read my blog posts over the past year is probably aware that I don’t care much for Cabernet Franc on account of the green bell pepper characteristics usually present in New World Cabernet Franc - until about a month ago when I tasted the Shaw Cabernet Franc and for the first time I enjoyed a Cabernet Franc, as there are no bell pepper notes - just dark fruit, smooth spices, and expression of earth.  As I had expected, I preferred the Shaw Cabernet Franc 2006 at this tasting as well, and it remains the only New World Cabernet Franc I’ve enjoyed to date.  I did actually like the other Cabernet Franc, the Monteforche 2009 (Veneto, Italy), for its aroma and flavors of berry and earth - however, I strongly preferred the structure and texture of the Shaw Cabernet Franc.

Match #2 - Cabernet Franc

Match #3 was Merlot - and just as some readers may recall my feelings on Cabernet Franc, they might also recall that I’m a fan of Merlot - I was was pretty enthusiastic about comparing a New World Merlot and an Old World Merlot.  The Finger Lakes Merlot was the Fox Run Vineyards Drink New York Merlot 2007, and the Old World was the Chateau Edmus St. Emilion Grand Cru 2008 (Bordeaux, France).  Upon swirling the Fox Run Merlot in the glass, I immediately detected green bell pepper aromas along with fruit and some earth, but I just couldn’t get past the bell pepper notes and after tasting, I was ready to go on the the other wine (at the time, I did not know which wine was the Finger Lakes and which was the Bordeaux).  When I tasted the Bordeaux, a blend of Merlot and some Cabernet Franc, I noted dark fruit, spice, and earth, and a full and luscious texture with a long finish - and I found my favorite.

Match #3 - Merlot

Match #4 was Pinot Noir - Damiani Wine Cellars 2009 (Finger Lakes) and Domaine Dominique Gallois Gevrey Chambertin 2008 (Burgundy, France).  I actually had no idea which was the Finger Lakes wine and which was the Burgundy - both were sleek with strong characteristics of bright red fruit and earthiness.  I preferred the aromas of the first Pinot I tasted (Damiani) but I preferred the flavor and texture of the second (Domaine Gallois).
My favorite wines of the tasting were the Shaw Cabernet Franc and I enjoyed the Monteforche Cabernet Franc as well, and I really enjoyed the Wiemer Riesling and the Chateau Edmus.