Monday, July 30, 2007

Yummy Sparkling Wines at Various Prices

People say that sparkling wines are among the most versatile wines. They pair perfectly with basically any food, from delicate and gossamer smoked salmon slices to rich and saucy BBQ. I'll take any excuse to drink sparkling wine, but my favorite way to enjoy it is on its own. In fact, I feel more civilized when I have a glass of good Champagne before dinner.

But I can't afford to drink Champagne every time I want it. Sometimes I want to spend only a coupla bucks, but I want to drink good bubbly. Can that be done? Claro que si, bien sur, konyeshna, and of course. Good bargain bubbly is the subject of much writing, such as this recent piece by the good Dr. Vino.

So where should you look for good inexpensive sparkling wine? I like the French stuff. Yes, Champagne can be an expensive habit, but Champagne is not the only game in France. Many Loire Valley producers make excellent sparkling wine. One of my favorites is Chateau de Hureau's Saumur Brut, a delicious $10 bottle. Cremant de Bourgogne, the sparkling wine of Burgundy, is almost always a good bet, and you don't have to spend more than $10-15 a bottle. And if those don't work for you, how about an effervescent and crisp Vinho Verde from Portugal?

Here are a few more inexpensive sparkling wines I've been enjoying lately:

NV Charles de Fere Blanc de Blanc Reserve, $8 (Astor Wine and Spirits). Made from a blend of Chardonnay (some of the grapes actually do come from vineyards in Champagne, but not all) and Chenin Blanc, this is medium to light bodied and citrusy - refreshing stuff. It has a little more sweetness than I would ideally like, but certainly not too much. It goes great with food and it's less than 10 bucks!

2006 Espiral Vinho Verde, $4 (Trader Joes). That's right, $4!!! This Portuguese wine is more effervescent than sparkling. It's light and crisp and it goes great with seafood or summer salads. And yes, it's perfectly good on its own.

What if you're willing to spend more than $10, but not that much more?

2005 Bisol Prosecco di Valdobbiadene Crede Brut, $15 (Chambers Street Wines).
Yup, this is the same wine that Dr. Vino wrote about. Here is the Wine Doctor's producer profile that among other things, explains that this wine is actually 85% Prosecco and there is Pinot Bianco and Verdiso in there too. Maybe its the Verdiso that makes it soooo good.

And what if you feel like splurging for a bottle of the real stuff - Champagne? Are you ready to put down almost 40 clams for a wonderful bottle of bubbly? If you are, but you don't want the typical Veuve Cliquot/Perrier-Jouet/Taittinger/Duval-Leroy, how about grower Champagne? I like to stick with the smaller houses, myself. I cannot offer the level of detail that Monsieur McDuff did in this grower Champagne post, but here are two wines that I love along with some tasting notes:

NV Jean Lallement Champagne Brut Grand Cru, $36 (Chambers Street Wines).
This non vintage (NV) Champagne is made mostly from Pinot Noir. It is a medium bodied and fleshy style with clean ripe berry-like Pinot fruit and some yeast on the nose, flowers later on. There is a vivid palate of green apple and citrus with nice toast and a pleasant yeastiness, and a chalky minerality to the finish. This is just excellent wine, and worth the $$.

NV Margaine Champagne Demi sec Traditionelle, $34 (Chambers Street Wines).
I know - who buys demi sec Champagne? Most of us stick with Brut, a dry style, not the driest, but dry. Demi sec - isn't that kind of sweet? Yes, but if well made, the sweetness blends harmoniously with the other elements of the wine, and only adds complexity. This wine has bright aromas of citrus and yeast, some white chocolate comes though with air time. Well balanced with vanilla sweetness and floral flavors, all hanging on a backbone of tense acidity. Well done in that the wine is sweet but not at all cloying, in fact the sweet thing is almost in the background. This is a great aperitif wine (probably why I like it so much) but you could serve it with dessert and people will think you're some sort of wine God.

Happy bubbles!

Sunday, July 29, 2007

The Beaujolais Challenge - Cote-de-Brouilly

Cote-de-Brouilly (Brew-yee) is one of the smaller Beaujolais Crus, high up in the hills of Brouilly. According to the Oxford Companion to Wine, many of the vineyards flank Mont Brouilly, a dormant volcano. Volcanos usually mean very fertile soils, if you know what I mean (wink-wink).

You know I was thinking the other night that there might not be too much point in over-thinking Beaujolais. The wines are delicious and easy to drink, low in alcohol, and they're a great combination of fruity, snappy acidity, and refreshment. They go great with food but are also light enough to be enjoyed on their own. Yes, it would definitely be interesting to lineup a few examples of wine from each of the Crus and taste them side by side in order to learn about their individual terroir...but why go through the effort? I would happily do that with any wines from anywhere, and it would probably be more rewarding with red Burgundies, for example.

Beaujolais is meant for drinking and enjoyment, not for contemplation. Yes, there are a few Crus that age well, according to some folks, although those folks go on to say that the wines take on a Pinot-like character. If I wanted that I would open a Pinot. What about when I want a delicious accompaniment to my meal for about $15?

So that, as simple as it may be, is my main realization so far with Beaujolais. Sometimes I get carried away by the compartmentalization of things. Each Cru is a different thing and the wines must be different, I reason. And they probably are. But that doesn't necessarily mean that things must be taken so seriously, especially in the case of Beaujolais. Go ahead if you want to, but I'm going to drink and enjoy mine.

In that spirit, I opened a bottle of Cote-de-Brouilly with spicy tofu and scallions, and baby bok choy the other night. I gave it about 20 minutes in the fridge first and the wine was nicely chilled, but not at all cold. I like Beaujolais with spicy food - it resembles a nice lager in that way, to me. Goes down easily, puts out the fire, refreshes the palate.

2005 Domaine de la Voute des Crozes (Nicole Chanrion) Cote-de-Brouilly, $18 (Chambers Street Wines). Lovely rose petal with some purple. Nose of strawberries and wet rust that follows up on the palate, with some floral smells coming through the next day. This wine was great with our spicy dinner and lovely to sip on its own the next day. But in the context of the past few bottles, both the Chiroubles at $16 and even the Regnie at $20 are a better value in my opinion. They offered a more rewarding contrast between silky texture and aroma, and back-slappin' grapes and red berries.

Thursday, July 26, 2007

One of the Best Blogs You're Probably not Reading!

The esteemed Dr. Vino, aka Tyler Coleman, included this blog in his list of the "5 Best Wine Blogs You're Probably not Reading" in the 25th Anniversary issue of Wine & Spirits magazine, the current issue.

This is quite an honor, especially coming from the good Dr. - a seasoned and respected blogger and wine person. Thanks Doc!!! And if you've come by to check it out based on Tyler's advice in Wine & Spirits, welcome to you.

Only thing is, Tyler said that my wine picks are "somewhat esoteric." Is that true? I guess I tend to focus on 3 regions: Burgundy, the Loire Valley, and Oregon. Are my picks esoteric within those regions? If they are, should I take it mainstream? I don't even know how I would do that. I write about the wines I love to drink.

Believe me, when I see Dr. Vino tonight at his meetup at the Stonehome Wine Bar in Fort Greene I'm gonna grill him good about that "esoteric" comment. I wonder if he'll think it "esoteric" if I were to step on his foot, or kick him in the shin by mistake?

Seriously, I'm curious to know - to those of you who have been reading this blog, are my wine picks too esoteric? Let me know your opinion by taking the poll on the left column under the Beaujolais map.

Wednesday, July 25, 2007

A Fantastic 2005 Bourgogne

2005 Burgundy is nuts. Prices for the top bottles are truly insane, and you're going to spend $50 just for village level wine from the Cote de Nuits. I've basically accepted the fact that the bulk of my 05 Burgundy will be from the Cote de Beaune. Even there, Volnay and Pommard from Voillot, Marechal, and others costs about $50. And that is not 1er Cru folks, we're talking about humble village wine.

I refuse to sit this out though, this 05 Burgundy craze. I will not go quietly into the night, as Bill Pullman said in the movie Independence Day. I want my share of "vintage of the century" wine, "the benchmark for a generation" wine. But I don't have 50 clams to spend on wine unless I already know I love it, and even then I don't really have the $. But I want to get a couple of good bottles. How to know which ones?

I'm going to read a load of tasting notes, sure, and have faith in a producer's reputation, but my main plan is to taste Bourgogne wines from producers I'm interested in. If I like them, maybe I'll spring for the more expensive stuff. Foolproof strategy? Nope. Liking a Bourgogne does not necessarily mean that you will like the same winemaker's Gevrey-Chambertin or the Gevrey-Chambertin 1er Cru Clos St Jacques. Different vinification and different grapes (although grapes used for Bourgogne can legally come from village or 1er Cru vineyards - discretion of the producer). Best strategy I've got though.

Following this plan, the other night I tasted an 05 Bourgogne by Domaine Lignier-Michelot, a producer based in Morey St Denis in the Cote de Nuits. It absolutely blew me away - I would happily buy a half case of this wine and drink it over the next two or three years. Made me quite curious about this producer's village and 1er Cru wines...but this wine stands on its own. Honestly, if you see this wine and you're interested in dipping a toe into the 05 Burgundy pool, you should just buy a few bottles.

Since there are several Ligniers out there making red wine in Burgundy, here is Lignier-Michelot's label, albeit from a different wine, but it's the same yellow label and red text that you're looking for.

2005 Domaine Lignier-Michelot Bourgogne, $24 (Chambers Street Wines). Beautiful blood red color. Hit full stride after 30 minutes in the glass, with aromas of fresh red cherries and baking spices. Lush and full on the palate with juicy deep red and black fruit and nice acidity, all wrapped around an earthy mineral core. This is indulgent wine, pure pleasure, and an entirely different style from the leaner and more underbrushy (is that a word?) Pernot and Lafouge wines I have been drinking lately. More dense and fruit driven, but still complex and spicy. A great value at under $25.
Now, should I buy their Morey St Denis Vieille Vignes for about $50, and tuck it away for a few years until some special meal warrants it? Tough call. One thing I am certain of: I will, sadly, not be able to spring for a bottle of Lignier-Michelot's top wine, the Grand Cru Clos de la Roche, at about $175. Maybe another taste of the Bourgogne is in order.

Sunday, July 22, 2007

The Beaujolais Challenge - Regnie

Look for yourself - do a search using "Regnie" as the keyword, try "Regnie Wine," "Beaujolais Regnie," whatever you like. There isn't much out there that I could find. Here is what we know: Regnie is the most recent addition to the group of Cru Beaujolais appellations, gaining its status in 1988. Regnie is sandwiched between Morgon to the north and Brouilly and Cote de Brouilly to the south, and its vineyards are high in the hills surrounding Regnie-Durette church. I am guessing that this is a lovely spot, and BrooklynLady is already lobbying me to go there with her one day.

Why is there so little to read about Regnie, or Chiroubles, or Saint Amour for that matter? Are Morgon, Julienas, Fleurie, and Moulin-a-Vent so much more impressive? Is there a place where people know and love little Regnie? I bet there is, and probably not just the cafes of nearby Macon, or Paris. Not sure where else, but there is now an apartment in Brooklyn where people love Regnie.

BrooklynLady and I made a yummy weekend lunch of poached eggs served on top of arugula and cherry tomatoes (thanks to Maxwell's farm) with a little finely grated Parmesan and some crusty bread. I was thinking of a Gruner Veltliner, as its lithe body and peppery flavors might go nicely with the arugula. But then I remembered that it was almost Sunday and I had not yet opened the Cru Beaujolais of the week. Oh, the things we do in the name of blogging, eh?

2006 Georges Descombes Regnie, $20 (Chambers Street Wines).
Transparent violet purple color with immediate fresh sweet raspberry smells. There are also interesting tomato leaf and potting soil smells darting in and out, along with some dark flowers and a dried banana smell that I am starting to recognize as classic Beaujolais, probably a result of carbonic maceration. This wine is all fresh fruit on the palate, and a little spicy. It's light textured and elegant, the most pretty of the Beaujolais wines I have tasted in recent memory.

Georges Descombes makes wine without sulphur or filtration and is known for Morgon. This is the first year that he bottled a Regnie and it is released earlier than the Morgon, made for early drinking.

The wine went perfectly with our lunch. As it warmed a bit from cellar temperature the floral smells became more prominent and the juiciness of the raspberries was more pronounced. There was also a fresh grapey-ness, for lack of a better word. I will confess, we drank the whole bottle and it was barely 1:30 on a Saturday afternoon. Just impossible to stop, the wine was so pretty, and it was beautiful outside on the deck. Thank goodness the wine was not more than 13% alcohol, although we did need a nap before dinner.

Okay, so what about the $20 price tag? In my view this is easily worth $20 - it is beautiful and serious wine, the finest Beaujolais I've had in this exercise without question. Better than the Desvignes Morgon Javernieres? The Tete Julienas Cuvee Prestige? I didn't taste them head-to-head so it's hard to say, and clearly we will need to have a Big Blind Beaujolais Tasting...

Thursday, July 19, 2007

Brooklyn Meet-up with Dr. Vino !!!

Calling all NYC area wine folk-----Dr. Vino's latest meet-up is next Thursday July 26th, and it's gonna be right here in Brooklyn! I haven't yet made it to Stonehome so I am excited to check it out. Also, I can tell you from experience that Dr. Vino is a righteous dude, so go if for no other reason then simply to bask in the glow of his presence.

Did You See That?

In Did You See That? I try to highlight a few posts that moved me for some reason, because I want to share them with you. It's sort of like when you were in college and you went to a friend's house and they made you listen to their new tunes. Just think of it as 1991 on my somewhat ratty couch drinking a beer, and I'm making you to listen to Pavement's Perfect Sound Forever, or something. And you like it because it totally rocks!

Dan Berger, an Editor-at-large at Appellation America wrote an interesting piece recently called Is Pinot Dead? Clearly his arguments must be taken with a dash of salt, as he has California leanings. Even so, he asks good questions about Burgundy price and quality and compares this with price and quality in the Russian River Valley. Sadly he does not offer specific comparisons (as is noted by one somewhat agitated commenter), but that is almost beside the point. Have things gone too far in Burgundy? Is it reasonable for a top Grand Cru wine to sell for hundreds (or thousands) of dollars, and for that wine to be snapped up in its entirety by the industry and several filthy rich buyers? Can us normal folk like us ever hope to actually taste a Mugnier Musigny, or are we relegated to village wines and the occasional 1er Cru? Berger recommends looking to the Russian River Valley as an alternative to playing the Burgundy game, and he makes an interesting, if not water-tight case. I re-read the post a few times because it made me think about wine buying strategy in general. See what you think...

On a more romantic note, check out this lovely post on Lenndevours by Finger Lakes Correspondent Jason Feulner. I admire the way Lenn consistently reaches out to people and enlists them in his work, using his position as a highly read and respected blogger to showcase other people's talents. Some people hold on tight when they have that type of power, like Michael Jackson or Attorney General Alberto Gonzales, for example. But not Lenn. He shares the wealth and uses his site to promote other folks. He's got a wine poet, beer podcaster, a photographer, a new website devoted to Wine Blogging Wednesday, and he has a Finger Lakes Correspondent who wrote this piece. It describes a farmer who makes tiny quantities of wine for his own personal pleasure, using old equipment and even older family techniques from back in Italy. If you missed this, take a peek - it will brighten up your day and remind you of the romance of wine.

Finally, there is this provocative piece by Dr. Debs from Good Wine Under $20. Debs laments the lack of women (people of color too, and men without ties) at Wine Spadvocator. Her post generated over 20 c0mments, including a response from an editor at Wine Spadvocator. I highlight this piece because I think it's great that Debs raised the question regarding women working at the Spad. It is not easy to raise this kind of question, as it can trigger an emotional response from people and things can get out of hand. Everything Debs wrote and all of the comments too seem to be thoughtful and well considered.

I cannot resist adding my .02 cents though: I think the piece does more than simply raise a question, it makes a claim that cannot be supported.

Debs never outrightly calls Spadvocator a sexist organization, but it is clear from the piece that she feels that the Spad is ignoring or discriminating against the female gender as potential hires. I disagree with the logic that says if there are no women (or Latinos, Jews, people over 65, people in wheelchairs, and so on) in prominent positions at Wine Spadvocator, then the Spad must be discriminating against women.

I am wary of jumping to conclusions like that because it's just too simple. We don't know how and why Spad hires writers, what their applicant pool looks like, and what work is required in order to get promotions, etc. The sexism claim is possible, but it is one of a dozen factors that might or might not explain the situation. Is it possible that the Spad is purposefully discriminating against women in hiring and promotional practices? Yes. Whether or not it is true cannot be gleaned from the arguments my pal Debs presents in her piece.

Read the thought provoking piece and the comments and see what you think...

Tuesday, July 17, 2007

Farmers Market Glee

I love my Farmer's Market. I mean it - I really adore it. I love the whole experience, the dogs excited to see each other, hanging out while their owners pick through boxes of peaches, the little kids excited to eat healthy things, happy to see all of the pretty colors. But most of all I love, LOVE the amazing food. And I like the fact that what my family eats is grown, caught, or laid locally. From late May through mid November I buy almost all of the vegetables and fruit and all of my eggs and fish that I eat at the Farmer's market. I walk home from the market and my shoulders are bruised from carrying loaded up netted produce bags.

I'm going to share some of my favorite farm stands with you and show you some pictures but I have to warn you: don't come to this market. This market is definitely not for you. You think I need you to buy that last blackfish fillet? Last weekend they were gone at 7:48 AM. And if you make a run at the already scare baby artichokes at Maxwell's, we will be kung fu fighting, and that's a promise. Honestly, just leave it alone and don't come to this market.

Maxwell's Farm Stand is one of my favorite places at the market. I buy almost all of my weekly produce here. Farmer Bill Maxwell is a former Brooklynite who writes about his experiences as a Farmer in the most recent issue of Edible Brooklyn. Just take look (from your computer pal - do not come to this market) at his raspberries, blueberries, and gooseberries.

Oh, you like gooseberries? Too bad, so sad. As you can see, they are the rarest of his berries, and you're gonna need to stay out of this. I bought a box last week ($3) and they are pretty ripe this far into the summer, but they are still tart and silky with pleasant tiny seeds. Kind of a lot of work, as each berry has a small stem on top that I don't like to eat. I may grab a few boxes this weekend and convince BrooklynLady to make jam with me.

Bill's salad greens are just nuts. Radicchio with green outer leaves and gorgeous fuchsia inner leaves. Romaine, Bibb, and other lettuces that are so healthy and fresh that they have a "lettuce-y" scent. Peppery arugula, pungeant shallots and onions, fresh garlic on long green stalks. Beautiful beets and carrots ($2 per bunch, at right - candy stripe beets have red skins and candycane-like stripes inside), broccoli rabe, Swiss chard, and collards, various types of eggplant, all kinds of summer squash, peppers, and leeks. There are small amounts of okra, loads of potatoes that still have stubborn mud sticking on them. Herbs include all of the regular players, but also unusual varieties like lovage (best herb name in the world) and sorrel.

I should have done a closeup of the collard greens, swiss chard, and green and yellow beans on the left. But I just remembered that you're not coming to this market anyway, so you don't need to see any more than this.

Sometimes Bill sells flowers, just small bunches, but they are very pretty, like these sweet pea flowers:

If you want to talk about flowers, though, Lebak Farms' Fresh Cut and Dried Flowers does a great job each week of bringing whatever is blooming. They charge reasonable prices - their most expensive bouquets are $8, they have a great selection, and they are super nice about explaining how to make their flowers last in your house. They sell branches of peach blossoms in the early spring, and pussywillow and dried


Check out these purple and white beauties called salvia.

And how about these red Amaranthus:

There are flowers that look fake, they're so bright and happy. I bet some artist in Williamsburg made them and the joke is on us.

On Saturday I bought some Globe Thistle for our house. The leaves were thistley as advertised, and I picked up a few nice little cuts that continute to sting several days later. But aren't the purple spikey spheres worth it?

Okay, so now you know - there's a great Farmer's Market in Brooklyn, but you can't go. Okay fine, you can go, but after 9:00 AM. I'll be back home with bruised shoulders by then.

Monday, July 16, 2007

WBW # 35 Roundup is Posted

Check out the Round up at My Wine Education. Lots of interesting stuff to read about inexpensive Spanish wine. Real stuff - not everyone loved their wine. You can get a sense of what's good and what's not so good out of Spain at the $10 price point.

Sunday, July 15, 2007

The Beaujolais Challenge - Chiroubles

Chiroubles? Honestly, have you ever tasted a bottle of Chiroubles? I never had until the other night. I probably could not have named Chiroubles as one of the cru Beaujolais appellations until this self-imposed challenge. I'm glad I know about it now, as the wine we tasted was just lovely, a quintessential Beaujolais.

Like I said, I don't have much of anything technical to share with you - I really don't know sh*% from Chiroubles, but here is what I can share with you (most of it from Jancis Robinson and Hugh Johnson's books): Chiroubles is right next to Fleurie and Morgon, two of the better known areas in the region, and it is the highest appellation in Beaujolais with vineyards at about 400 meters of elevation. Both Jancis and Johnson say that wines from Chiroubles are light, fresh, fruity, and made for young drinking.

The only producer mentioned by both Jancis and Johnson is Domaine Cheysson, and that happens to be the wine I found. My pal Adam and I enjoyed this wine out on the deck with a couple of scallion omelets and a salad of baby lettuces, candy stripe beets, and string beans.

2005 Domaine Cheysson Chiroubles, $20 (Chambers Street Wines).
Pretty dark ruby color. The nose is closed down at first, showing only rusty wet iron and just hinting at blackberry. With about 15 minutes open and some swirling the nose opens to reveal sweet blackberries and bright cranberry. The wine is quite light and fresh on the palate, as advertised. There is a nice balance of light and elegant berry fruit, and after another 15 minutes or so an earthy underbrush flavor shows itself underneath the fruit. Great juicy acidity and prominent iron minerality are part of every sip. This wine is interesting and delicious and it was great with our light summer dinner.

Is this wine a good value at $20? There are plenty of cheaper Beaujolais out there that are equally satisfying (although maybe not as complex) - the Beaujolais-Villages by Vissoux I tasted earlier, to name only one. If you are someone who likes Beaujolais enough to keep a couple of bottles of Beaujolais around the house for every day drinking, there are others that you might turn to. But if you are interested in exploring Beaujolais, this is definitely a worthwhile bottle. It was an excellent wine and well worth your $20. Do you want to spend $20 on the Beauj if you can spend $13 - that's your call. I like geeking out on obscure appellations like Chiroubles though, as evidenced by this whole Beaujolais Challenge thing, so I feel like it was money well spent.

How much did I spend on my bottle of Regnie, and was it any good? You'll have to wait, holding your breath I'm sure, for the next installment of the Beaujolais Challenge.

Before you go, tell me - have you ever tried a Chiroubles? Did you like it?

Correction - this wine was $16 at chambers Street, not $20. That changes everything in my mind, as there is no question that for a few extra bucks, this wine is well worth the step up from the two previous wines tasted in this series. It's the complexity, while remaining light and refreshing that does it.

Friday, July 13, 2007

Another $10 Wine, This Time French

I didn't love my recent foray into inexpensive Spanish white wine, but thanks to a few helpful comments, I have some new Albarinos to sample some day. Got me to thinkin' though, it's great to have a couple of go-to white wines in the summer, wines that are refreshing and flavorful, and low enough in alcohol to be easy with food, or to enjoy on their own.

There are not many wines I know of at the $10 price point that meet all of those criteria, but here is a great one. It's from Gascony in the south west of France, the region of Madiran and Jurancon. This wine is a Vins de Pays (Country Wine) des Cotes de Gascogne. Like a Cotes de Nuits in Burgundy is made with Pinot grapes from a range of areas within the Cotes de Nuits (possibly including grapes from famous villages such as Chambolle-Musigny), a VDP des Cotes de Gascogne is a wine made from grapes from all over of Gascony.

Domaine des Cassagnoles VDP des Cotes de Gascogne, $10 (Prospect Wine Shop).
Amy, the always helpful and deeply knowledgeable manager of Prospect Wine Shop in Park Slope recommended this wine. A blend of Colombard and Ugni Blanc (now that's an obscure pair, eh?) that is typical in the Cotes de Gascogne, this wine was perfectly lovely when we opened it. There was a distinctly passion fruit aroma and a nice dry citrus and mineral palate. For $10, I was quite impressed - the wine seemed honest, relying only on yummy grapes. How could I know the treat we were in for the next day?

The next evening we had the remaining half bottle while preparing dinner and the wine was completely delicious. It gained weight and complexity overnight. Isn't that strange for a humble country wine from some where in Armagnac-land? Does this mean that I have to open my $10 white summer sipper the night before I want to drink it? That would be annoying. Maybe we will simply drink the wine over two nights instead, although that won't be easy to do - it's really good and at 12% alcohol you can have a glass while cooking, another with dinner, and the last sip while doing the dishes.

Anyway...The next night the aromas still displayed plenty of passion fruit but balanced by something floral and citrus oil, like twisting a lemon peel. Pure flavors of wet rocks, citrus, and a bit of wax. Medium bodied with a nice texture. Bone dry, lip smacking, and yummy sipping, this would be great with seafood sure, but could definitely stand up to roast chicken or even lean pork loin. This is a serious wine for $10 and I for one, will be getting more. I feel like Joe up in Montreal drinks a lot of wine from Southwestern France - maybe he has tried this little beauty?

Wednesday, July 11, 2007

Wine Blogging Wednesday #35 - Spanish Wine Under $10

Wine Blogging Wednesday is here again, and this month’s theme is Spanish Wines Under $10. Our host is Michelle, aka Wine-girl, at My Wine Education. WBW was created three years ago now by New York’s own (by way of Pittsburgh, anyway) Lenn of Lenndevours.

We are charged with tasting a bottle of Spanish wine, red, white, or bubbly, that also costs $10 or less. I am not a Spanish wine buff, and I don’t know all that much outside of Rioja. I thought it would be nice to try a Bierzo, made from the Mencia grape, the older uncle of my beloved Cabernet Franc. But Bierzos, like your old uncle, can be rustic and brooding wines that prefer to be indoors by the fire - better suited for another time of year.

Then I remembered a light and inexpensive Priorat that I have enjoyed in the past, but the new vintage costs about $15 – too much. Under $10, huh? I will admit that I rarely buy wine at that price point. I usually don’t like $10 red wine – all too often it’s like a bull in a china shop. So I decided not to pick a random red wine, and instead to go with a white - there are several inexpensive whites coming out of Spain that are supposed to be quite good. And I had the perfect excuse to try an inexpensive bottle of white wine...

BrooklynLady and I took BrooklynBabygirl to a Sunday afternoon picnic last weekend. BrooklynLady made two kinds of sandwiches: tuna fish (the good canned kind, in olive oil) with marinated artichoke hearts and lemon juice, and fresh mozzarella with basil. For anyone interested, A & S Porkstore on 5th Avenue between Carroll and Garfield in park slope makes incredible fresh mozz, basically every few hours. Creamy, salty, YUM. What wine would go well with these sandwiches? Something light with zippy acidity, I was thinking, more briny than exotic fruity. Left to my own devices, I might have brought along a Muscadet.

But no Muscadet allowed. This is WBW and the theme is Spanish wine under $10, so I decided to go with an Albariño from the Rias Baixas region. Albariño is the name of the grape, and these wines are marketed as the fresh seafood wine of Spain. Should go well with a nice tuna sandwich, right? The fresh mozzarella, who knows, but who really cares, it’s a picnic. Any wine should be good wine when you enjoy it in the park with friends and children running around.

I tried Chambers Street Wines, my usual haunt, but there was nothing close enough to the $10 limit. Portugese wines, yes, but no Spanish whites at about $10. So I went to Astor Wine and Spirits, a huge store, and they had a couple of bottles to choose from. I settled on a $12 bottle instead of the Borsao, or the other bottles that had labels sporting happy fish, little beach scenes, or other marketing crap that kind of turns me off. Me cynical? Absolutely. I picked a Martin Codax wine with a simple white label and a clear bottle, and I could see the attractive light color of the wine.

After drinking this wine I learned that, incredibly, it IS possible to think your wine sort of stinks, even at a lovely picnic. Several people, after one small glass, opted for beer instead. I tried hard to like it, but it was tough, really tough. Now I've enjoyed Albariño in the past, so I am not at all slamming the wine in general or the Rias Baixas region. Just this bottle because honestly, this wine was just no good.

2006 Martin Codax Albariño Rias Biaxas, $12 (Astor Wines and Spirits).
Pale straw color with tonic water quinine and wet rocks on the nose. Those smells are echoed on the palate, and nothing more. There is acidity, and the wine is light and sort of lively, but there is no balance at all. Only minerals and brine, no fruit to speak of, nothing to hold your interest. Even with bites of tuna sandwich at a nice picnic, this is not altogether pleasant.

I'm curious to read to roundup, and I hope that someone else sampled one of these popular wines - I want to taste another Albariño soon because I know that the Codax cannot be representative of the wines. Yes, I will have to try another.

Thanks to Michelle for choosing this interesting theme and for hosting.

Tuesday, July 10, 2007

Wine Dinner Envy

I received this email from St Innocent the other day. I normally delete these things rather quickly, but I find myself reading the menu again and again, and sweating the awesome wine lineup. The thing that kills me is that the last St Innocent wine dinner in NYC was also at the Tasting Room and cost about $275 before gratuity. This dinner in Portland features wines from St Innocent and also from the esteemed Domaine Voillot, a producer I am very fond of. There are library wines, truffles, fois gras, and all sorts of goodies, and this event somehow clocks in at $100 before gratuity. Hello Portland!

There is another dinner in NYC, again at the tasting room, but I bet the price will be more than double what it is in Portland. The price for the NYC dinner is not listed in the email, and the NYC dinner will not feature Voillot wines.

I have serious wine dinner envy. If I were only going to be in Portland that day...maybe I can use frequent flier miles. Maybe I can participate via live aroma-feed. Anyway, those of you in the northwest - you should go and let me know how it was. here is the email:

3 Wine Dinners - one in Portland, OR (Thursday, July 26th), one in Seattle, WA (Tuesday, July 31st) and one in NYC (Wednesday, Sept. 5th).

Mark Vlossak, St. Innocent's winemaker, will be doing two outrageous wine dinners jointly with Volnay Burgundy legend (in Mark's mind anyway) Jean-Pierre Charlot of Domaine Joseph Voillot (Volnay).

Sorely missed Salem Chef Bernard Malherbe (formerly Fleur de Sel) agreed to re-invigorate his French genes and cook a six course dinner at his current Portland restaurant, Pata Negra. The following week in Seattle, the two will pour their offerings at the fabled Canlis Restaurant. Both dinners will feature 2005 red and white Burgundies from Voillot and 2005 Pinot noir and Chardonnay from St. Innocent. As a bonus, both wineries will pour Pinot noirs from the great 2002 vintage and in Portland, library wines from the early 1990's.Here is the sample menu for the Portland event:

Black Lentil and Citrus salad with Mussels
D. Voillot 2005 Meursault Chevalieres / St. Innocent 2005 Chardonnay Freedom Hill

Peking Duck Breast with Goat Cheese Polenta and Fig Vincotto Reduction
D. Voillot 2005 Pommard Vielle Vignes / St. Innocent 2005 Pinot noir, Justice Vineyard

Free Range Beef Ribeye with Blue Cheese and Fingerling Potatoes
D. Voillot 2005 Volnay 1er Champans / St. Innocent 2005 Pinot noir, Shea Vineyard

Wild Mushroom Risotto with Truffles and Fois Gras
D. Voillot 2002 Volnay 1er Fremiets / St. Innocent 2002 Pinot noir, Seven Springs

Watercress and Arugula Salad with Crotin Chavigniol and Carmelized Walnuts
D. Voillot '93 or '95 Volnay / St. Innocent 1993 Pinot noir, O'Connor Vineyard

St. Innocent 2000 Brut

Sound tasty?
for Portland 7/26/07 call: Pata Negra 503-227-7282, 1818 NW 23rd Place, Portland, OR 97210
Price is $100 per person (plus gratuity)

for Seattle 7/31/07 call: Canlis 206-283-3313, 2576 Aurora Ave. North, Seattle, WA 98109
Inquire for details

Sunday, July 08, 2007

The Beaujolais Challenge - Beaujolais-Villages

Beaujolais-villages wines come from the hills in the northern part of the region, and make up about a quarter of the wine produced in Beaujolais. This is the same part of the region where the 10 Cru Beaujolais communes live. We enjoyed a bottle of Beaujolais-Villages wine the other night while we roasted a red pepper and added it to a salad of fresh made mozzarella, peppery arugula, and fruity extra-virgin olive oil.

So is Beaujolias-Villages different from Beaujolais? It is obviously impossible to tell from one bottle, and this will be true for the rest of the posts in this series. Instead I will offer whatever observations I and fellow tasters can make and you can take them with a grain of salt.

If you are interested in details, one difference between Beaujolais and Beaujolais-Villages, according to Jancis Robinson's Oxford Companion to Wine, is the maximum permitted yield. At 3.1 ton/acre for Beaujolais, Beaujolais-Villages must keep yields 10% below that. Assuming no major changes in wine making techniques, this should mean that the wines of Beaujolais-Villages are deeper and more intense.

For whatever it's worth, that intensity is demonstrated in this one bottle. Although the wine is light in color and the aromas are also light, subdued on the first day, the flavors are strong, concentrated. In addition to fresh ripe strawberry fruit, there is a prominent mineral streak that really defines the character of this wine.

2005 Pascal Granger Beaujolais-Villages, $14 (Chambers Street Wines).
Austere on the first day, and not because it was chilled. The wine showed so much iron that it was almost rusty. It was not entirely enjoyable, actually. But on day two the wine was more balanced, with ripe strawberry and raspberry flavors and juicy underlying acidity to compliment the still strong iron flavor. Day three is the best, as the overall impression is juicy and fresh, with an interesting mineral finish. There is a lot of sediment in my glass after the last pour, which is pretty cool for a young wine. Probably it is not filtered.

Does this mean that the wine should age for a few years? Maybe so, but that would really be a pain in the butt, wouldn't it? Who needs to cellar their Beaujolais? It's supposed to be pure sipping pleasure, with or without food, not-think-too-hard wine. Shouldn't I be able to buy it off the shelf and pop it open that evening? Fine, Morgon, Moulin-a-Vent usually benefit from aging, and that's fine, but Beaujolais-Villages?

Possibly this is a 2005 curiosity, as everyone might be tempted to make their personal work of art in this "vintage-of-the-century." I will have to try more Beaujolais-Villages before making any real judgments, but I can say from this bottle that I would happily spend a little less for Beaujolais (either of the wines we tasted, for example) and pop and pour them without thinking twice. I bet that will not be the case with Cru Beaujolais...we'll see.

Friday, July 06, 2007

Recent Sips - June 2007

I kept meaning to write posts about some of the interesting wine I tasted in June, but I kept getting derailed. Here are some notes on wines that did not get their own post:


2005 Jean Manciat Macon Charnay Vieille Vignes, $21 (Chambers Street Wines).
I loved this wine back in March at the real Wine Attack Tasting. I asked about the wine but was told that it would not be imported. But then, all of the sudden, there it is on the shelves and at an enticing $21. An incredible value, I would assert. The new oak is very obvious right now, not overwhelming at all, but obvious. So is the baby fat on the very ripe fruit. Delicious now, this wine will be such a star with a few years of age, when everything integrates. Right now there are lively and fresh aromas of citrus and pure water, some minerals, some tropical oak smells. Clean and balanced, with citrus, mineral, and stone fruit flavors, and some tropical flavors from the oak. Good acidity. I opened this too early - the wine was best after an hour open. I will look forward to cracking open the other bottles in a few years.

2005 Lafouge Auxey-Duresses 1er Cru Les Duresses, $28 (Chambers Street Wines).
I finally got around to tasting the 2004 version of this wine, really liked it, and boom - we're on to 2005 already. I am so glad to report, however, that this is just awesome, and at under $30 a bottle, you're crazy if you don't grab a few of them. I've been recommending this wine to my friends who are looking to get into the 05 Burgundy game without breaking the bank. Of Lafouge's three 1er Cru Auxeys, this is supposedly the one for drinking young. Maybe so, but I found this to improve tremendously after an hour plus open, and then overnight. At its best it had lovely floral and cherry aromas with complex undertones of leaves and earth. Very light and elegant, yet assertive and potent with great acidity. A balanced and interesting wine that will be lots of fun to share over the next few years.

Rhone Valley

2003 Domaine Pierre Usseglio Chateauneuf-du-Pape, $40 (Chambers Street Wines).
I'm a fish out of water in the Rhone Valley. I try but I just don't get it. I find the wines hard to sip on their own, and I only think of pairing them with the heaviest of foods. Maybe that's because the alcohol levels tend to be high, or maybe because of the intense nature of the wines, with tar, meat and roasted flavors. This wine did not bring me closer to a Rhone epiphany. Deetrane and Mike really liked it, but I found it heavy and very roasted, especially at first. The nose eventually showed some nice raspberries and dusty earth, and there was a pleasant mingling of raspberry liquor and meaty flavors. I could appreciate this as interesting, but not particularly enjoyable to me for drinking.

2005 Domaine Monpertuis Cote du Rhone Vignoble de la Ramiere, $14 (Chambers Street Wines). This wine, like the above CDP, is mostly Grenache (90% in this case). Monpertuis is a reputed producer making reasonably priced CDP. I tasted the 2001 Monpertuis CDP a few months ago and enjoyed it, but not as much as this wine. It is clearly a style thing, because any southern Rhone lover would find that insane, and me a Rhone ignoramus, I imagine. But I liked this wine because it was drinkable - clear raspberry red color, almost a hint of fuchsia. Yes, there is roasted meat, herbs, and blood on the nose, but the texture and flavor of the wine is much lighter than the CDP. I could roll the wine around in my mouth and enjoy it, it was pure tasting and full of fresh fruit, with fine grained tannins. We sipped it while making dinner, and then enjoyed it very much with our turkey burgers.


2002 St Innocent Pinot Noir Seven Springs Vineyard, $25 (secondary market).

I hope that this wine is going through a dumb phase, because it was most restrained and reserved. Revealing almost nothing on the nose – some dark cherry and spice, but that’s after 45 minutes and enough swirling to make a dervish dizzy. Completely closed on the palate too, although the texture was nice. On the St Innocent website wine maker Mark Vlossak says “Maybe the best wine I have ever made. Drink some now and age some for 12-15 years,” and he wrote that on January 1st 2006. So my “now” might be a year into a dumb phase. Or the wine might be disappointing. Or the guy I bought it from might have abused it. Time will tell, as I have enough of this in the cellar to water your lawn.

2004 St Innocent Pinot Noir Temperance Hill, $25 (Winery).
This is one of St Innocents less expensive (but they are all reasonably priced) early drinking Pinots, and I have always enjoyed it. I drank my three bottles of this wine last summer, but Deetrane is more patient than I. He opened this the other day at a BBQ and boy was it fantastic. Everyone at the table loved it, and this was a table cluttered with several pricey big-name wines. Light and lively on the nose with clean red fruit and earth, and bursting with red cherries on the palate, some nice pine and herbal characteristics on the finish. Impressive balance and texture. An excellent Pinot, and I defy you to find a better quality American Pinot at the $25 price point. C’mon, I double dare you.

New York

2002 Castello di Borghese Cabernet Franc Reserve, $32 (winery).

I liked this wine enough to buy a couple bottles last August when BrooklynLady and I visited the North Fork. I know I should wait, but when we made delicious herbed local lamb skewers earlier this month, it just seemed like a good time to give this local wine a go. I really liked it again! Very different style, to my palate, from the Loire Cabernet Francs I usually drink. This wine is bright garnet red and translucent, with dark fruit, flowers, and cedar on the nose. When I get cedar on the nose I think of Bordeaux blends, and Cab Franc is certainly a part of that. Maybe the producer was going for that style? In any case, the wine was just delicious, medium bodied with pure and clean plummy and blackberry flavors, and undertones of that same pleasant cedar. The earthy leathery funkiness that is usually there in a Loire red wine was absent here. An interesting and highly enjoyable departure from my usual Cab Franc habits. Hard to make a habit of it at $32 a pop, but certainly a yummy and distinctive wine.

Tuesday, July 03, 2007

For the 4th, an American Wine

It's July 4th folks, and as an American, a Brooklynite, I feel compelled to write a little sumpthin about an American wine.

I recently discovered a Napa Valley Chardonnay that I really like. I know, sounds odd, right? To be honest, it happened completely by mistake. I was babysitting for my pal Deetrane and we have this rule that when we babysit for each other, we get to open wine from the other guy's cellar. So on a recent very hot Friday night I go down to his basement and open the fridge, imagining sipping a yummy and cool Chardonnay.

He has a 2000 1er Cru Puligny Montrachet - too fancy for solo drinking I figure. He has a lovely looking 2002 1er Cru Meursault Les Charmes, but again, I don't feel quite right cracking open Deetrane's fancy wine. But what is this - a California Chardonnay? Why, yes it is. Stony Hill Napa Valley Chardonnay. Expecting a fat and buttery Cali-Chard, I take it upstairs and open it.

Was I ever wrong! The wine was DELICIOUS, and it resembled good Burgundy Chardonnay far more than any California Chard I've had. I have since read a little bit about the producer, and I learned that they use very little new oak, trying not to add oak to the flavor profile of the wine. They inhibit malolactic fermentation (hence non-buttery) in order to preserve the natural acidity in the wine. I wonder if they use natural yeasts...I bet they do, because they generally seem to be keeping it real at Stony Hill.

This wine was so good that Deetrane and I made a four player trade involving his 2 remaining bottles of Stony Hill and a few reds that were languishing on the bench on my team (2001 Flor de Pingus, 1999 Tenuta Friggiali Brunello di Montalcino). Clearly both clubs benefit from the deal, as all players will see significant playing time on their new rosters.

2002 Stony Hill Napa Valley Chardonnay, about $30 retail.
I don't think I agree with their tasting note exactly - I got nothing at all tropical, but I agree that it is delicious wine. Hay colored with a bright citrus and wet rock nose. Crisp and clean, very dry, vibrant citrus fruit with some stone fruits and minerals. Nice acidity, well balanced. The wine blossomed in the glass over the first half hour, taking on deeper floral aromas and flavors of green apple and spice. Seriously impressive stuff.

Happy Independence Day y'all!

Monday, July 02, 2007

The Beaujolais Challenge - Beaujolais

First time checking out the Beaujolais Challenge? Don't worry, you haven't missed anything. Last time I made a pledge to taste wines from all 12 appellations in the region and to share what I learn with you. A couple of tidbits before we get into our real business, just to make sure that we're all on the same page:

  • Gamay is the grape used to make red wine in Beaujolais. Yes, there is some white wine (Chardonnay) made in Beaujolais, but almost 99% of production is red wine, and it's all about Gamay. Gamay is used to make wine outside of Beaujolais, but not enough so that you'd notice. If you are really into wine from the Loire Valley you know that Gamay appears in some Touraine wines. There are also a few producers in Oregon (Brick House, notably) making Gamay wines. But Beaujolais is special in the wine world and one of the main reasons is Gamay, its hometown grape.

  • Aside from the granite rich sandy soils that give the wines terroir, or their sense of place, the other thing that makes wine from Beaujolais special is carbonic maceration. This is an interesting vinification technique in which grapes are piled into a fermentation vat and the pressure on the bottom-most grapes gradually crushes them, releasing the juice. The presence of natural yeasts on the grape (if the wine is made "naturally") or added yeasts start the fermentation process, creating carbon dioxide gas. The grapes higher up in the vat begin to ferment too, but while the juice is still inside the skin of the grape - fermentation in individual un-crushed grapes! After pressing, the resulting juice is low in tannin and high in fresh fruit flavor.

  • Beaujolais Nouveau, the sweet and pleasant kool-aid with a kick that is so celebrated in France - that is not what I will be tasting and discussing. Same grape, same carbonic maceration technique used, but entirely different goals for the wine, and entirely different results. The river of often insipid and always cheap Beaujolais Nouveau might be exactly the thing that dragged down the reputation of Beaujolais in general. Too bad, because Beaujolais is serious wine.

  • The kind of wine I will be talking about is usually called Cru Beaujolais, referring to one of 12 Crus or growths. To use the Burgundy analogy, there is regional wine (called Bourgougne, Cotes de Beaune, or Cotes de Nuits), village level wine (Vosne-Romanee, Auxey-Durresses, Pommard, etc.), and then 1er Cru and Grand Cru classified growth from some of those villages. Beaujolais is the name of the "lowest" Cru, followed by Beaujolais-Villages, and then the village Crus, such as Morgon, Chenas, Fleurie, and so on.

  • Louis Jadot, Georges Duboeuf, and a few other negociants (people who buy and sell grapes and sometimes make wine from grapes they buy) have been making good Cru Beaujolais for a while now. I'm going to try to stick to wines made by growers simply out of personal preference, not because I tasted and did not like Duboeuf's or any other negociant's wines. In general, I try to buy wine made by growers, that's all.
Okay, that's it. Now, the wine. Let's start with Beaujolais, the "lowest" of the Crus. About half of all of the wine coming out of the region is this wine. Alcohol levels are allowed to be low, as low as 9%. It is generally held that you should chill these wines, as with other Cru Beaujolais. I enjoy them chilled (chilled, not cold), but I also enjoy them at room temperature.

2005 in Burgundy is the mother of all vintages, apparently, and Beaujolais is part of the Burgundy region, so the wines, even those from the "lowly" Beaujolais appellation should be high quality. Based on the two I enjoyed recently, I would heartily agree.

The setting: a warm Sunday afternoon on the deck, kids splashing around in the little kiddie pool, babies on laps, skewers of spice-rubbed beef and chicken on the grill, potato salad, candy striped beets and baby lettuces relaxing in their chilled salad bowl...The wines:

2005 Domaine du Vissoux Pierre-Marie Chermette Beaujolais, $13.50 (Chambers Street Wines). The label says this wine is made naturally, fermented with yeasts on the grape skins. It is light purple in color and fully translucent. The nose is seductive, with bright red berries and a little bit of underbrush. Fresh and clean on the palate, this is just yummy, with raspberry and strawberry flavors and a bit of dried banana that stays in the nostrils after swallowing. This wine is lip smacking a delicious and was a great pairing for our somewhat spicy outdoor food. Our crew drained the bottle over lunch, while the next one still had about a glass and a half remaining when we closed up shop.

2005 Jean-Paul Brun Domaine des Terres Dorees Cuvee L'AncienVieille Vignes, $15 (Chambers Street Wines). Lots of people are drinking this wine right now, as Wine Spadvocator scored it a 90, and it was included in one of Eric Asimov's "homework cases" of wine. It was so different from the Vissoux, completely different wine. Deetrane said that he might not have guessed Beaujolais if he had tasted it blind. Maybe it's the old vines, maybe its the lush 2005 vintage, but this is dark and intense wine for Beaujolais. We all liked it, but it didn't seem to have the Vissoux's carefree attitude. This one is darker purple, almost opaque at the core, with intense aromas of dried banana, some strawberry, and some underbrush. The palate is very nice, with redberries and a pomegranite type of intensity. This might be deeper and more serious wine compared with the Vissoux, but I preferred the Vissoux overall - better with our food and fresher tasting. This is good stuff too though, don't get me wrong. This one seems like it might tolerate, enjoy even, a year or so in the bottle. Luckily, I have a few more bottles to use in that experiment...