Thursday, December 29, 2005

Beer Tasting and Choucroute

My friend Virginie is not fond of wine but she likes beer. Since we were making a choucroute for Christmas, we decided for a change to have a beer tasting. That evening, we tasted one German and three Belgium beers.

We started with a Spaten Pils, produced by the Spaten brewery in Munich. It had a light yellow color with a mildly bitter flavor and a light malty finish. This was my friend's favorite beer.

Our next beer was a Duvel, which is a golden Belgium ale that undergoes three fermentations, the last one taking place in the bottle. It had a light yellow color, and was full flavored and slightly sweet on the palate with a long and fruity finish. This was my favorite as an aperitif.

The third beer was a Chimay Peres Trappistes Cinq Cents, which is a non-pasteurized beer produced by the Trappist monks of the Chimay monastery. It had a deep amber color and tasted rich and spicy with a bitter aftertaste. This was the beer I liked the best with the choucroute.

We ended the tasting with a Trappistes Rochefort 10, which is a strong dark ale (11.3% alcohol), also produced by the Trappist monks. The beer had a dark brown color, a strong medicinal taste and a bitter finish. This was definitively not our style of beer.

Of course, a nice Alsatian riesling is always a great choice with the choucroute.

Technorati tags::

Sunday, December 25, 2005

A Very Sweet Christmas

For me, Christmas is the time to relax with my family and friends and indulge in rich food and wine. Our Christmas eve dinner started with a terrine of foie gras and two excellent bottles of Sauternes that we tasted side by side.

This was an enlightening exercise. The 2001 Château Rayne-Vigneau had a light golden color and a mild nose of candied pineapple. On the palate, it was lively and medium sweet with a refreshing acidity on the finish.

The 1999 Château Rieussec was very different. It had a deep golden color and a more intense nose of nuts, honey and dried apricots. On the palate, it was rich with a mouthfilling, unctuous texture and a long, lingering finish.

Both wines were fantastic with the foie gras but which one did I really prefer? The Rieussec was definitively richer and more complex but the Rayne Vigneau had a freshness and acidity that worked well with a side dish of caramelized apples that we served with the foie gras.

Merry Christmas!

Technorati tags:

Wednesday, December 21, 2005

Champagne tasting

I am usually very busy around Christmas but luckily this year, I was able to attend our friend Arnaud's annual Champagne tasting. And this year, Arnaud had a special treat for us: he had invited Gary Westby, the K&L Wine Merchants Champagne specialist, to talk about a selection of seven different Champagnes, all coming from small producers that make wine mostly from their own land.

For this special tasting, Arnaud had also prepared some tasty hors d'oeuvres, canapes and petits fours.

We started the tasting with the Champagne Deutz Brut Classic. Deutz is a small Champagne house recently bought by Roederer and the Brut Classic is their entry level wine. With an aromatic nose of Granny Smith apples and a crisp, firm, and toasty palate, it was a Champagne of character and an excellent aperitif.

It was followed by the Champagne Franck Bonville Brut Grand Cru Blanc de Blancs. This Champagne is made of Chardonnay grapes coming from the winery's own vineyard in Avize, one of the Champagne Grands Crus. It was crisp with clean mineral flavors, notes of green apple, and had a dry, zesty finish. With its high acidity and minerality, this Champagne should go well with oysters or shellfish.

Our third Champagne was another Blanc de Blancs, this time from the Lancelot-Pienne Champagne house. The domaine is located in the village of Cramant, one of the best terroirs in the Côtes de Blancs. Made of 100% old vine Chardonnay. the 1996 Champagne Lancelot Pienne Blanc de Blancs Brut Cuvée Marie Lancelot was flowery, full and soft with an elegant finish, and absolutely delicious with the salmon mousse. This was one of the group's favorite.

Our next wine was the Champagne Ariston Brut Carte Blanche, a classic Champagne blend made of 40% Chardonnay, 30% Pinot Noir and 30% Pinot Meunier. The Ariston house makes Champagne exclusively from its own estate vineyard in Brouillet, a tiny village in the far northwest corner of Champagne. This is a unique terroir: the vineyard is located on steep sunny slopes that give the vines a better chance to ripen, and the soil is rich in shellfish fossils, which provide mineral flavors to the wine. This was a very food-friendly wine and with its aromatic nose, and rich, mouth-filling palate, this was one of my favorite.

The next Champagne was another Grand Cru. The Champagne Michel Arnould Brut Réserve Grand Cru Verzenay comes from Verzenay, the farthest north of all of the Grand Crus. Verzenay is an amazing, north-facing location where the Pinot ripens thanks to a mysterious warm air current — that's what some of the locals say. A blend of 80% Pinot Noir and 20% Chardonnay, the wine had an aromatic nose of honey, pear, apple and blackcurrant bud. On the palate, it was rich and slightly sweeter than the others. It should go well with a fruit tart, or with some Asian food.

With the 1985 Champagne René Collard Millésimé Cuvée Reservée, we had the most extraordinary wine of the evening. This Champagne was an unusual blend of 90% Pinot Meunier and 10% Chardonnay. It had a deep golden color, a smoky nose with notes of red berries, and on the palate, it surprisingly tasted like a sherry! A perfect match for our foie gras toasts.

The evening ended with petits fours and a Champagne rosé. Made of 100% biodynamic Pinot Noir grapes, the 1993 Champagne Fleury Brut Rosé Fleur de l'Europe had an exquisite salmon color and a delicate red fruit nose. On the palate, it was dry, elegant, and delicious with the hazelnut cookies.

A warm thank you to Arnaud, Gary and our hosts, Sabrina and Marty for this exceptional and festive evening!

Arnaud and Gary

Technorati tags:

Sunday, December 18, 2005

Picpoul de Pinet

Sometimes, it is not the label that makes you buy a wine, but the name, and Picpoul de Pinet is certainly one of them.

Picpoul is a little known grape that is native to the Languedoc and one of the thirteen permitted varietals in Châteauneuf-du-Pape. Today, it is rarely used in the Rhône Valley and most of the production comes from the Picpoul de Pinet appellation. The meaning of the name Picpoul is unclear. Some believe that it translates into lip stinger because of its high acidity. Others think that it means pecking hens because in the old days, the hens liked to peck its early ripening fruits.

Pinet is a small Languedoc village where the wine is produced. The vineyards of Picpoul de Pinet overlook the oyster and mussel farms of the Bassin de Thau. Although the climate is dry and sunny, the lake provides coolness and humidity at night, which allows the grapes to retain a high level of acidity. And thanks to its freshness and crisp mineral flavors, the wine is the ideal accompaniment to the local oysters and mussels.

The other day, I didn't have oysters with my glass of 2004 Hughes Beaulieu Picpoul de Pinet, but Dungeness crab. The wine was absolutely delicious with the delicate flavors of the crab meat. It had an attractive nose of floral and mineral aromas, a lively acidity on the palate and a clean, citrusy finish.

No wonder the hens used to eat the grapes, these animals certainly know what is good.

Technorati tags:

Wednesday, December 14, 2005

A new blog for South American wine lovers

A Che Guevara and wine route in Bolivia, painted horses on the streets of Santiago, the first ever international Carmenère competition, these are some of the stories that you can read in Andes Wine Zone. This new blog reports on wine-related events happening in South America and is also dedicated to the wines produced in the Andes Mountains — a land of natural wonders and a fabulous wine region!

Andes wine

Technorati tags:

Pastries in Paris... support the Kashmir earthquake relief

Dreaming of spending the afternoon in Paris, sampling (or rather devouring) petits fours with a nice cup of tea? This is one of the cool gifts that you can win if you donate as little as $5 to support the victims of the earthquake that devastated the Kashmir region of India and Pakistan. The funds will be collected by Unicef through the First Giving website.

$4,400.00 has been raised as of today. So, are you ready to participate? Check the menu and find the gift you would like. Then go to the A Menu for Hope II donation page. You see, it's easy.

Technorati tags:

Monday, December 12, 2005

President Bush and a Cabernet Sauvignon at your holiday dinner table?

The California Wine Club recently conducted a survey asking its members which public figure or celebrity they would like to invite for holiday dinner, and which wine they would serve. President Bush was the popular choice as well as Cabernet Sauvignon.

Now, which guest would I like to have for my holiday dinner? Certainly someone that could bring a good bottle of wine and tell interesting wine stories. Maybe a famous winemaker, maybe a famous female winemaker. Someone like Helen Turley from Marcassin or Laurence Faller from Domaine Weinbach or Sophie Armenier from Domaine de Marcoux.

Or maybe I could just serve their wines.

Technorati tags:

Friday, December 09, 2005

Manresa: That's absolutely true

It was after reading Manresa... All of it is True on the Gastronomie blog that I decided to make a reservation at Manresa . I had previously read several great reviews of Manresa, including Manresa Restaurant: a fascinating ride and Notes From the Vinography "Drink Small" Wine Dinner, but for some reason, this one made me pick up the phone and call the restaurant.

So last week, my husband and I drove to Los Gatos for a 6:30pm dinner, and as predicted, the experience was memorable. Just reading the menu was mouth watering. The wine list was small but the wines were well chosen. I was only disappointed by the small selection of wines by the glass. I could not find anything inspiring that could go with our first dish, a foie gras terrine. Fortunately, the problem got resolved thanks to the Sommelier, a friendly and helpful person, who recommended a glass of Prinz von Hessen Riesling Spätlese 2000 that was not in the list. To go with our four course menu, we ordered a bottle of Volnay Premier Cru Champans 1999, also recommended by the Sommelier.

After a couple of appetizers — a mango smoothie and a parmesan churro, the waiter brought us the famous Arpège Egg, a hot-cold soft boiled egg with maple syrup, sherry vinegar and cream. The dish certainly deserved its reputation. The combination of hot and cold ingredients and sweet and sour flavors was amazing.

We started our menu sharing a Terrine of Duck Foie Gras and Pig’s Trotter. This was an inventive creation that combined the rustic flavors of the pig feet with the delicate and silky taste of the foie gras. The 2000 Prinz von Hessen Riesling Spätlese was excellent and a perfect accompaniment to the terrine. The wine had a lot of purity and finess, a smooth texture, a complex finish, and the right amount of sweetness to go well with the foie gras.

I absolutely loved my second dish, the Sea Urchin and Dungeness Crab in Lightly Spiced Coconut Milk. For me, this was the most inventive dish of the menu. I loved its airy texture, its intense flavors combining the salty, iodized flavors of the urchin with the sweet and rich taste of the coconut milk.

My third dish was the Breast of Duck with Braised Red Cabbage and Prunes Poached in Black Tea. This was a more classic dish, yet rich and tasty. It worked very well with the 1999 Volnay Premier Cru Les Champans Domaine Marquis d'Angerville, a concentrated and spicy wine that started very firm and became smooth and unctuous towards the end of the meal.

My last dish, a Warm Date Cake with Caramel Pears and Ice Cream, was a real treat, a comfort food in its most refined form.

Feeling hungry? Call now. The number is 408-354-4330.

Technorati tags:

Wednesday, December 07, 2005

WBW #16: Don't be fooled by the appearance

Today is December's Wine Blogging Wednesday and Derrick at An Obsession with Food (and Wine) is hosting. This time, he is asking us to present a wine that we have chosen solely for its pretty label.

When I choose a wine, I am usually influenced by the winery name, the appellation, friends recommendations — and the price. But once in a while, I have to confess that I buy a wine because I am attracted to its label.

That's what happened when I ran into the 2002 Eno Pinot Noir Presumed Innocent Morelli Lane Vineyard. At first sight, the wine's label looked pretty. I liked the subdued rose petal color and the delicate transparency of the main picture, as well as the flowery, red and green design on the side of the label.

And then I took a closer look and the label started to suggest a mystery as thick as the London fog. It showed a picture of a mysterious and seductive woman with a pearl necklace and perfectly manicured fingernail, entitled “PRESUMED innocent”. Who was this lady? An intriguing brunette like Mary Astor in the Maltese Falcon, or a cold and blonde Hitchcock heroine like Kim Novak in Vertigo? What was her crime?

On its website, the winery warns you: “Be careful, it's an iron fist in a velvet glove. You are "Presumed Innocent" until you have a glass or two...

When I finally turned my attention to the side of the label, the whole truth came out: she was guilty!

What about the wine itself? It has a bright bloody ruby color and an attractive nose of fresh cherry with notes of cinnamon and cloves. On the palate, it is medium-bodied and dry with a earthy-spicy finish. It is a fine Russian River Pinot Noir that should be delicious with a Salmon with Indian Spices.

Technorati tags:

Monday, December 05, 2005

My 2005 Top Wines

Everybody talks about the Wine Spectator's 2005 Top 100 these days. And like every year, people wonder how the magazine came up with its ranking. For me, the list is interesting because I haven't drunk any of these wines, although I had some from a different vintage. So, does that mean that I completely missed the best wines of the year?

This led me to wonder what were my own 2005 Top wines. A simple query to my Wine Database returned a list of almost 100 wines that I tasted in 2005 and found excellent or exceptional (four stars or better in my rating scheme). These are the wines that I enjoyed the most this year and all of them are associated with fond memories of dear friends and delicious food.

I already featured several of these coup de coeur wines in recent posts. Here are some more :

• 1980 Page Mill Cabernet Sauvignon Volker Eisele Vineyard Napa Valley
• 1985 Château Lynch-Bages
• 1986 Château Raymond-Lafon
• 1995 Château Cantenac-Brown
• 1996 Merryvale Profile
• 1996 Santenay Premier Cru Clos de Tavannes Domaine de la Pousse d'Or
• 1998 Miner Family Cabernet Sauvignon Oakville
• 1999 Brunello di Montalcino La Mannella
• 1999 Domaine Weinbach Riesling Clos des Capucins Cuvée Sainte Catherine
• 2001 ZD Reserve Pinot Noir Los Carneros
• 2001 Gamba Old Vine Zinfandel Russian River Valley
• 2001 Gigondas Domaine Les Goubert Cuvée Florence
• 2001 Châteauneuf-du-Pape Domaine de la Janasse
• 2001 Barolo Mauro Molino
• 2001 Schmelz Riesling Smaragd Durnsteiner Freiheit
• 2002 Two Hands Angel's Share Shiraz
• 2003 Joh. Jos. Prüm Graacher Himmelreich Spätlese
• 2003 Chassagne-Montrachet Premier Cru La Maltroie Michel Colin-Deleger et Fils
• 2003 Vacqueyras Blanc Domaine La Monardière
• Champagne De Meric Grande Reserve Sous Bois Brut

Technorati tags::

Wednesday, November 30, 2005

Wine and Cheese Pairing

I love cheese. I could have a simple meal made of good cheese, fresh bread, and wine, and be in heaven. So I was enthusiastic when our friend Arnaud announced that the theme of his November wine club meeting was Wine and Cheese Pairing.

For the event, Arnaud chose seven types of cheese from five different countries and carefully paired them with a wine of the same nationality (almost). Here is what he selected for us:

• Brie and Savennières
Brie is a soft-ripened, cow's milk cheese from Brie, a region of France south-east of Paris. With a mild, creamy taste and an unctuous texture, it is a cheese that requires an aromatic wine with some acidity. We tasted the 2002 Savennières Cuvée des Genêts Domaine Laureau. It is a dry white wine from the Loire Valley made from the Chenin Blanc grape. The wine was delicious with the Brie. It had a bright golden with a lively, mineral nose. On the palate, it was crisp with aromas of pear and honey.

• Humboldt goat cheese and Napa Valley Sauvignon Blanc
Made in Humboldt county in Northern California, this chalk white Artisan cheese has a firm and dense texture and a delicate taste that offers a good balance between saltiness and acidity. A crisp Sauvignon Blanc is a classic pairing with goat cheese and in order to stay in California, Arnaud chose a Sauvignon Blanc from Napa Valley. The 2004 Honig Sauvignon Blanc Napa Valley had a pale straw color and an attractive citrus and floral nose. On the palate, it was crisp with gooseberry flavors. I really liked this goat cheese but I found the wine too fruity for the cheese.

• Manchego and Dry Amontillado
Manchego is a semi-firm cheese from Spain, made from whole milk of the Manchego sheep raised in the high plateau of La Mancha. Traditionally, Manchego is molded with woven esparto grass — a plant with hard, stiff, reed-like blades — strips, which creates a zigzag pattern along the side of the cheese. A red wine like a Rioja or a dry Sherry are usually a good match for the sweet and nutty flavors of the cheese. Arnaud selected a Dry Amontillado Los Arcos from Emilio Lustau. Amontillado is a type of Sherry that is slowly oxidized while aged in porous oak casks. Being slowly exposed to oxygen, the wine gains a darker color and unusual distinctive flavors. From the color — deep amber — and the nose — rich and luscious — it seemed that the wine was sweet. But on the palate, it was surprisingly bone-dry with strong nutty aromas and a long, complex finish. For me, this was the most unusual and complex wine of the evening, although many guests did not like it.

• Parmesan and Brunello di Montalcino
Named after the town of Parma in Northern Italy, Parmesan is a hard cheese made from cow's skimmed milk. It has a granular structure and a fruity and nutty flavor. Like most hard cheeses, Parmesan goes well with red wines. To go with Parmesan, Arnaud selected a Brunello di Montalcino from Tuscany. The 2000 Brunello di Montalcino Poggiarellino is 100% Sangiovese Grosso, a local clone of the Sangiovese grape. The wine had a deep garnet color and a generous nose of ripe fruits. On the palate, it was full-bodied and rich with a peppery aftertaste. Both the wine and the cheese were very tasty.

• Munster and Gewürztraminer
Munster is a strong, pungent cheese, native to Alsace, and made of cow’s milk. It has a sticky, orange, washed skin while the interior is semi-soft, creamy and mellow flavored. In Alsace, it is typically served with spices like caraway or cumin seeds. A classic pairing is Munster and beer but aromatic white wines like Gewürztraminer work as well. The Gewürztraminer grape has strong aromas — Gewürz means spicy in German — that can stand up to the cheese. We tasted the 2001 Jean-Philippe Francois Becker Gewürztraminer Grand Cru Froehn. It had a wonderfully fragrant nose of lychee fruit. On the palate, it was full-bodied and off-dry with a long finish. The wine was a perfect accompaniment for the Munster sprinkled with cumin seeds.

• Stilton and Port
Known as the king of English cheeses, Stilton is a cow-milk cheese with moldy blue-green veins, a rich and mellow flavor and a piquant aftertaste, although it is milder than other blue cheese like Roquefort or Gorgonzola. It is only produced in the three counties of Derbyshire, Leicestershire and Nottinghamshire. Sweet wines are known to offer a great counterpoint to the pungent and salty flavors of a blue cheese, and in England, Port is the classic drink to accompany Stilton. With the cheese, we tasted a Tawny Port, which is a wood-aged Port that acquired a lighter tawny color, hence the name, and a more gentle flavor over the years. The Warre's Otima 10 Years Tawny Port was still very young, fruity and lively with rich raisiny flavors on the palate, and a long sweet finish.

• Roquefort and Sauternes
Enjoyed since Roman times, Roquefort is one of the oldest cheeses in the world. It is made from sheep's milk that is exposed to a mold called Penicillium roqueforti. It is then ripened for at least 3 months in limestone caverns near the village of Roquefort in southwestern France. Ripe Roquefort is creamy, thick and crumbly on the inside, with a rich texture and pungent, piquant, salty flavors. Like Stilton, Roquefort pairs well with sweet wines and Sauternes is a classic match. Arnaud selected the excellent 1998 Château Raymond-Lafon. Château Raymond-Lafon is a property that borders Château Yquem. The wine had a bright golden color, a nose of orange liqueur, a rich palate with candied fruit flavors, and a complex finish.

We usually associate cheese with dry red wines. But looking back at the great wine/cheese combinations that we had that evening, it is interesting to notice that six wines out of seven were white and four were sweet and/or fortified.

We had a wonderful time. The cheeses came from Whole Foods Market and were fresh and tasty. The wines, bought at K&L Wine Merchants, were excellent. And if I had to assign some awards, I would choose:
• 1st place in the cheese category: Humboldt goat cheese
• 1st place in the wine category: Dry Amontillado Los Arcos Emilio Lustau
• 1st place in the wine/cheese pairing category: Munster and 2001 Jean-Philippe Francois Becker Gewürztraminer Grand Cru Froehn (with the cumin seeds of course!)

Technorati tags::

Monday, November 28, 2005

Bacchus and Me : Adventures in the Wine Cellar by Jay McInerney

•Which chlorophyll-friendly wine loves broccoli, tubers , and aragula?
•What is the four-wheel-drive, off-road vehicle of the wine world?
•Who said: “Lower yields, ripe fruit, an artisanal approach, less is better. Let the terroir express itself. This is my legacy”?
•What is red, French, costs too much, and tastes like the water that's left in the vase after the flowers have died and rotten?
•Who is Colombo and what is the mystery of the missing socks?
•Why are rosebunches sometimes planted at the end of each row of vines?

You will find the answers to these questions in Bacchus and Me : Adventures in the Wine Cellar by Jay McInerney. Jay McInerney is a bestselling novelist who contributes to Condé Nast House & Garden and The New Yorker. Bacchus and Me is a compilation of his House & Garden wine column. The book is full of witty anecdotes written in a cutting, caustic style, and it is a lot of fun to read.

Here are some of my favorite quotes from the book:
Regarding Condrieu: “Perfume is more expensive and it's not potable.”
Regarding Burgundy: “Burgundy is a lovely thing when you can get anybody to buy it for you.”
Regarding Beaujolais: “a Hawaiian shirt of a wine.”
Regarding sweet wines: “All of those who made unlikely vows about calories this year should remember that unlike pastry, pudding, and cake, a glass of vino dolci is super-low in fat and cholesterol.”
Regarding Zinfandel: “Almost any Zinfandel that starts with R is good.”

But the best story is about the rosebunches. Asked why rosebunches often mark the end of each row of vines in Bordeaux, Bruno Borie of Château Ducru-Beaucaillou explained:
“There are three theories about that. One is that the roses were like the canaries in the coal mines — early-warning systems for disease. Another theory is that they were planted so that the horses would know when to turn, at the end of each row.”
“And the third theory?”
Smiling, Bruno Borie answered: “Perhaps they're just there because they're beautiful. We have forgotten about gratuitous acts of beauty.”

Technorati tags::

Thursday, November 24, 2005

Happy Thanksgiving!

Herbed Turkey Breast

Corn Bread

Yams and Marshmallow

Apple Tart

2003 Pelerin Pinot Noir Rosella's Vineyard Santa Lucia Highlands: nothing better than a pilgrim wine for Thanksgiving! The nose was rather subtle but on the palate, it was rich, sweet and fruity. Perfect with the turkey, the cranberry sauce and the yams and marshmallow.

2002 Coho Pinot Noir Russian River Valley: The nose was attractive with fresh cherry aromas. On the palate, it was more earthy than the Pelerin and less sweet. This is a style that I usually prefer, but today, the Pelerin worked better with the Thanksgiving dinner.

Happy Thanksgiving!

Technorati tags::

Tuesday, November 22, 2005

Coteaux du Layon and Gâteau de Mamy

Is there anything better than a Coteaux du Layon for a sweet ending to a dinner that started around a wines from the Loire Valley theme?

Coteaux du Layon is an appellation located along the river Layon in the Loire Valley, producing sweet white wines from the Chenin Blanc grape. One of the region's best estate is Domaine des Baumard. This is a domaine that consistently produces impressive Chenin Blanc wines from Savennières, Coteaux du Layon and Quarts de Chaume.

I chose to serve a Coteaux du Layon from Domaine des Baumard called Clos de Sainte Catherine — in honor of my patron saint. With the wine, we had a Gâteau de Mamy à la Poire, a tasty pear cake from Chocolate and Zucchini.

The 2002 Coteaux du Layon Domaine des Baumard Clos de Sainte Catherine was wonderful! It had a deep golden color with a nose of ripe pear and honey. On the palate, it was fresh, crisp and not overly sweet, with a long and elegant finish.

... And these days, if you're trying to recover from an overdose of pumpkin pie, try the Gâteau de Mamy. It is really easy to make and truly delicious!

Technorati tags:

Monday, November 21, 2005

Wines from Chinon: Domaine Philippe Alliet

Philippe Alliet is part of a new generation of quality conscious winemakers from the Loire Valley who work hard in the vineyard and harvest at maximum ripeness. He is a small producer that started with less than 25 acres of Cabernet Franc vines in Chinon. But in 1999, he was able to purchase the beautiful Coteau de Noiré, a steep, south-facing vineyard planted on limestone-clay soil. Now, he is considered to be one of the best Loire Valley producer so I felt lucky when I found his wines at K&L Wine Merchants.

I recently served the 2002 Chinon Domaine Philippe Alliet Coteau de Noiré and the 2003 Chinon Vieilles Vignes Domaine Philippe Alliet at my birthday dinner to accompany the main entree, a boneless leg of lamb stuffed with mushroom, onion and herbs. These wines were both delicious although my preference went to the 2002 Coteau de Noiré.

In Chinon, the 2002 vintage was probably the best vintage since 1997. It produced red wines in a classic Loire style with a good balance fruit/acidity. The 2002 Chinon Coteau de Noiré had a deep red color and an attractive fruity nose. On the palate, it was concentrated with bell pepper flavors followed by a spicy and smoky finish.

2003 was the year of the heat wave in Europe and the earliest harvest since 1893. It produced wines with opulent fruit, higher alcohol, and lower acidity. The 2003 Chinon Vieilles Vignes was sweeter with riper fruit flavors but a notch less elegant than the 2002 Coteau de Noiré.

Technorati tags::

Friday, November 18, 2005

Unusual wine labels

If you're still looking for a label to participate in WBW #16 - Judge a Bottle By Its Cover, you can visit the Beyond The Pour: Pairing Art and Wine Label Design exhibition in San Francisco, or you can visit this great site that I just discovered: Unusual Wines - Diversity in Wine where you can browse more than 230 unusual labels.

My favorite is:

Cat's Pee on a Gooseberry Bush

And take a couple of minutes to read Queen of Clubs - Anelia Pavlova's banned bare breasted beauty, the story of a banned wine label.

Technorati tags::

Thursday, November 17, 2005

wines from Muscadet, Sancerre, Savennières, and an oyster feast

With its shorter days and longer nights, Fall may not be your favorite season. But for me, not only it is the time of my birthday, it is also the beginning of the oyster season.

For my birthday dinner, I bought three kinds of oysters that we served raw on the half-shell for most of them, and a few cooked on the barbecue. For the wines, I chose a Loire Valley theme that we carried throughout the dinner.

The oysters offered a wide range of interesting flavors. The Miyagi oysters — also known as Pacific oysters — are the world's most widely cultivated oysters. During the years 1920 to 1980, seed oysters from Miyagi Prefecture in Japan were exported in large quantities to the Pacific Coast of North America and to France. These are medium to large size oysters with a mildly briny and sweet taste. The Kumamoto oysters — named for the Japanese prefecture where they were first cultivated — are small and plump with a fresh salty taste. The Belon oysters — the European flat oysters, named for their native river Belon in Brittany — have a round, flat shell, a clam-like firm texture and a stronger, brinier flavor. We cooked the biggest Miyagis, which made them more chewy, with a milder and sweeter taste.

With the oysters, I had a Muscadet, a Sancerre, and a Savennières: three different white varietals and three different regions of the Loire Valley.

The Muscadet region is located at the western end of the Loire Valley, close to the Atlantic Ocean. Melon de Bourgogne is widely planted in this cool section of the Loire. It produces a light and crisp white wine that unfortunately, is often acidic, thin, and fruitless. On the contrary, the 2004 Muscadet de Sèvre-et-Maine sur Lie Domaine de la Pepière Clos des Briords Cuvée Vieilles Vignes is much more powerful that most Muscadets. It comes from the Clos des Briords, a 3.7-acre single vineyard, planted with 75-year old vines whose roots deeply penetrate the granitic subsoil. The wine was hand harvested, made with natural yeasts and left on its lees - a winemaking technique of leaving the juice on the grape remains - until the time of bottling. The wine had a pale straw color and a mineral nose. It was well structured and concentrated on the palate, with a lively acidity and final notes of honey on the finish. I enjoyed the wine with the small Kumamoto that were still full of fresh sea-water juice.

Far away from the Atlantic coast, Sancerre is in the Eastern Loire Valley. Until the late 1800s, Sancerre was known principally for its red wines produced from Pinot Noir. But after the phylloxera ravaged the vineyards, they were replanted predominantly with Sauvignon Blanc, which had a better affinity with the American rootstock. The 2003 Sancerre Les Charmes Domaine André Vatan had a pale yellow color and a floral nose. It had a very aromatic palate with flavors of tree fruit and citrus, and a long crisp finish. This wine was everybody's favorite and it worked perfectly with all the oysters.

From Sancerre, you have to go back west to reach Savennières, a tiny appellation near the town of Angers, where Chenin Blanc is the only permitted grape. Over the centuries, the region has gained a reputation for distinctive wines of great aging potential. The 2000 Savennières Pierre Bise Clos de Coulaine was hand-harvested, hand-pressed, vinified in stainless steel, and bottled unfiltered. The wine had a deep golden color, and a spicy nose. On the palate, it had a rich mouthfeel with white peach and minerals flavors followed by a finish of great finesse. I thought that the wine worked remarkably well with the belons and the cooked oysters.

What a feast! And there will be more on Loire Valley wines in a later post...

Technorati tags::

Monday, November 14, 2005

Blind tasting of 1999 Cabernets

Our wine club met recently for a blind tasting of 1999 Cabernets. We tasted five Cabernets from California and one from Bordeaux. Overall, the wines were very good and it was difficult to rank them against each other.

The 1999 vintage

In California, the 1999 vintage is considered to be one of the best vintages of the 1990s. It is characterized by a small crop and a cool, steady growing season that climaxed with a warm fall.

In Bordeaux, 1999 was one of the most difficult vintage in recent years. The weather pattern was unusual, with heavy outbreaks of rain from April onwards and above average temperature. Intermittent storms hit the region in the early half of August, although the weather was hot and dry in the latter half of the month. The end of September was marked by severe hailstorms and 100mm of rain fell on a wet September 20th.

The tasting

We tasted the following wines:

1999 S. Anderson Cabernet Sauvignon Richard Chambers Vineyard Stags Leap District: S. Anderson, recently renamed Cliff Lede Vineyards, started bottling its limited production Richard Chambers Vineyard Cabernet Sauvignon in 1989. The Richard Chambers Vineyard is a highly-acclaimed 18 acres vineyard planted to red Bordeaux varieties in the Stags Leap District. It was finally bought by the winery in 2003. The wine exhibited a complex nose with spiced leather and berry aromas. On the palate, the tasters found it young, lively, and sweet. Overall, they appreciated the wine's elegance and balance and placed it in first place.

1999 Viansa Cabernet Sauvignon Reserve Sonoma County: Viansa is known as a premier producer of Italian varietals, as well as classic California grapes like Cabernet Sauvignon and Chardonnay. The wine had an intense fruity nose with some peppery notes, and a sharp, raisiny taste on the palate. Overall, the group felt overwhelmed by the wine and placed it in fourth position.

1999 Melka CJ Cabernet Sauvignon Napa Valley: Philippe and Cherie Melka are the co-owners of Melka Wine. Philippe Melka was born and trained in Bordeaux and is now a winemaking consultant to several premium wineries in Napa Valley, while Cherie Melka is a trained enologist. The winery has only two labels: the Métisse Proprietary Red, a Bordeaux blend, and the CJ Cabernet Sauvignon, a 100% Cabernet Sauvignon - named for Cherie and Philippe's children, Chloé and Jeremy, who are also the creators of the wine's label. The wine had a complex woody nose with notes of blackberry. On the palate, it was tannic, peppery, a bit green and young. Overall, the group liked the wine and placed it in second place.

1999 Groth Cabernet Sauvignon Oakville: Groth Winery is renowned for its estate-grown Oakville Cabernets. The wine had the darkest color. The nose was intense with almond paste and woody aromas. On the palate, it was young, tannic and fruity. Overall, the group found the wine too tannic and oaky and placed it in sixth position.

1999 Freemark Abbey Cabernet Sauvignon Bosché: The Freemark Abbey Winery has produced Cabernet Bosché from the 21.4 acres Bosché estate vineyard since 1970. The vineyard is located 1/4 mile north of the town of Rutherford and is well-known for producing wines of distinctive character and excellent quality. The wine had a fragrant fruity nose. On the palate, it was smooth, sweet and fruity, almost candy-like. Overall, it was pleasant with a good balance, and was placed in third place.

1999 Château Branaire Ducru: Château Branaire Ducru is a classified Fourth Growth from the commune of Saint Julien. The Château owns 50 hectares of vines planted with 70% Cabernet Sauvignon, 22% Merlot, 5% Cabernet Franc and 3% Petit Verdot and an average vine age of 35 years. The wine had a subdued nose of blackberry and pepper with hints of venaison aromas. On the palate, it was less sweet than the other wines, with a strong tannic structure and a solid finish. Some tasters liked it a lot while some others found that it did not have enough fruit. It was placed in fourth position.

Now, we had the fun idea to bring two bottles of these wines so that we can redo the same tasting in a couple of years or so. Imagine how interesting it will be to compare our tasting notes from the two meetings and find out how each wine has evolved!

Technorati tags::