Saturday, February 25, 2006

Torino 1787: Jefferson was there

“Arriving in Turin on April 17, I stayed two days at the Hotel d'Angleterre, the best hotel. It was here that I first tasted a wine called Nebiule. It was a singular wine, melding three contradictory characteristics. It was about as sweet as the silky Madeira, as astringent on the palate as Bordeaux, and as brisk as Champagne. It was a pleasing wine.”

We are in the dining room of Hôtel de Langeac, Thomas Jefferson's residence in Paris. Jefferson gives an account of his 1787 trip to the South of France and Northern Italy to his good friend Benjamin Franklin and the guest of the evening, Jack Osborne, a modern time college history professor. The three men are leisurely sipping a 1784 Haut Brion — one of Jefferson's favorite wines — while sharing ideas on slavery, women's education, separation of church and state, and many other fascinating topics, including wine of course.

The book, An Evening with Benjamin Franklin and Thomas Jefferson: Dinner, Wine, and Conversation, is what you need to recover from too much Olympics. I first heard about it in Tom Wark's Fermentation blog. The author, James Gabler, is a Jefferson scholar and also a wine lover. The story is about a fictive dinner conversation around wine, food and politics, using Jefferson and Franklin's own statements. In the book, these two old friends are very much alive, their eyes are twinkling , they are enjoying their wines and relishing the great moments of their lives. And the reader is also having a great time. However, I only have one regret now that I have finished the book: not to have a sip of this 1784 Haut Brion.

Thanks Tom for recommending this excellent book!

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Sunday, February 19, 2006

Chignin Vin de Savoie

It's another ski weekend at lake Tahoe and it is cold and white everywhere. Looking out the window, we can see long snow-covered pine trees. It is time to open a bottle of 2004 Chignin Vin de Savoie Jean-Pierre et Jean-François Quénard from the French Alpine region of Savoie.

This bottle of Vin de Savoie is from the Chinin appellation, an ancient wine region with steep, south-looking vineyards that were already renowned in the Middle Ages. Jacquère is the most important grape variety of the appellation. Native from the Alps, it produces dry and crisp wines that go well with the local cheeses.

The 2004 Chignin Vin de Savoie Jean-Pierre et Jean-François Quénard is 100% Jacquère and has a light yellow color and a discreet floral nose. On the palate, it is dry, crisp, nutty with pear and apple aromas. It is the perfect wine to accompany a Fondue Savoyarde.

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Friday, February 17, 2006

Two South African wines for a South African feast

I like the distinctive flavors of the South African wines — they offer a combination of Old World elegance and New World fruit-driven style — and I am glad to see that an increasing number of South African wines are now available in the US. So, when a friend of mine from South Africa invited me to a lunch featuring traditional recipes from her family, I offered to take care of the wine pairing.

For the appetizers and the tomato and basil salad, I chose a 2005 Mulderbosch Sauvignon Blanc Stellenbosch. The Mulderbosch Vineyards winery is renowned for producing one of the best Sauvignon Blanc from the leading wine region of Stellenbosch. The wine had a bright straw color and a nose of citrus and green apple aromas. On the palate, it had a crisp acidity and a vivid mineral character on the finish. It was slightly too mineral for the tomato salad but it should go very well with seafood dishes and oysters.

To go with the rest of the meal, I chose a 2002 De Toren Diversity Gamma, a Bordeaux blend from the Cape's Coastal Region. This is a rather warm wine region but the estate vineyards have a southern exposure overlooking the ocean and receive a constant maritime breeze, which cools down the temperature. The De Toren winery also produces Fusion V, a highly rated red blend made with the five traditional Bordeaux grape varieties: Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Cabernet Franc, Malbec, and Petit Verdot. Diversity is in fact their second wine and is made from different percentages of the same five varieties. The wine was nevertheless delicious with a pleasant nose of black fruit, a rich, full-bodied palate and a mouth-filling finish leaving distinctive notes of Mediterranean herbs. It was a wonderful accompaniment to our roasted chicken and salad of honey glazed roasted root vegetable.

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Tuesday, February 14, 2006

Should you really rely on Mr. Parker?

When buying wine, I often wonder whether I should really rely on these little "shelf talker" cards flagging high Parker scored wines in some wine shops. Well, the best way to find out was to try. The other day, I was looking for wines to bring to a friend's birthday party and decided to buy two 90+ Parker point wines that were also nicely priced just below $25.

The 2003 Celler de Cantonella Cérvoles had 94 points and the following tasting notes from The Wine Advocate:

Wow! What an amazing, reasonably priced wine. This 1,000-case cuvee, aged 12-14 months in French oak, from one of the appellation's highest altitude vineyards (it borders Montsant/Priorat), is a blend of 41% Tempranillo, 30% Cabernet Sauvignon, 18% Grenache, and 11% Merlot. Fabulously fragrant, with notes of crushed rock, black raspberries, blueberries, and cassis, this inky/purple-colored wine boasts great fruit, medium to full body, fabulous texture and purity, and a long, heady finish. This is a compelling as well as provocative wine to drink over the next 7-8 years.

With 93 points, the 2004 Hartford Zinfandel Russian River Valley did not have a less appealing description:

A terrific buy is the blend of 7 different vineyards (the average age of 80+ years), the 2004 Zinfandel Russian River. This gorgeously rich effort reveals a Pinot Noir-like sensitivity along with a seductive, fragrant nose of black raspberries, cherries, spice box, pepper, and earth. In the mouth, it's a flamboyant, seductive, expansive, full-bodied, savory wine with beautifully integrated acidity, wood, alcohol, and tannin. Drink this decadent Zin over the next 5-6 years.

Conclusion? I actually enjoyed both of them that evening but the Cérvoles was the real crowd pleaser. The wine had a dark and deep color and an attractive nose of blackberries. On the palate, it was juicy with a rich and velvety texture followed by a well-balanced finish. By comparison, the Hartford Zinfandel seemed very young and I think, may benefit from a couple more years in the bottle. The wine had bold aromas of red berries on the nose, and an intense and full-bodied palate, followed by a very long finish.

I have to admit, I feel grateful to Mr Parker now! And by the way, happy Valentine's Day!

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Friday, February 10, 2006

Monkfish and Vermentino

The other day, I was happy to find some monkfish at my local grocery store because monkfish is so rare here. I known, monkfish is a really ugly fish, and the sight of it may disgust some people, but it has a firm, meaty, and tasteful flesh that makes great fish stews.

Northeast Fisheries Science Center

I decided to prepare my filets of monkfish braised in white wine, tomato, carrot, and mushroom. While the stew was slowly cooking in the oven, I looked in the cellar for a wine that could be nice to have with this somewhat Provencal dish, and found a bottle of 2004 Tablas Creek Vermentino.

Vermentino is a traditional Mediterranean white varietal producing fresh and aromatic wines with good acidity that work well with any kind of seafood. It grows mainly in France's Corsica, and Italy's Sardinia and Liguria, and it is also found in small quantities in the Rhone Valley. It was recently imported to California by the Perrin family of Château de Beaucastel and Tablas Creek Vineyard. They thought that Vermentino would thrive in the rocky limestone soils of Paso Robles, and so far, the 2004 vintage is their third successful bottling of the varietal.

The wine had a bright light-straw color. The nose was shy but pleasant with pear, honey and mineral aromas and hints of Provencal herbs. On the palate, it was dry, crisp and mouth-coating with green apple flavors on the finish. And it made a great partner with my braised monkfish.

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Tuesday, February 07, 2006

Wines of Washington State Tasting

It's only recently that I realized how much I liked the red wines from Washington State and therefore I was glad when our friend Arnaud chose this wine region for his January wine club tasting.

Washington State is now the second largest wine-producing state in the nation behind California. Columbia Valley is the main wine region and produces more than 90 percent of the state's wine grapes. Thanks to its northerly latitude, the valley has two more hours of daily sunlight in summer compared to California, and thanks to its location east of the Cascade Mountain range, it is well protected from rainfall. The climate is therefore semi-desert, with dry, cold winters, while summers have warm days and cool nights, allowing grapes to slowly and fully ripen while maintaining a naturally high level of acidity.

Washington State produces more than 15 wine grapes varieties. In red, the leading ones are Merlot, Cabernet Sauvignon and Syrah, and in white they are Chardonnay, Riesling and Sauvignon Blanc.

Arnaud started the tasting with two whites from Chateau Ste Michelle. The winery was founded in 1934, just after the repeal of prohibition, and is Washington's oldest wine estate. The 2003 Chateau Ste Michelle Sauvignon Blanc Horse Heaven Vineyard Columbia Valley comes from the Horse Heaven Vineyard, located in the Horse Heaven Hills, adjacent to the Columbia River. It is a relatively warm site tempered by the Columbia River. 70% of the fruit was barrel fermented and 22% Sémillon was added for texture and weight. The wine had an aromatic nose of honey, pear and peach. On the palate, it was lively and fresh with a mouthfilling finish. It was a fine aperitif wine and I enjoyed sipping it with smoked salmon toasts.

The 2003 Chateau Ste Michelle Chardonnay Indian Wells Vineyard Columbia Valley comes from the winery's Indian Wells Vineyard, a warm site located at the base of the Wahluke Slope, which consistently produces ripe fruits. The wine had a full-flavored nose of nuts, butterscotch and toffee. The palate was medium-bodied with some good acidity. A well-crafted wine although not incredibly distinctive.

Our first red was the 2003 Seven Hills Ciel du Cheval Red Mountain from the Red Mountain appellation, a subregion of the Columbia Valley where Bordeaux varieties like Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot grow exceptionally well. The wine is a Merlot-based blend with substantial additions of Cabernet Sauvignon and Cabernet Franc and a small amount of Petit Verdot. I really loved this wine! It had a seductive nose of chocolate and blackberry. On the palate it had fine-grained, dusty tannins with complex earthy flavors, followed by an elegant and well balanced finish. It is a very food-friendly wine that should go well with all kinds of meat dishes.

Our next wine was the 2003 Andrew Rich Cabernet Franc Columbia Valley. Andrew Rich Wines is a winery located in Oregon that makes wines from both the Willamette Valley in Oregon and the Columbia Valley. The Andrew Rich Cabernet Franc is Washington's answer to Loire Valley Cabernet Franc. The nose was full of red fruits and the palate was soft and juicy. This wine should go very well with a grilled wild salmon with mushroom sauce.

Then we tasted the 2004 Waterbrook Mélange Columbia Valley, a blend made of 40 % Merlot, 32% Cabernet Sauvignon , 11% Cabernet Franc, 9% Sangiovese and 8% Syrah. The wine had a spicy nose with notes of vanilla and a sweet, full-bodied palate. The wine was rich and tasty but too sweet for my taste.

Our next wine was the 2002 L'Ecole No. 41 Merlot Columbia Valley. L'Ecole No. 41 is located in an old schoolhouse, in historic Frenchtown, a small community founded by French-Canadian immigrants in the early 1800s. One story says that the raising of grapes and production of wine in Southeastern Washington really began with these French Canadian employees of the Hudson Bay Company. I am a big fan of the Merlots from L'Ecole No. 41 and I was not disappointed by this one. The wine was delicious with a spicy and smoky nose. On the palate, it was rich , full of black fruits, with a long, fruity aftertaste.

We ended the tasting with the 2003 K Vintners Milbrandt Syrah Columbia Valley. The K Vintners winery is located at the base of the Blue Mountains in Walla Walla. The Milbrandt Vineyard is from the Wahluke Slope, a warm sub-region of the Columbia Valley where the soil is all sand and gravel, which gives some minerality to the wine. Aged in 100% French Burgundy barrels (20% new) for 14 months, the wine was smooth and rich with ripe fruit flavors and notes of chocolate. The wine was slightly too sweet for my taste but it should go well with chocolate. I should have tried it with the dark chocolate that Arnaud had brought for the tasting.

Many thanks to Arnaud for choosing all these great wines and to Anahita and Peter for sharing their house!

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Saturday, February 04, 2006

Vino Voyeur: bottle in the snow

Are you curious about the wine of others? Where do you store your wine? In a cellar, fridge, drawer, counter-top, under the bed, safety deposit box? ask Beau at BasicJuice.

For me, it's in the snow. Isn't the perfect place to chill wine?

Become a vino voyeur and check the pictures.

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Wednesday, February 01, 2006

WBW #18: A wine shop story

This month's theme of Wine Blogging Wednesday is wine shops that feel the love and Dr. Vino is hosting. That's a very interesting theme and I feel very lucky to have in my area so many awesome wine shops that I could talk about. For this post, I chose to visit Weimax Wines & Spirits, a small wine shop with a tasting room located in Burlingame, California.

I should go to this place more often. I am always happy with the wines I buy there, often recommended by Gerald, the shop owner. Sometimes, I can even taste a wine before buying it if it is available in the tasting room. I often check the store's website, regularly updated with tasting notes, pictures, and detailed information about the producers. And I like the fact that each wine you buy has a tasting note printed on the receipt.

On the day of my visit, I was first disappointed to see that Gerald was not present. But assuming that anybody that works for him should be knowledgeable, I confidently asked the staff person on duty at that time for a good wine value.

”That's a very hard question!“ he replied, ”All the wines are good here. The owner tastes them all.“

”But do you have one in particular that you could recommend?“ I continued.

”That's impossible to say. All these wines are so different. It really depends on what you like.“ he replied, pointing to a wall crammed with wine racks and boxes.

I was not ready to concede defeat. ”What about something you drank recently, that you really enjoyed?“ I insisted.

Then he took me to the other side of the shop and handed me a bottle of 2004 Morgon Vieilles Vignes from a producer called Raymond Bouland.

”This is really good.“ he said, ”People have been mistaking this wine for a Burgundy.“

It had been ages since I drank any Beaujolais! This was an opportunity to get reacquainted with that region. I did not know the producer but Morgon was a respectable appellation and the price ($12.99) was very attractive. So I bought the wine. On the receipt, I found Gerald's tasting note:
”The 2004 vintage is outstanding in Beaujolais. Bouland's Morgon is an excellent red. Lots of delicious fruit. Best lightly chilled.“

This sounded very promising. But how could I judge whether this nice man's recommendation was truly reliable? I had to taste the wine. The 2004 Morgon Vieilles Vignes Domaine Raymond Bouland had a deep garnet color with a fruity nose of plums and cherries. On the palate, it was medium-bodied with a firm structure and some earthiness on the finish. And no sign of these awful banana or bubble gum flavors that are too often found in Beaujolais wines these days. The staff at Weimax was right. The wine was very good, best lightly chilled of course.

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