Friday, June 30, 2006

WBW #23: Grilled shrimp Charmoula sauce and Rueda

Bar-B-Que Wines is the theme for the 23rd edition of Wine Blogging Wednesday and Vivi at Vivi's Wine Journal is hosting. She asked us to fire up the grill, choose a wine, look at it, sniff it, taste it, drink and then write something about it before Wednesday July 5th. I'll be on vacation next week &mdash hiking in the Glacier National Park — so here is my contribution, a little bit ahead of time.

Choosing which wine to talk about for this WBW was actually a challenge because we have been firing up the grill almost every day since the beginning of the warm season and drank many different wines with our barbecued food. But then, last weekend, we made this delicious grilled shrimp recipe with Moroccan Charmoula sauce.

While the shrimp were grilling, I opened a bottle of 2003 Viña Sila Rueda Naiades, a 100% Verdejo wine. Considered to be the finest white variety in Spain, Verdejo is a native grape of Rueda, a wine region located in central Spain, northwest of Madrid, along the Duero river. Thanks to its sandy and chalky soils, Rueda can produce aromatic Verdejo wines of great minerality and body.

We looked at the wine: it exhibited a bright color with a pretty golden hue. We sniffed it: the nose was fragrant with floral and stone fruit aromas. We tasted it: it was full-bodied with a rich texture, almost like a Chardonnay but more aromatic. We drank it: it stood up to the spicy sauce very well. I made a note to buy more Rueda in the future.

Another great theme for WBW, thanks Vivi! And see you in 10 days or so!

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Tuesday, June 27, 2006

Pairing wine with Soccer

I can't believe that since the beginning of the Soccer World Cup, we have been watching an average of two Soccer games per day. For me, that's a lot of time spent in front of the TV, but watching these soccer games is simply too addictive!

Last weekend, we invited some friends to watch Argentina-Mexico, the first game of the round of 16. For the occasion, my sister in law brought an amazing soccer ball and shoe-shaped bottle of wine.

The wine inside was unfortunately not as memorable as the bottle itself. Produced by Cantine Fratelli Bellini, the Bellini Favola Vino da Tavola Rosso was a non vintage red blend of unspecified composition. It had a deep garnet color and some light cherry aromas on the nose. On the palate, it reminded me of some of the Chiantis of the past, too lean and tart to be well balanced. We finally switched to the fine 2002 Luigi Bosca Cabernet Sauvignon Reserva in honor of Argentina's victory.

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Monday, June 26, 2006

It's Too Darn Hot, I need a glass of rosé!

It was very hot last week in the Bay Area, with unusually high evening temperatures. Many people would quench their thirst with an ice-cold beer — one of the most refreshing beverages men had invented &mdash, but with the lamb that we were having for dinner, I did not feel like having a beer. On the other hand, a bottle of rosé that I had put in the fridge a few days before, was just screaming to be open.

A rosé is usually a crisp, fruity, and uncomplicated wine that can be served as cold as beer. It is also very versatile and can go with almost any kind of food. My bottle of rosé was a 2005 Vin de Pays des Côtes de Thau Rosé Hecht & Bannier, a varietal wine 100% Syrah produced by a friend of our friend Arnaud and now imported by K&L Wine Merchants.

The wine had a bright watermelon color and a sweet nose of wild strawberries. On the palate, however, it was dry, clean, leaving a crisp and refreshing sensation on the finish. It worked well with the lamb too.

It's too darn hot, sang Ella in the background, too, too, too darn hot.

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Tuesday, June 20, 2006

A tapas party and two Spanish wines

Making tapas is an easy but festive way to throw a summer party

For all of us, tapas are small plates of tasty appetizer-sized food served with beer, wine, or sherry, but literally, tapa means cover in Spanish. The word has different interesting etymologies that explain how the concept of tapas was born. One, commonly used, is that bartenders used to place flat items like saucers, cards or even bread on top of glasses of wine to protect them from flies. Eventually they topped these covers with snacks to attract more customers. A slightly different story says that bartenders, discovering that mature cheese could cover the taste of bad wines, decided to offer free slices of cheese with cheap wine.

Today, it is fortunately rare to have tapas with cheap, bad wine. My first great tapas experience occurred some years ago at my sister in law's wedding near Badajoz, Spain. Following the local custom, the wedding dinner started with an abundance of sliced Serrano ham, Manchego cheese, and olives, served with the traditional glass of Manzanilla. Sherry is an acquired taste and I have to confess that until that night, I didn't like this unusually yeasty, slightly salty, dry wine. But this wedding made me a convert.

More recently, we organized a little tapas party with some friends of mine and I was asked to bring the wine. This time, I did not dare bringing any sherry, as I was not sure whether any of my friends would like it. Instead, I chose a crisp white wine from the cool and wet Galicia on the Atlantic coast, and a Grenache-based red wine from the hot Priorat region on the Mediterranean coast, just south of Barcelona.

The 2004 Condes de Albarei Albariño was, without doubt, our favorite. It had a bright stray color with a light green hue, with attractive white flower and peach aromas on the nose. On the palate, the wine was mouthfilling with a bite of acidity on the finish, which made it the perfect complement to our gambas al ajillo (garlic prawns) and abuelita querida (goat cheese and chorizo rolls) dishes.

The 2001 Giné Giné Priorat had a deep garnet color with a nose of blackberries and distinctive notes of mint and eucalyptus. On the palate, it had a medium intensity with good acidity on the finish. The wine worked well with the traditional tortilla de patatas (Spanish omelet), as well as our carne con tomato dish (pork cubes in tomato sauce).

But next time, for sure, I'll also bring a bottle of my favorite Manzanilla, the Hidalgo La Gitana and I'll start converting my friends to the distinctive flavors of sherry.

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Wednesday, June 14, 2006

WBW #22: 1999 Château Langoa Barton

Today is Wine Blogging Wednesday, hosted by Tim Elliott of Winecast. For this 22nd edition, Tim asked us to choose a lite (alcohol) red wine, meaning 12.5% alcohol or less. With this theme, Tim brings up an important issue: the rising alcohol levels in almost all the wines worldwide.

Alcohol is an essential component in wine. It is a powerful flavor extractor and it gives wine body and a sweet mouthfeel. However, if the alcohol content is too high, the wine can be out of balance, heady, and leave a hot, burning sensation in the mouth.

Drinking wines with high alcohol content can be an issue for wine lovers that want to moderate their alcohol intake. A 5-ounce glass of 9% German Riesling contains 0.45 ounces of ethanol. A similar serving of 14% California Chardonnay contains 0.7 ounces of ethanol. Moreover, pairing high alcoholic wines with food can be challenging as they easily clash with well-balanced dishes.

Now, the level of alcohol that is specified on the wine label may not be exactly what you think you're going to get. According to the Epicurious Wine Dictionary, “for table wine, the United States requires a minimum alcohol level of 7 percent and a maximum of 14 percent. The label variance can be up to 1.5 percent. For example, a wine stating "Alcohol 12.5% By Volume" can legally range anywhere from 11 to 14 percent.”

Many wines from Bordeaux can be found at 12.5%, although Bordeaux follows now the general upward trend and I have seen some 2002 wines that are already at 13%.

The 1999 Château Langoa Barton was the wine with an alcohol level of 12.5% or less that we drank the most recently. We shared this bottle the other night with a good friend of ours that was visiting from Chicago.

Château Langoa Barton is a classified third growth from the Médoc commune of Saint-Julien. It is under the ownership of the Barton family who also owns the second growth Château Léoville Barton, also from Saint-Julien. Every year, I like to purchase some amount of these two châteaux. They are of reliable quality at a reasonable price — I only paid $25 for the 1999 Langoa Barton — and I really appreciate their elegance and classy style.

That night, the 1999 Château Langoa Barton was perfectly ready to drink after some decanting. It was deeply colored with an appealing nose of blackcurrant liqueur and licorice. On the palate, it was full-bodied, well-balanced, with a rich mouthfeel and a stylish finish. The alcohol content was 12.5%, just perfect for WBW #22!

Now, to conclude on a poetic note, did you know that an eulogy of Château Langoa Barton had been written by a 19th century poet called Pierre Biarnez (

“Admire you this Château with its style correct
There, facing the park, with its grandiose aspect?
This is a third growth, which a hand most attentive
Lovingly looks after with care most preventive;
And so, with such prudence, the fruit's never lost
Sincerest and bestwine that ever there wast!
Ah! If all such great wines had a similar master,
The glory of Médoc would shine with more luster.”

And thanks again Tim for hosting this 22nd edition of Wine Blogging Wednesday!

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Monday, June 12, 2006

2006 Cabernet Sauvignon Ink Grade Vineyard Howell Mountain

No, there is no mistake, we are talking about the 2006 vintage! This is another wine that we are making with Crushpad, the community winery located in San Francisco. We enjoyed making the 2004 Syrah Clary Ranch Vineyard so much that we decided to make another wine with Crushpad, a Cabernet Sauvignon this time. The wine is in the planning phase now and the first thing that we had to choose was a source for our grapes. We selected the Ink Grade Vineyard in the Howell Mountain AVA.

Located northeast of the town of St. Helena, the Howell Mountain AVA is characterized by hillside vineyards at an elevation ranging from 1,600 feet to 2,200 feet just above the fog level. Thanks to the elevation and the lack of fog, the temperatures are cooler during the day and warmer at night than in the valley floor, allowing grapes like Cabernet Sauvignon to fully ripen every year and produce wines that are concentrated and structured.

Ink Grade is a beautifully terraced 200-acre vineyard of mountainous terrain high above the valley floor. Planted in 1990, the vineyard provides fruits to a few premium Napa wineries including Behrens & Hitchcock.

Our goal is to produce a rich and well-balanced wine, hopefully not too alcoholic, with enough acidity and tannins to age well. This is reflected in our winemaking plan that we made with Kian Tavakoli, Director of Winemaking at Crushpad, which defines target Brix and pH levels, type of yeast, cap management, type of barrel etc. Of course, there are tough questions that are difficult to answer right now: should we add some acid to the fermenting must to increase the acidity level, should we add water to dilute the sugars and lower the alcohol level?

In the meantime, we may be able to visit the vineyard soon and take some pictures so stay tuned...

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Wednesday, June 07, 2006

Tasting the wines of Oregon

“With a degree of self-conscious pride, Oregon has cultivated an image of rustic charm and natural simplicity as opposed to glamour or sophistication, although its producers are stubborn individualists rather than simple peasants.” The Oxford Companion to Wine edited by Jancis Robinson.

Today, Oregon has one of the country's most exciting and innovative wine industry and it was great to hear that our friend Arnaud had chosen Oregon as the theme of his May wine club tasting.

View from the Aurora vineyard (Ponzi Winery)

Winemaking started in Oregon in the 1840s when Italian and Swiss immigrants began planting wine grapes. After the Prohibition, it was only in the mid-1970s that the state slowly emerged as a productive wine-growing region. Today, Oregon is a premier producer of cool-climate grape varieties including Pinot Gris, Riesling, Chardonnay, and especially Pinot noir.

Most Oregon wine regions lie in valleys between the southern Cascade Mountains and the Coastal Range to the west. The Willamette Valley, Oregon's leading wine region, has two-thirds of the state's wineries and vineyards and is home to more than 200 wineries, most of them small and family-owned.

For this tasting, Arnaud had selected a variety of wines from the Willamette Valley, three whites, two Pinot Noir wines from the challenging 2004 vintage and two from the warm 2003 vintage that he thought, would be interesting to compare.

Our first white wine was a Pinot Blanc from St, Innocent Winery, a winery founded in 1988 that produces small lot wines including seven single vineyard Pinot Noir, two Chardonnay, two Pinot Gris, and one Pinot Blanc. The 2003 St. Innocent Pinot Blanc Freedom Hill Vineyard had a light yellow color, a lemony nose with mineral notes, and a dry, full-bodied palate. This is a wine that we thought should go well with Asian cuisine.

Our next wine was a Chardonnay from Chehalem Winery. Chehalem (Chuh-hay-lum) is a local Calapooia Indian word meaning gentle land or valley of flowers. The winery grows Pinot Noir, Chardonnay, Pinot Gris, Pinot Blanc, Gamay Noir, and Riesling in its estate vineyards, and crafts wines using estate fruits only. The 2004 Chehalem Inox Chardonnay Willamette Valley is entirely tank fermented, without malolactic fermentation or lees contact. INOX™ is the abbreviation of the French word acier inoxidable, which means stainless steel. I already had this wine before, and once again, I enjoyed the wine's pear and peach aromas and the crisp and fresh mouthfeel on the palate.

Our last white wine was the Sokol Blosser Evolution, a non vintage blend of nine different grapes, named, explained Arnaud, after the Beatles' song Revolution 9. Luck? Intention? is the question on the label, referring to the famous quote by Thomas Edison: success is 90% sweat and 10% luck. The Sokol Blosser Evolution 9th Edition was a fun wine to drink, uncomplicated but very aromatic. Light in color, it had a floral nose with white peach aromas, followed by notes of honey and exotic fruits on the palate.

Our first two red wines were from the 2004 vintage, a challenging year in the Willamette Valley. After a harsh winter freeze, there was a spurt of warm weather in the early spring followed by some cold weather that halted the plants growth. The summer season was dry but then, a cold and wet weather period occurred in the middle of September. Finally, the season ended with sunny, cool, and breezy days that allowed the grapes to slowly finish ripening.

We started with a Pinot Noir from Ponzi Vineyards. Founded in 1970, Ponzi is one of Oregon's oldest and best-known winery. It offers today limited productions of Pinot Noir, Chardonnay, Pinot Gris, Pinot Blanc, Arneis, Dolcetto and White Riesling. The 2004 Ponzi Pinot Noir Willamette Valley had a vibrant ruby color, an aromatic nose of fresh cherry and some bright acidity on the palate. The wine was not overly complex but nonetheless, very satisfying and delicious.

Our second Pinot was from Archery Summit, a winery founded in 1993 and dedicated to the production of distinguished Pinot Noir. Its portfolio includes single vineyard wines from the four estate vineyards: Archery Summit Estate, Red Hills Estate, Arcus Estate, and Renegade Ridge Estate, and a Premier Cuvée, which is a blend of the four vineyards. The 2004 Archery Summit Pinot Noir Premier Cuvée had a deep red color. It was woody, concentrated, with spices, cinnamon, and sweet berry flavors.

Our last two wines were from the great 2003 vintage. In 2003, the year started well with warm weather in late spring that provided ideal conditions for uniform flowering. Then a warm and dry summer encouraged excellent flavor development in the grapes. Record heat in the fall led to an early harvest with unprecedented sugar levels.

Our first 2003 Pinot Noir was from Domaine Drouhin. The story of Domaine Drouhin started in 1961 when Robert Drouhin, head of Maison Joseph Drouhin, made a visit to the west coast in order to promote the Drouhin Burgundies. Now, as Robert Drouhin was traveling throughout the western states, it was Oregon, a remote wine region at the time, not California, that caught his eyes. Finally, in 1987, more than two decades after Robert's first visit, the Drouhin family decided to purchase some land in the Red Hills of Dundee and start a winery with Robert's daughter Veronique as winemaker. Today, Domaine Drouhin has 70 acres planted with Pinot Noir, and 13.5 acres with Chardonnay in the Willamette Valley. The 2003 Domaine Drouhin Pinot Noir Willamette Valley had a dark garnet color and a nose of vanilla and berry. On the palate, it was sweet with ripe fruit flavors, a little bit too ripe and sweet for my taste.

Our last wine was from Domaine Serene, a winery using meticulous vineyard practices and insisting on extremely low yields. The 2003 Domaine Serene Pinot Noir Evenstad Reserve Willamette Valley had a dark garnet color and a vivid cherry nose. On the palate, it had some good acidity and complex fruit and spice flavors followed by a well balanced finish. I had this wine before as part of another tasting and I was glad to have the opportunity to retaste it. Overall, the wine was the most complex and balanced wine of the selection and ended up being everybody's favorite.

Many thanks to Arnaud for selecting these superb wines and also to our friendly hosts Sabrina and Marty for sharing their beautiful house!

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Thursday, June 01, 2006

The world's most planted grape variety

What is the world's most planted grape variety? If you read the June issue of Decanter Magazine, you may know the answer.

It is not Merlot, France's most planted varietal (more than 100,000 hectares/247,105 acres planted in Bordeaux, South-West and Languedoc), although it comes in second place (sorry Miles) with 262,151 hectares/647,789 acres planted worldwide.

It is not Sangiovese, Italy's most popular red grape with over 250,000 hectares/617,763 acres under vine, nor Chardonnay, California's leading varietal with 37,810 hectares/93,431 acres planted.

The answer is far from being obvious. It is Airén with 306,058 hectares/756,285 acres planted worldwide, mostly in Spain.

Airén is easy to grow, produces high yields and is extremely drought resistant. It is planted throughout the semi-arid plateau of central Spain, particularly in the regions of La Mancha and Valdepeñas. Traditionally, it is used as a base wine for Brandy. In Valdepeñas, it is often blended with Tempranillo to create Clarete, a fruity red wine, light in color and flavor. With improved vinification, Airén can produce light, refreshing dry wines, although somewhat neutral.

As for me, I'll stick to Merlot.

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