Wednesday, May 28, 2008

Winemaking step #8: blending

After being in barrel for almost 18 months, it is almost time for our 2006 Crushpad Cabernet Sauvignon Ink Grade Vineyard to be bottled. But first, we had to decide on the final steps: blending and fining.

Our Cabernet Sauvignon in its new oak barrel

So last week, we met with Crushpad's Chief Winemaker Mike Zitzlaff who had prepared for us some blending wine samples: a 2006 Cabernet Franc, a 2007 Merlot, and a 2007 Cabernet Sauvignon.

Wine samples for the blending

First we tasted our wine: dark, intense nose of black fruit, thick, with a strong oaky finish. Mike explained that at this point the wine was unbalanced and had too much oak for the amount of fruit — maybe it stayed too long in its new oak barrel. Therefore, the purpose of blending would be to add more fruit to the wine.

Then, we tasted the other wine samples. The Merlot was soft and fruity with blueberry flavors, the Cabernet Sauvignon was ultra ripe and pruny, and the Cabernet Franc was somewhat herbal. We all agreed that the merlot was the best.

Assembling different blends

We started with a 5% Merlot blend: the Merlot had brought its blueberry flavors to the Cabernet but the oak was still very present. The 10% Merlot blend was very fruity but lacked backbone. The 7.5% was a good compromise: good fruit and nice backbone although the finish was still oaky. “Don't worry,&rdquo said Mike, “We are going to use egg whites and this will soften that harsh finish&rdquo.

Egg whites are a traditional fining agent used to reduce the amount of harsh tannin and soften the texture of red wines. The albumin contained in the egg white absorbs tannin particles, thus reducing astingency in wine.

Our wine is now in a tank, blended with 7.5% Merlot. We'll come back next week to do the fining. In the meantime, we're working on the label and trying to find a name. What about Noir d'Encre?

Related posts:
•  Winemaking step #7: barrel tasting
•  Winemaking step #6: after the malolactic fermentation
•  Winemaking step #5: pressing the wine
•  Winemaking step #4: getting ready for the pressing
•  Winemaking step #3: monitoring the fermentation
•  Winemaking step #2: inoculation of the must
•  Crushing at Crushpad
•  2006 Cabernet Sauvignon Ink Grade Vineyard Howell Mountain

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Wednesday, May 21, 2008

1998 Château Cantemerle: so yummy!

I don't know if this happens to you sometimes but once in a while, I am just craving for a good bottle of Bordeaux, a steak on the rare side, and extra-crisp French fries. So I pay a visit to the older Bordeaux section of the cellar and check what I have. Last time, not looking for a blockbuster wine but just the right bottle for the occasion, I found a 1998 Château Cantemerle that seemed ready to drink.

Château Cantemerle is a classified fifth growth that has a long history in the Haut-Médoc. In the Middle Ages, the original Château was part of a defensive line on the the left side bank of the river Gironde. The oldest masnuscripts referring to the Lords of Cantemerle date from the twelfth century and the first traces of viticulture were found in 1354.

Today, the estate has 90 hectares of vines in the Haut-Médoc appellation, growing on silica and gravel soils. The grape varieties cultivated are 50% Cabernet Sauvignon, 40% Merlot, 5% Cabernet Franc, and 5% Petit Verdot. The vines average 30 years of age. The wine is aged 12 months in French oak (50% new) then 4 months in vats after blending.

1998 was a great year for the Merlot-dominated wines of St-Emilion and Pomerol whereas the Médoc wines were initially underrated. That year, spring was cold and wet in Bordeaux, followed by some good weather in May and June. July and August were exceptionally hot and dry and many of the vines suffer from heat stress. In September, most of the Merlot grapes were harvested in fine condition but heavy rains towards the end of September affected the quality of the Cabernets. At Cantemerle, the 1998 vintage was made from 48 % Merlot, 45% Cabernet Sauvignon and 7% Petit Verdot. 30% of the harvest, including all Cabernet Franc, were put aside for the second wine.

Now I have to tell you that this 1998 Cantemerle was amazingly good, showing a deep garnet color and a fragrant nose of cassis and licorice. But the best part was the mouthfeel on the palate: velvety, voluptuous, perfectly balanced, leaving a long, earthy aftertaste.

The other surprise is when I checked the price I paid for the wine: $19.95 in 1999, which seems unbelievably low today. As a point of comparison, the 2005 can be found at $40 and the 2007 (on futures) is at $29. I am glad I still have 4 bottles left of this delicious wine.

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Thursday, May 15, 2008

Wine and Cheese pairing

Which wine goes better with which cheese? Is red wine better than white white, dry wine better than sweet wine? These were some of the questions we were asking ourselves at our last wine club tasting party where the topic was wine and cheese pairing. In order to identify the pairings that worked well, we had four different kinds of cheese, each being paired with two different wines (for example a white and a red). At the end of the party, not too surprisingly, there was no single good answer, not a clear set of rules, just a wide range of personal tastes and opinions.

Here is what we tasted:

First cheese platter, hard cheese from the Alps made from cow's milk: Gruyère from Switzerland, Comté from Franche-Comte, and Beaufort from Savoie.

• 2006 Chignin-Bergeron Vieilles Vignes Domaine Jean-Pierre et Jean-François Quénard: Domaine Jean-Pierre et Jean-François Quénard is a 15 hectares estate near the village of Chignin in Savoie. Bergeron is the local name for Roussanne. The Vieilles Vignes cuvée comes from low-yield Roussanne vines that are at least 40 years old. My notes: golden color, sweet, fruity nose of apple and apricots, medium-bodied on the palate. Worked really well with the nutty flavors of the Beaufort.

• 2006 Vin de Savoie Arbin Charles Trosset L'Expression d'un Terroir: Domaine Charles Trosset is located in Arbin, not very far from Chignin. The domaine relies on a single grape, Mondeuse, which is the red grape of Savoie and also called Refosco in Northern Italy. The grapes are grown on steep slopes, with limestone and clay soils. My notes: garnet color, red fruit nose, light to medium bodied on the palate, some acidity, peppery finish. I personally enjoyed the light and fruity character of the wine with the cheese but some others were not too crazy about it.

Second cheese platter, soft cheese from Normandy made from cow's milk: Camembert and Pont-l'Évêque.

• Cidre Brut Clos Normand: Cidre with cheese! Many tasters could not believe this was possible. But if you think about it, this makes sense. Both Cidre and Camembert come from Normandy, and Cidre is certainly one of the most popular drinks in the region. My notes: The rich, creaminess of the Camembert calls for fruity white wines and in my opinion, it worked pretty well with the cider, although I would have preferred a non pasteurized, drier cider. The rest of the group was almost split in half: some loved it with the cheese, the others hated it.

• 2004 Saint-Nicolas-de-Bourgueil Vieilles Vignes Joël Taluau: the Domaine Joël Taluau has 26 hectares of vines in the Saint-Nicolas-de-Bourgueil appellation in the Loire Valley. The cuvée Vieilles Vignes is the flagship cuvée and comes from Cabernet Franc vines which are more than 35 years of age, some planted in 1934. My notes: bright garnet color, red berries on the nose, medium-bodied and good acidity on the palate, well balanced, spicy finish. Overall, a pretty popular wine. For me, this is the kind of red wine — fruity, not too tannic — that goes well with soft cheese.

Third cheese platter: semi-firm cheese from Spain and the Pyrenees, made from sheep's milk: Manchego from La Mancha, P'tit Basque from the Pyrenees, Etorki from the Pays Basque, and Ossau Iraty also from the Pays Basque.

• Emilio Lustau Dry Amontillado Los Arcos: Amontillado is a variety of sherry which is slowly oxydized through the slightly porous oak casks and thus gains with time a rich amber color. In Spain, the wine is traditionally served as an aperitif with olives, almonds, and cheese; My notes: although sherry is a traditional partner for Manchego, the room was split again on the wine. Sherry, with its rich nutty aromas, is definitively an acquired taste. As for me, the Amontillado Los Arcos is one of my favorite wines. Deep amber color, rich, luscious nose, bone-dry and nutty on the palate, and wonderful with the Manchego!

• 2005 Bodegas Conde Neo Sentido Ribera del Duero: Bodegas Conde is a relatively new winery in the Ribera del Duero appellation. The wine is made from Tempranillo vines that are over 50 years old. It is aged 6 months in one or two-year old casks made from American and French oak. My notes: dark color, nose of vanilla and black berry, rich, full-bodied on the palate. The wine was extremely popular and excellent with the Manchego and P'tit Basque.

Last cheese platter, blue cheese: Fourme d'Ambert, a cow's milk cheese from Auvergne, and Roquefort, a sheep's milk from the Cévennes.

• 2003 Maury Vintage Blanc Mas Amiel: Mas Amiel is the leading independent producer in the Maury appellation, between the Mediterranean coast and the Pyrenees. The wine is fortified and made from old low-yield Grenache Gris vines growing on schistous slopes. My notes: bright color, mineral nose with notes of dried fruit, light-bodied and crisp on the palate with just the right amount of sweetness. It actually worked really well with the Fourme, a cow's milk cheese that is fatter than the Roquefort.

• Buller Premium Fine Tokay: R.L. Buller is one of the quality leaders in the production of fortified wines from the warm region of Rutherglen in Victoria, Australia. My notes: amber color, orange marmalade and quince on the nose, extremely sweet, creamy palate with a nutty moka finish. In general, blue cheese, because of their saltiness, partner best with sweet wines but this one was much too sirupy and cloying for most of the guests. Retrospectively, I think that a Tokay from Hungary would have been better with a Roquefort.

Our next tasting event will feature a blind tasting like the one we had last year. This was a challenging but rewarding exercise and a lot of fun! This time, I promise, the wines I am going to choose will be easier to identify.

Previous wine club tastings:
•  Champagne Tasting
•  Tasting the wines of South America
•  Tasting Summer Wines from around the Mediterranean Sea

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Wednesday, May 07, 2008

WBW #45: Old World Riesling, awesome!

This is once again Wine Blogging Wednesday time! This month, our host is Tim Elliot of the Wine Cast blog and the theme he has chosen for us is Old World Riesling.

My favorite Rieslings are usually dry and either from Alsace or Austria. So for this 45th edition, I selected a wine from Schloss Gobelsburg, a historic estate in Austria's Kamptal region. Founded in 1171, it is the oldest winery in the region. A Cistercian Abbey purchased the estate in 1740 and monks had been making the wines there until 1992. Since then, the winery has been successfully managed by Austrian winemaker Michael Moosbrugger. The estate has approximatively 35 hectares of vineyards, half dedicated to Grüner Veltliner, a quarter to Riesling and the rest to red varieties.

The 2006 Schloss Gobelsburg Gobelsburger Riesling is the estate's entry level Riesling. The wine has a pale straw color with green reflections. The nose is floral with sweet cooked apple and brown sugar notes. On the palate, it is dry, light-bodied, mouth-watering, with rose petal and citrus aromas. It works really well with sushi. But I have one more bottle so next time I think I'll try it with grilled weisswurst and apple compote.

Monday, May 05, 2008

A pink meal: Pasta alle Cinque Pi with rosé

I am always looking for ultra simple but tasty recipes, so here is the latest one that I found: Pasta alle Cinque Pi, a recipe that one of my friends of Swiss Italian origin has showed me recently.

The sauce is called cinque Pi because it is made of five (cinque) ingredients, all starting with the letter P in Italian: Panna (cream), Pomodoro (tomato), Prezzemolo (parsley), Parmigiano (parmesan), and Pepe (pepper). And it is really easy to make: you heat the cream in a saucepan and then add the tomato paste, parmesan, chopped parsley, and pepper. Mix with pasta and serve with grated parmesan cheese.

With the pasta, we tasted a Rosé from Château Routas in Provence, whose color matched remarkably well the cream and tomato based sauce.

Owned by David Murray, a wealthy Scottish entrepreneur, Château Routas is located in the Var region, between the Mediterranean coast and the foothills of the Alps. The estate has 40 hectares (99 acres) of vines planted with Chardonnay, Viognier, and Ugni Blanc for the white and Grenache, Cinsault, Syrah, Cabernet, and Carignan for the red and the rosé (which constitutes the majority of the production).

The 2006 Château Routas Rouvière Rosé is a blend of Grenache, Cinsault, and Syrah. It has a bright salmon pink color and a delicate nose of strawberry and white pepper. On the palate, it is dry and crisp with notes of red berry flavors and a slightly mineral finish. Simple but tasty like the recipe, and exactly what a rosé is supposed to be.

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