Thursday, May 28, 2009

Yes, wine can work beautifully with vegetarian fare

Roughly a year ago, my daughter convinced us to go vegetarian one day a week. There's plenty of good reasons to do so. It saves natural resources, decreases waste, reduces your contribution to global warming, and it's good for your health. The other fun part is to discover new vegetarian recipes and experiment with all sorts of ways to accomodate tofu, vegetables, legumes, and spices.

So last Thursday (that's our vegetarian day of the week), I decided to make pasta with goat cheese, lemon, and asparagus, a recipe that looked fresh and seasonal. As for the wine that could go well with the dish, I really got inspired to choose the 2002 Vouvray Sec Domaine de la Fontainerie Cuvée C, which was slowly aging in the cellar.

Pasta With Goat Cheese, Lemon, And Asparagus

Domaine de la Fontainerie has five hectares in production in the Vouvray appellation where the family has been growing Chenin Blanc since 1712. Catherine Dhoye-Deruet, who is now in charge of the family estate, would typically vinify her Vouvray dry and make off-dry and sweet Vouvray in exceptional vintages only. She believes in minimal intervention in the vineyard and harvests her grapes manually.

The wine had a deep golden color and a nose of ripe apple and pear. On the palate, it was dry, quite tight, with some acidity and a distinctive mineral character that was intensified by the creaminess of the goat cheese, the tanginess of the lemon, and the assertive flavor of the asparagus. I don't think anything fishy or meaty would have been any better with the wine.

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Wednesday, May 20, 2009

Wine and Cheese party at GC's Tasting Cafe in Menlo Park

GC's Tasting Cafe is a casual and friendly place downtown Menlo Park, offering a good variety of sandwiches and small plates based on cheese and charcuterie. Thanks to Gérard, co-owner and Maître Fromager, the cheese selection is particularly expansive. The place is also a tasting room where you can purchase your own wine or taste by the glass. The wine selection includes well chosen wines from local wineries as well as from California, Europe, and the Southern Hemisphere.

For the party, I was asked to choose some of the French wines sold at the cafe that would go well with the cheese, and so here is what we tasted:

• 2006 Sancerre Les Monts Damnés Domaine Roger Moreux: Sancerre, located in the eastern part of the Loire Valley, is regarded as the spiritual home of Sauvignon Blanc, producing wines of great minerality and elegance. Les Monts Damnés or Damned Mountains is a terroir of chalky purity with an abundance of crushed oyster shells and wet stones. Domaine Roger Moreux has been making wine since the 16th century. It is located in Chavignol, a small village within the Sancerre appellation, also known for France's most famous goat cheese, the Crottin de Chavignol. The wine had an attractive, floral nose. The palate was crisp, with notes of grapefruit, and a persistent stony finish. And of course, it was delicious with the goat cheese.

• 2006 Chablis Premier Cru Fourchaume Domaine Séguinot-Bordet: Chablis is located at the north of the Burgundy region, along the 48th parallel north which places Chablis at the northern extremes of viable viticulture. The soil is a mix of Kimmeridge clay from the Jurassic age, with the same chalk layer that is found in Sancerre and up to the cliffs of Dover. The appellation produces white wines only, all made from the Chardonnay grape. Thanks to the region's cool climate, the wines have more acidity and less fruit than Chardonnay wines made in warmer climates. Domaine Séguinot-Bordet is a 16 hectare family estate that has been growing vines since 1590. For young winemaker Jean-François Bordet, the main emphasis is to get the best fruit possible through careful pruning, debudding and harvesting. The wine had a focused nose of stone fruit, and a complex, mineral backbone on the palate. It was much less fruity than the Sancerre but nonetheless not less intense.

• 2005 Chorey-Lès-Beaune Vieilles Vignes Dominique Laurent: Chorey-Lès-Beaune is the Burgundy village appellation closest to Beaune. The appellation has no grand or premier crus, but the village wines have gained reputation of being among the best value on the Côte de Beaune. The total area under production is 136 hectares, the vast majority of this being Pinot Noir. Dominique Laurent is a renowned grower-producer in Burgundy. He owns only tiny parcels of vineyards and buys grapes or new wine from various growers, focussing on old vines, low yields and minimal intervention winemaking. The wine had a pleasant earthy nose of red cherry. The palate was tart, light-to-medium bodied, firm, but rather unbalanced in terms of acidity.

• 2005 Côtes du Rhône Domaine du Pesquier: Guy Boutière from Domaine Pesquier farms around 30 hectares of vines spread among Gigondas and Côtes du Rhône vineyards. The Côtes du Rhône is a classic Rhône blend of Grenache, Cinsault, Syrah, Mourvèdre and Carignan. It had a nose of sweet berry fruits and spices. The palate was full-bodied, quite robust, and richly flavored. A stronger wine, perfect with the salami.

• 2005 Château Charmail: Château Charmail is a Cru Bourgeois in the Haut-Médoc appellation, bordering Saint-Estèphe. It is produced by the Sèze family who also owns Château Mayne-Vieil in Fronsac. Planting is 48% Merlot, 30% Cabernet Sauvignon, 20% Cabernet Franc, an unusually high proportion of Merlot for the Médoc. I think this was the best red wine of the evening. It had a nose of black fruit with some notes of licorice. On the palate, it was medium-bodied, still young and tannic but very well balanced, tasty, and excellent with Petit Basque.

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Wednesday, May 13, 2009

Tour of the Marin County Tasting Rooms

Earlier this month, on a cool and rainy Saturday morning, we drove north towards Marin County for some wine tasting. Deciding which wineries to visit was easy: only two wineries in Marin County have tasting rooms opened to the public.

Our first stop was for a hearty lunch at the Station House Cafe in Point Reyes Station. Then after driving about 2 more miles north on Highway 1, we found the entrance to Point Reyes Vineyards.

Estate vines behind the tasting room at Point Reyes Vineyards

The family owned and operated winery, the first in Marin County since prohibition, is in a peaceful pastoral setting with beautiful views of the West Marin rolling hills. Six acres of grapes are grown just behind the winery that are used to produce a sparkling wine, unfortunately sold out and unavailable for tasting that day. Overall, we didn't enjoy the selection of wines offered in the tasting room, some we found too oxydized, others too high in alcohol, and left disappointed.

The Ross Valley Winery is the other Marin winery with a tasting room. It is situated downtown San Anselmo, about 20 miles north of San Francisco. The place really feels like a neighborhood wine bar with the winemaking facility located in the storefront's back room. Owner and Winemaker Paul Kreider is a jovial man with a laid-back attitude and a minimal intervention philosophy towards winemaking. His wines are seldom fined or filtered and only minimum amounts of sulfites are used. He makes the wines he likes, fruity and accessible instead of hard and tannic.

Owner and winemaker Paul Kreider at The Ross Valley Winery

This time, we enjoyed the wines we tasted as well as the company of our friendly host, even exchanging a few words with some customers passing by. Here are the wines we liked the best:

2006 The Ross Valley Winery Chardonnay Grebennikoff Vineyard Sonoma Valley: light yellow color, no oak, unfiltered, apple and pear on the nose, fresh and crisp on the palate.

2005 The Ross Valley Winery Merlot Oller Vineyard Sonoma Valley: medium red color, black cherry and crushed peppercorns on the nose, juicy with some tannins, slightly oaky on the finish.

2004 The Ross Valley Winery Cabernet Sauvignon Leoni Vineyard Sonoma Valley: medium color, red berries on the nose and notes of vanilla, supple with spices and good acidity on the palate.

Related post:
•  A discovery: Riesling from Marin County

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Wednesday, May 06, 2009

Blind Tasting of Cabernet Blends from Washington State

Earlier this year, our wine tasting group met again, this time for a blind tasting of Cabernet blends from Washington state. Each guest brought a mystery bottle that was quickly covered by one of our homemade purple velvet bags with a random letter pinned to it. The guests had to also bring their own glasses to be placed in a semi-circle in front of them, one glass for each wine.

The bottles are ready to be tasted blind

The tasting setup

Although about 50 years ago, there was no serious wine made in Washington State, it has quickly become the second largest fine-wine-producing state after California. Originally, Washington was mostly a white wine producing region, primarily using Chardonnay. Nowadays, it's more like 52 percent white to 48 percent red, the most widely planted grapes being Chardonnay, Cabernet Sauvignon, and Merlot.

Geographically, Washington State is located approximately on the same latitude (46ºN) as Bordeaux and offers a variety of very different climates. Western Washington, west of the Cascade Mountains, has a oceanic climate with relatively mild temperatures and wet, cloudy winters. Only 1% of the state's wine grapes are grown there. The other 99% of the wine grapes are grown east of the Cascades where the climate is semi-arid with long daylight hours during the growing season.

Here are the wines that we tasted:

2001 Seven Hills Reserve Cabernet Sauvignon Walla Walla Valley: founded in 1988, Seven Hills Winery is one of the region's oldest and most respected wineries, producing wines from the Columbia and Walla Walla valleys as well as Oregon's Willamette Valley. Walla Walla Valley is the most remote Washington wine region located at the Southeastern corner of the State. Although Walla Walla is a Native American name that means Place of Many Waters, the area has dry, arid conditions and cold winters. Our notes: nose of sweet fruit, herbs, and anise, medium-bodied with notes of oak, fresh, light finish. Ranked fifth place.

2005 Seven Hills Cabernet Sauvignon Klipsun Viyeyard Red Mountain: the wine comes from the 120-acre Klipsun Vineyard on the western slope of the Red Mountain appellation. Klipsun means sunset in the Chinook Indian language. The soil is shallow with sand and silt. Our notes: mint and eucalyptus on the nose, round and chewy on the palate, good flavors. Ranked third place.

1997 Columbia Crest Reserve Red Wine Columbia Valley: founded in 1983, Columbia Crest has grown from a small winery in a relatively unknown wine region to one of the largest wineries in the United States. By 1990, wine critic Robert Parker had named Columbia Crest one of the 24 best value wineries. The wine is a blend of Cabernet Sauvignon (39%), Merlot (39%) and Cabernet Franc (22%) sourced from four Columbia Valley vineyards. Our notes: sweet red fruits on the nose, supple, tasty, meaty on the palate with aromas of raspberry liqueur, Bordeaux-like, food friendly. A big favorite, ranked first place.

2001 Kiona Reserve Cabernet Sauvignon Red Mountain: founded in 1972, Kiona Vineyards and Winery is a family-owned and operated estate that pioneered the development of the Red Mountain AVA. Red Mountain is part of the Yakima Valley AVA, which in turn is part of the larger Columbia Valley AVA. Kiona is a Yakima Indian name that means brown hills. Our notes: subtle nose, tobacco and chocolate on the nose, nutty and flavourful palate, medium finish, well balanced, opens up nicely in the glass. Ranked second place.

2006 Isenhower Red Paintbrush Columbia Valley: founded in 1999, Isenhower Cellars is a boutique winery located south of Walla Walla. It produces wines using fruits coming from a variety of sources in the Columbia Valley. Their 2006 Red Paintbrush is a blend of 67% Cabernet Sauvignon, 17% Cabernet Franc, 11% Merlot, and 5% Petit Verdot. Our notes: fresh raspberry and cocoa on the nose, tight on the palate, too young, a bit harsh on the finish. Ranked sixth place.

2000 Woodward Canyon Artist Series #9 Cabernet Sauvignon: Woodward Canyon Winery was one of the first two wineries (with Leonetti Cellars) to help put the Walla Walla Valley on the Washington wine map. The Artist Series started in 1992 to showcase Washington State Cabernet Sauvignon. The label changes every vintage with work from different local, Pacific Northwest artists. Our notes: chocolate and pepper on the nose, full bodied, tannic, good finish. Ranked fourth place.

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