Monday, December 28, 2009

Bubbly for the holidays: Cava or Champagne?

Just in time for the holidays, Kobrand Corporation sent me a shipment of sparkling wines that I recently shared with some friends and family.

One of them was a bottle of Champagne Taittinger Brut La Française. Founded in 1734 by Pierre Taittinger, the Taittinger Champagne house owns approximately 752 acres of vines, including vineyards in the renowned Côte des Blancs and Montagne de Reims. It is one of the three most extensive wine estates in Champagne and relies primarily on its own grapes for its Champagne production. Pierre Taittinger was a visionary well ahead of his time. He foresaw that the market would turn away from heavily dosed, sweet champagnes in favor of natural, elegant wines and thus defined the Taitinger style to be centered on the concepts of lightness and naturalness.

The cuvée La Française contains approximatively 40% Chardonnay, over twice the percentage of Chardonnay used in the standard cuvées of most Champagne houses, the rest being Pinot Noir and Pinot Meunier. Chardonnay contributes elegance, finesse, and crispness to the blend. Pinot Noir brings body, structure, and vinosity while Pinot Meunier adds fruitiness and roundness. The wine showed a bright golden color and fine bubbles rising from the bottom of the glass. On the palate, it was fresh and lively with toasty, yeasty aromas and notes of apple compote on the finish.

The other sparkling wine was a bottle of Poema Cava Brut. Cava is a Spanish wine produced mainly in the Penedès region in Catalonia, southwest of Barcelona. Under Spanish D.O. laws, Cava must be made using the Traditional Method with second fermentation in the bottle, and using a selection of grapes that includes Macabeo, Parellada, Xarel·lo, Chardonnay, Pinot noir, and Subirat.

The Poema Cava Brut is a traditional blend of 40% Macabeo,40% Xarel-lo and 20% Parellada grapes grown in the Penedès region. Each grape variety is harvested separately. Primary fermentation takes place in stainless steel tanks at 16-18ºC. The three varietals are then blended, the triage (yeast and sugar) is added and secondary fermentation begins in the same bottle at a temperature of 13-15ºC.

Low in alcohol (11.5%), the wine had a pale yellow color, aromas of peach and apricots and was light and crisp on the palate. My friends preferred the toasty, yeasty flavors of the Champagne but my father-in-low, who enjoys going to Spain on vacation, really liked the fruity character of the Cava.

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Thursday, December 17, 2009

Tasting of Zinfandel and Zinfandel related grapes

Considered America's sweetheart grape, Zinfandel was the theme of our latest wine club event. Our goal was to taste and compare different Zinfandel and Zinfandel related varieties from various wine regions, including Croatia, Italy, and California.

The story of Zinfandel is fascinating. It came to the United States in the early 1800s via the Imperial Nursery in Vienna, Austria, and quickly became a popular table grape in the Northeast. Then in the mid-1850's, it was introduced to California by a Massachusetts nurseryman who had joined the California Gold Rush. It thrived so well in the state's climate that by the end of the 19th century, Zinfandel was the most widespread grape variety in California.

For a long time, Zinfandel was California's mystery grape, but thanks to DNA profiling, it has now been proved that Zinfandel is a clone of the Croatian variety Crljenak. The grape was also imported to Apuglia in Southern Italy, probably by the Illyrians more than two thousand years ago. In Apuglia, the grape is called Primitivo because of its precociousness.

Here are the wines that we tasted:

• 2006 Dingac Plavac Mali Peljesac: Vinarija Dingac is a Croatian winery located in the Peljesac Peninsula on the Dalmatian Coast. Plavac Mali, which has been found to be a cross between Zinfandel and the local grape Dobricic, is the main red varietal grown along the Dalmatian Coast. My notes: only 11.5% alcohol. Light red brick color, plums and prunes on the nose, light to medium-bodied on the palate, nicely balanced. Really easy to drink and pretty popular among the guests.

• 2006 Bibich Riserva: The Bibich estate is located in Skradin in Northern Dalmatia. The wine is a blend of three local grapes (Babich, Plavina, Lasin) that are thought to be related to Zinfandel. My notes: 12.2% alcohol. Red berry color, spicy and peppery on the nose, medium-bodied on the palate, lively acidity, food friendly.

• 2007 Vinosia Primitivo di Salento: Aziende Agricole Vinosia is a new winery from Campania founded by Mario Ercolino, winemaker at Feudi di San Gregorio, and his brother Luciano. The wine comes the Salento region, a sub-peninsula in the south-eastern extremity of Apulia in Southern Italy. My notes: 13.5% alcohol. Deep purple color, peppery, red and back berry on the nose, earthy on the palate, good acidity, licorice on the finish. My favorite wine of the evening.

• 2006 Limerick Lane Zinfandel Collins Vineyard Russian River Valley: Limerick Lane is located at the eastern extremity of the Russian River Valley appellation and at the eastern end of the Dry Creek Valley appellation. The vineyard dates back to 1910 and some vines from that era are still in production. It is dry-farmed, relying on winter and spring rains to water the vines. The wine is stored for a year in a combination of French and Hungarian oak barrels. Each vintage uses between 25-30% of new oak. My notes: 14.6% alcohol. Medium red color, citrus and red berry on the nose, medium-bodied on the palate, herbal notes on the finish.

• 2006 Ridge Zinfandel York Creek: Ridge Vineyards started harvesting Zinfandel from the York Creek Vineyard in 1975. Situated high on Spring Mountain and overlooking St. Helena and the Napa Valley, the York Creek vineyard has well drained gravelly loam soils and a cool, mountainous climate. The 2006 vintage is aged in a combination of new and used American oak barrels. The blend is 99% Zinfandel, 1% Petite Sirah. My notes: 14.8% alcohol. Deep color, red berry on the nose, medium-bodied, good acidity, juicy on the palate, well-balanced. A favorite among the Zinfandels from California.

• 2005 Rosenblum Zinfandel Harris Kratka Vineyard: Rosenblum Cellars was founded in 1978 by veterinarian Dr. Kent Rosenblum and his wife Kathy. The winery works with over 80 unique grape growers and has an extensive wine portfolio of Zinfandel and Rhône varietal wines. The 16-acre Harris Kratka Vineyard is located just east of the Russian River in the Alexander Valley appellation. It is planted with half-century-old, head-pruned vines, 90% of which are Zinfandel, 5% Carignane and 5% Petite Sirah. My notes: blend of 75% Zinfandel, 15% Petite Sirah, 10% Carignane. 14.7% alcohol. Deep color, herbal, spicy on the palate, good finish, tasty.

• 2006 Seghesio Cortina Zinfandel Dry Creek Valley: Seghesio Family Winery was founded by Edoardo Seghesio who emigrated from Italy in 1886. The family-owned winery flourished in the bulk wine business until the mid 1970s, producing most of the red wine made in Sonoma County. Then in 1983, Ted Seghesio, a fourth generation family winemaker, bottled his first wines under the Seghesio label. Nestled in the heart of Dry Creek Valley, the Cortina vineyard was purchased by the winery in 1957. The climate is both coastal and inland with coastal fogs in the morning followed by long hours of sunshine. My notes: 15.2% alcohol. Medium red, sweet red berry on the nose, intense, hot on the palate, somewhat unbalanced, too alcoholic.

For our next wine tasting, we'll be tasting the wines blind, so be ready for the challenge!

Previous wine club tastings:
•  Drink Local Tasting
•  Pairing wine and cheese
•  Tasting the wines of the Rhône Valley

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Wednesday, December 09, 2009

A Moroccan-inspired Turkey Couscous and a Châteauneuf-du-Pape

After Thanksgiving, we had a good amount of turkey left and also some of the broth that was used for the gravy. So looking for a recipe to accommodate the leftovers, we were inspired by that Moroccan-inspired turkey soup that we found on the Web. For the soup, we made more broth using the turkey carcass and then added onions, carrots, parsnips, zuchini, squash, and tomatoes, spiced with saffron, turmeric, cinnamon, and chile. When the vegetables were almost cooked, we stirred in a small can of chickpeas and diced turkey meat. We served the soup with couscous, harissa, and fresh cilantro leaves.

Cooking the vegetables in the turkey broth

Our Turkey Couscous

With the Couscous, we drank a 2004 Châteauneuf-du-Pape Château de la Gardine. The Château de la Gardine estate is located close to the town of Chateauneuf-du-Pape. The vineyard is made of different south-facing and southeast-facing lots overlooking the Rhône Valley. Some are covered with the famous stone pebbles that help hold moisture in the soil, retain heat during the day and release it at night. Planted white grape varieties include Roussanne, Grenache blanc, Clairette, and Bourboulenc. Red varieties are 60% Grenache, 15% Syrah, 12% Mourvèdre, the rest divided between Picpoul, Terret Noir, Counoise, Muscardin, Vaccarèse, Picardan, and Cinsault. The grape varieties are vinified together and aged in oak barriques.

The wine held well against the soup. Showing a nose of ripe black fruit, it was smooth, rich, and spicy on the palate. Too bad we finished the whole bottle that night! Anyway, we didn't have enough turkey leftovers to make more soup.

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Thursday, December 03, 2009

With those leftover cranberries, make Cranberry Cocktails

After Thanksgiving, there was an unused bag of fresh cranberries in the refrigerator so we decided to make some cranberry cocktails. We adapted a recipe found in the current Sunset magazine that looked particularly delicious. This was fun to do and the drink was fruity and refreshing after the big Thanksgiving meal that we had the day before.

Chilling the drinks in the snow

A glass of Cranberry Cocktail

Our Cranberry Cocktail recipe: combine 1 part tequila, 1 part cranberry juice, 1 part fresh cranberries, 1/2 part triple sec and ice cubes in a blender. Add a splash of lime juice. Blend until smooth then strain liquid through a fine strainer. Pour into glasses with a sugar-coated rim and a lime wedge. Enjoy!

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