Tuesday, December 27, 2011

A festive dinner at Manresa

Just before the holidays, we went to Manresa in Los Gatos to celebrate my son's birthday. We took the seasonal tasting menu —highly recommended to us— that consists of 7 savory and 2 dessert courses and is the best showcase for the inventive cuisine of Chef David Kinch. It is also quite adventurous: only the ingredients are listed so you don't know ahead of time what each course would be like.

Chef David Kinch's cuisine speaks of who we are and where we are located and many products are produced at Love Apple Farms in the Santa Cruz Mountains. Owner and farmer Cynthia Sandberg uses biodynamic and organic principles to grow fruits, vegetables, herbs and edible flowers, and produce eggs, honey, and goat's milk. The Love Apple Farms produces were perfectly showcased by one of our favorite courses, “A walk through the vegetable garden”, a colorful alchemy of bitter leaves, sweet flowers, raw and cooked root vegetables with multiple dressings hidden under the leaves, some more citrusy, some more vinegary.

A walk through the vegetable garden

The next course reached even higher heights. Called “The Midwinter Tide Pool”, it was a bowl of rich broth that contained seaweed, clams, sea urchin, enoki mushrooms and the ultimate savory deliciousness, a thin slice of foie gras.

The Midwinter Tide Pool

I am not a dessert person but our second dessert was also one of my favorite. It was a mushroom ice cream with maple syrup, cinnamon chips and a small crispy churro. The dish was sweet and savory at the same time and full of umami flavors.

Mushroom ice cream with maple syrup, cinnamon chips and churro

The wine list has a nice focus on the Santa Cruz Mountains. We chose a 2006 Mount Eden Estate Bottled Pinot Noir from the nearby Mount Eden Vineyards. Located on a 2000 foot peak about 15 miles from the Pacific Ocean, the winery was founded in 1945 by pioneer winemaker Martin Ray who planted his first vineyard of Pinot Noir and Chardonnay there. Today, seven acres of the estate vineyard are planted with Pinot Noir. The wine is fermented using natural yeasts and matures for eighteen months in French oak barrels (75% new). The wine showed a medium red color with fragrant aromas of forest berries, spices and earth on the nose. On the palate it was all about elegance, medium-bodied with a smooth texture and a savory earthy finish that went wonderfully well with David Kinch's alchemy.

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Monday, November 21, 2011

Invite Austria to your Thanksgiving table

Finding the perfect wine that can go with all the rich flavors found on the Thanksgiving menu, the turkey, the stuffing, the gravy, the cranberries, and the various side dishes, can be challenging. Nonetheless, I think that a wine that is bright and fruity, and not too tannic nor alcoholic, is always a great choice. So when I recently tasted the 2009 Juris St. Laurent Selection, I thought that this year, it was time to invite Austria to our Thanksgiving table.

Owned by the Stiegelmar family, Juris farms 17 hectares of vineyards in the Neusiedlersee wine region, half way between Vienna and Budapest. This is the warmest part of Austria with climatic conditions well suited to red varieties, which explains the winery's special focus on St Laurent and Pinot Noir wines.

The Stiegelmar family has been cultivating grapes in this area since the 16th century. One of the winery's underground cellars was built in 1756, Mozart's birth year. It was dug 52 meters long, 12 meters below the surface, and maintains a stable temperature of 10°C (50°F).

But over the past 10 years, Axel Stiegelmar and his father Georg have developed a modern winery. The transport of grapes, mash, must, and wine is done predominantly through gravity to avoid damage by careless transport. The storage building is Austria's first passive energy wine storage facility. The building, neither heated nor cooled by fossil or electric energy, has various temperature and humidity zones to provide optimal storage conditions for different wines at different stages of their production.

The underground cellars

St. Laurent is a red grape of mysterious origins. It is said to belong to the Pinot family, although its exact ancestry remains unclear. It is an early ripening grape variety, sensitive to frost, sunburn, and botrytis. The name comes from Saint Laurent's name day on August 10, which is when the veraison of the grape occurs.

If the wine had the bright acidity of a Pinot Noir, it was spicy like a Syrah. It showed a very dark color with aromas of black cherries, moka, and gamey notes. On the palate, it was quite smooth and tasty with maybe a hint of sweet chestnut on the finish.

Last year's turkey

Cross-posted from bluedanubewine.com/blog

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Thursday, October 27, 2011

Special aviation wines for the Blue Angels Air Show

Earlier this month, we were invited to a wine tasting party while watching the Blue Angels Air Show, a spectacular aerial show and a tradition in San Francisco since 1981. We were asked to bring a bottle of wine that had some connection with aviation, which was a fun exercise because in addition to tasting the wines, this theme prompted discussion about how the wines were related to planes and pilots.

We started with the 2004 Goldeneye Pinot Noir Anderson Valley. That one was easy: everybody remembered how in Goldeneye, James Bond escapes Soviet guards with a free fall jump off a cliff into an unmanned plane, miraculously gaining control of it and avoiding a crash into the nearby mountain.

The Goldeneye Winery is owned by Duckhorn Vineyard and has been producing Pinot Noir from the Anderson Valley AVA since 1997. The wine is a blend of grapes from four estate vineyards, covering a wide range of microclimates with more than 20 distinctive clones. The wine had a big California style, lush on the palate with ripe berry flavors and hints of pumpkin pie spice on the finish.

Then we tasted the 2004 Château Malescot Saint-Exupéry, a Third Growth in the Margaux Appellation. Château Malescot Saint-Exupéry got its first name from Simon Malescot, King's Counsel to Louis XIV at the Parliament of Bordeaux, who bought the estate in 1697. Then later in 1827, it was acquired by Comte Jean-Baptiste Saint Exupéry, who renamed the property Malescot Saint-Exupéry. So what's the wine's connection with aviation? Antoine de Saint Exupéry, pioneer aviator and famous writer, was actually the grandson of Jean-Baptiste.

The wine is a blend of 50% Cabernet Sauvignon, 35% Merlot, 10% Cabernet Franc and 5% Petit Verdot. It had a dense, blackberry nose with some coffee notes, quite chewy on the palate with a well-balanced finish. A promising wine but much too young to be drunk now.

Our third wine was the 2005 Silverado Vineyards Cabernet Sauvignon Solo Stags Leap District. First, we thought of solo flight, but after some discussions, we found that Solo had even more connections to flying, including Han Solo, famous captain of the Millennium Falcon.

Silverado Vineyards was established in 1981 by the Miller family. They named the winery Silverado, after the abandoned mining camp in the Mayacamas Mountains, where Robert Louis Stevenson spent his honeymoon in the early summer of 1880.

The Solo Cabernet Sauvignon is made from 100% Cabernet grapes grown in the estate Stags Leap Vineyard, surrounding the winery. It was a powerful wine with aromas of blackberries and oak and a big finish.

We ended the tasting with a vertical tasting of ZD Reserve Cabernet Sauvignon: 2000, 2001, 2002, and 2003.

Nobody knew that ZD stands for the initials of the names of the founders Gino Zepponi and Norman deLeuze, two former aerospace engineers. It also stands for Zero Defects, a quality control program that originated in the aerospace industry.

The ZD Reserve Cabernet Sauvignon is a blend of several Napa Valley lots, with ZD's organically farmed Rutherford Estate used as the backbone. The 2000 was the first vintage to open up, with an expansive nose and ripe fruit aromas. The 2001 was tighter and more subdued at the beginning but it eventually surpassed the 2000 with aromas of blackberries, moka, and licorice, a firm, well-balanced backbone, and a full-flavored finish. It ended up being my favorite. The 2002 was not as good and a bit off balanced. The 2003 was young, bright, and fruity but without the complexity of the 2001.

And above our heads, the Blue Angels were flying.

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Wednesday, October 12, 2011

Prohibition through Ken Burns' lens

Last week I watched Ken Burns' five-and-a-half-hour three-part documentary on Prohibition, the so-called “Noble Experiment” and one of the country's biggest civic failures.

I like Ken Burns' work, especially his Jazz series, and Prohibition didn't disappoint me. I already knew some of the causes that led to the passage of the 18th Amendment: the force of the Temperance Movement and how its leaders were also pushing for women's rights, how the passing of the income tax amendment made Prohibition fiscally feasible, and the strange alliance of militant suffragettes with white supremacists to ban alcohol use.

But there were some other facts that I was not aware of, like the vilification of German-Americans —which included most of the large brewery owners— when the US entered World War I. And I didn't realize that women, after lobbying so hard for prohibition, became so pivotal in the effort to repeal it.

Pauline Sabin, a wealthy heiress from a Republican family, initially supported prohibition, but as crime increased, her criticism of the 18th Amendment grew slowly. At some point, she realized that “In pre-prohibition days, mothers had little fear in regard to the saloon as far as their children were concerned. A saloon-keeper's license was revoked if he were caught selling liquor to minors. Today in any speakeasy in the United States you can find boys and girls in their teens drinking liquor, and this situation has become so acute that the mothers of the country feel something must be done to protect their children.”

She founded the Women's Organization for National Prohibition Reform in 1929. Four years later, the 18th Amendment, was repealed.

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Tuesday, September 27, 2011

Pupusas from El Salvador and a good Pinot from the Santa Cruz Mountains

The other day, we were invited to a Pupusas party, one of the guests' mother being from El Salvador and a great cook. The pupusa is El Salvador's national dish, made of thick corn tortillas typically filled with cheese, pork, and beans and cooked on a griddle.

Freshly made and still hot from the skillet, it is really tasty but what to drink with it besides beer? Actually we found that Pinot Noir was a pretty good choice, especially if you avoided the extra spicy salsa.

We tasted the 2003 Muccigrosso Pinot Noir Santa Cruz Mountains from Muccigrosso Vineyards, a small family-run winery in Los Gatos, in the Santa Cruz Mountains.

The owners, Michael and Lynne Muccigrosso, planted their first vines in 1983 and bottled their first vintage in 2000. Now they produce 800 to 1000 cases per year of Pinot Noir, Zinfandel, and a Syrah-Sangiovese blend called Table Two. The 2003 Pinot Noir was crafted by Jacob Kauffman, a yound talented winemaker who had gained his experience at near-by David Bruce Winery but who sadly passed away 2 years ago.

The wine had a bright garnet color and perfumed nose of sweet berries and violets. On the palate, it was medium-bodied with a good structure, elegant with a good amount of earthiness on the finish. Quite comforting, like the pupusas.

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Friday, September 16, 2011

Something new and creative: a Metro Wine Map of France

Do you know that it's only in 1931 that the first schematic subway map was designed by English engineering draftsman Harry Beck? Before that, we had route maps that were solely based on geography. They were lacking clarity and had many overcrowded areas. Schematic maps are based on topology and therefore show a simplified, hightly stylized network of stations that is much easier to understand.

So can we apply the same logic to wine regions and appellations to simplify and clarify regional and geographical concepts to beginners? Dr. David Gissen, professor at the California College of the Arts, thinks so and has recently published a Metro Wine Map of France.

Dr. David Gissen is a historian and theorist of architecture and urbanism but he is also a wine lover who, after drinking a bottle of 2009 Morgon Domaine Lapierre at Chez Panisse, wanted to learn more about wine and its relationship with particular philosophies and places.

In a recent interview, Gissen explains what motivated him to design his Metro map.

“I was just very frustrated with the fact that some basic ideas about the relationships between wine and geography that seemed so simple to me, after my own tastings, were not actually expressed simply anywhere. Part of the problem is the way the geographical description of French wine relies on a very literal languages of maps. What I mean by that is that if you look at almost any book on French wine, the maps look like the kind of thing that an explorer would use. They're extremely literal, cartographic views, so that all the regions are drawn with very precise jagged-line boundaries, and you're supposed to understand that this particular terroir stops just below this particular Autoroute in France, for example, and so on.”

“My feeling was that you could explain some very basic geographical ideas and principles about French wine if you used a visual language that was relational and condensed. To me, that means the language of the subway map.”

If you want to find the “best subway stop from which to embark on your own journey of wine exploration”, you can get the map here. And if you want to learn more about Gissen's interesting perspectives on concrete vinification, wine glass shapes, terroir, and the re-framing of wine using an urban aesthetics, read the full interview.

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Monday, September 05, 2011

Hiking Mount Baldy and an ice-cold Coors Light after that

It was hot last weekend in Los Angeles when we dropped our daugther off at college so we decided to find some cool mountain breeze at the top of the 10,068 ft Mount Baldy in the San Gabriel Mountains.

An old ski chair lift from the 50s took us to the small Mount Baldy ski resort and from there we took the Devil's Backbone trail that goes up to the top of Mount Baldy with amazing views of L.A. on one side and the desert on the other side.

After the hike, we stopped at the Top of the Notch, the resort's restaurant, feeling hot and sweaty. The temperature was still in the mid-90s.

”What's the coldest drink you have?“ We asked the waitress at the bar. ”Coors Light“ she said witout hesitation, taking two frosty mugs from under the bar. I don't usually drink Coors Light but this time, I could not resist. As I took the first sip of my beer, I thought this was the best thing I ever drank. It was so refreshing, with a clean, mildly sweet taste, and for sure it quenched our thirst.

The Devil's Backbone trail

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Tuesday, August 16, 2011

A Jasnières at a one-star restaurant in Blois

When we left the Dordogne, we stopped over in Blois where we ate at a small and charming Michelin one-star restaurant called Au Rendez-Vous des Pêcheurs. The restaurant occupies an old grocery in a 16th-century house not very far from the chateau, and specializes in seafood and regional cuisine with local products from the Loire Valley.

We drank a delicious 2006 Jasnières Les Vignes de L'Ange Vin Le Charme du Loir, a wine from Jasnières, a small appellation located on clay/limestone hillsides thick with flint stones along the Loir River (a tributary of the Loire River). The area is the most northerly wine-growing region of the Loire Valley and is therefore distinctly colder. The wines are all dry white wines produced from Chenin Blanc grapes.

Les Vignes de L'Ange Vin was founded by Jean-Pierre Robinot, who used to run a wine bistro in Paris called L'Ange Vin for nearly 15 years. L'Ange Vin means angel wine but it is also a play on words with Angevin, a term that applies to the residents of the Anjou region and its capital Angers. Jean-Pierre Robinot is an ambitious winemaker that practices natural farming and winemaking. The white wines (70% of the production) are pressed very slowly and raised on the lees in oak barrels for at least 12 months. Minimal sulfur is added.

The wine had a light yellow color and a nose of citrus and white flowers. On the palate, it had a bright acidity, lots of minerality and a touch of honey. The wine was more crisp than a Vouvray or a Savenières but had plenty of character that highlighted well the flavors of the food.

Carrot Mousse and Mushroom Flan

Crayfish Stuffed Zucchini Flower

Bass topped with Sweetbreads

Strawberry Soup

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Monday, August 01, 2011

Domaine de L'Ancienne Cure in Bergerac

Earlier this month, I was in the Dordogne for our biennial family reunion. This region, located in southwest France and east of Bordeaux, is I think, one of the best spots in France for a family vacation. There are hundreds of prehistoric caves, more than 1500 castles and plenty of medieval villages to explore. The region is also famous for its local specialities including foie gras, duck confit, duck magret, and truffles. And of course, there is wine.

The Bergerac wine region lies along the Dordogne river and is the biggest appellation in the south west of France, producing red, dry white, and sweet white wines. The grapes growing in the region are similar to the Bordeaux varieties but the local climate is more continental and less influenced by the Atlantic ocean. Winters are mild and summers are long and can be very hot with occasional storms and showers.

Vineyards in the Bergerac Appellation

During the week that I spent in the area, I had the opportunity to visit the Domaine de L'Ancienne Cure. It is a family owned estate growing grapes in the Bergerac, Pécharmant, and Monbazillac appellations. The name of the domain refers to the old presbytery that Hélène and Gaston Roche bought in 1946 in the small village of Colombier, several kilometers from the town of Bergerac. They were mainly growers at the time, sending most of their grapes to the local cooperative. In 1984, their son Christian Roche inherited part of the family property and built its own winery to become an independent winemaker. Since 2009, the estate has been converting to organic viticulture.

Domaine de L'Ancienne Cure

At the domaine, we were warmly welcomed by a friendly and knowledgeable staff. We sat at the large farmhouse table in the middle of the tasting room and spent two hours tasting and talking about the estate production. The winery makes dry white, sweet white and red wines in three different lines: Jour de Fruit for fruit-forward, ready-to-drink wines, L'Abbaye for more concentrated, age-worthy wines, and the top of the line, L'Extase.

We tasted the following wines:

• 2009 Bergerac Sec Domaine de L'Ancienne Cure L'Abbaye: 30% Sauvignon Blanc, 20% Muscadelle, 25% Sémillon, and 25% Sauvignon Gris. Sauvignon Gris is a rare grape variety on the brink of extinction that has been revived recently in Bordeaux and in the south west. Manual harvest, aged 9 months in barrel, 30% new. My notes: deep golden color, sweet floral nose. On the palate much drier than it smells, peach, tropical fruit aromas, creamy mouthfeel.

• 2008 Bergerac Sec Domaine de L'Ancienne Cure L'Extase: 45% Sauvignon blanc, 35 % Sémillon, 20 % Muscadelle. Manual harvest, 60% new oak barrels. My notes: deep golden color, intense nose, lots of freshness on the palate with additional citrus notes, great balance between acidity and richness.

The red wines

• 2008 Pécharmant Domaine de L'Ancienne Cure Collection: Pécharmant is a small appellation on the north bank of Bergerac. The name means charming hill, pech coming from the occitan word puèg which means hill and charmant meaning charming. The wine is a blend of 50% Merlot, 25% Cabernet Sauvignon, 25% Cabernet Franc. Aged 18 months in new oak barrels. My notes: dark color, blackberry nose, very young, still tight and not really "made" yet (with the fruit on one side and the oak on the other side), age-worthy.

• 2005 Bergerac Domaine de L'Ancienne Cure L'Extase: 50% Merlot, 40% Cabernet Sauvignon, 10% Cabernet Franc. Grapes are harvested very ripe on calcareous soils and with more acidity on clay soils. Aged 19 months in new oak barrels. My notes: deep color, gamey aromas, ripe blackberries, jammy, quite silky on the palate, fine tannins, good acidity, age-worthy.

The sweet Monbazillac wines

• 2009 Monbazillac Domaine de L'Ancienne Cure Jour de Fruit: the wines of Monbazillac were already well-known in France in the 14th century but were discovered by the Dutch in the 17th century during the Wars of Religion when many Protestants from the Bergerac area emigrated to Holland. Like nearby Sauternes, the wine is issued from Sémillon, Sauvignon Blanc, and Muscadelle grapes harvested by hand when the grapes are affected by the noble rot or botrytis cinerea. The wine is a blend of 90% Sémillon, 10% Muscadelle. My notes: light golden color, floral nose. On the palate, light-bodied, sweet and fresh without been sirupy, nice citrus on the finish, good acidity, great with foie gras.

• 2003 Monbazillac Domaine de L'Ancienne Cure L'Extase: 90% Sémillon, 10% Muscadelle. Careful selection of the best berries, aged in new oak barrels. My notes: deep amber color, powerful nose of madarin orange. On the palate, very rich, sweet, long finish.

Showing the different amounts of botrytised fruit used in the Jour de Fruit and Extase cuvées

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Friday, June 24, 2011

More interesting summer whites from Spain, Portugal, and Hungary

At last month's Port4lio Tasting in San Francisco, I had the opportunity to taste some delicious white wines made from uncommon grapes. Here are the three that I found the most distinctive:

• 2010 Raventós i Blanc Silencis: the wine is 100% Xarel-lo, a Spanish grape variety from Catalonia. Although Xarel-lo is mainly used with Macabeu and Parellada in Cava production, it is sometimes used alone in still wines. Located in the Penedès wine region, south west of Barcelona, Bodegas Raventós i Blanc was founded in 1986 by Josep Raventós Blanc, a member of the Codorníu family. The family-run, quality-oriented winery owns 90 acres of vineyards, planted mostly to local varieties such as Macabeo, Xarel-lo, and Parellada, on rocky, chalky soil high in limestone content (like Champagne). The wine has a pale yellow color and a mineral nose of crushed seashells. On the palate, it is dry and quite earthy with a long distinctive finish.

• 2010 Trajarinho Vinho Verde: the wine is a blend of Trajadura and Alvarinho, two native grape varietals of the Iberian Peninsula. In Portugal, they are mainly found in the Vinho Verde region in the northern part of the country. Low in alcohol (11.5%), the wine has a light golden color and an attractive floral nose. On the palate, it is rather dry, slightly fizzy with lemon aromas and a refreshing finish.

• 2009 Bott Hárslevelu Határi: Hárslevelu is generally blended with Furmint to produce Tokaji Aszú in the Tokaj-Hegyalja region of Hungary but in this wine, it is vinified as a pure varietal dry wine. Határi is one of the top vineyards in Tokaj and the small, family-run Bott winery maintains 1.5 ha of vines there, planted on a rocky, volcanic terraced slope. The wine has a light yellow color and an unusual nose of aromatic herbs (thyme, rosemary). On the palate, it has a great mid-palate mouthfeel with notes of rose petal on the finish.

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Friday, June 10, 2011

Looking for a fresh summer wine? Try Soave

May was Soave Month in New York so as part of the promotion program, I received a couple of wine samples from Colangelo & Partners.

Maybe Italy's best wines are red but I really like its white wines, especially those that are fresh, crisp, fruity, as well as delicious with food.

Soave is (with Pinot Grigio) one of Italy's most popular white wines. It comes from the Veneto region in the northeast corner of Italy, the country's third biggest wine producer. The Soave growing area is situated in the hills east of Verona and is characterized by volcanic soils particularly rich in minerals. Garganega is Soave's principal grape variety and Italy's 6th most widely planted white grape.

We first tasted the 2009 Il Casale Soave Classico produced by Azienda Agricola Le Albare. Le Albare is a small 6.5 hectare family estate planted with 100% Garganega grapes. it was founded at the turn of the 20th century by Adam Posenato, current winemaker Stefano Posenato's great-grandfather. The wine had a light golden color and a quite stony nose. On the palate, it was light-bodied with a crisp minerality and notes of citrus on the finish.

We actually prefered our second sample, the 2009 Re Midas Soave. The wine is produced by Cantina di Soave, a cooperative founded in 1898 and made up of 2,200 winegrowers and farmers with currently 6,000 hectares under vine. The wine was named after Re (King) Midas who wished that everything he touched would turn to gold. Re Midas vineyards are located on the hillsides in the village of Soave at elevations between 100 and 350 meters. The wine is 100% Garganega aged 3 months in stainless steel followed by 1 month in bottle before release. it had a pale yellow color and a spicy nose with a touch of honey. On the palate, it was fuller and rounder than the Il Casale with aromas of fresh white peach. It was actually a very good accompaniment for our Cod with Lentils.

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Wednesday, June 01, 2011

The wines of Slovenian producer Kabaj: intertwining modernity with tradition

A couple of weeks ago, I was invited to Port4lio at the historic Fort Mason firehouse in San Francisco, an annual tasting event featuring wines imported by Blue Danube Wine Company, Return to Terroir, and Vinos Unico. This year, the event prominently featured French winemaker Jean-Michel Morel presenting his Slovenian wines for the first time in the US.

Jean-Michel Morel of Kabaj winery

With his wife Katja Kabaj, Jean-Michel Morel is the owner of Kabaj, a winery located in Goriška Brda, a wine-growing region in western Slovenia, near the Italian border. It was one of the first regions in Slovenia to establish an international reputation for the quality of its wines. Thanks to the Adriatic sea, the area enjoys a Mediterranean climate with constant dry winds called "Bura" that reduces the need for fungicides and pesticides. The soil is principally composed of ocean sediment and is rich in marlstone, slate claystone, and limestone.

The Kabaj family has farmed vineyards in Goriška Brda for generations and used to sell their grapes to the Yugoslav state. But in the early 1990s, Katja Kabaj and Jean-Michel Morel decided to release their own wines under the Kabaj family name. They own 55,000 vines farmed sustainably and fertilized with horse manure, 70% of which are white varieties, including indigenous Rebula (Ribolla Gialla), Sauvignonasse (Tokai Fruilano), and Malvasia Istriana. Red grape varieties are also grown, mostly Merlot, Cabernet Franc, and Petit Verdot. The winery has a modern cellar built a few years ago.

I tasted the folowing wines:

• 2008 Kabaj Sivi Pinot: 100% Pinot Grigio, aged 12 months in French oak barrel, followed by 4 months in bottle. Yellow color, floral acacia nose, medium bodied on the palate, less acidic than a Italian Pinot Grigio.

• 2008 Kabaj Ravan: 100% Tokai Fruilano also known as Sauvignon Vert or Sauvignonasse, a grape variety believed to have originated in the Veneto region. Aged 12 months in French oak barrel, followed by 4 months in bottle. Yellow color, floral nose, soft on the palate with fresh peach aromas.

• 2008 Kabaj Rebula: 100% Ribolla Gialla, a white grape variety mostly found in the Friuli-Venezia-Giulia region of northeast Italy and in Slovenia where it has been grown since the 13th century. The wine is fermented on the skins for 30 days then aged 12 months in French oak barrel, followed by 4 months in bottle. Golden color, aromatic nose of herbs and mineral notes. Quite spicy and complex on the palate. My favorite among the whites.

• 2006 Kabaj Cuvée Morel: 60% Merlot, 18% Cabernet Sauvignon, 18% Cabernet Franc, and 4% Petit Verdot. Aged 36 months in French oak barrels then 4 months in bottles. Dark garnet color, nose of dry herbs, medium-bodied, some tannins on the palate, needs to open up.

• 2007 Kabaj Merlot: 100% Merlot. Aged 24 months in French oak barrels then 4 months in bottles. Dark color, aromatic nose, aromas of blackberries and cherries, medium-bodied, quite dry with some tannins. Not jammy at all but more fruity than the Cuvée Morel, very food friendly.

The last 3 wines of the tasting were the most interesting and intriguing. They were vinified and aged in 3000 liter clay jars buried underground called kvevri, using ancient Georgian winemaking practices. After being aged in the jars for 10 months on the skins, the wine goes without the skins into oak barrels for 12 months and aged for 12 additional months in bottle. During aging, 25% of the wine is usually lost to evaporation.

• 2005 Kabaj Amfora: dark yellow color, floral nose, concentrated and tight on the palate, not really fruity, rather spicy and quite complex.

• 2006 Kabaj Amfora: much more open than the 2005. Nice floral nose and additional notes of peach and apricots. Quite distinguished and really delicious.

• 2007 Kabaj Amfora: more austere than the 2006, similar in style to the 2005.

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Friday, May 20, 2011

Osso Buco and a Super Tuscan for dinner

The other day, I found some veal shanks at the store and decided to make Osso Buco, a dish where the veal is braised in wine, tomatoes, carrots, celery, onion, garlic, and herbs for at least 2-3 hours. The result is a full-flavored stew that calls for a rich and tasty Italian wine so I chose a 2007 Antinori Il Bruciato Bolgheri to accompany the Osso Buco.

Bolgheri is a wine region located on the southern coast of Tuscany and well known for its red Bordeaux style wines also called Super Tuscans. Thanks to a unique combination of sandy-clay soils, a sunny, dry, and moderately windy microclimate, and the effects of a maritime influence, Bordeaux grape varieties such as Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Cabernet Franc, and Petit Verdot, tend to thrive there. Before the creation in 1994 of the Bolgheri Rosso and Rosso Superiore DOCs (Denominazione di origine controllata), the Super Tuscans of the area—wines of high quality but made outside DOC/DOCG regulations—were typically sold under the simpler designations Vino da tavola or IGT Toscana.

Il Bruciato is produced by Guado al Tasso, Antinori's Bolgheri estate located on the coast, 96km (60 miles) south-west of Florence. The wine is a blend of 50% Cabernet Sauvignon, 30% Merlot, 20% Syrah and other black varieties. Fermented in stainless steel, it was then racked off into oak barrels, where it aged for 8 months before being bottled.

The wine had a dark red color and an aromatic nose of moka, licorice, and black fruits. On the palate, it was full-bodied with a juicy mouthfeel and a smooth earthy finish. The wine was quite tasty and I thought my Osso Buco that I served with Polenta was quite tasty too!

Osso Buco with Polenta

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Friday, May 13, 2011

Pinot Noir doesn't need to be that expensive to be good

It is true that Pinot Noir is one of the most expensive wine varietals. It is quite famous for being difficult to cultivate. The vines are not very vigorous and the berries have a very thin skin, which makes them especially prone to fungal infections. It is also one of the most troublesome wines to ferment, as its fermentation is fast and dificult to keep under control.

But if you're looking for a well priced and well crafted Pinot Noir, try the the 2007 Saintsbury Pinot Noir Garnet Los Carneros.

Founded in 1981 by winemakers Richard Ward and David Graves, Saintsbury Vineyards was named after English writer George Saintsbury, perhaps best remembered today for his Notes on a Cellar-Book (published in 1920). That collection of tasting notes and personal observations is one of the first books on wine written in English. The Saintsbury Club, a prestigious London dining club that still meets twice a year, was founded in 1930 in Saintsubry's honor.

The winery has been producing Garnet, an affordable and early-drinking style of Pinot, since 1983. It is made from Pinot Noir grown in the Los Carneros appellation, an area much cooler and windier than the wine regions further north in Napa Valley and Sonoma Valley. After the wines have spent a few months in barrel, the lots selected to become Garnet are assembled and the wine is bottled in early summer.

The wine shows a bright medium red color and a nose of violet and black cherry. On the palate, it is medium-bodied, quite juicy, and very refreshing. It is perfect to accompany grilled fish on the barbecue. Try it with Grilled Fish with Orange-Fennel Salsa.

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Monday, May 02, 2011

A very royal British wedding - in Menlo Park, CA

A week ago, we were invited to the wedding of a British friend in Menlo Park, California. Although Menlo Park is not Buckingham Palace, the reception was a royal treat. The bride and groom were totally charming, the location stunning, the ceremony very moving, the eight course Chinese banquet exquisite, and I had the honor of selecting some California wines for the reception and dinner.

Our first wine was the 2009 Stuhlmuller Estate Chardonnay Alexander Valley. Stuhlmuller Vineyards is located at the southern edge of the Alexander Valley, just north of the Russian River Valley appellation. The 150-acre estate vineyard borders the Russian River and has a predominance of alluvial gravel-type soils as well as some rocky soils in the hillside sections of the vineyard. The wine was fermented with 100% indigenous yeasts. Aging occurred in both barrels (94%) and larger casks (6%), all of which were French oak (8% new). 85% of the wine underwent indigenous malolactic fermentation.

The wine had a bright nose of citrus and stone fruit. On the palate, it was crisp, elegant with a distinct mineral quality. The wine worked really well with the various hors d'oeuvres as well as with our first course, the crisp Tempura Tiger Prawns served over a bed of spring mix salad.

Tempura Tiger Prawn Salad

There was a second Chardonnay for the remaining courses, the 2009 Crossbarn Chardonnay Sonoma Coast. Crossbarn is winemaker Paul Hobbs' second label. The wine was produced from selected vineyards within the Sonoma Coast appellation. 60% of the wine was fermented in tank, 40% in oak barrels using native and commercial yeasts. It was aged five months in French oak barrels where it underwent malolactic fermentation.

The wine had a nose of spiced apple and pear. On the palate, it was quite full and nutty with a creamy texture. Quite a typical California Chardonnay and a good accompaniment to the moist and flaky Baked Honey Glazed Soy Sea Bass.

Baked Honey Glazed Soy Sea Bass

Our red wine was the 2008 Chappellet Mountain Cuvée. The Chappellet Winery is located in Napa Valley, in the eastern hills between Yountville and St. Helena. It has been producing wines since 1967 and was one of the first wineries to be established in the Napa Valley after Prohibition. Mountain Cuvée is a winemaker's blend of Bordeaux varietals made for early consumption. It is 52% Cabernet Sauvignon, 43% Merlot, 3% Petit Verdot, 1% Cabernet Franc, and 1% Malbec.

The wine had a nose of dark fruit and coffee. On the palate, it was medium to full-bodied, with a round mouthfeel and a well balanced finish. It was very food friendly and worked particularly well with the Skaking Filet Mignon, cubes of filet mignon sautéed with lemongrass, onions, and garlic.

Skaking Filet Mignon

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Friday, April 22, 2011

Bordeaux tasting from the Right Bank and a couple of dry whites

The terms Left Bank and Right Bank refer to the banks of the Gironde river that flows through Bordeaux into the Atlantic Ocean. The Left Bank includes the Médoc appellation and its sub-appellations (Pauillac, Saint Estèphe, Saint Julien, Margaux etc.). On the Right Bank, we have Pomerol and Saint Emilion surrounded by their lesser-known (and generally less expensive) satellite appellations such as Lussac-Saint-Émilion, Lalande de Pomerol, Fronsac, and Côtes-de-Castillon.

Bordeaux Wine Region

The left and right banks are quite different in terms of terroir. On the left side of the river, the soil is mostly composed of alluvial gravel deposits. It is well drained and holds the heat well, which makes it ideal for Cabernet Sauvignon. On the right side, the soil contains clay enriched with iron, limestone and sandy gravels, which suits Merlot particularly well. Therefore, Right Bank wines have a much higher percentage of Merlot in their blend, which makes them more fruit forward with less tannins. They are also more approachable when young.

Our latest tasting included Right Bank wines from Lalande de Pomerol, Côtes de Castillon, Fronsac, and Saint Emilion. We also tasted two dry whites. Dry whites from Bordeaux are not as well known as their red counterparts and the region produces only a small quantity of dry whites from blends of Sémillon, Sauvignon Blanc, and Muscadelle. Graves is the most well-known region for producing dry whites and the only one that includes them in its classification.

Here are the wines that we tasted:

• 2006 Château Carbonnieux Blanc: Located just ten miles from Bordeaux along the Garonne river, Château Carbonnieux was built in the late 14th Century by the Benedictine monks. It is a Grand Cru Classé in the Pessac-Léognan appellation producing both red and white wines. The planting is 65% Sauvignon Blanc, 34% Sémillon and 1% Muscadelle for the whites and 60% Cabernet Sauvignon, 30% Merlot, 8% Cabernet Franc, 1% Malbec and 1% Petit Verdot for the reds. My notes: light golden color, nose of lemon and grapefruit, fresh and crisp on the palate, getting more complex with more time in the glass. A big favorite of the evening.

• 2005 Blanc de Lynch-Bages: Château Lynch-Bages was founded in the late 17th century by Irishman John Lynch. The estate is ranked a fifth grown in the 1855 classification but this only applies to the reds. It is located near the village of Bages, just southwest of Pauillac. The production is mostly red with a planting of 73% Cabernet Sauvignon, 15% Merlot, 10% Cabernet Franc and 2% Petit Verdot. There is also a 4.5 hectare plot planted with white varieties (40% Sémillon, 40% Sauvignon Blanc and 20% Muscadelle) that has been producing a white wine since 1990. My notes: unfortunately, I found one of the bottles oxydized. Light yellow color, stone fruits and honey on the nose, some thickness on the palate but not as good as the Carbonnieux.

• 2005 Château La Fleur de Boüard: Château La Fleur de Boüard was founded in 1998 by Hubert de Boüard, co-owner of Château Angélus, 1er Grand Cru Classé of Saint-Emilion. It is located in the Lalande de Pomerol appellation near the town of Néac, just at the border of the Pomerol appellation. The wine is a blend of 80% Merlot, 15% Cabernet Franc, and 5% Cabernet Sauvignon. It was aged 18 to 24 months in oak barrels, 75% new. My notes: dark color, quite closed on the nose, medium bodied, tannic on the palate, cocoa flavors on the finish. This was our first red and I realized too late that I should have decanted it. I decanted the 4 remaining reds afterwards.

• 2005 Château de la Dauphine: the Dauphine is Marie-Josèphe de Saxe, daughter of King Augustus III of Poland and wife of dauphin Louis, son of Louis XV. She was also the mother of the last three kings of France, Louis XVI, Louis XVII, and Charles X. She lived in the Chateau around 1750. The estate has 31 producing hectares in the Fronsac appellation. The wine is a blend of 90 % Merlot and 10 % Cabernet Franc. My notes: dark color, nose of berries and tart cherries, medium bodied, well balanced, pleasant finish.

• 2005 Château Plaisance Cuvée Alix: Château Plaisance is an estate of around 40 hectares that has been run by Philippe Magrez of Grand Cru Classé Château Pape Clément since 2005. The vineyard is planted on a very steep south-facing hillside in the Premières Côtes de Bordeaux appellation. The soils are made up of white gravel at the top of the hill and red clay and limestone halfway down the slope. The blend is 75% Merlot, 20% Cabernet Sauvignon, 5% Cabernet Franc. My notes: dark red color, gamey nose, round, spicy and meaty on the palate, mineral finish.

• 2005 Château Ferrand Lartigue: Château Ferrand Lartigue was founded in 1993 by Pierre and Michelle Ferrand. It is a 5 hectare estate classified Grand Cru in the Saint Emilion appellation. The wine is a blend of 85% Merlot and 15% Cabernet Franc. My notes: aromatic nose, earthy and smoky flavors on the palate, firm tannins, tasty.

• 2003 Château d'Aiguilhe: Stephan von Neipperg of Saint-Emilion Grand Cru Classé Château Canon La Gaffelière acquired Château d'Aiguilhe in 1998. The estate is located on hills overlooking the Right Bank of the Dordogne River, on the border between the Côtes de Castillon and Saint-Emilion appellations. The south-facing vineyard lies on the upper part of the hills and has excellent drainage. The blend is 80% Merlot and 20% Cabernet Franc. My notes: deep brick-tinged red color, assertive nose of raspberries and blackberries, still tight on the palate, full-bodied with multi-layered flavors, long finish. The big winner of the evening.

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Tuesday, April 05, 2011

My husband's Cailles en Sarcophage and a pretty good Burgundy

Since we saw the movie Babette's Feast, my husband has been dreaming of reproducing Babette's masterpiece: the Cailles en Sarcophage Sauce Perigourdine (Quails in a Coffin, Truffle and Foie Gras Sauce).

So suddendly the other day, he was ready. He found a recipe on the internet, ordered a foie gras, and bought some quails and frozen puff pastry dough. He didn't have any truffles but decided to use a combination of mushrooms and truffle oil instead.

He deboned the birds, chopped the vegetables for the duxelle, sliced the foie gras, stuffed and roasted the birds, baked the puff pastry, and finally placed each quail in its coffin. The result was amazing: it really looked like the quails in the movie! And it tasted very yummy too! The birds were tender and juicy with earthy flavors and the puff pastry was light and flaky and not soggy at all. We also agreed that having a small piece of seared foie gras to accompany the quail would have been even better.

The stuffed uncooked quails

The quails in their coffins

A 1846 Clos de Vougeot is the wine featured in Babette's Feast. I didn't have a Clos de Vougeot in the cellar but I found a 2002 Vosnes-Romanée Premier Cru Les Suchots Maison Champy. The Vosnes-Romanée appellation is located south of Vougeot in the Côte de Nuits. The vineyard of “Les Suchots” is considered one of the finest of the Vosnes-Romanée Premier Crus, approaching grand cru level in quality. It is located on a mid slope in the Northern part of the village of Vosne-Romanée, near the famous “Echezeaux Grand Cru”.

The wine had a deep red color and a smoky nose of cherry, violet and spices. On the palate, it was medium-bodied, quite complex, with mouth-coating savory flavors and great finesse on the finish. I don't know about the Clos de Vougeot 1846 that Babette served with her quails but our Vosnes-Romanée 2002 was not bad at all.

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