Thursday, January 20, 2011

How Wine Became Modern at SFMOMA

Last week I went to see “How Wine Became Modern: Design + Wine 1976 to Now” currently at SFMOMA. 1976 is of course the year of the Judgment of Paris, the legendary California vs. France tasting, which is showcased by a large floor-to-ceiling mural at the entrance of the exhibit.

Overall, the exhibit is more design than wine tasting, winemaking, and grape growing. One of the first galleries is about winery design, from traditional to ultra modern. The next room shows innovative glassware and decanter design, and an entire wall is covered with wine labels.

There are a few displays more dedicated to grapes and vines. At the “smell wall”, visitors can inhale from several flasks of wine and try to identify aromas like Riesling's petrol or Sauvignon Blanc's gooseberry. The terroir display introduces the concept of terroir with soil samples from famous vineyards around to the world. And there is a superb giant grapevine suspended in the air showing an extensive root system.

The popular media display shows how wine critics, magazines, and books have fashioned popular tastes. I even found my favorite manga there, Tadashi Agi's The Drops of God, the comic that has so drastically influenced wine sales in Japan and Korea.

The exhibit is fun to see but I also highly recommend the remarkable Henri Cartier-Bresson retrospective on the museum's third floor. It is showing until the end of January.

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Sunday, January 16, 2011

Napa Cellars wines: tasty and well-priced

Before the holidays I received four new release samples from Napa Cellars, sent to me by Balzac Communications. I thought these wines were pretty tasty, food-friendly, and really well-priced. For instance, you can currently find the 2009 Napa Valley Chardonnay for $13.99 at Bevmo.

Although Chardonnay is the winery's most popular varietal, Napa Cellars produces wines from seven varieties including Sauvignon Blanc, Chardonnay, Zinfandel, Merlot, Cabernet Sauvignon, Pinot Noir, and Syrah. Grapes are sourced from different areas of the Napa Valley, and lots from diverse climates are often blended together to obtain a consistent quality and balance.

The director of Winemaking is Joe Shirley, a California native raised in Napa Valley. Before Napa Cellars, he worked at Sonoma Cutrer and Trinchero Winery. He's been also involved in research while he was studying enology at UC Davis. He co-authored a paper on grape seed extracts and also a study published in the British Medical Journal The Lancet that showed that chocolate was a more powerful antioxidant than many common foods, such as prunes and blueberries.

Here are the wine samples that we tasted:

• 2009 Napa Cellars Sauvignon Blanc Napa Valley: sourced from vineyards in Yountville and the warmer Chiles Valley, the wine is cool-fermented in 100% stainless steel tanks. To retain the wine's acidity, no secondary fermentation is allowed . The wine exhibits a light yellow color and a fresh nose of grapefruit and citrus. On the palate, it is medium bodied with a rounded mouth feel and lively fruity flavors. Try it with Steamed Mussels in White Wine broth

• 2009 Napa Cellars Chardonnay Napa Valley: sourced from a collection of vineyards located in South Napa, Oakville and Atlas Peak. The fruit from the cool southern part of the valley adds acidity to the blend while the fruit from Oakville adds riper flavors. A quarter of the juice was cold fermented in stainless steel, the rest in small French oak barrels. The wine has a golden color and crisp braeburn apple aromas on the nose. On the palate, it is medium-bodied with peach & cream flavors and notes of vanilla spice on the finish. Try it with Seared Halibut with Haricots Verts, Scallions, and White Wine Sauce

• 2009 Napa Cellars Chardonnay Mount Veeder: sourced exclusively from the estate vineyard atop Mount Veeder. Located west of Napa and Yountville, within the Mayacamas mountain range that separates the Napa and Sonoma valleys, Mount Veeder is the largest AVA within Napa Valley but makes only about 1.3% of total Napa Valley production. It is characterized by a rugged mountain terrain, thin volcanic soils, and labor-intensive viticulture. Wines from the Mount Veeder AVA are typically powerful in structure. The Mount Veeder Chardonnay is produced from grapes that are hand-picked, crushed, pressed, fermented, and left on the lees for six months in 100% French oak barrels. The wine has a golden color with notes of caramel and tropical fruits on the nose. On the palate, it is rich and round with hints of bitter almonds and toasty oak on the finish. It is a more serious than the Napa Valley Chardonnay. Try it with Salmon with Lentils and Mustard-Herb Butter.

• 2007 Napa Cellars Syrah Dyer Vineyard: the Dyer Vineyard is situated on the sunny, northwest hillside of the cool Los Carneros AVA. The vineyard has minimal irrigation. Grapes are cold soaked for 24 hour after crushing and skins are pressed off early to avoid excessive seed tannin extraction. The resulting wine is aged in both French and American oak for 16 months. It is deep in color with a nose of black cherry and pepper. On the palate, it is medium bodied, well balanced with a smooth mouthfeel, leaving flavors of sweet black berries, spices, and notes of oak. Try it with Lamb Chops with Mushroom Wine Sauce

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Sunday, January 09, 2011

A 20 Year Old Yquem for the holidays

During the holidays, my husband made his traditional foie gras and our friend Marcus brought a 1991 Château d'Yquem to accompany it. The foie gras was delicious as usual but I have to say that the 20 year old Yquem was particularly remarkable.

My husband's foie gras

Sauternes is the classic pairing with foie gras as the luxurious sweetness of wine is able to stand up to the rich fatness of the foie gras. These wines come from the Sauternais region located 40 km (25 miles) southeast of Bordeaux along the Garonne river and its tributary, the Ciron. The Ciron river has cooler waters than the Garonne and in autumn, when the spring-fed stream of the Ciron River meets the warmer Garonne, mists develop and stay in the vineyards from evening to late morning. This moisture promotes the development of the Botrytis cinerea fungus on the grapes. However, by mid day, the sun helps dissipate the mist and the infection can develop into noble rot rather than the malevolent grey rot. Noble rot removes water from the grapes and causes the grape to concentrate sugars and flavors while maintaining high levels of acidity. It also affects the grape's flavor compounds and that's what differentiates botrytied wines from wines that are sweet because of fortification, drying, or being harvested late.

In the Sauternais, harvests are very labor-intensive and costs of production are high. During harvest, skilled workers hand-pick only berries that have been properly infected with the fungus and multiple passes throughout the vineyard are required over a couple of weeks.

Château d'Yquem is the most famous of all the Sauternes. The Yquem property once belonged to Eleanor of Aquitaine as part of her duchy. It was also Thomas Jefferson's favorite white wine: during a visit to the Château, he ordered 250 bottles of the 1784 vintage. Château d'Yquem is the only white Bordeaux rated Premier Cru Supérieur (Superior First Growth) by the Bordeaux Classification of 1855.

1991 was a difficult vintage in the Sauternais. It was characterized by a devastating spring frost followed by a hot summer. Then storms in August prompted botrytis to attack the vines and picking began early in late September. Harvest workers had to avoid picking the grey rot infected berries.

When we poured the 1991 Château d'Yquem, it showed a beautiful deep amber color. The nose had subtle aromas of honey and dried apricots. On the palate, the wine was not overly sweet, unctuous with some acidity, and a touch maderized, which somewhat added an unusual layer of complexity. The best was taking a sip of it just after a piece of foie on toast sprinkled with coarse sea salt.

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