Tuesday, December 20, 2011

Recession Busters - Wallet Friendly Holiday Sparklers

   As we move towards the end of the year holidays, sparkling wine sales pick up quite a bit of steam. In fact, a large majority of producer's sparkling wine sales - by some estimates almost half - come in the month of December. And while true Champagne (which only comes from the Champagne region of France) is still the king, great value sparkling wines are available from many different countries.

For this tasting, we opened three sparklers from three different countries, all designated a "brut" or dry style with 12 or less grams of residual sugar per liter and all costing under $15. Two of them, The French sparkler from Varichon and Clerc and the Spanish Cava "Sonim", are made in the champagne method which involves inducing a secondary fermentation in the bottle by adding yeast and sugar. The carbon dioxide produced is the source of the bubbles. The Italian Prosecco from Zardetto is produced in closed stainless steel tanks where the same process is induced in a larger volume.
   The first wine in our tasting was the Varichon and Clerc, a French bubbly produced via the Champagne method from three grapes, Ugni Blanc, Chenin Blanc and Colombard. It retails at my local store for just $9.99.

Here we have fine, small bubbles with aromas dominated by nutty/yeasty tones. It was also very nutty in the mouth at first but with airing began to show some apple and pear elements. The nose also opened a bit more and showed some melon and vanilla. It's delicate, steely and finishes quite dry with good length. It's a great value at this price point. It's imported by one of my favorites, Maximum Wine Co.
   Next up at $12.99 was the Spanish Cava Sonim. This sparkler, produced from 40% Parellada, 30% Macabeu and 30% Xarel-lo, three indigenous Spanish grapes, had a much more pronounced leesy/nutty nose with vanilla and herbal tones. In the mouth, the Sonim leans much more to citrusy fruit tones, especially lime zest. It finishes dry and tangy with good persistence. It's imported by Aviva Vino.

   Lastly we tried the $12.99 Italian Prosecco from Zardetto. With this sparkler we found a much more fruit driven nose featuring apricot and melon with the nutty nuance clearly taking a back seat. This may have had something to do with the secondary fermentation occurring in tank as opposed to in the bottle. In the mouth, there was clearly more sweet fruit, again dominated by apricot and white fruits. It finishes long, yet still dry and though it's not quite as delicate as the Varichon and Clerc, If you like a fruitier style, this one's for you.

Imported by topnotch importer Winebow, this sparkler is a sure crowd pleaser. If I had to rank them in order of my preference, I'd go with the Zardetto as number one, followed by the Varichon and Clerc and then the Sonim. Still, they are all good values and present excellent examples of sparkling wines that won't bust your budget. They'll make great aperitifs to a special holiday meal. Happy Holidays and as always, cheers!

Tuesday, December 13, 2011

Chateau Pascaud '07

   Good, inexpensive Bordeaux can be hard to find. And for most common folk like me, it's usually an afterthought when it comes to everyday red. But when a decent steak or a leg of lamb are on the menu, red Bordeaux, which is usually based on either Cabernet Sauvignon or Merlot, can be the perfect fit. Tonight's entry from Chateau Pascaud was a $11.99 Bordeaux Superieur, an area that produces entry level juice for everyday consumption.

The vintage is 2007, a good but not great year in a zone where the weather still matters every year. In this case, the Chateau Pascaud is dominated by Merlot to the tune of 85%, with Cabernet Franc making up the balance. It's got very attractive red and black fruit aromas complicated by a bit of earthiness that became more pronounced as it aired. Both the '08 and the '09 should have a bit more stuffing than this '07 did, as both years were warmer and better. It's medium-bodied and very smooth and though it finishes a bit short, it went very well with a venison roast with chanterelle mushroom gravy, mashed sweet potatoes and roasted root vegetables (featuring baby carrots that just came out of our cold garden last week!). This attractive little wine is imported by Michael Skurnick, an importer with a wonderful portfolio. Cheers.

Wednesday, December 7, 2011

Purato Nero d'Avola 2010

   Some of my favorite everyday wines are coming out of Sicily these days. There's a purity of fruit, some stony terroir and prices that are extremely wallet friendly. A case in point is the lovely $9.99 Purato Nero d'Avola 2010. It's got big aromatics that bring to mind raspberry jam and baked cherries, brown spices and a distinct stoniness. There's a wonderful fruity mid-palate and excellent balancing acidity. In addition, this mid-week crowd pleaser is produced from organically grown grapes while the package features recycled paper, glass and vegetable ink. You can't much greener than that while you're tossing down red, that's for sure.

Produced by Feudo di Santa Tresa and imported by one of my favorites, Vias, this great little wine will pair perfectly with your bolognese, roast chicken, pizza or the rustic and delicious sausage and black-eyed peas my lovely wife Janet made us tonight. Cheers to one and all.

Friday, December 2, 2011

La Vigne en Veron Chinon 2009

  Chinon may be the most unknown appellation for American consumers of red wine in all of France. It's from the Loire valley and when most of us think of that region we think Sancerre, Pouilly Fume or Muscadet which of course are all white wines. Red wine from the Loire is not only uncommon but it is often just not very good. The reds are made from Cabernet Franc with an allowance for a small amount of Cabernet Sauvignon blended in. They used to be mostly thin, uninteresting wines that tended to be under-ripe and overly acidic. Nowadays though (and maybe this is partly another effect of climate change on wine production), there are new Chinons in the market that are fuller and fruitier yet balanced enough to pair with whatever you want to throw at them. Which brings me to today's offering from small negociant Foucher-Lebrun. Negociants are producers that source grapes from various growers (Jadot and Drouhin are well known negociants). So while their wines may not be estate grown and bottled, if their sources are good then the wines may be also.
   This 2009 Chinon was a perfect match for a beef brasciole that my wife made us today. It featured somewhat reticent aromas of spicy baked cherry and licorice, but flavor-wise it was very forward and easy to drink with medium bodied dark fruit flavors and that bell pepper quality that is very typical of Cabernet Franc. It finishes smooth with good acidity and cut that gives it a lingering freshness. Imported by one of my favorites, Polaner Selections, this Chinon is an excellent value at a mere $9.99. Cheers.

Sunday, November 27, 2011

La Valentina Montepulciano d'Abruzzo 2008

   One of the friendliest and most widely planted grapes in Italy, Montepulciano from the mountainous region of Abruzzo is usually an easy drinking red wine that will pair perfectly with your Bolognese or roast chicken. This example is from La Valentina, one of the most important producers in the zone, whose higher end bottling called "Spelt", usually receives accolades from the top reviewers. It is indeed an attractive wine, with baked cherry, licorice and a stony minerality on the nose. Small wonder, as the vines here live in stony soils at 500 - 1000 ft. in altitude. And although it has wonderful up front dark fruit in the mouth and excellent acidity giving it lift, it finishes with a bit of drying tannins that make me wonder if this bottling is a bit too serious for it's $11.99 price point. It seems that it could benefit from a year or 2 in the bottle. Still, at an everyday price like this, it's definitely worth checking out for yourself. Imported by Dalla Terra, a company with a very nice looking portfolio, this is still a fine example of Abruzzo Montepulciano. Cheers.

Sunday, November 20, 2011

Obalo Rioja 2009

   Here's a very fine little Spanish Rioja we tried tonight with some southwest style grilled shrimp that was very tasty. This 100% Tempranillo cuvee featured attractive blackberry and blueberry aromas along with a bit of spiciness. In the mouth it's quite fruity, round and nicely balanced without any trace of heat. It finishes smooth and lightly tannic. It's certainly not old school Rioja by any means and isn't especially complex. But it does make for a fruity, if somewhat simple quaffer that's a perfect weeknight accompaniment to whatever you're cooking....and it only cost me $12.99. One thing I really like about Spanish wines like this is that they are somewhat low-acid (a hot climate trait in general), and so they pair really well with some seafood as well as the standard meat dishes like grilled chicken, burgers or pork chops. Tonight it was great with the grilled shrimp but it would also go well with salmon or tuna, pan seared or grilled. Come to think of it, pizza's in play here as well. Cheers.

Thursday, November 17, 2011

Palin Carmenere 2009

   One of the great things about studying wine is that there is always something more to learn. According to Wikipedia, the Chilean grape Carmenere was one of the original 6 grapes of Bordeaux even though only 5 of them are what we usually see associated with that region today. And what makes that association even more interesting is that Carmenere has aromatic and flavor similarities to good quality Bordeaux. It's dark in color and puts forth very earthy aromas of plummy fruit and a bell pepper quality often associated with Cabernet Franc, an important Bordeaux grape in St. Emilion and Pomerol. It has a fairly big, fruity palate and finishes with more of those earthy tones that make a wine worth talking about. It finishes smooth with no alcoholic heat. Produced by Geo Wines and imported by one of my favorites, Montecastelli, this $11.99 wine is a great value, and it's organic as well.  So even though I skew old world when it comes to the greatest beverage, there's always great stuff to discover from the new world as well, and the Palin Carmenere is a great example of that. Cheers.

Tuesday, November 15, 2011

Vacu Vin

For those of you who sometimes don't finish a bottle with dinner, a must have for your kitchen is Vacu Vin. This handy little item allows you to preserve the wine left over for 24 - 48 hours or so. You simply insert the rubber stopper, press down on the stopper with the pump and pump the air out of the bottle. The basic kit gets you a pump and 2 rubber stoppers and you can always buy more stoppers. It's a great low cost way to save what you've left in the bottle for tomorrow, either for drinking or cooking. Cheers.

Thursday, November 10, 2011

Domaine de Villalin Quincy 2010

Quincy is a small Loire Valley appellation down the road from Sancerre that makes wines from Sauvignon Blanc only. I've mentioned in past posts that Sancerre is without a doubt my favorite Sauvignon Blanc and this version from nearby has a lot of the same qualities for a lower price. Yes the Domaine de Villalin Quincy is just a bit outside my everyday price range at $15.99, but this wine is really tasty. It's got all the grapefruit and lemon zest qualities that you expect from this grape and it has the same chalky minerality that really defines Sauvignon Blanc from this region in general. Imported by one of my favorites, Polaner Selections, this organically produced wine is a delicious selection to have with shellfish, cod or grilled trout. Cheers.

Saturday, November 5, 2011

"Steak House" Cabernet Sauvignon 2008

One of my biggest pet peeves is Cabernet that doesn't taste like Cabernet. Cabernet Sauvignon, along with it's plummy, black currant like fruit, is supposed to have an herbaceous characteristic. But when the grapes get too ripe and your end product is an everyday Cabernet that is now 14.5% alcohol or above, it ends up tasting more like Zinfandel....all jammy fruit and none of that herbal nuance that is endemic in good Cabernet. You've now ripened the complexity out of the wine. Well the Magnificent Wine Company's "Steak House" Cab from Washington's Columbia Valley was a pleasant surprise when we dove into one this week. It smelled like cab and tasted like cab and that me very happy as good Cabernet, even in the lower price points, is one of the greatest grapes. A project of K Vintners Charles Smith, the "Steak House" Cabernet has plenty of medium-bodied plum and black currant flavor as well as that tell-tale herbal quality. It's a very balanced 13% alcohol and it cost me a very affordable $12.99....and the package is certainly eye-catching and fun. Burgers, steaks and chops are all in play with this tasty wine. Cheers.

Monday, October 31, 2011

No Power, No Water Get Out the Corkscrew Pt. 2 - Ch. Helene Corbieres

Climate Change who? I'm getting tired of this people. Another freak storm, another 48 hrs. without juice. You can't tell me there isn't weird stuff going on, I live it. And the guys who work for our power company, they're wondering too. Time to spring for that badass generator putting out 10,000 watts or so. Anyway, enough whining, let's talk the good wine. Tonight's power restoration celebratory bottle was a 2009 Corbieres from Chateau Helene, courtesy of top notch importer David Bowler. Corbieres is one of those practically unknown AOC's from the Languedoc in southern France. But instead of being dominated by Grenache or Syrah, the wines of Corbieres are defined by Carignan, a grape with it's own unmistakable characteristics. The quality that stands out most to me with a typical Corbieres is a spicy element, both in the aromas and the flavors. Yes, the Chateau Helene Corbieres has attractive plummy fruit with a note of coffee, but the spicy element really adds complexity and interest. As we tried to figure out which spice it might be, my wife came up with bay leaf...and I think she's right. Add to that a soft, lush mouth feel with excellent fruit and a very smooth finish and you've got a great $10.99 value. Cheers.

Saturday, October 22, 2011

Di Majo Norante Sangiovese '09

Here's a lovely Sangiovese, the grape of Chianti, from a very good producer in an area not usually associated with this varietal. Di Majo Norante is located in Molise and is every bit a modernist producer in terms of their packaging and their marketing. Yet they still take as traditionalist an approach as possible in the vineyards. Sangiovese from southern Italian climes such as this makes very different wines than it does in Tuscany. No it does not have the delicacy or complexity of a good Chianti, but this version is a perfectly good every day wine, a perfect fit for a Wednesday night pasta or a grilled chicken panini....and it cost me a mere $8.99. This version is darker and riper than the Tuscan versions, with more blackberry rather than cherry and leather notes rather than floral notes. It's very soft, round and up front fruity and is another winner from Winebow, an importer whose portfolio you should seek out. Cheers.

Sunday, October 16, 2011

Off the Beaten Path; Spanish Albarino from Mardevinas

I like Albarinos, and it's not the name that rolls off your tongue when somebody asks you what your favorite white grapes are. Not many folks know about them, as evidenced by the fact that your local store no matter how big it is, will have 2 on hand, maybe 3 at the most. Albarino is a grape grown mostly in northwest Spain in the Rias Baixas (ree-ahs buy-shuss) DO. It is thought by some to be a clone of Riesling that was brought to Spain hundreds of years ago. It's name actually means "white from the Rhine". Anyway, this 2009 version from Mardevinas is typical Albarino. It's very aromatic with pineapple, pear and distinct floral elements on the nose. In the mouth, it's loaded with white fruit, a note of honey and excellent acidity and despite the sweet flavors, it finishes dry. These are great food wines that should not be overlooked. Fermented entirely in stainless steel at cool temperatures, this great little wine really lets it's varietal character shine. I've tried the 2010 vintage from Mardevinas and it is just as good as the '09. Imported by Grapes of Spain, this delicious white cost me $12.99. Cheers.

Tuesday, October 11, 2011

Domaine Boisson Cotes du Rhone '09

Yes, I sometimes sound like a broken record (you remember vinyl don't you?) but I can't help it. Cotes du Rhones are hands down my favorite everyday reds. For me, no other wines give as much complexity and pleasure in the low end category. 2009 was a fantastic vintage in the Rhone Valley and the CDR from Domaine Boisson is an absolute steal at the $9.99 my local shop is charging for it. This beauty is a blend made up of 60% Grenache, 20% Syrah, 10% Carignan, and 5% each Cinsault and Mourvedre. It's got all the stuff I love; big aromatics of bing cherry, pepper and Provencal spice and a big bold mouthful of dark berry fruit. It has excellent structure and finishes lightly tannic with note of minerality. I could easily go through a case of this over the next month. We sampled this beauty last night with some southwest style venison burgers with chipotle mayo. Imported by the wonderful small importer Alain Junguenet and his company, Wines of France, this is a portfolio to seek out. Cheers!

Tuesday, October 4, 2011

Lenore Columbia Valley Syrah 2006

Here's a new world Syrah from Washington state that certainly gives forth the flavor you want at it's $12.99 price point. Now I'm a big fan of Rhone Valley Syrah, but you can't touch good ones for less than 25 smackers. This version doesn't yield the kind of barnyard, bacon and dark fruit aromatic complexity of it's French cousins, but it is sure to please those who favor purity of fruit and new world size. Made by the Corvidae Wine Company and repped by one of my favorites, Polaner Selections, this everyday quaffer puts forth plenty of blueberry, blackberry and petrol in the nose, along with some alcoholic heat. It's got all the size and stuffing you expect from new world Syrah and it finishes ripe and smooth with a note of pepper. It's not exactly my style, but fans of new world fruit bombs will find a lot to like here. Washington State wines can be quite attractive as they are frequently fruitier than European wines, but at the same time a bit more restrained and balanced than wines from the hotter areas of California. In addition, I know this is an '06 but it was really quite fresh and showed no signs of falling apart. Cheers.

Wednesday, September 28, 2011

Menguante '08 - Old Vines Grenache

Here's another wonderful Spanish bargain that delivers more quality than it's price point might indicate. This nice little wine made from organically grown old vines Grenache hails from the lesser known DO Carinena, whose vineyards lie in stony soils at 400 to 800 meters in northeastern Spain. In Spain of course, Grenache is known as Garnacha. The family run winery that produces this food friendly quaffer is called Vinedos y Bodegas Pablo and is imported by Frontier Wine Imports. Though not as complex as the Guimaro Ribeira Sacra I wrote up last week, this $9.99 bargain gives forth plenty of enjoyment. Forthcoming aromas of baked cherry, blackberry and a bit of that Grenache pepper greet you, along with a little bit of alcohol heat. In the mouth it's nicely balanced, with dark berry flavors, a generous mid-palate and a lightly tannic finish. Carinena is a centuries old viticultural area that is the origin of Carignan, a grape most common in southern France. There, it is found chiefly in Corbieres and as a blending grape in more well known wines such as Chateauneuf du Pape. In Carinena though, it is known as Mazuelo. Cheers!

Sunday, September 25, 2011

I've sold out!!...but not too much.

Yes - I've become an Amazon affiliate but the news isn't all bad. Yes, I've put an Amazon widget on the blog but I can pick the products displayed, so the widget will always display something I think is worthwhile. In this case, it's Kevin Zraly's great wine book for neophytes, Windows on the World Complete Wine Course. It's a great book that explains the European wine system, where wines are named most often for the places they come from and what grapes are grown in those places. It's absolutely a must have for those of you embarking on your wine journey. It's also interesting to note that, having just passed the 10 year anniversary of 9/11, Windows on the World was the name of the restaurant at the top of the World Trade Center's north tower and Mr. Zraly was the wine director for 25 years or so. He is still active in wine education and his book was my introduction also. Oh yeah. Amazon does pay me a commission on sales, as long as you get there via this humble blog - and even if you buy a different product. Might I suggest a 50" TV? Cheers!

Tuesday, September 20, 2011

Guimaro '09 - Indigenous Grapes, Inimitable Terroir Spanish Style

On the whole, most Spanish wines deliver the goods for everyday drinking when it comes to unabashed fruitiness. But there aren't that many in the low cost category that deliver the kind of complexity that I search for. In 2009, Eric Asimov of the New York Times posted a feature on Rebeira Sacra, a little known area of Galacia in northwestern Spain. It's a fascinating article that documents the historical abandonment of vineyards on terraced land that goes back 2000 years and the recent rebirth of those same vineyards. These wines, made from grapes grown on incredibly steep, terraced hillsides, can really deliver flavors that showcase the slate and granite laden soils that they come from. Made primarily from Mencia and other indigenous grapes such as brancellao, mouratón and garnacha, the idea that wine can deliver a "sense of place" is evident in these wines. Which brings me to a great example of that idea for a mere $12.99. You're met right away with soil driven, mineral aromas that give way to blackberry and baked cherry. In the mouth, the Guimaro puts forth wonderful medium-bodied earthy, red fruit flavors and a long sweet finish. It's really balanced nicely and keeps you coming back for more. This is imported by one of my favorites, David Bowler. Don't miss it. Cheers.

Saturday, September 17, 2011

Buccia Nera "Donna Patrizia" Toscana Bianco '09

I know what you're thinking..."what the heck is a Toscana Bianco?" Okay, it's from Tuscany, but wines like this have a very generic sound to them. We all like to know what grapes have gone into the wine we are drinking. Often the varietal(s) are listed in small print on the back label, but how many folks know that? When they don't see it on the front, they move on. But hey, since I've touted the portfolios of certain importers a lot, the readers of this blog should be checking out the back label anyway. Then, when you see that a wine like the Donna Patrizia is from a reputable importer like the Maximum Wine Co., you should not be afraid to check out a $9.99 value like this. And when you do, you will love this wine. This beauty is an indigenous 3 grape blend comprised of 40% Malvasia, 40% Trebbiano and 20% Grechetto. It features soaring, exotic aromas of pink grapefruit, white flowers and a nutty nuance. It's flavors and textures are bolder than you expect at this price point, and put forth citrus, pear and mineral flavors that keep on coming. It finishes long with bright, balancing acidity. It is produced with organically grown grapes and is fermented entirely in stainless steel. This should pair nicely with lighter fish dishes or a simple grilled chicken. The Donna Patrizia is the sister wine of Buccia Nera's wonderful Guarniente Chianti, which I wrote up in April. Cheers.

Saturday, September 10, 2011

Colosi Nero d'Avola '09

Colosi is a producer whose wines I have been drinking for years. It's a name that is synonymous with quality year in and year out. Their '09 Nero d'Avola from Sicily is a case in point. This wine features beautiful cherry and violet aromas, bright, juicy red fruit flavors and a touch of minerality in the finish. It's fairly large in the mid-palate, quite smooth in texture and exhibits none of the baked fruit aromas and flavors that can sometimes accompany wines from hot climates. There's no over-ripeness here. And, at $11.99 it won't hurt your wallet. Nero d'Avola is the most important grape of Sicily and it comes in a range of styles. The style of this wine however is really easy to like. It's also a nice package. Imported by one of my favorites, Vias, their portfolio is one you should seek out. Cheers.

Saturday, September 3, 2011

No power, No Water....Get Out the Corkscew.

    I know it's been awhile since my last post but I was set back a bit by Hurricane Irene, which dumped about 7 inches of rain in our area. We were without power for a couple of days, a small number compared to folks just over the hill from me who still haven't had the lights turned back on. Our hearts go out to those folks in upstate New York and Vermont, areas hit especially hard. Wilmington, VT, a town we know intimately due to many years of skiing was destroyed. It's just too sad.
   We did get to enjoy some great wines by candlelight. One was a delicious Pinot Noir that is a private label project of Polaner Selections called Wyatt. It sports typical pinot aromas of bright cherry and cinnamon. In the mouth it has a very lush feel with bold cherry fruit, excellent concentration and good balancing acidity. It sells for around $15.99 and though I know it's a little expensive to be an everyday wine in these pages, it's a good one for Saturday night.

   Another delicious wine we tried was a fantastic and very affordable Vouvray from Domaine d'Orfeuilles. Good Vouvray has gotten so expensive so finding this $11.99 beauty made me very happy. Vouvray comes from the Loire Valley of France and is made from the Chenin Blanc grape. These wines are fantastic with seafood of all kinds, especially lobster, but they have the body to stand up to heavily sauced chicken dishes as well. This beauty features aromas of pear, lemon zest and a distinct stony element. Pear and mineral flavors are balanced by typical Vouvray acidity that keeps it fresh and lively feeling. These wines can easily age 10 or more years and develop more nuance along the way. I'm a big fan.

Wednesday, August 24, 2011

Santa Vincenza "Ventoso" Morellino di Scansano '09

Here is a lovely though obscure wine from the Tuscan coast called Morellino di Scansano. Morellino is actually an ancient name for Sangiovese, the most important grape of Tuscany. It's origins in the region go back to Etruscan times and here it's proximity to the sea, elevation and volcanic soils make very good and under appreciated wines. They can be riper and more monolithic than their more famous relatives from the region that Chianti comes from, but this wine is at once delicate and complex - and it sells for $12.99. This is a blend of 85% Sangiovese, 10% Ciliegiolo and 5% Alicante. It features very outgoing aromas of smoky cherry, violets and leather. In the mouth, it has bright medium-bodied cherryish fruit and finishes very long. I'm not really sure, but the bottler Santa Vincenza appears to be a negociant or a broker of some sort. Perhaps this is a private label of theirs. Either way, this is a beautiful wine for the price, especially if you favor finesse over size like I do. Enjoy it with grilled chicken, pizza or a light tomato sauce over you favorite pasta. Cheers!

Saturday, August 20, 2011

Crios de Susana Balbo Malbec '09 - Balanced and Beautiful

It's been awhile since I've posted as I was in Wisconsin for a Juvenile Diabetes Research Foundation fund-raising century bike ride. I had a great time but it's good to get back to the east coast where the wine choices are much wider. I've already written up the Crios Torrontes. It's one of the most interesting whites I've had this year and the red wine brother of that wine is the Crios Malbec. Argentinian Malbecs continue to impress me and the Crios is one of the best everyday examples I've had. It leads with complex aromas of chocolatey cherry, licorice and a distinct earthy note. In the mouth it's quite flavorful with fairly large-scaled dark fruit flavors and a long spicy, lightly tannic finish. This is a very nicely balanced wine that comes in at a very moderate 13.9% alcohol. When new world reds start creeping up into that 14.8 or 15% range I start to lose interest. For me, wines that are that high in alcohol can taste over-ripe, raisiny and hot on the back end. Plus, you can end up being kind of blotto by the time you are done with dinner. A great value, this beauty cost me $12.99. Cheers.

Our garden has been yielding a very nice bounty thanks to Janet - and she made us a wonderful meal. We enjoyed the Crios Malbec with sauteed chicken thighs with spicy cherry peppers and escarole (from the garden), a fantastic heirloom tomato (from the garden) salad with feta, olives and basil and zucchini with toasted almonds and parmesan. . The Crios went very well with the spicy chicken. Yum.

Wednesday, August 10, 2011

Pushing the "Reset" Button on California Chardonnay - Foxglove '09

As someone who has spent some time talking to customers in a retail operation, it has become apparent that Chardonnay lovers are becoming more and more enamored of unoaked versions all the time. The days of Chardonnay bottlings dominated by vanilla flavors and buttery textures appear to be waning. They are heavy handed wines that are low enough in acidity that they do not pair well with food and can in fact get "lost in the sauce". This entry level Chardonnay bottling of Varner Wines called Foxglove is a completely unoaked version that has garnered fully deserved accolades from wine writers much more important than me, and I have to agree. It sees no barrel and no malolactic fermentation whatsoever. Malolactic fermentation is a secondary fermentation that happens naturally and you either allow it to happen or you stop it. It converts the harsher malic acid into the softer lactic acid and it is what gives some California Chardonnays their buttery characteristics. I prefer the style that the Foxglove represents and it sells for an affordable $14.99. It has typical Chardonnay aromas of pear, apple and a note of honey. In the mouth the pear flavors really leap to the front and this lovely wine has a creamy, medium-bodied, somewhat oily texture and wonderful acidity that keeps it lively and fresh. It's bold enough to stand up to grilled chicken and delicate enough to pair with pan seared salmon or grilled shrimp. Cheers!

Wednesday, August 3, 2011

Indigenous Grapes, Inimitable Terroir....Di Giovanna Nerello Mascalese

Easy for me to say....call me crazy but I am a fan of grapes that only seem to grow in one or just a few places, and Sicilian wine is certainly not at the forefront of wine consciousness. Yes, everyone grows international grapes like Cab and Merlot but it is from wild places like this that you find great pleasure in wines like Di Giovanna's Nerello Mascalese. It's listed everywhere as a grape that is usually blended with other grapes. But here, it shines all by itself. No costars necessary. This is one of my favorite $12.99 wines. Beautiful aromas of smoky black cherry, nutmeg and a volcanic stoniness mesh with lingering dark berry fruit in the mouth. With excellent lift, it finishes lightly tannic with a note of coffee. I'm sorry, I can't get enough of it. Very few wines of such character can be found at this price point. Pairs great with a roast chicken, some lamb chops, burgers...you name it. The label says it is produced with organic grapes though the website doesn't mention it. Oh yeah, this was the 2008 but I bet they have very few bad vintages in Sicily. Either way, it's really good. Cheers!!

Monday, August 1, 2011

Zenato Pinot Grigio '09

I know it's been awhile since the last post, so humblest apologies. Whenever we think of Italian white wine, Pinot Grigio may be first on the synapses. Let's face it, it's everywhere and I don't think I've ever heard anyone say...."oh I don't like Pinot Grigio". I mean really, what's not to like. It's everywhere yes, but you do see the same factory versions over and over again...and there are differences. If I go to a restaurant and I see oh I don't know, Ecco Domani on the wine list I say, "nobody cares here". If I go to a restaurant and I see Santa Margherita on the wine list (for $45) I say, "they're taking the easy way out." There are versions of this taken-for-granted grape that are delicious and they are recession busting values. Case in point: the '09 Pinot Grigio from Zenato from top importer Leonardo LoCasio. This $9.99 beauty has wonderful pear and apple aromas along with a note of honey. The pear flavors really flow through on the palate along with a slight nutty nuance. It finishes with medium body and excellent balancing acidity. It's an excellent value.

We enjoyed this beauty with herb-stuffed whole grilled branzini, potato salad with curry and peas and grilled escarole with crispy onions. Yum! As Dizzy Dean once said, "It ain't braggin' if you really done it" Cheers!

Tuesday, July 19, 2011

Masciarelli Montepulciano d'Abruzzo '07

   Montepulciano is a fairly ubiquitous Italian grape that makes easy drinking and delicious red wines for everyday use. It is a late-ripening grape that makes wines that are generally big in fruit, low in acid and go very well with any tomato based sauces, stews or grilled meats. An indigenous varietal, it is second only to Sangiovese in terms geographic spread. Abruzzo lies just south of the Marche on the east coast of Italy. Apparently, Thomas Jefferson had a fondness for Montepulciano as well, though I'm getting the idea that there weren't many wines that he didn't like. This user-friendly $9.99 version from Masciarelli, a top producer in the zone, is one of my favorites year in and year out and the bold and fruity '07s can still be found on the shelf. The aromas of this Montepulciano present classic smoky cherry scents along with earth and a note of licorice. Big, mouth-filling baked cherry flavors and bright, balancing acidity make this beauty an excellent choice for Friday night pasta. Cheers!

Sunday, July 10, 2011

Clos du Mont Olivet "Font de Blanche" Cotes du Rhone '07

   I still love Cotes du Rhones. There are very few wines that serve up such complex aromas and flavors at their price point and are so versatile in terms of what you can pair them with. We've had CDR's many times with salmon, shrimp or tuna as well as just about any meat preparation. '07 was a great vintage in France's Rhone Valley as is the case with '09. But the '07's are special and now that they have had the benefit of resting for a year or two, they have smoothed out a bit and they are drinking really well. I am thrilled every time I walk into my primary wine shop and see that the owner still has the '07 Mont Olivet on the shelf. He either bought a ton of it or I'm the only one drinking it, which would be a shame. These wines are blends that are usually based on the Grenache grape with other grapes like Syrah, Mouverdre, Cinsault and Carignan filling out the blend. This particular beauty serves up quintessential Grenache aromas of cherry, raspberry, pepper and garrigue, which is kind of an amalgam all those Provencal herbs like lavender, rosemary and marjoram. This wine is sweet and smooth with bright cherryish fruit and a finishing note of licorice. An import of Michael Skurnick, this house favorite cost me $12.99. Cheers!

Tuesday, July 5, 2011

Another Great Spanish Value - Panarroz '09

   Here is another $7.99 Spanish bargain that I have to rave about - Panarroz. A three grape blend of Monastrell, Grenache and Syrah grown in the Jumilla DO, this great little wine serves up aromas of cherry, blueberry and a distinct earthy note. It's aromas are quite large and complex for a wine at this price point. In the mouth, it delivers bold berryish fruit, medium-bodied textures and a finishing note of pepper. A private label product of the fine importer Hand Picked Selections, this great value can be found almost everywhere. Year after year, Panarroz is one of the finest values on the market.

....and while I'm here, I have to give some props to our local artisanal pizza place since one of their pies is what I enjoyed the Panarroz with. Nomad Pizza in Hopewell, NJ is without a doubt the best pizza I have had in a long time - maybe ever. Owners Thomas Grim and Stalin Bedon had their wood-fired oven built in and then imported from Italy. Below is a pic of their Margherita with shitake mushrooms. They use as much local and organic ingredients as possible and their thin crust pies remind me of the individual pizzas you get in Rome. The salads are also great and it's a BYO but beware... they do not take reservations so if you are going on a warm summer night on the weekend, there will probably be a wait. I suggest going early, late or during the week. No matter when you go though, this place is definitely worth the trip!!

Wednesday, June 29, 2011

Muscadet and Shellfish - Made for Each Other

Muscadet de Sevre et Maine as it is officially called is a great summer white made from the little known Melon de Bourgogne grape. Equally at home as an accompaniment to shellfish of all varieties, or as a before dinner drink with appys, it is usually delicate but delicious. It hails from the lower Loire Valley and sometimes spends it's first winter "sur lie", which means that it was aged on its lees or dead yeast cells, thus adding a touch of richness. Last night's Muscadet was from Domaine de la Landelle, an import of the Maximum Wine Company. It cost me $12.99.
2009 was a wonderful vintage in the Loire and the Landelle featured beautiful appley aromas with a touch of toastiness from the "sur lie" aging. In the mouth, it was light and delicate with lovely apple and pear flavors and a finishing note of saline. We enjoyed it with one of Janet's specialities -
fettucine with mussels and fresh peas from the garden. This is a recipe we found in the NY Times and it has become a house favorite. A Muscadet such as this one or a nice Soave (as suggested by Eric Asimov, the wine writer for the NY Times and one of my favorites) both pair nicely with this dish. Cheers.

Friday, June 24, 2011

Guest Blog from NYC Nom Nom - The High Line

I'm very excited to post the second guest blog from Sara of NYC nom nom. Enjoy.

When I first read about The High Line coming to New York City, I was instantly enamored.  I'm sure the story has been romanticized, but I loved that someone went up to an old abandoned elevated railway that was about to be torn down and saw dreams of a park.  What other's considered an eyesore turned out to be a wonderland of flowers.  Nature had reclaimed this industrial remnant and someone had the foresight to realize that someday, it could look like this.

The High Line is now 20 blocks of a beautiful walking park on the west side of Manhattan (mostly along 20th Avenue from Gansevoort Street to 30th Street).  It has become my favorite place to stroll as well as one of my favorite places to have a picnic.  Chelsea Market is close to the southern entrance and you can pick up any number of fantastic eating items there (for some views of the market, check out this post).  There are a number of great places to sit and eat along the way.

There are small, local businesses that have stands along the way and sell all sorts of treats, including People's Pops, a homemade ice pop stand (also in Chelsea Market, more on them here) and Melt, which specializes in homemade ice cream sandwiches.

There are also a number of fantastic restaurants along the way (for more info, here are some posts on The Park, Cookshop, and one of my all-time favorites for a splurge, Colicchio & Sons).  One favorite activity among High Line strollers are the beer gardens.  On the South side is The Standard Biergarten, which is the "hip" place to have a beer and eat some brats.  On the other side of the High Line, at 30th Street, is a brand new beer garden called "The Lot on Tap" which is in partnership with Colicchio and Sons.  This is the opposite of the Standard, with food supplied by food trucks (a very popular NYC trend) and built on an old parking lot.  It is much more relaxed and more my vibe, but each have their own strong points.

We had Falafel from the truck on the right, Taim, and it was great.

For the next few weeks, AOL has a children's playground with inflated balloons. I wouldn't say it's hours of entertainment, but it's a nice way to end a family High Line walk in NYC.

For more pictures of The High Line as taken by my photography-genius sister, owner of Wackydog Photography, visit the full gallery here.

Monday, June 20, 2011

Fournier Sauvignon Blanc 2009 - A True Loire Valley Bargain

For me, the best Sauvignon Blancs in the world come from the Loire Valley of France and in particular, from Sancerre. The combination of citrusy fruit and a distinct minerality derived from soil particular to the area is uplifting. No other white wine except for Chardonnay from Chablis and German Reislings have such distinct soil driven elements in their flavor profile. Chablis and Sancerre actually share a soil, as the same vein of Kimmeridigian limestone containing fossilized shellfish runs through both appellations. This entry level Sauvignon Blanc from Fournier Père & Fils has all the flavor elements you expect from Sancerre at a bargain basement price of $11.99. In fact, I've been told that this cuvée is basically young vines Sancerre. It features all the grapefruit and wet stones aromas you expect from true to type Loire Valley Sauvignon Blanc, zingy citrusy flavors and perfect balancing acidity. It's light, crisp and it's a great summer quaffer. if you want to see what Sancerre is like without spending the usual $19.99, seek this one out. You'll get the idea.

Tuesday, June 14, 2011

Old School Rioja - Ramirez de la Piscina Crianza '06

Yes I've touted Spanish bargains on these pages and their are many of them for 8 or 9 bucks. But when you want to step up a bit and experience more traditionally styled, more complex Spanish wine for not too much money, here's one to look for. Made by Ramirez de la Piscina this Crianza Rioja (for me) is what Spanish wine is all about. The first known reference to it goes all the way back to to 873 AD and later it was officially recognized by a Spanish king in the 12 century. Tempranillo is the main grape of Rioja and it can be blended with Garnacha (Grenache), Graciano and Mazuela in varying amounts. The Crianza designation means that the wine was aged for 2 years with at least six months in oak barrels. This traditional Rioja has a particular smokey element in the nose. Some call it tobacco or cigar box. But whatever you call it, it's beautiful. Add to that the cherryish and blackberry like fruit, a subtle note of leather, good medium body and a slightly tannic but long, spicy finish and it all adds up to a wonderful wine for not too much money. We enjoyed it with an Italian lamb stew with fresh kale from our garden. This beauty set me back $14.99. It's imported by Tempranillo (yes, same name as the grape). Cheers.

Saturday, June 11, 2011

Crios Torrontes 2010 - An Argentinian Star

Here's a summer quaffer that is just beautiful. Torrontes is an indigenous Argentinian varietal which was probably brought to Argentina by Spanish colonists. It seems to thrive in cool and very dry conditions as evidenced by this version, whose grapes were grown in the northern province of Salta at an altitude of 5,000 ft. The Crios has a huge nose of flowers and citrus fruits. It's floral elements reminded me of Gewurztraminer and the citrus reminded me of Sauvignon Blanc. In the mouth, it offers outstanding concentration for a wine at this price point with grapefruit and peach flavors. It finishes very long with excellent balancing acidity. Despite it's size, this wine comes across as quite light on it's feet. Imported by Vine Connections, this delicious wine set me back a mere $11.99. Cheers.