Category Archives: france

Bordeaux, Finger Lakes, Mendocino, Chile, Spain

Had some good wines recently – the first three we downed at our cabin down in Kentucky on Saturday.

Reignac St. Loubes Grand vin de Bordeaux 2005
Julian and Sandra had been saving this bottle for a special occasion, so I was even more touched that they chose to share it with us. 🙂 Beautiful wine – nice and structured, super smooth. The finish was the stunner, in my opinion, with a resurgent kick of black fruit that lingered on and on. Blend of Merlot and some Cabernet Sauvignon.

Anthony Road Wine Company Rose, Finger Lakes
Jeff pulled this out of his remaining Finger Lakes collection, and I quite liked it. A little tart, and not at all sweet. We drank it cold out of the fridge, but after it warmed up some, it got a little more complex.

Edmeades Zinfandel, Mendocino County 2005
This was a bottle that had been sitting in my fridge for a bit, such that I’d forgotten when I bought it – think I bought it from Sam’s. Julian liked it a lot – in fact, he said that it was one of the few Zinfandels he actually liked. Heh. I thought it was a pretty nice example of a good Zin too – a little on the sweet end, but not overwhelmingly so like the Brown Zinfandel I had. Flavors of raspberry and mocha, with a touch of spice.

Chono Carménère Chile 2005
Paired this with the Katy’s dumplings and rice dumplings for dinner last night – it was I think the lightest red I had left in my fridge. Lots of dark fruit, and a touch of spiciness that complemented well with the chilli sause I liberally slathered on my dumplings. A little tannic on first taste, but it nicely softened as the night progressed and tasted a lot sweeter. Definitely a wine I’d stock up again in my fridge.

Bodegas Hijos De Juan Gil Juan Jumilla 2005
After climbing tonight, Julian, Sandra, Chuck, Roger, and Peter came over for some dumplings and wine. Julian and Sandra brought their bottle of Bodegas Hijos De Juan Gil Juan, a Spanish grape varietal I’ve never tried before (Chuck brought a bottle of Il Cuore, Barbera 2005 and I opened the bottle of John Christopher Cellars Epic 2003 – I’d had both on previous occasions). I liked it a lot – it was much lighter and softer than the other two bottles we had; perfect for a starter wine while we waited for the dumplings to boil. Ton of fruit in the mouth – blackberries?? – and very smooth.

Wine: For value for your money, anything but French

In a tasting of five under $20 bottles this week, I concluded that I should stay away from cheaper French wines. Granted, only two out of the five bottles were French, and statistically speaking, that’s not a decent enough sample size to work with. Still, wine tasting is first and foremost a sensory experience and is not, and should not be, math, and why insist on the French route when there’s a whole other world of cheap but delicious wines to taste?

I should note too though, Sihao’s distinction that one cannot objectively judge French wines for their value; he is partial to French, and more broadly speaking, old world wines, for the more subtle and elegant taste. Nonetheless, since my limited pocketbook has the final say most of the time anyway, I will keep my money away from the cheaper French wines.

Tasting notes:
We washed down a sushi dinner on Tuesday with a bottle of Monkey Bay Sauvignon Blanc 2006from New Zealand and a bottle of Domaine des Aubuisieres Vouvray Cuvée de Silex 2006, a Chenin Blanc from the Loire Valley in France. The SB was like I remembered it, light, lively, and fruity, and curiously I picked up some tomato garlic puree notes (think pizza) as well. In contrast, the vouvray was a little hard to swallow at first: it had the faint scent of cat pee that we would have thought to find in the NZ wine, and the body tasted like a boorish thick-set sort of fellow (kind of odd description I know, but that’s what comes to mind) with a somewhat harsh and bitter finish. None of the spritzy citrus-y aromas found in the SB, but lots of melon and minerally flavors. After sitting in the glass for a while, the Vouvray did mellow out somewhat, much to our relief.

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For dessert, I broke out the half bottle of Cabernet Franc Port 2004 from Tabor Hill Winery, Michigan that I had been saving. Pauline had given me a bottle of it a while ago, when she had visited Singapore, Michigan on a weekend road trip. I’d shared that bottle with her, and marveled at how delicious it was. Last year, when I had visited Tabor Hill with some of the DGS folks on our Memorial Day road trip, I’d tried to buy another bottle, only to be informed that it was sold out. Happily, Pauline had bought more than one bottle on her road trip, and just before she left for the west coast last summer, she gave me another bottle. This we had on Tuesday, paired against a double chocolate gelato. Aged in French and American oak, it had aromas of plum with a touch of spice, maybe some sort of herbs. Sensuous and silky, it just slid down my throat and I lamented the fact that I had to restrain from refilling my glass since I still had to drive home. Oddly, the port recalled a description by the San Francisco Chronicle used to describe baritone Dimitriv Hvorostovsky’s voice: “…a gorgeously dark, burnished tone and a voice that moves freely and without strain through a broad range, [the result of which was exquisite].”

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For dinner on Thursday, four of us ventured to a Columbian restaurant, and brought along with us two bottles of wine, a Ravenswood Zinfandel and a Bourgogne Appellation Bourgogne Controlee, Red Burgundy wine, from Domaine Digioia-Royer. The Zin, when we first opened, had the characteristic fruity notes of Californian wines and the slightest edge of a metallic finish in the body that I associate with zinfandels. I didn’t quite like the finish at first; it seemed a little hollow to me. But as it opened up through the dinner, it softened and became a lot fuller, and rounder, and was simply quite delicious and rich with our hearty dinners of skirt steak and pork rib tips. In marked contrast, the burgundy was a disappointment, especially all the more so since it came on the heels of the dozens of attractively priced wines that have blown my socks away in the recent weeks. The wine was weak and watery, and did not have any sort of distinctive nose. Not a wine to share in company, and not even a wine that I could enjoy on my own.

St. Patty’s Day, the Wine Way

In a very miscalculated move, we didn’t buy tickets to the Metropolitan Opera’s live streaming of Britten’s Peter Grimes, mistakenly betting that the seats wouldn’t sell out. Who knew. So, after a hurried cab ride downtown later, I found myself forlornly standing outside the theatre, clutching my brown paper bag of toasted sandwiches I’d picked up for the 4 hour marathon.

Since we were downtown already anyway, we decided to go wine tasting. Just Grapes, right by my workplace, has free wine tasting from 1-4pm every Saturday, so we headed on there. In between sampling the 5 different tastings offered, we enjoyed a good chat with the store manager and the wine distributor. Ah, for a different career change. Anyway, here are my reviews of the wines:

2006 Riff, Pinot Grigio, Trentino-Alto Adige, Italy $11
The store’s tasting notes: “The vineyard sources for most of this Pinot Grigio contain a substantial amount of dolomite limestone which has an obvious impact on the wine’s character and style. It is because of the contrinbution that these fossils (limestone) make to the wine’s character that they have been chosen to be incorporated into the label design as a reminder of its geological origin. Simple, with apple, lemon and light mineral character. Light body. Delicate finish. Drink now.” While I wasn’t too impressed with the body and finish (boring, with no obvious flavors or textures), I really liked its nose. I did get the scent of apple and some lemon, and could see it as a delightful cool drink on a sweltering summer day.

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2005 Franz Karl Schmitt, “Niersteiner Hipping,” Riesling Spatlesse, Rheinhessin, Germany $22
The store’s tasting notes: “The estate was founded by Jost-Schmitt in 1546, and has been in family possession since those days. Riesling is cultivated in some of the prime vineyards in Nierstein, including the classic Hipping. The grandfather of the present owner, also named Franz-Karl Schmitt, was renowned for his striving to produce great wines. He was the first to produce Trockenbeerenhauslesse in the Rheinhessen around 1900!” It’s difficult right off the first sip to pronounce that you don’t like sweet wines (which can be really tiring on the palate after a couple glasses), so it was with my experience with this. I prefered the bouquet proffered by the Pinot Grigio, but the gentle sweetness of this riesline was hard to dislike. It wasn’t cloyingly sweet, but the taste lingered on in my mouth long seconds after the liquid had been tipped down my throat.

2006 Rex Hill, Chardonnay, Oregon $22
The store’s tastings notes: “A crisp, yet complex wine, the 2006 Rex Hill Chardonnay represents the sixth vintage of Oregon’s original ultra-premium unoaked Chardonnay. To highlight the wonderful fruit and underlying minerality in some of the Wilamette Valley’s best vineyard sites, we ferment in small stainless steel to retain the fruit’s bright transparency and then age the wines on the lees to achieve a creamy mouthfeel. Aromas of candied citrus, plums, green apple. Good richness on the attack, with broad palate-coating flavors that echo the nose. The brisk acidity adds structure and freshness, focusing the mineral notes, and lengthening flavors.” It was quite exciting to identify the candid citrus (sort of like those sugar covered jelly beans one finds during the Chinese New Year festivities) and the green apple in the nose, but I couldn’t taste the same flavors in the body. I actually found the body and finish to be quite boring, but not achingly so – within seconds, no trace of its ever being there was left. I’m still not sure whether I prefer the oaked, buttery types of Chardonnay… should do a tasting sometime to tease out my taste.

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2006 Paraiso, Pinot Noir, Santa Lucia Highlands, Central Coast, California $24
The store’s tasting notes: “Paraiso’s flagship varietal. Wonderful Burgundian character: rich cherry and plum flavors with hints of spice, smoke, and toasty oak. All wrapped by structuring tannins and acidity. Amazingly food-versatile: salmon, roast chicken, beef tenderloin, you name it.” I profess to be quite partial to Pinot Noir, my interest in the grape stemming from a road trip Peirui and I made, oh, two years ago now (!!!). The nose exhibited the characteristics of the grape, but I was quite disappointed by the finish, which I found weak, almost watery. Chatting later with Janel from WineStyles, she confirmed my tasting notes, saying that the area saw too much rain in 2006. Ah.

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2005 Chateau Saint Andrew Corbin, Merlot blend, St. Emilion, Bordeaux, $23
The store’s tasting notes: “Garnet with a violet rim, spicy cedar, blueberries and tobacco on the nose. Medium weight with spicy cedar, blueberries and tobacco, great structure.” If I closed my eyes and sniffed really hard, I could just pick out the scent of tobacco and cedar, but my god, the blueberries! It just jumped right out at you, unmistakeable and completely in your face. I loved the nose. But alas, the body was almost unbearably tight, the tannins completely sucking out the moisture from my lips. I suspect though, that a few years in the cellar might do wonders for this wine.

It was still early when we were done, and the revellers were still crowding the hundreds of Irish bars in the city. So we made our way over to Randolph Wine Cellars right down the street, and engaged in an entertaining tasting with another distributor.

My notes:

2006 Licia Albarino, Rias Baixas, Spain $14
Heh, this tasting was right down my alley, since we tasted both the Albarinos and plenty of Grenaches, both grapes of choice right now. I thoguht the Rias had a very light nose, such that I couldn’t quite place the smell. Or maybe sensory fatigue was setting in already. But even so, I could definitely place the lemony structure in the body and finish, almost akin to lemon juice with a kick. Would be a delicious combination with a lightly sauteed fish – mmm, need to do another canoeing trip down the Wisconsin River this spring…

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2004 Atrea “The Choir,” Mendocino County $20
It’s a rhone varietal blend, with parts of viognier and roussanne. This one had quite a pungent nose of wood and earth. The heavier body would make it an unsuitable pairing with fish, but the distributor suggested heavy aged cheeses.

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2005 Moulin D’Issan, Bordeaux $16
A Bordeaux Superior wine, which doesn’t fall under the 5 growth system, this wine can be found in the Margaux region. Blend of 70% cabernet sauvignon and 30% merlot. Lots of bright fruit in the nose, with a little bit of oak. I thought it tasted a little green.

2005 Domaine du Grand Tinel Chateauneuf-du-pape $30
My favorite tasting of the day, very smooth and balanced, with a hint of orange peel and black plum in the nose and body. It’s a blend of grenache, syrah, and mourvédre.

2004 Domaine Raspail-ay Gigondas, Rhone $22
Eh, to be honest, I’ve forgotten the taste of this, and didn’t take down any notes since I was busy enjoying a long conversation with the distributor about how she fell into wines and the various wine trips she’s taken in France (damn the weak USD right now). I do vaguely remember thinking that it was quite delicious though…

My palate was a little tired by this point, but the green clad revelers were still out on the streets, so we decided to continue the celebrations in our own way by making our way over to WineStyles, where Denise and Janel gave us two tastings of “green wines,” wines made the organic and environmentally friendly way. Erm, I don’t have any notes of those tastings either… but I did leave WineStyles armed with a bottle of Australian Grenahce that Janel says would go great with lambshank or spicy fish. Mmm.

We made a pit stop at Binny’s next, but boo, they didn’t have any tastings available. Disappointed but not deterred, we pressed on next to Sam’s Wine. By that time, I think the tastings were already concluded, so instead I tasted some cheeses (and picked up a slab of pate), and a pizza beer (beer brewed with pizza ingredients such as tomato, mozarella etc. very authentic!). And I also got the bottle of El Tesoro (thank you Cristalle!). 🙂

And then, I was done. 🙂

All about Grenache

I think it began when I had the flights of “Back to Earth Reds” at Bin 36 and then the Bitch from Barossa Australia that I noticed how every bottle of Grenache I tried was not only attractively priced, but was pretty amazing in its taste and body with lots of complex flavors.

Consequently, I think it might be time to take a closer look at the grape itself, and pay more attention to the different styles I’ve had.

Grenache 101 from Wine Pros:

Grenache noir is the world’s most widely planted grape used to make red wine, sometimes made into a stand-alone varietal, frequently as a rosé, but most often as a backbone of red blends.

Used as a component in some Northern Rhône reds, nearly exclusively for Rhône rosés and as the primary component in nearly all Southern Rhône red blends, Grenache is probably most notable as the base varietal for Chateauneuf du Pape, Cotes du Rhône and Gigondas. In spite of its fame coming from French wines, Spain is most likely this grape’s origin.

Grenache is known by local names (alicante, carignane rousse) in the Mediterranean regions of France. Particularly important in the areas of the Languedoc and Rousillon, there are also variants with different colored berries: white grenache blanc, and pink grenache rose or grenache gris. Nearly three times as much grenache is planted in Spain as in France. The spanish know this grape and wine as garnacha or garnacha tinta, where it is the dominant red wine variety in Catalonia and prominent in Rioja. The grape is known in Italy as cannonau.

In the New World, Australia has extensive plantings of Grenache and has been very successful making full-bodied Grenache-dominated red blends. Until surpassed by plantings of merlot in the past decade, Grenache was the third most planted red variety in California after Zinfandel and Cabernet Sauvignon. Most of this acreage is in the Central Valley and used to produce bulk rather than premium wine.

An abundant producer of fruit, grenache habitually will “alternate” a crop of 8 to 10 tons per acre one year and 14 to 16 tons the next. The vine is very sturdy and woody, lends itself well to head or spur pruning, and survives arid and drought conditions better than less vigorous vines. Cool and damp conditions can cause “deadarm” disease in grenache, however, and its compact and well-filled clusters are quite prone to rot. Grenache is also susceptible to shatter or coulure.

The grenache grape is relatively low in both pigment and malic acid, and oxidizes readily. Although some 100% varietal wines are produced from grenache, particularly in Spain’s Rioja and from some “old vines” plantings in California, it is mostly used to “fill out” red blends and soften harsher partners, such as syrah and carignan.

On its own, grenache makes fleshy, heady, very fruity wines in their youth. They tend to age rapidly, showing tawny colors and prone to oxidation or maderization after only a relatively short time in bottle. The general character and mouthfeel of Grenache wines are more distinctive and identifyable than any particular aromas or flavors.

Partly due to its commonplace abundance and partly due to its hardiness in warmer climates that are generally considered to grow lesser-quality wines, Grenache has never achieved as much of a premium reputation as other red varietals. The group of California wineries marketing themselves as the Rhône Rangers are committed to raising both the quality and profile of this and other lesser-known grape varieties.

Over the weekend, I tasted a couple different Grenache wines: one at The Drawing Room on Friday (whose name I unfortunately did not jot down / cork I forgot to take with me, given our haste to make the movie), and a Domaine du Vieux Lazaret Châteauneuf-du-Pape at Kiki’s on Saturday night. The Domaine de Vieux Lazaret is a blend of Grenache, Syrah, and Mourvèdre (the latter two grapes I should really start paying closer attention to too, since they seem to appear frequently in blends with Grenache), and the wine has some flavors of incense, licorice, and red fruit. Pretty enjoyable, especially when paired with the delicious duck confit, though sadly, by the time we got to the duck, we only had a little wine left in our glasses. We only stuck with a bottle of wine that evening, given that we were attending the DGS event at WineStyles directly after.

Les Trois Petits Cochons’ Mousse Truffee

“Les Trois Petits Cochons’ signature mousse. This luxurious mousse features the gem of French cuisine – black truffle. Flavored with Pineau des Charentes and sherry, this mousse has an unbelievably silky texture and is perfect for the most elegant occasions. A real crowd-pleaser.

With this much French in the title it’s gotta be good. I stumbled on this pate from Les Trois Petits Cochons’ in Trader Joe’s. Savory with a great nuttiness to it, this is one of my new favorite treats. True to the description provided above, the mousse is silky smooth with nice speckles of black truffles. Mmmmm….I loves me some truffles. I snacked on it with cracked pepper water crackers and some brioche. There is a hint of sweetness to it that would make it go well with some apples or pears. I wouldn’t hesitate to throw in some mellow cheese, but nothing too overpowering like a blue cheese.

Available at Trader Joe’s, Zabars, and online at igourmet.

Chateau Bellegrave Pauillac 2003 – $30

 

I just recently had this bottle at a Cabernet Sauvignon wine tasting and thought it would have gone well with this pate. Savory and subtle with a great smoothness to it and less tannin than you would expect for its year, this is definitely something to drink with an equally subtle and smooth treat.

Cheers: Wines of the (or my) holidays

Wines of choice this holiday season (so far):

1. Tamellini Soave 2004 ($12):Damn good
Over dinner with the girls Maggie, Kayla, and Peiyun. Our shared Italian meal was excellent – simple, yet flavorful and tasteful. Peiyun admired the Soave too, which incidentally, I have another bottle that’s sitting in my fridge. Made of 100% Garganega grapes, the wine is a light gold in color with a heady apple and apricot perfume. Strong, luscious mouthfeel and finish, an elagant wine.

Eat – seafood pasta

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2. Domaine Weinbach Gewurztraminer Clos des Capucins Reserve Personnelle 750ml 2005 ($33)Damn good
This was one of the dozen bottles I picked up at the beginning of December, and actually, the most expensive one. Which was a little odd, considering my preference for reds, but the wine experts at Sams helped me put together my case, and they couldn’t help going on and on about the Alace wine. I broke it out last Thursday night, after a heavy dinner at Broadway Cellar with my favorite peeps who were in town. Peiyun wasn’t a fan though; I guess she didn’t quite enjoy the more restrained body with the slightest peppery finish. I thought it quite austere, a little chewy, and on hindsight, perhaps a wine better served with food.

Eat – asparagus methinks

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3. Susan Balbo Malbec 2005 ($16)Damn good
We opened this last Friday, post-dinner at Barbareebas, when we were lounging on my landing, playing my various board games. Definitely an easy to drink wine; lots of fruit in the nose – blueberries, rasberries. Very lush, and complemented the sponge cake that the girls got for Peiyun’s belated birthday.

Eat – chocolate and rasberry cake

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4. Turnbull Cabernet Sauvignon 2005 ($47)Orgasmic
If the Malbec was a youthful, exuberant wine, then the Turnbull could be likened to as a more grown up version. The Cabernet wasn’t as packed heavy with fruit as the Malbec – it was a thinner, more svelte, and much sexier version. Think slinky silver dress with those long gloves. Alright, I know I’m over the top with my descriptions, but I stand by my point: the Turnbull was sultry. The first sip took me by surprise: it was smooth, silky, slid down my throat, and I was smitten. I brought it over to Sandy’s for Christmas eve, and yes, it went well with the smoked turkey.

Eat – turkey! Or even on its own

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5. Clautiere Estate Viognier 2004 ($23)Damn good
I picked this bottle up on a whim over the summer. I remember the wine shop well: it was a small, boutique shop near UIC. We had stopped in after dim sum on Saturday afternoon, looking for some tastings, and I fell into conversation with the people working in the store. We gushed over viogniers, and she let me taste this one bottle. Last night, I popped the cork, rationalizing that no matter that I was alone at home, it was Christmas. A deep, golden yellow in color, it has a heavy nose of honeydew and melon. Thick, creamy body that just sits so right in your tongue, and rounded off with an earthy finish.

Eat – erm, I had it with instant noodles the first night, and then kebab the second. Mmm.

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The Dregs: Porcini Risotto with Truffle Butter

Next on my list of bottles to finish off was a nice Muscadet. I had a hankering for risotto and just bought dried porcinis and truffle butter for a steal. So the next logical step was the use up my old bottle in a nice rich risotto. The results were exactly what I was itching for. Each rice grain was tender with a little toothiness to it and had absorbed all the goodness from the porcinis, parmesan, truffle butter, and wine. This recipe was adapted from Mark Bittman’s recipe in “How to Cook Everything” my go-to book for basic recipes to embellish.

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Porcini Mushroom Risotto with Truffle Butter

(based off of Mark Bittman’s How to Cook Everything)

1 oz dried porcini mushrooms

1.5 cups hot water

4 cups chicken stock (I used organic free range chicken, less salt in it)

1-2 Tablespoons of butter and 1 tablespoon of olive oil

1 medium yellow onion minced

1 cup of white wine (ye old Muscadet)

1.5 cups Arborio Rice

Optional: Truffle butter/oil/salt, Grated Parmesan, Ground Pepper

1. Soak mushrooms in 1.5 cups of hot water (not boiling)

2. Warm stock on medium heat

3. Heat butter and oil on medium heat and saute onions

4. Drain mushrooms (should be all soft) keeping the liquid and cut mushrooms into small pieces.

5. Add mushrooms to onions and saute for a minute.

6. Add rice, let coat with oils.

7. Add white wine, stir rice and let it soak up the wine.

8. Add mushroom liquid, let rice soak up, stir a little

9. Add chicken stock 1/2 cups at a time, let grains soak up liquid, don’t let the mixture get dry enough to saute the grains Grains will get softer and fluffier. Stir if you feel you need to look busy, but honestly you could just let it sit there and it would be fine. MUST keep tasting though until the texture is right for you. 😉 May not use all chicken stock.

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“Rest little spoon, no need to worry.”

10. Spoon onto dish, mix in parmesan, and a dollop of truffle butter to taste. ( I mixed in my parmesan and then let my butter melt on top when serving so I could really taste the truffles)