Category Archives: Viognier

Santa Barbara Wine Country

Here are the main highlights of my trip to Santa Barbara. We stayed at the Hadsten Inn and Spa. Location wise, Solvang is the best jumping off point to all the wineries. Food wise, definitely hit Brothers’ Restaurant at Mattei’s Inn and Los Olivos Grocery Store for some snacks to go with all that wine.

Gainey

One of many tasting rooms, this is definitely part of the hook and look of Gainey.  Romantic and intimate this place looks like the site for weddings and events. Along with that however goes mediocre wine that isn’t too memorable. Most of it is drinkable, but none worth the price point or the heavy luggage to buy back. I would say this would be a pass for my next trip. Sorry Sideways!

Beckmen Vineyards

One of my favorite wineries in this region by far, Beckmen puts thought and time into every bottle. It was very hard to choose, but we ended up with a case of the marsanne. My sister bought a case of one of the whites. The tasting room is a lackluster basic room with the usual  tshirts and trinkets. What it lacks in presentation, the wine more than makes up for in taste. I recently bought the Grenache which is more widely available to a party and it was deliciously jammy yet complex. I am a fan!

Blair Fox

This little gem is a part of the stretch of tasting rooms found in Los Olivos.  The main event is really the syrah from this little vineyard. It definitely leaves an impression and hits all the right notes. With the blessing of demi-god Robert Parker, their wines are becoming more and more widely available outside the local area. Complex with good spice and character, I would reach for their Syrah above all else.

Epiphany

I’ve had some pretty tasty wines from this particular winery while perusing various stores in Chicago and NYC. So when I had the opportunity to go to the tasting room, I jumped. Unfortunately, my expectations fell a little short. Maybe it was the fact that my expectations had been high, but the pours seemed uninteresting but drinkable.  All the glasses were consistently good, but not great and definitely not worth some of the price points.  I would say stick with the edited selection of your local wine store, there is a reason why certain bottles gain their popularity.

Cold Heaven

The wines from this relatively new winery are definitely a labor of love and it shows. Focusing mainly on viognier, Cold Heaven brings out the complexity and elegance this particular varietal deserves.  What struck me the most about these wines is their ability to develop over time and open up like a red.  Many viogniers and whites are ready for the drinking the minute the cork is popped, but with these you miss out on an astounding development of character. The sommelier was kind enough to show us the difference between a bottle opened from the day before and one opened a few minutes ago. Both were delightful, but the former had a mellower character and developed a whole new flavor profile.  I would buy a couple bottles from here just to open and see what happens over time. The Saints and Sinners was one of my favorites.

Taste of the Valleys

Located in the heart of Solvang, this little tasting room has a well edited list of the brightest and best of the local wineries. If you are afraid of missing that one great find this is the place to seek it out at the end or beginning of your trip.  If I had to do it all over again, I think I would have come here first instead of towards the end of the trip to get a sense of where I wanted to visit. The best part of this place is their offerings of Au Bon Climat, lovingly nicknamed ABC. ABC doesn’t have their own tasting room so this is the place to go to get some tastes in.

Au Bon Climat

Don’t let the guy in the mullet on the homepage fool you, Jim Clendenen definitely knows what he’s doing. ABC has some of the best Pinot Noirs and Chardonnays of this region.  Silky smooth with a leaning towards the Burgundian style of wine making, this winery plays to my heart strings, but not so much to my wallet. Like a true Burgundian the price point is a little steep for some of my favorites, however I suspect the cheaper bottles would age into beauties given a little time. Buy for now and drink for later.

The Dregs: Chicken, Potato, Leek Soup

Chicken, Potato, Leek Soup
1.5 lbs Leeks (diced tender greens only)
5 cups chicken stock
3 Medium Potatoes cubed
1 small onion diced
4 boneless chicken thighs
Handful of fresh tarragon coarsely chopped
1 cup of white wine (cheap TJ’s Honeymoon works great!!)
Olive oil
1/6 cup heavy cream
3 garlic cloves peeled

1. Heat pan on high with olive oil
2. Brown chicken thighs
3. Take out thighs and set aside
4. Place leeks, garlic, and onion in pan
5. Add potatoes once leeks wilted
6. Pour in white wine
7. Sauté for few minutes
8. Pour in chicken stock and simmer until potatoes tender and soft
9. Dice chicken and add
9. Add in tarragon and heavy cream
10. Serve with crust bread

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. 🙂

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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Honey Moon Viognier

Honey Moon Viognier (California, 2005)– $6- Damn Good 😉

Trader Joe’s has done it again! This cheap tasty bottle of viognier has the complexity and beautiful floral fruity notes of a more bling worthy bottle. Sweet with apricot, peach, and pear with a slight hint of mineral to the finish and a nose to match, this is definitely a great deal for parties or recipes calling for white wine. The prius of wines, this little gem is economical, quality, and something you can have around without the guilt.

Sniff-floral, salt

Sip- apricot, peach, pear, melon

Eat- seafood, chicken, chocolate, light dessert

Wine Pairings from a Novice


I hosted October’s Dead Grapes Society Meeting and decided to concentrate on pairings. It was definitely a challenge deciding what recipes would bring out the flavors of each type of wine not to mention could be prepared in a reasonable time frame. So I decided to go with a wide variety of flavors to try and cover all our bases.

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Here is our menu with pictures, recipes, and tasting notes to follow

SAVORY

Cheeses
Blue Cheese
Port Salut
Brie (Double Cream)
Polder Blanc Goat Gouda
Raspberry Jam to complement

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Mains
Polenta Fritters seasoned with red pepper flakes, oregano, and parmesan
Mini Beef Wellingtons
Bacon Wrapped Dates with Parmesan Cheese
Chicken Kebabs with Red Peppers, Onions, Crimini Mushrooms, and Bacon Wrapped Prunes

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SWEET

Chocolates
Dark Lindt Thins 85% Cocoa
Bittersweet with Nouguat 72% Cocoa
Milka Milk Chocolate 50% Cocoa
Milka White Chocolate 0% Cocoa

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Fruit and Nuts
Fresh Fruit- Pears, Bananas, Honey Crisp Apples, Cantalope, Strawberries
Dried Fruit- Dates, Prunes, Apricots, Cranberries
Honey Roasted Almonds

Dessert
Cream puffs with Bittersweet Chocolate Whisky and Cherry Liquor Sauce and Homemade Caramel Sauce

RECIPES

I gathered most of these off the net with some minor adjustments.

Mini Beef Wellingtons
1 Steak cut into rough 3/4 inch cubes
Chilled Refridgerator Crescent Dough (makes four per crescent, wraps 48 cubes per tube)
Boursin Cheese

1. Quarter a piece of crescent dough
2. Place a 1/4 teaspoon dollop of boursin cheese in center
3. Place a cube of steak into the center a wrap dough around it, try to fuse all the seams
4. Bake at 400 degrees until golden brown
Can be made ahead and frozen, bake straight from the freezer, no need to thaw.

Bacon Wrapped Dates
Seeded Dried Dates
Parmesan (not grated)
Bacon Strips
toothpicks

1. Cut parmesian into match stick pieces
2. Place cheese into date
3. Wrap with bacon (1/3 of a strip will do it)
4. Secure with toothpick and bake at 400 degrees, turn after 10 minutes, bake until bacon is browned

Chicken Skewers
Red Peppers
Chicken thighs cubed
Mushrooms
White Onions
Italian Seasoning
Prunes
Bacon
Bamboo Skewers

1. Chop onions, red peppers, chicken and mushrooms into bite size pieces
2. Wrap prunes with bacon (1/3 strip)
3. Skewer each alternating
4. Dust with italian seasoning
5. Place on baking tray
6. Bake at 350 degrees for 20 minutes, until bacon is browned and chicken well done

TASTING NOTES

Chateau de Beauregard-Ducourt 2005 (80% Merlot/ 20% Cab)-$13– beef wellington, bacon dates, dark and bittersweet chocolate, port salut, brie, chocolate covered fruit
Despite being decanted for 1+ hour, the majority of us felt that this was a harsh minerally bordeaux that definitely needed food to take away from its chalky finish. It was noted that it brought out the meatiness of the beef wellington and paired particularly well with the bacon dates. The tannins in this pour definitely calls for a rich dish to cut through.

Domaine des Chazelles Vire-Clesse 2005 White Burgundy-$17– chicken, polenta, goat cheese, port salut, brie,
This was one of the favorites of the night. It had a savoriness to it that was described as cheesy and rich flavor. The polenta and goat cheese went particularly well with it as well as the chicken kabobs. Mellow and deep, this white burgundy paired easily with a wide variety of foods.

Domaine des Gatilles Chiroubles Cru du Beaujolais 2004-$13– bacon dates, strawberries, raspberries, port salut, brie, dark, bittersweet chocolate
This wine paired beautifully with strawberries and on the savory end the beef wellingtons. It was very fruity and light, a very drinkable wine although not very distinctive.

Les Tours d’ Amelie Viognier 2005-$12– chicken, polenta, bittersweet, milk chocolate, blue cheese, goat cheese, dried apricots, dates
Crisp and tart, this viognier went well with fruit, particularly cantalope, pears, and dried apricots. The blue cheese and chicken went well with it too. Most felt that it was high in acidity and was complex. More on the mineral side of the spectrum and less floral, this pour showed good depth of flavor. On the nose it was surprisingly savory reminiscent of aged cheese, but on tasting had the characteristic crispness of viognier. This was definitely another favorite of the night.

d’Arenberg Vintage Fortified Shiraz Port 2002-$30– milk chocolate, caramel, white chocolate, fruit, brie, cream puffs, almonds, dried fruit, chocolate covered fruit
Although described as being part of the tawny spectrum of ports by the wine sellars, we felt that this definitely hovered towards the ruby style of ports. There wasn’t the sense of caramel or raisin notes that you would find in tawnies. However, the more caramel toasted nature came out with honey roasted almonds, and it paired wonderfully with chocolate. Notes of chocolate were found by most everyone in our group. Things to avoid were lighter sweet fruits like strawberries that brought out the berry quality of this port and made it border on cough syrup.

Chateau Huradin Ceron Sauternes 1999-$20– white chocolate, blue cheese, cream puffs, almonds, dried fruit, caramel, pears
Golden yellow in the bottle, this Sauternes was rich and sweet, some felt however that it lacked much depth or flavor. Although for the price and for the concentrated sweetness, its not bad for a Sauternes. This particular year is supposedly one of the better ones for the vineyard in terms of forming the nobel rot. However, most of the group felt it fell flat on its own. However, it paired well with blue cheese, cream puffs, caramel, and fruit. The food brought out interesting notes of apricots and burnt sugar.

Recipes for the lazy

I’m a lazy cook, especially if I’m dining alone, so I usually opt for simple, easy to make dishes that use a minimal number of utensils and pans. Typically, on the rare occasion when I elect to cook, sautéed onions, mushrooms, green peppers and generous slices of spicy sausages drenched in pasta sauce and wine marinate is my dish of choice – washed down with a glass or two of red.

On Sunday though, I was craving some fish, and consequently headed out to buy a couple slabs of tuna steak. I rubbed pepper and salt into the fish, and doused it with some Viognier (Alamos, Viognier 2006, Mendoza Argentina) that I was drinking for good measure. While I left it to marinate, I sautéed some onions, mushrooms and baby carrots in a pan heated with a dab of olive oil. When the carrots were soft enough, I threw in the steak. Simple, and delicious.

I still have some of that Viognier left, and right now I’m kind of craving a steaming bowl of macaroni soup with shredded chicken. Figure I’ll just cook the macaroni in some chicken stock with generous shreds of chicken, and some of my leftover carrots. Nice and simple. Alas, I won’t be in town tonight and possibly won’t make it back in time for dinner tomorrow night, but if all goes to plan, I’d be enjoying the dregs of the Viognier along with the soup on Thursday. While watching Private Practice online. Hehe.