Sunday, December 30, 2007

Syrah Pairing: Hearty Minestrone

One of the problems we have is that we generally eat white fish or poultry so we are often forced to open a bottle of white to go with our meal. I like white wine but, this time of year, I just want red.

When we decided we were going to open the Bartholomew Park Syrah, I decided I'd pull some pork spareribs we had on hand out of the freezer just so we wouldn't have to post another "goes good with spaghetti" blog entry. It turned out to be a good match.

The BartPark Syrah has an aroma foundation of tobacco and red berry. When paired with the spareribs, I also picked up a definite cumin note.

(c)2007 SmellsLikeGrapeLast night we finished the bottle with some homemade minestrone--another satisfactory pairing. Somewhere between the soup, and the dark chocolate, I took a whiff of my wine and got chocolate-rasberry! We have a few more bottles to 'lay down' (ha ha) and see how they progress. We are also facing the reality of needing to do something about our wine storage... More on that in future posts.


Saturday, December 29, 2007

"Old Reliable" and a Sonoma Valley Syrah

Click to enlarge. (c)2007 SmellsLikeGrape
We visited Bartholomew Park Winery last October and tasted some mighty good wine. The wine we present tonight is from Sonoma Valley where Bartholomew Park’s Estate Vineyard is located at the base of the Mayacamas Mountain range, tucked up by the Arroyo Seco. Warm temperatures, constant breezes and excellent drainage make this vineyard ideal Syrah producing land.

The vineyard is on a west facing slope and was planted with clones 877, 470 and Alban Hermitage vines in 2002 on a vertical trellis system. The Syrah is planted in the coolest part of the vineyard, slowing down the ripening of the fruit.

The grapes are hand harvested and fermented with a prepared yeast in stainless steel tanks with gentle pump-overs. The wine is aged in French oak barrels, 30% new for 14 months. The production was 1155 cases. BartPark wines are only available through the winery.

Pictured here is my trusty heavy helix corkscrew. This corkscrew and I go back to my graduate student days when I found it at a yard sale for $0.50. This is one of the best buys of my life and has been with me on moves to six states. This little beauty has never failed to extract a cork for me.

Click to enlarge. (c)2007 SmellsLikeGrape

Syrah, Estate Vineyard
Bartholomew Park Winery
Sonoma County
Vintage: 2005
AVA: Sonoma Valley
Alcohol: 14.0%
pH: 3.67
Acidity: 0.60 g/100mL
Price: ~$38.00

Color: Ruby Red
Intensity: Moderate
Aromas: Blackberry, cherry, jam, raisin, currant, oak, smoky, earth, struck flint, toast
Flavors: Blackberry, cherry, prune, black current, mint, anis, allspice, cinnamon, black pepper, smoked meat, oak, smoky, tobacco
Body: Full
Acidity: Moderate
Sweetness: Dry
Tannins: Suede
Finish: Long

Click to enlarge. (c)2007 SmellsLikeGrapeSummary: Interesting intense black fruit and suede tannin structure. Very beautiful red color just invites you to admire the color of this wine. The wine kept me coming back to see what would be revealed next. For me, that is what makes a fun wine.

We are having this tonight with oven barbequed baby back ribs. Sometimes when a wine is so good, it is hard to put it down after the meal. Taster B and I decided to experiment with chocolate. Oh, it was so good with chocolate. Tomorrow, we will have Minestrone soup and polish off the bottle. Yeah, it’s that good.


Tuesday, December 25, 2007

White Christmas

Click to enlarge. (c)2007 SmellsLikeGrape

Merry Christmas
from the folks at
Smells Like Grape


Monday, December 24, 2007

ITHAKI: An Island of Culinary Delight in a Sea of Fried Haddock on Boston’s North Shore

Next time you are north of Boston, treat yourself to a fantastic Greek meal at Ithaki in Ipswich, Mass. We feel very lucky to live in an area with so much great seafood, and yes, fried haddock, but we feel most fortunate to have an authentic Greek restaurant in our area. Dining there really is almost like a mini-vacation to the Greek Isles. Ithaki prides itself on using the freshest organic and local ingredients. To paraphrase my grandmother: Good ingredients make good food.

I’ve never been a lamb fan but Ithaki does it so well that I’ve changed my tune. Its never gamey (mutton) and always fresh and well prepared. I’m not positive but, I think they may make their own yogurt as well. I’ve had good Greek yogurt but, the yogurt they use in their tzatziki and other sauces is a cut above.

We’ve had a few good Greek wines at Ithaki. Most recently a dry red: Katogi Averoff Agiorgitiko which comes from the Nemea growing area where they cultivate Agiorgitiko grapes on an altitude of 250-800m to the southeast of Corinth.

I didn’t take any tasting notes but, found it somewhat similar to a merlot with a mellow almost brandy-like nose. It went very well with the lamb gyro we ordered for lunch.

We’ve never been disappointed at Ithaki: Even when it is not perfect, it’s still fantastic.


Sunday, December 23, 2007

A Time of Bounty, Palmer Vineyards Cabernet Franc

(C)2007 SmellsLikeGrapeChristmas dinners can be tough for a wine to keep up with. You have a wide variety of aromatic foods with cinnamon, allspice, sage, rosemary and thyme. The traditional sweet potatoes baked with orange slices, cinnamon and clove add another layer complexity. This may all be served with turkey, ham, roast beef or all of the above. Let’s face it, this bountiful time calls for wine that is versatile and complementary.

As much as we all love wine, this meal is not about the wine. It’s about sharing with family and friends. The wine should be good but we all have a dirty little secret. We are not about to open that very special bottle knowing that Aunt Millie and Uncle Harry have been know to put ice in their box wine at home.

Cranberry sauce can befuddle a holiday wine pairing. (C)2007 SmellsLikeGrapeLooking across the table you see the cranberry sauce. I make mine with whole cinnamon, allspice, clove and anise. I put thinly slice oranges in the bottom of a glass bowl. (Okay, people rave about my cranberry sauce. My second holiday dirty little is quick, simple and looks like I fussed for hours. Take one cup of water, one cup of sugar and bring to a boil. When I’m feeling wild and crazy, I’ll add the juice of one orange. Add one bag of cranberries. Bring to a boil and then simmer for 15 or 20 minutes with the spices mentioned above. Put in a glass bowl with thinly cut orange slices for looks. Set aside to cool.)

Now you have a meal that is a real challenge to pair wine with, sweet, sour, savory and pungent. Do I hear someone knocking at the door? It's Aunt Millie and Uncle Harry with a cheese platter, Brie, Blue, Jarlsberg and Havarti. Oh my! Let’s not freak out.

Here’s what I’d do. I’d pull out a Cabernet Franc, a Sauvignon Blanc, and a Merlot. All these wines are inexpensive, easy going and pair well with just about anything on the table. But the bottle I’d keep close to me would be the Cabernet Franc. We found a nice New York State bottle that just shined through a meal like this. There is just enough hint of spiciness, red current, cherry, earthiness and just the right acidity to go with everything on the table.

(C)2007 SmellsLikeGrapeMerry Christmas, and may your wine pairings be flawless in the coming New Year.

Cabernet Franc
Proprietor’s Reserve
Palmer Vineyards
Long Island, New York
Vintage: 2003
Alcohol: 12.5%
Price: $14.42

Intensity: Meduim
Aromas: Cherry, earth, rose, spice
Flavors: Cherry, red current, cranberry, pomegranate,
Body: Medium
Acidity: Moderate
Sweetness: Moderately dry
Finish: Medium

Summary: This wine will compliment a festive meal without dominating it. The balance of earthiness and fruitiness played off of the turkey, sweet potatoes and cranberry. It went well will with both white and dark meat.


Thursday, December 20, 2007

Chateau ST Jean, Fumé Blanc

Our trip to Sonoma did not include a trip to Chateau St Jean but we understand it is a beautiful winery to visit with its large grounds and nicely appointed tasting room. When planning a tasting trip, it is always, “so many cabs, so little time.”

We certainly recognized the winery by name in Sonoma and were happy to try their Fume’ Blanc. This wine is softer than most whites you will find. It is blended from primarily French oak and a bit of American oak. What I like about this wine is that it is soft and smooth and about the grapes. The oak aging is complementary, not dominating.

Fumé Blanc,
Chateau ST Jean
Sonoma County
Vintage: 2006
Blend: Sauvignon Blanc blended with a small amount of Semillon
and Viognier
Alcohol: 13.6
Harvest Sugar: 24.5 brix
pH: 3.28
Price: $10.00

Color: Straw
Intensity: Pale
Aromas: Litchi, quince, pineapple, lemon, vanilla, hay, nutmeg
Flavors: Quince, lemon, pineapple, fig, melon, vanilla
Body: Light
Acidity: Crisp
Sweetness: Moderately dry
Finish: Short

Summary: This is a delightful wine subtle flavor from the French and American oak barrel aging. Very smooth and relaxing. The aromas and flavors are almost one for one with no surprises. This wine has tropical fruit qualities, just enough dryness and finish to complement delicate dishes such as Dover Sole and sushi. This is fine on its own or served with lighter cheeses. What I like to do with this wine is just pour into a medium sized glass, one third full, kick back and relax with it.

Dear Dairy,

Finally, I’m back on my palate after being down for a week with a cold. It’s great to be able to taste and smell again.


Sunday, December 16, 2007

Green Salads and Wine

Vinegar can compete with wine. It’s been a problem for me all my life, getting through the salad course so I could enjoy my wine with my meal. Rule: If you are going to serve a salad with a wonderful vinaigrette, simply do not serve a wine with the salad course. That is all there is to it. Or try a dry German Riesling with you salad course. It will work with many good dressings.

Here are two dressings that will help with the problem if you use good quality white wine vinegar. You can give your wine a chance to stand up to a dressing if you include the wine in the dressing. These are for your favorite green salad. Shown above is a salad Taster-B made with spinach, feta and quince.

White Wine Vinaigrette
3/4 cup of dry white wine
1/2 cup olive oil
1/4 cup wine vinegar
1 teaspoon oregano
1/2 teaspoon dry mustard
Fresh ground black pepper and sea salt, to taste.

Blend together and store in a covered jar in the refrigerator.

Fennel and Wine dressing
Here is a dressing that I have been experimenting with. I like the Sauvignon Blank because of the bright citrus notes.

3/4 cup of Sauvignon Blank
1/2 cup of olive oil
1/4 cup white wine vinegar
2 tablespoons of fennel seed ground in a mortar and pestle
1 teaspoon of dry mustard
1 teaspoon of paprika
1 teaspoon of honey to taste
Sea salt to taste

This works well if you prepare the dressing ahead of time. I like to freshly grind the fennel seeds to a fine powder. I place all into a mason jar with a lid and shake it until it emulsifies. If you have the patience to clean your blender, this works better. Refrigerate overnight to let the fennel do its magic or use straight away.


Wednesday, December 12, 2007

I Heart NY Whites - Riesling (Finger Lakes)

So far we are two for two on the New York wines we picked up on our recent visit to the state. Taster A asked me to post my impressions of this 2006 Riesling out of the Finger Lakes region since he's not a big Riesling fan in general. However, he did say this would be an excellent summer wine, and I agree.

Dry Riesling
Finger Lakes

Vintage: 2006
Price: $14.32
Aromas: pear, honey, butter
Flavors: pineapple, grapefruit, lemon/lime
Body: light
Acidity: crisp
Sweetness: off dry
Finish: moderate

Definitely a great summer wine with a fruity palate and slightly fizzy mouthfeel. Would pair nicely with fish. Also wasn't bad with the goat cheese and proscuitto appetizer (pictured above). Comparable to the
Alsace Riesling (Trimbach) we tasted in October.


Saturday, December 8, 2007

Dogajolo, an introduction Super Tuscan wine.

Cling to enlarge (c)2007 SmellsLikeGrape
Introduction to Italian Wine
When I was young and without a care, Chianti came in the ubiquitous fiasco or basket covered bottle. It was inexpensive and great with spaghetti, pizza and lasagna. On a graduate student stipend, it was a great treat to have something different than Carlo Rossi. Today, I can afford a good bottle of wine. But the FUD factor (fear, uncertainty and doubt) would kick in and I’d avoid the modern Chianti wines because they had gone from being inexpensive wines to wines above my $6.00 price point. (I’m looking at the early ‘90s when I stopped buying Chianti operating on the datum that Chianti is cheap Italian red table wine and not worth the asking price.) But I have Sangiovese in my blood! Spurred on by our experience with the Piemontese Blend, I’ve decided to start wrapping my wits around some Italian wine.

At the wine shop, Taster B was over by the Pino Noir, I wandered off to the Tuscany section and browsed around. What are these wines like? Let's find out!

In order to understand the significance of Super Tuscan wines, we have to take a look at some history. Italy is a huge producer of wine. Wine in Italy is food. You drink it with breakfast, lunch and dinner. It is the culture. I mean this warmly and with admiration. There is a wine making tradition that goes back thousands of years.

Click to enlarge.There are 20 regions and 96 provinces. The main regions are Piedmont, Tuscany and Veneto. The Denominazione di Origine Controllata (D.O.C.) controls the production and labeling of wine. The D.O.C. laws went into effect in 1963.

    These law regulate:
  • The geographical limits of each region

  • The grape varieties that can be used

  • The percentage of each grape used

  • The maximum amount of wine that can be produce per acre

  • The minimum alcohol content of the wine

  • The aging requirements

In 1980, the Italian board took quality control one step further and added a G for Garantita, D.O.C.G. This states that the wine meets standards through tasting control boards and they absolutely guarantee the stylistic authenticity of a wine.*

What is a Super Tuscan wine?
Wine makers wanted experiment with other grape varieties as they did in California. Super Tuscan wines are Sangiovese blends with Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot. These wines were outside the laws of the D.O.C. so they had to be labeled as Vino da Tavola (Table Wine, an official designation). Today, Vino da Tavola can be inexpensive table wine or wines that are outside of the current style and variety laws. Thus a high quality wine may carry this designation.

We found a Super Tuscan that we think you will enjoy. This label is in English and serves as a good introduction to reading Italian wine labels.

Let's take a look at this label.
Carpineto, the producer, is a partnership between winemakers Giovanni C. Sacchet and Antonio M. Zaccheo. Their original mission was to produce a world-class red wine from the Chianti Classico appellation. This was a radical departure from the marketplace of the times when most Chianti was still produced in the traditional winemaking style.

In the center of the label, we have the name chosen for the wine and a pronunciation key. We see that it is classified as a table wine. On the Italian label, it has Vino da Tavola.

In the bottom right corner, we see the vintage, the winery, the growing region, and the volume. Now that we understand the label, let's review our tasting notes.

Click to enlarge. (c)2007 SmellsLikeGrapeDogajolo
Vintage: 2005
Alcohol: 13.0%
Price: $11.33

Color: Ruby Red
Intensity: Dark
Aromas: Current, violet, rose, earth
Flavors: Strawberry, raspberry, cherry, olive, earth, struck flint, anise, coffee
Body: Medium
Acidity: Moderate
Sweetness: Dry
Finish: Moderate to long

Summary: This is a very delicate wine. When first poured, not much happened. With a little persuasion, the wine opened up with the smell of roses. Very delicate berry, earth, smooth, silky tannins. The floral of the Sangiovese and the spice of the Cabernet Sauvignon makes a delightful wine.

Pairings: From, “Given its fruitiness, Dogajolo can be paired with first courses and white meats, but shows at its best with full-flavored dishes such as roasts, grilled meats, cold cuts and Tuscan regional specialty.”

We will be posting notes on other Super Tuscan and Italian Wines. You may click on these labels below to select these postings.

*16 Feb 08 Editor's note: As with all rules, there is the exception...the Chianti D.O.C.G. is covered in a later post. Also, there is a Chianti Classico D.O.C.G. which produces some of the finest wines from Italy.


Sunday, December 2, 2007

Oonapais, Sonoma Mountain Red by Benziger Family Winery

Click to enlarge. (c)2007 SmellsLikeGrapeSometimes when I talk to my friends about wine, they confess that they have some hesitation about trying a higher price point wine. The fear, uncertainty and doubt creeps in. “What if I buy an expensive bottle and I don’t like it.” “I don’t know what I’m doing in here.” “If I ask the owner, he’ll take me for a ride.” “What if I find out that this was the worst vintage in the history of Bordeaux?”

Buying wine is not about impressing the staff, showing off how much you know or throwing big chunks of money around because you got tired of lighting cigars with it. No, it’s about learning about you. What do you like, what don’t you like. How do you perceive the wine.

Start out with an on-line wine course that you can do in your own home. You will be instructed what style to buy, what price point to pick and how to do the tasting. The course we did instructed us to purchase wines in a good price point and what to look for so we would have a positive experience.

If you are ready to try a wine in a $50.00 price point, here is a sure bet.

Click to enlarge. (c)2007 SmellsLikeGrapeAs you know by now, we are big fans of Benziger Family Winery. If you are skittish about trying a luxury wine, I would suggest you try Oonapais. This is a big red wine that will appeal to just about anyone with a pulse.

Oonapais is estate grown and bottled from the Sonoma Mountain subappellation . This tiny region is on the western edge of the Sonoma Valley AVA. It has poor, rocky soil, gets lots of sun and cool temperatures at night. This is perfect for growing top notch grapes. Sonoma Mountain is home of Benziger’s flagship wines; Tribute, Joaquin’s Inferno Zinfandel and Oonapais.

Oonapais is a good introduction to high end wine. It is smooth, balanced, complex and just plain good. If you are comfortable at this price point, you will recognize the value. Buy this bottle to drink today or buy a case and lay it down for a decade.

Click to enlarge. (c)2007 SmellsLikeGrapeOonapais
Benziger Family Winery
Sonoma Mountain Red
Vintage: 2005
Blend: 71% Cabernet Sauvignon, 14% Merlot, 11% Petit Verdot, 4% Cabernet Franc
Alcohol: 14.5%
Total Acidity: 0.68
pH 3.82
Retail Price: $50.00

Color: Purple
Intensity: Dark
Aromas: Jam, raisin, current, mint, black pepper, smoked meat, chocolate
Flavors: Strawberry, blackberry, cherry, plum, current, mint, earth, struck flint, anise, black pepper, cedar, chocolate.
Body: Full
Acidity: Moderate
Sweetness: Off-dry
Tannins: Silky
Finish: Long

This is a very well crafted wine, well balanced and expressive. The tannins are silky smooth. Think of this wine as you would think of Barbara Stanwick in the Big Valley. Bright, intelligent, balanced, strong yet soft and very classy.
You have great fruit notes, earth, spice, cedar, chocolate, everything you want in a Cab blend. But the key here is Barbara Stanwick, classy and a pleasure to be with.

Serve with Yankee pot roast, Moroccan, Lamb, Red Deer Wellington, or game.

Click to enlarge. (c)2007 SmellsLikeGrape

Dear Diary,

I sit here tonight listening to blues guitar, eating roasted chicken and working on that bottle of Lamoreaux Landing Chardonnay I opened over the weekend. I’m writing about Sonoma and Benziger, living the dream. It’s time I gave these poor presbyopic eyes a break and go to bed. I got my day job in the morning. Maybe I’ll get to that posting for the Super Tuscan I cracked open the other night while I was redesigning the blog’s layout.