Saturday, May 31, 2008

Brandy with Terroir and Fat-fighters? Break out the Goose Livers!

I read an article in the June 2008 issue of France Today about Armagnac and I’m ready to book my trip to Gascony. Armagnac is the only type of brandy which is produced in vintages sporting noticeable differences from year to year, and unlike Cognac which is double-distilled, Armagnac is distilled only once allowing more distinctive characteristics to be retained. Perhaps some would argue that Armagnac is less refined than Cognac but judging by the following passage, no one can deny that the stuff is dripping with charm:

…by and large armagnac is made in the old-fashioned artisanal way. Although the larger châteaux have their own stills, many small producers continue to rely on traveling alambics that make the rounds after the grapes have been converted into wine…purists insist on barrels made from the black oak of the local Monlezun forest or the Armagnac Noir forests in the Landes. Preferably the staves should be hewn from trees that are at least a hundred years old; the oak is then seasoned for as long as 15 years before it’s deemed ready to host the new-run armagnac.

The article titled Armagnac: Amber Paradox also reveals that Armagnac fends off fat like no other spirit:
The same researchers have since discovered that rats fed on a high-fat diet and armagnac did not gain weight, unlike rats fed the same food and a substitute alcohol.

I was intrigued by this insight since most of my reading on alcohol and weight gain has said that alcohol inhibits fat-burning by up to 73%.

I did a little checking on this Armagnac Study and found that Decanter magazine reported on the findings in an article in February 2007. The Decanter article says that the Armagnac-dosed rats gained less weight compared to rats on the same high-fat diet supplemented with pure ethanol. I couldn’t find the actual study but, I’d wager that Decanter’s telling is a little more accurate. Armagnac isn’t a magic fat-fighting bullet, but it’s better than nothing.

The moral of the story: Foie Gras is still fattening but, it’s considerably less fattening when consumed with Armagnac!


Monday, May 26, 2008

A Good Dry Riesling & Seafood Pairing

We went out for dinner Saturday night and not only did we both decide on seafood entrees, but we both selected entrees where lobster featured prominently. What luck--a perfect opportunity to order up a bottle of Riesling! The luck didn’t end there: The restaurant offered a 2004 Domaines Schlumberger Riesling Les Princes Abbés for $24 for a 750 ml bottle which is scarcely more than 50% above retail.

The wine had nice tropical fruit notes on the nose, with mild green apple and pear on the palate, and a floral and mineral finish. It was very pleasant wine and we both enjoyed it. It continued to give up different nuances in reaction to different shellfish delights: Cherry stones brought out a ‘dusky’ character, tropical fruit sparkled after a bite of shrimp, but of course, the star of the evening was the lobster.

I had the lobster crêpe: A pillowy crêpe stuffed with tender chunks of sweet lobster, fresh mozzarella, and braised leeks and topped with a tomato cream sauce drizzled with crème fraîche. The sauce had a slightly caramel flavor and I ate every drop. The Riesling went perfectly with this dish: It was a total yum-fest.

We brought the unfinished bottle home and drank the remainder the following day with a snack of finn crisp with herbed cheese and smoked salmon. As long as I keep some dry Alsace Riesling such as the Domaines Schlumberger on hand to have with shellfish, and a less dry Riesling to pair with spicy dishes, I’ll be pretty much set for summer.


Saturday, May 24, 2008

Things are up in the air, Post Script.

We took the Salem Ferry down to Boston this morning for a walk around the historical end of town. On the way back we stopped into the Salem Wine Imports and checked on the status of Solatione Chianti Classico. It is indeed gone and will not be coming back. The importer sold out and has elected not to import it again because of a cost increase which pushes it out of the value range.

I had an opportunity to try Tomaiolo Toscana, IGT 2005 at Salem Wine Imports. This Super Tuscan is a blend of Sangiovese, Cabernet and Merlot. It’s berry forward, full bodied, with good tannins and a pleasant finish. It is a comparable wine to the Solantione at a better price, and it's still available so give it a try. We grabbed a bottle and will do a full write-up at a later date.

We had a bottle of Tomaiolo Riserva 2003 Chianti DOCG Sangiovese in February that we thoroughly enjoyed.


Friday, May 23, 2008

Things are up in the air.

Taster B is making pizza. What do you have with pizza? Chianti Classico! And we found a nice Chianti Classico a few months ago at Salem Wine Imports. It was in short supply as it was sold out on the tasting night.

Solatione is located in the heart of Chianti Classico region. The winery gets its name from the great exposition of the sun. The Vineyard is thirteen hectares, family owned and operated since 1972. Until 1991 the wine was sold to other vintners but in 1992 Fabio and Francesca (brother and sister) decided to bottle their own wines. The Chianti Classico is aged in Slovenic oak barrels for 12/16 months. This wine was definitely very delicious, well structured and firm tannins and very Sangiovese.

The Slovenian barrels add a very smooth and distinctive structure to the wine. It will not impart oak and smoke to the wine, but give it nice aging and balance. This is great, because for my money, when I want Sangiovese, I want a nice berry wine with floral components. That is why I like this wine.

Chianti Classico D.O.C.G

Vintage: 2004
Alcohol: 13.5
Price: $20.99

Color: Ruby Red
Intensity: Medium
Aromas: Strawberry, raspberry, cherry, olive, smoked meat, floral
Flavors: Strawberry, raspberry, blackberry, pomegranate, cassis, tar, stone, mineral, anise,
Body: medium
Acidity: crisp and tart
Sweetness: dry
Tannins: suede
Finish: moderately long

Summary: We’ve talked about the difference between Chianti and Chianti Classico. This is a very berry forward wine grown in a hot region. What stands this wine apart from other Sangiovese wines we have had is the mineral, the brightness and the tartness. I’m enjoying a one ounce pour prior to dinner while I write this post. Yes you should have food with wine, pizza wasn’t the best of pairings. The wine wasn’t full bodied enough. But so what??? It’s a good bottle and I’m glad we go it.


Friday, May 16, 2008

Tribute to a California Wine Icon

Robert Mondavi, wine maker, businessman, and philanthropist died today at the age of 94. Following the lead of Dr. Debs, we decided to open a Robert Mondavi wine tonight in his honor.

We lifted a glass of Robert Mondavi Private Selection 2006 Pinot Noir, and it was a pleasant surprise. It was very food friendly and went just wonderfully with chicken fajitas. You wouldn't expect much from a $12 Pinot Noir, and while this wine is somewhat hollow in the mid-palate and doesn't sport a long finish, it is balanced and true-to-type. The nose displays nice aromas of cherry, raspberry, and herbs, with cherry, allspice, and anise on the palate. Overall, an enjoyable table wine which aligns with Mondavi's philosophy of wine as a meal enhancement.

Incidentally, there is a nice Robert Mondavi tribute up on Appellation America that was only posted 10 days ago while he was still in the realm of "living legend."


Monday, May 12, 2008

Tuscany wine bridges Old World and New World

(c)2008 SmellsLikeGrape
Poggio alle Sughere Morellino de Scansano D.O.C. is a wine that we picked up at The Vineyard in North Andover earlier this year at their large Italian wine tasting. It is always fun to see what happens when you get a bottle home.

Scansano is in the Southern end of Tuscany and is a new region opened up in the last ten years. This region is being compared to California because of the explosion around this town. This wine has stepped in to be the quality wine to fill the void left by the quality Chianti wines when they shot up in price.

Our label is straight forward for Italian. The Poggio alle Sughere estate in Magliano, Toscana in the heart of the Maremma zone. This Morellino di Scansano is a blend of 90% Sangiovese and 10% Cabernet Sauvignon. This warm environment with perfect rainfall means that Morellino di Scansano give this great fruit flavors, wonderful savory herb notes and just the right pizzazz.

Morellino di Scansano D.O.C. is Sangiovese (Morellino), 85% to 100%. Other red grapes may be used to a maximum of 15%. Aging is two years minimum for Rosso Riserva with a minimum of 1 year in wood. (Note that this is not a riserva wine.)

(c)2008 SmellsLikeGrape
Morellino di Scansano
Poggio alle Sugghere
Maremma area of Tuscany
Vintage: 2003
Alcohol: 13.0%
Price: $16.99

Color: Brick
Intensity: Medium
Aromas: Cherry, jam, raisin, olive, earth, with a hint of vanilla
Flavors: Strawberry, black cherry, pomegranate, prune, cassis, olive, earth, tar, coffee, chocolate, rosemary, sage with slight spiciness of allspice and anise.
Body: Full
Acidity: Moderate
Sweetness: Dry
Tannins: Silk
Finish: Long

Summary: Think of this wine as a good bridge between the New World from the Old World. It shows the restrained use of wood aging with herbal notes and well developed fruit flavors. The dark red fruit flavors are tempered by the dried fruit flavors and earth, tar, chocolate and coffee. Nothing about this wine is overbearing.

We enjoyed this wine with a pizza topped with artichoke, roasted banana pepper, fresh mozzarella, and thin sliced fresh tomato. The wine stood up to the saltiness of the cheese and the acidity of the tomato.

The Poddio alla Sughere is a well crafted wine and quite a treat. We will enjoy this with another meal. We are just delighted that it bridges the styles of three of our favorite regions, Côtes du Rhône, Sonoma and Tuscany. The wine region was established without a long standing tradition of having a regional wine style. Therefore, when the D.O.C. was established in 1997, it was not restrained and could make Super Tuscan style wines. The result in this case is a wine with the character of Côtes du Rhône with the courage to be modern.

A final note: If you are in the North East Massachusetts area, get yourself on The Vineyard’s email list. They have quality tastings and a very good selection.


Saturday, May 10, 2008

Oak and Living the Dream

We bring our wines to our eyes, noses and mouths for evaluation and enjoyment and we imagine how this wine may have been treated. When we think of oak aging, chances are that we get a picture similar to this.

Is this always what happens? Perhaps the wine industry would have us believe this. How many marketing impressions of wine have you seen that include oak dust, chips, staves, and beans? Not many and unless you are in the industry, you probably have never seen or heard of these. It would be pretty odd marketing.

Barrels like those shown come from French, American and Central European manufacturers. These barrels are becoming more and more expensive. Wineries are looking for ways to remain competitive. Competitive may mean remaining in a price point in spite of rising costs, producing a higher quality product in the price point the brand is in, or maximizing profits.

All of this is not very interesting to me as a consumer and not worth mentioning in this forum, but for one fact…barrel alternatives provide a way to provide a quality product while reducing the pressure on the forests.

Other than wood, wine is produced in stainless steel tanks, concrete tanks, and poly. They all have their merits. All of these are reusable. However it is the oak wood that imparts tannins, enhances roundness and helps stabilize color. Oak barrels also allow and exchange of oxygen in the wine.

A barrel has its strongest impact with its first use. Three times is about the max for most barrels. Thus a winery has to keep forking out for new barrels, trees get cut down and well eventually wine up somewhere as ash or trash.

Wine is made in oak barraques, stainless steel tanks and polytanks. (c)2008 SmellsLikeGrape
Extending barrel life
Wineries are starting to refurbish their barrels. Barrels are sent to the cooper and have their insides shaved and toasted. Thus a barrel gets a new life and the wine maker has a barrel at the fraction of the cost. This is a growing market segment for coopers.

Another method of extending a barrel’s life is to put a ring of staves inside the barrel. The cooper removes the top of the barrel and inserts a lining of new wood. This also is a cheaper alternative to new cooperage.

Other wood products
For those producers choose not to compete in a price point that will support the use of cooperage, there are alternatives and these alternatives are even finding their way into boutique wineries as well. Oak chips,flour, slats and spirals, are being used in barriques to help keep quality up without the expense of new barrels.

The skill of the winemaker must be expanded to use these materials. With oak, it’s the surface exposed to the wine in proportion to the volume of wine that is important. So the winemaker must decide if he wants to use flour with a high, almost impossible to control surface area, slats or “beans”. Beans offer a very predictable surface area and are easy to get into and out of barrels.

I am happy to see these products being used when they are used judiciously. There will always be a need for new cooperage and these products are made from the leftover lumber that is not suitable for making staves. This give a chance to produce a higher quality wines at a lower price point, barrels having longer life and there is less pressure on the forests. Seems good.

These products can be used in an attempt to mask an inferior wine. You can trick out a wine with turbo-chargers, chrome pipes, mag wheels and a Holly four-barrel, but you will still wind up with funky wine. Oak and toast will not make a bad harvest good. For a good example of this compare the 2005 and 2006 Ruffino Lumina Pinot Grigio. Flaws cannot be hidden.

Sunny patio overlooking the vineyard. (c)2008 SmellsLikeGrapeThese interventions are a fact of the wine business. Keep it in perspective. It can bring variety to our world or it can bring homogeneity. Winemakers are using them. The marketers are spinning the dream. The public is buying.

What do you think? Is the dream important?


Thursday, May 8, 2008

Taster B's got a Drinking Problem

Maybe we'll open some wine tonight. Maybe we won't... I'm trying to cut back a bit--doing a cleanse. No coffee/no alcohol (well...less alcohol). This can have a bit of an adverse affect on the ol' blog. I guess I'm not the only one going through a bit of a wine-blogging fatigue phase at present. I've heard a couple of fellow wine bloggers mention a similar lack of blog inspiration lately, so at least I'm not alone.

I love opening new bottles of wine. My problem is finishing them. What I really need are single-serve bottles. I know this is a terribly un-green thing of me to say. But, really, how many two-thirds drunk bottles can one accumulate on one’s counter before they eventually aren't even fit for the stock pot? And that's another thing: How many 'stocks' can one reasonably be expected to cook? I can add a splash of red wine to spaghetti sauce now and then but, I'm not cooking veal cutlets in wine reduction sauce on a regular basis, know what I mean?

As of this moment, I have a 1/3 bottle of a $25 Sancerre Pinot Noir (which I never even wrote a blog post on because it didn't move me), a 1/4 bottle of Malbec (just informed Malbec was dumped and there is a 1/3 bottle of Côtes du Rhône I wasn't aware of in it's place), 150 mL Trimbach Gewürztraminer, and a third bottle each of Vin de Pays and Riesling laying around. That doesn't even speak to the several glasses worth of wine that has been dumped down the sink in the past month (no it wasn't California wine...I would sooner drink a Loire red than dump a CA wine down the drain).

Anyway, I don't feel like drinking those old things. Although, I wouldn't mind opening a bottle from our recent wine club shipment to make sure it wasn't cooked during it's toasty stay at the ship-to state wine-sitters...

Yes, I definitely wish there was a way I could purchase smaller vessels of wine without adversely effecting the carbon footprint (or drinking bag-in-a-box). Oh well, perhaps I just need to 'strap on a set*' and finish my wine like the responsible adult I'm posing as.

*Thank you Twitter for teaching me useful slang (specific phrase attribution omitted in deference to discretion).

Extra Credit: Who wants to guess what the head shot of Michael Caine has to do with this post?


Wednesday, May 7, 2008

WBW #45 Old World Riesling: Mosel Saar Ruwer (The Un-Cola)

For this month's Wine Blogging Wednesday, Tim Elliott from Winecast brings us to Northern Europe where we find some of the best examples of Riesling. I admit I'm not a huge white wine drinker but, I do enjoy a nice dry Alsace Riesling. Since, WBW is all about trying new things we decided to try a sweeter Riesling. We settled on a Mosel Saar Ruwer producer.

St. Urbans-Hof Winery is located in the village of Leiwen with estate vineyards scattered on various slopes of the Mosel and Saar Rivers. This wine is designated Qualitatswein which is the basic level of German wine quality. So, was this sickly-sweet plonk or a fine example of terroir-driven wine made from Germany's 'King of White Wine Grapes'?

Weingut St Urbans-Hof

Vintage: 2007
Growing region: Mosel Saar Ruwer
Alcohol: 10%
Price paid: $14.99

Color: light hay
Aromas: limon*, pineapple, wet stone/slate, honey
Flavors: apple, pineapple, orange blossom, lemon, lime, mica

First pour was a touch warm and smelled remarkably similar to a warm 7•Up...or maybe it was Sprite (*I noted 'limon' in my tasting notes). AH-HA-HAaa... Beyond the clear citrus-effervescence notes, are ripe pineapple and soft hints of wet stone. The back label notes the fruit came from sites featuring slate soils and I concur it's easy to find slate on the nose. On the palate we find apple, pineapple, and orange blossom. Also there is a rich mineral component that reminded me of Mom's Mary Kay lipstick (which I thought would be best described as "mica"). The wine has medium light body and a moderate citrus and mineral finish--not cloying. This is a basic wine with a light touch, delicate sweetness and nice round mouthfeel.

We tried this wine paired with a few different dishes but by far the best pairing was fish tacos topped with lime-tossed cabbage, tomato, cilantro, avocado, and creamy chipotle sauce. The light sweetness and effervescence of the Riesling is a perfect foil to the spicy, smoky sauce and creamy avocado. Before having tried this combo my mind would usually zero in on Corona with lime for fish tacos. Now I can't imagine anything better than an off-dry Riesling to go with Baja cuisine.

Once again, we have to give a shout out to Tim for this month's WBW theme. Also a big shout out to another Riesling advocate and WBW Founder, Lenn Thompson. I will definitely be picking up more Mosel Rieslings to go with my lighter summer fare this season.


Sunday, May 4, 2008

Far from the Eye Vin de Pays

Our friends down at Salem Wine Imports had a disaster in the shop last week. The thermostat malfunctioned and the entire stock was cooked. Eric says that he was coming off of a record sales week when the disaster happened. He has tried 70 labels, each one destroyed. He has lost 2000 bottles of wine, all are being sent to be demolished.

It was a rainy, dreary day so we decided to get out and drive down to see how he was coming along. Eric has been working hard all week and has just reopened. To help Taster B and I learn about flawed wine, he opened a few for us. Some of these wines we have had before. It was heart breaking to see the Uvaggio sitting there waiting to go to the dump. One must be brave in times like these.

Cooked wine (in this case temperatures hovered around 90 degrees Fahrenheit for an extended period) is not salvageable. The effects are easier to detect in red wines. The wine generally has a good nose, and the initial taste is fine, however it goes bitter in the mid palate and the finish dies off leaving the bitter taste. The whites we tried had a good nose and did better on the palate, but again, the finish dies off. The bitterness was not as evident. Wisely, every bottle that was in the store during the disaster will be destroyed.

Many of Salem Wine Import wines are unique and in limited supply. Tragically, some of our favorites are no longer available. Happily, there are some new wines on his shelves. One of these wines is a really interesting white varietal. Loin de l’Œil (Far from the Eye); so named because the bunch of grapes has a long stem taking it far from the bud or 'eye.' The brand, “Les Rials” Vin de Pays de Côtes du Tarn is from Domain de la Chanade.

Click to enlarge. (c)SmellsLikeGrape Loin de l'Oeil
Domain de la Chanade

Vintage: 2007
Growing region: Côtes du Tarn
Alcohol: 12.0%
Price: $8.99

Color: Straw yellow
Intensity: Medium
Aromas: Citrus, tropical fruit, hay, almond and honey
Flavors: Lemon, lime, green apple, pear, melon, passion fruit, stone, almond with a touch of honey.
Body: medium
Acidity: Crisp
Sweetness: Off dry
Finish: Moderate

Summary: The nose is very reminiscent of citrus blossoms and tropical fruit. The taste is fruit forward with Granny Smith, lemon, lime and tropical flavors. The stone and mineral with a bit of nuttiness arrive on the long finish.

This is not a very common varietal. In true Salem Wine Imports fashion, this wine is out of the ordinary and you will not find this in many shops. Eric has several cases on hand, newly arrived after the disaster. Tonight, Taster B made fresh Atlantic wild caught salmon purchased 10 yards from Gloucester Harbor, baby spinach salad and sautéed potatoes.

Is this wine any good? Well, I started off with a two ounce evaluation pour; a glass with dinner, and a glass after dinner. (Just so I can keep it fresh in my mind while I post, thank you very much!) Yeah, I’ve been nipping on is since we got home.

My advice; (especially to my friend Allison) scamper over and pick up a bottle or six. Serve it chilled for an easy everyday summertime favorite. Salem Wine Imports is up and running. Eric expects that he will be 90% restocked by this Friday.