Wednesday, July 30, 2008

A Real Crowd Pleaser

I don't throw backyard parties but, if I did, I'd probably buy a case of this wine to serve to my guests. For one thing, it's too hot right now to be drinking red wine, and at seven bucks a bottle, this wine is very budget friendly. It's pleasant for sipping with it's apricot and nutmeg aromas and citrus/cranberry flavors, and is easy-pairing for a wide variety of foods.
Our first meal with this Côtes du Rhône Le Pas de la Beaume Rosé 2005 was a delicious pasta primavera. Our Rosé performed beautifully; at the same time sturdy (like a red) and refreshing (like a white). The next night, we had it again with a Phở-inspired rice noodle bowl with fresh veggies, basil, and Clay Pot Pork--another nice pairing. This Rosé isn't just a great party wine, it's a great summer 'red.'


Monday, July 28, 2008

Vignoles on a hot day

Vignoles (c)2008 SmellsLikeGrapeTaster B made a fish dish tonight with coconut milk, tomatoes, a little wine, basil and a smidge of chili pepper. Really good stuff.

In true SLG fashion, the wine selection was left until last minute. We had a bottle of Jewell Towne Vinyard's Vignoles in the refrigerator. It is mid summer. Living by the Atlantic means humidity. In the time it took to come up with a photo concept, condensation formed on the bottle and the label started to lift off the bottle. No problem, I have vineyard shots that I took last weekend up at Jewell Towne Vineyards.

Vignoles is a hybrid white wine grape that does well on the East Coast. It has a late bud break that prevents loss due to frost damage, and can also be picked late in the season. The grapes have a good acid content and a high amount of sugar.

Jewell Towne Vineyards
50% New Hampshire, 50% Massachusetts.
Vintage: 2007
Alcohol: 11.0%
Price: $9 - $12

Color: Yellow
Intensity: Light
Aromas: Pear, melon, pineapple, orange blossom, butter
Flavors: Lemon, grapefruit, pineapple, apricot, orange blossom, honey, butterscotch.
Body: Medium
Acidity: Moderate
Sweetness: Sweet
Finish: Moderate

Vignoles grapes growing in the Jewell Towne Vineyard (C)2008 SmellsLikeGrapeSummary: On a hot day, chilled wine is very refreshing. Looking at the beads of sweat forming on the bottle heightens the anticipation. In usual Jewell Towne style, the wine is unoaked and free of manipulation. It is very fragrant, reminding me of walking by the orange trees I used to live by. This is a sweet wine, not for those insisting that every bit of sugar be turned to alcohol.

The appeal of this wine is its easy drinkability, and fragrant citrus blossom mixed with honey notes.

As stated above, we had this with haddock cooked in Thai style. Light coconut milk, tomatoes, basil and some chili sauce. The wine held up beautifully.


Wednesday, July 23, 2008

Viognier Down Argentina Way

Continuing our two-part series Viognier Light and Gay; tonight we discuss a very affordable Argentine example. Okay, there is no series, and I just ripped the title off from the lyrics of "Down Argentina Way." Actually, such a title would be a bit of a misnomer since good examples of Viognier are typically full-bodied. Our wine tonight, Pie de Palo 2007 (available for ~$10) has a golden color of lighter intensity than our previous Vin de Pays example, but is no less aromatic. Again, there are tropical notes of lychee and pineapple, as well as, orange blossom. This Viognier also seems to have slightly higher acidity and is quite dry yet viscous. The flavors are more akin to orange pith and mineral. In fact, it reminds me a bit of flat tonic water in terms of flavor.

That being said, it is actually not as difficult to pair with food as the Vin de Pays example. Where our Vin de Pays was rather too delicate to have with food, our Argentine example serves as a blank canvas to which bold flavors may be applied. For example, a cheese that I've found to be quite discordant with wine in the past is green Chester Sage Derby: The Pie de Palo went quite nicely with it and performed as palate-cleanser.

I just want to tell you that I have never heard of the film or the song "Down Argentina Way" until 15 minutes ago when I was trying to come up with a title for this post and decided to google the phrase on a lark. In honor of this serendipitous occasion, I'm embedding a clip from the 1940 film featuring a blithe performance by Betty Grable. Enjoy.


Monday, July 21, 2008

Easy Breezy Viognier (Vin de Pays)

Nothing spells uncomplicated and easy-going summer refreshment quite like a Viognier. The 2005 Alain Paret Viognier Pastourou (available for between $10-$15) is honey-colored in the glass and opens with lots of perfectly ripe pineapple on the nose. The honey theme shows up again on the palate along with essence of crab apple, and more pineapple on the finish. As the wine opens up, more pear and orange blossom notes emerge. Overall, a pleasing if perhaps overly-mild wine. The wine is slightly off-dry with light to medium body but, is still quite refreshing on it's own despite a lack of crispness. However, this did make it difficult to pair with food: Simple roasted chicken was even more than it's modest acidity could match. Home-made chicken noodle soup, on the other hand, was benign enough not to overwhelm this delicate flower.


Wednesday, July 16, 2008

The Bionic Nose

Researchers at Virginia Tech are experimenting to determine whether the electronic nose (hereafter referred to as the nose) is a valid tool for wine discrimination and analysis. The test involved wines made from Cabernet Sauvignon grapes that had received different doses of pre-harvest/post-bloom aqueous ethanol treatments which increase flavor and aroma development. The purpose was to see whether the nose could tell them apart: It could. The nose didn’t do any better than chemical analysis but it is supposedly cheaper—promising results for the nose. Meanwhile, the panel of sensory testers (ordinary human noses) could not detect the difference...

All this makes me wonder: How did the wine industry come up with the chemical/olfactory quality benchmarks that are used to evaluate wine? I could be wrong but, I’m guessing the benchmarks came from wines that are known by human experience to be exceptional. In other words, people decide what’s good wine not some bomb-sniffing machine. But, you say, “wine-makers utilize chemical analysis to evaluate wines everyday—it’s a tool of the trade—quality assurance.” I can’t deny that. I just don’t think that hitting your mark for pH, TA, alcohol, etc is all there is to creating a great wine. It’s more of a guideline to quote a certain Disney pirate. Wine is subjective and should be subjective—just like life. Usually it’s the surprises that make it worthwhile.


Sunday, July 13, 2008

A Wine Treasure in New Hampshire

We have been up to the Ceres Street Wine Merchants a couple of times. Ceres Street Wine Merchants is 80% wine shop, 20% curio shop and is really quite unique. Ceres Street Wine Merchants is New Hampshire's oldest and largest private wine shop and features wines from around the world. They also have wine antiques, glassware and other related stuff.

On a recent visit, we had an opportunity to stop and chat with David Campbell, the proprietor. David is filling a niche in New Hampshire where the market is dominated by large state run liquor stores offering nationally distributed brands. What you will find at Ceres Street Wine Merchants is a collection of around 1000 wines that David has hand-picked according to his standards. He is looking for wines that are "true to their roots (pun intended)." When he samples a wine, he is looking for qualities that let him know where this wine came from. One of David's motto's is "Life's to short to drink cheap wine."

Ceres St. carries wines ranging from around $12.00 up to a couple of hundred dollars. David also handles many rare and valuable wines for clients of his consulting business. A display of 'empties' gracing a side shelf is a veritable pantheon of mythical wines. Among his collection are several Mouton-Rothschild vintages including 1945, and 1982, and a huge Screaming Eagle 1992 bottle (I believe it was an Imperial bottle--that's 6 litres). We purchased a 2003 Barbaresco, two Viogniers (one from Argentina, one from France), and a Rhone Valley Rosé. We will be reviewing these wines in the near future.

The shop is located at 65 Ceres St., in Portsmouth; New Hampshire's historic waterfront near the famous tugboats. So when you are in the area, be sure to stop in and say hello.


Monday, July 7, 2008

Buying Wine in Hot Climates

We have been in Sint Maarten for the last week. Our first night, we had a nice bottle of Cotes du Rhone at a restaurant that we were over-charged for but that was enjoyable. Being on a half French island, we thought we would have great wine to go with the great cheese and baguettes. This was not the case. Three of the four bottles of wine we tasted were hollow and most likely cooked. We decided to stick to beer. I had a really nice Belgian beer at the Sugar Cane Café in Cupecoy.

Click to enlarge. (c)2008 ShootingMyUniverse

Buying wine in a strange place can be challenging, especially if it is in a warm climate. We bought wine from a super market, a restaurant, and a deli. In each location, we checked out the environment and found that the wine on display was air conditioned. The deli had an air conditioner in a little grotto with the wine. The supermarket wine was at an acceptable temperature.

Only the wine at the restaurant was really drinkable to our satisfaction. Our speculation is that the merchants are trying to treat their wine correctly, however what happens to the wine in shipment is most likely uncontrolled. How can one keep the wine fresh when it is probably handled many times a hot environment by people that really do not understand how perishable the product is? It may have been sitting on the dock or in the back of a lorry.

My advice is to find a wine that you know and try that first to see how if fairs. Is it fresh or is it hollow? The bad wine we had seemed to be lifeless, lacking structure and complexity. If your test wine passes muster, then go for something new and exciting. If it does not pass muster, perhaps you better save your money.


Thursday, July 3, 2008

Smells Like Grape on Hiatus

Taster A and Taster B are on vacation this week in exciting Sint Maarten. We are spending our days soaking up sun and salt water. We have also tried a few bottles of wine (the French wine selection is plentiful) but, nothing worth writing home about. We'll be back next week!