Friday, November 17, 2017

Sonoma Chardonnay For The Holidays

The wine world recently lost Don Carano, who founded Ferrari-Carano Vineyards and Winery in 1981 with his wife, Rhonda.  A Wine Spectator article quotes Kim Stare Wallace of Dry Creek Vineyards, who called Carano "one of the visionaries of Dry Creek Valley." I will join the rest of the wine world in sending my condolences to Rhonda and the family.

Four Ferrari-Carano wines were recently featured in an online virtual tasting session, of which I was invited to be a part.  The presentation was hosted by Chelsea Kurnick of McCue Communications and associate winemaker Rebecka Deike. She handles the winery’s red wine program and started out wanting to be an optometrist, but she saw her focus change to a wine career.

The Ferrari-Carano 2015 Chardonnay of Sonoma County was made using only Chardonnay grapes from the Alexander, Dry Creek and Russian River valleys, plus fruit from Carneros. Sixty different lots of Chardonnay went into this wine. The wine is aged on the lees in French oak barrels, about three quarters of them neutral. A full mouthfeel results from a nearly full malolactic fermentation. Alcohol hits 14.2% abv, and the wine sells for about $22.

The wine has a golden tint and an aromatic nose with lemons, tangerines and a bit of minerality mixing in. On the palate, there's great citrus and tropical fruit and a full mouthfeel. The oak is a bit more pronounced than I usually like, but I always fall for that at holiday time. It's not a butterball, but it definitely has a bit of a spare tire. This is a lush Chardonnay with a good acidity and a clear hankering to be on a Thanksgiving table.


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Thursday, November 16, 2017

Vivino Wine Awards

Wednesday, November 15, 2017

Sweet Wine For The Holidays: Château Manos

Sweet Bordeaux wines are for more than dessert. You can start a meal with them, an aperitif, or pair them with your main courses. Try to pair sweet wines with something salty or savory for a great balance.

Thanksgiving is a great time to start a love affair with Sauternes. Have it with the pumpkin pie, sure, but try it with the turkey, too. You'll be surprised at the pairing.

Sweet Bordeaux US and Snooth recently put on a virtual tasting of a nice selection of sweet wines from Bordeaux, and I was lucky enough to be included.  I've been posting separate articles about each wine recently.

Château Manos is owned by another Bordeaux producer, Château Lamothe de Haux. The village of Cadillac is just south of Bordeaux. The Cadillac AOC dates back to the 1970s.

Not a Sauternes this time, but a Cadillac and sweet nonetheless, the wine is made from a blend of 98% Semillon grapes along with tiny splashes of Sauvignon and Muscadelle. It sells for around $13. Online I notice the same price for both the full and half bottles, so make sure you don't pay too much. Deborah Parker Wong pointed out during the virtual tasting that Lamonthe's Damien Chombart and Caroline Meurée make the Château Manos wines.

This lovely, gold wine is not as incredibly sweet as others, but it is probably in the range of off-sweet. The nose carries earth and apricot, which is influenced by a honey note but not controlled by it. Several tasters commented on the purity of the fruit and the wine's flinty minerality. It's less dessert-y and more like a table wine, but still holds a place at each end of the spectrum. The mouthfeel is not so viscous as the Sauternes we tasted, and the acidity is more vibrant.


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Monday, November 13, 2017

Fogo De Chão Has The Meats

There's a fast food ad campaign which includes the tagline, "We have the meats." Sorry, drive-through, but you can't hold a toothpick to Brazilian steakhouse Fogo de Chão. They, indeed, have the meats.

I was invited to sample their fall menu at the Los Angeles location. The Fogo de Chão way is to keep bringing grilled, table-sliced meat to your table until you tell them to stop. One has to be careful with this style of service, because it’s easy to end up feeling like Earl, in "Diner." He ate the whole left side of the menu. Including the chicken dinner.

Cruz was our server, or one of many servers, and he promised we would leave feeling sated. General Manager Heather was more helpful than we could have hoped and customer service manager Moises was a true gentleman.

Fogo de Chão is a great place for groups. There were several large parties there on the Sunday when we went for lunch. I could tell that they were not strangers to the place, and that the entire group had been looking forward to the meal.

I opened the meal with a Brazilian Moscato/Malvasia/Gewurztraminer blend, the demi-sec Salton "Flowers." It’s an $11 glass, from the Serra Gaúcha region, in southern Brazil. The wine is very sweet and fruity, with a decent acidity. A spicy floral element comes from the Gewurztraminer, while the Malvasia offers up some citrus to the sweet moscato. It’s extremely tasty with mushrooms and salads. I ordered an Alamos Argentine Malbec when the meats became the focus, and it was predictable reliable. The wine list offers a wide choice, with plenty of South American options.

They have a beautiful, light potato salad at Fogo de Chão that doesn't take up too much of the appetite you want to reserve for the meat. Big chunks of potato and carrot are bathed in a wonderfully light dressing. The butternut squash soup is different. It's very nicely spiced and better than the usual I've had, possibly because of the coconut milk and cinnamon used in it. The mashed potatoes have a good consistency, and they're real, not fake. My wife says they are complemented by "just the right amount of butter - too much."

Here come the meats. A little girl near our table precociously asked my wife, "Do you know what I call this restaurant?" Without hesitation, she said, "The meat parade." And so it is.

The Linguiça sausage was excellent, smoked in sage and rosemary. The Cordeiro leg of lamb, grilled and earthy, was right where I live. The Beef Ancho, the prime part of the rib eye, is succulent and extremely flavorful. The bone-in Cowboy Ribeye is only available through January 1st, so don't wait. Bone-in meats, says Fogo de Chão, have a more decadent flavor because the bones help retain moisture during the slow cooking.

I didn't try the Picanha Burger, But I wish I had. It sounds so good: "Fresh picanha (sirloin cap) ground in-house sits atop a brioche bun with smoked provolone, bibb lettuce, tomato, onion and chimichurri aioli, served with crispy polenta fries."

Our meal was in the main dining room, but there’s an option for folks who want to eat or spend less. The Churrasco Meat Board happens in the more casual Bar Fogo setting, where you get one, two or three selections of fire-roasted meat, including beef or pork ribs, lamb chops and beer-braised chicken legs, served with their wonderful chimichurri sauce. But, when is chimichurri sauce not wonderful?
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I was completely wowed by my dining experience and gave Fogo de Chão an A-. The flavor is uniformly fantastic, but I found some of the beef items a little tough. My wife gave the experience a solid B, as she is always more focused on beef than I am and more critical of its consistency. She agreed that the flavor couldn't be beat and she was in love with the sides.


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Friday, November 10, 2017

Holiday Wine: Sweets From Sauternes

Sauternes is a French appellation exclusive to sweet, golden dessert wines made largely from Sémillon grapes. Sweet Bordeaux wines are for more than dessert. Start a meal with them, an aperitif, or pair them with your main courses. Try to pair sweet wines with something salty or savory for a great balance.

Thanksgiving is a great time to start a love affair with Sauternes. Have it with the pumpkin pie, sure, but try it with the turkey, too. You'll be surprised at the pairing.

Sweet Bordeaux US and Snooth recently put on a virtual tasting of a nice selection of Sauternes wines, and I was lucky enough to be included.  Hosted by Snooth's co-founder and chief taster Mark Angelillo and wine educator Fred Swan, the event drew raves from those who participated in it. Swan, especially, won kudos all around for his vast knowledge.

Haut Charmes Sauternes 2015

The 2015 Haut Charmes Sauternes is supposedly made from grapes taken from the young vines of Chateau d'Yquem, the top house in the region. I can't confirm that, it's just an educated guess, and someone else's educated guess at that. The Sémillon grapes are joined by Sauvignon Blanc, both of which were kissed by botrytis before harvest. Declassified though it may be, a d'Yquem at $20 is a bank job type of steal.

@JvBUncorked commented during the virtual tasting that this 2015 Charmes is much sweeter than he recalls earlier vintages being. It's my first time, so I don't know. @parkerwong wrote that she likes the candied melon, saffron and white peach notes.

Yellow-gold in the glass, this wine has tropical notes layered in with honeyed apricot and peach. It's quite viscous, has a nice acidity, great mouthfeel and a little savory backbeat that really entices. It seems muscular, in a white wine kind of way.


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Wednesday, November 8, 2017

Holiday Wine: Sweet Wine From Bordeaux

Sauternes is a city in France's Bordeaux region. It is also an appellation exclusive to sweet, golden dessert wines made largely from Sémillon grapes. Sweet white wine is not everyone's cup, but anyone who likes a good dessert and a good glass of wine should not object to having them in the same serving. However, sweet Bordeaux wines are for more than dessert. Start a meal with them, an aperitif, or pair them with your main courses. Try to pair sweet wines with something salty or savory for a great balance.

Thanksgiving is a great time to start a love affair with Sauternes. Have it with the pumpkin pie, sure, but try it with the turkey, too. You’ll be surprised at the pairing.

Sweet Bordeaux US and Snooth recently held a virtual tasting of a nice selection of Sauternes wines, and I was lucky enough to be included.  Hosted by Snooth's co-founder and chief taster Mark Angelillo and wine educator Fred Swan, the event drew raves from those who participated in it. Swan, especially, won kudos all around for his vast knowledge and expertise. Eight sweet Bordeaux wines were sampled, and we'll be visiting them all this month.

Chateau Lauvignac Cuvée Sahuc Sauternes 2014

A Grand Vin de Bordeaux, the Cuvée Sahuc is made from Sauvignon Gris, Muscadelle and Sémillon grapes. It sells for just $19, making it one of the best deals from the region. In the Snooth virtual tasting, @jamesthewineguy liked the wine's yellow citrus peel, almond, crushed sea shells and pine nut notes.

This dessert wine's nose is laced with overripe apricots trod upon after a rain. It's sweet, but it's earthy, and just a hint of smoke comes out of nowhere. The palate gives the same mixed message. "Is this love, baby, or is it just confusion?" The acidity is good - not too soft, not too racy. The finish reminds me of that childhood fruit tree in the neighbors' yard, with just a little bit of raisin.


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Monday, November 6, 2017

Holiday Wine: Sweet Wine From Bordeaux

Sauternes is a city in France's Bordeaux region. It is also an appellation exclusive to sweet, golden dessert wines made largely from Sémillon grapes. Sweet white wine is not everyone's cup, but anyone who likes a good dessert and a good glass of wine should not object to having them in the same serving. However, sweet Bordeaux wines are for more than dessert. Start a meal with them, an aperitif, or pair them with your main courses. Try to pair sweet wines with something salty or savory for a great balance.

Thanksgiving is a great time to start a love affair with Sauternes. Have it with the pumpkin pie, sure, but try it with the turkey, too. You’ll be surprised at the pairing.

Sweet Bordeaux US and Snooth recently held a virtual tasting of a nice selection of Sauternes wines, and I was lucky enough to be included.  Hosted by Snooth's co-founder and chief taster Mark Angelillo and wine educator Fred Swan, the event drew raves from those who participated in it. Swan, especially, won kudos all around for his vast knowledge and expertise. Eight sweet Bordeaux wines were sampled, and we'll be visiting them all this month.

Chateau Filhot Sauternes 2009

Chateau Filhot is a second growth vineyard in the Sauternes region, planted to mostly Sémillon and Sauvignon Blanc grapes, with a smudge of Muscadelle. Its history dates back to the 1600s and finds it intertwined with Chateau d'Yquem, with which it was compared by Thomas Jefferson when he was ambassador to France. A Yquem family member reportedly owned the place, for awhile. The bottle retails for $40.

This wine has a lovely, golden hue, like a room bathed in the glow from a fireplace. On the nose, candied apricots and a hint of lemon peel lead the way. Honey traces portend sweetness. The palate has a special delivery for a sweet tooth. Apples, peaches and pears mingle in a viscous, mouth coating orgy of fruit. One of the online tasters commented on how strongly the Sauvignon Blanc comes through. There is a good level of acidity, too, in case you're not having it just for dessert. A brie would go nicely, or a triple cream cheese. You could even pair this with a seafood dish.


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Friday, November 3, 2017

Portugal Wine: Prats + Symington Chryseia

Portugal's Douro Valley is one of the most distinctive terroirs in the wide, wide world of wine. Prats and Symington grow grapes and make wine there. The Symington family owns most of the big port houses. Bruno Prats left Bordeaux, seeking winemaking thrills in Chile, South Africa and, finally, Portugal. He partnered with the Symingtons in the late 1990s. Together, they put Bordeaux wine-making methods to grapes that are usually intended for Port in the Prats and Symington wines.

The Symingtons have two prime Douro estates, Quinta de Roriz and Quinta da Perdiz. Both quintas are near the village of  Ervedosa. The different microclimates and soils of the two valleys produce different results. Roriz gets minerality from traces of tin, the remnants of old mines. The cool riverside nights also bring more aromatics. Perdiz is in the warmer Torto Valley, and offers more ripeness as a result. The grapes are largely grown in dedicated plots, rather than mixed vineyards, which is more typical for the the area.

Portuguese grapes, aah, they are exotic and wonderful. Touriga Nacional for floral aromatics, Touriga Franca for body and structure and Tinta Roriz - Tempranillo in Spain - gives a peppery flair.
Post Scriptum's Chryseia was first bottled from the 2000 vintage. The wine is fermented in stainless steel tanks, then aged in 400-litre French oak barrels, for 14 months. Grape distribution has 64% Touriga Franca, 28% Touriga Nacional and 8% Tinta Roriz. Winemakers Bruno Prats and Charles Symington oversee production, with the assistance of Pedro Correia and Luis Coelho. Alcohol sits at 14.3% abv and the retails price is $25.

Post Scriptum De Chryseia is inky indigo and impenetrable at its core. The nose is a wild array of blackberry, cigar boxes, leather and the whole spice rack. It has a great mouthfeel, full and rich with enough tannic structure to handle prime rib, yet not so much that it ruins the sip. That dark fruit is lip-smacking good on the palate and it carries along a savory saddlebag of spices, which linger long on the finish.


Wednesday, November 1, 2017

Martini Time: Boodles Gin

Boodles is a British, London Dry gin that has been around since 1845. The company was named after Boodles gentlemen's club, run by one Edward Boodles. This is the gin that was reputedly served there and is believed to have been a favorite of Winston Churchill, although other gins also make that claim. Who wouldn't? This "proper British gin" is now made at the Greenall's distillery

The Boodles crest offers "labour and patience" as two of the gin's ingredients. The company claims Boodles is a "clean spirit distilled from British wheat and then infused with a number of traditional herbs and spices, including nutmeg, sage, and rosemary." The PR department says Boodles is known for its "distinctive floral nose and lingering juniper flavor, with a clean finish," and that sounds fairly accurate. Nine botanicals make up Boodles -  it's just fun to say - and contribute to its aroma and taste. Juniper, coriander seed, angelica root and seed, cassia bark, caraway seed, nutmeg, rosemary and sage are all blended together to make Boodles. They claim they are the only gin to contain nutmeg, rosemary and sage in its recipe.

There are some piney notes on the nose, from the juniper, and a floral element, but both are quiet. The gin tastes very elegant and smooth, at 45.2% abv. No citrus botanicals are used, unlike other London dry gins. They figure you’ll put a slice of lemon or lime in your cocktail, so there's no need. Boodles also makes a Mulberry gin, which I gather is like a sloe gin, except made with mulberries.

Monday, October 30, 2017

Kona Brewers Ride Wave Of Success

Started by father and son Cameron Healy and Spoon KhalsaKona Brewing Company is based on the western coast of the Big Island of Hawaii. A lot of people surf there, but even more drink beer. 1995 saw their first brew, Pacific Golden Ale, which is now known as Big Wave Golden Ale.

KBC brews their beer not just in Hawaii, but also in mainland locations that are close to their distribution centers. The water mineral levels at each brewery are adjusted to simulate the water used in Hawaii.

Sustainability is a watchword for the company, as they recycle everything from plastic cups to spent grain to air conditioner condensation. They also like to give back to the community and the world by supporting local interests like Bishop Museum and the Kokua Festival, and global ones like Sierra Club's Blue Water Campaign and Surfrider Organization.

Kona Brewing Company Big Wave Golden Ale is a light-bodied Ale with a golden hue that they say comes from caramel malt. The beer has a fresh, tropical nose with a hint of citrus and tastes smooth, with just a nod toward the Galaxy and Citra hops used in making it. It's very refreshing and goes great with chips and salsa or ahi poke. Or sausages, if you're in the mood. Alcohol is a low 4.4% abv, so you can have another one.


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Wednesday, October 25, 2017

Wine Country Washington: Mercer Sharp Sisters Red Blend

The Mercer family has been working the land in southern Washington's Horse Heaven Hills AVA for more than a hundred years.  Rob and Will Mercer not only grow wine grapes, but also other fruits and vegetables - like baby carrots - near Prosser, Washington with the use of sustainable farming practices.

The 2015 Sharp Sisters Red Blend shows a family name and includes Cabernet Sauvignon from the Eagle & Plow Vineyard, Merlot from the Dead Canyon Vineyard, Grenache, Syrah and Carignane from the Spice Cabinet Vineyard and Petit Verdot from Milt's Vineyard.  Winemaker Jessica Munnell used nearly equal amounts of Cab and Syrah, blended with the rest in smaller quantities.  Alcohol is large, at 14.8% abv, but the price tag is reasonable, at just above $20.

The Sharp Sisters red is inky purple, with a nose of big, black fruit and quite a savory side. I smell cigar box, spice rack and cedar plank on the nose, in addition to the plums and blackberries. The palate comes on less brawny that expected given the high-octane alcohol number. It's a pleasant array of black and blue fruit that is remarkably smooth, yet its tannins are muscular enough to sit with a ribeye.


Monday, October 23, 2017

San Diego Beer: Orderville IPA By Modern Times

You've probably experienced the same sort of thing that happened to San Diego’s Modern Times Beer, only maybe not with hops. The story of their Orderville IPA is all about great passion, the best intentions, bad luck and a happy ending. Er, a hoppy ending.

Their blog, by proprietor Jacob McKean, describes how they set out to make a "wet-hopped" beer, using freshly harvested, green Mosaic, Simcoe and Chinook hops. They intended to brew the beer and dry-hop it with those wet hops. Not being a brewer, I'm lost already, but they say it sounded cool at the time and I agree with them.

This is where things went wrong. I'll let McKean get all beer-nerdy again. "The harvest, of course, didn’t shake out at all as predicted, and we were forced to brew two entirely separate beers: one with wet Simcoe, another with wet Chinook. The wet Mosaic showed up late—naturally—so we dry-hopped the Simcoe beer with the wet Mosaic. But we ordered so much Mosaic that we literally couldn’t fit
anywhere near enough of it into the fermenter, so we filled the hopback with the wet Mosaic and recirculated the beer through it over and over and over and over again." Then the two beers were blended, and that's Orderville. It is, by their own description, a "completely absurd and radically inefficient" way to make beer. But it's a happy - and hoppy - ending.


This Point Loma beer is one of the most distinctive IPAs I've ever tasted. As an IPA true believer, even I recognize that the style tends to taste almost interchangeable at times. This one most certainly does not. The green hops give the beer a less "roasted" feel. The aroma is fresh and almost biting, less floral and more herbal. The flavor profile has a bit of a cantaloupe note amid the citrus, which is something I've never experienced before. It's dry, it's fantastic, it's food-friendly and it paired very well with a pepperoni flatbread.