Tuesday, July 31, 2018

Wine And Climate Change

Monday, July 30, 2018

Octopus And Spanish Wine At José Andrés' Place

A Baltimore vacation needs a bit of variety sometimes, and there are only so many crab cakes one can eat.  There are only so many snowballs one can enjoy from Bmore Licks, only so many water taxi rides one can take.  So, there's a casino in Maryland, down by the nation's capital?  Why not?  I figured I might run into a Trump administration official I could be rude to in public.

While Denise was playing the slots at the MGM National Harbor, and after I had "finished up" at the blackjack tables, I ambled over to the shopping and dining area.  I had some beers at a sports bar called "Tap," but let's save that for later.  Let me tell you about one of the best snacks I ever had, one that only cost about half what I won at blackjack.

I was tempted to visit the bar at the Voltaggio Brothers' Steakhouse, but I'm really glad I opted for a Spanish wine with octopus at "Fish," by José Andrés.  If there are tentacles on a menu, I'm there.  The octopus appetizer was a double down opportunity if there ever was one.  It came in a marinara salsa, with peanut crunch mixed into it.  Really.  It was the best octopus dish I've ever had, and I've a few really good ones.

When in a Spanish restaurant, get the Spanish wine, I always say.  The wine I chose was made from the Hondarrabi Zuri grape variety of the Basque region.  It's called Txakoli, or Txakolin, or Txakolina if you're really nice to it.  Pronounce the "Tx" like a "Ch."  I dined in my favorite solo way, at the bar.

The 2014 Txomin Extaniz colors up pale gold in the glass and features a nose big with minerals, salinity first.  The palate is savory, salty and citrusy.  There are beautiful nutty notes - all the better to pair with that peanut crunch - with grapefruit and orange peel on the finish. 


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Friday, July 27, 2018

Maryland Wine: Boordy Vineyards

This "Wild Ponies" wine from Boordy Vineyards, just northeast of Baltimore, is named after the wild ponies that reportedly came ashore at Assateague Island from a Spanish shipwreck in the 17th century.  It's a Syrah, and a pretty good one, too. It's a bit different from French or California Syrahs I've had, in that it has a deceptively simple approach and relies less on wood aging.

The labels of the Chesapeake Icons line are fantastic, each highlighting a different facet of Maryland wildlife.

The Boordy Vineyards Chesapeake Icon No. 7 Syrah 2015 is aged for 14 months in a mix of stainless steel, American and Hungarian oak barrels.  Alcohol hits a reasonable 13.5% abv and it retails for $15.

This Maryland wine is a deep, rich purple in the glass.  The nose is earthy and brawny, full of black and blue berries.  It is somewhat reminiscent, when chilled, of a good Lambrusco.  The flavors are as dark as the aromas.  Oak is not overly pronounced and the finish leans more toward blackberry than blue.



Wednesday, July 25, 2018

Wine With Crabcakes

Jean-Pascal Aubron makes delicious white wines in France's Loire Valley.  His family has been doing that since the 19th century.  The winery is located outside of Nantes, near the Atlantic coast in the Muscadet-Sevre et Maine appellation.  In that region, up to five grams of residual sugar is allowed in the wines, but Aubron produces a bone-dry wine with none at all.

The grapes used for the Domaine Jean Aubron Cuvee Elegance Muscadet are the Melon de Bourgogne variety, fermented in glass-lined concrete and steel tanks and aged there for eight months on the lees.  Alcohol is restrained at 12% abv.

I had this amazing white wine at a seafood place in Baltimore's Fells Point area, the Thames Street Oyster House.  The bartender gave it high marks, and he was right.  It's loaded with minerals and a briny salinity, and was an excellent pair with a  tuna salad, lobster claws and a crab cake.


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Monday, July 23, 2018

Maryland IPAs

Maryland has some pretty good brewers in the state these days.  As in many of the 50, craft beer has found its legs in the Free State.  Here are two from Frederick, Maryland.

Flying Dog Snake Dog IPA

Flying Dog is reportedly Maryland's largest brewer. It was founded in 1990 by
George Stranahan and Richard McIntyre.  The original brewery was located near Denver, with Frederick serving as a second outpost, but the Colorado brewery was abandoned in favor of the Maryland locale.  

For Snake Dog, the hops are Mosaic, Citra, Simcoe, Columbus and Warrior.

The fresh hops aroma gives the IPA a more floral than fruity nose.  It's easy drinking at 7.1% abv, with a nice bitterness that melds with the sweeter aspects.  Snakedog paired very nicely with smoked fish.



Flying Dog Double Dog Double IPA

Flying Dog's Double Dog Double IPA was envisioned as a tenth anniversary creation for the brewery, and got so popular it stuck around. Using Columbus, Warrior and Cascade hops, this IPA offers both bark and bite.

A bit more robust at 11.5% abv, this one can take you by surprise if you gulp.  Its creators recommend taming the slight alcohol burn with strong cheese or earthy carrot cake. Hearty and bold, this double IPA has enough flowery nose and earthy palate notes for at least two.



Note the artwork on both is by Ralph Steadman, who was Dr. Hunter S. Thompson's illustrator. Thompson was reportedly good friends with co-founder Stranahan.








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Thursday, July 19, 2018

Wednesday, July 18, 2018

Dry Rosé - From Livermore Valley

Winemaker Robbie Meyer took to Snooth recently to discuss the latest vintages from Murrieta's Well, in California's Livermore Valley.

The vines of the Murrieta's Well estate vineyards were first planted in 1884 by Louis Mel with cuttings from Chateau d'Yquem and Chateau Margaux, says the winery.  Mel sold the property, lock, stock and wine barrel, to Ernest Wente in the 1930s, and it's still part of the Wente Family estate.  Today, Meyer personally selects grapes from all over the five hundred acres.

He says there is "nothing quite like growing fruit in the vineyard, caring for it in the winery and crafting it into something people can enjoy."  Through the growing, the harvesting and the fermentation, Meyer says blending is where he sees the real art of winemaking.

He sat in with a group of invited wine writers and helped us sip through the Murrieta's Well Sauvignon Blanc, dry rosé, white and red blends and a pre-release of the Cabernet Sauvignon.

Murrieta's Well Dry Rosé 2017

This pink wine was made from LIvermore Valley grapes, 42% Grenache, 39% Counoise and 19% Mourvèdre, all grown specifically for rosé.  The alcohol is easy, at 13.5% abv.  They made a couple thousand cases of it and sell it for $30 a bottle.  Stainless steel vinification and 2 months aging make for a clean and fresh wine.

This rosé is a vibrant salmon pink in the glass.  Its nose offers cherries, strawberries and a savory touch of lanolin.  Red fruit dominates on the palate along with a side of herbal notes, like the greens of the berries.  The acidity is just enough, almost silky, in fact.  The wine will pair quite nicely with fish or a salad of any sort.


Monday, July 16, 2018

The Spur - Livermore Valley Red Blend

Winemaker Robbie Meyer took to Snooth recently to discuss the latest vintages from Murrieta's Well, in California's Livermore Valley.

The vines of the Murrieta's Well estate vineyards were first planted in 1884 by Louis Mel with cuttings from Chateau d'Yquem and Chateau Margaux, says the winery.  Mel sold the property, lock, stock and wine barrel, to Ernest Wente in the 1930s, and it's still part of the Wente Family estate.  Today, Meyer personally selects grapes from all over the five hundred acres.

He says there is "nothing quite like growing fruit in the vineyard, caring for it in the winery and crafting it into something people can enjoy."  Through the growing, the harvesting and the fermentation, Meyer says blending is where he sees the real art of winemaking.

He sat in with a group of invited wine writers and helped us sip through the Murrieta's Well Sauvignon Blanc, dry rosé, white and red blends and a pre-release of the Cabernet Sauvignon.

Murrieta's Well The Spur 2015

All grapes for The Spur were taken from the Murrieta's Well estate vineyards in California's Livermore Valley.  They are planted all over the 500-acre spread according to the various microclimates.

Bordeaux varieties combine here - 48% Cabernet Sauvignon, 20% Petite Sirah, 18% Merlot, 8% Petit Verdot and 6% Cabernet Franc.  309 barrels were produced and alcohol hits the expected 14.5% abv.  The wine sells for $35.

The Spur is an inky dark wine with an explosively earthy nose.  Big black fruit - plums, cassis - are met with dense forest floor and sage notes.  The palate is equally blessed, with an easy touch on the oak, a lively acidity and gentle tannins.  Herbal flavors include white and bell pepper and a hint of rosemary.


Friday, July 13, 2018

The Whip - Livermore Valley White Wine Blend

Winemaker Robbie Meyer took to Snooth recently to discuss the latest vintages from Murrieta's Well, in California's Livermore Valley.

The vines of the Murrieta's Well estate vineyards were first planted in 1884 by Louis Mel with cuttings from Chateau d'Yquem and Chateau Margaux, says the winery.  Mel sold the property, lock, stock and wine barrel, to Ernest Wente in the 1930s, and it's still part of the Wente Family estate.  Today, Meyer personally selects grapes from all over the five hundred acres. 

He says there is "nothing quite like growing fruit in the vineyard, caring for it in the winery and crafting it into something people can enjoy."  Through the growing, the harvesting and the fermentation, Meyer says blending is where he sees the real art of winemaking.

He sat in with a group of invited wine writers and helped us sip through the Murrieta's Well Sauvignon Blanc, dry rosé, white and red blends and a pre-release of the Cabernet Sauvignon.

Murrieta's Well The Whip 2016

The Whip starts out as a Bordeaux Blanc, but bends toward the Rhône about halfway through.  The grapes are a fairly even split of five estate-grown varieties - 33% Sauvignon Blanc, 24% Semillon, 21% Chardonnay, 12% Orange Muscat and 10% Viognier.  The wine's alcohol level rests comfortably at 13.5% abv, 297 barrels produced and the retail price is $26.

A portion of the Chardonnay and Sauvignon Blanc were fermented in oak to give them extra roundness. Then, 14 months aging in barrels added even more softness.

The wine looks pale gold in the glass, with green shadings showing.  Its nose is a mixture of orange blossoms, apricots, light grass and earth notes.  The palate offers lovely stone fruit and citrus.  The flavors are pleasing and the acidity is easily racy enough for a salad or egg dish.  In fact, I think having it with Sunday brunch would be perfect.  The grapes here are Sauvignon Blanc, Semillon, Chardonnay, Orange Muscat and Viognier, so it's a real vineyard party in a glass.



Wednesday, July 11, 2018

Rioja Rosé

Rosé season is in full swing, if there really is such a thing.  I bellow so much about how pink wines are great any time of year that I'm starting to feel like the rosado hombre gruñón.  Rosé wines are as good in December as they are in July.  But since it's July, let’s have a glass on the patio.

The 2017 Bodegas Beronia rosé is a Rioja blend of 40% Garnacha, 30% Tempranillo and 30% Viura grapes.  It hits only 13% abv on the alcoholometer and it sells for under $15 in most places.  Bodega Gonzalez Byass exports this and many other fine Spanish wines all over the world.

The grapes were given just a few hours of skin contact for color, then fermented, and bottled in January.  The 2017 vintage had frost in the winter, hot temperatures in the summer and August rain saved the day.

This beautiful Rioja rosé strikes a pose of vibrant salmon in the glass.  It has a beautiful nose, too, rich with cherries, strawberries, greens and flowers.  On the palate, light fruit leads, with a backbeat of savory herbs coming through.  Acidity is zippy, but not overpowering, while the finish is medium and very pleasant.


Monday, July 9, 2018

Get Offa My Grapevines!

It's the 30th anniversary vintage of Bonny Doon Vineyard's flagship wine, Le Cigare Volant.  Bonny Doon, the Santa Cruz-based winery that's on a self-described "adventure to make naturally soulful, distinctive, and original wine," knocks me out every year with the "flying cigar" release.

The label, by Chuck House, depicts a strange airship sending down a beam of red onto a pastoral vineyard.  Legend has it, in 1954 a UFO scare terrified the winegrowers of Châteauneuf-du-Pape so much that a decree was issued, banning any "flying cigar" from landing and destroying the vines.  To my knowledge, it's still on the books today because, why not?  It's a great story and one of the better back stories for any wine ever.

Le Cigare Volant is a Châteauneuf-du-Pape-ian blend of 55% Grenache, 25% Syrah, 16% Mourvèdre and 4% Cinsault.  The grapes came from six noted California vineyards, Rancho Solo, Bien Nacido, Ventana, Del Barba, Bechtold, Alta Loma.  Alcohol stands at the usual 14.5% abv, 2,400 cases were produced and the wine sells for $45.

Owner and winemaker Randall Grahm remembers the 2013 vintage as "cool and elegant" and says the 2013 release is "slightly less muscular than '12."  Grahm expects the wine to age well for 10-15 years.

The Syrah in the mix came mostly from Bien Nacido Vineyard in the Santa Maria Valley, possibly my favorite vineyard, and one which Grahm says has the "closest analogue we have found to a Northern Rhone Syrah."

I love smelling the wines of Randall Grahm.  He makes savory walk and talk and jump through hoops.  This wine, the 30th anniversary vintage of Cigare, brings it home like it always does.  It shows a medium dark color in the glass and on the nose.  There is cassis and licorice, but the savory notes carry the load.  Black olive is the first smell I get, followed by a bit of tar and a whiff of smoke.  Cigar box, leather and bacon fat finish out a complex aroma package.  The palate is delicious as always.  Grahm says the '13 is "less muscular," but I think there's more to it.  This Cigare drinks with the weight and elegance of a Pinot Noir.  Black fruit is forward, while more savory aspects of sage and mint come in to join it.  The tannins are gentle, the acidity fresh and the finish long. 


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Friday, July 6, 2018

Wente: A Single-Vineyard Chardonnay

If you love Chardonnay, you probably love Wente Vineyards, and you may not know it.  The grape clone which is used to make 80% of American Chardonnay is here thanks to Wente.  In 1912, German immigrant C.H. Wente planted a cutting from from the vine nursery at France's University of Montpellier.  That Chardonnay plant became the Wente clone of the grape.

To get a bit geeky, In viticulture a "clone" refers to vines descended from a single plant by taking a cutting or bud.  Each vine grown on a clone is said to be genetically identical to the original vine.

Wente is the country's oldest continuously operated family-owned winery, now run by the family's 4th and 5th-generations.  A virtual tasting event was hosted recently by the family historian, Phil Wente, and winegrower Niki Wente, who walked us through five different styles of their line that defined California Chardonnay. 

The Wente family is five generations deep into the wine business and are sometimes referred to as "California's First Family of Chardonnay."  They say they were the first in California to make a varietally labeled Chardonnay, in 1936.

Wente Single Vineyard Riva Ranch Chardonnay 2016

Six different clones of Chardonnay grapes were used in making this wine, all from Wente's Riva Ranch Vineyard in Arroyo Seco, Monterey County.  There's a 2% splash of Gewürztraminer in the mix.  The Wentes say Arroyo Seco is the best place in California to grow Chardonnay due to its "cool growing season with the deep gravelly soil" which both help ripen the grapes and balance the sugar and acidity.

About 90% of the wine was barrel fermented in French and American oak, 60% new.  The remaining 10% was fermented in stainless steel.  The wine underwent full malolactic fermentation and was barrel-aged on the lees for eight months.  Alcohol 14.5% abv and it sells for $22.

This Chardonnay is oaked to what I hope is the maximum point.  On the nose, a strong vanilla scent meets a Carmen Miranda hat of tropical fruit, like pineapple, mango and banana.  The acidity is zippy yet the mouthfeel is creamy, thanks to the malo.  Citrus lasts the longest on the finish, but it has to fight it out with the oak to do so.  If you're in the mood for a good ol' fashioned California Chardonnay, this is your bottle.


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Wednesday, July 4, 2018

Paso Robles GSM Hits Homer

The Paso Robles wine region sprawls over a good part of California's Central Coast.  It sprawls so, that it was recently divided into eleven sub-AVAs.  That's a testament to the variety of terroirs in the region's 600,000-plus acres, 40,000 of which are under vine. 

Hall Ranch sports five sustainably farmed estate vineyards - 300 acres in all.  They grow 21 different grape varietals there in the neighborhood of the Estrella River.  Head winemaker Don Brady was Texas-trained, back before Texas had a wine industry of which to speak.  He's been with Hall for nearly two decades.

Robert Hall's 2016 Cavern Select GSM is a Rhône blend of Grenache, Syrah and Morvèdre in more or less equal parts.  About half of the grapes came from Paso's Adelaida sub-app, about a third from the El Pomar region and the rest were from the Creston and Santa Margarita Ranch appellations.  Oak was used in the fermentation and aging process, Fresn and European (Hungarian?) and much of it was new wood.  Alcohol sits at 14.5% abv and it’s available only through the wine club and tasting room at $45.

This inky wine smells the way you want a GSM to smell, full of blackberry, cigar box and tar.  It has aromas that won't quit until you notice them.  The flavors are just as insistent, and just as dark.  Oak is pronounced, but well integrated, while the tannins can handle a steak without getting in the way. 


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Monday, July 2, 2018

Temecula Wine Pairing Dinner

Temecula is trying to work its way up the California Wine Regions ladder, and it's a tough climb.  It's got to be hard enough to fight for the attention of Southern California with Santa Barbara County, just up the coast a bit.  But trying to wedge yourself into a conversation containing Napa Valley, Sonoma County, Paso Robles, etc. is a suicide mission.  Add in the fact that Temecula is still just getting on its feet as a serious wine region, which many will argue is still a work in progress.  The Temecula wine community would love to see Angelenos spending their day trip money there, instead of driving north.

The Temecula Winegrowers Association recently held a small dinner in Los Angeles, the purpose of which was to woo people who write about wine to write about Temecula.  I was an easy target, because I do like Temecula and have found a number of wines from that region to be quite good.  That said, there has been a lot of chaff with the wheat as the area grows up.  The dinner was held in a pop-up space on a side street in Venice. 

One aspect of the Temecula Valley that was hit upon time and again was its proximity to the Pacific Ocean.  Most people think of the area as a hot, landlocked inland hell, but it's not.  Several of the representatives present pointed out that Temecula is actually less than 20 miles from the California coastline and receives the benefits of the ocean breezes.

Winemakers were standing together as I walked in before the dinner, telling each other "PBR per acre" inside jokes, spinoffs of "it takes a lot of beer to make wine."  In the aperitif time, I got to speak with Leoness Cellars owner Mike Rennie, a self-described "crazy ol' farmer" who happens to own about a quarter of the Temecula Valley's 2500 acres of grapes.  Rennie talked about how he speaks with former NFL quarterback - now Orange County winegrower - Vince Ferragamo weekly about grapes.  Rennie grows 19 different grape varieties in his Temecula soil.

Patrick Comiskey, who writes about wine for the "Los Angeles Times" seemed rather unimpressed with the pre-dinner beverage until I told him it was a Temecula Blanc de Blanc.  He admitted that it was "very good," and he seemed to be genuinely surprised by the realization.  The Carter Estate Blanc de Blanc is all Chardonnay - that's what Blanc de Blanc means - very dry, toasty, bright and balanced.  It will pair with just about anything, and it went great with the African spice popcorn and sfingi - Italian doughnut puffs - that were passed around before dinner.

Former NFL star and actor Fred Dryer was there as the guest of CRN's Michael Horn.  Dryer does a sports show for Horn's website and seemed rather unengaged - even when asked about his TV series "Hunter."  Dryer lit up, though, when I asked about his status as the "Sultan of Safeties."  He’s the only NFL player ever to score two safeties in the same game.  He really didn't seem very impressed with the food, which I thought was outstanding.  He also begged off on sampling much of the wine, explaining that he was driving.  Locavore chef Leah Di Bernardo of E.A.T. and her crew provided a menu that was inventive and delicious. 

As for the wine, Renzoni Vineyards winemaker Olivia Beale spoke eloquently about her creations, Tim Kramer explained the Leoness offerings and Marcello and Damien Doffo were there as a father and son wine crew.

Wines and Food

Leoness Mélange d'Ete 2017 - This lovely white is an off-dry mix of Viognier, Roussanne, Marsanne and Muscat.  Its sweet, floral nose is great, while the palate is flat but fruity, peach mostly.  It was paired with grilled peach toast to nice effect.

Robert Renzoni Vineyards Vermentino 2017 - Made from grapes grown by a grower "down the road."  There's a nice tropical nose with fabulous salinity, and similar notes for the palate.  The great acidity suggests a great food wine.  It should have been a great pair with the San Diego halibut, but oddly, it was not.  It wasn't a bad match, though.

Renzoni Lyric Rose 2015 - This rosé of Syrah displays a nose that’s herbal and full of strawberries.  The palate is dry and fruity, perfect .  Chef Leah's heritage pork paired extremely well with it, featuring strawberry on pork, served with the bone on plate.  A knockout dish.

Doffo Winery Viognier 2017 - This was served with the cheese course, in the middle of the meal.  Its flowers, peaches and herbs show wonderfully on the nose.  The palate has a great acidity, with stone fruit flavors in a straightforward presentation.  The wine was very nice with the triple cream brie.

Leoness Cellar Select Meritage 2014 - 50% Merlot and 35% Cab Franc with splashes of other noble grapes filling out the blend.  This beefy wine was paired with beets and berries, and fared surprisingly well.

Doffo Mofodoffo Gran Tinto 2015 - This wine features mostly Zinfandel with some Petite Sirah.  I would have bet it was a Tempranillo.  Smoke and red fruit decorate the nose, big tannins are there to work on meats, and a savory streak delights.  It paired with braised lentils well, too.

Renzoni Sonata 2014 - A Tuscan blend, half Cab and half Sangiovese, the clone used to make Brunello.  All oak and tannins, this might have been better as simply a Sangiovese.  24 months in new French oak definitely left its mark.  It shines with food and was served with grilled octopus, pasta shells and a tomato sauce.  It was an interesting pairing, although not ideal for this wine.

Doffo Mistura 2015 - Mistura is Portuguese for "mixture."  This Cabernet/Syrah blend was the first Doffo wine produced on the property.  There are baskets of red and blue fruit on the nose, and a soft and fruity feel on the palate . The wine paired wonderfully with the King Trumpet mushrooms on grain.  In my opinion, the Mistura was the best wine of the evening, and it was the best pairing offered.

After a break for an iced hazelnut and vanilla Spokane coffee, the meal wrapped up with the Leoness Signature Selection Grande Mélange 2014.  Their play on Châteauneuf-du-Pape has Syrah, Grenache, Cinsault and Mourvèdre.  There was good structure, nice fruit and a savory note that showed a bit tart.  It paired well with the vanilla bean gelato that ended the meal.


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