Friday, January 31, 2020

White Wines For Winter: Côtes du Rhône Blanc

White wines are not just for summers and salads.  There are rich, full-bodied whites which are bold and warming.  They also pair beautifully with winter dishes - root vegetables, stews and herbs like fennel go particularly well with a nice, well balanced Chardonnay, for example.  I find that whites aged in oak serve me better in the winter than unoaked wines.  In fact, oak makes a white wine feels like Christmas to me.  I prefer an easy touch on the wood, however. 

Famille Perrin Côtes du Rhône Réserve 2018

The Perrin family heads up a French winemaking company which includes the noted Château de Beaucastel of the Rhône Valley.  The grapes for this wine were picked from vines growing between the Ouvèze and Aigues rivers.  Grenache Blanc, Marsanne, Roussanne and Viognier fruit was vinified in stainless steel - no oak at all - to an alcohol level of 13% abv and it retails for about $12.

This white Rhône blend shows the Viognier best, all floral and citrusy.  The tart apple notes of the Grenache Blanc play off of the savory aspect of the Roussanne and Marsanne.  The palate is mineral-laden, with citrus, peach and pear appearing.  Nice acidity, too.  These are some great grapes, and they do not disappoint. 

Monday, January 27, 2020

Israeli Wine Shows Its Oak

Carmel is Israel's largest wine producer, makers of about half of the wine from the country.  It was founded in 1882 by Baron Edmond de Rothschild, whom you may know as the owner of Château Lafite in Bordeaux.  Chief Carmel winemaker Yiftach Perets is listed on the label, along with his signature.  The wine is kosher and mevushal - flash-pasteurized. 

The winery has released a trio of premium reds under the banner Private Collection, which recognize Israel's 137 years of modern winemaking. 

The Carmel Private Collection Winemakers Blend 2018 is a 50/50 blend of Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot. The wine aged for only eight months in French and American oak barrels, but the oak effect suggests more than the advertised time.  The label's Cabernet Sauvignon also saw eight months, but doesn’t smell or taste like it.  Their Shiraz is a wine I liked a lot, too.  The Winemakers Blend clicks 14% abv in alcohol and retails for $15.

This dark red wine has a nose of black cherry, blackberry and vanilla.  The palate shows its fruit forward, with dark berries layered over sweet oak spice.  It is not terribly complex, but it sips well enough and has firm enough tannins to pair with a ribeye steak or tri-tip. 

Friday, January 24, 2020

Whales And Wine: Waipapa Bay

New Zealand is known in the wine world for the country's unique Sauvignon Blanc and Pinot Noir.  The cool, maritime climate lends a wonderful acidity, particularly to the white wines. 

Native New Zealanders Brent and Shirley Rawstron have a thing about white wine grapes, and they are currently releasing not only a Sauvignon Blanc but a Chardonnay and Pinot Gris as well.  They gave their wines the name of a favorite local surf spot, Waipapa Bay, which also happens to be a great place to go whale watching.  The area lies between their Canterbury home and their vineyards in Rapaura - on the northern end of New Zealand's South Island.

Along with the Waipapa Bay 2019 releases this month, the winery has announced a partnership with Whale and Dolphin Conservation (WDC) - the nonprofit's first wine industry corporate sponsor. 

WDC was founded in 1985 and now spans the globe to lead the charge on protections for whales and dolphins.  A spokeswoman for WDC says, "We are excited to receive the support of sustainably-focused businesses such as Waipapa Bay Wines."  The Rawlstons are just as excited about supporting WDC's efforts to end captivity, stop whaling, create healthy seas, and prevent accidental deaths in fishing gear.

The 2019 Waipapa Bay Pinot Gris is a real charmer.  It smells as fresh as a spring morning, exhibiting  brilliant lime and lemon aromas - dripping with minerality - and a whiff of peach juice and flowers.  The palate offers lovely flavors of nectarine and tangerine, joined by a racy acidity.  Alcohol tips only 13% abv and the wine sells for $15.

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Wednesday, January 22, 2020

Laura Catena Comes To Los Angeles

I am not often invited to the Consulate General of Argentina Residence in Los Angeles, so when I am, I try to amble over that way.  With pressed shirt, the "nice" shoes - the ones I don't wear for walking all the time - and hair arranged semi-neatly, I made the nine-minute drive east, to a street a little past Larchmont.

The occasion was a wine-tasting event and theatrical performance hosted by Argentine winemaker Laura Catena.  She brought her roadshow to L.A., "As Wine Flows By," a short original play which tells the tale of the Malbec grape through the perspectives of four women who embody different landmarks in the variety's history.  Catena commented that for years the wine world has been overloaded with Y-chromosomes.  "Men made the wine. Men wrote about the wine. Men collected the wine. It wasn't until the 1980s that women's contributions began to be noticed and acknowledged."  London actress Tina Baston worked wonders as the storyteller.

Laura Catena
At the event, I rubbed elbows with other wine writer types and wine sales types.  Several of the wine writer types recognized me, and I made a few new friends.  One of the wine sales types commented to me that that there were worse ways to spend an overcast afternoon than by drinking wine in some rich person’s back yard.  I had to concur.

Laura Catena is a winemaker, medical doctor and all-around gracious woman who has labelled one of her wines with a visual representation of the Malbec story.  She also has a new book to push, Gold in the Vineyards, the story of her family's involvement in wine and a look at a dozen of the world’s most famous vineyards.

Tina Baston
Catena uses four female figures on the label.  Eleanor of Aquitaine - one of the most powerful women of the Middle Ages - represents the birth of Malbec.  Madame Phylloxera personifies the near-death of the French wine industry in the late 1800s.  The Immigrant represents the pioneering women leaving Europe for a new continent.  Catena's sister Adrianna is the fourth, symbolizing the modern-day renaissance of Malbec in the new world.

Wines poured:

The 2018 Catena Appellation Tupungato Chardonnay is an elegant white made from grapes grown on high mountain vines.  The barrel fermentation and nine months aging in French oak shows, with sweet oak spice and tropical citrus on the nose.  The palate is only slightly oaky and has a very pleasant earthy note.

For the 2017 Catena Alta Chardonnay, the grapes came largely from the mineral-laden Adrianna Vineyard.  There is a bit more oak here - 14 months - but the fruit shines through and the wine is all the sweeter for it.

The 2017 Adrianna Vineyard White Bones Chardonnay bears the floral expression for which the vineyard is known.  The wine is earthier and leaner than the previous pair and reminiscent of Chablis.

The 2015 Nicolas Catena Zapata is a blend of Cabernet Sauvignon and Malbec.  It shows dark fruit and oak spice on the nose and is dark and brooding on the palate, a perfect match for steak.

The 2017 Malbec Argentino is a blend of two vineyards, Nicasia and Angélica.  The expansive nose is  fruity with white pepper and perfume along for the ride.  Easy tannins lead to a beautiful finish.

The 2015 Nicasia Vineyard Malbec is perfumed as well, and shows cherries on the nose and palate.  Firm tannins beg for a meat pairing.

You may know how hungry a person can get while tasting a half-dozen or so wines.  Fortunately, we were served food from the capable hands of Chef Ricardo Coghlan, executive chef at the Consulate of Argentina in Los Angeles.

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Tuesday, January 21, 2020

A Hops Liqueur, Distilled In L.A.

This bottle of Grand Hops California Liqueur was a Christmas gift from one of my more adventurous alcohol friends.  Marge is always willing to try a new grape, style or brew.  She doesn't always turn in a glowing review but, for those of us like her, it's not about finding a new favorite - it's about the search for one.

Grand Hops is made by Greenbar distillery, established in 2004, Greenbar was the first distillery to open its doors in Los Angeles since Prohibition.  They were on the leading edge of craft spirits then and, apparently, now.

Greenbar's Litty Mathew says the Grand Hops spirit was handcrafted to bring "the spicy, citrusy flavors of hop flowers found in California IPAs."  He recommends trying it with "whiskey, rum, gin, tequila, soda… even beer."

What's in it?  I'm glad you asked.  Grand Hops contains molasses, aromatic and bittering hops, quillaja - a Brazilian flowering plant - and cane sugar.  The product is certified organic by the nonprofit Oregon Tilth, based in Corvallis, Oregon.  Alcohol hits a Port-like 20% abv.

This liqueur is unlike any I have ever had.  It smells extremely herbal - not unexpected since it is made from hops - and has aromas of pine, citrus and sour beer.  It is not a very pleasant nose, but not an off-putting one either.  Mathew calls it "funk... the good kind."  The palate brings grapefruit into a scenario reminiscent of Retsina, the Greek resin wine.  To call Grand Hops offbeat doesn't do justice to the drink or the word.  I am glad I had the chance to try it, but I don’t envision ever seeking it out again.  Maybe my opinion will change after I've had a chance to use it as an ingredient in a cocktail.

Update:  The Grand Hops label shows a recommended recipe using it with whiskey and simple syrup.  I had no whiskey in the house, so I used gin.  To sweeten it a tad I used Italian chestnut honey.  Pouring it tall with club soda (tonic water even sweeter) produced a cocktail that isn't going to make me forget about martinis, but was actually pretty good.

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Saturday, January 18, 2020

Miles Madeira - A Favorite Wine Of Founding Fathers

Madeira was the wine of choice for many of America's founding fathers.  John Hancock and the other representatives of the 13 colonies, it is said, toasted the signing of the Declaration of Independence with Madeira.  George Washington reportedly celebrated his inauguration as president of the young country with Madeira.  They say Thomas Jefferson toasted the Louisiana Purchase with the spirited wine.

Miles Madeira is part of the Blandy family's Madeira Wine Company, produced on the Portuguese island of Madeira since 1878, but before that was known as Rutherford & Grant since 1814.  Madeira is made from the Tinta Negra grape, originally from Andalucia in the south of Spain and introduced to the island of Madeira during the 18th Century.  The Miles Madeiras are made in several different styles.

Miles 10 Year Old Dry Madeira 

Vinified and fortified in stainless steel tanks, this Madeira was aged in old American oak and naturally heated to mimic the process of shipboard transport.   Alcohol tips 19% abv and it sells for around $33.

The brownish-gold wine smells delightful, all raisiny and lemony and full of brown sugar.  The hearty palate shows the citrus beautifully and the acidity absolutely rips.  Pair with any kind of after-dinner eats, from chocolate to fruit to a cheese plate.

Wednesday, January 15, 2020

New Signature Wine At Musso And Frank Grill

In the heart of Hollywood, there is a restaurant which has remained a constant for more than 100 years.  Musso and Frank Grill hit the century mark in September 2019, while collecting an "Award of Excellence for a Hollywood Restaurant" from the Hollywood Chamber of Commerce. 

The celebration continues in 2020 with the unveiling of a new signature red wine now being served to diners, the 2018 Peake Ranch Syrah.  The new vintage was blended by Musso and Frank General Manager and Wine Director Andrea Scuto.

The press release states that the wine overflows with "the very same blend of warmth, sophistication, tradition, variety, and delectable flavour that have made Musso & Frank Grill such an iconic Hollywood destination for the past 100 years."

The restaurant reports that Musso's 2018 Peake Ranch vintage was marked by the Santa Ynez Valley's "cool temperatures in the late summer and early fall, which provided ideal weather to allow the fruit to have great concentration, with healthy acidity and a good depth of flavor."  The wine was vinified by star winemaker Kevin Law out of Challen Vineyard in Santa Maria.

I have yet to try it, but Mr. Scuto describes the new wine as deep red with purple reflections, shiny in the glass, with a powerful nose showing a burst of black fruit and purple flowers accented by cardamom and baking spices imparted by the French oak barrels used to elevate the wine.  Scuto says, "The attack on the mouth of our new Peake Ranch Syrah is supple, and confirms the deep core of black fruit, releasing on the mid-palate floral notes and the precious spice accents perceived at the nose. Tannins are sweet and smooth, working together with the natural acidity of the Syrah, to give great structure to the wine in order to pair it with our famous steaks."

The new 2018 Musso & Frank Syrah Peake Ranch is available only at the restaurant, by the bottle ($70) or by the glass ($15) - as long as limited supplies last.  It's perfectly okay to have a glass of it in addition to their world-famous martinis.

Musso and Frank will expand their commitment to fine wine with a new, temperature-controlled wine display, to be featured within one of three new private rooms currently under construction next to Musso's and slated to open to the public April 2020.  The new private rooms will be the first additions to the restaurant since 1955.

A bit of history:  Founded in 1919 by Joseph Musso and Frank Toulet, the Musso & Frank Grill was sold in 1927 to a duo of Italian immigrants named Joseph Carissimi and John Mosso (a coincidentally similar name).  Today, Musso's is owned and operated by the families of Mr. Mosso's three granddaughters: John and Cathy Echeverria, their son Mark Echeverria and his wife Tina, Steve and Anne Jones, and Richard and Kristen Kohlmeyer.  There's also a new coffee table book entitled "The Musso & Frank Grill," chronicling the landmark venue's history.  The book is now available here or on site at Musso & Frank.
The restaurant has been a favorite watering hole for thousands of Hollywood stars, writers, directors, and studio executives, starting with the one and only Charlie Chaplin.  On a less stellar scale, they also see my wife and I from time to time. 

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Monday, January 13, 2020

White Wine For Winter: Bourgogne Blanc

White wines are not just for summers and salads.  There are rich, full-bodied whites which are bold and warming.  They also pair beautifully with winter dishes - root vegetables, stews and herbs like fennel go particularly well with a nice, well balanced Chardonnay, for example.  I find that whites aged in oak serve me better in the winter than unoaked wines.  In fact, oak makes a white wine feels like Christmas to me.  I prefer an easy touch on the wood, however. 

Domaine Matrot Bourgogne Chardonnay 2017

The Matrot estate is based in Meursault, not a bad place to have a field of grapevines.  The estate extends far beyond that region's borders.  The grapes for this wine were picked "near" Meursault.

Husband and wife Thierry and Pascale Matrot head up a family business which has been around for more than 100 years.  Their daughters, Adèle and Elsa, are the winemakers.  The younger ones are poised to take the reins someday, as Thierry did from his father, and his father from Grandpa Matrot generations before. 

This wine was fermented in oak barrels, only a fifth of which were new.  There the wine aged on the lees, the spent yeast cells, for eleven months.  Aging "on the lees" gives a wine more heft and creaminess.  Full malolactic fermentation was also achieved, which further adds to the depth.  The wine is imported in the U.S. by Vineyard Brands.

The Matrot Chardonnay smells of tropical fruit, mainly lemon, lime and pineapple.  On the palate, citrus dominates, with great acidity and a creamy mouthfeel coexisting.  This is a great Chardonnay, vibrant and youthful, with zip enough for salads, seafoods and white meat.  The oak effect is possibly a little too much for me.  It comes across stronger than I expect in a Bourgogne blanc, but ouis not terribly overdone. 

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Wednesday, January 8, 2020

The Greatest Tomatoes From Europe

How do you feel about tomatoes?  If you say you’ve never given the topic much thought, I’ll believe you.  Then I’ll politely ask you to scooch down the bench a bit, away from me.  I like tomatoes, and I like them a lot.  You might even call it a love affair.  Canned tomatoes are a staple of good home cooking, and when good cooks look for canned tomatoes at the grocery market, they look for Italy on the can.  Tomatoes preserved in cans are great any time of year, but they are especially handy in the winter when it’s hard to find a good tasting tomato in the produce section.

My wife is an amazing cook, for whom I often shop.  She told me years ago that if I couldn't find San Marzano on the shelf, that I should go to another store.  European preserved tomatoes are a staple in any Italian dish you might make at home.  Spaghetti and meatballs is swimming in them.  Lasagna is layered with them.  Bolognese is based in them.

The Greatest Tomatoes From Europe is a campaign staged by ANICAV, the Italian Association of Canned Vegetable Industries.  Their mission is to raise the profile of Italian preserved tomatoes in the U.S. and around the world.

The San Marzano tomatoes, grown in the Sarno River valley, carry the designation of Pomodoro San Marzano dell'Agro Sarnese-Nocerino.  You may find it simpler to look for the European Union's "DOP" symbol on the label.  The effort is much like the wine industry's protection of appellations through the DOCG or DOC designations.

ANICAV states that canned tomatoes are made through a traditional process which retains their great flavor.  That aspect is heightened in Roma tomatoes, which include the San Marzano variety of the fruit.  They are more flavorful, sweeter and less acidic than other types of tomatoes.  Plus, they have an oblong shape which they hold well, making them perfect for peeling and canning.

Tomatoes not only taste great and make for delicious cooking, they are healthy.  Tomatoes are naturally low in sugar and fat while bringing plenty of other good things - vitamins A and C, potassium, minerals, fiber and antioxidants - to the table.  ANICAV likes to say that Italian canned tomatoes deliver all the energy they have soaked up under the Mediterranean sun.

The Greatest Tomatoes From Europe come in various forms that cater to your needs.  Whole peeled tomatoes for cooking with a roast and potatoes, diced tomatoes for mixing in with eggs or pasta dishes, or chopped for soups or sauces.

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Monday, January 6, 2020

Winter White Wines

White wines are not just for summers and salads.  There are rich, full-bodied whites which are bold and warming - perfect for the colder weather.  They also pair beautifully with winter dishes - root vegetables, stews and herbs like fennel go particularly well with a nice, well balanced Chardonnay, for example.  I find that whites aged in oak serve me better in the winter than unoaked wines.  In fact, oak makes a white wine feels like Christmas to me.  I prefer an easy touch on the wood, however. 

Tablas Creek Vineyard Esprit de Tablas Blanc 2017

Tablas Creek Vineyards was founded by the Perrin family - of Château de Beaucastel fame - and the late Robert Haas of Vineyard Brands.  The winery is dedicated to sustainably farming Rhône grape varieties in what is now the Adelaida District of Paso Robles.  To try and replicate the Beaucastel estate's renowned quality, the partners imported vines from the French estate - Mourvédre, Grenache Noir, Syrah, Counoise, Roussanne, Viognier, Marsanne, Grenache Blanc and Picpoul Blanc among them. 

The 2017 Tablas Creek Vineyard Esprit de Tablas Blanc is a blend of five of those estate-grown varieties, grown from Beaucastel cuttings.  The winery says the Roussanne grapes provide the core richness, minerality, and flavors of honey and spice, while Grenache Blanc adds green apple and anise flavors, a lush mouthfeel and bright acids. Picpoul Blanc contributes tropical brightness and salinity.  The 2017 vintage is the first to incorporate Picardan and Clairette Blanche grapes.  The former brings elegance while the latter is crisp and citrusy.  The percentages break down this way: 68% Roussanne, 17% Grenache Blanc, 7% Picpoul Blanc, 4% Picardan and 4% Clairette Blanche.

The winery says Esprit de Blanc combines "the richness and structure of Roussanne, the green fruit of Grenache Blanc, the citrusy lift of Picpoul Blanc and the floral minerality of Picardin and Clairette Blanche."  All the wine's components experienced full malolactic fermentation for a rich and creamy mouthfeel.

The grapes for Esprit were whole-cluster pressed, with the Roussanne fermenting in oak barrels.  The other grapes were fermented in mostly stainless steel tanks, with a little neutral wood.  The blend was put back into oak for eight months aging, and it rested another nine months in the bottle.  Alcohol hits only 13% abv and the wine sells on the Tablas website for $45.

Tablas Creek recommends pairing the wine with carrot, leek and potato soup, fish with fennel or grilled scallops.

This wine has a nose full of lemons, limes and that good Paso Robles minerality.  There is a nutty angle that plays in, too, but not as strongly as I anticipated given the presence of Roussanne.  The palate is tasty and ripe, with citrus taking the lead ahead of those minerals and a floral element showing late.  It's a great white wine for winter - full, with a touch of warming oak.  Pair it with root vegetable dishes or any kind of fish.

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Friday, January 3, 2020

Well-Aged Italian Wine Delivers Finesse

Silvio Nardi made agricultural equipment and decided one day that he wanted to do more with the land than provide the tools to till it.  He bought a vineyard in 1950 as a hobby.  That hobby is now his wine company, which is run these days by his daughter, Emilia, and her brothers.

The 2007 Silvio Nardi Rosso di Montalcino was made from grapes grown in the two Nardi vineyards in the Montalcino area of Tuscany.  Nardi claims that the two estates feature completely different soils and growing conditions, and that the grapes from Casale del Bosco provide the wine's elegance and complexity, while the fruit of Manachiara takes care of structure and power.  It is a full varietal Sangiovese wine.  The grapes were destemmed before pressing and the wine was aged for 12 months in new and used oak.  Alcohol hits about 12.5% abv and it sold for somewhere between $20 and $30 a decade ago when it was purchased.

This wine is 12 years old now, and it is almost brown, with garnet only at the core.  The nose is amazing, showing dried cherry, leather and black olive aromas.  The palate is savory and lithe, with a nutty trace and tannins which are no longer youthful but still firm.  It is still a good wine to pair with a steak or Bolognese sauce, maybe a rib roast.

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Wednesday, January 1, 2020

Vinho Verde Comes In Pink, Too

The Vinho Verde wine region in northern Portugal is home to some of the best white wines this side of Albariño.  Vinho Verde means, "green wine," which is not a color reference but a suggestion that the wine is quite youthful.  The white wines of Vinho Verde typically have a wonderful acidity and a slightly fizzy nature.  The lower alcohol content makes them great choices for summer sipping by the pool, but they work quite well as aperitifs at holiday parties and pair graciously with cheese plates or pasta.

Enoport United Wines has nearly 20 different brands under its Portuguese umbrella.  The name Faisão is derived from the word for a pheasant that was brought from Asia to Portugal in the middle ages.  The bird's brightly colored plumage references the hue in the bottle of the 2018 Enoport Faisão Rosé.

Winemaker Nuno Faria blended Espadeiro, Borraçal and Padeiro grapes to make this fizzy, pink wine.  I don’t think I have ever had any of those grapes before.  The grapes were completely destemmed before being crushed, which keeps the focus on the fruit and minimizes herbal notes.  Alcohol is quite low at just 10.5% abv, and the price is close to rock bottom as well, at less than $10.

This wine pours up salmon pink and fizzy in the glass.  The bubbles dissipate quickly, but they are surprising and fun.  Aromas of a wet driveway hit the nose first, a sure sign of minerality.  There are fruity raspberry and cherry notes as well as a whiff of flowers.  On the palate, raspberry and cherry flavors dominate, with a touch of lime.  The acidity is surprisingly low, but the wine sure is tasty.