Showing posts with label Chenin Blanc. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Chenin Blanc. Show all posts

Wednesday, November 8, 2023

How Do You Pronounce Jasnieres?

The Loire Valley is known in some circles as "the Garden of France." The beautiful area has four distinct wine regions: Pays Nantais, Anjou, Saumur, and Touraine. Each region has its own grapes, appellations and styles. Along the banks of the Loire river are more than 3,000 wineries, more than 103,000 acres of vineyards, 33 appellations of origin and 1 protected geographical indication.

French wine appellations have a reputation for being difficult to pronounce, especially for beginners who don’t happen to be French. But even wine lovers with a long Gallic history can have trouble handling the names of the Loire. 

That is why Loire Valley Wines has teamed up with Katie Melchior (also known as @FrenchWineTutor) to create an audio guide to 10 appellations in the Loire Valley.

 Just download this infographic map, open it in Adobe Acrobat and click the audio icons to hear French pronunciations of 10 appellations on the Loire Valley map, read by Katie herself.

Here is an example of a region that many people might find difficult to pronounce: Jasnières - zhan-yare. This is a tiny appellation, one that once yielded wines that were chosen by a king - Henry IV. Today, fewer than 200 acres of vines remain. Janières is in the northernmost part of the Loire Valley, and so it is also the coldest part.

Pascal Janvier has taken the reputation of Jasnières to heart. The butcher-turned-winemaker is passionate about his wines, and his care shows in the juice.

Two of Janvier's wines are imported by Kermit Lynch Wine Merchant. After tasting one of them for the first time and marveling to myself about how good it was, I turned the bottle around and saw Lynch's name on the back label. "But of course," I thought, "it's a Lynch selection." Always a delight. 

The 2022 Pascal Janvier Jasnières is a white wine made from Chenin Blanc grapes. It is fermented and aged for a few months in stainless steel tanks. Alcohol is restrained at 13.5% abv and the wine sells for about $24.  

This wine has a beautiful golden hue and a complex nose. There are notes of guava, white flowers, lime and a soapy streak of salinity. The acidity is bracing. On the palate citrus minerals and an earthy aftertaste, almost soft despite the razor-sharp acidity. Get this for your shellfish, and don't be selfish. Share. 

Wednesday, July 12, 2023

South African Chenin Blancs

When we think of South African wine, we may think of Pinotage, Cab or Shiraz for red grapes, but the white grape that leads the way on the Cape is Chenin Blanc. They like to call it Steen, but it goes by both names there. I have been given the opportunity to sample three examples of South African Chenin Blanc. 

Noble Hill Chenin Blanc Sur Lie 2021 

The grapes for this Chenin came from "the granite slopes of the Simonsberg Mountains" between Stellenbosch and Paarl, where wine fruit has grown for three centuries. The wine was left on the lees for nine months and aged in concrete vats. Alcohol hits 13.5% abv and the retail price is $19.

This wine has a clear looking gold-green tint. The nose offers plenty of minerals, a healthy dose of citrus fruit and an herbal angle which comes off as an earthy note. The palate showcases the citrus and minerality, while the acidity nearly rips through the sip. This is a very food-friendly white wine, one that will also serve well as a simple sipper. 

Monday, July 10, 2023

South African Chenin Blanc

When we think of South African wine, we may think of Pinotage, Cab or Shiraz for red grapes, but the white grape that leads the way on the Cape is Chenin Blanc. They like to call it Steen, but it goes by both names there. I have been given the opportunity to sample three examples of South African Chenin Blanc. 

Lievland Vineyards Old Vine Chenin Blanc Paarl 2021

Lievland's head winemker Riaan Möller says despite the view of South Africa's wine as "new world," he thinks there is enough of the "old world" there to say that it is at least a blend of both worlds.

The 2021 Lievland Vineyards Old Vine Chenin Blanc was partially barrel fermented, has alcohol at 13% abv and a retail price of $19.

This wine is tinted golden-green, has a very clear appearance and shows some slight bubbles upon the pour. The nose is mineral-laden, with a huge influence from the slate soils in which the grapes grew. There is also a citrus note in the aroma package. On the palate, minerals abound still. Citrus fruit joins the flinty flavors while a near-ripping acidity provides incredible freshness and food friendliness. 

Wednesday, July 5, 2023

Man, This Is Good Chenin Blanc

When we think of South African wine, we may think of Pinotage, Cab or Shiraz for red grapes, but the white grape that leads the way on the Cape is Chenin Blanc. They like to call it Steen, but it goes by both names there. I have been given the opportunity to sample three examples of South African Chenin Blanc. 

MAN Family Wines Free-Run Steen Chenin Blanc Cape Coast 2022

First of all, a bit about the winery's name. MAN comes from three women. It was named after Marie, Anette and Nicky, who started the business along with their respective spouses. The spouses did not get their names embedded on the label. The company's motto is "Everyday wines for wine geeks."

The 100% Chenin Blanc grapes were grown in the Agter-Paarl area of South Africa's Cape Coast wine region. They were harvested from old, dry-farmed bush vines. The primarily shale soil gives the wine a wonderful minerality.

They use only the free-run juice in this wine - no pressing of the grapes. They say that practice preserves the wine's character, acidity and flavor. Alcohol sits at 13.5% abv and the wine retails for $12. That is a bargain. 

This wine carries a pale yellow tint in the glass and shows small bubbles as it pours up slightly frizzante. The nose is amazing, dressed in a citrus minerality that evokes not only a sidewalk after a rain, but a minty eucalyptus note as well. There are traces of smoke and pineapple in the aroma package, too. The palate is flinty and full of acidity. A plate of oysters will go nicely with this bottle. 

Wednesday, September 21, 2022

Chenin Blanc Wine For Cooking And Drinking

The Vignobles Lacheteau Vouvray 2021 is a semi-dry white wine from France's Loire Valley. Vouvray is an appellation, not a grape. Most of the white wines of Vouvray are made from Chenin Blanc grapes, as is this one.

This Vouvray - I bought it for cooking, but drank what was left - is a great match for something spicy, like Thai or Indian food. Alcohol is restrained, at 11.5% abv and the wine ran me just under ten bucks at my local Trader Joe's grocery.

The very pale straw-tinted wine has a floral bouquet which carries with it a tangerine scent that also appears in the flavor profile. A flinty note balances the fruit with some minerality. Acidity is nice, but not too racy, perfect for pairing with those spicy cuisines. 

Wednesday, March 16, 2022

Loire Valley Delight - Vouvray Wine

Domaine Pichot Vouvray Le Peu de la Moriette 2020

Talk about an institution - Jean-Claude Pichot runs the domaine the way his family has since 1770.  Vineyard Brands imports it.  All three of the Pichot vineyards yield Chenin Blanc grapes, and the ones for this wine came from Le Peu de la Moriette. The wine was vinified in oak barrels, has alcohol at 12.5% abv and it cost about $18 at Whole Foods Market.

This wine is dry, has a pale yellow tint and smells like lemons, flowers and just a hint of oak.  It is a beautiful bouquet.  The palate shows more citrus along with peaches and nectarines.  There is a bit of orange zest on the finish, which is rather lengthy.  The acidity is as fresh as you need for mussels or other shellfish.  I used it in a mushroom broth - like you would make for mussels, but without them - and my wife raved about it.

Wednesday, March 9, 2022

Chenin Blanc From Vouvray

Talk about an institution - Jean-Claude Pichot runs the domaine the way his family has since 1770.  Vineyard Brands imports it.  All three of the Pichot vineyards yield Chenin Blanc grapes, and the ones for this wine came from Le Peu de la Moriette. The wine was vinified in oak barrels, has alcohol at 12.5% abv and it cost about $18 at Whole Foods Market.

This wine - Domaine Pichot Vouvray Le Peu de la Moriette 2020 - is dry, has a pale yellow tint and smells like lemons, flowers and just a hint of oak.  It is a beautiful bouquet.  The palate shows more citrus along with peaches and nectarines.  There is a bit of orange zest on the finish, which is rather lengthy.  The acidity is as fresh as you need for mussels or other shellfish.  I used it in a mushroom broth - like you would make for mussels, but without them - and my wife raved about it.

Monday, September 13, 2021

A Kosher California Chenin Blanc

The Jewish High Holy Days happen this month, which means you'll need some kosher wines.  You can always turn to Royal Wine Corporation for reliably high-quality kosher wines.  Royal is owned by the Herzog family, whose wine history dates back to the middle of the 19th century.  Royal imports and distributes kosher wines from all over the world, and they make their own at the Herzog winery in Southern California.

Baron Herzog California Chenin Blanc 2020

Philip Herzog was the winemaker nine generations ago, when he crafted his wine for the Austro-Hungarian court.  Emperor Franz-Josef liked the juice so much that he made Phillip a baron, hence the name on the label today.

The previous vintage was sourced from the Clarksburg appellation, but this 2020 has only a California credit, so the grapes may have come from a variety of areas.  Herzog has vineyards in a number of good regions up and down California.  The 2020 Baron Herzog Chenin Blanc has an alcohol level of 11.5% abv and sells in most places for around $10.

This golden, kosher wine has a beautiful nose of flowers, apricots and citrus, with some pineapple thrown in for good measure.  There is a hint of sweet oak spice in there as well.  The palate brings the lemon and lime out front, with a stone fruit aspect as well.  The finish is medium long and maybe a bit too oaky for some, but I think it hits the right spot.  

Tuesday, April 27, 2021

What Kind Of Wine Is Tussock Jumper?

Tussock is a kind of grass that grows longer than the grass surrounding it.

A jumper is a sweater - in this case, a red one.

Tussock Jumper Wines says that "tussock" represents their commitment to sustainable wines, and the red jumper is a mark of quality.

A publicist tells me that Tussock Jumper is a French negociant.  They own no vineyards but select quality grapes from small farms in multiple regions, around the globe.  Their wines are blended and bottled locally in order to support micro economies.  The U.S. importer, TRI-VIN, has a list of 24 wines available, from eleven different wine regions around the world.  

Each bottle shows a different animal wearing the red jumper.  Despite the "critter label" aspect, I found these wines to be very tasty, even interesting.  A mobile app is available which allows one to scan the label and get an earful about what's in the bottle from the animal itself.  I found the iPhone app to be balky and just plain goofy, not at all representative of the wine - which deserves much better.

Tussock Jumper Chenin Blanc 2020 - Stellenbosch, South Africa 

This off-dry wine was made with minimal cellar intervention, from 100% Chenin Blanc grapes picked in select vineyards in the Helderberg and Paarl regions, as well as from the high slopes of the Du Toitskloof mountains.  The Western Cape wine was fermented in stainless steel tanks, where it lay on the spent yeast cells for about four months before blending.  Alcohol hits 13% abv and it is available for $13.

This wine has a slightly yellow tint and a nose that is all about the minerals.  The smell of lemon zest, tropical fruit and a wet sidewalk all play into the aroma package.  The palate shows various kinds of citrus, stone fruit and a rich salinity, not to mention the racy acidity.  It's time for shellfish or crustaceans, or any kind of seafood, really. 

Tussock Jumper Riesling 2020 - Mosel, Germany 

These Riesling grapes came from the Rheinhessen region of western Germany, along the Mosel and Rhein river banks, where some of Germany's warmest and driest growing conditions are found.  Tank fermented, the wine sat on the lees - the spent yeast cells - for three months, giving it more weight and added complexity.  Alcohol is low, at only 10.5% abv, and the retail price is just $12.

This pale, off-dry wine's nose features scents of lemon, apricot, apple and cantaloupe.  The palate is mineral-driven with a decent acidity, although not razor-sharp.  Pair it with Thai or Indian curries, sushi or seafood risotto.

Tussock Jumper Sauvignon Blanc 2020 - Marlborough, New Zealand

Marlborough's 2020 growing season had lengthy dry spells, which the folks at TJ say led to concentrated flavors and aromas.  This vintage is 100% Sauvignon Blanc, made from a blend of three vineyards, two in Wairau Valley, and one in Waihopai Valley.  The wine aged on the lees for approximately four weeks before filtering.  Alcohol tips 12.5% abv and the price is $12.

This pale, yellow wine smells extremely grassy - no surprise for a New Zealand Sauvignon Blanc.  There is also a large swath of grapefruit, cantaloupe and tropical fruits cutting through the nose.  The grapefruit comes through explosively on the palate, along with a mineral streak a mile wide.  The mouthfeel is quite crisp and the acidity zippy.  There is just a tiny hint of sweetness here, and the citrus flavor lasts a long while on the finish.  You can pair this with any sort of white meat or seafood, but I think it would be a great choice to go with one's breakfast eggs, if one were so inclined.

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Wednesday, October 30, 2019

Israeli White Wine Deserves Spot At The Table

Yatir is billed as one of Israel's premier boutique wineries, releasing some 12,000 cases of wine each year.  The winery works with select vineyards which showcase the terroirs of Israel's Yatir Forest in the southern tip of the Judean Hills.  The Yatir wines have won high praise from critics internationally.  Yatir's general manager, Yaakov Ben Dor, says wine presses existed in the region more than 3,000 years ago, so the heritage is there.  The winery itself has been around for fewer than 20 years, and Israel's present wine industry is very young.

The grapes for the 2017 Yatir Mt. Amasa White - 52% Viognier, 33% Chenin Blanc and 15% Roussanne - were grown in the Judean Hills wine region.  The wine was fermented and aged for five months in a mix of concrete, steel and huge oak barrels.  Alcohol hits only 13.5% abv, and it is imported by Royal Wine Company.

The nose on the Israeli white wine is quite nice.  The usual suspects from Viognier, Chenin Blanc and Roussanne show up - citrus, floral, nuts - and there’s a savory salinity to it as well.  The palate is a delight, with the savory aspect again rivaling the fruit.  The acidity is wonderful, so it's food friendly and would be welcome on the table for any holiday feasts on the calendar.

Saturday, July 6, 2019

New Mexico Wine Toasts Feminist Artist

A New Mexico winery is toasting feminist artist Judy Chicago with a wine bearing her name.  Jaramillo Vineyards is releasing the wine this month in New Mexico's Middle Rio Grande Valley.

Owners Robert and Barbara Jaramillo met when he was stationed with the Navy in Long Beach, California.  After a career as an airline pilot, Jaramillo decided to grow grapes and make wine, continuing a family precedent.  His father was a home winemaker, but his grandfather had been the largest producer of wine in the area before Prohibition.

Jaramillo Vineyards has plantings of the Norton Cynthiana grape, which has reportedly not been grown west of Missouri until now.  Norton is considered to be "America’s grape," and was championed by Thomas Jefferson.

Judy Chicago's art will be shown on July 20-21, 2019 at the opening of the Through the Flower Art Space in Belen, New Mexico.  Chicago and her husband have lived in Belen for a quarter century, and the town is also the home of Jaramillo Vineyards.  The art space is right across the street from the tasting room. 

The winery plans to release the Judy Chicago red and white wines on July 21st.  Both will feature a label and bottle design conceived by the artist herself.  She chose a cobalt blue bottle which she feels compliments her label design.  Chicago was personally involved in selecting the final blend for each wine.  I haven't tasted them, but I'm told the Judy Chicago red will be a Petit Verdot blend and the Judy Chicago white will be a dry blend of Chenin Blanc and Arneis. 

You can read more of the Now And Zin effort to taste wine from all 50 states in the Wine Country series.

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Wednesday, June 19, 2019

South African Wine: More Than You Think

A cadre of winemakers from South Africa are trying to put a face on a region that is completely foreign to many U.S. consumers.  South African wines are somewhat hard to find, at least in Los Angeles, unless one shops specialty stores or huge wine inventories.  The region is not likely to be found on the supermarket shelf or very many restaurant wine lists.

Capensis winemaker Graham Weerts organized the tour, in which he and five friends are talking up South Africa, where a big shift in winemaking has taken place over the past 10 to 15 years.  Weerts and his pals say they are representing the country's 750 producers and putting their best wines forward.  I was invited to attend their event at the Los Angeles restaurant Republique.

Weerts, standing, his colleagues lined against the wall.
Weerts outlined some of the difficulties South Africa's winemakers have faced.  The embargo during apartheid prevented the export of red wines, causing many vines to be ripped up. However, plenty of old-vine white grapes remain.  That's because the white grapes were used for distilling at the time.

Weerts bristled as he spoke of big U.S. producers which have gone to South Africa in the past, telling winemakers to "make a funny little wine and put a funny little cat on the label" - failing in the process.  Now the focus is on quality, and Weerts says South African winemakers won't be told how to live their own lives, "won't be told what to do."

Considering the effort involved in bringing their story to California, it's no surprise that the eleven wines showcased during the masterclass were of the highest imaginable quality.  The reds all had the mark of minerals on them and the whites were among the most elegant sips I've ever had.


A.A. Badenhorst Ramnasgras 2017 - Adi Badenhorst was reportedly fired from a previous job for having a bad attitude.  He says he has "shed his German heritage and habits of punctuality and precision" in favor a more free-form method of making wine.  He claims that his Swartland region is "a very free place to make wine."  His Ramnasgras is 100% Cinsault from vines planted in 1963, aged for one year in a large wooden vat.  Alcohol tips 13% abv and the wine retails for $45.  It has a floral nose with minerals on the palate, almost a rusty quality.  Great acidity.

Sadie Family Wines Soldaat 2017 - Eben Sadie says says "modern winemaking is like instant coffee, safe and secure," while real winemakers take chances.  He walks the walk, with one of the more varied plantings outside of a laboratory.  Sadie's Swartland Mountain Areas vineyards are full of grapes like Syrah, Grenache, Cinsault and Chenin Blanc, while experimenting with fruit such as Verdelho, Palomino, Xinomavro, Assyrtiko, Pontac, Alicante Bouchet and more.  His Soldaat is made from 100% Grenache Noir grown in Piekenierskloof, north of Swartland, in 48-year-old vineyards.  He says the high altitude gives Grenache the sun radiation it needs without the high temperatures.  The wine was aged in concrete vessels, carries alcohol at 13.5% abv and sells for $75.  It has an awfully pretty nose and a very savory palate with good fruit showing.

Storm Vrede 2016 - This wine is 100% Pinot Noir grown in the Hemel-en-Aarde Valley, an hour and a half east of Capetown.  The wine was aged over eleven months in French oak barrels, 25% of which were new.  13.9% abv, $55.  A sharp nose, mineral-laden and peppery is a bit of a surprise.  The palate is tart and savory, with a tea note.

Beeslaar Pinotage 2016 - Abrie Beeslaar is billed as the "king of pinotage," a dubious honor considering the low regard the South African grape has found in the U.S. due to subpar efforts in previous times.  His wine is 100% Stellenbosch Pinotage grown in shale soil, aged 19 months in French and American oak.  14.4% abv, $55.  A perfumed nose of dark fruit and soy sauce, opens up to a palate that’s chalky with minerals and drenched in savory cherry flavors.  Needless to say, it's markedly nicer than the Pinotage wines I've had before.

Kanonkop Estate Paul Sauer 2015 - Beeslaar's Kanonkop Estate is situated on the lower slopes of the Simonsberg Mountain in the Stellenbosch Region of the Cape in a place known as the "red wine bowl" of South Africa.  This Bordeaux blend of 70% Cabernet Sauvignon, 15% Merlot and 15% Cabernet Franc was aged for two years in new French oak.  14.5% abv, $60.  It has a big, red fruit nose, a bold palate and an elegant herbal note.

Boekenhoutskloof Syrah 2015 - This is 100% Swartland Syrah, grown in red slate soil and aged for 18 months in big vats and barrels.  13.9% abv, $65.  The nose was rather tight, but pepper shows up after a minute or two.  On the palate are flavors of blueberry, raspberry, and minerals with a fantastic acidity.  The first vintage of this wine was in 1997 and was the last for 20 years.  The story goes that the vineyard was paved over for a golf course parking lot, and it took the winemaker two decades to find suitable replacement grapes.


Beaumont Family Wines Hope Marguerite 2018 - Sebastian Beaumont focuses largely on Chenin Blanc in the Bot River region.  Hope Marguerite was aged on its lees for ten months.  12.5% abv, $45.  A beautiful nose of stone fruit and citrus leads to a palate which is elegant, gorgeous, full and creamy.  Meyer lemon and tangerine flavors join a great acidity.

Capensis Chardonnay 2015 - Weerts explores Chardonnay on South Africa's Cape of Good Hope, from old vines in old soil.  He says the Western cape is either the "oldest new-world wine region or the youngest of the old-world."  His Capensis is 100% Chardonnay from the Western Cape, tank fermented with nearly a year in French oak.  14% abv, $80.  There is citrus and oak on the nose - almost a smokey, buttery feel.  The palate is possibly too oaky for some tastes, but it hit me just right.  It's the kind of Chardonnay I like to drink at Christmastime.  The fruit shines through.

Sadie Family Wines Palladius 2016 - A blend of eleven different grape varieties from 17 vineyards across Swartland, this wine is aged for two years in amphorae, concrete eggs and oak vats.  13.5% abv, $150.  The nose is tight, but light citrus on the palate adds to an elegant acidity and a savory angle.  Nothing seems to take charge, but everything works together.  Worth $150?  I don't know, but it's built to age for 10-15 years.

Vergelegen Flagship GVB White 2016 - This wine is 80% Semillon, 20% Sauvignon Blanc from Stellenbosch, grown close to the coast, "where the wind blows like a banshee."  It spent nine months in a barrel.  13.9% abv, not available in the U.S.  A big herbal nose, rivals New Zealand for grassiness.  There’s a new world palate, too, with more herbal notes.

Klein Constancia Vin de Constance 2015 - This dessert wine comes from 100% Muscat de Frontignan grapes grown in Constancia.  It was aged in a mix of French and Hungarian oak and French acacia.  13.9% abv, $95.  The wine is very gold in the glass and has a viscous mouthfeel, showing a nose and palate of honeyed apricots, peaches and nectarines.  No botrytis here, the grapes were vine-dried.

Wednesday, May 22, 2019

Chardonnay: More Dry, Less Oak

The little hamlet of Murphys, California is home to one of the nation's biggest wineries.  Ironstone Vineyards is located east of Lodi in Calaveras County, in the Sierra Foothills along Highway 4 north of Douglas Flat, Vallecito and Angels Camp.  It may be an out-of-the-way stop, but there's a better than average chance you’ve had some of their brands, or at least seen them on the supermarket shelf.

The Kautz Family are fourth-generation growers, not unusual in that part of the state, and the family-run winery's corporate officers are known simply as John, Gail, Kurt and Jack.

Ironstone's 2017 Chardonnay is on the dry side, and it's the only Chardonnay I've encountered which has a sweetness scale on the label, as in Rieslings.  This one points to just off medium dry.  In my opinion, I never have much trouble with how dry or sweet a Chardonnay is.  What I'd like to see is an oak meter instead.  This wine spent only five months in French oak barrels.

The 2017 Ironstone Vineyards Chardonnay is made from 90% Chardonnay grapes, 5% Viognier and 5% Chenin Blanc, sourced from several appellations, including Mokelumne River and Sloughouse.  The wine checks in at the expected 13.5% abv and sells for $14.

This Lodi wine is straw-yellow in the glass, with a nose that sports oak predominantly, citrus and tropical notes along for the ride.  The palate gives more fruit than oak, apples, peaches and lemon most notably.  It's very tasty and not weighed down by excessive oak.  Pair with light spring and summer fare or sip it on the porch.

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Wednesday, May 8, 2019

Chenin Blanc From Lodi

The little hamlet of Murphys, California is home to one of the nation's biggest wineries.  Ironstone Vineyards is located east of Lodi in Calaveras County, in the Sierra Foothills along Highway 4 north of Douglas Flat, Vallecito and Angels Camp.  It may be an out-of-the-way stop, but there's a better than average chance you've had some of their brands, or at least seen them on the supermarket shelf.

The Kautz Family are fourth-generation growers, and the family-run winery is exactly that, where the corporate officers are known simply as John, Gail, Kurt and Jack.

Ironstone Chenin Blanc California 2016

This sustainable California Chenin Blanc is medium dry, but leans a bit to the dry side. The Lodi fruit was vinified in stainless steel tanks.  Most of the grapes came from the Sloughhouse sub-appellation, with a small portion hailing from just west of the river in the Delta within the Clarksburg appellation.  It tips the alcohol scale at 13.5% abv and it retails for $14.

The wine has a light greenish tint and offers a pleasing nose of peaches, cantaloupes and flowers.  The palate follows suit, with stone fruit and melons and an easy acidity.  The wine finishes sweet but crisp.  This Chenin Blanc makes a great sipper for a summer on the porch, but also can pair with lighter fare like salads, seafoods and pasta dishes.

Monday, May 21, 2018

Wine And Food: Jar

Suzanne Tracht and Preech Narkthong, of Jar
Don't you love it when a restaurant wine pairing works out?  It did so for me recently at Jar in Los Angeles, and the experience underscored how a sommelier can make all the difference.

Al Melendez is actually the manager there, but he spoke with the knowledge of a somm, and the passion of one.  Al greeted my wife and I warmly after we had been seated and asked if he could help with the wine selection.  As I sipped the negroni, I told him I was thinking about the Alsatian Riesling with the Dover sole.  He seemed like he had something he wanted to say.

I asked what he would recommend, and he leapt into action.  "Let me pour a few samples for you and you tell me which is best for the fish."  He hooked me, just like that sole had been.

The Dover sole came with pickled ramp butter, and something about the Riesling tickled my fancy.  Al was one somm type who wasn't pushing it.  He poured samples of a Pouilly Fuissé, a Sancerre and the Lang & Reed Chenin Blanc from Napa Valley.  For my taste, the Chardonnay was close, the Sauvignon Blanc was a little too Sauvignon Blanc and the Chenin Blanc was just right.

It paired wonderfully, with a pert sweetness that set off the ramp concoction just right, yet dry enough and fresh enough to fit the fish like a glove, if that's possible.  Plus, It was rather big for a white, perfect with the light seafood.  It was a hit with the crab deviled eggs as well.  The wine lifted the meal beyond its already delicious status in a way the Chard or Sauv Blanc would not have.  Thanks, Al.

Next time I'll try the Riesling.

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Wednesday, June 7, 2017

South African Chenin Blanc

Lubanzi Wines is named for a wandering dog who led the winemakers on a six-day journey along South Africa’s Wild Coast. Founders Walker Brown and Charles Brain have only two wines in the line at the moment. One is a red blend, made of Shiraz, Cinsault, Grenache and Mourvedre and a white, which is 100% Chenin Blanc. Both South African creations retail at about $15.

Brown and Brain - not South African themselves - are working with two of the country's more noted winemakers. Trizanne Barnard and Bruce Jack were asked to be "forward-thinking, socially responsible and innovative" in making the Lubanzi wines. Brain says they're aiming at the millennial market, a demographic that he thinks has the buying power to lift South Africa's underrated status. He says they want to make a wine that "punches above its weight."

The owners are directing some of the proceeds back to those who helped make the product. Half of their profits will go towards The Pebbles Project, an NGO that works with low-income families on South Africa's wine farms.  The Brown and Brain say the group focuses on families "by providing resources and improving access to health & high-quality education."

 The Lubanzi Chenin Blanc  2016 is made of grapes grown in Swartland, just north of Cape Town. It has an alcohol content of 12.5% abv

The pale wine gives off an aromatic nose that's loaded with minerals and dressed up with a smoothly savory bit of lanolin. Lemon sneaks in almost unnoticed. The palate shows citrusy minerals and a clean, bracing mouthfeel with plenty of fresh acidity. The finish hangs around a good while, and lets that citrus flavor work its magic.

Friday, December 11, 2015

Chef Duff Goldman Makes Port Style Wine Purr

"Chef Duff Goldman?" My wife asked, all like, you know, incredulous. She suddenly was keenly interested in my PR invitation, a thing that usually fails to raise an eyebrow around here. Usually the PR folks are just offering wine events, but this one had food, too. This one was interesting. "Oh, you have to go! He’s great! He’s over on Melrose! He’s from Baltimore! Julie looooves him!"

Goldman - the pastry chef and televised Ace of Cakes - was destined for a food career. As a kid, he lived in the tiny Cape Cod town of Sandwich. He graduated from Sandwich High School, which is nothing like the Culinary Institute. He claims his early career as a graffiti artist was derailed when he was caught doing it. He turned to welding and learned how to work with metal. That’s where he got the chops to craft his own wood and metal logo sculpture for the wine he is currently promoting. But food would call him back. After finagling a job at a top Baltimore restaurant making cornbread and biscuits, he was hooked.

The Wine

Goldman's new offering is called Steel Kitten, and it comes from the chef's collaboration with Club W Wine. It’s a Port style dessert wine. Syrah grapes were late-harvested in Santa Barbara County’s Alisos Canyon, near Los Alamos. Dark ruby red, the wine sports a big cherry nose, kinda buzzy with alcohol. The expansive, fruity palate shows cherry and red currant, with lots of alcohol but no big bite. It really feels nice in the mouth and goes down without a burn. The tannic structure is firm.

Goldman advises you pair Steel Kitten with "anything gamey" - pork loin in a port reduction for instance. During the PR event, he demonstrated how to create a pear tart using pears poached in Steel Kitten. The recipe is available on the Club W website, as is the wine.

Another Wine

Just a mention: I opened the evening with a sparkling Chenin Blanc - I know, who is saying “no” to that? The wine is called, "Oh Snap!" and it is done in the Prosecco style. In fact, this 2014 bubbly could easily take the place of Prosecco at your next brunch. Oh Snap! is made from grapes grown in California’s Clarksburg region. It sells for $16 through Club W.

Oh Snap! not only gets your attention with a label that looks like millennial bait, it delivers with a fascinating sensation for the nose and tongue. Pretty, fruity aromas of apples and pears are like candy wrapped in a savory salinity. The wine is brimming full of minerals. On the palate, things are sweet and juicy with amazing apple, pear and peach flavors cruising into a toasty, slightly yeasty finish. The bubbles dissipate rather quickly, but the taste is festive enough so you really don’t miss them. If you like your bubbles sweet, this is one you should try.

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Monday, July 6, 2015

Unexpected Napa: Cornerstone Chenin Blanc

The Napa Valley Vintners Association teamed up with The Daily Sip and the Sip’s editor-in-chief Karen MacNeil for a virtual wine tasting event which featured a sextet of “Unexpected Napa Wines.” What, exactly, are unexpected Napa wines? @TheDailySip tweeted the answer during the event. “We looked for classic estates making unexpected wines,” they chirped. “The #Napa Valley is a hotbed of American innovation,” they continued. “Traditions thrive and evolve while winemakers explore the new.”

The six wines tasted ranged from a mildly unexpected unoaked Chardonnay to quite unexpected California Albarino, Chenin Blanc and Petit Verdot to Fumé Blanc and Cabernet Sauvignon - which I would say are far from unexpected in Napa Valley.

The #SipWithKaren wines:

Alpha Omega 2013 Unoaked Chardonnay
Artesa 2014 Albarino.
Cornerstone Cellars 2013 Chenin Blanc
Robert Mondavi Winery 2012 Cabernet Sauvignon
Robert Mondavi Winery 2013 Fume Blanc
St. Supery 2010 Dollarhide Petit Verdot

I was invited to join this little party and was provided samples of the wines for that purpose. I will cover them separately here in the coming weeks.

Cornerstone Cellars winemaker Jeff Keene has crafted a beautiful white wine for the Stepping Stone line that is fairly high in alcohol - 14.5% abv, not unusual for a Napa wine - at a great price of $25 retail. It's a steal for a wine with this sort of complexity.

Raves about this white came in a flood. @MaryCressler "tried the Cornerstone Chenin Blanc last night before traveling and loved it! Super fresh, citrusy, ripe pear. Just delish." @TheGoodWineGuru "enjoyed the @CornerstoneNapa Chenin Blanc with a dinner of Cod." Pick a cod, any cod. @KMacWine offered that "#Chenin used to be widely planted in #Napa. Today, @CornerstoneNapa is one of the few producers here still growing the grape." Thank goodness for that! She also tweeted that the wine is "not as full bodied as #chardonnay, but not as light bodied as #pinot grigio. This #chenin is right in the middle." @TheDailySip added, "While there isn’t much remaining in Napa, this @CornerstoneNapa has classic #chenin notes of yellow apple, lanolin & nuttiness." 

@TheGoodWineGuru liked "the balanced acid on the Chenin. Good amount, but not so overwhelming to force you to pair with food." Like that would be torture! @FeelingDuckie typed, "Like #Napa chenin blanc itself this wine seems to be a fighter - good or bad? Better keep sipping to find out!" I'm thinking "good." @sonadora thinks the wine "could easily rise to the top of my favorite summer sippers," while @macdaddy_m cautioned, "only 187 cases - better get some soon as it will be gone before you know it."

The Cornerstone Cellars Napa Chenin Blanc has a great nose - nutty, with apricot, tropical fruit and a beautiful salinity - a valued quality in wine, if you ask me. A palate of peach, apricot and a little touch of orange peel is balanced with a brilliant acidity. Pair it with anything light and summery - al fresco, if possible.

Wednesday, July 1, 2015

SBC Tasting Room: Tres Hermanas

We made a trip out of Los Angeles to Santa Barbara County wine country recently. My wife and I, along with our good and dear friend Guido love this two-hour trip. The stop in Camarillo to have a bagel and coffee is mandatory and the Trader Joe’s on Milpas provides our picnic lunch. Usually it’s a loaf of bread, some cheese, avocados and olives. This short series will describe some of the wines we sampled in the various tasting rooms we visited.

A cattle ranch provided the beginning of Tres Hermanas Vineyard & Winery in 2001 when Marvin and Paulette Teixeira planted a small vineyard there. The name translates from Spanish as “Three Sisters,” and stands for their three daughters.

We arrived to an empty parking lot, a little unusual for a Saturday afternoon in wine country. A cow lowed in distance - the only sound around - as we looked up at the threatening sky. We couldn’t help but note that the winegrowers would love a little rain, but the wine sellers must be saying, “Did it have to come on Saturday?”

Tres Hermanas Winemaker Mark Horvath is a longtime fixture in Santa Barbara County wine. He will host a private tasting by appointment, but you are welcome to stop by the tasting room anytime. It is a little remote but easily accessible along the Foxen Canyon Wine Trail.

I was tasting only white wines on this trip, and Tres Hermanas has quite a few good ones.

Cuvée Sadie 2009 $26 - This 60/40 blend of Viognier and Chardonnay has a great savory nose and wonderful acidity. Oak spice is well-handled and the nutty finish really is a pleasant memory after the sip..

Dos Blanc 2009 $28 - A blend of Sauvignon Blanc (55&) and Chenin Blanc, this wine has a very funky and aromatic nose. On the palate, savory almond and tropical fruit is joined by a fantastic acidity. Mango sticks around on the finish.

Pinot Gris 2009 $19 - This is a pretty damn awesome Pinot Gris. To me, it is reminiscent of some of the best examples of northern Italian Pinot Grigio. A savory dark nose with hints of nutmeg rolls out the red carpet for the completely earthy palate. Did I say great acidity? Oh, yes. Great acidity.

Cuvée Haleigh 2009 $18 - Bright aromatics mark this Riesling, which has some petrol notes coming through on the nose and palate, the age starting to show nicely.

Fume Blanc 2009 $28 - A fully oaked Sauvignon Blanc, this one shows savory nuts on the nose along with the herbal sense. Tastes of tropical fruit and a beautiful salinity are helped along by a very nice acidity. It was a great day for acidity.

Malvasia Bianca 2009 $19 - Honey flowers and an herbal green element decorate the nose, with sweet pear juice competing for attention. The palate is sweet and nutty with a floral finish.

Muscat Canelli 2011 $19 - Savory candy and exotic flowers are quite expressive on the nose, and a nice sweet palate laden with peach and touch of candy reveals the 1.5% residual sugar.

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Monday, June 22, 2015

Summer Wine: Côté Mas Crémant de Limoux Rosé NV Brut St. Hilaire

Continuing our series of pink wines for Spring and summer, here is another one hailing from the south of France, and it brings bubbles. That makes for a festive way to celebrate the warmer months.

Domaines Paul Mas winemaker Jean-Claude Mas is a fourth-generation vintner who took over the wine production for the winery in 2000. He has helped the domaine grow from an 86-acre estate to a 1,000-acre business in the Languedoc region in the south of France.

The Paul Mas website explains that Jean-Claude makes "wines with authenticity and refinement, the end result of which is a family of magnificently charming wines that burst with personality and express their unique terroir."

The grapes used in making the Côté Mas Crémant de Limoux Rosé NV Brut St. Hilaire are primarily Chardonnay (70%) with 20% Chenin Blanc and a 10% splash of Pinot Noir. Stainless steel fermentation is followed by a secondary fermentation in the bottle, then comes a year of aging. The wine has an alcohol content of only 12% abv and sells at retail for $19.

It looks as beautiful and elegant as a sparkling rosé should - pale salmon with fine bubbles. The nose is a basket of summer fruit. The strawberry aromas include an herbal note as if the fruit is still on the plant. A bit of apricot and a hint of orange peel decorates the main event. The tastes of summer are just as prevalent as the aromas. Cherries, strawberries and a few raspberries go arm in arm with a lovely expression of minerality and citrus. It couldn't have come along in a better season.