July 22, 2014

Open That Bottle Night, #3

Every two or three months, R and I get together with our friends and we all bring a couple of "those bottles" -- you know, the kind that you're saving for a special occasion, only when that special occasion comes, you decide that your Uncle Albert would be just as happy with that Yellowtail as he would your Ridge Monte Bello, so back in the closet it goes.

Why not bring your great wine to folks who will appreciate it?  And why taste one great wine when you can taste six?  That's the motivation behind Open That Bottle Night.

We use the following format:

  • One bottle per person. 
  • The bottle should be a special bottle -- a wine or style that you're really geeking out about right now, or maybe something that's one of your longtime favorites.
  • Each bottle should be wrapped completely in foil.  We'll pour each wine once blind, talk about it, write our notes, make our guesses, then reveal it, with the opportunity to re-pour. 
  • No tricks.  Since this is a partially blind tasting format, varietals that are incredibly uncommon or renditions that are completely atypical are actually less fun than wines that allow you to explore and expand your knowledge.

Here's the result of our most recent round:

OTBN3 - VouvrayGlass

Wine #1

Tasting Notes: 

This wine is unreal.  It’s bright gold, with a neon-green undertone.  If you’d presented me with this in a glass, I would have assumed it wasn’t wine at all, but a liqueur or possibly some kind of sports drink.  The nose is equally confusing.  Anise, and several other herby smells.  Almost like Galliano without the sugar!  (R maintains that it’s only visually suggestive of that Italian liqueur, but I think there’s more of a connection than that.)

On the palate, it’s low-acid, smooth and slightly viscous, like a sweet wine might be, but I’m not getting a lot of sugar from it, if any.  Any fruit that was in here has dropped away, leaving beguiling but difficult to classify secondary flavors.  


Obviously an old-world white wine.  Pinning down the age was difficult.  On the one hand, there were no signs of oxidation in the color or on the palate.  On the other hand, it must be old enough to allow the fruit to have dropped away or evolved into secondary flavors.  What kept the wine youthful during all this time, given that it is not a sweet wine?   I guessed that it was made in the 70’s. 

There are few white wines that can go that kind of distance.  Riesling, obviously.  I’ve had a fair amount of aged riesling, however, and this doesn’t remind me of it in the slightest — between the color, the herbal nose, and the lack of typical secondary flavors like petrol, I’m pretty sure this is not a Riesling.  Top-flight white burgundy ages, sure, but this is definitely not that either.  The green-gold does remind me of some youthful Semillons that I’ve had, so maybe old white Bordeaux?  I don’t have much experience with those, but the few examples that I have had definitely show more color evolution.  Of course there are several ageworthy whites that I have little experience with:  Gruner Veltliner, maybe, and several Italian varietals. 

I actually wasn’t foundering as much as the previous paragraphs imply.  I knew that P&D, who brought the only white wine of the evening, went traveled to the Loire in the past year and brought back several aged Vouvrays.  I know that Chenin Blanc can be quite ageworthy, though I haven’t had a lot of old ones to compare it to.  I’d like to say that this would have been on my list of possibilities even if I hadn’t known about their travels.


  • Sphere: Old World
  • Location: France, Loire Valley, Vouvray
  • Varietal: Chenin Blanc
  • Vintage: 1970-1975

Actual Wine Information

  • Sphere: Old World
  • Location: France, Loire Valley, Vouvray
  • Varietal: Chenin Blanc
  • Vintage: 1959 
  • Name:  Les Caves Duhard


This was an amazing experience.  I’ve never had a wine like it.  One thing’s for sure — I need more old Chenin in my life.  Thanks, P&D!

Wine #2: 

Tasting Notes:

Dark ruby in the glass, with some translucence.   The nose the package of dark berries, baking spices, and lushness that immediately says New World Pinot Noir, along with a touch of pine resin.  On the palate:  medium-bodied, red-fruited, good acidity.  Relatively low alcohol.  A bit reserved and short, but there’s a lot to it in general and therefore I suspect that it might just need some air, or that it might be in a quiet phase.


The nose alone told us New World Pinot.  The darker nature of the fruit and the bit of lushness in the texture say to me that it’s not Oregon, so probably California.  (Or, I suppose, New Zealand, but I don’t know enough about NZ Pinot to rule it in or out, so let’s run with the California idea.)  Despite the bit of density and luxury, it has all of the hallmarks of a cool-climate wine — e.g., low alcohol, lack of cola or sarsaparilla type of flavors or ripe fruit.  So, not Russian River or Central Coast.  I know that some parts of Santa Maria / Santa Ynez are theoretically cool, but (although I enjoy them) they rarely taste like what I think of as cool-climate, so I’m going to rule that out.  Sonoma Coast is a relatively straightforward choice here, though there are probably several places where a wine with the characteristics that I was able to identify could have been made.

OTBN3 - RhysGuess:

  • Sphere: New World
  • Location: USA, California, Sonoma, Sonoma Coast
  • Varietal: Pinot Noir
  • Vintage: 2007-2010

Actual Wine Information

  • Sphere: New World
  • Location: USA, California, Santa Cruz Mountains
  • Varietal: Pinot Noir
  • Vintage: 2006
  • Name: Rhys, Alpine Hillside



I don't know much about wine in the Santa Cruz area, so this was a very interesting result for me.  

This wine continued to evolve over the course of the evening.  I wish I’d kept notes about the changes.  I think this does bode well for this wine’s ageability.

Wine #3

Blood-colored.  Bricking at the edges.  Some slightly cooked odors, along with some oxidative smells, though not too much.  Is this still wine, or has it given up the ghost?

Yes, yes it is definitely still wine.  Very curious.  The fruit doesn’t taste cooked like I feared; instead, it’s almost caramelized — not in the sense of being sweet, but developed, like a seared steak.  No, that’s not a good descriptor.    In any case, despite my fears from the smell, this wine still going strong.


I’m always at a loss when trying to analyze these older wines.  In particular, I find it hard to tie attributes I perceive in them to typical varietal characteristics, as many of the latter have dropped away or significantly evolved.  I picked this to be an aged Bordeaux, from the mid-70’s.  It seemed similar to some Bordeaux that I’ve had about that age.  Besides, what else are you going to bother to age that long?


  • Sphere: Old World
  • Location: France, Bordeaux
  • Varietal: Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot
  • Vintage: 1975-1979

Actual Wine Information

  • Sphere: Old World
  • Location: Spain, Rioja
  • Varietal: Tempranillo
  • Vintage: 1973
  • Name: Bodegas Berberana Riserva 


One answer to the previous question:  Rioja!  I’d love to do a side-by-side tasting of old red wines from different varietals.  What did I miss that could have pointed me in the right direction, I wonder?

Wine #4

Relatively dark in color; more at the purple end of the spectrum than red.  The nose is a bit intriguing; I get camphor, mainly, and strangely, a bit of honey.  The palate begins with a sour cherry attack, moves into a smooth mid palate with dried cranberry and grilled meat, and finishes with a flash of coarse tannin.  It's medium-bodied all of the way through, with a great acid balance.


This is the first of the two wines that I brought, so I can hardly be objective.  Worse yet, it's not an ideal wine for a blind tasting format, despite the guidelines that I gave above.  Still, I'd like to think that, given the medium weight, consistent acids, and the sour cherry / cranberry fruit, I'd have picked Italy as the country of origin.  Because of the fruit, I might have picked something Nebbiolo-based, like a Barbaresco. I think that even the age would have been a tough pick, as this grape often drinks younger than it actually is.  I'd probably have said 2005-2008.


  • Sphere: Old World
  • Location: Italy, Piedmont
  • Varietal: Barbaresco
  • Vintage: 2005-2008

Actual Wine Information

  • Sphere: Old World
  • Location: Italy, Campania
  • Varietal: Aglianico
  • Vintage: 2001
  • Name: Feudi di San Gregorio Irpinia Serpico


Other folks were generally confused about this wine, and rightly so.  I think it was generally well-regarded, however.  It's a wine that I've wanted to open for quite some time, so I still think it was a good choice for OTBN.

OTBN3 - DemuthWine #5

This was the second bottle that I brought, and I didn't keep great notes about my own wine, sadly.  The only notes that I have for the nose are: "generous fruit with a touch of jalapeño."  My notes for the palate say: "smooth, sliding all the way to a peppery, fine tannin finish.  The fruit seems to start dark, but somehow ends redder and tarter."  Not incredibly in depth.

I do love this wine, and I wish I had written my own impressions down more.  Better yet, I wish I'd written down other folks' impressions -- after all, I have a few more bottles, so I can record my own thoughts another time.  It's just an excuse to drink another bottle.

Actual Wine Information

  • Sphere: New World
  • Location: USA, California, Sonoma, Sonoma Coast
  • Varietal: Cabernet Sauvignon
  • Vintage: 2009
  • Name:  Demuth Kemos, Bei Ranch

 Wine #6

Mostly reddish-purple, but just barely starting to change color at the edges.  Smells like a Cabernet to me; a bit of spice, some cocoa, some fruit, some earth.  On the palate:  clearly a Cabernet or Cab-driven blend.  Starts off tasting like an older, evolved wine, but it maintains an even, persistent clarity at its core, all the way through the rather long finish.


Definitely a Cab, but from where and when?  The nose said Bordeaux to me, but although the palate showed some evolution, the purity at its core suggested that it's probably New World.  It's about in line with what I'd expect from aged Napa Cabernet, so I ran with that.  Since it's just starting to brick, I put its age at 15-20 years old.


  • Sphere: New World
  • Location: USA, California, Napa
  • Varietal: Cabernet Sauvignon
  • Vintage: 1995-1999

Actual Wine Information

  • Sphere: New World
  • Location: USA, California, Napa
  • Varietal: Cabernet Sauvignon
  • Vintage: 1996
  • Name:  Groth


Luck was on my side on that one.

Overall:  what a great field of wines!  Thanks to the other attendees, particularly P&D for hosting and serving a wonderful dinner and snacks.  I had great time, and I'm looking forward to the next OTBN in a few months!

July 22, 2014 in wine | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack

May 19, 2006

New York Steak with Stilton and Balsamic Vinegar Reduction:

Rawnewyorksteak This month, we have a combined WBW and IMBB entry, whose theme is (naturally) pairing food with wine.  I took the easy way out this time, motivated largely by the fact that I had to prepare this meal on a weeknight and  so didn't have the time to do anything more elaborate.  Even so,  I've been meaning to write this entry for a long time, in part due to the urgings of a friend of mine who has always wanted to know how I prepare steaks.

Cooking a good steak is easy.  But the difference between a good steak and a great steak is not quite as easily to pin down.  I try to make incremental improvements to my procedure when I can, and welcome any suggestions for further improvement.

Personally, I feel that the grill is the best place to cook a steak.  Unfortunately, in my current apartment situation, I don't usually have access to one.  And I know that in many parts of the world, cooking with a grill is impractical part of the year.  Hence, I'll discuss the sear-roast method here. 

The General Procedure

Turn on your oven to 450 degrees F.  Salt and pepper both sides of your steaks thoroughly.  Put the burner on medium-high and let your pan heat up.  When it's hot (a few droplets of water sprinkled from your hand should sizzle away rapidly)  pour a tablespoon or so of olive oil into the pan and swirl it around.  Put the pan back on the burner and wait until the oil starts to smoke.

Put the steaks in the pan. Let them develop a nice sear on the one side, which will probably happen in 2-3 minutes, but be mindful and check regularly until you know your stove and your pan fairly well.  The surface of the meat should be a deep brown color, but no charring or burning should have taken place.  When you see this, flip the steaks.  Put a pat of butter on top of each, and slip them in the oven.

I've heard this called the sear-roast method.  If you use just the pan, typically, you flip the steaks and turn the heat down to medium.  What this often yeilds is a steak with a strong gradient.  Cut down the middle, you'd find gray/brown at the surface gradually turning pink, and then turning dark pink in the center (assuming you've cooked it to medium-rare).  The texture is highly varied.  A steak cooked properly using the sear-roast method, however, will give you a very thin layer of gray/brown where the sear is, and an even dark pink throughout.  I think this is much more professional and much tastier, as you get the entire steak at whatever temperature that you prefer, rather than just the center.

An Entirely Rational Discussion Of Steak Temperature

As far as steak temperature goes:  flavor, texture, and tenderness are highly compromised if you cook a steak at anything above medium. Medium rare is, of course, generally considered optimal.  Exactly what temperature is that, you may ask?  Well, I thought we all agreed on what those terms meant.  Then I found a couple of sites like this one who were spreading an entirely different gospel.  Apostasy!  All I have to say is this: if I'm in a restaurant and I'm paying you $35 for a steak, and I ask for it medium-rare, and you bring me something cooked to 150 degrees Farenheit, I'm sending it back to the kitchen, and spanking your ass on the way out.  And not in a fun way.

So who is responsible for this heresy?  I hope this doesn't make me sound like a wearer of tinfoil hats, but I think it's the government.  No, seriously!  A normal list starts with "Rare" and begins Medium-Rare squarely at 130 degrees F.  But you'll notice that all these lists omit "Rare" entirely, and start Medium-Rare at 145 degrees, which is quite close to the temperatures at the core of the sun and may reduce your expensive two-inch thick grass-fed dry-aged USDA prime black Angus Porterhouse to a trapezoid of steaming charcoal.  Medium Rare indeed!  What is this, some sort of culinary newspeak?  Clearly these government types are only interested in protecting your body.  They care nothing for the safety of your soul, which is obviously in jeopardy if you're eating 150 degree steaks on a regular basis.

(Editors note:  it turns out that up until the 1990's, the FDA had the same idea as everyone else regarding what was rare and what was medium.  Then they decided to issue new guidelines in an effort to combat food-borne illnesses.  Instead of just encouraging everyone to get their meat medium instead of medium-rare, however, they decided to change the scale, confusing everyone for no good reason. Your tax dollars at work!)

How to tell when your steak is done

There are four widely-recommended methods to tell when your steak is done.

  • The color test:  Cut into one of the steaks and judge by color.  Plenty of sites will guide you in this method.  The problem with it is that you must cut rather dramatically into the steak, which lets the juices escape. Don't let the juices escape.
  • The finger test:  This method has you poke the steak with your finger or with some other instrument.  With some practice, you can tell whether or not it's done from the springiness of the meat.  To give you some assistance, some proponents compare the feel of the steak to the springiness of certain parts of your body, e.g., parts of your arm or your hand.  The disadvantage of this method is that it is somewhat inexact.  Besides, it takes practice to get the hang of it, and in the meantime you'll be ruining a bunch of steaks.
  • The meat thermometer: Clearly the easiest and most exact.  The only disadvantage is that you do pierce the meat, so there is some juice loss.
  • The USDA method:  Use a portable mass spectrometer to confirm that the combustion process has removed all hydrogen and oxygen atoms from the meat, leaving only carbon atoms that can be safely consumed.

Personally, I use the finger method to get a rough idea of how a steak is doing, but a meat thermometer in the final minutes on one of the steaks to get a more exact reading.  I'd recommend picking up a simple, instant-read, digital thermometer like this one or this one.

Remember that a piece of meat will continue to cook after it's pulled away from its heat source.  Its temperature will continue to rise from 5 to 10 degrees afterward.  So the tricky bit is to take it out just before it's done.  This is easy enough if you're using the thermometer method, but a bit trickier otherwise.

Balsamic Vinegar Sauce:

1 cup balsamic vinegar
1 frond rosemary, intact
2 tbsp brown sugar
1/3 cup beef or veal stock
1 tbsp butter
1 tsp salt
Freshly ground pepper

Put the vinegar, stock, and the rosemary in a small pot over medium heat until it begins to steam.  Adjust the temperature so that it continues to steam, but not boil excessively.  Let it reduce by half.  Add the brown sugar and the salt and stir until they dissolve completely.  Let the mix continue to reduce slowly until it begins to thicken; there should be less than 1/4 c of liquid left; perhaps as little as 1/8 c.  Remove the rosemary frond and pepper to taste.  Remove from the heat.

When you're ready to serve, bring the sauce back up to temperature.  Break the butter up into 4-6 pieces and whisk them into the sauce.  Serve immediately.

The reduction takes some time, so don't leave this until the very end.  I usually try to have the reduction complete before I put the steaks on.  Then, while the steaks are resting, I whisk in the butter.

Though extremely simple to make, this sauce is, I think, very delicious and quite professional in appearance.  When done right, it's full-bodied and velvety, but neither vinegary nor overly sweet. It pairs well with intensely flavored meats such as lamb and venison, but I've had similar sauces at restaurants on more delicately flavored meats such as rabbit and chicken (links?), so don't be afraid to try that as well.  I even use a variation of this sauce as a dressing for certain kinds of salads (e.g. here, under "Baked Goat Cheese Salad").


Other tips:

  • Don't smother the steak in this (or any) sauce.  A good steak is its own reward, and if it isn't, buy a different cut or from a different store.  This sauce is intended to be dripped in small portions alongside the steak, and it should be thick enough that it doesn't just spread over the whole plate.
  • After removing the steaks from the pan to let them rest,  pour out any fat that remains in the pan.  Put the pan back on the heat on top of the stove, and use a bit of white wine, red wine, or balsamic vinegar to degrease the pan, scraping up any bits left on the pan.  After this reduces to a teaspoon or so of liquid, pour it into the sauce.
  • After letting the steaks rest, whisk any juices that have escaped the steak into the sauce just before you whisk the butter in.
  • Several useful variations:  instead of stock, use pureed fruit or unsweetened fruit juice.  I've used blueberries, blackberries, and even fresh strawberries in this role.  If you use pureed fruit (as opposed to juice), the sauce won't appear quite as professional, but it will be fruitier.  If you use juice, consider putting in a handful of the corresponding fresh fruit towards the end of the reduction phase.

And the wine is...

The featured wine for the evening is the 1999 Louis-Laval Cabernet Sauvignon.  We have a special relationship to this wine, as Louis-Laval was the winery that Rebecca and I worked at for a few weeks while we were in Australia, before going to graduate school. 

The pairing, of course, is a no-brainer to some degree (Cabernet with steak!  Who'd have thought!), but there's more here than meets the eye.  There's something about the dusty backpalate on our favorite Hunter Valley reds that marries particularly well with the sear on a good steak.  In addition, the prominent acids we expected from this wine would mean, we hoped, that it would fare well against the sauce.

1999 Louis-Laval Cabernet Sauvignon          ($??)

Just smelling this wine takes me back to Australia.  Although we only had one bottle of it while we were there, to some degree it's reminiscent of our favorite Hunter Valley reds.  It smells like tart fruit with a hint of anise, like a cherry-tarragon sauce I used to make.  The acids give it a nice round swell at the beginning, and balances the cherry reduction flavor that makes up much of the wine's fruit.  Towards the end we find the anise, leather, and finally, that dusty finish that reminds me of the dirt road that winds down alongside the vineyard from the top of the hill, past the winery buildings, and to Roy's house.  Cheers!


May 19, 2006 in blog_events, main_dishes, recipes, sauces, wine | Permalink | Comments (8) | TrackBack

December 10, 2005

Deevine Holiday

Embarcaderonightsm 'Tis the season for holiday debauchery.  Between the two of us, we have at least four bacchanals we've pledged to attend.  The first of the season was a very pleasant event at Dee Vine Wines on Pier 19.  I've talked up Dee Vine before, most recently in a tale which described my conversion to sometime white wine drinker.  Dee Vine's tastings are fantastic, and if you live in San Francisco or are BART or train commutable to it, you should definitely get on the mailing list so you can find out when they hold them.

This time around, besides the usual mind-boggling array of German whites, we were greeted with several select reds, a giant bottle of Champagne, two huge wheels of cheese (a Humboldt Fog and a blue of some sort), dried fruits, oysters, small sadwiches, and six or seven different kinds of desserts.  On top of that, there were caterers wandering around with finger foods to sample.

Some notes on the ratings:  my rating scale makes no pretense at being scientific.  Here's how I think of them -- at least at this moment:

  • One Star:  Two Buck Chuck.
  • Two Stars: I would deeply regret it if I bought this wine.  I might not finish it.
  • Three Stars:  I'd be ambivalent if I bought this wine, though I'd probably finish it.
  • Three and a half stars:  I'd be happy with my purchase.
  • Four stars: I'd seek this wine out for repeated purchases.  If inexpensive, I might buy in bulk.
  • Four and a half stars: This wine puts me in a special place.
  • Five stars:  I'll remember tasting this wine for a long time.

So don't take them too seriously.  Mostly they are present to guide future purchases.  If a wine rates below 3 stars I don't usually record anything except that fact; hence the dominance of 3-4.5 star ratings on this list.


NV Cancave Grand Cru (Jeroboam) -- $125

This wine has started to shed its attractive but ultimately shallow youthful characteristics to reveal some of its deeper, more evolved nature.  With women, this happens around age 30, but wine often matures faster. (This non-vintage release is composed of 1990, 1991, and 1992 vintage wines, for instance.)  You can never be sure what you're going to find when the true self begins to out.  Though appealing in youth, they may become banal, harsh, bitter, or lackluster with age.  And the same is true for wine! (Okay, I'll stop that.)

This Champagne is like having your high school girlfriend grow up to be a fascinating, quick-witted, measured, mature adult...who's still got great boobs.   The Cancave hints at the coming deep and nutty flavors of early middle age, but remains sharp and crisp and lively.  This is the kind of wine that makes one feel glad to be alive.  Here's to your best girl. Rating: **** 1/2

2001 Kuhn Rotwein Spatburgunder Barrique QbA trocken -- $32

Okay, okay!  I take back everything I ever said about German reds.  I especially apologize for coining the term "Spitburgunder".  This wine has a gorgeous nose, but the palate is where the real action is:  chewy, fruity goodness featuring tangy dried cherries and a touch of cocoa.  Fine tannins and tart acids fill out the middle.  At the end is a rich and slightly bitter finish, not unlike a fine chocolate.  An excellent offering.  Rating: **** 1/2

2003 Stefan Gerhard Hatenheimer Hassel Spatlese -- $14

Huge, huge, tropical, honeyed elixir.  Definitely more pleasurable than being bludgeoned with a caramel-coated pineapple, but not unsimilar.  Actually, at this price, you can't afford to miss the bludgeoning.  Seriously.  Rating: ****

1999 Joseph Rosch Trittenheimer Apotheke Auslese -- 500 mL -- $23

Lots of petrol.  ("Smells a bit like the La Brea tar pits", Rebecca said.)  Very sweet.  Great acids, though.  This is a vibrant Auslese.  A fantastic balance between acid, sugar, and petrol -- the holy trinity of Reisling.  Rating: **** 1/2

2003 Geheimrat J. Wegeler Erben Bernkasteler Doctor Spatlese -- $37

Incredible.  This is for all of those people who think that bigger wines are necessarily better.  This Spatlese couldn't be described as anything more than medium-bodied, but it's truly magical.  This wine is the picture of elegance.  The tinkle of effervesence...the balance...tasty fruit flavor...my words won't do justice.  Try it your own damn self.  Rating: **** 1/2

2001 Domaine Hughes et Yves de Suremain, Mercurey "Les Crets" -- $15

The nose is unmistakably Burgundian.  The palate has tomato skin, bitter olive, and other dark, earthy, salty flavors.  There's not a lot of fruit, but what would you expect from a $15 Burgundy?  I've often said (and I'll say it again) that the reason that you buy a Burgundy in this price range is strictly to reminisce about the great Burgundy experiences you've had in your life.  For that, this wine will serve. Rating: ***


2000 Domaine Mittnacht-Klack "Schoenenbourg" Tokay Pinot Gris Grand Cru, $24 -- Rich burst of melon, lychee, papaya.  Love the style.  Performs on a par with price. ****

2003 August Kessler Estate Riesling QbA, $13 -- Green apple skin, nice up-front acid.  Fullness and finish are moderate, but for the price this is a good value.****

2003 Fritz Haag Brauneberger Juffer-Sonnenuhr #9 Auslese Goldkapsel 375 mL, $29 -- Very professional Auslese.  Well balanced and more harmonious than the Rosch, but not as gorgeous somehow. ****

2004 Schloss Schonborn Erbacher Marcobrunn Kabinett, $24 -- This is good.  Rebecca is particularly a fan of this one.  Tangerine peel, apple, moderate acid, good fruit.****

2003 Erben von Beulwitz Kaseler Nies'chen Kabinett halbtrocken, $22 -- Honeysuckle nose; light-bodied; soft, feminine palate -- this is a wine for people who, in this day and age, still blush.  Pleasant, certainly, but I can't escape the feeling while drinking it that my time could be better spent.*** 1/2

2004 Weingut von Hovel Scharzhofberger Kabinett, $15 -- Sweet and sour, like those sour candy strips that make your mouth pucker because they're coated in some kind of white crystals made of God knows what.  Not very deep, but fun -- if you're the sort of masochist that likes sour candy.  I am.  Serve cold.*** 1/2

2003 Knebel Winninger Bruckstuck QbA halbtrocken, $15 -- Rich burst of fruit, off-dry, light on acid, fullness from sugar. ***

2003 Keller Riesling QbA "von der Fels", $22 -- Good, delicate flavors.  Not enough oomph for the $$.***

2002 Schloss Vollrads Spatlese, $23 -- Nice little kick from effervesence, but otherwise less structure than it needs, especially given the cost.***

2003 Weingut Toni Jost Bacharacher Hahn Kabinett feinherb, $15 -- Pineapples grown hydroponically in chlorinated water. **

December 10, 2005 in wine | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack

November 02, 2005

WBW #15: Less than 250 Cases


The theme of this month's WBW, hosted by San Francisco's very own Gastronomie, is small production wines.  The goal is to find a wine of which fewer than 250 cases were made.

I had a bit of trouble finding a small production wine at a reasonable price, but eventually I came up with this gem from the Santa Barbara wine region.  Just 125 cases were made.  As you can see, I bought bottle 897, which I hear is one of the better ones.

Santa Ynez Vally Syrahs are often dark, rich, and compelling.  This one is no exception.  It's smooth and lush and largely faultless.  Despite its softness, it can in no way be described as flabby.  But I found myself wishing for a little acid, or some soft tannins, or just a little something something to give the tasting experience more of a profile.   



2004 Margerum Syrah Purisima Mountain (Santa Ynez Valley)          ($32)

Huge nose.  Menthol and berries at first, and then, after some air, salty Dutch licorice.  The palate is smooth and lustrous, with a slick mouthfeel and flavors reminiscent of blackberries, boysenberries, and plums.  The 14.5% alcohol is noticable, but under control.

November 2, 2005 in blog_events, wine | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack

October 06, 2005

WBW #14: New New World Pinot Noir


This month's WBW theme is "New-New World Pinot Noir" -- that is to say, Pinot Noir from someplace other than Europe or California.  This is a taller order than one might expect.  Pinot Noir is a notoriously difficult grape to grow, and finding microclimates with an affinity for it isn't easy.

My first stop was Chile.  I holed up with the 2004 La Mision Pinot Noir from Vina William Fevre.  Fevre is a French winemaker with large holdings in Chablis.  He branched out to Chile in the late '90's.  I have a certain impression of (some might say "prejudice against") Chilean wines.  They can out-California California.  Sometimes they can be super-ripe, over-hot, and structureless.  I've had counterexamples, of course, and quality is improving all the time, or so I hear, but  I seem to prefer wines from cooler climates generally.

This wine is has an soft, warm, smooth mouthfeel that is characteristic of warm-climate Pinot Noir and a slightly tart sour cherry/cranberry palate, and a bit of an alcohol flare in the finish.  This tart-sour bit saves the wine, I think, from being devoid of interest.  But this is not the sort of wine that I'd prefer to be drinking.  I must concede that it's a fair contender among Pinots in its price range ($9).  But I wasn't quite satisfied.

K&L (despite their fantastic selection) didn't have much in the way of Pinots from areas other than Europe, the U.S., and New Zealand.  New Zealand wasn't specifically prohibited by our host, but I do feel that choosing a Kiwi Pinot Noir would be cheating somewhat; New Zealand Pinot Noir is better established in terms of its worldwide reputation than California Pinot Noir, so it's difficult to consider it "New-New World"

I thought that perhaps I could satisfy the spirit of the law if not the letter by trying a bottle produced in an area not normally known for its Pinot Noir.  Not much Italian Pinot Nero makes it to these shores, and since one came recommended by K&L's very helpful staff, I thought I'd give it a whirl.

2004 EKK Pinot Nero Dell'Alto Adige          ($19)

A completely different face of the Pinot Noir grape.  Minerals!  Yes, you heard right.  Crisp, tart, and minerally, this tasty wine reminds me far more of a good German Spätburgunder than of anything Burgundian.  The mouthfeel is clean and borders on effervesence.  The palate is simple and cherrylike -- little complexity here -- but what a joy to drink!

Around the internet:

Here's a fascinating article on the rise of Pinot Nero.

October 6, 2005 in blog_events, wine | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack

March 09, 2005

WBW #7: Obscure Red Grape Varietals


The Italians are always good for a wacky grape or two.  Oh, every wine-growing nation has its quirky heritage grapes; grapes that the devoted believe are capable of greatness, if only the world would sit up and take notice.  Even in the New World this is the case; Australia has its Chambourcin, the U.S. its Zinfandel, South Africa its Pinotage.  Italy must win the crown, though, for the most heritage grapes that few outside of the country have ever heard of.  (A little Grignolino, anyone?  Some Refosco, perhaps? And when was the last time you had some Sagrantino di Montefalco?) To be completely fair, many of these Italian grapes are unfairly ignored on the world scene.  I would welcome an opportunity to demonstrate this.  But today is not this day.

2000 Apollonio Copertino          ($9?)

(80% Negroamaro, 10% Malvasia Nera di Lecce, 10% Montepulciano)

Plums and anise feature strongly in the nose.  Starts off with purple fruit on the palate. Acids are reasonable.  If pressed, in a blind tasting (not that I am particularly good at this sort of thing) I might have picked it to be a Syrah of some sort...in the Bizarro World.  After a pleasant start, there are several disturbing developments.  First, the mid-palate is weirdly spicy and alcohol-hot, and then the finish is like licking sandpaper. I kid you not.  We're talking 150 grit tannins here, Sally.

I'm not sure where I picked up this bottle of wine.  I don't know how much it cost.  I can't imagine it was priced above $8 or $9, and I don't usually buy wines much under $7 -- mostly for fear of winding up with something like this.  I may have to find out how much this cost just so I can set my minimum price to $1 higher. Perhaps I am overreacting.

Naturally I could not let this be the extent of my WBW experience for the month.  I went to one of my favorite wine stores in the area, Hi Time Cellars in Costa Mesa. and poked around in their extensive collection for obscure varietals...and I came up with this little gem.

2002 TFXT a'Kira Blaufrankisch          ($20)

Cherry nose, and a bit of an alcohol smell.  Fortunately the latter does not carry over onto the palate. Medium body, soft texture, full of bing cherries and unfamiliar fruits.  Nice, food-friendly acids, but this wine can't be described as "tart".  This is good, as I have a limited tolerance for "tart" wines.  (And yet I love sour candy.  Nobody said I had to make sense.)  The wine has a soft round texture mostly, though there's a bit of tannin on the finish that would easily be mitigated by food.  For $20 I wouldn't call this a strong value, but there's no denying that this is a nice wine and an interesting change of pace.

Blaufrankisch is grown mainly in Austria, but it can also be found in Germany, Hungary, Croatia, and even Italy under several other names such as Lemberger, Frankovka, and Frankonia.  This wine did not taste like the cold-weather red I might have assumed Austrian reds to be, and this is for good reason.  The Osterreich, which grows Austria's best reds, is a bit warmer than you might imagine.

I had a lot of fun with this one.  For me, it occupies some space between a Pinot Noir and a Syrah. It's not strange to taste, but it's just unfamiliar enough to me to be intriguing.  At this price point I won't be buying it a lot, but I may seek it out again for variety or to be the ringer the next time I'm attending a blind tasting full of know-it-alls. (Which pretty much describes every blind tasting, doesn't it?)

Around the blogosphere:

Lenn of Lenndevours also reviewed a Blaufrankisch for WBW #7...from New York!  Tim at Winecast reviewed a Negroamaro that sounds better than the one I had.

March 9, 2005 in wine | Permalink | Comments (1) | TrackBack

February 16, 2005

WBW #6: South African Reds


After an extended affair with Zinfandel which we will not speak of further, my first true wine love was the California Bordeaux-style blend (the so-called Meritage, which term I despise).  Where many Cabernets seemed  angry and unforgiving, and most Merlots effusive and obsequious, put them together and the assemblage somehow worked. A union of opposites, like the perfect relationship...in the 1950's. Throw in some Cabernet Franc and maybe some Malbec to correct for any remaining deficiencies and you're ready to go.  Why would you even want to try to make a single-varietal wine?

All this Meritage-drinking left me convinced that I was a Bordeaux fan, despite the fact that I hadn't had much actual Bordeaux, and the (cheap) examples I had tried -- mostly what was available at the local grocer -- hadn't made much of an impression.  In fact, I came up with a theory: Deep down, we're all either Bordeaux people or Burgundy people.  Oh, sure, we may like other kinds of grapes grown in other regions or other countries, but there's really only one underlying question:  Burgundy or Bordeaux?

Bordeaux people, I imagined, were from Mars; balanced, scientific, rational people.  Bordeaux winemakers were empiricists above all; they created their wines as part of an experimental process of mixing and tasting. Burgundy people, on the other hand, were artistic, temperamental, Venusian prima-donnas.  Just like the grape that they so adored, they were notoriously thin-skinned, erratic, and unreliable.  They made wine from one grape, and if things didn't go well that year, they had no recourse; they just burned some patchouli and promised to love the vines harder next time.

Myself, I hated Pinot Noir.  Based on a couple of inexpensive domestic examples, I'd sussed them all out as  thin, acidic wines with bright cherry fruit.  What was all the Burgundy hoo-ha about?  It wasn't hard to determine which side of the fence I fell on.

In the meantime, I'd had a few actual Bordeaux that I responded strongly to.  Although they were a bit more austere than my Meritages, they seemed much more balanced and profound than even the more expensive of my favorites. The red fruit high notes of the Cabernet just rounded out by the fleshy mid-palate of the Merlot, all complemented by a bit of earthy terroir and a just touch of coffee grounds from the oak.  By comparison, the Meritages seemed overripe and overoaked and waay too juicy.  I continued to appreciate them, but more guiltily.  But all of this left me even more convinced that I was a Bordeaux person.

All that changed a few years later over a ten year old bottle of 1er Cru Vosne-Romanee.  Its combination of thick, velvety texture, heady perfume, and spice-laden palate was unlike anything I'd ever had before. I was tearfully forced to admit that, despite the fact that I still enjoyed a good Bordeaux now and again, deep down I was a Burgundy person.  It was difficult to muster up the courage to come out to my friends.  Strangely, they didn't react as strongly to the news as I expected.  I guess they love me just that much.

But that's a story for another time.  Today we're here to talk about Bordeaux-style blends.  I have a nice South African wine here for you to try.  Today's wine reminds me of many things I like about Bordeaux -- but in lurid technicolor.  And I don't mean that disparagingly.   

2001 Mulderbosch "Faithful Hound" (Stellenbosch)          ($20)

Barnyard on the nose, but also coffee and spices.  Red fruit up front,  but with nicely balancing acids.  (One thing many New World offerings lack!)  Soft, lush mouthfeel betray the Merlot in the blend, but the mid-palate is in no way weak; mocha and spices add flavor interest while acid and tannin lend structure.  Tannins are strong but smooth and manageable.  Give it a couple of years in the bottle, or have it with a nice steak topped with Stilton.  (I prefer to do the latter.)   I found this an enjoyable wine to drink, especially the next day, when some of the sharper edges had muted.  A strong contender in its price range.

Related items of interest:

If you'd like to know more about the ways that the grapes in the Bordeaux blend have evolved to support each other in the vineyard and on the palate, please read this fantastic article by Bill Nesto, Master of Wine and winewriter.

Here's an interesting (if technical) article on the cultivation of Petit Verdot in South Africa.

February 16, 2005 in wine | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack

January 27, 2005

WBW #5: Wacky Wine Names

BallbusterlabelThis month's Wine Blogging Wednesday, hosted by Chez Pim, is themed "Wacky Wine Names".  A little research has led me to the conclusion that it's the Australians who are the indisputable masters of wack. For every Folie a Deux or Frog's Leap we have, there are fifteen Woop Woops, Wirra Wirras, Laughing Magpies, Money Spiders, Mad Fish, Fifth Legs, and Kangarillas waiting in the wings. They're as mad as hatters down there. Face it: in wine or anything else, who can challenge the Aussies for the crown of Sheer Wackiness?

2003 Tait Ballbuster   ($14)

Deep, rich purple color. Liqueur on the nose, with a touch of eucalyptus. On the palate: a burst of juicy, dark fruit, then liqueur and a little menthol...which is all blown out of your mouth by an blast of alcohol and tannin. One presumes that this is the "ball-busting" part alluded to in the name, and it is indeed a bit punishing. 15.5% alcohol, and you can taste every bit of it. That is, until it anesthetizes your tongue.

Some people like it rough. Robert Parker appears to be one of those; apparently this wine recieved 91 points in the Wine Advocate. Me, I prefer a little less slap and a little more tickle.

January 27, 2005 in wine | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack

December 01, 2004

WBW #4: New World Riesling


The Folly Of Youth

I wasn't always bullish on white wines.  A few years ago, I could be downright hostile. Chardonnay and White Burgundy I treated with grudging respect (any white wine that was worth putting a little oak on couldn't be all that bad, I thought), but anything that might remind one of lemons or grapefruit I held in suspicion, and anything off-dry I outright scorned.  Oh, I didn't deny that these styles had their place; something to drink with white fish, for instance (in the case of the former), and perhaps spicy Asian cuisine (in the case of the latter).  So I did what any reasonable wine drinker would do -- I drank beer with my Chinese take-out and avoided eating fish altogether.

Riesling I shunned in particular.  I think it's because the first wine I drank regularly (back in my undergraduate days, so you know I had plenty of it) was a cheap  domestic Riesling.  It was some time before I realized just how bad it was: cloying, flabby, ridiculous...I soon fell in with a pack of Sonoma Cabernets and never looked back.

The Road To Damascus

I used to persecute white wine drinkers with some fervor.  At best, I felt, they -- like the wines they drank -- lacked seriousness.  At worst?  Sallow-tongued Fresca-drinkers.  After one tasting session at which I mentioned to an acquaintance -- let's call him Ananias -- that his German Riesling might be best consumed while wearing a pretty white cotton summer dress but that I wondered what he wore in the winter, he gave me a suggestion.  Well, he made two suggestions, really, but the first one was very unflattering and I ignored it.

The second, however, proved to be very enlightening.  He told me about a wine importer on Pier 19 (in San Francisco) named Dee Vine Wines that specialized in German imports.  Their periodic tastings were, he claimed, can't-miss events, and one was happening the following weekend.  If came away from the tasting without thoroughly enjoying the wines, he said, I could make all the derisive comments I wanted to.

My comrades in arms and I were very confused when we arrived at Pier 19.  Fisherman's Wharf it ain't -- this looks like a working Pier.  It's a giant, dark, dank warehouse.  The security guard at the entrance looked at us with the wary eye of a man who has learned the hard way not to trust anyone who doesn't have three days' beard growth and a tattoo of an anchor.  "You here for the WINE TASTING?" he spat.

We were directed to a section a few hundred feet back that contained -- you guessed it -- a wine store, at the front of which were three tables supporting thirty five buckets of ice between them.  For a mere $15 we tasted everything from Kabinetten to Trockenbeerenauslesen, some of the latter of which were going for well over $100 for a 375 mL bottle.  Those were fantastic, I must admit, but it was the Spatlesen that really grabbed me.  All the richness of a late harvest wine, all of the approachability that a little of sugar can give, perfectly balanced against the steely minerality and citrus of a cold weather white wine.  Then throw in the mix just a hint -- sometimes more -- of some funkiness that Ananias had described as "petrol".  I now understood what he meant.  I was hooked.

My road to Damascus wound up being the Embarcadero.  That visit changed the way I drink wine.   Oh, I still love my reds, don't get me wrong.  But these days I think nothing of cracking open a bottle of white wine instead.  Also I am humbler now.  And I am no longer afraid to eat fish.

And while my tastes have since broadened to include other great wines such as White Burgundy, Gruner Veltliner, and even Albarino, my favorite white wine in the world is still a good Spatlese, and I don't feel as though I must cross-dress to enjoy it.

New World Riesling?

All that having been said, I was pretty skeptical of the whole "New World Riesling" thing.  I guess I still have ancestral memories of that fatty, sweet, cheap California Riesling I drank in college.  But I figured it would be a good opportunity for me to see what the rest of the world is doing with the grape these days.  But I still planned to compare it to my favorite Mosels and Rheingaus, where it would no doubt fail to shine.

I didn't have a chance to make it to the wine store before the weekend, however, but as I was cooking a late Thanksgiving meal for friends, I had one of them pick up something for me.  He doesn't know much about wine, but I had him relay my preferences and circumstances to the wine store staff, and ask them to give me "something interesting".

What I got was indeed unexpected -- an ice wine from Chateau Ste Michelle.  I read the back:  40 brix at harvest, 29% residual sugar.  I thought I was in for a flaccid, insipid, sickly-sweet experience.  I couldn't have been more wrong.

2003 Chateau Ste. Michelle Reserve Columbia Valley White Riesling Ice Wine   ($25, 375 mL)

This clean, sensuous wine is what a grapefruit would be if a grapefruit were erotic.  It is honeyed without cloying, and substantial without feeling heavy.  Its significant sugar levels are wrestled just into balance by its acid content, resulting in a wine that manages to be both sublime and accessible.  Unabashedly New World in style, there is only the merest touch of petrol character to hint at what might have been (or might yet be, with a few years of bottle age).   The tasty finish lasts and lasts.

December 1, 2004 in best, wine | Permalink | Comments (1) | TrackBack

November 03, 2004

WBW #3: Australian Shiraz

Margan [This is my contribution to Wine Blogging Wednesdays, a virtual event that you can find out more about here.  This month's assignment was to taste and report on an Australian Shiraz.]

Australia's Hunter Valley is not well-known to American consumers and retailers. The Australian export market to the U.S. is dominated by South Australian Shiraz, Cabernet Sauvignon and Chardonnay, which consumers of mainstream California wines can easily identify with stylistically.  The less familiar (and perhaps less instantly appealing) approach of the Hunter Valley to these grapes results in them getting squeezed out of the American market, and if that is true then there is almost certainly no room in for the highly distinctive (some would say eccentric) Hunter Valley Semillon or Chambourcin.  The Hunter's wines are often considered to be second-tier with respect to its southern cousins, and the area is often reduced to a footnote in many magazine articles on Australian wines. As a result, very little Hunter Valley wine is exported, and almost none from its many interesting smaller producers.

But the dominance of South Australian wine can't be blamed completely on incompatibility with mainstream tastes.  Truth be told, it can be difficult to make wine in the Hunter.  Temperatures often get too hot during the summer, and the area is notorious for getting the sort of early rains which are the bane of the winemaker's existence.  (This is one reason that the Hunter is better known for its whites than its reds -- the white varieties tend to ripen earlier and can likely be harvested before the rains start.)

I'm no wine critic, but I did have the opportunity to work on a winery in the Hunter Valley for three weeks last year.  In my (admittedly limited) experience, Shiraz from the Hunter is less fruit-forward, less alcoholic, less forceful, and more restrained than its South Australian counterparts.  Hence, when it is done well, it can be more elegant.  Hunter Shiraz often exhibits red fruit flavors instead of the black fruit flavors that dominate South Australian Shiraz, and sometimes -- though not always -- has a stronger acid profile.  The best wines of the valley (in my opinion) also have pleasant spice flavors and a dusty earthiness.

In San Francisco, we did find one of our favorites from the trip: the Meerea Park "The Aunts" Shiraz at The Jug Shop, which has a fantastic selection of Australian wines.  (Even so, they don't have that much Hunter Valley wine.) Other than that, we haven't run across too many Hunter Valley bottlings.

But because we wanted to share a bit of Hunter Valley with WBW folks, we took a look around Orange County to see what we could turn up.  Almost immediately, we ran across Southern Hemisphere Wine Center, a mere fifteen minute's drive from where we live.  They have a fantastic selection of Australian wines, including a few from the Hunter Valley.  They do most of their business via mail order, but the small staff at the storefront was friendly, helpful, and knowledgeable.


1999 Margan Hunter Valley Shiraz    ($14.99)

Strong kirsch aroma.  Palate is dominated by rich raspberry flavors.  This Chambord-like taste is nicely offset by a pleasant tartness.  Smooth, velvety texture.  Good concentration for Hunter Valley Shiraz in this price range.  The finish isn't strong, but strangely, it lasts quite a while.  This is a fairly good value.  While it paired acceptably with filet mignon topped with stilton, this wine would really shine with duck or goose.  Keep it in mind for Thanksgiving!

November 3, 2004 in wine | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack