Monday, July 27, 2009

Ridge Lytton Estate Zinfandel 1992 – California

Oh. My. God. Being on Ridge’s ATP mailing list, we were notified of this library release. We snatched up our two-bottle allocation, and opened the first one for Francesca’s birthday. This is far from tasting even the least bit old. Our real dilemma will be deciding when to open the other bottle.

Rather surprisingly, the nose is of dried oranges and some floral notes. But the tastes are still big, strong Zinfandel fruit for a 17-year-old wine. Cherries Jubilee, prune, berries, even a hint of mint. Very smooth and integrated, but still with distinct acid and tannins. If we could have known, and if we could have bought a case.... Yes, Yes. $50. If you stumble upon a well-stored bottle for under $100, snatch it up.

Friday, July 24, 2009

Adult Discretion Advised (If You Live in Alabama)

We’re sure – absolutely, really, really sure – that there are two sides to this story. But the news that the Alabama Beverage Control board has deemed the Cycles Gladiator wine label as pornographic is simply weird. But then, the label depicts an 1895 poster, so we guess it’s no surprise that Alabama is still living in the 19th century.

Tuesday, July 21, 2009

Here’s the Steak, Where’s The Sizzle?

Let’s say that you wanted to create a new international organization. A group of wine movers-and-shakers from five wine regions (California, Chile, Argentina, New Zealand, South Africa) on four continents bent on getting more exposure for your wines, especially in the European Union, where New World wines are often overshadowed by continental offerings from France, Spain, Italy, Germany, probably even Slovenia.

Now, you’re living in 2009 (not 1989). What’s the first thing you do? You send out a press release and get lots of wine news websites and blogs mentioning your New World Wine Alliance. And you have all those articles link to your cool, visually rich, informative website. But....

Where’s the website? Yes, we know we’re a web-centric culture, but not having even a web page up is like not having stationary or a phone line. So at this time our conclusion is that this beast without a head is unlikely to survive, unless someone steps up to the plate and becomes the wrangler for these critters. Hey, New World Wine Alliance: Did I mention that I’ve been looking for a position in the wine industry?

UPDATE – 24 July: Or should it be: “Here’s the Sizzle, Where’s the Steak?”
A few more thoughts on the New World Wine Alliance.

Most of the international media reporting on this are saying the alliance is made up of five countries. California is not a country. The NWWA press release (we’re been unable to track down the original; here’s the version from Wines of Chile) says, “In a significant expression of unity, five competing New World wine-producing countries will be collaborating....”

The Wine Institute (“The Voice for California Wine”) has completely ignored the NWWA announcement. On Steve Heimoff’s blog, he writes: “The Wine Institute is telling [the EU] not to worry. ‘We already have a policy trade group,’ said an Institute spokesperson, who did not want to be identified.” Heimoff also quotes the anonymous Wine Institute spokesperson as saying, “This is just some marketing folks getting together to do something.”

To that comment, I’d be rather surprised. Real “marketing folks,” I’m sure, would have a better handle on, well, marketing (websites, social media, and a lot more). We can’t figure out who this is coming from. The “California” contact even has a German domain as an email address.

And the “policy trade group” mentioned, the World Wine Trade Group, has a website that appears to not have been updated in years - the last annual meeting they list was in 2007.

Finally, we feel slighted. Were we not important enough to be on the NWWA press release distribution list? Darn.

If anyone out there really knows what this group is, or how they’re marketing themselves, we’d love to hear more.

Friday, July 17, 2009

Crème Fraiche & Milbrandt Riesling

Crème Fraiche

Yes, we’re pretty late to the party. We make our own garlic Aioli by grinding fresh garlic cloves in a mortar. We use fresh herbs instead of dried whenever possible. We cook just about everything from scratch. But we never bothered to make Crème Fraiche.

Crème Fraiche is a French matured cream, but not at all like our U.S. sour cream. We’ve never found it in our semi-rural grocery stores, but we’ve read for years how “easy” it is to make. Even Julia Child has a recipe. The typical recipe calls for a cup of cream and a tablespoon or two of buttermilk. But who in the world has buttermilk in the fridge anymore, especially when it comes in quart cartons? Yet a few weeks ago we found a tiny half-pint carton of buttermilk, and decided to try this creation.

We mixed (without measuring, as usual) the cream and buttermilk and let it stand overnight until it actually did develop a nice, thick creamy consistency. It had a wonderful bite yet a smooth creaminess that sour cream just doesn’t have.

Since then, we’ve mixed it with Dijon mustard for a salad dressing; we’ve added honey and vanilla for a topping for fresh wild raspberries (not that the raspberries really needed anything); and we’ve mixed a bit of it with a leftover tomato-artichoke-olive sofrito to go on top of red potatoes steamed with fresh rosemary.

We’re hooked. Our most recent meal using Crème Fraiche was as the potato topping mentioned above, and for that dinner we also had halibut sautéed in butter and herbs accompanied by a crisp Washington state Riesling, reviewed below.

Milbrandt Riesling 2006 – Washington

When we bought this, we had no way of knowing if it were dry or sweet. Many Rieslings will note a style on the label (and we wish all wineries would), but without that information it’s hard to know whether to open a bottle of Riesling as an afternoon sipper or as a dinner wine. We took a wild guess, and were right with this one.

The nose is mild, with a bit of apple and herbs. The tastes are a nice medley of crab apple, apple, mild herbs, maybe a little grassy or leafy. It finishes crisply, with some mild but nice acidity. Surprisingly for a Riesling, it was still fine as it warmed in the glass on an 87-degree evening. It developed more depth and complexity, without losing that distinctive Riesling character.

The best part is the price – only $6.50 when we found it. At that price, it’s a House/Yes wine for sure (depending on availability).

Friday, July 10, 2009

Beringer White Merlot 2007 – California

Continuing our Summer Lightweights Series....

We didn’t really know what to think about this. We actually like Beringer’s White Zinfandel, and had suggested that wine to Francesca’s mother. But being 80-something, she couldn’t remember exactly what wine we told her about, so she bought this instead. In the spirit of research we, too, had to try it.

Bright color, nose of red fruits. Tastes of rhubarb, raspberries, and strawberries. A little drier than the White Zin. We don’t think this will be on our go-to list, but it ain’t bad, either. Your parents or grandparents may love it. Maybe. $6 on sale, regularly about $7.50.

Wednesday, July 8, 2009

Guest Blogger: Five Southern Hemisphere New World Wineries

[Keith, from Amsterdam, writes the travel blog and website Velvet Escape. We enjoyed his recent post about a few less-know wine regions so much that we asked him if we could post part of it here. You can also read Keith’s complete article on Velvet Escape.]

Europe has many of the finest wineries in the world. Anyone who has visited Bordeaux, Burgundy, Tuscany, Veneto, or Rioja can attest to the stunning scenery and some of the most heavenly wines in the world.

In the past ten years, wines from the New World (including Chile, Argentina, South Africa, the United States, Australia, and New Zealand), have grown tremendously in popularity. I started “researching” (that’s a good word) New World wines quite a few years ago and since then I’ve become a huge fan of wines from, especially, Australia, Chile and South Africa. When I eventually got the chance to travel through these countries, visits to various wineries naturally became a part of the itinerary. What I encountered were gorgeous wineries in breathtaking surroundings, and wines that were truly sublime. For this article, I’ve picked five wineries in the Southern Hemisphere which I’ve visited in the past two years. These wineries produce a variety of delicious wines in beautiful settings.

Boschendal (South Africa)
This winery is located in the Western Cape, halfway between the historic towns of Stellenbosch and Franschhoek. The lovely Cape Dutch buildings form a stark contrast with the rugged Groot Drakenstein mountains in the background. The scenery is indeed breathtaking. You can combine a wine-tasting here with a delicious lunch under the shady trees with a view of the mountains. One of the most intriguing wines produced here is a Pinot Noir/Chardonnay blend.

Montes (Chile)
The wines produced at this estate are arguably some of Chile’s finest. Located in the charming, hilly Colchagua Valley, this winery features a hyper-modern central building designed by a team of Chile’s most renowned architects, and an impressive cellar. The Merlot, Cabernet Sauvignon and Sauvignon Blanc are absolutely divine!

Domaine Chandon (Australia)
Situated in the Yarra Valley, just east of Melbourne, the Domaine Chandon estate (of the famous Möet & Chandon name) produces an exclusive selection of beautiful sparkling wines (you can’t call it champagne if it doesn’t originate from the region of Champagne in France). The verdant rolling hills form a gorgeous setting for this estate with its signature Victorian manor.

Errazuriz (Chile)
Errazuriz is one of Chile’s most prominent families and they own several high-profile wineries in the Aconcagua Valley. Fed by the molten snow from South America’s highest peak (Mt. Aconcagua), the historic Errazuriz estate boasts a variety of beautiful wines including the Merlot and Shiraz.

Bodega Ruca Malen (Argentina)
Ruca Malen is located south of Argentina’s wine capital, Mendoza. The scenery is truly magnificent: row upon row of vines with the awe-inspiring snowy peaks of the Andes mountains as the backdrop. This winery produces a selection of delicious Malbec, Cabernet Sauvignon, and Merlot. The Cabernet Sauvignon/Malbec blend is also noteworthy. You can opt to combine a wine-tasting with a gourmet seven-course lunch, whilst enjoying the breathtaking view of the Andes.

This is but a small selection of wineries that have made the biggest impression on me. If you’ve been to an amazing winery in any of these New World wine countries, please feel free to share your experiences with me.

Monday, July 6, 2009

Maryhill Sauvignon Blanc 2007 – Washington

Mayhill is a big winery on the Washington state side of the Columbia River a couple of dozen miles east of Hood River, Oregon. The winery has a big tasting room, filled with gifts and wine accessories, as well as a friendly and enthusiastic staff. The tasting room felt very Napa-ish, but was uncrowded when we were there midweek in April.

One thing that really creeped us out, though, was that there were a LOT of sterile, annoying, little “nag” signs all over the tasting room, the grounds, even in the parking lot, along the lines of: “Keep Off The Grass,” “Put Trash Here,” “Bathrooms Only For Customers”, “Don’t Feed The Dog Your Leftover Lunch,” “Blah, Blah, Blah.” Sort of like Windows Vista, the computer operating system that nags you at every turn.

Anyway.... The Maryhill Sauvignon Blanc is very Bordeaux-ish. It opens with a nose that makes you think it’s going to be more New Zealand – grassy, bright, lemons. But the tastes are more California/French in style – grapefruit, no grassiness, some smooth roundness and defined acidity. Try it if such is your style; for us, Maybe. $14

Thursday, July 2, 2009

You Expected Exactly What for Your 5 Bucks?

Would you pay $5 for a glass of Two Buck Chuck (aka Two Buck Junk)? Southwest Airlines isn’t exactly pouring TBC, but has switched its wine service to Coastal Ridge Chardonnay and Merlot, both made by the same Bronco Wine Company that makes Trader Joe’s TBC.

We’re pretty sure that Coastal Ridge wines don’t exactly come from the same giant vat as TBC, but they still taste like industrial, sterilized White Wine and Red Wine. But hey, your sense of taste is dulled in an airplane, anyway, right?