This is a generous, big-spirited wine with a nose of cherry and bright purple berry fruit, a hint of spice, and a distinct violet scent. There’s also a whiff of something that can only be described as spicy caramel. I could smell this all day and be perfectly happy. On the palate, all the lushness of the nose finds its tactile equivalent in a gorgeous silky texture. It, too, is rich, though far more earthbound. Bass-notes dominate here: Barely sweetened chocolate ganache, plums, black currants, a hint of tobacco leaf. It would be perfect with brown sugar-kissed barbecued ribs, but I’d be just as content to sip it on its own. Truth be told, if I opened this up around cocktail hour (4:00 in my house), I have a sneaking suspicion that the bottle wouldn’t make it much past 4:30. This is a great example of how approachable and delicious Meritage-style wines can be. 40% Cabernet Sauvignon, 33% Cabernet Franc, 17% Merlot, 10% Petit Verdot.
Wednesday, March 31, 2010
Monday, March 29, 2010
Today marks the beginning of a new relationship we’re building here with Ask.com, the top Q & A search engine in the world. Moving forward, the good folks on the Ask.com team will be sending me over their top wine-related questions every two weeks, and I’ll not only post their answers, but often elaborate on them myself. The benefits of this are potentially significant: By teaming up, we’ll be harnessing Ask.com’s ability to divine what specific issues are on the minds of millions of wine lovers, and using our expertise to provide answers that will go into as much depth as possible.
In the beginning, I’ll post specifically chosen questions and answers every other Monday or Tuesday--in the form of written blogs, of course, but occasional videos, too, where they’ll help. I’ll also choose which of the top questions to elaborate on based on what’s happening in the non-wine world. Today, for example, though the team has sent me over the top 10 wine questions inquired about wine on Ask.com, I’ll be focusing on #6--what wine goes best with chicken?--because of the time of year: Passover started last night and Easter is next Sunday, and with the amount of food consumed at meals marking both of these holidays, it seems appropriate to focus on this food-and-wine pairing question before moving on.
What kind of wine does go with chicken? This is one of the great mysteries of the wine world, one that I’m personally asked about at least five times a week. Ask.com’s answer is a great place to start: “A chardonnay or pinot blanc are traditional, but we’re of the belief that you should drink what you like!”
The first thing we should address is the last part of that answer, because it is the key to wine happiness: Drink what you like. The big mistake that most people make is obsessing over their food-and-wine pairings so much that all the joy is taken out of it. So, please--we beg you: Drink what you like, eat what you like, and we promise the world will be a happier place for you when you’re done. This is about pleasure, after all, not pressure. The old line is important to remember: If you like the wine, then it’s a good wine. Don’t let scores or so-called pairing rules get in the way of your enjoyment.
That having been said, though, you can take things a bit further in the pairing department. Because as all wine lovers know, a great food-and-wine pairing can make both taste a million times better than they otherwise would have on their own.
Chardonnay and Pinot Blanc are good wines to start with: They’re produced in a wide enough range of styles to cover most of your chicken needs. But they are not your only options. One of the reasons that chicken perplexes so many people when it comes to pairing, after all, is that the meat itself tends to play a background role to its seasoning, accompanying sauce, and cooking method. In that regard, chicken is a bit of a chameleon (wrap your mind around that one!), which makes pairing wines with it both exciting and--let’s be honest here--nerve-wracking.
But it doesn’t have to be. Here are a few simple tricks to get you started on the road to becoming a Master Chicken Pairer (which is a completely made-up title, by the way).
Ask yourself how the chicken is cooked. Roasting a chicken will tend to bring out both its richer and its sweeter flavors, which would seem to reward a great Chardonnay, like an '07 Meursault. Grilling it, on the other hand, with all the smoke and charring, requires a wine with a bit more acid--say, a Northern Italian Pinot Bianco. Then there’s the best pairing of all: Fried chicken and Champagne. I know it sounds strange, but this is honestly one of the greatest combinations you can ever experience: The nuttiness of the fried crust is echoed by the nuttiness of the bubbly, the oil and fat from the frying is cut by the high acid of the Champagne, and any grease left on your tongue is scrubbed right off by the bubbles. Trust us: This pairing is a life-changer!
Consider the sauce. Chicken stir-fry with a lot of soy sauce calls for Champagne again, or even Prosecco or Cava, whereas tomato sauce-based chicken cacciatore or chicken parmesan are perfect with Italian reds like Dolcetto and Barbera. In all three of these cases, the chicken, really, isn’t the focal-point; the sauce is. Pair accordingly.
How is it seasoned? Because most chicken doesn’t have a whole lot of aggressive flavor on its own, the way it’s seasoned often defines the characteristics you have to work with in terms of wine pairing. The gorgeous perfume and gentle spice-heat of a chicken pad thai, for example, mean that Riesling or Guwurztraminer are in order. On the other hand, the more delicate lemon notes of, say, chicken piccata, sing alongside a crisp Pinot Grigio.
Of course, your best bet isn’t to obsess over the single perfect pairing. Why limit yourself? Come up with a handful of pairing possibilities, pop the corks on two or three bottles that you think might work well, and see which ones you like most. This is, after all, supposed to be fun. And for me, at least, nothing says fun like multiple open bottles of wine on the table, sharing them with friends, family...and, in this case, a great chicken dish.
Thursday, March 25, 2010
I’m in Chicago this week and, unfortunately, suffering from a head cold. I rarely catch anything, but woke up yesterday morning unable to taste or smell; in fact, I’m pretty much numb from the nose up. This is why Wine Review Wednesday didn’t happen yesterday. In fact, I was hoping I’d be better today and able to do some tasting at the bar here, but it’s just gotten worse. So we’ll just skip this week and hope for a clearer path to tasting next week.
In the meantime, then, I thought I’d link up a story about the only aspect of wine that I can appreciate right now: Its color.
The other week, in his blog The Pour that he writes for The New York Times, Eric Asimov addressed an interesting topic that’s far too often ignored: The importance (or not) of a wine’s color.
“How important is it for a red wine to be a dark color?” he asked. “Stipulating that certain wines are naturally darker than others, and that evaluating a wine’s color can yield useful information when comparing a particular bottle to others of its genre, do most people believe that a darker red wine is better than a paler red wine?”
It’s an interesting questions, and one with serious implications both in terms of consumer preferences and the nature of the kinds of wines that get produced.
After all, many new wine drinkers--and a surprising number of seasoned ones--still associate a wine’s color with its quality. The relationship, they tend to believe, is fairly straightforward: The darker the wine, the higher the quality. But, as Asimov points out, “Many great Burgundies have been somewhat pale. Barolos, too, of impressive intensity and concentration, can be pretty pale. Top-level sangioveses and Riojas can also be light-colored. Frankly, as far as these wines are concerned, I’m more worried by unnaturally dark wines than I am pale wines. It indicates winemakers who are concerned enough with the public perception of the color of their wines to try to darken them, even as they know full well it makes no difference except in the marketing.”
As more consumers taste a broader range of wines, and as they begin to understand that aroma and flavor, more than anything else, define a wine, I hope that they’ll start to realize that darker wines are absolutely no better than pale ones.
The truth, as always, is in the aroma, flavor, and overall balance of the juice. That other stuff is merely aesthetic.
Wednesday, March 24, 2010
Sometimes, a story is published that, though it has little bearing on the wine lives of the vast majority of us, brings a smile to the face anyway. That’s exactly the kind of piece that I saw this morning on the web site of Scientific American Magazine.
The piece deals with wine forgeries, expensive bottles, and an ingenious way to verify the vintage of the most expensive ones. The story begins by noting that “[the] most expensive wine ever sold in the U.S. was a Montrachet 1978 from Domaine de la Romanee-Conti, according to a report by Forbes.com. Following a bidding war between two avid collectors, the seven-bottle lot sold for a whopping $167,500 (almost $24,000 per bottle) in a 2001 auction at New York City's Sotheby's.”
So here’s the issue: How can the winner of the bottles ultimately be positive that they are, in fact, what they’re supposed to be, and not well-crafted fakes?
Easy, notes the article: Let atmospheric radiation do the work.
“Radioactive carbon released into the atmosphere during the [atomic bomb-testing] blasts [between the late 1940s and 1963] and then absorbed by grapes can be used to accurately determine wine vintages, according to a study presented March 21 at the National Meeting of the American Chemical Society. By comparing the level of a radioactive form of carbon (carbon-14) to the level of the more stable and abundant carbon isotope (carbon-12), Jones and his team from the University of Adelaide in Australia were able to determine what year a wine was really made.”
Wine fraud has become a major issue, especially as prices have climbed through the stratosphere. And in recent years, with the publication of books on the subject (my personal favorite is The Billionaire’s Vinegar by Benjamin Wallace), and with well-publicized instances of fakes winding up at auction (the Domaine Ponsot scandal, linked up right here, is a great example), the authenticity of great old vintages is on everyone’s mind. Now, with this technology, there seems to be a way to fight back. And a pretty fascinating one, at that.
Monday, March 22, 2010
Barrel-tasting season is upon us, at least for the big magazines. James Suckling announced on his Wine Spectator blog this past Friday that he was heading to Bordeaux to begin his early tastings of the much-heralded 2009s.
Of course, it’s still early in the game: Seven months ago, the grapes were still growing on their vines. But, as I covered here last year, the word was that that fruit had the potential to produce wines that could possibly rival those of the great vintages of the past fifty or one hundred years.
“Many estates,” Suckling writes, “thought that 2009 would be an early harvest because of the warm summer, [Jean-Charles] Cazes [of Lynch Bages and Les Ormes de Pez] said, but in his area, they picked their grapes during the third week of September, which is fairly normal. The clear, warm weather during the harvest allowed them to slowly pick their grapes, choosing just the right moment of ripeness. He said the grapes were near perfect at harvest.”
As a result, the level of excitement about these wines is already exceptionally high. And though the wines themselves are far from finished, these preliminary tastings will provide a useful guide for consumers when it comes to deciding whether or not to participate in the 2009 vintage’s en primeur campaign.
Regarding our own barrel tasting here at Wine Chateau--last week, we had the chance to taste a number of Louis Jadot’s 2008 Burgundy offerings, including standout Chassagne- and Puligny-Montrachets and a magnificent Echezeaux Grand Cru--I’ll post my impressions of the wines, as well as some short video from the event, right here in the next week or so.
Friday, March 19, 2010
Wednesday, March 17, 2010
With springtime finally threatening to come to town after a brutal winter here on the East coast, it's time to start thinking about wines that look forward to the warmer days ahead. I have a hard time imagining a better way to kick off the season than with the ForeFront (by Pine Ridge Vineyards) Sauvignon Blanc 2008.
It starts off with fruit that tends in the direction of peach and pineapple, though that brightness is complicated by creamy notes of green bell pepper and something that reminds me, charmingly, of spinach dip. A hint of white-blossom flower lends it all a sense of prettiness.
The palate, on the other hand, is surprisingly compact and mineral, with green apple and blue slate, as well as nicely balanced acidity. You might even find a touch of pleasantly bitter walnuts in there. This is a subtle, well-crafted Sauvignon Blanc, a versatile pairing partner at the table, and an excellent prelude to the season.
And, after the winter we’ve just had, a well-deserved treat.
Tuesday, March 16, 2010
We’ve covered wine’s impact on the environment here before, and from more natural farming practices to the materials in which wines are shipped, it has become clear that, in general, there is a real and serious movement toward making the wine industry more environmentally friendly.
And, if you followed my posts from Champagne last September, you saw how important respecting the land is to that region in particular. Unfortunately, one of the main environmental threats that sparkling wines inherently pose is the thickness and weight of the bottle. After all, in order to safely withstand the pressure of the bubbly inside, Champagne bottles traditionally had to be thicker...and therefore heavier. This resulted in an environmental domino-effect of sorts when it came to moving the wines around the world.
Now, however, as part of the very serious commitment that the Champagne industry has been showing to the environment, a new bottle is ready for use. Less than an hour ago I received a press release with the news that the “Comité Interprofessionnel du Vin de Champagne (CIVC) announced today the official launch of a new standard bottle that will significantly cut the region’s carbon emissions. The new bottle, which is more than 2 ounces lighter, will reduce annual CO2 output by 8,000 metric tons, equivalent to the annual CO2 emissions of 4,000 cars. After significant testing and market use to ensure the highest quality and safety standards, the CIVC formally approved the use of the lighter bottle for the entire region.”
This is a big leap in terms of both real-world impact and symbolism. Regarding the former, it is yet another step toward the Champagne region’s self-imposed goal of “cutting carbon emissions by 25 percent by 2020. The new bottle standard,” the press release continued, “is one of the initiatives to help meet this target. About 300 million bottles of Champagne were produced last year,” so a two-ounce difference in bottle weight will add up very quickly.
In terms of the symbolic import of the formal approval of the bottle, it’s just as big. After all, Champagne is synonymous with luxury and glamour, which, for far too many people and for way too long, seemed to exist on the other end of the spectrum from something as literally earthy as the environment.
Those two ends have been drawing ever closer lately, however, and this announcement, this bottle, is a very positive step in the right direction, as well as yet another indication of the wine world’s commitment (and Champagne’s commitment in particular) to the earth that literally sustains its business.
Monday, March 15, 2010
I received a press release this morning from the AWMB (the Austrian Wine Marketing Board) announcing the recognition of a new DAC, or Districtus Austriae Controllatus, the Austrian wine world’s definitive appellation. The press release says that the wines of the new, specific Eisenberg DAC, in the more generic Burgenland appellation, are “characterised by a distinctive spicy minerality while reflecting the terroir of the Südburgenland wine-growing area...”
This is good news for fans of Austrian wine in particular, as well as for the Austrian wine industry in general. After all, the identification and classification of ever more specific appellations within the country not only makes it easier for consumers to differentiate between the various parts of Austria’s wine-producing areas, but it also highlights the distinct differences between them as manifested in the wines themselves.
In other words, just as, say, Pauillac and St.-Julien are home to two uniquely different expressions of the larger Bordeaux region, so, too, is this naming of the Eisenberg DAC an identification of a unique, special area within the overarching Burgenland appellation.
Here, then, are the defining characteristics of the Eisenberg DAC, as noted in the press release:
“Like all of the other DACs, Eisenberg DAC is subject to the general conditions and requirements for Austrian quality wine. Specifically, Eisenberg DAC wines must be produced from 100% Blaufränkisch grapes.
“Eisenberg DAC stands for the typical, fruity and mineral-spicy Blaufränkisch, which is further characterised by the loamy, mineral-rich soils of the Südburgenland wine-growing area. The wines can be matured either in steel tanks or in wooden barrels, but the wines should show no – or else barely noticeable – wood tone.
“Eisenberg DAC wines also may be marketed with the additional designation of ‘Reserve.’ These are complex wines with great storage potential. They must be matured in large wooden barrels or in barriques, allowing for the aromas and flavours of Blaufränkisch to be complemented by wood notes.
“The first Eisenberg DAC vintage is 2009, and the wines can come on the market no earlier than September 1st of the year following the harvest. For Eisenberg DAC Reserve, the first vintage is 2008; these wines can be released for sale no earlier than March 1st of the second year following the harvest.”
This means that the first Eisenberg DAC wines will hit the market on September 1, 2010 at the earliest. In the meantime, a bit of homework now--on the wines of Austria in general and those produced from the Blaufränkisch grape variety in particular--is in order.
In other words, drink up: It's the tastiest homework you can imagine.
Friday, March 12, 2010
Eric Asimov’s column in this past week’s New York Times Food Section deals directly with the 2007 red Burgundies but, really, is about far more than that. Indeed, reading between his lines, it seems as if there’s an important lesson in there for all of us regarding vintage, reputation, and the truth of the juice in the glass.
His column, ostensibly about the nature of that underrated vintage of Pinots in Burgundy, points out what many of us have found through tasting the wines: That, despite their reputation as “too pale, too light, maybe even a trifle diluted,” Asimov writes about the overall perception that people have about them, they are actually quite good and, perhaps more importantly and inseparably, exceptionally honest wines. He continues: “Fans of dense, powerful Pinot Noirs packed with fruit flavors may well wave off the ’07s with barely a glance and a sip.”
That’s a telling statement, and taps into a wine zeitgeist that, thankfully, seems to be fading--or, at the very least, shifting--a bit. After all, a glass of classic red Burgundy, at its best, offers an in situ example of terroir expression, of the minute differences that make a wine from one village or vineyard such a unique thing.
For a while there, of course, this ran counter to popular taste, and among far too many consumers, a delicate, finely etched Pinot Noir, no matter where it was from, was often looked upon as somehow lacking. Fruit and power, in other words, had overwhelmed finesse and a sense of place.
As more consumers become familiar with the concept of terroir, the concept of a wine transmitting some ineffable truth about a particular patch of the earth, vintages like Burgundy’s 2007 will continue to grow in popularity. After all, the best of these wines “will not only provide a good deal of early pleasure, they will age well and offer great opportunities for exploring the often subtle differences among Burgundy’s varying terroirs,” Asimov notes.
“From careful producers who did their work,” he adds, “the reds offer unusually transparent expressions of Burgundian terroir, which can differ not only from village to village but from vineyard to vineyard.
“Even in the village wines, the lowest level at which the terroirs become discernible, the differences seem striking. A Gevrey-Chambertin from Joseph Faiveley, for example, is light-bodied in keeping with the vintage yet with exotic red fruit and precise mineral flavors that are typical of Gevrey. Meanwhile, a Nuits-St.-Georges from Faiveley’s own estate grapes is darker, earthier and more rustic, as is characteristic of this village.”
And that, really, is what the wine of Burgundy is all about: Its mind-bogglingly long history, and the way its villages and vineyards have been explored and mapped out for centuries, all contribute to wines that, at their core, are inextricably linked to the land in which they are grown. No matter what the current taste might be, and regardless of reputation, a vintage like 2007 here seems to be as honest, as typical, as we could hope for. And that’s a very good thing.
Wednesday, March 10, 2010
Sometimes, there’s a sense of poetry to the timing of a news item’s publication. Consider the one I’ve linked up here from The New York Times (which I saw today in my hotel room in Las Vegas, after another big meal): It reports that there is finally some scientific justification to what wine lovers have known forever.
Wine with dinner is good for digestion.
According to the article, some recent studies “have found that alcoholic beverages speed the emptying of food from the stomach and stimulate gastric acid” (others, the article notes, have reached no such conclusion).
Still, it seems as if the naysayers and tea-totalers have it wrong: “In more ways than one,” the article concludes, “a glass of wine may aid digestion.”
Take a look at the entire piece and decide for yourself. Or, better yet, open a bottle of wine with dinner and ponder it over a good pairing. If you believe what The Times reports, it may very well benefit both your brain and your belly. To say nothing of your tastebuds.
Monday, March 8, 2010
I’m in Las Vegas this week, which means what it does for so many people who visit this city: Lots of eating and tasting.
My first afternoon here, for example, was spent with a shrimp-salad sandwich and a glass of rosé at an outdoor cafe--desperately needed after the brutal winter we’ve had back east. And last night, I had an absolutely spectacular meal at MIX, high atop THEhotel next to the Mandalay Bay. MIX’s Wine Director, Christophe Tassan, is a good friend, and the pairings he arranged last night were fantastic. I’ll be reporting back in more detail about the meal next week.
For now, though, I wanted to link up two stories that ran over the weekend and that I thought would be of interest here. The first is an overview I wrote of Vino 2010 for John Mariani’s Virtual Gourmet, which is available right here.
The second concerns the first words on the 2009 en primeur campaign for Bordeaux’s Right Bank. According to Decanter.com, “The consensus of press and merchants [at a recent tasting] was that the wines were better balanced than had been expected, with nice lift and perfume, silky tannins and generous fruit. There was some hint of jamminess but not nearly as much as might have been expected with some of the wines weighing in at 14% alcohol.”
This is good news, especially considering all the hype around the 2009 vintage in Bordeaux. And while only time will tell if these truly are great wines, the positive early word is good news for the producers. As far as how good it is for consumers...well, we’ll just have to wait and see what the wines are priced at. I’ll report back here as soon as we know more.
Friday, March 5, 2010
This has been a great week of tasting and drinking (two very different things...and, typically, while I do a great deal of the former, the latter is often rather limited). I attended a fantastic Barolo tasting for the Wine Media Guild this past Wednesday, and had the chance to assess the 2005 vintage in a 25-bottle horizontal divided into the various crus of the region (Brunate, Sarmassa, Cannubi, etc.). And yesterday, I attended a fascinating seminar and press tasting of the spectacular new Louis XIII Rare Cask Cognac that was led by Remy Martin’s Cellar Master, Pierrette Trichet. I’ll be reporting on both of these tastings in the coming weeks.
As for the drinking--and I know: I should have posted this note on Wine Review Wednesday--that highlight took place last weekend, at a dinner I enjoyed with my family at Philadelphia’s R2L restaurant to celebrate my birthday.
Once we were seated--right at the window, 37 floors up and with an amazing view of the city--a gift bag was delivered to the table. In it were two of those glass jars that homemade jelly and jam are stored in, and I knew immediately who was responsible: My friend Scot ‘Zippy’ Ziskind, who I’ve written about here a number of times before. Whenever he opens up a great bottle, he saves a bit of it in these jelly jars so that his friends who were not there when the bottle was originally uncorked can enjoy it. And, man, were these two serious birthday wines: A 1966 Chateau Latour and a 1970 Chateau d’Yquem. Both were fabulous--fully mature and at the sweet spots of their drinking windows. And while I loved them both, the Sauternes, for me, was the wine of the night.
The nose led off with a wild combination of apricot, honey, pronounced toffee, golden chanterelle, and spice notes. In classic Yquem fashion, the sweetness of the botrytized fruit was secondary to its perfume and its hint of earthiness; those chanterelles from the nose were also present on the mid-palate, though balanced out there by still-surprisingly-fresh pineapple, exotic spices, and bright, singing acidity. The texture was breathtakingly silky, and I could still feel it on my tongue throughout the minutes-long finish.
With apologies for the phrasing, what a sweet way to celebrate a birthday.
Thursday, March 4, 2010
Tuesday, March 2, 2010
It may seem like a small part of the overwhelming human tragedy gripping Chile right now in the aftermath of the massive earthquake that struck this past weekend, but wine, as WineSpectator.com put it yesterday, “is a leading industry in the two regions around the epicenter, Maule and Bío-Bío, and wineries will be crucial to the area’s long-term economic recovery.”
As more news trickles in from the quake-ravaged country, it is becoming clear that there has been serious damage in some of the most important wine-growing regions in the country. Throughout the Maule Valley, Curico, and beyond, massive losses of wine--in tank, barrel, and bottle--have been reported. And to make matters worse, reports Eric Asimov in his New York Times blog The Pour, “damage not only destroyed wine, but threatens the coming vintage as well. Harvest is nearing, and wineries with severe structural damage and loss of equipment will not have the capacity to make and store wine.”
In the wine regions, at least, the loss of human life seems to have been limited. “The good news,” Asimov reports, “is that very few casualties in the industry were reported, if any. This is partly because the quake struck very early in the morning on a Saturday when wineries were largely empty, limiting the human toll caused by falling barrels and equipment. Many people were also away from work, as this is late summer in Chile, the height of the vacation season.”
It will be some time before we know the full toll that this tragedy has taken on Chile in general and on its wine industry in particular. In the meantime, I’ll be making a point of buying as much Chilean wine as I can in the coming weeks and months in addition to whatever money I donate to rescue efforts. It’s not much, of course, but sometimes, a little show of symbolic support is all you can really do. For the time being, it will have to suffice.
Monday, March 1, 2010
Even the South Africans sounded a touch surprised when Decanter.com announced last week that, “For the first time, the British are drinking more South African wine than French, the latest figures show.”
This is big, and not just for the parties involved. It seems to signify a shift in how wine is perceived around the world, and how national wine industries that just a few short years ago seemed destined primarily for niche success are now, in fact, making significant impacts in markets more far-flung and diverse than most people would have predicted.
“‘In 1994,’” the article continued, “‘our producers wouldn't have dreamt of selling more wine to the UK than France', said Jo Mason, UK market manager for Wines of South Africa.”
But that’s the way of the wine world: It is a constantly shifting place, and if the quality is where it needs to be, then great wine, no matter where it’s produced, will find its audience.
This is a grape variety that, while it has its ardent fans, is generally not considered to produce the kind of wine that can justify such a high price tag. But that hasn’t stopped top producer Kanonkop from releasing this one, their 2006 Black Label, priced at 1,000 South African Rands, or approximately $130 (it’s going for £83 in the UK).
As soon as I have the chance to taste it, I’ll report back right here. You never know: It could be a game-changer. I certainly hope so.