Monday, August 31, 2009

Local Italian Tasting

Well, I've been waiting a long time for this...the Italian tasting. Since some Italian wines typically start at $40, I was happy to sample some of these at the Italian tasting at the Wine Warehouse. The tasting featured 13 Italian wines--two were whites and the rest were reds. These days there are so many wines that are made using modern methods that are best when drunk alone but this tasting really showed that Italian wines are some of the best in the world at balancing fruit, acidity and tannin. And for this reason they are some of the most food-friendly wines in the world--all of the wines below will pair well with food, e.g., dry cheese, grilled meats simply prepared, charcuterie, or Italian food (of course). All of the wines tasted were either light- or medium-bodied. The flavor profile trend for the reds was dark cherry (sometimes cough syrup-like...not in a bad way), honeycomb, cinnamon and almond paste. Although almost all of the wines were well-made, none of them really stood out as significantly superior than any of the others. The wines mentioned below are the best values (FYI: all prices are sale prices at the Wine Warehouse):

1. Jermann Vinnae IGT 2007 (90% Ribolla, 5% Tocai, 5% Riesling) $25. Medium, smooth mouth-feel, pear, nut & a hint of sweet, roasted marshmallow. Try for a change of pace from the traditional Italian whites. 91/100
2. Falseco Montiano IGT 2003 (100% Merlot) $30. Light-medium bodied, stikes a great balance between fruit (cherry), acidity and tannins. Long finish. 91/100.
3. Orlando Abrigo Nebbiolo 2005 (100% Nebbiolo) Cherry cough syrup, bittersweet chocolate, honeycomb. Well-balanced, well-integrated elements. 91/100
4. La Meridiana "Vitis" Barbera d'Asti 2006 $14 Anise, clear cherry cough syrup, bittersweet chocolate. 86/100
5. Coppo Brachetto d'Acqui 2006 Red sparkling dessert wine with caramel, dark cherry and nut. Paired perfectly with dark chocolate. Interesting alternative to the common dessert wine. 91/100

The tasting also featured the following wines that were very good or excellent but in my opinion not significantly better than the 90-pointers above and so were not worth the money. But if you have the money and love Italian reds, by all means go ahead and pick up a bottle:

Feel free to leave a Italian wine-related comment....

Friday, August 14, 2009

Old Vines Tasting

Although many wines are labeled "old vines" (French: vieilles vignes), surprisingly there's no definition of "old vines". In some old wine growing regions 30-40 years is considered old, while in other regions 20 years may be considered old. Regardless of the definition of "old vines", over time vines begin to produce smaller grapes that in turn bear more concentrated flavors. Whatever meaning of "old vines" that a producer uses "old vines" is typically used in contrast to regular bottlings of the same wine from younger vines. Wines made from old vines usually have more concentrated flavors than regular bottlings, but because there are so many variables that apply to wine making the quality of old vine bottlings are not necessarily higher than regular bottlings.

The tasting featured 12 wines: 3 were white and the rest were red. Although the whites included Morey Montrachet and an Ostertag Sylvaner, I thought they were disjointed or just not good. Of the reds I thought only the following six ranged from very good to excellent and are therefore worth trying. All wines lived up to their labeling and showed good concentration of flavor. All are available locally at The Wine Warehouse, and all are marked down between 30%-50%.

1. Marietta Old Vine Red Blend Lot #49 ($15) Light-medium body, black cherry, balanced. 85-6/100
2. 2007 Cline Ancient Vine Zinfandel ($15) Medium bodied, blackberry & cassis notes, balanced, long dry finish. 87/100.
3. 2003 Bonny Doon Old Telegram ($20) Mouvedre (Spainish: Monastrell) Medium-big bodied, excellent integration of black fruit & tannins. 90-1/100
4. 2007 Atteca Old Vine Garnacha ($15) Youthful, ripe, tart black cherry & prune. (I'm surprised that this wine is still in stock--I bought some months ago!) 87-8/100 Very good value.
5. 2004 Cenit Old Vine Tempranillo ($27) Medium bodied w/ gripping tannins, dark black fruit, smoke, longest finish of the tasting; balanced; biggest wine of the night. 92-3/100. This wine is why you should go to tastings! For me this was the best wine of the night.
6. 2005 Abad dom Bueno Carracedo ($40) Earth, caramel & saline, red/black fruit, big, balanced; polished. 92/100

Share your experiences with old vine wines--comments are welcome!

Tuesday, August 11, 2009

Thoughts on the Beer & Wine Pairing Dinner at Cypress Restaurant

This Thursday (8/13) Cypress restaurant will be hosting a special event that will feature a five-course dinner and each course will be paired with one beer and and one wine. Doug Blackburn, who writes the beer blog for the Tallahassee Democrat, has written about the dinner and he gives beer the edge over wine. Its clear that one way to look at this is as a competition--a wine and beer throwdown! But there's also another is the menu* with my thoughts:

First course: Lobster and Chantrelle Fritters: Lemon Tartar Sauce, Green Onion Slaw, Smoked Paprika Lobster Oil.

I would not have chosen rosé to pair with this course. A full-bodied white high in acid (e.g., Chardonnay, Sancerre, Pouilly Fume, etc.) would seem to pair better with the richness of the lobster and the acidity of the lemon tartar sauce. But the rosé may surprise.

Second course: Fennel Seed Salami and Summer Truffle Flatbread with salted mozzarella, roasted tomatoes, local arugula and roasted garlic-oregano sauce.

St. Jeannet is a rare grape variety that is only grown in small amounts (roughly 500 cases/year) in a few places in the world. Some say it tends to resemble Sauvignon Blanc but has slightly more fruit. Although this is the sort of wine that I seek out because of its obscurity, it would be one of the last wines I would choose to pair with fennel salami and truffle flatbread. The better fit would be a dry Italian red with a fair amount of acidity (e.g., Sangiovese, Nebbiolo, etc.) to cut through the pork fat and stand up to the spice. Italian wines, probably more than any other wines in the world, are intentionally produced for drinking with food. Again, however, the acid in white wine will combine well with the salt in the salami and make for a flavor boost.

Third course: Panama Red Blackened Grouper Cheeks with corn rice cakes, sea island red gravy, bread and butter pickles.
Viognier is a low acid white wine, so it will decrease the heat in the blackening spice--acid in wine increases the heat in spice. So the Viognier should work well with this course.

Fourth course: Smoked Duck Stacker--stacked smoked duck on griddled cypress bread with Thomasville Tomme cheese, grilled vidalia onions, herbed duck fat mayonnaise and Michigan sour cherry relish.

First off, I just want to say that for me this is the course of the event--duck with duck fat mayonnaise? Wow! Second, regarding the wine chosen: perfect--I wouldn't change a thing. The salt and fat in the duck (and real duck fat mayonnaise) and the low tannins in French Burgundy mellow each other out. Result: wine & food harmony.

Final course: Fried Apple Pie with gorgonzola ice cream and almond-bacon brittle.

Let me just express "Wow (again)!" (I'm having a hard time continuing to stay on task after reading this dessert's description....) And again I think that Cypress nailed this wine pairing--the acid cuts through the fat and cream, the tiny bubbles (fizz, really) contribute to a wonderful mouthfeel with the fried pie, and the contrast of the sweetness will tame the salt in the ice cream and bacon, creating the wonderful salty/sweet contrast.

Of course all of this is from my armchair since I've haven't actually tasted any of these things. I think that the greatest virtue of this sort of culinary event is not that it will determine which spirited beverage pairs better with each course and is heralded as the winner, but that it allows people to experience the differences between what wine can do for food and what beer can do. Among other things, wine tends to contain more acid than beer; acid (like salt) is a flavor booster. Beer on the other hand contains hops which makes for unique flavor combinations and carbonation which lightens up the mouthfeel and even diminishes fats in heavy foods. Typically, however, people are going to favor what they already prefer--beer or wine--regardless of how well it pairs with the food; this is natural and there is nothing wrong this. Cypress is offering a great opportunity for beer and wine devotees to to discover the differences and similarities of what beer and wine can do with food.

Enough with the armchair speculation--go taste the food and drink for yourself and enjoy wine and beer for what they are.

*Note: the wine and beer pairings were taken from Doug Blackburn's blog post.

Saturday, August 8, 2009

Earth and Tannin Tasting

I believe that all of these wines except #6 were purchased locally, but most of them are no longer available. The wines are listed in the order drunk--I'll be honest: I did begin to experience palate fatigue somewhere after the 5th or 6th wine, which is reflected in lack of detail in my notes in the later wines. For me the wines that stood out and are worth seeking out are # s 7, 10 &15 (10 and 15 are pictured below). The notes for the wines are pictured above from left (#1) to right (#15):
1. 2004 Domain Gautier Fitou (Langudoc) Nose: cranberry & earth. Decent fruit still, perfectly balanced, soft tannings. Rating: 88-9.
2. 2001 Finca Villacreces Reserva (Ribiera del Duero) Nose: red/black fruit, carmel/vanilla. Medium body, dark fruit, anise, medium finish w/ menthol. Rating: 89.
3. 2004 Fontanafreddo Langhe Barbera Eremo (Piedmonte) Nose: cranberry/pomegranate, hint of vanilla. Light bodied, red fruit-iness, moderate tannins. Rating: 86.
4. 2004 Bertani Villa Valpollicella Classico Superiore Novare (Veneto) Nose: cranberry, cola. Very light color & body, brick red rim, medium-long finish. Rating: 88.5. 2002 Domaines Ott Chateau Romassan (Bandol) Nose: dark stewed fruit & earth/barnyard. Red fruit on the attack, smooth mouthfeel, black tea finish. Rating: 89-90.
6. 2006 Chateau Saint-Roche Chimeres (Cote du Roussillon) Nose: crushed red fruit w/ floral note. Red fruit and cola on the attack, medium tannins with medium finish. Rating: 89-90.
7. 2003 Clos de la Dioterie (Chinon) 100% Cab Franc. Nose: earth, herbs de Provance, nut, red fruit, cola. Begins w/ red fruit, then herbs and cola. Rating: 91. Most complex wine of the tasting.
8. 2002 Caparone Merlot (Paso Robles) Unfiltered. Nose & palate: herbs, earth w/ aged elements, smooth tannins. Bordeaux style Merlot. Rating: 90.
9. 2004 Chateau du Bousquet (Cotes du Bourg) Nose: little fruit remaining after being opened for more than a week. No rating.
10. 2004 Les Brunes (Vin de Pays D'Oc) Black/red fruit with focused, long black currant finish. Rating: 91. (Also pictured below, right) Favorite wine of the night #1.
11. 2005 Clos Troteligotte CQFD (Cahor) Malbec. Flaw--big disappointment :(
12. 2005 Huter Chaps Final Blend Merlot (Napa) Red/black fruit. Medium tannins & finish. Rating: 85.
13. 2006 Jean-Luc Colombo Les Bartavelles (Chateauneuf-du-Pape) Red fruit and earth on the nose. Red fruit & cola on the palate, medium-light body. Rating: 88-9.
14. 2001 Rodney Strong Symmetry (Alexander Valley) Nose: red/black fruit, cola, flowers. Still good tannins--this could be cellared 5-10 more years. Rating: 90.
15. 2004 Montes Carmenere Purple Angel (Colchagua Valley, Chile) Red/black fruit. Biggest wine of the night, but perfectly balanced. Long finish. Rating: 92. (Also pictured below, left) Favorite wine of the night #2.

Other wines (not pictured, above):
16. 2002 Hall Merlot (Napa) No notes. Rating: 89.

Thanks to everyone for sharing such great wines: Tricia, Leonard (for hosting also), Dwayne, Terry, Jessie, Vanessa, Sean & Andrea.

Wednesday, August 5, 2009

Some Wine at Bella Bella

I was fortunate enough to find time to stop into Bella Bella (BB) tonight. They've been open for 10 years and my last visit was probably close to 5 years ago. BB has improved in leaps and bounds since my last visit. While recent notable local Italian restaurants (Anthonys and Nino's) have closed, BB expanded by moving into the business next door, more than doubling their original size; they've redecorated creating an all new informal, unpretentious atmosphere; and they've added a good sized bar (pictured above) serving 53 wines by the bottle, 42 of which are available by the glass.

Note: for the rest of the summer Bella Bella has happy hour from 3-7 with 1/2 off any glass of wine and any draft beer!

I tried two wines:

N.V. Shooting Star (Jed Steele) Shiraz Black Bubbles (CA, North Coast, Lake County, Syrah) $7.50 per glass/$3.75 happy hour - Not much nose, but some blackberry syrup. Amazingly, almost no sweetness, light body and dry black tea finish. On the downside no real complexity. But enjoyable. Rating: 85.

2006 Aldo e Riccardo Seghesio Barbera D'Alba (Italy, Piedmont, Alba, Barbera D'Alba) $7 per glass/$3.50 happy hour - black fruit on the nose and the attack, medium-big mouthfeel, moderate-soft tannins, dry finish; balanced. Rating: 87.

Although these wines didn't have much complexity, they were enjoyable and would likely improve when paired with the right food. If you go, some good, uncommon value wines on the Bella Bella list are below. All wines are best when paired with the right food.
1. Bex Riesling (Germany, Mosel Saar Ruwer) $8 glass/$34 bottle
2. Schloss Vollrads Riesling Auslese (Germany, Rheingau) $9 glass/$38 bottle
3. Kim Crawford Sauvingnon Blanc (New Zealand, South Island, Marlborough) - I know, I know this isn't uncommon, but its enjoyable. $9 glass/$38 bottle
4. 2001 Carpineto Vino Nobile di Montepulciano (Italy, Tuscany, Montepulciano, Vino Nobile di Montepulciano) $12 glass/$48 bottle - Best Italin wine
5. Cesari Valpolicella Superiore Mara Vino di Ripasso (Italy, Veneto, Valpolicella, Valpolicella Superiorie) $7 glass/$29 bottle

UPDATE: went to dinner with friends on Saturday and tried the special shrimp ravioli in creamy pesto--rich...and good. Eveyone else was happy with their entrees. We order a bottle of the Cesari (#5, above). It evolved over time and showed hints of carmel/vanilla--a good food friendly wine. We'll be back.

Sunday, August 2, 2009

Tasting at Chez Moi

The theme of the tasting was Summer Wine. Although it started out as such with Prosecco and a light Lodi Viogner, it evolved into something else as we opened a Ribera Sacra Mencia, a red Bordeaux and a Rhone Syrah. Note: this isn't a complaint! Although all of the wines were very good, I highly recommend seeking out the 2 wines of the night (below).

From left to right (above):
2006 Fleurie Cru Du Beaujolais DuBoeuf - good Cru Beaujolais similiar to the Moulin-A-Vent that I recently had. Rating: 88.
2007 La Spinetta Bricco Quaglia Moscato D'Asti - light, not too sweet, refreshing. Rating: 89
2005 Chateau Thebot Bordeaux - earth, fresh cut wet grass. Good everyday Bdx. Rating: 85.
2007 Loredona Viognier Lodi: tart citrus nose, light bodied. Very good. Rating: 88.
2006 Quina Do Alqueve - starts with an explosion of sweet tart, citrus and finishes dry. Light bodied. Most interesting wine of the night. Rating: 91.
NV Mionetto Prosecco di Valdobbiadene - light, focused with good body. Refreshing. Rating: 88.
2006 Fritz Haag Riesling Spatlese - this is my second time tasting this. Still amazing. Rating: 91.
2007 Albola Pino Grigio Friuli - citrus, medium-light bodied. Very good PG--would recommend for those who are looking for a non-stereotypical PG. Rating: 89.
2006 Philippe Faury Saint Joseph Rhone - Prominent warm damp hay on the nose. Good red fruit up front w/ medium bodied and tannins. Rating: 90.

Not pictured above:
2007 Enologia Temera Ribeira Sacra Alodio - Cranberry & Pomegranate up front, focused tannins on the midpalate and finishing with black tea. Wine of the night. Rating: 92.

Thanks to Tricia, Len, Lindsay, Justin, Kevin and Angie all of whom made the tasting wonderful!