Wednesday, December 09, 2009

Another Simple Solution--and It Involves Pinot Noir

I've found another simple solution to the "what's for dinner?" crisis many of us face at the end of a busy day.

I was intrigued by Mark Bittman's recent recipe in the New York Times for "risotto-style" chicken pasta. What I most liked about it was that it involved one pan, one cutting board, one knife, and a lot of things we always have in the house (chicken in the freezer, mushrooms in the fridge, pasta and chicken broth in the cupboard). Who has time to wash dishes this time of year? And it seemed as though it would be finished--from prep to plate--in around 30 minutes. What's not to like?

As I threw this recipe together, I scanned the wine racks looking for a good bottle of wine to go with it. Rather than recommend a hard-to-find wine, I drew out the 2007 Sebastiani Vineyards & Winery Pinot Noir from the Sonoma Coast. Regular readers know this is my favorite appellation for US Pinot Noir. Sometimes the wine can be a bit pricey, however. I'm delighted to report that this wine is both affordable ($18!) and easy to find in most markets for $12-$24. This excellent QPR Pinot Noir delivers characteristic Sonoma Coast aromas of cherry, chalk, and a lick of smoke. These lead into a juicy, well-integrated palate of berries, cherries, and chalky minerality and that nice smokiness turns spicy in the aftertaste. This is another excellent food wine, that's versatile and affordable enough to feature on your holiday table, as well as satisfying your everyday wine needs.

(And yes, the risotto-style pasta was excellent--and a perfect partner for this wine, with the earthy mushrooms.)

Full Disclosure: I received this wine as a sample.

Monday, December 07, 2009

In Pursuit of Simplicity: Sauvignon Blanc

The holidays can be a crazy, stressful time. Every now and again, it's good to take a deep breath and simplify where and when you can.

In our house, this means selecting meals that aren't fussy, are built around kitchen staples so they require no last-minute shopping, and that taste comforting.

What's true of the food goes for the wine, as well. And for my money Sauvignon Blanc wins in the simple, elegant, affordable, and tasty sweepstakes.

If you're feeling overwhelmed, plan on making a delicious pot of tomato soup like this excellent version from Michael Chiarello, grilling some cheese sandwiches in a fry pan (we used Fontina cheese to continue the Italian vibe), and then popping the cork on a great Sauvignon Blanc. We had our soup and sandwich feast with the excellent QPR 2008 Frei Brothers Sauvignon Blanc Reserve. ($20; available widely for $14-$20, just hit the "where to buy" button and plug in your zip code!) Made from fruit grown in the Russian River Valley, this tasty, widely-available wine displayed round melon, floral, and orchard fruit notes along with some distinctly zippy grass and herbaceous components. Stylistically, it hit the sweet spot between New Zealand and California bottlings, which only made it more versatile and food friendly.

Full Disclosure: I received this wine as a sample.

Monday, November 30, 2009

World Turned Upside Down? Time to Catch Up

Where did last month go? I don't know about you, but I'm totally upside down with work, work, family, and more work. (photo by Capture Queen)

Hope you are all fully recovered from the festivities of the Thanksgiving season. Lots of you were anxious about wine right up to the day before the Big Dinner, and I hope that you enjoyed whatever you picked. If you want to spy on what others popped and poured, it's always fun to stop by CellarTracker and see what the members there drank on the day. Looks like Pinot Noir was once again the winner among red wines, and Chardonnay was on top among whites.

Over the past few weeks I've been doing a bit of this and a bit of that, wine wise. Some of what I've done doesn't lend itself too well to GWU$20--I've been drinking bottles I've purchased in wine clubs or stores that cost more than $20. I've had some great wine--like the NV Cedric Bouchard Champagne Blanc de Noirs Brut Inflorescence Val Vilaine (domaineLA, $61.99) which was a stunning example of Champagne. I loved its beautiful balance, the fine bead, and the delicate, clean flavors of pear and brioche. I also popped the cork on my 2006 Eric Kent Wine Cellars Pinot Noir Stiling Vineyard ($32.75 from the wine club; available online for $29-$50)I tasted it from a barrel sample in summer of 2007, and it was still a bit young to drink even now. It deserves a few more years in the bottle to further integrate its blackberry, clove, black tea, and vanilla flavors and aromas.

I've also been pulling wines out of the cellar that I purchased some time ago, like the bottle of Cameron Hughes Lot 38 Shiraz from the Barossa Valley. I got it from the winery in the summer of 2007 for $20, and it's still drinking beautifully, exhibiting aromas and flavors of cherry and baker's chocolate. There is less cedar now than when I opened my first bottle in March 2008, but additional fruit notes (blackberry, mostly) have emerged. Another summer of 2007 purchase that I opened this month was the 2005 Handley Gianoli Ranch Zinfandel ($21.40, winery; 2007 vintage now available for $25). It was even better now than it was when I tasted and purchased the wine, with delicious layers of black raspberry and boysenberry notes in the aromas and flavors. There was a peppery spice that played counterpoint to a candied apple note in the midpalate, both of which kept the wine lively and fresh tasting, as did the cool, menthol notes in the finish. Both bottles were nice reminders that cellaring wine--even relatively inexpensive wine--can be a sound investment in terms of taste.

A few exciting new bottles have made an impression on me, too. Chief among them was the 2008 Ludwig Winery Dry Gewürztraminer Dry Single Vineyard Selection from Monterey County (domaineLA, $14) It's been a while since I've been truly excited by a Gewurztraminer, so I'm thrilled with the excellent QPR on this bottle. Layered aromas and flavors of mango, peach, white flowers, and a bit of vanilla bean gift a lift of clementine and apple in the midpalate. It was excellent with spicy Asian food. And I was delighted by the 2008 Mustilli Piedirosso Sannio (sample from Domenico Selections; contact importer for more information)--and reminded how much I love this grape from Campania. The pure, clear Bing cherry notes in the aromas and palate had herbal and floral notes flitting around the edges. Relatively light in body, it's sure to appeal to fans of Gamay and Sangiovese--and it's perfect with spaghetti and meatballs!

Full Disclosure: with the exception of the Mustilli bottle, which was a sample, I purchased all of the bottles described here.

Wednesday, November 04, 2009

Thanksgiving Wine Under $20: My Picks for 2009

It's that time of year again, when people take to their computers in search of Thanksgiving wine recommendations. (vintage Thanksgiving image from an 1894 cover of Harper's Bazaar)

This is my fourth roundup of wines on GWU$20 that I think will pair beautifully with your turkey dinner--and they're all under $20. Whether you prefer sparkling, rosé , white, or red wine, I'm sure there's something here that will suit your palate and your budget. And I made sure that you could still get the wine I've listed below. We're all too busy to hunt out wine that's no longer available in the market!

If you are looking for general advice on Thanksgiving wine and hospitality, I'd encourage you to check out this article I wrote a few years ago on issues facing the host/hostess and the guests.

In the recommendations below, clicking on the wine's name and range of prices will take you to a list of retailers who stock the wine.

Sparkling Wines: I'm a big fan of sparkling wine, and they're good for more than just toasting to your family's good health before dinner. Given the wide range of flavors and the rich dishes on most holiday tables, sparkling wine is an excellent choice if you're looking for a wine that will take you from the first course of butternut squash soup to the apple pie you're having for dessert. And sparkling wine need not break the bank, as these suggestions show.

2006 Raventós i Blanc Cava L'Hereu Reserva Brut ($14-$25) This vintage Cava from Spain tasted very traditional, and had lots of complexity. Expect aromas and flavors of toasted bread, apple, and citrus.

N.V. Domaine des Roches Crémant de Bourgogne Rosé ($15-$20) A full-bodied, sophisticated sparkling rosé with aromas of mineral, dough, and strawberries. The dry flavors have underlying strawberry fruit and toast notes.

N.V. Mumm Napa Cuvée M ($12-$25) This Napa Valley sparkler is one of the most impressive under $20 bottlings I've had lately. Made in the sec style from Pinot Noir and late harvest Muscat, this wine has aromas of white chocolate, toasted bread, and strawberry. On the palate, there were layered flavors of white chocolate, rose petal, Meyer lemon, strawberry, and toast.

White Wines: If I'm not serving a sparkling wine I enjoy white wines with my turkey dinners. I find that the acidity of a white wine brings some much-needed refreshment to dinner, and they go well with the stuffing, creamed onions, and vegetables side dishes so common on Thanksgiving tables.

2008 I Stefanini Soave Il Selese ($9-$11) A beautiful, distinctive Italian wine with musk-melon aromas and some white floral and saline notes. On the tongue, there are flavors of white peach, lemon, and bitter almond with a juicy aftertaste

2007 Helfrich Pinot Gris (available for $9-$17) This Pinot Gris has oodles of personality and class with its aromas and flavors of smoke, grass, and apple with a mineral note in the aftertaste. If I was having duck, goose, or a smoked turkey this would be my choice in wine--and it will be a knockout with traditional oyster stuffing, too.

2008 Dry Creek Vineyard Sauvignon Blanc ($13-$20) If you've been looking for a domestic Sauvignon Blanc that can hold its head up among New Zealand bottlings, but has a bit more softness and is less assertive, you've found your wine--and a wine that will go beautifully with Thanksgiving dinner, too. Aromas of grass, hay, melon, and citrus, all of which are echoed in the flavors.

2008 Sebastiani Vineyards & Winery Chardonnay Unoaked Russian River Valley ($17-$20) with all that's already on your holiday table, who needs oak? This lovely bottle of wine is very restrained in style, with faint aromas of pear, mineral, and salt. The palate has light and fresh lemon and pear flavors, and the aftertaste is juicy and clean. An elegant choice for your Thanksgiving dinner.

2008 Weingut Gritsch Grüner Veltliner Mauritiushof Axpont Federspiel (around $18) A complicated, delicious wine that starts out with faint citrus aromas, followed up by honeyed lemon peel and lemon curd flavors, with notes of grass and pollen. Terrific with turkey!


Rosé Wines: Regular readers have heard me go on about this before but nothing--and I do mean nothing--is as good with a leftover turkey sandwich as a rosé wine. And, if you have some guests who prefer red and some who prefer white, you can probably please them all with these robust, dry and flavorful rosé wines at the big dinner, too.

2008 Robert Oatley Sangiovese Rosé ($12-$18)
A lovely rose, with fresh wild strawberry aromas and a hint of leafy greenness that keeps it from turning sappy in the flavors department. Excellent value, and excellent style that will please red wine drinkers.

2008 Domaine Sainte-Eugénie Corbières ($9-$12) Made from a robust blend of Cinsault and Syrah, this wine's lush cranberry and strawberry aromatics will have you thinking Thanksgiving no matter what time of year it is. The flavors are refreshing, with mineral notes and a fruity core that runs the spectrum from currants to cranberries.

2008 A to Z Wineworks Rosé Oregon ($9-$17) Another beautiful wine made with Sangiovese, here the emphasis is on crisp and refreshing with the dry aromas and flavors of raspberry, strawberry, parsley, and cucumber.

Red Wines: Many people prefer red wines with special dinners, but it is very easy to overwhelm a turkey dinner (and your guests!) with a heavy, high-alcohol wine. If I'm serving a red I tend to go with Tempranillo, Pinot Noir, or a traditional Zinfandel that is not too high in the alcohol department.

2005 Bodegas Montecillo Rioja Crianza ($7-$15) This is becoming an annual recommendation for me, as the consistent quality and friendly price-point of the Montecillo wines make it a reliable go-to bottle. Delectable aromas of leather, earth, herbs, and black cherry turn into juicy flavors that linger in the mouth. Will stand up to the most robust turkey and duck dishes, and will be particularly good with spicier side dishes.

2007 Sean Minor Pinot Noir Four Bears ($14-$16) Pinot Noir fans rejoice! This affordable example of a Carneros Pinot Noir has aromas of berry and sour cherry, and flavors of earth, clerry, and chalk held together by a silky texture. This will be a brilliant pairing with traditional Thanksgiving fare.

2006 Dry Creek Vineyard Zinfandel Heritage ($12-$19) Another annual pick, my gold standard in Zinfandel, with blackberry aromas and flavors and layers of black pepper and baking spice accenting the fruit. This Zinfandel is rich and spicy, but never heavy or overwhelming.

Full Disclosure: with the exception of the Cava, the Crémant de Bourgogne, and the A to Z Wineworks rosé, I received all these wines over the past 11 months as samples.

Monday, November 02, 2009

Vinho Verde--Just Because

Just because it's Monday...
Just because you got paid this weekend...
Just because you feel like fish tacos for dinner...
Just because you have some roasted cashews or almonds...
Just because you're trying to stay out of your kid's candy stash...

Vinho Verde.

It's not profound. It's not prestigious. It's not something you see on every restaurant wine list.

But it is perfect for those "just because" days when you have no plans, nothing much to celebrate, and want to drink an interesting wine anyway.

Try this one on for size: the 2008 Trajarinho Vinho Verde ($9.99, domaineLA; $8-$10 elsewhere) It's light, fun, zippy--everything Portuguese Vinho Verde is supposed to be! You'll discover citrus, mineral, and herb notes in the aromas and flavors, along with a bit of yeastiness. You may also sense a spritz on your tongue, which is normal for Vinho Verde, as is its 11% alc/vol. And for under $10 it represents excellent QPR.

Sunday, November 01, 2009

Today on Serious Grape: Wine Survival Strategy for the Holidays

As 12:01 AM today, it is officially that festive time of year known as "the holidays." It is a time of joy, of family celebrations, gift-giving, and--hysteria.

Before you hit the panic button, go out now and get yourself a mixed case of wine so that you've got bottles on hand for emergencies that include: we have nothing in the house for dinner, two people just stopped by with pumpkin bread, and extreme mall fatigue. (photo by dumbledad)

This week on Serious Grape I've got a shopping list for a mixed case of wine that will help you cope with most holiday emergencies. Head over and check it out, and if you have any other holiday entertaining survival strategies, leave them here or over there in the comments section.

Wednesday, October 28, 2009

Gemischter Satz--It's Austrian for Delicious

If you hear "Gemischter Satz" You may be tempted to say "God Bless You!"

But the appropriate answer is "They're delicious, aren't they?"

Gemischter Satz are special wines from Austria's capital city of Vienna. Made from a blend of white grapes that are grown together in the field, then picked and fermented at the same time, there was a point not too long ago when the mania for "single varietal" bottlings threatened this age-old tradition of Austrian field blends. Happily, the tradition was maintained, the grapes remained planted in gloriously mixed vineyards of Gruner Veltliner, Weissburgunder, Riesling, Muscat Ottonel, and other grapes. Few Gemischter Satz bottlings specify the grapes within, and none that I've seen can give you varietal percentages. Don't worry--go for it.

I'm a relative newbie to the wines of Austria, but I can't recommend Gemischter Satz highly enough. If you enjoy crisp, food-friendly whites--and are a bit tired of the same-old same-old that you've been drinking lately seek out one of these wines and perk up your tired tastebuds.

2008 Weingut Rotes Haus Gemischter Satz Classic Nußberg ($20) This tasted very much of a Gruner Veltliner to me, with its white pepper, salt, and grapefruit aromas. The flavors of apple, grapefruit, and pepper confirmed my initial impression and the aftertaste was interesting--like sour apples. Very good QPR.

2007 Weingut Hajszan Gemischter Satz Weissleiten ($18) This stunning organic and biodynamic wine had unmistakable aromas of freshly ground black pepper, with floral notes. The flavors turned melony, with a zing of quince, and remained dry and refreshing. The juicy, lively aftertaste kept you reaching for the bottle. This is the kind of wine that invites you to spend the evening with it, discovering the flavors that are magically contained within it. Excellent QPR.

2008 Weingut Christ Wiener Gemischter Satz ($16) This wine had piercing aromas of apple, salt, and lemon. The flavors are equally intense, with loads of minerality and stone to accompany the slightly bitter lemon at its core. A fresh and citrusy wine. Excellent QPR.

2008 Zahel Gemischter Satz Schloss Schönbrunn (NA as of yet in the US) This restrained, elegant wine had faint aromas of lemon and peach. Dry flavors reminiscent of Meyer lemon dominate the palate, and there is a touch of bitter orange follows in the aftertaste. Well worth seeking out--and I hope an American retailer snaps this up.

Note: I've been sent some corrections and have made them in the body of the text above. The wines themselves all come from within the city limits of Vienna, and Weingut Hajszan's wine is certified organic and biodynamic.

Also, if you are looking for these wines, retailers are popping up in the comments to say they have these sometimes-hard-to-find bottlings. So check below if you are interested in purchasing, as the usual online wine search engines are not always exhaustive.

Full Disclosure: I received these wines as samples.

Monday, October 26, 2009

The Red Wines of Calabria: Fruity, Funky, and Fabulously Affordable

This month I've been getting to know the red wines of Calabria--and they've surprised me. When I mentioned Calabrian wine to most people--even Calabrians!--they scoffed at the quality of wine produced in this region of Italy. But I liked the rusty funkiness, the fruitiness, and the great value that I found in the wines I tasted. And though these wines came from southern Italy, they reminded me of French wines from Burgundy and the Beaujolais.

Take the 2004 Vintripodi Arghillà ($19.99, Wine Expo) This wine, a blend of Nerello Calabrese and Alicante, has the certain funky pungency that is characteristic in my (limited) experience of Nerello, and reminds me of a good Beaujolais. The wine showed some tawny edges around the dark purple juice at the center of my glass. The aromas were of sour cherry, earth, and funk and the flavors followed suit. This was certainly not a boring, same-old red and I think it would go just as brilliantly with stews as it did with our pasta dinner.

The other Calabrian wine I tried was the 2006 Ippolito Cirò Liber Pater ($17.99, Wine Expo; available elsewhere for $17). Made with a native Calabrian grape called Gaglioppo, I wasn't familiar enough with the variety to know what to expect. What I discovered was a wine that was nicely poised between a Pinot Noir and a Nebbiolo in terms of flavor and style. There were minty, brandied, and currant aromas. Following up were leather, plum, and currant flavors with a long, savory finish with notes of soy sauce. The juxtaposition of the berried, herbal aromas and the savory qualities of the flavors was intriguing and made this wine memorable.

Some may raise their eyebrows at Calabrian wine, but you won't catch me doing it. Give a Calabrian wine a try. They were a delightful surprise as I wrap up my journey through Italian wines. All that's left is Emilia-Romagna--and we'll head there in November.

Friday, October 16, 2009

Today on Serious Grape: Autumn Whites from Austria

I'm learning about Austrian wines, and this week on Serious Grape I have recommen-
dations for some affordable bottles (and one splurge-worthy one, too) that are just perfect for this time of year.

Austrian wines have an earthiness that makes them a great partner for squash, pumpkin, turkey, sage--so many of the foods and flavors we're all enjoying this time of year.

Autumn doesn't just mean it's time to pop open the red wines--there's still plenty of occasions that call out for a white.

I'll have more posts on Austrian wines next week. I was favorably impressed by what I sipped, and think you will be, too. Have a great weekend, and get out and do some wine exploring. Find yourself an Austrian wine to try. And if you've already found one (or two, or three...) be sure to let us know in the comments below or over on Serious Eats.

Monday, October 12, 2009

Exploring Calabria in October

I'm a little behind in my announcement, but this month I'll be exploring Calabria as the penultimate destination in my two-year trawl through the wine regions of Italy. (photo of Calabria by Mikuzz)

Calabria is the toe of Italy's boot--and to me it always looks like Calabria is preparing to kick Sicily straight up into Spain. As a southern Italian region, Calabria is home to rustic red wines, many of them made with the native Gaglioppo grape.

They've been making wine here since at least the days of Ancient Greece, and while we may not be familiar with the wines of the region today, they were quite popular in ancient times. The Roman writer Pliny the Elder considered Calabrian wines to be of high quality, and earlier the Greek athlete Milo of Croton--a Calabrian native--boasted that he drank over two gallons of wine from Ciró every day. The tradition of athletes and Ciró wines was not limited to Milo of Croton. Legend has it that winners at the early Olympics were offered this Calabrian wine to celebrate their victories. (another great photo by Mikuzz)

With over 90% of the wine produced in Calabria falling into the category of red wine, I wasn't able to find a white example to taste this month. However, I will be reporting my tasting notes on two under $20 red wines. I'm looking forward to getting a better sense of what Calabrian wines are all about. I have reviewed one Calabrian red--a Gaglioppo from Ciró--on GWU$20, and I enjoyed its rustic, traditional character very much. But I'll be interested so see if that wine was representative, and how the other bottlings stack up against it. (photo of Gaglioppo from VinoFamily)

Have you experienced Calabrian wine? And do you have any specific tips or recommendations to share about the wines of this region? Has anyone out there had a Calabrian white, and if so did you drink it in Italy, or find it over here in the US?

Friday, October 09, 2009

New Grape of the Month: Falanghina

It's time for another new variety, grapehounds.

Falanghina is ancient white wine grape that is (as near as we can tell) native to Campania. According to Jancis Robinson, there are just under 800 acres of the grape in cultivation which makes it a relative rarity.

The 2008 Mustilli Falanghina is a joyful, fresh white that was a welcome change of pace for my tastebuds. (suggested retail, $18) Aromas of lemon curd, stone, and hay suggested the last days of summer, while the intense lemony flavors had mineral notes that added a nice complexity. The wine's juicy acidity will make it a good food wine, and the bit of salt in the aftertaste gave a final, savory quality to the aftertaste that had me reaching for the glass again and again. Excellent QPR on this complex, versatile white.

It's hard to imagine any fish, shellfish, vegetable, or chicken dish this wine wouldn't complement, but if you're searching for inspiration try this shrimp pasta dish from Rachael Ray. It's a riff on Puttanesca, with olives, capers, garlic, and red peppers along with shrimp and fresh cherry tomatoes. The salty notes in the wine were a brilliant accent for the olives and capers, and the lemony freshness was terrific with the shrimp and tomatoes.

(for availability, contact the importer: Domenico Selections)

Full disclosure: I received this wine as a sample.

Thursday, October 08, 2009

Mighty Good Malbecs

I was reminded last week of why I love Malbec. It's got the richness of Syrah, with some of the tannic structure of Cabernet. While the former can sometimes be too jammy, and the latter too austere, Malbecs are just right for pairing with a wide variety of foods. And with many of us turning off our grills and heating up our ovens, it's worth pointing out that Malbecs are great with autumn stews and soups.

Here are some of the best Malbecs I've tasted recently--and they are in the market at a variety of price points under $20.

2007 Trumpeter Malbec. Made by Argentina's Familia Rutini, this is a simple, pleasant, well-priced Malbec. For under $10 you get aromas aromas of roasted coffee and plum. The flavors are dominated by black cherry, coffee, and toast, and there is a juicy, tannic finish. Expect this wine to be slightly drying in the mouth when sipped on its own, but it shines with food. Very good QPR. (available in most markets for under $10)

2008 Don Miguel Gascón Malbec. Bodegas Escorihuela Gascón has a new label for their popular wine, but there's still the same very good QPR wine inside. You'll start off smelling blackberry and blueberry, along with a strong hit of coffee. The berry fruit continues through the flavors, and there is a distinctive mocha aftertaste that makes it well worth the under $15 price tag. (available in most markets for around $14)

2007 Alamos Selección Malbec. A terrific Malbec from Bodega Catena Zapata with aromas of blackberry, violets, and spice. The flavors are nicely layered, and include black cherry, fennel, and more violets along with a pleasant leathery note. Satiny tannins and refreshing acidity round out this wine. Excellent QPR for this unusually complex bottling under $20. (available for $12-$20 in most markets)

If you think Malbecs only pair well with grilled red meat, think again. We had our Malbecs with some Asian-style drumsticks. The sticky glaze made with hoisin and chili sauces was delicious, and a perfectly robust counterpoint to the wines. The 5-Spice in the recipe accented the leathery and floral notes in these wines, and the plum and berry fruit profiles provided a juicy counterpoint to the assertive flavorings.

Full Disclosure: I received these wines as samples.

Wednesday, October 07, 2009

3 Years and 5182 Subscribers Later...

Today marks GWU$20's third anniversary. On October 7, 2006 I pushed "publish" on my first post. Three years, and 5182 subscribers later, I'm still pushing that publish button and I'm still committed to bringing you information on good, affordable wines and promoting everyday wine culture. (photo by CarbonNYC)

These past three years have been an amazing journey. I've become a better writer, I think I've become a better teacher in my day job, and I've learned a lot about wine. I've also had the opportunity to meet up with readers, bloggers, and winemakers all over the world--which is, perhaps, the thing that has brought me the most enjoyment.

As we move into the fourth year, you may notice some changes. I'm trying to focus on quality posts, rather than quantity, while juggling other demands. Rather than stop blogging, I'm cutting back and you may see fewer posts, posts that cover more than one wine (like the Pinot Noir and Chardonnay posts from last week), and more posts that cover the magical mixing of wine and food.

To everyone reading this and all my subscribers who receive my notes on wine through their RSS Readers, email, and other services--thank you. Here's to another great year.

Saturday, October 03, 2009

This Week on Serious Grape: Decanting Demystified

Do you decant?

In this week's Serious Grape column, my weekly contribution to the fabulous food site Serious Eats, I try to demystify the subject of decanting. Basically there are two reasons to decant: to remove the sediment from old wines and to aerate younger wines. In both cases, decanting makes good wine taste better.

Last night, a friend was pouring some lovely old wines including a 1997 Château Léoville Barton that was just drinking beautifully--but had some sediment in the bottle as a result of its age. Decanting got that sediment out of there, which would have given the wine a bitter, tannin taste as well as negatively impacting the texture.

So don't be intimidated or overwhelmed by decanting. You can do it with a clean mayonnaise jar if you want, and there are some stylish options like the one pictured here, too.

Head over to Serious Grape and check it out.

Wednesday, September 30, 2009

Good Pinot Noir--Under $28

I've been fighting the good fight to bring you Pinot Noirs under $20, but it's not getting any easier. If you like this delicate, silky grape you are not alone. And if you are struggling to find a wine you like for under $20, well, you're not alone there, either.

Here are my favorites among the new fall Pinot Noirs I've tasted thus far. And--miracles do happen--one is actually under $20. And I'm seeing a wide variety of prices for these wines--sometimes they are on sale for far less than the suggested retail. What's going on? Has the Pinot Noir market softened? Even if the suggested retail seems out of your price league, check your local merchants because you might find one of these bottles for far less than I quote here.

Special kudos go to Sean Minor Wines for delivering a Pinot Noir under $20 that can hold its own with more expensive bottlings. Their 2007 Sean Minor Wines Four Bears Pinot Noir ($17; available for $12-$20) is made with grapes from Napa Valley's Carneros AVA. This is a very good, affordable example of a Carneros Pinot Noir. The aromas are full of berry and sour cherry. The flavors are earthy and chalky, with lovely cherry notes held together by the wine's silky texture. The wine has a pleasant, juicy aftertaste with good acidity. Excellent QPR.

2006 Whitehaven Pinot Noir Marlborough ($25; available for $19-$26) I liked the bright cherry and char aromas that were layered with a touch of bacon fact as the wine opened up. The wine's satiny texture enveloped sour cherry, allspice, and meaty flavors. The aftertaste was juicy and peppery, with some roughness to the tannins that should resolve in time. Very good QPR.

2007 Sebastiani Vineyards & Winery Pinot Noir Carneros ($27) Another nice Carneros Pinot Noir for under $30, this one has aromas of brown sugar and cherry. The flavors of cherry, earth, and spicy clove are arranged on a light-bodied, lacy frame. There is a spicy, toasted toasted oak aftertaste that comes as a bit of a surprise, but it somehow works. Good QPR.

2007 MacMurray Ranch Pinot Noir Sonoma Coast ($28; available for $12-$22--and if you get it for $12 you will think it is stupendous in the value department) I admit it. I'm a Sonoma Coast Pinot fan. This is a classic bottling for that region, and affordable, too. The aromas of raspberries, earth, and rocks are what I've come to expect from a good Sonoma Coast Pinot. The flavors were far meatier than the aromas suggested, with berry and cherry fruit, and there was lots of earth and spicy clove in the aftertaste. It tastes just a bit clumsy at present, but I think it will resolve beautifully over the next 6 mos to 3 years, and reward some time and space in your cellar if you can spare it. Very good QPR (unless you get it for under $20, at which point it's excellent QPR).

Full disclosure: I received these wines as samples.

Monday, September 28, 2009

Finding Your Chardonnay Style

Chardonnay comes in many different styles. Some are light and elegant, other soft and round. There are bold Chardonnays full with striking, ripe flavors and spicy Chardonnays that are just perfect for these early fall days.

I've been tasting a lot of Chardonnays lately, and here are some of my favorites from the new releases. No matter which kind of Chardonnay you prefer, I think you'll find one here that fits your taste and your budget--and they all represent very good QPR.

Soft: 2007 Bridlewood Estate Winery Chardonnay ($15; available for $11-$16). A small amount of Viognier and other white varieties are blended into this wine, and it shows in the flowery, pear, and golden delicious aromas. The flavors are soft and creamy, like baked apples. Smooth and round, the wine has a juicy aftertaste.

Bold: 2007 Chatom Vineyards Chardonnay ($18; available for $18-$20) A big, bold Chardonnay with aromas of vanilla bean, quince, and pear. The flavors are predominantly apple and pear, too, and there are herbs and cream on the tangy finish. Round and full in the mouth and 14.9% alc/vol.

Elegant: 2008 Sebastiani Vineyards & Winery Chardonnay Unoaked Russian River Valley ($18) This lovely bottle of wine has a very restrained style. I enjoyed the faint aromas of pear, mineral, and salt, as well as the light, fresh lemon and pear flavors. The finish is crisp, juicy, and clean.

Spicy: 2008 Bodega Catena Zapata Chardonnay Alamos ($13; available for under $9) A spicy chardonnay, with aromas of fall baking: apple, allspice, and nutmeg. The wine is lush and spicy in the mouth, too, with citrus and apple notes and a spicy vanilla aftertaste.

Full Disclosure: I received these wines as samples.

Saturday, September 26, 2009

A Bargain in Bubbles: Zonin Prosecco

I'm sliding in a weekend post--a recommendation for bargain bubbles in case you have something to celebrate. When a wine is this enjoyable and this affordable, I figure finding a reason to celebrate is pretty easy. Did you finish your laundry? Clean out the TiVO? Wash dishes?

If so, treat yourself to a bottle of the NV Zonin Prosecco (suggested retail around $14, but available for $8-$18 in the market). This is a new bottling for Zonin, which already makes a popular "Special Cuvee" and "Brut" Prosecco. I really enjoyed this wine in part because it was a hair off-dry, which made for a wine that tasted soft with aromas and flavors of honeyed apple. There are some zngy tangerine peel notes in the aftertaste, which only added to the attractions for me.

This was a nicely-priced, thoroughly enjoyable, not-too-serious sipper of a Prosecco that you can enjoy before dinner or with dessert without guilt or stress. Very good QPR all around.

Full Disclosure: I received this wine as a sample.

Friday, September 25, 2009

There's a New Wine Store In Town: domaineLA

When one of your favorite online retailers opens up a bricks-and-mortar outfit in the town where you live, it's cause for celebration.

domaine547, which has been my regular source for unusual--and affordable--bottles of wine has opened the doors of domaineLA. On chic Melrose Avenue, in one of LA's ubiquitous strip malls, is a new wine store that offers way more than the bottles of wine you see in every other urban wine emporium.

The palate behind the store's selection is Jill Bernheimer, who has been blogging, twittering, and selling wine online for a while now. I like Jill's palate, and trust her recommendations--so much so that she's really the only person I buy sparkling wine from any more, whether its affordable Cava or splurge-worthy Champagne. And I appreciate her efforts to go beyond the normal Cabernet/Chardonnay shuffle and stock wines made from grapes like Poulsard and Assyrtico.

domaineLA is a cool space, with fantastic post-modern grape lighting, a central seating area that feels like a lounge with wine books to leaf through, and a running strip of chalkboard where Jill posts messages and recommendations. There's even a computer in the corner where you can check out wine ratings ("if you must," Jill says).

I bought a case of wine while I was there. As always, I appreciated the time and the good advice that Jill gave me based on what I was looking for and what she knew I'd liked previously. This is the kind of relationship that everyone hopes they can have with a retailer--and all I can say is it really makes a difference.

So what did I buy? I indulged in a 2005 Stéphane Tissot Poulsard Arbois Sans Soufre ($26), a and a N.V. Chartogne-Taillet Champagne Cuvée St. Anne ($45). I got great deals on a 2008 Trajarinho Vinho Verde from the "Wall of Affordable Delicousness" ($9.99), the 2008 Masia del Bielsa Garnacha Campo de Borja Viñas Viejas ($10), and the Charles Syrah Volume II Talcott Vineyard ($10). And I walked on the wild side with a 2008 Mercouri Estate Kallisto ($19.99), a dry 2007 Viñedos de Ithaca Priorat Odysseus Pedro Ximénez ($20), and the 2008 Ludwig Winery Gewürztraminer Dry Single Vineyard Selection ($13.50). Anybody out there had a dry PX before? Me neither!

If you are in LA, check out this great new store. It's worth the trip to replenish your stash of exciting, drinkable wines.

domaineLA is located at 6801 Melrose Ave. Los Angeles, CA 90038 (323) 932-0280

Wednesday, September 23, 2009

A Ligurian Red That Dresses Up--or Down

I'm finishing up with my whirlwind tour of Ligurian wine as part of my ongoing trawl through Italy's wine regions and grape varieties.

Even though I spent more than $20 on this wine ($25.99, to be precise), I'm still pretty pleased with the very good QPR on the 2005 Azienda Agricola Durin Ormeasco di Pornassio. ($25.99, Wine Expo--and I can't seem to find it anywhere else!) This is a classy, distinctive wine that offers up lots of character for the price.

Ormeasco is Ligurian for Dolcetto, I discovered, and one of the things I like best about the grape is that it's a wine that is just as good with pizza and spaghetti with meatballs as it is with grilled beef, roasts, and more elegant fare. It's a dress-me-up, dress-me-down kind of wine. This was a really lovely example of what Dolcetto/Ormeasco is all about. First, Dolcetto is a treat for the nose. There were aromas of licorice (which I love and it can be hard to find in a wine), cherry, fresh green fennel, and blackberry that you had to coax out of the glass at first, but which were worth the wait. I found echoes of all these notes in the flavors, with additional grilled herb nuances emerging in the aftertaste. There are cheaper Dolcettos out there, but they are far simpler than this wine turned out to be.

This wine would be fantastic with dishes that involve rosemary or fennel (to pick up the herbal notes), with meats (chicken, duck, and beef), and with anything that is Mediterranean in its culinary influences.

Friday, September 18, 2009

This Week on Serious Grape: The Farmers' Market Wine

With most farmers' markets full of local produce, many of us are eating our fill of vegetables these days. Tomatoes, potatoes, zucchini, onions, peppers, onions, mushrooms, and beets are piled high in my local market. (photo by NatalieMaynor)

One wine stands out to me as a real friend to all these vegetables: Pinot Grigio. This week on Serious Grape, my column on Serious Eats, I share my recommendations for some of the best new Pinot Grigios in the market. They come from all over the world--Italy, France, Calfornia, and Australia--and though each one has a distinct style they share common characteristics like good acidity that make them a perfect partner for vegetables.

Head over and check out my list of Pinot Grigio suggestions and be sure to add your own if you think I've missed one. A colorful tomato salad and a glass of Pinot Grigio is one of September's great treats, so head to your local farmers' market this weekend and then to the wine store.

Wednesday, September 16, 2009

Wine Blogging Wednesday #61: Quivira Vineyards

Welcome to Wine Blogging Wednesday, the online tasting event dreamed up five (!) years ago by Lenn Thompson of Lenndevours: the New York Cork Report.

This month our host is our founder, and Lenn's theme for this month's tasting was "At the Source." Our instructions were to "actually visit a winery and taste a wine there. Bonus points if you can taste it with the winemaker or the vineyard manager." I'm getting some major bonus points on this one because I tasted wine with the winemaker, the vineyard manager, the farm manager, and the owners!

This summer I was invited to dinner at Quivira Vineyards in the beautiful Dry Creek Valley. Regular readers know that I am a huge fan of this wine region, but this was a chance for me to get behind the scenes at one of my favorite wineries and learn more about their interest in biodiversity and biodynamics as a way of cultivating a sustainable vineyard for the 21st century. To get a glimpse of what they're doing here, flip through these pictures taken at the dinner:



As the slideshow above illustrates, they raise pigs, fruit, bees, chickens, vegetables for area restaurants and grocery stores, and fruit at Quivira. They've also restored a stream for Steelheads hoping to bring them back to the Dry Creek Valley where they once flourished.

And yes, they make great wine, too. If you are interested in experiencing all Quivira has to offer, consider attending one of their farm-to-table seasonal dinners. The next one is on October 10 and will focus on the restoration of the creek, a fabulous dinner, and excellent wine. There will be a winter dinner in February that will include a hands-on blending seminar, and a spring dinner featuring a discussion of biodynamics. You can see menus, check out the dates, and reserve your place at dinner by clicking here.

Tasting Highlights

(note: clicking on a wine's name will take you directly to the Quivira online store)

2008 Quivira Mourvedre-Viognier Rosé: A special treat, this one-0f-a-kind wine was fermented in an acacia wood barrel. The deep, hot pink wine had huge apricot aromatics and a dry palate with flavors of strawberry, cherry, and rosehips. (not available for retail)

2007 Quivira Grenache: This wine's beautiful ruby color and amazing cascade of plum blossom and grilled herb aromas were a prelude to the rich cherry, strawberry, and spice flavors in the wine. Full-bodied but not heavy, this wine was nicely structured and had a delicious, mineral-inflected finish. (suggested retail through the winery $26; available for $19-$28 elsewhere)

2007 Quivira Old Vine Katz Vineyard Zinfandel: Sweet blackberry fruit and earth are present in the aromas top notes, and lead into a flavorful blend of grilled herb, berries, and white pepper. As the wine opened it became more meaty, but the aftertaste remained bright and spicy. (suggested retail $38, click on the wine's name to purchase through the winery)

2008 Quivira Fig Tree Sauvignon Blanc: Rich, round, and luscious, this wine never touched wood. The flavors and aromas are full of orchard (apple, pear) and tropical fruits, making for a clean drinking experience that never gets grassy or harsh. (suggested retail through the winery $18; $15-$22 elsewhere)

Monday, September 14, 2009

Pigato: The Briny Grape from Liguria

This month I'm exploring the wines of Liguria, and first up is a fairly pricey bottling of Pigato that I purchased at the Los Angeles Italian wine mecca, Wine Expo.

Ligurian wine--and Pigato in particular--is pretty rare in American wine shops. This is a shame, because Pigato is an intriguing grape, and you once you've tasted it you won't mistake it for something else. The grape has a blotchy, speckled appearance and makes wines that are aromatic and have a distinctive, salty tang to them that reminds me of the seaside.

My Pigato cost $25.99, and for that price I expected it to be memorable. However, I didn't check the vintage (when will I EVER learn to do this, especially with Italian whites, which tend to linger on wine store shelves?) and it turned out that the bottle was from the 2005 vintage and probably two years past peak drinking. You can get a more recent vintage for less money in the market now, and if you can I'd recommend giving this variety a try.

The 2005 Durin Pigato Riviera Ligure di Ponente may be at the end of its life, but it's aging gracefully and still exhibits what I love most about Pigato: the blend of saltiness and citrus that reminds me of a briny preserved lemon. Given its age, the wine was a bit waxy and honeyed in its aromas and flavors, but I still found that combination of lemon pith and saltiness refreshing and it just made it into the good QPR category. However, had the wine been younger and fresher I suspect I would have been more impressed.

Pigato is great with seafood--that's the classic pairing that everyone will mention--but don't underestimate how good it is with pesto. If you've got access to a bumper crop of the herb, whether from your own garden or the farmer's market, whip up some pesto, cook some linguine, toss the two together and chill down your Pigato. The saline tang of the wine is marvelous with the herbaceous salinity of homemade pesto.

Saturday, September 12, 2009

Palate Press: the New Online Wine Magazine

Last week, Palate Press--an online wine magazine--was launched.

Hit by the double whammy of houseguests and a new academic term, the launch came and went without me commenting on it, but I wanted to take a minute to recommend the new venture to GWU$20 readers.

First, a disclaimer. I became involved in the project in its early stages, and have the role of "wine review editor." We hope to roll out the wine reviews next month, but until then I'm just a reader like you are--and I'm liking what I'm reading.

The reason is simple: there's an editor. W. R. Tish, who was the editor of Wine Enthusiast magazine for ten years.

Let's face it, the great thing about blogs is that there's no editor. The bad thing about blogs is that there's no editor--and everyone (and I do mean everyone) needs an editor. Editors do more than find typos and grammatical errors. They keep an eye out for balance, they make sure that there's a coherence to the stories being presented, they make sure that the content is varied, and they ensure that the writing is focused and sharp.

Editors need writers as much as writers need editors, of course. Publisher David Honig (you might know him from the 2 Days Per Bottle blog) and editor W. R. Tish (of Wine Skewer) have recruited some of the most dynamic wine bloggers to participate in the project. These wine bloggers are contributing their enthusiasm and expertise in articles that cover a wide range of topics of interest to readers like you. In the first issue, Andrew Barrow wrote a terrific piece on the food and wine of Alsace, Meg Houston Maker reviews Randall Grahm's forthcoming book, Been Doon So Long, Robert Dwyer examined common shelf-talker practices to determine whether they deceive consumers, Thea Dwelle explored the quintessential "American" grape Zinfandel, and Sonadora explored the social networking efforts of Twisted Oak Winery--and tastes some wine while she's at it. And, because there's always room for some pot-stirring, Arthur Z. Przebinda took on the nature of wine criticism itself.

I'm already looking forward to this week's stories on tasting groups, wine labeling, Walla Walla wine, brettanomyces, and more. So head over to Palate Press and check it out if you haven't done so already. Who knows where this experiment will lead, but right now it's already delivering excellent QPR.

Friday, September 11, 2009

A Zaftig Sparkling Wine

There are many, many styles of sparkling wine out there to bewitch and delight us.

Some are light and graceful sparklers that remind me of ballerinas dancing Swan Lake in foamy tutus. Some are fizzy, dry sparklers that remind me of a worldly jazz musician playing the piano. And some are rich, zaftig sparklers that remind me of an opera diva in a velvet gown hitting a high note.

This wine falls into the final category. It is rich, robust, zaftig, complex--just like a diva should be. And it costs just under $20, which makes it excellent QPR.

Don't let the pale salmon color of the NV Domaine des Roches Crémant de Bourgogne fool you. ($19.99, domaineLA; available elsewhere for $15-$23). Or the faint aromas of mineral, dough, and strawberries. Focus instead on the very active bead and the full-bodied, dry flavors of strawberry and toast. This is well worth the $20, and unusually sophisticated for a Crémant de Bourgogne.

I feel a song coming on...

Wednesday, September 09, 2009

Tropical Fruit from California's Central Coast: Firestone Sauvignon Blanc

I know it was just Labor Day, but if you still feel like you need a mini-break in the tropics in order to get through the fall, look no further than the Santa Ynez Valley and the 2008 Firestone Vineyard Sauvignon Blanc. (suggested retail $11-13; in a market near you for $10-$18).

This was one of the more exciting Sauvignon Blancs I've had this summer. It's made very much in the style of New Zealand Sauvignon Blanc, without the influence of wood. This zesty, tropical fruit inflected wine had aromas of lemongrass, starfruit, pink grapefruit, and lime. Layers of round, tropical fruit flavors were accented with the same citrusy grapefruit and lime notes that I detected in the aromas, and the wine has a fresh, grassy finish. Excellent QPR if you can find this wine for $15 or less, and no matter what the price you will consider it to be a good buy if you've always reached for New Zealand bottlings in the wine store but have been shocked at their rapidly rising prices.

If you're looking for a recipe to pair with this wine, try it with this yummy Green Goddess Chicken Salad. This fast and simple one-dish meal uses a bought roasted chicken to speed preparation, includes cubes of bread, and makes the most of late summer herbs. The wine really accentuated the herbal notes in the dressing, and the roundness of the tropical fruit flavors were lovely with the chicken.

Full Disclosure: I received this wine as a sample.

Tuesday, September 08, 2009

My Italian Wine Journey Continues: Liguria

There's been something of a hiatus in my Italian wine ramblings. The last region I visited was Trentino-Alto Adige--and that was in June. Now that I'm back in the land of many wine shops, I can pick up where I left off. My destination for September is the northwestern curve of Italy: Liguria. Located at the knee of Italy's boot, Liguria doesn't grow many grapes or make much wine--which can make bottlings from this region hard to find. (photo of the crates used for collecting grapes in Cinque Terra by Dom Dada)

But they're worth the search. Ligurian winemakers not only make stunning Vermentinos--perhaps the best known of the region's grapes--they also grow less traveled grapes like Albarola, Pigato, and Rossesse. They also have their own names for grapes such as Dolcetto, which the Ligurians call Ormeasco.

And Ligurian wines go well with the flavors of September, which involve farmer's market basil and tomatoes in the beginning of the month, and rosemary and mushrooms towards the end of the month. The ubiquitous Italian green sauce--pesto--originated in the region (or at least that's what everyone in Liguria proudly says), and whites like Vermentino and Pigato pair beautifully with the spicy, salty sauce. (picture of the vineyards of Cinque Terre by Pay No Mind)

So sip along with me this month as I sample a red and a white wine from Liguria. As always, if you've had some good Ligurian wine you can recommend, please leave those suggestions in the comments below.

Monday, September 07, 2009

Happy Labor Day


Wishing everybody a restful and relaxing break from all your labors.

(the vineyards below Antica Napa Valley taken from the top of Atlas Peak)

Saturday, September 05, 2009

This Week on Serious Eats: Doggone Good Wine Pairing

If you're planning on having a hot dog this Labor Day weekend, what wine are you planning to have with it? (photo by TheBusyBrain)

This week on Serious Grape, my weeky column on Serious Eats, I suggest a few wines for your consideration. The thing about hot dogs is that they are both sweet and salty--and then a variety of sweet and savory condiments get piled on top.

Head over and check out my hot dog wines and if you have any other suggestions, leave them here or there in the comments section.

Have a good Labor Day!

Wednesday, September 02, 2009

Alsace Sparkles

In a recent post I highlighted the value represented by wines from Alsace. While most associate Alsatian wines with still Rieslings and Gewürztraminers, Alsace also makes terrific sparkling wines that can stand up to any rival in terms of taste, elegance, and price.

My latest recommendation in sparkling wine from Alsace is the very good QPR N.V. Lucien Albrecht Crémant d'Alsace Blanc de Blancs Brut (suggested retail $19.99; available in the market for $12-$23). Crafted from Pinot Blanc grapes, this sparkling wine had abundant yeasty, bread dough aromas. I liked the fine, lively bead and the light, effervescent foam that topped my glass. Both hinted at the delicacy of the flavors to come. When I tasted the wine I detected elegant pear, citrus, and brioche flavors.

An affordable sparkling wine like this one doesn't need to be saved for a special occasion. It would be excellent with potato chips before dinner, with some fried chicken or seafood for the main meal, or even with a fruity dessert.

Full Disclosure: I received this wine as a sample.

Monday, August 31, 2009

A True Blue Syrah from the Central Coast

I've said before that Syrahs often taste like a color to me. Sometimes, they taste black with inky blackberry fruit and dark spices. Sometimes, they taste red, and are full of a the bright fruit of a summer berry patch. Then there are the blue syrahs, that remind me of cool walks by the ocean and huckleberries.

I recently had a "true blue" example of the grape: the 2006 Clos LaChance "Black-Chinned" Syrah from the Central Coast. (a new release with a suggested retail $18; available through AmericanWinery.com, and check soon with your local merchant) One of the bottlings from Clos LaChance's "Hummingbird" Series, this wine had luscious aromas of blueberry and huckleberry that evoked the forest and seaside summers. I loved the silky blueberry flavors that followed, as well as the roasted herb and toast undertow that lingered in the juicy aftertaste. This good QPR Wine was well made and nicely balanced.

This Syrah went wonderfully with homemade hamburgers, pan-fried in a skillet with a zesty horseradish sauce and some bacon-onion relish. Its cooling blueberry-inflected fruit was a nice counterpoint to the horseradish, and the meatiness of the burgers brought out the roasted, toasted flavors in the aftertaste.

Full Disclosure: I received this wine as a sample.

Thursday, August 27, 2009

Final Edition of the Wine Book Club: A Vineyard in Tuscany

Today marks the final edition of the Wine Book Club, the online club for wine lovers who also love to read. Our selection was Ferenc Máté's excellent A Vineyard In Tuscany--part fantasy, part House Hunters: Italy, and part viticultural adventure. I picked Máté's book for our final book because so many wine lovers dream of becoming vineyard owners and winemakers. Máté lived that dream, and is a good writer, in addition. The result is a magical tale that transports you to the hills of Tuscany, introduces you to local characters and traditions, and makes you feel that you are right there to enjoy the experience with him and his wife.

My fellow readers agreed.

Wine Book Club stalwart Kori from the Wine Peeps describes the book as "your standard feel-good story of adversity and perseverance which ultimately results in a happy ending," but found that the "setting in the beautiful and romantic hills of Tuscany is what makes it special." Kori's been wanting to get to Italy, and this book "did nothing but reinforce my desire to make that trip." She recommends it to "anyone who loves Italian wine, is considering a trip to Italy, or who fantasizes about owning their own vineyard and winery."

Frank from the blog Drink What You Like likened the book to a "fairytale"--complete with "a famous wine making neighbor, [and] living in a historic structure in one of the most beautiful regions on earth." Still, what he appreciated were the "low-key moments of the book," which served to balance out the fairy tale and make it more real. Frank recommends the book as a humorous, quick read.

This month we were also joined by my friend Megan, the Wannabe Wino, who (though still in recovery from the massive amounts of reading she did in law school) agreed with Frank that the book was "a fairly quick read." She loved the home renovation and restoration aspects of the book as much as the descriptions of planting the vineyard and making the wine, but wished that there had been "a bit more info about the vineyards and how they chose to plant the grapes they did." And the book did nothing to diminish Megan's "seemingly impossible dream of someday owning my own vineyard!"

And, last but certainly not least, Jim the Vinegeek joined us this month. Jim's a relatively new blogger, who has been at it since June, and I'm glad that he joined in this month. Jim was drawn to Ferenc Máté's writing, and how it evoked the "sense of community with his neighbors and the various locals who help him with his rebuild and vineyard planting, and the connectedness to the land and the seasons." He wished that Máté was a bit less self-deprecating in his self-portrayal, however, and felt that he could (and should) be justifiably proud of what he achieved.

I'd like to extend a sincere thanks to everybody who supported this idea when I came up with it, and for Kori and Frank who were such dependable reading companions. I'm glad to have been part of the Book Club and rest assured there will still be lots of book reviews here on GWU$20.

Wednesday, August 26, 2009

New Grape of the Month: Bourboulenc

According to the index of topics in the left sidebar, I've never reviewed a wine with Bourboulenc grapes in it. I'm sure I've tasted it before, but not since I started this blog.

Perhaps that's not too surprising. As best as I can make out, there are only about 2000 acres of the grape in cultivation. And the wine is mostly used in white blends, where it can be paired with Rhône varieties such as Roussanne and Marsanne. Bourboulenc has a lot of acidity, and can lighten and brighten white wines.

Recently I had a wine that included Bourboulenc grapes: the 2007 Château La Canorgue Côtes du Luberon Blanc from the southeastern Rhône ($18.00, domaine547). The wine had a lot of character and was made from a combination of Bourboulenc, Clairette, Marsanne, and Roussanne. It was round and full, but light and fresh at the same time--a fascinating set of contradictions. Aromas of pears, citrus, and flowers welcome you into the tastes, which are along a similar spectrum of white orchard fruits (apple, pear), citrus (lemon and a bit of bitter orange as the wine warms), and even some floral and mineral notes.This wine is organic and biodynamic as well, and delivers excellent QPR with its complexity and price point. If you like white Châteauneuf-du-Papes, but don't like paying the steep prices they often command in the market, this is the wine for you.

As an added bonus, this is one of the few wines that I've had that didn't clash with artichokes. We had it with the vegetarian-friendly Pasta with Almond-Herb Pesto and Artichokes. The round yet fresh flavor profile went nicely with the zesty herbs, ricotta cheese, tomatoes, and even the artichokes that went into this dish.

Monday, August 24, 2009

A Sweet Tip on Dessert Wine

It's peach season--or at least that's the evidence from my local farmer's market. Nothing quite says late summer to me like some really ripe peaches, perhaps some vanilla ice cream, perhaps some meringues or madeleines, and a cool glass of dessert wine.

In the event this dessert suits you, too, and you don't have a stash of Sauternes begging to be opened,try to get your hands on some of the 2006 Bonny Doon Vineyard Le Vol des Anges Beeswax Vineyard ($25.50/375ml, club shipment from winery a few years back; still available in the market for $29-$33/750ml--but I'm dubious they're full bottles so check before you order).

I was very, very impressed with this wine, which was made from Roussanne grapes that had been blessed with "noble rot" or botrytis. While I often find US dessert wines much too sweet, and lacking in the acidity that brings balance to a wine, this bottling had a excellent balance. It also had a definite Sauternes-like aroma and flavor profile. The wine was a luscious deep gold in color with a satiny, slightly viscous texture. The aromas and flavors were very similar, with honey, quince, and candied lemon notes predominating. In spite of all that sweetness, there was a solid core of acidity that kept the wine from being too cloying. Kudos to Bonny Doon for this well-made wine that was worth every penny it cost. Though you may find dessert wines that are a tad cheaper, I have yet to have a domestic dessert wine this good for this price. Very good QPR.

So get yourself some peaches of other summer fruit, and treat yourself to an elegant dessert in the not too distant future. And if dessert wines are something you only drink at the holidays, nab some of this now while it's still available.

Friday, August 21, 2009

This Week on Serious Grape: "Grape School"

This week on Serious Grape, my regular column on Serious Eats, I've caught the back to school bug. (photo of the Scotland Street School in Glasgow by alexliivet--and is that a dunce cap in the front of the room?!)

My idea? Grape School. While your kids and neighbors kids are learning reading, writing, and arithmetic, why not learn about some new grapes? Why should kids have all the fun?

I've put together a list of twelve grape varieties that you may not be familiar with to take to your favorite wine store. Have them put together a mixed case so that you can have an interesting wine experience whenever the mood takes you this fall. Regular GWU$20 readers might want to look at the "extra credit" grape pick--it's one of my favorites, and it might become one of yours, as well.

So head over to Serious Eats and check it out. And as ever, if you have particular wines to recommend, please do so in the comments.

Thursday, August 20, 2009

Friday Nights IN: Mediterranean Nosh and Soave

Friday Nights IN is a regular feature at GWU$20 that's intended to trim a few dollars from your entertaining budget by replacing a meal out with a meal in. Some suggestions are dinners for four, six, eight, or even ten. Some are for romantic dinners for two. And some suggestions are perfect for when you need time to yourself!

It's been a while since I've posted a Friday Nights IN suggestion, but if your life is like mine the days seem too short to get everything done, the kitchen is too hot to cook, and the idea of yet another something cooked on the grill is not that appealing. So my suggestion is to take a culinary trip to the Adriatic and Mediterranean with a meze platter and a wine from Italy's Veneto region.

First up, the food. Meze is not so much cooked as it is assembled--so it's perfect for single diners, couples, families, or starving masses. Anything goes really, but to get you started you can look at the suggestions in this recent Bon Appetit recipe. I know the hummus doesn't have Tahini in it, but after several goes at it we now prefer this flavorful, easy version. And the cucumber and feta salad is delicious. If you've got people coming for dinner who don't like to eat shrimp, buy a roasted chicken and have at that instead (or in addition). Add and subtract at will until you have just the right mix of flavors and textures to suit your palate.

Then, the all important issue of wine. With this meal you want a wine that is crisp but still has some body to it. It needs to be able to stand up to feta, not overwhelm the shrimp, pair nicely with the vegetables--you get the picture. In short, you want a good Soave, like the 2008 I Stefanini Il Selese Soave (MSRP $12.00; for more information contact the importer, Domenico Selections). This wine smells of summer, with lovely musk-melon aromas accompanied by some white floral and saline notes. This next observation will probably only resonate with those of you reading this from the UK, but the aromas reminded me particularly of elderflower cordial. Flavors of white peach, lemon, and bitter almond provide a nice point-counterpoint with the saline notes and the flowers and the wine has a juicy, lip-smacking aftertaste. This wine is terrific for the price and very distinctive. You'll be surprised Soave can be this good, and deliver such excellent QPR.

Full Disclosure: I received this wine as a sample.