Monday, March 31, 2008

2008 American Wine Blog Award Winners Announced

Fermentation's Tom Wark has announced the winners in the 2008 American Wine Blog Awards. More than 2000 people voted in this year's competition over the course of last week.

Now that the voting has finished, I am truly pleased and touched to have received awards in both the Best Wine Review Blog and the Best Single Subject Wine Blog categories.

There were many worthy blogs that were nominated by appreciative readers, and the list of finalists was impressive in every category. Congratulations to all of those who were nominated. You can check out the full list of those winners here.

When I made the decision to continue with this blog, it was because it was clear to me that there were a lot of people out there who drank affordable wine every day and who felt that their needs for wine information were not being met by traditional media. Their needs weren't being met in large part because folks seemed to think that if you didn't spend much money on wine, you weren't really interested in it. I think that's totally false.

If you are new to the blog, you will discover that I write about everyday wine culture, and promote the people I think contribute to it in this country and around the world. This includes winemakers, bloggers, the mainstream press, merchants, consumers--you name it. Good Wine Under $20 is not a narrow topic--it's a world that many, many wine consumers occupy.

Thank you to the many everyday wine aficionados who have indicated that they appreciated this approach since GWU$20 opened its doors to visitors. There's a lot of good wine out there to discover--I look forward to sharing that world with you.

Grape Variety #100: Roditis

Imagine a wine that is like the love child of a dry German Riesling and a French Sauvignon Blanc. It's name would have to be Roditis.

Roditis is my 100th variety and marks the unofficial completion of my Wine Century. I had a tough time deciding which grape to drink last, but as a historian I decided to go with a grape from one of the world's oldest grape-producing regions.

What is Roditis? It's a a pink or rose grape that is used to make dry white wines. The juice from Roditis is often included in Greek's famous resinated white wine, Retsina, which I have to admit is a work in process for me. I tried a bottle of Boutari Retsina given to me in a wine swap a few months ago with domaine547, and even though I chilled it and tried to get in the mood, its pine-ness proved to much for me. I should also note that Boutari's Retsina is made with yet another Greek grape variety--Savatiano. If you are interested in Greek wine, check out some of the great reviews that other bloggers have posted recently about wines from this region. There seems to be something of a Greek revival in the blogosphere, with Tasters A and B from Smells like Grape sipping an Agiorgitiko with some kebabs just the other day, and Richard the Passionate Foodie enjoying his red wine made with Xiomavro.

The 2005 Lafazanis Roditis, however, was a lot of white for the price. ($11.99, K & L Wines; available elsewhere for $9-$12) It was bright and nervy, and everything that I look for in a summer white. Delicate aromas of peach, stone, and the kind of lemon oil you use to polish furniture with enticed you to take your first sip. Flavors of lemon and the sensation of wet stone filled your mouth and delivered on all the promise that the aromas suggested the wine had. My favorite part was the aftertaste, which had just a touch of honeyed heaviness (rather than sweetness) along with some herbal notes. Excellent QPR.

Have your Roditis with some platters of Mediterranean nibbles--hummus, roasted red peppers, olives, chunks of bread, olive oil--or with a more substantial Greek-inspired dish of grilled shrimp with chickpea puree and pitas along with a Greek salad.

Thanks to all of you who have been so encouraging about my adventures into lesser known varieties. And good luck to those of you who are trying to reach your own Wine Century. It's a fantastic way to learn about wine, that's for sure. I've been bitten by the "new variety" bug so don't be surprised if the offbeat, the less-traveled, and the rare grapes of the wine world continue to make appearances here on the blog. In a time when the dollar's buying power isn't what it used to be, these wines often represent excellent value and exceptional taste.

Friday, March 28, 2008

Freaky Friday for Wine Bloggers (and Those Who Know Us)

In news that may leave some readers shaking their heads, but wine bloggers laughing out loud, there is a new wine blog in town.

Likened to The Onion but for wine bloggers by WineBiz radio's Randy Hall, and already eliciting many giggles among wine bloggers on Twitter, Wine-ing 2.0 delivers a healthy dose of perspective on the wine blogging world through its gentle, dead-on humor. With the subtitle "wine blogging is for losers," it is a timely reminder that we could all take ourselves a little less seriously.

Today's most recent story involved a sex sting operation that netted three well-known wine mascots: domaine547's budo-kun, the Little Penguin, and Yellowtail's kangaroo. In other news: Gary Vaynerchuk crashed Twitter out of sheer happiness and excessive tweets, Vinography's Alder Yarrow sprained his tongue and is recovering with a Cabernet Sauvignon, and Constellation has just announced a new brand of wine called 2x4. (mock label shown at right, from Wine-ing 2.0)

It's the end of a long week here in the blogosphere, and what better way to celebrate the last day of voting in the American Wine Blog Awards than with a glass of wine, a chuckle, and a little bit of Freaky Friday madness?

Weekend Immersion Wine Course in Napa

If you're free on April 25 and April 26 this year, are relatively new to wine, and have about $800 to spend on a wine course, this is the one to take. COPIA, the center in Napa that celebrates all things gustatory, will be the location and their new Dean of Wine Studies, Andrea Immer Robinson, who will be teaching one of her wine classes. (photo of Andrea Immer Robinson from her website)

She will be pouring and pairing a pretty dazzling array of wines. The weekend kicks off on Friday night with a champagne tasting, moves into a discussion of Andrea's "big 6" grapes, and then concludes with a dinner of 2 tasting plates served with examples of the wines made from them. Saturday morning will be devoted to Riesling, Chardonnay and Sauvignon Blanc in their old and new world styles, followed by lunch and the wines of Italy and Spain. The day concludes with a seminar on Pinot Noir, Cabernet Sauvignon, and Syrah. If this approach sounds familiar, it's no doubt because you've read Great Wine Made Simple.

Robinson (as I mentioned yesterday) is one of the best wine teachers out there, and she has a knack for breaking down the world of wine into easily digestible chunks. Her love of food and wine pairing stems from her experiences as a sommelier, so you will learn about not only wine but the foods that go with it.

The price above does not include transportation or lodging, but does include a considerable amount of awfully good wine as well as a chance to spend some of your spring in Napa Valley. Can't make the April event, but are dying to attend? Save the dates for her August weekend course, or the biggest splurge of all: a week-long Ultimate Wine Experience. All of this beyond your financial reach? Then buy the book, and set up your own Wine Immersion Weekend right in your own home and invite your friends!

Thursday, March 27, 2008

Readers' Request: Roses and Reading Suggestions

Today's post is devoted to the mail bag, and specifically to answering a few requests I received this week from readers. Their requests were, I felt, worthy of a post of their own and I hope that other bloggers and readers will chip in with help if you can. (photo Liq Wine by Jeremy Brooks)

First, a reader asked if I could suggest some roses for an upcoming tasting he's going to that will feature 4-5 rose wines (including some sparkling wines). You can check out all my reviews of rose wines from the past year by clicking here. Roses are meant to be drunk when they are still young, for the most part, and I haven't tasted any new releases this year, but here are some names to look out for when you're in the store, keeping in mind that there may be more recent vintages:

2005 Alma Rosa Pinot Noir Vin Gris El Jabali Vineyard ($20). Pale salmon in color, this dry wine tends slightly towards copper. The aromas were of field-fresh, slightly under-ripe strawberries, or those little French wild strawberries called frais des bois. Tart strawberry flavors, too, with no hint of watermelon. Very distinctive.

2006 Fort Ross Pinot Noir Rose ($16) This beautifully perfumed dry rose has abundant raspberry fruit and a delicious mineral streak.

The NV Domaine Allimant-Laugner Brut Rose is a beautiful, drinkable, and affordable rose sparkling wine that I reviewed just last week. The aromas were full of strawberry, with some mineral notes just around the edges. 100% Pinot Noir grapes go into the wine, which accounted for these aromas, and the same strawberry and mineral combination was also present in the flavors. The finish was reasonably long, and the mineral notes became pleasantly chalky. Domaine Allimant-Laugner is made in the Champagne method, so it will suit traditionalists down to the ground.

How about a pink sparkling dessert wine? The 2007 Innocent Bystander Muscat ($9.99/375ml, domaine547), with its beautiful pink color and aromas of juicy peach and strawberry, is a winner. You pop the crown cap on this little bottle, and everything about the experience is light, summery, refreshing, and fun. The flavors keep up this playful spirit, continuing with the peach and strawberry but adding some clementine to add some zing and freshness. Absolutely yummy!

Had a good rose lately? Put it in the comments for this reader.

Another reader asked if I could suggest a few book titles for a wine lover who is just starting out on their journey. I continue to think that Andrea Immer Robinson's Great Wine Made Simple is one of the best books for someone just beginning to get into wine. She is particularly good at explaining the major varieties (Cabernet Sauvignon and Chardonnay, etc) and explaining new world and old world styles of wine-making. If you would prefer an overview of major wine styles that is regional, rather than varietal, in its focus, try Oz Clarke's Introducing Wine: A Complete Guide for the Modern Wine Drinker. Clarke has a wonderful writing style, and can really help you understand the world's most interesting wines that you will definitely want to try. Karen MacNeil's The Wine Bible is, in my opinion, the best all-around reference book for someone new to wine, combining clear explanations with lots of coverage. It begins with terrific overviews on how wine is made, suggestions on how to shop for wine, and instructions on how to taste wine. Jancis Robinson's How to Taste is the best book for helping any new wine lover understand what the hell we are talking about when we describe a wine--and she helps you figure out how you can taste it, too. Anybody else have suggestions of books that were helpful to them when they were just starting out?

Hope these help. And if any of the rest of you have questions for me, drop me a line or leave a note in the comments section of any post. I'll get back to you--I promise!--and you may see it answered here on the blog to get some more feedback.

Wednesday, March 26, 2008

Grape Variety #99: Aligoté

I'm down to the final three grapes in my pursuit of membership in the Wine Century Club, the organization devoted to promoting rare and unusual varieties. I've had a dozen rare grapes since January, and today's grape is less rare (it's actually the 4th most planted grape in the world) than it is simply one I've not gotten around to drinking before.

Aligoté is a French variety that is used to make Cremant de Bourgogne. It's known for its fresh acidity, which some people find overwhelming. I like how bracing the wine is, and how food friendly it is. It's also versatile. Aligoté is used as the base for Kir cocktails (named after the one-time mayor of Dijon), which are made with a mixture of cassis liqueur (modern types use blackberry, raspberry, or even peach liqueur instead) and chilled wine. If you use sparkling Cremant de Bourgogne instead of still Aligoté, it's called a Kir Royale. So buying a bottle of Aligoté can take you from cocktails to dinner effortlessly.

The 2004 Michel Lafarge Raisins-Dorés I had was very pale in color and had aromas of apple with a nutty edge. ($14.99, K & L Wines; available elsewhere for $14-$22) The wine had a medium-bodied feeling in the mouth, but lots of crisp acidity in its predominantly citrus flavors. I tasted white grapefruit and lemon pith, as well as a pineapple note as the last of the wine slid over my tongue. I can certainly see why the acidity wouldn't appeal to everyone, but I don't understand why this is relegated to secondary grape status in Burgundy. This is an interesting variety, and should appeal to anyone who likes Sauvignon Blanc, and is looking for a good QPR choice.

Because of Aligoté's acidity and its versatility, it can find a mate with a lot of dishes. One night, I had it with wok-seared scallops with a tangerine sauce, and the acidity in the wine was great with the fresh vegetables and the tangerine juice and cut nicely through the richness of the scallops. The next night, I made Kir cocktails while I was cooking up one of Maya Kaimal's chicken curries (I made the chicken fry curry in her first book Curried Favours, but it's not online; if you want to try her style of Indian cooking, give her Chicken Masala a try). I just kept on sipping Kir cocktails right through dinner, and they went well with this Indian dish. With the blackcurrant liqueur in it, the wine had a soft sweetness that was just right with the aromatic spices and slightly spicy jalapeño notes in the curry.

If you love Sauvignon Blanc you might find Aligoté a nice change of pace this summer. And its versatility makes it a good wine to have on hand for impromptu Happy Hours at the end of a long work week, too.

Tuesday, March 25, 2008

Living the Not So Big Wine Life

A week or so ago, when reading a post over at Fred Koeppel's Bigger Than Your Head on the 2005 Bordeaux vintage reports, I was powerfully reminded of Goldilocks. Goldilocks visited the house of the three bears and found that life inside was too big, too soft, and too hot. Or, it was too small, too hard, too cold. She was so relieved to find something just right that she fell asleep in the "just right" bed in utter exhaustion.

Sometimes, wine makes me feel like that. There are too many wines that are too big, too hot, too expensive, too manipulated, too corporatized, too hard to find--the list goes on and on. Fred's post prompted me to yearn for a drinking plan that would only include wines that were "just right"--that managed to hold together a whole world of good times, fantastic flavors, and quality in just one glass without going too far into the big, the hot, and the expensive. Fred agreed with me, and expanded on my "just right" description" to include "wines that reflect the grapes from which they are made; wines that reflect, as much as possible, the place where they are made; and wines that embody honesty, integrity and authenticity rather than ego, ambition and manipulation." As I couldn't have said it better myself, I decided to just quote him here. This picture, taken by the talented photographer Kathy~, captures visually what a "just right" wine tastes like to me. (photo of the Town of Monterosso al Mare used with the kind permission of the photographer, Kathy~)

We live in a culture where more is always seen as better. Perhaps the most visible signs of this are the McMansions that dot the landscape, full of rooms filled with stuff nobody uses. Sarah Susanka, the author of the best-selling The Not So Big House and The Not So Big Life, fights this trend in her work. She realized that houses were getting bigger and bigger--but had little "redeeming design merit." Comfort, she pointed out, has "almost nothing to do with how big a space is." Instead, it comes from "tailoring our houses to fit the way we really live, and to the scale and proportions of our human form." When the bigger-is-better mentality seeps into our lives, we end up "so stressed that we are numb."

I started thinking through how to extend Susanka's principles to wine, and have come up with some ideas for a Not So Big Wine Life. These ideas are increasingly shaping my wine purchasing and drinking habits.

1. Drink wine you find enjoyable and inspiring, regardless of hype.
This sounds simple, but it's the heart of the whole plan. I'm inspired by wine that tastes good, is not priced prohibitively, and that is true to the varietal characteristics of the grapes that go into the bottle. Points, marketing, and lemming-like mass hysteria over the latest release or the most recent "vintage of the century" I do not find inspiring. I am not a big fan of what have become known as spoofulated wines--although you should read Craig Camp's thoughtful piece about spoofulation before you decide for yourself. And the idea of GMO yeast and grapes manipulated to cater to certain genetic tasting profiles makes my hair turn white. I don't find genetic coding of taste buds, yeast, or wine to fit consumer wishes inspiring. And frankly, life's too short to drink wine that isn't inspiring. What do you find inspiring in wine? And are you drinking it, or something else?

2. Drink wines that fit your life, and remember that bigger is not always better. I confess: every now and again a fruit-bomb of a syrah makes me very, very happy. But a steady diet of big, jammy reds and overly-oaked chardonnays can numb you to anything that is not HUGE. If this is what you drink most of the time, you may be in a "bigger is better" rut. Moreover, these wines don't reflect the way that most people are trying to live these days. I don't know about you, but there is less meat and more fish on my dinner table than there was five years ago. Happily there is more organic produce, too. Ask yourself this question: do big wines fit the way you live and eat? If not, ask yourself why are you drinking them?

3. More is not always better, either. Moderation is the key to a long-term happiness with wine. Drinking until you fall down in a tasting room, or a living room, is not clever. It's sad, actually. So, too, is the pursuit of more points, more expensive bottlings, more cases in wine storage, being on more mailing lists for more highly allocated wine than ever before, etc. We live in a consumption-mad society. Every day we are told that having more is what makes you comfortable. Does it? Ever? There's always more wine in the world, so relax and remember that sometimes just enough is just right.

4. Be adventurous. If you want to experience the world in a glass of wine, you have to get off the highway now and again and do some exploring. I've been doing that a lot this year, by getting to know rare grape varieties like Negrette and the wines of Italy. I can guarantee that you won't like every wine you drink if you are out exploring. So what? How will you ever know what wines really inspire you if you drink the same, safe things night after night?

5. Support sustainability.
I mean more here than just looking for organic grapes--though that's important, too. What I mean by sustainability is to create a wine life for yourself that is sustainable in all the ways there are. Support local wineries, small wineries, small wine merchants, and folks who make wine with respect for the environment and who take responsibility for the future. By honoring the grapes, places, and people who make and sell the wine we love--and supporting them with our custom--we will help to shape a wine industry that has some shot of surviving global warming and downturns in the dollar.

What do you think? Are you already living a Not So Big Wine Life? If not, is this something you imagine yourself being able to embrace? What's missing, and what could be improved upon? Add your thoughts below.

Monday, March 24, 2008

The Red-Footed Grape from Campania

Some Italian reds stomp onto the stage with heavy boots and demand your attention. Others slip in on little, red feet and steal your heart away.

Piedirosso fits into the second category. It's an exciting red grape variety from Campania, the region that is home to Naples and the Amalfi coast. And it is yet another surprise--in a string of surprises--that have come my way since setting out to explore the wines of Italy.

The 2005 La Sibilla Piedirosso is made from grapes grown in the volcanic soils of the Campi Flegrei appellation. ($14.99, K & L Wines) Campi Flegrei has bragging rights to claim it is the home of the ancient god of fire, Vulcan. It is also a region that has preserved some of Campania's wine heritage, in the form of plantings of the white variety Falanghina, and the red variety Piedirosso. Phylloxera devastated the grape stock by the early 20th century, but today the Piedirosso grape (which is named for the striking red stems that connect each grape to the cluster and some say look like the feet of doves) is making something of a comeback.

When you pour it, it has a striking clear garnet color, which is very clear and bright. Startling aromas of bacon fat and smoke make the first impression, and you can reach for some high-toned black cherry fruit aromas underneath. There is a silkiness on the palate, accompanying flavors of leather, black cherry, tar, and earth. Some will find this a bit bretty and barnyardy, but I liked the funkiness and thought it in no way overpowered the wine's fruity complexity. Given all this wine delivers in the flavor department, I'd say this is excellent QPR.

With your Piedirosso, I'd try a fresh and post-modern take on good old eggplant parmesan. Toss some farfalle pasta with sauteed eggplant, cherry tomatoes, basil, garlic, parmesan, and fresh ricotta. Eggplant is common in the traditional food of Campania, but this recipe is a little less labor-intensive to pull together and put on the table at the end of a long day at work than many of the time-tested alternatives. The bitterness of the eggplant is a nice counterpoint to the juicy black cherry fruit, and the smokiness of the wine picks up the smoky notes that emerge from a nicely caramelized eggplant, too.

As with any unfamiliar grape, it can be useful to know a more familiar grape variety reminiscent of the Piedirosso's flavors, aromas, and textures. To me, this is like a Burgundian Pinot Noir, and I think this is an Italian red that will appeal to Burgundy fans. In a time of the dipping dollar, it's good to have a backup. My guess is they may not realize they are drinking an Italian wine at all, if you don't tell them.

Friday, March 21, 2008

Tickled Pink

Cremant d'Alsace--where have you been all my life?

I know I'm supposed to be learning about grower champagnes this year, but I can't resist an affordable bottle of bubbles. I was in a small grocery store on the upper Sonoma/lower Mendocino Coast and they had a bottle of NV Domaine Allimant-Laugner Brut Rose for $21.69. Brut--Rose--Sparkling
--just over $20. What's not to like? Wine comes to this grocery store up a long, winding road and that kind of driving costs money. You will find it in a store online or near you for between $17 and $20. If you do, you should buy it.

Cremant d'Alsace is an appellation in the Alsace region of France. Pinot Blanc and Pinot Noir are often used to make Cremant d'Alsace, and while the region's sparkling wine may not be as well known as that from Champagne or Burgundy, wine has been made here for a very long time.

Take this wine, for example. Domaine Allimant-Laugner is a family-owned and operated business. The Allimant family have been involved in the wine business since 1724, when they settled in Alsace near Orschwiller. Today, Hubert Laugner makes wines based on his belief that what he does is both an art and a vocation. His wine-making philosophy includes observation, patience, and the pursuit of beauty.

The result is this beautiful, drinkable, and affordable wine. The first reaction you will have to it is, "it's actually pink!" Not fuchsia, not salmon, not copper, it's shell pink--soft and delicate, with some coppery glints around the edges. When I held it up to the light I saw a very active medium bead or bubble, which is always a good sign in my book. The aromas were strawberry, with some mineral notes just around the edges. 100% Pinot Noir grapes go into the wine, which accounted for these aromas, and the same strawberry and mineral combination was also present in the flavors. The finish was reasonably long, and the mineral notes became pleasantly chalky. I didn't detect much yeastiness in this dry wine, but instead the overall impression was one of cleanness and brightness. Domaine Allimant-Laugner is made in the Champagne method, so it will suit traditionalists down to the ground. Excellent QPR.

This is one of those wines that you would be tickled pink to have on hand when the occasion calls for toasts. Personally, I'm buying every bottle left in the store before I leave for LA today. If you have a wedding in your future, or know somebody who does, I would highly recommend this wine for the celebrations. And if not, buy some for yourself.

Get Out the Vote for the 2008 American Wine Blog Awards

Voting opened today for the 2008 American Wine Blog Awards. Tom Wark developed these awards last year to recognize the quality of wine writing and the depth of coverage that is available every day--for free--on blogs all over the internet.

The Awards work through a process of open nominations, the selection of finalists from those nominations by a panel of five judges, and then voting in which 70% of the decision will be determined by open voting (not Chicago style, folks! one person, one vote) and 30% by the judges. Voting will continue until March 29 at 12:01 AM.

Wonderful blogs are on the list for your consideration--and I do mean consideration. Please take the time to look at all the blogs nominated in each category before you cast your vote. Browse around through some older posts while you're there. And my sincere congratulations to all those many bloggers who were nominated by readers in the initial stages of the process, as well as to those who were named as finalists. After all, most bloggers blog because they hope to reach an audience. Nominations are the best proof that we have succeeded.

Yesterday, I thought a great deal about a colleague of mine who truly believes the following: "a rising tide lifts all boats." Tom wanted a rising tide of recognition to lift all wine bloggers and to give credibility to the work that they were doing to promote wine knowledge. Every wine blog reader and writer is contributing to this rising tide, and that's a good thing.

Thursday, March 20, 2008

Want the Jump on Future Wine Blogging Wednesdays?

Are you tired of running out to the store at the last minute for WBW selections? Do you sometimes wish you were drinking the same wine as someone else on WBW, so you could compare your notes to theirs? Have you always wanted to participate, but never been organized enough to do so?

Domaine547 comes to the rescue once again with their April-May-June WBW 3-pack of wines, which will get you sorted out in no time so that you can kick back and relax, secure in the knowledge that you have what you need to participate in the fun. At least until July.

For just under $45 (ok, $44.97) plus shipping you can get yourself set up with a French Cabernet Franc for April, a German Riesling for May, and a white blend from the Rhone. Pretty damn fantastic, especially if (like me) you never seem to have exactly what's called for when WBW is announced. (d547 budo-kan seeing vision of the WBW 3-pack)

Check out domaine547's site for details on vintage, makers, etc. Oh, and the shipping policies.

Cost of next three WBW bottles shipped to you from domaine547? under $45.
No last minute frantic searches in a wine store near you? priceless.

Wine Blogging #44: French Cabernet Franc

The announcement has just been made of the theme for WBW #44, the monthly online tasting event developed by Lenn Thompson of Lenndevours. Our host in April will be Gary Vaynerchuk, the video blogger and wine retailer of Wine Library.

As you might expect, Gary posted his theme via video, which you can see here (if you're reading this through a reader, you might have to click over to the website to see it):

Cabernet Franc is a favorite of mine when I need to cross-train my palate and give my tastebuds something different. This should be a fun theme, and if you want to participate drink your Cabernet Franc by April 2 and post the link or the review in the comments section for the announcement's episode.

Wednesday, March 19, 2008

Spring. It's Spelled SB.

As far as I'm concerned, the way to spell Spring is SB. Short for Sauvignon Blanc, the fresh, zingy, grassy, and citrus flavors of this grape variety seem to go perfectly with the longer, warmer days and the fresh produce that is beginning to show up in markets.

If you are looking for a good Sauvignon Blanc, but don't want the assertive New Zealand variety, nor the round and rich California style, why not try one from Burgundy? You may think that Chardonnay and Burgundy go hand-in-hand, but Ghislaine and Jean-Hughes Goisot demonstrate that some stunning examples of SB are made there in the Saint-Bris AOC. The Goisots grow their grapes using both organic and biodynamic guidelines, and I was pleased to discover the mineral qualities in this wine that I so often associate with fruit that is grown under biodynamic protocols.

The 2005 Ghislaine and Jean-Hughes Goisot St. Bris was a terrific example of a classically-styled Sauvignon Blanc. ($15.99, domaine547). The aromas were herbal without being too grassy, and there were also abundant citrus and just a touch of wet beach stones. The flavors were poised nicely between the green and juicy citrus elements of the wine, and the stone turned pleasantly chalky as it touched your tongue. There was a reasonably long finish, with just enough tartness to make your mouth water and want more. This was a definite rebuy, and very good QPR.

Get a jump start on spring cooking by pairing your Sauvignon Blanc with an equally springy dish just made for the wine that involves pasta, grilled vegetables, and goat cheese. This is a great opportunity to dig out your gas grill if you've got one, and if not the vegetables can be broiled or cooked on a stovetop grill pan. Once that's accomplished, you chop them up--radicchio, peppers, zucchini, squash, leek, and artichoke hearts--and toss them with cherry tomatoes, corkscrew pasta, and some tangy-creamy goat cheese. If you've never had goat cheese with Sauvignon Blanc the two are made for each other, and you're in for a treat.

I know that in some parts of the country spring feels pretty far away right now. But this wine and the pasta dish that goes so nicely with it will make you feel like spring inside, even it it's still cold outside. And for those of us lucky enough to be smelling daffodils and seeing robins digging up worms already, we can just start enjoying the season in full.

Tuesday, March 18, 2008

What's Your Wine Worth?

I don't buy wine as an investment, though some people do. Still, it's fascinating to know what your wine is worth and how much (if at all) it's going up in value. (terrific photo by Tonx)

Thanks to CellarTracker's built-in cellar value feature, and their tie-in with the wine auction site, I've been watching my wine values for the last few months and recently noticed that my cellar value was going up. I knew I was still spending well under $20 a bottle for most of my wine. So I wondered what was going on and looked further into the depths of my small cellar for more information.

Turns out that Bordeaux really does go up in value. My 2003 Chateau La Vieille Cure purchased at Costco last June has crept up in value from $21 to $35. So, too, do some Italian and Australian reds. A 2001 Stefano Farina Barolo I bought for $28 in December 2006 is now worth $40, for example. And, I bought a 2005 d'Arenberg Laughing Magpie Shiraz-Viognier about a year ago for $19--and it's now worth $34.

In my cellar, it also turns out that the more you spend on wine in the first place the more likely it is to increase in value. I bought a 750ml 2003 Chateau Lafaurie-Peyraguey Sauternes from BevMo for $45 back in October of 2006. It's now worth around $75, according to's quarterly average price. This is the most expensive bottle of wine I've ever bought. It's now the 2nd most valuable bottle I've got in my cellar--the bottle that beat it was a gift.

Do you know what your wine's worth? Even if you're not an investor, and even if you spend relatively little on your wine in the first place you may be surprised. But remember: a wine's value is relative to its condition, so think about storage conditions. And always consult a professional if you are making serious wine investments.

Monday, March 17, 2008

The Wild Man of Grapes: Enkidu Petite Sirah.

Joel from Wine Life Today had a 2005 Enkidu Russian River Syrah for WBW #43, and that got me thinking--didn't I have a bottle of their wine somewhere? I remember being attracted to the winery's name (Enkidu is the Wild Man of the ancient epic Gilgamesh), the ancient script on the label, and the unusual 500 ml bottle size (some sources tell me the name for a 500 ml bottle is an imp--but I'd love to know for sure so please tell me if you know). Sure enough, a bit of rummaging revealed that I did have some Enkidu wine: a Petite Sirah, which would go just perfectly with the BBQ chicken I was planning to make for dinner.

Enkidu Wine is owned by Phillip Staehle. He got his start at Carmenet Vineyards, and when he ventured out on his own he decided he wanted to specialize in grapes from the Rhone and Burgundy, and use minimalist wine-making techniques to best express the character of the grape and the place where it was grown. Phillip uses fruit from a variety of vineyards in the Russian River Valley, on the Sonoma Coast, and Napa, then transforms the fruit into distinctive wines made in limited quantities. (picture of Philip and his lab--named Enkidu, of course--from Enkidu Wine).

I've only had one of his wines (so far) but I loved what Phillip does with one of the brawniest, wildest grapes there is: Petite Sirah. Known for its difficult tannins, Petite Sirah is not a meek and mild grape to work with. But Phillip transforms it into something smooth and delicious--although it does have a firm, tannic edge to it. The 2003 Enkidu Petite Sirah that I tasted was the first wine that Phillip made under his own label, and 265 cases were produced. ($11.99, Chronicle Wine Cellar; you can get this from other merchants online for between $13 and $28 depending on bottle size or directly from Enkidu for $28/750ml or $19/500ml) The wine had distinct aromas of plum, rose petals, and tar. I almost never detect tar in Petite Sirah, even though it is one of the aromas/flavors associated with the grape. Phillip gives the grapes maximum hang time to develop the black fruitiness and tar the grape is known for, and this also helps to keep the tannins in check. The flavors echoed the aromas, with plum, spice, and tar and a tannic finish that is long, but slightly drying.

This was one of the best Petite Sirah I've ever had, and if you can get 500ml for under $15 as I did, it certainly makes the excellent QPR mark. Even if you pay more, I think you will agree that the quality is very high for the price paid.

Sunday, March 16, 2008

Wine Happenings

It's time for some updates and reminders concerning wine happenings here on the internet. (wonderful photo "Noblesse Oblige" by Linus)

First, Joel from Wine Life Today posted the roundup from Wine Blogging Wednesday #43. Dedicated to "comfort wines" March's event produced not only some terrific wine recommendations, but some great writing from folks all over the wine blogosphere. Thanks to Joel for a terrific, popular theme that was definitely thought provoking.

No official news yet on WBW #44, hosted by Gary Vaynerchuk, but the Wine Blogging Wednesday community site has the brief description of "old world Cabernet Franc." As always, the host may tweak this in some way none of us could imagine, but this gives you at least some idea of the direction. When the detailed announcement is made, I'll be sure to let you know.

There are still two weeks to go before the deadline for the new Wine Blogging Wednesday Logo Contest. If you're feeling creative and would like to help Lenn jazz up this monthly event by having your logo splashed all across the web, check out the details and join in the fun.

Speaking of contests, have you heard of the small winery on the top of Spring Mountain in Napa called Fantesca? They make some superb Cabernet, allow you to Adopt a Grape and watch it grow, and once again this year they asked for suggestions on what to put on their "Fortune Corkies." Fortune Corkies are corks imprinted with inspiring messages about wine, friendship, and family. On March 21 they will be announcing the winner of this year's contest (whoever it is will get a magnum of Fantesca Cabernet--corked with their Corkie). Check the site for more details.

Finally, after a strong first-time showing, the Wine Book Club returns for their second event. Host Tim Elliott of Winecast selected Noble Rot: A Bordeaux Wine Revolution as his chosen book. This is one of those books I've owned for some time, but never actually read so this is welcome news that now I will have to pick it up and get started. We will be reading along, and on April 29 (the last Tuesday of next month) we'll be able to see what people think by following the conversation as it takes place on blogs, Shelfari, Facebook, and the up-and-running Wine Book Club site. Thanks to Tim for not only hosting WBC #2, but also designing and hosting the website.

Friday, March 14, 2008

Three Spring Party Whites

It's spring. The clocks have been set forward, the days are longer, and we're looking at a new season of family meals, christenings, graduations, birthdays, and showers. Not the spring kind, either. The wedding kind. (photo by Gregor Rohrig)

You may be in the position of hosting such an event. What to serve in the wine department? Not a red, with the increasing temperatures and the fresh vegetables that crop up on most party tables this kind of year.

What you need is easy, quaffable whites. But you don't want factory-style whites--you want something a bit more distinctive. And you don't want to spend a king's ransom on the wines, either, especially not if you are hosting more than 50.

So here are three recommended whites, all of which go with a different kind of spring food, and all of which can be had for around $10. Some a bit more, some a bit less. All are delicious, and were just tested out on 75 guinea pigs--I mean guests.
If you are serving roast chicken, pasta with a creamy sauce, or varied cheeses: Get yourself some 2006 Razor's Edge Chardonnay. I got mine from domaine547 (my new party wine headquarters) for $9.99/bottle, but I cleaned them out of the stuff, so you may have to elsewhere for yours. This is an unoaked chardonnay that has a zesty yet creamy set of flavors and aromas that will be a nice pairing for the food you are serving. There are smooth apple aromas, a nice apple and honeydew melon set of flavors, and a freshness that keeps you coming back for more. Good chilled, but because it's not oaked it's not horrible when it warms up a bit (as it's bound to do during your party). Excellent QPR.

If you are serving asparagus frittata, goat cheese, or vegetarian dishes: Get yourself some 2006 Cameron Hughes Lot 26 Marlborough Sauvignon Blanc for $11. This was released last apring, and I've already given it a thumbs-up, but I had a bottle this week and its every bit as fresh and delicious as it was 9 months ago. Check out the full review here, and pick some up at your local Costco or directly from Cameron Hughes. The zingy herbal profile of the wine is made for salads, it sings with goat cheese, and it is just fine with one of the world's most-difficult-to-eat-with wine vegetables: asparagus. Excellent QPR.

If you are serving mixed appetizers and dishes: The wine for you is the 2006 Zonin Pinot Grigio Amore. I received this wine as a sample, but you should be able to find it in a store near you for around $8. This is a simple, straightforward, classic Pinot Grigio, which is seems has become the default wine option in bars and restaurants all over America. It has abundant bitter lemon aromas, and a citrusy flavor with a pithy edge that keeps the wine fresh and interesting. This is not a wine to have with a burger, but it will certainly shine with anything in the appetizer department, and the price is right to keep you (and your guests) happy. Very good QPR.

If none of these sound right, or you just want some help picking the perfect wine for your special occasion, ask your favorite wine merchant for some suggestions that fit within your budget. In the past, I've gone to BevMo and done my best, but a lot of stress was taken off my shoulders this year when I simply asked domaine547 for their recommendations. The wine they suggested was terrific--and we ran out. Is there a better endorsement?

Good luck with your spring parties and if you know there's one in your future get the wine you want NOW. It will be one less thing to worry about.

Thursday, March 13, 2008

Overwhelmed by Wine? You're Not Alone.

If you think you are the only person in America who is overwhelmed by wine, think again. Wines and Vines' Tina Caputo revealed that 23% of 3500 wine drinkers surveyed feel as you do, according to a study commissioned by Constellation Brands and released under the name "Project Genome."

Why are people overwhelmed? There are too many options in the store, they don't know what to buy (so they pick the label they like best), they can't find information in the stores to help them that is easy to understand, they can't find anyone to help them make the decision, and if the information they get is confusing, they walk out of the store without buying anything. This may explain why the 23% of those surveyed who fit into the Overwhelmed category bought only 13% of the wine consumed.

Contrast this pattern with the group that had almost precisely the opposite profile in the survey: Enthusiasts. The Enthusiasts represented only 12% of those surveyed--but bought 25% of the wine. Enthusiasts entertain at home, think they know something about wine, are relatively affluent, browse wine in stores and in magazines, are influenced by ratings, and most of their wine costs over $6. (who the hell is buying most of their wine for under $6? If this is you, I want to meet you.)

Jose Fernandez, Constellation's CEO, concluded from the study that "We've under-communicated to these [Overwhelmed] consumers," he said. "Increasing per capita consumption in the Overwhelmed category is our biggest opportunity… If we do nothing, today's Overwhelmed will be tomorrow's Overwhelmed." Fernandez blames this trend in part on the wine industry's tendency to hire Enthusiasts, who can't empathize with the Overwhelmed. Constellation's head of consumer research, Leslie Joseph, concurred and said that "We need to do a better job as an industry of [sic] helping these people understand what a wine's going to taste like."

I hate to be a contrarian, but I totally disagree. First, there are two categories where I think there is much more potential for growth in wine sales: the 15% of Savvy Shoppers who like trying new wines and could probably be persuaded to be even more adventurous; and the good old Enthusiasts who are already buying a lot of wine and will probably only continue to buy more. Second, I don't think Enthusiasts are to blame when it comes to a failure to reach the Overwhelmed. If someone is overwhelmed by wine then there are probably a lot of factors contributing to the issue that no one--no matter how clearly they communicate--is going to be able to surmount. At least not in a 5 minute encounter in aisle 4 of BevMo.

Third and most importantly the Overwhelmed will not be made less overwhelmed if Constellation and other big brands start explaining more clearly how their wine is going to taste. Such tactics will only make the Overwhelmed even more panicky. I don't think people trust advertising when it comes to wine. Most people think the opposite: that the wine advertising is inherently not to be trusted. That's why so many people rely instead on supposedly unbiased, authoritative, points-based ratings, and why if they read 6 wine labels that all promise raspberries and crushed velvet fruit they leave the store in despair. The Overwhelmed want someone else--someone not making and selling the wine--to tell them what the wine tastes like.

So is there a way to help the Overwhelmed, send them armed and ready into Wine Warehouse to face the Sauvignon Blanc aisle, and point them in the direction of wine enthusiasm rather than wine frustration?


It's called the Internet--and it's less scary than a wine store because you can go there in your pajamas. Type the name of a wine you've seen in a store or on tv into a search engine, and you will get information. Will you get too much information? Of course, but you have to let it wash over you and hold on for dear life to the few bits and pieces that float by that make some sense. This is how I feel when I ask someone to explain baseball. Gradually, you will find that more and more pieces "stick," and you will feel less overwhelmed when you go into the wine store to make your purchses. You may even find information in your searches that comes from Enthusiasts who run wine blogs like this one and at least try not to be too scary. When you do, you might get hooked on this wine malarkey and turn into an Enthusiast yourself.

Wednesday, March 12, 2008

Beating the Late Winter Blahs with Gamay

Think Gamay and you probably think Beaujolais. I hope you think real Beaujolais, but maybe you think Beaujolais Nouveau, the grapey brew that arrives just before Thanksgiving in time for your leftover turkey sandwiches. Gamay is one of the world's most food-friendly and affordable red wines. It's also the perfect wine for beating back winter blahs and blues. (image from Kobrand USA)

The next time you're in the wine store, I want you to keep your eyes peeled for Gamay. But don't just look for Beaujolais bottlings. Look for a Gamay from the Loire. The Loire also has a strong tradition of cultivating this old grape variety. Gamay is grown throughout the Loire, and it tastes a bit different from Beaujolais examples. This isn't surprising, but it confirmed my sense that the Gamay variety can have the same interesting variations from region to region as the finest Pinot Noir--at a far more affordable price.

I recently tried an excellent QPR Loire Gamay: the 2006 Chateau Courtinat Tradition. Made exclusively from old vine grapes grown in the Saint Pourcain VDQS, I bought this from Garagiste as a future for just under $12 ($11.84 to be exact) in the fall. It's no longer available through Garagiste, and I unfortunately can't find it elsewhere on the web. But I wanted to write about it anyway because it was so distinctive--and so good.

It had a beautiful deep ruby color, just like your favorite Pinot. There were lovely aromas of raspberry, cherry, earth, and mushroom with a pronounced whiff of iron. The flavors were perfectly balanced between fresh red fruits, earthiness, and mouth-watering acidity. I liked the silkiness of the wine, and the mineral taste, that reminded me of iron, that hung around in the mouth after you swallowed. The sense of depth in this wine belies its 12.5% alc/vol indication. This may not pack an alcoholic punch, but it certainly isn't a lightweight in the taste department.

At a time when many of us are struggling with the late winter blahs, Gamay is a perfect wine choice. It's not too light, it's not too heavy--it's just right. It will be just as good now with a bowl of soup as it will be in a month or so with ham (if that's what sits on your spring table) or even in June with some BBQ. Right now, you can give yourself a nice jolt of the summer eating to come by preparing a Greek pasta dish with olives, capers, tomatoes, feta cheese and lots of parsley. It will blow some of the cobwebs out of your winter diet, and the garlic and feta are just lovely with the smooth, cherried flavors of the wine.

It's time to bring some excitement back to your wine list, and your table. All the things that make Gamay a perfect fall-into-winter wine make it a perfect winter-into-spring wine as well. Drinking Gamay is kind of like putting your wine habits on daylight savings time--it's a sure sign of spring.

Monday, March 10, 2008

Sparkling Wine from Campania

Alessandro de Conciliis likens making wine to playing jazz. The analogy is a good one. Both take specific elements, put them into new combinations, mix the old with the new, and improvise when necessary to make things sing.

Based in Campania, de Conciliis makes a number of great wines, but I wanted to taste his sparkling wine because of the shared Roman heritage that this Italian region has with the French region of Champagne. When I think Italian sparkling wine I think Prosecco, but I'm learning that there's a whole world of choices out there in Italy if you like bubbles.

The 2005 Viticoltori De Conciliis Selim sparkling wine is just one example. ($19.99, K & L Wines; available elsewhere for between $15 and $20) Named after the jazz musician Miles Davis, it's made from 70% Fiano (variety #97 in my Wine Century Club) and 30% Aglianico grape varieties--the first native to the region, the second brought to Campania in ancient times by the Greeks. This was a good QPR sparkler, with a pronounced yeasty aroma. Citrus and nuts played a duet in the flavors, and the wine was active in your mouth with its abundant small bubbles/bead. This wine was better with food, given its yeasty aromas, and it went especially well with appetizers--especially those that involve bread like thin grissini, or nuts (I loved this with a handful of cashews).

It was a treat to try this interesting Italian sparkling wine, and confirmed my suspicion that Italian whites are going to play a significant role in my top wine discoveries this year.

Thursday, March 06, 2008

I Drink Therefore I Am

Yesterday's Wine Blogging Wednesday devoted to "comfort wine" had me thinking all day about how we come to terms as human beings with what we drink. Some of us think about wine. Some of us think and write about wine. Some of us just drink the stuff, and can't figure out why the rest have to make such a big deal out of something that's supposed to be pure pleasure.

We can always blame our confusion on Descartes. The philosopher known for the famous phrase "I think therefore I am," he tried to resolve centuries of controversy about the relationship between the mind and the body by putting the old gray matter firmly in charge. No matter how intense the pleasure, or enticing the sensory response, for Descartes it was all about rational thought. As you philosophy majors out there know, that's how Descartes solved the mind/body problem: mind, 1; body, 0. (portrait of Descartes by Franz Hals)

So I had to chuckle as I read some of the WBW #43 submissions as the authors grappled with both the mind/body divide and Joel of Wine Life Today's call to write about a wine that makes your "mind and body just release and relax." The purpose was comfort and pleasure--but there was a lot of thinking, too. In the end, there seem to have been two kinds of responses. (And, I hope that the authors don't mind me putting the preambles to their fantastic reviews to another purpose here)

First, there were the Cartesian types, who Rene is no doubt toasting from the grave. They had to think about what might make their mind relax! Jill from domaine547 spent time "racking our brains, trying to think of a wine that comforts us more than any other," and came up with "wine in general." (hear, hear!) Farley of Behind the Vines had a similar experience, and found herself "thinking about this Wine Blogging Wednesday assignment for a while, [with] different wine styles and varieties running through my head like determined marathon competitors." Wannabe Wino admitted that month's "theme required a bit of thought on my part," but I wasn't surprised when one of my favorite Zinfandel fans picked--Zinfandel! CarolB of Pour More also "had to really think about what “comfort wine” means to me," before settling on something readily available and quaffable. Wine Connection's Orion Slayer also had "to think a while" about his choice.

Some folks were on the other side of the mind/body divide, and either made a point of picking wines that they didn't have to think about, or focused on the experience of drinking rather than the wine itself. Ryan of Catavino reported that his comfort wines were those that were "simple, straightforward and don’t demand a lot of my palate or mind." Erika from Strumerika agreed, "the most relaxing wines require little thought." Taster B at Smells Like Grape gave us a complete sensory run-down of where and how comfort seeps into the wine drinking experience, and Monkuwino from One Wine Per Week also "wanted to focus more on the experience" than the choice of wine. Richard the Passionate Foodie painted a very enticing picture of how to experience wine and comfort simultaneously: "Just pour a glass, sit in my big, comfy chair and either watch TV or read a good book."

I found myself agreeing with the Santa Barbara Wine Advocate from West Coast Wine Country Adventures, who "thought about what brings me comfort" and discovered that thinking about wine was high on her list. She said that "great wine engages so many of my senses, that I don’t unwind per see, but I do refocus my mind from perhaps a tough day at work to investigating what the wine has to offer." Her list of what she thinks about while she's drinking is almost identical to the one that I go through sipping a glass. For me--and I think for the SB Wine Advocate, too--thinking about what you're drinking is not separate from the pleasure. It's an integral part of the pleasure. So much for Descartes!

At the end of the day, I'm convinced that Descartes needed to reflect more on how wine blows his theory out of the water. How can you separate the mind from the body, or thinking from sensory pleasure, when you are drinking a glass of wine? Wine is both a cerebral activity, and a source of comfort. And that's a good thing. Jill from domaine547 said it best: "Having wine in our lives has made us more relaxed, more thoughtful, and more balanced." So here's to drinking--thoughtfully and with great pleasure.

Wednesday, March 05, 2008

Wine Blogging Wednesday #43: Comfort Wine

Wine Blogging Wednesday for March 2008 is all about comfort. New dad Joel Vincent, who not only dreamed up the Open Wine Consortium but posts to his own Wine Life Today Blog, clearly knows how to find comfort in the chaos. With all that exciting stuff going on, he still hosted WBW. Pretty impressive.

Joel asked us to drink and write about a wine that made us feel relaxed, comfortable, and happy at the end of the day. In essence, he wanted to hear about our go-to comfort wine--the bottle we reached for knowing it was going to deliver.

For me, the choice was easy, and it won't come as a surprise to regular readers: the wine has to be from Chateauneuf-du-Pape. For me, drinking wine from this region is like sipping time, and time is something that I don't have enough of these days. It's historic, and old-fashioned, but fruit-forward and ready to drink young as well as with some age on it. It's made with grenache, which is aromatic, but usually has some syrah in it as well to add some heft to the wine. It's everything I ever want from a wine in term of fruit, acidity, complexity, and green/floral notes. When I feel bad and want to feel good, I open Chateauneuf-du-Pape.

So when we got news over the Twitter wires last week that Joel's new daughter, Alexa, had been born, I popped open a bottle of Chateauneuf-du-Pape in her honor. A little bit before WBW, I admit, but I thought Joel would forgive me in this case.

I bought the 2001 Clos de l'Oratoire des Papes Chauteuneuf du Pape a year ago from Whole Foods, on sale for $21.99. Right now, you can find it for around $30. While this wine did make me feel my normal, Chateauneuf-du-Pape sense of comforted, and represented good QPR, I think you can do better for around $30, although for just over $20 this was good QPR. The wine was rustic, with simple plum and spice aromas and flavors. A bit of black olive and bacon fat were detected upon on first opening, but those aromas dissipated quickly as it got some air. Then, the fruit came forward, and the wine tasted mostly of plums and cherries. After a day on the counter, preserved with some of that gas in a can, it had turned into a Grenache fest with lots of sweet fruit and very little spice.

If you have a bottle of Chateauneuf-du-Pape and want to experience even more comfort, try pairing it with this Mediterranean-style chicken and bean stew. The warm, herbal flavors were a perfect counterpoint to the spice and fruit, and the tiny bit of heat from a dried chili pepper that cooked in the stew helped to pick out the peppery notes in the wine.

Thanks to Lenndevours, for dreaming up this event, and thanks to Joel for hosting and sharing the joy of his new daughter with us in the blogosphere. Alexa has lots of virtual aunties and uncles to count on from the wine blogging world--and she better look me up when she's checking out colleges! See you back here for the WBW #44 announcement from host Gary Vaynerchuk and the roundup of all this month's posts.

Tuesday, March 04, 2008

Italy's Fortunate Countryside: Campania

When the ancient Romans entered into a new territory, hell-bent on conquest and empire, they would sometimes describe the land that they saw before them as "the fortunate countryside" or "Campania felix." Needless to say, the countryside was not fortunate because they were about to face a Roman legion. It was about the land's beauty, its fertility, and its ability to provide all the things that make life worth living. Champagne was one such region, and its name derives from the phrase --a fortunate region, indeed. (photo of Ravello in Campania by heavenuphere)

The other major wine region to have earned the phrase is Italy's "fortunate countryside": Campania.

This month we move up the boot of Italy to the front shin area and tackle the land that brings you seafood, fried calamari, pizza--and lots of great wine. Famous for its reds, and its whites, Campania also makes sparkling wine--just like France's Champagne region.

If you want to get in the mood for some of the best that Campania has to offer in the food and wine department, here are some things to get you started.

Wine Resources on the Web That Focus on Campania: has a more detailed map of the region, a good overview of the area's viticulture, and description of Campania's indigenous grapes. Still looking for some wine from the region? Check out this directory of more than 100 wineries from Campania, with links to retail sources can be found.

Movies Filmed in Campania: The Life Aquatic, The Talented Mr. Ripley, Il Postino

Music to Listen to When Drinking Wine from Campania:
Alessandro Scarlatti, music played on the zampogna and ciaramella (Campanian bagpipes), the amazing Almamegretta.

Books Set in Naples: Shirley Hazzard's The Bay of Noon; Carlo Levi, Christ Stopped at Eboli; Susan Sontag, The Volcano Lover; Robert Harris, Pompeii, A Novel.

I'm looking forward to exploring this region of Italy with you, and as always if you have some recommendations of specific wines, please let me know.

Monday, March 03, 2008

WBC #1 Roundup Posted, WBC #2 Theme Posted

There's news from the Wine Book Club, the internet's online discussion of wine books led by wine bloggers and their readers.

First, our fearless leader for WBC #1, David McDuff of McDuff's Food and Wine Trail, posted a superb roundup of all 24 of the online reviews of Vino Italiano! If you are interested in Italian wine, and thinking of buying a book on the subject, you will want to know what these bloggers and readers think of the book.

Second, Tim Elliott of Winecast will be our host for WBC #2. He's picked a book that's shorter (that's good) and has a central story (also good), and hopefully will be easier for you road warriors, busy parents, and otherwise overextended folks (ok, that's everybody) to get through between now and the last Tuesday in April, when we reconvene online for our discussion. Head over to Winecast to see the title, and to climb aboard this new event in the wine blogosphere.

In the next few weeks, look for a Spin the Bottle review from our favorite wine hiking wine blogger, Russ the Winehiker, who will let us know what he thinks of a pictorial survey of American viticulture, Wine Across America.

Thanks to all of the 24 wine bloggers who participated in the first event, and a huge thanks to David for getting us off to such a great start. Additional thanks to Tim of Winecast for setting up the Wine Book Club blog, where we will post the new themes and links to the roundups as they are announced, along with handy links to purchase the books online.

Grape Variety #96: Negrette

Back in the 12th century, when crusaders belonging to the Order of St. John of Jerusalem returned to France from the Middle East, they brought all kinds of souvenirs home. Some of these souvenirs were grape vine cuttings from a variety native to Cyprus called Negrette.

Intensely perfumed like a Mediterranean garden, when you drink a rare variety like Negrette, you are drinking history. The grape may well have died out were were it not for a few careful viticulturalists around Toulouse who resisted ripping out the vines out and planting Cabernet Sauvignon in their place.

What a loss that would have been, because you have never had anything like it.

The Chateau Bellevue La Foret Ce Vin is a 100% Negrette wine, and was not blended with other red varieties which is common in the region. ($11.84, Garagiste; available elsewhere for under $10) It was deep plum verging on aubergine in color, and smelled like a garden. I detected aromas of violet, plum blossom, and jasmine with a touch of spice that managed to keep it from becoming cloying. Flavors of rich plum and sour cherry were combined with nice, spicy notes. The wine was low in tannins, and when it was first opened the aromas overwhelmed the other aspects of the wine. I think it could do with 6-12 months more age in the bottle, or about an hour of decanting to be at its best. Very good QPR.

Negrette is not on most food and wine pairing charts, so you may be stumped with what to have with it. I would recommend something aromatic and meaty, like Korean BBQ beef ribs or a tasty stir-fried pork with tomatoes and basil. Both dishes will pick up the peppery spiciness of the wine, and the wine will do its bit to accentuate their full flavors.

If you like Syrah and Grenache, you will love Negrette. Keep your eyes open for a bottle, and taste some history.