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.