Thursday, May 31, 2007

Catavino Virtual Wine Tasting for May

I’ve been meaning to do this posting all month, and, of course, here it is on the very last day of May. I am nothing if not a prolific procrastinator.

Catavino’s Virtual Wine Tasting theme for May is albariño. I had hoped to compare some California albariños to some from Spain, but that did not pan out. What I did manage to do was find a different Spanish albariño to sample.

Bodegas As Laxas Albariño Rias Baixas Val do Sosego 2006

This wine is much more complicated than the albariños I've had in the past. The nose is very lemony with pronounced notes of grass and wet rocks. I tasted lemon, pineapple, pear, bell pepper and just a bit of slate. What struck me the most about this wine was the balance between a very creamy mouth-feel and bright acidity.

The albariños I’m used to drinking are a bit more simple, but pleasant all the same. Dr. Debs (and friends) at Good Wine Under $20 tasted the 2005 Martín Códax Burgáns (a past favorite) and found it a little lacking. Tasting the Bodegas As Laxas certainly opened my eyes to another, more complex, side of albariño.

Whether you know it or not, the Albariño Invasion is underway. Spanish albariños are becoming more numerous in my local wine shops. Albariño is also gaining popularity with U.S. wineries. Although I couldn’t locate any in my local stores, one of my favorite restaurants is featuring a California albariño on its list. Interestingly, when I asked a very knowledgeable wine salesperson about ordering some CA albariños, she was almost dismissive, as if they didn’t exist.

In the coming months, I’ll definitely by sampling more albariños. In fact, there’s a bottle of Martín Códax Albariño waiting at home right now. I think it would pair nicely with grilled tilapia with apple/red pepper/red onion salsa and a side of garlic pasta served over fresh spinach.

I’ll also be on the lookout for some U.S. albariños. Maybe I’ll even track down a bottle of Twisted Oak Albariño. One can always hope.

Stay tuned.

Wednesday, May 30, 2007

A Glass in Hand

The above photograph is a sampling of my ragtag stemware/glassware collection. I have some fairly nice wine glasses, including some Riedel glasses, and some pretty cheap glasses. I also have some favorites.

For instance, the small rocks glass in the lower right corner was “borrowed” about ten years ago from Buckley’s Tavern in Greenville, Delaware by my ex-wife. (Okay, it was at my suggestion.) When filled with two fingers of good scotch and a splash of water, it feels awfully nice in my hand.

Even though I have a Riedel scotch glass, which I do use on occasion, I really like the heft and size of that little, cheap glass.

There’s been a great deal of discussion in the wine community about stemware and Riedel glasses in particular. Riedel's selection of location/varietal-specific wine glasses is seemingly endless, and many other manufacturers have jumped on board as well. Does an Oregon pinot noir really need its own glass?

Many years ago, I attended a Riedel tasting, where we compared the same wine in various glasses: cheap wine glasses, the proper Riedel glass and the “wrong” Riedel glass.

The impact on the aroma and flavor of the wine from one glass to another was undeniable to me. The wines all showed much better in the proper glass. I became a believer.

I live in the real world, however. I can’t really afford to always drink from expensive wine glasses, much less own glasses for all the various types of wine I drink. (Where the hell is my tempranillo glass?)

Not to mention, my wine drinking does not always take place in a controlled setting—my concrete porch is quite unforgiving when it comes to wine glasses.

With all this in mind, I use a variety of glasses, depending on the occasion. Great wines get the good glasses; clumsy guests get the cheap ones.

My little story about the scotch glass reminds me of an important aspect to wine and stemware pairing—sensory pleasure.

Really great glasses feel great in your hand. They look beautiful. They’re balanced, just the right size and downright sexy. Even some of my cheap glasses fit the bill and might easily be mistaken for expensive (except for the off-key "clank," instead of the melodious ring of crystal when glasses meet).

My latest favorites are actually very simple water goblets from Nachtmann. They work great for white wines and aren’t a bad size for reds either, especially lighter-bodied reds. They're beautiful, and they feel great in my hand. They were über-cheap at a discount store—because of some minor flaw, no doubt.

Wine is definitely a sensory experience, so it makes sense that one should pay attention to what type of vessel you’re using. But, the most expensive or “correct” glass isn’t always the right one.

The right one just feels right.

Note: Buckley’s Tavern is located in Greenville, Delaware, which is right outside of Wilmington and not far from Kennett Square, Pennsylvania. It is one of my favorite places in the world—a place where blue-collar workers rub shoulders with multi-millionaires. It’s got great food, great beer and wine, and a cool roof-top deck. If you’re ever in the area, don’t miss it; and if you live in the area and don’t know about Buckley’s—shame on you.

And, I hope that plug makes up for the unauthorized use of their glassware.

Thursday, May 24, 2007

WBW Goes to WA

The word is out on Wine Blogging Wednesday #34.

Catie at Through the Walla Walla Grape Vine is hosting this one, and the theme is Washington State cabernet sauvignon. I’m really excited about the theme, because Washington is such an interesting area for grape growing and winemaking.

I’ll be looking for something really interesting and unique, and I also plan on learning more about Washington’s AVAs.

The lowdown on WBW # 34 is right here.

Don’t miss it—all the cool kids will be there.

Wednesday, May 23, 2007

Shopping: The Sequel

I thought you might be interested in the results of some weekend shopping.

No sooner had I finished my last post then I walked back into World Market to pick another bottle of the Aussie shiraz-viognier that I mentioned in my previous post. Two racks full of wines marked down 50% met me at the front of the store.

I took a quick look and found an empty wine box.

The wine that brought me back is Zonte’s Footstep Shiraz-Viognier Langhorne Creek 2003 ($7.49). It’s the vinous equivalent of red velvet cake, a fruit-forward, over-the-top, luscious, whore of a wine. I love it.

Here are the other wines I bought with their post-discount prices:

Paringa Shiraz ‘Individual Vineyard’ South Australia 2003 ($5.49)

Fairview Viognier Coastal Region South Africa 2006 ($6.99)

Scharffenberger Brut Mendocino County NV ($8.99)

Omaka Springs Estate Sauvignon Blanc Marlborough 2004 ($7.49)

Dr. Thanisch Riesling Classic Q.B.A. 2005 ($8.99)

Kim Crawford Unoaked Chardonnay Marlborough 2005 ($7.99)

Mak ‘Snowy River’ Red Coonawarra 2001 ($7.99)

Joseph Drouhin St. Veran 2005 ($6.99)

Li Veli Passamante Salento 2003 ($5.99)

Matanzas Creek Sauvignon Blanc Sonoma County 2005 ($9.49)

Roederer Estate L’Ermitage Anderson Valley 1999 ($18.49)

Not a bad case of wine for about $100. Some of these wines I’m familiar with: Paringa, Joseph Drouhin and Kim Crawford. Others are new to me: Omaka Springs, Dr. Thanish and Mak.

The L’Ermitage alone made the trip worthwhile. I can’t wait to open that one. You will no doubt hear more about these as I taste them.

And seriously, Joseph Drouhin St. Veran for $6.99? Somebody pinch me.

Monday, May 21, 2007

Back to the Midi

I was looking through some old posts (the ones that don’t make me cringe), and noticed a couple wines from the Languedoc that I’ve written about previously.

With Wine Blogging Wednesday #33 just behind us, I thought it would be worthwhile to revisit them. These two wines represent what I believe this region does best—produces unique, delicious and very affordable wines. I've included blurbs from the original posts, along with links if you want to read the entire posts.

Hugues Beaulieu Picpoul de Pinet Cotes du Languedoc 2005

“We enjoyed a bottle of Hugues Beaulieu Picpoul de Pinet Cotes du Languedoc 2005 with the shrimp and grits. Picpoul blanc is grown within sight of the local oyster beds, so it’s a natural match with seafood. It’s light, clean and fresh with tones of lemon and grapefruit. It’s also nicely dry and slightly flinty.

I’ve read about picpoul blanc, but this is the first time I had tried it. Picpoul de Pinet is one the named Crus of Languedoc. This was another great find in French wines. You can find it at Total Wine & More for $7.99.”

The entire post is here.

Château de Pennautier A.O.C. Cabardès 2004

“My other French discovery was of an A.O.C. that I was totally ignorant of—Cabardès.

‘The western-most vineyard of the Languedoc-Roussillon and the eastern-most of the south-west, the dry stony soil and growing environment are ideal for low yield, top quality wine production. Cabardès is the only Languedoc A.O.C. to blend in equal proportions Bordeaux grape varieties (Cabernet and Merlot) with those of the Rhone (Syrah and Grenache).’

Never heard of it.

My education in French wines hit a plateau some years back and I haven’t been aggressive about moving it to a higher level. The other day I ran across something in a wine store that looked interesting, so I gave it a try. It was Château de Pennautier A.O.C. Cabardès 2004.

The combination of Rhone and Bordeaux varietals makes for an interesting mix. The Pennautier is dark and silky with great black fruit, soft tannins, spice and a long, caressing finish. For $11, it was a smashing find, and I’ll bet it can be had for less elsewhere.

The blend on this wine is 10% cabernet franc, 25% cabernet sauvignon, 20% merlot, 15% cot (also known as malbec) and 30% syrah. With such an interesting mix of grapes to blend with, I am very excited about trying more wines from this region.”

The entire post is here.

They both have become favorites at my house. Vive le difference indeed.

Friday, May 18, 2007

Shop 'Til You Drop

Most everyone has their favorite shopping experience, whether it’s the mall (my sister-in-law), used bookstores (my dad) or wine shops (me).

I love to shop for wine. I know I’m not alone in this affliction, especially among my fellow wine bloggers. I’ve certainly read some interesting posts on wine buying lately.

Farley over at Wine Outlook wrote this about collecting, hunting for wine and the folly of those who would pay someone to stock their wine cellar. I don't see how any “wine lover” could not enjoy shopping for wine or stocking their own cellar.

Some guy named Eric (I think he works for a newspaper), who writes a blog called “The Pour,” has been writing about mixed cases of wine. It’s a pretty good blog, and I like his taste in wine. I even recognize some of the selections in his cases as wines I’ve enjoyed.

He sure does get a lot of comments.

Anyway, I really enjoy prowling wine shops, big-box beverage stores and anywhere else where wine is sold. After ten-plus years of practice and two stints in retail wine sales, I think I’m a pretty savvy wine shopper.

One of my favorite experiences is buying wines on clearance. Grocery stores and other large retailers whose main focus isn’t wine usually need to liquidate stock that doesn’t move. Frequently, the wines that don’t move are things that don’t appeal to the masses, but might appeal to a wine geek like me.

I recently bought several bottles from World Market that were 25% off. As a rule I don’t buy anything there, because their prices are high. I picked up a Bordeaux-style blend and a shiraz/viognier from Australia, and a yummy negroamaro from Italy.

Grocery stores are even more ruthless when they are clearing the shelves. I’ve seen wines piled up in shopping carts at 50% off. Most of it is usually junk, but you never know. A couple years ago, I found a bottle of 1997 Marcelina Cabernet Sauvignon for $11 in a clearance cart. It was, quite possibly, the best $11 I have ever spent.

I spend most of my wine dollars at the same store, but wherever I go, if wine is sold, I’ll make time to browse. Just about any wine junkie has at least one story about discovering an exceptional bottle tucked in the corner of a wine shop or a rare vintage lurking in the corner grocery.

Awhile back I wrote about independent wine shops and what the future holds for them. Whenever I’m out of town, I’m always on the lookout for cool wine shops to explore. Beau over at Basic Juice just posted about one peculiar wine shop he encountered in his travels.

The Internet is rapidly changing the way people shop for wine, and creating some really cool wine-buying experiences, not to mention increasing the availability of wines. However, it can't replicate the experience of actually handling the bottles or having a friendly face to assist you.

It reminds me of how the Net has changed the way we get our news. Like most people, I read lots of news online. But I still get the daily paper, because there’s nothing like pouring a cup of coffee, kicking back in my favorite chair on the porch and getting ink on my fingers.

So what am I doing this weekend? It’s time to buy some wine.

But only after I’ve read the paper.

Thursday, May 17, 2007

Wine Blogging Thursday?

Once again, I missed my deadline on Wine Blogging Wednesday. I've been accused in the past of not playing well with others, but this is really more about my tendency to be a day late and a dollar short.

WBW #33 was hosted by Marcus at Doktor Weingolb. WBW, of course, is the brainchild of Lenn Thompson at Lenndevours.

The theme this month was mid-priced wines from the Midi region of France, “mid” meaning wines in the $15-$30 range. This was an interesting assignment for me, because I tend to think of this region as a treasure trove of bargains—$15 and under wines.

As my regular readers know, my wine-buying focus is in the $10-ish range. I don’t mind paying a little more, but I delight in finding great, inexpensive wines.

Doktor Weingolb is a great source of information on this region. I won’t pretend to know very much about this area of France—because I don’t, but Marcus has compiled an impressive amount of information on this region and many others.

The Midi refers to the Langedoc-Roussilon area of southern France. A wide variety of grapes are permitted, and perhaps because it doesn’t enjoy the prestige of some of the country’s other wine growing areas, the wines can be a real steal.

Corbières is the region within the Midi I’m most familiar with and also the largest AOC in the region. So, it was natural that the wine I selected was from Corbières. The other deciding factor was that my local wine stores don’t carry very much wine from the Midi and most of it is under $15—yet another indication that the wines from this part of the world are under-appreciated and pleasantly priced.

2001 Château Aumèdes Corbières Cuveé Emilien Raissac ($20)

This wine was in many ways exactly what I would expect from Corbières and also surprising at the same time. I couldn’t find very much information on it, but the best I can determine is that the blend is carignan, syrah and/or grenache, and( maybe) some mourvèdre.

The nose was a bit muted at first, but it opened up nicely to reveal notes of blackberry, smoked meat and earth. As with many European wines, wines from the Midi often show more “earthy” characteristics than their New World counterparts.

The flavors were fairly simple, but very pleasant: blackberry, cinnamon and tar predominated, followed by firm tannins and a pleasing acidity. Compared to many of the reds I’ve been drinking lately, this struck me as a bit one-dimensional at first.

However, the more I sipped, the more I liked it. It’s understated, interesting and subtle.

Finding a Rhone-style wine in Corbières wasn’t surprising. Many of the Rhone grapes do extremely well in the warmer temperatures of southern France. I was, however, surprised at the elegance and style of this wine.

Was it worth the extra money? I’m not sure. It does make me want to taste more wines from this region. Stayed tuned for more Midi wines.

Monday, May 14, 2007

A Mother of a Day

Does the name Anna Jarvis sound familiar? Unless you’re a trivia buff, or you happened to pick up the May issue of Smithsonian, it probably doesn’t.

Anna Jarvis is the woman who created Mother’s Day, to fulfill her deceased mother’s wish of a national holiday to honor mothers. Jarvis ultimately lived to regret the day she created this monster of a holiday.

She spent much of the latter half of her life fighting the corruption and commercialization of the holiday she worked so hard to create. Jarvis was horrified by how the candy/florist/opportunist crowd stepped in to make a profit, and how people embraced these trivial tokens of affection.

Although I haven’t started making my own cards, it’s not far off. And, I take pains to avoid feeding the Holiday Machine in general. I don’t eat out on holidays…ever. I don’t buy chocolate anytime near Valentine’s Day. You get the picture.

Unfortunately, my mom lives a pretty fair distance from me, so she has to settle for a card and a phone call. The other mother in my life is my girlfriend, E. Her 16-year-old son takes care of the heart-warming moments of appreciation all good mothers are due.

That leaves me to cook.

Not that I mind. It gives me an excuse to make some extra-special meals and share time with a couple of great people. I’ll spare you the entire weekend’s menu, but I will mention a couple highlights.

Mother’s Day dinner was grilled, spice-rubbed Angus filets with bleu cheese cream sauce, roasted garlic mashed yellow potatoes and sautéed spinach.

And, no, I didn’t ruin the steaks.

The meal was tasty. The wine was equally tasty. Since the occasion called for something special, I opened my other bottle of 2003 Twisted Oak Murgatroyd. If you missed my earlier review of this wine, it’s right here.

Because these bottles were sent to me as samples, the first bottle was subjected to a rigorous, scientific process of evaluation. This bottle was pure enjoyment. The food and wine were a glorious combination.

And speaking of pure enjoyment, no Mother’s Day weekend is really complete without mom kicked back enjoying a liquor drink. Since distance prevented me from tempting my own mother with booze, I forced E to enjoy a pre-dinner margarita on the porch. I’ll have you know—it wasn’t easy. (Okay, it was.)

The next time you’re craving a ‘rita. Treat yourself with this recipe from The Best Recipes in the World, by Mark Bittman (an excellent cookbook).

¾ cup tequila
Scant ¼ cup Grand Marnier, triple sec or other orange liqueur
¼ cup fresh lime juice (or to taste)
Lime wedges to garnish

Combine ingredients and ice in a shaker or pitcher. Shake or stir. Strain into salt-rimmed, ice-filled glasses. Makes 3-4 drinks.

Use 100% Agave, silver tequila. I doubled the amount of lime juice, and they were still plenty strong. Adjust to your liking.

Dance on a (sturdy) table as needed.

Tuesday, May 08, 2007

"G" is for Grüner Veltliner

It’s been a long time since I’ve written an alphabetical post. “G” offers so many choices of topics: grenache, gewürztraminer, gamay, and Germany just to name a few.

Ultimately, I chose grüner veltliner because it’s getting pretty warm here in South Carolina and my thoughts are turning to white wines. Grüner is also a hot-topic wine right now, so you’ll be seeing more on the shelves at your local wine stores.

There’s a good chance you’re already familiar with this Austrian native. Grüner is grown almost exclusively in Austria, and has become the country's best known grape by far.

Grüner (grüner = green) veltliner is one of several varieties of veltliner, although it’s the only one you’re likely to find around town. Thanks the increasing popularity of grüner and some slick packaging, you’re likely to bump into a case stack on your next wine buying trip.

Several merchants in my area are featuring 2005 Graf Koenigsegg ‘Velt. 1’ Grüner Veltliner ($9), which is hard to miss because of its neon-lime label. Velt. 1 even has a hipster-ish Web site where you can post photos of you and your pals sipping (or guzzling) Velt. 1.

Another grüner that’s hard to miss because of a Day-Glo label is 2005 Loimer Kamptal ‘Lois’ Grüner Veltliner ($9). It’s a nice bit of marketing to put these wines in eye-catching packages, give them simple, easy-to-remember (and pronounce) nicknames, and top them off with screw cap enclosures.

Both of the wines I mentioned are light, simple versions of grüner. They are bursting with fresh apple, lemon and herbaceous flavors. With its low alcohol and zippy acidity, grüner is very food-friendly. It’s also perfect for sipping (or guzzling) with friends.

Inexpensive grüner comes mostly from low elevation vineyards, while the pricier, more complex wines come from the steep, hillside vineyards. The higher quality grüners are renowned for their aging potential and are gaining notoriety as some of the world’s best white wines.

I found an interesting article in the LA Times from April about grüner that included some more recommendations. The Lois is the only one I recognize on the list, but with the temperature climbing ever higher here in the South, you can be sure I’ll be sampling more grüners very soon.

Monday, May 07, 2007

Show and Tell

Every now and again, I like to just chat about wines I’ve enjoyed recently. On their own, these wines aren’t worth a whole post. But, I enjoy reading about what my fellow wine writers are drinking, so I hope you’re interested in what’s been in my glass.

2005 Viñedos y Bodegas Pablo Menguante Garnacha Cariñena ($9)

I just commented to Joe of Joe's Wine that I think Spanish wines in general are the most interesting, delicious and affordable wines around at the moment. This is a stunning example of garnacha from 80-100 year-old vines. Garnacha can be light and quaffable, but it also can be rich and complex. This is the latter.

2002 Preston Cabernet Franc Columbia Valley ($12)

If cabernet franc needs an agent, I’ll take the job. The “other” cab is fantastic when it’s done well. This is done well: silky, lush and spicy with abundant red and black fruit. Preston makes some seriously good wines. If you’re not familiar with them, I highly recommend seeking out their wines.

2001 Preston Merlot Columbia Valley ($12)

I’m not kidding about Preston. This is a merlot that could well restore merlot’s good name. A little time in the bottle has revealed a subtle, elegant wine with sweet notes of dried cherries, herbs, cedar and leather. Merlot can age quite gracefully, and given its lack of popularity, post-Sideways, there’s never been a better time to hunt for hidden gems like this one.

2001 Hope Merlot Hunter Valley ($9)

Speaking of merlot from older’s another. I normally wouldn’t think of Australia for merlot, but Hope makes some really unique, hand-crafted and well-priced wines. This was a random pick at a restaurant wine sale—and what a great find it was. A little more fruit focused than the Preston, but still showing its age very well: velvet-smooth with lovely black cherry, plum and cedar.

2004 Trentadue Old Patch Red Sonoma Valley ($13)

I’m hooked on field-blend style Cailfornia reds at the moment. This is a mix of 76% zinfandel, 16% petite sirah and 8% carignane. I wish more CA wineries would make wines in this style. Sonodora at Wannabe Wino has an excellent write up about Trentadue along with tasting notes for most of their wines, including the Old Patch Red. Check it out.

NV Dover Canyon Winery Renegade Red Central Coast ($11)

A cool wine from a cool winery. Another field-blend style red wine from the fine folks at Dover Canyon made from zin, sangiovese, barbera and syrah. It’s lively, fresh and intoxicatingly good. This is the wine that Bacchus wants us to drink. Get a bottle and dance with Pan. I’ve added the Dover Canyon Winery blog to my links, so now you have no excuse not to visit. Mary Baker, co-owner of Dover Canyon, is also editor of the Women Wine Critics Board blog, which is full of some great writing.

That’s all for my show and tell. What wines have made you happy lately?

Wednesday, May 02, 2007

Crab Cakes and Mom

While I generally try to avoid posts that involve recipes, I’m doing this one as a special request from my mom.

While I generally try to avoid posts that involve my mom (it doesn’t sound very professional), there is some relevance here. You see, my mom introduced me to cooking and de-mystified the process for me.

What she told me was (and I paraphrase), “It’s not nuclear science, Oppenheimer. Read the recipe and do what it says.”

She also taught me that when baking—you’d better follow the recipe pretty closely, but if you’re cooking—you can improvise as needed. She makes a mean lasagna with whatever pasta happens to be on hand.

These days I look to recipes mainly for inspiration. Sometimes I follow along to a certain degree, and sometimes I just steal a technique or a sauce. This is based on a recipe that I got from a can of Phillips crabmeat. Crab cakes aren’t difficult at all, and they make the perfect simple summer meal or Sunday brunch food. Or, you can make tiny ones for appetizers.

1 egg
1 tablespoon (or so) Duke’s Mayonnaise (or Hellman’s for you unfortunate souls who can’t get Duke’s)
1 teaspoon Dijon mustard
1 teaspoon Worcestershire sauce
1 tablespoon Old Bay seasoning
1 tablespoon (or so) chopped fresh chive (or your favorite fresh herb)
1 tablespoon (or so) finely diced red onion
1 tablespoon (or so) finely diced sweet red pepper
2 teaspoons lemon juice
Dash or two (or three) of fresh ground pepper
¼ cup dry bread crumbs
8 oz. crabmeat (Claw is fine.)

Beat egg in a medium bowl. Add all other ingredients except breadcrumbs and crabmeat. Mix well.

Add breadcrumbs. Mix. Gently fold in crabmeat until combined. Pat out into four crab cakes. Allow to rest in refrigerator for 30 minutes (not a must).

Cook over medium heat on a well-oiled, non-stick surface approximately five minutes per side until browned and cooked through .

It’s worth mentioning that I love Old Bay seasoning (I would snort it if that was the only way I was allowed to ingest it). Feel free to substitute the seasoning(s) of your liking. Add salt if you want, although if you use a seasoning mix like Old Bay you shouldn’t need any.

A homemade tartar sauce, aioli or salsa is a nice addition. I’ll leave you to your own devices for that.

A few other tips:

Your cooking surface is of utmost importance. I tried cooking them in a stainless steel pan with some melted butted and they stuck like crazy. I now use a lovingly-cared-for, two-burner flat grill and never have problems with sticking. Make sure your surface is nice and hot before you put the cakes on.

Treat the crabmeat gently and you’ll get a better texture in your cakes. I add the crabmeat last and mix gently with my hands.

I like something bubbly if I’m serving these for brunch. The last time I made them, I opened a bottle of Jacob's Creek Sparkling Rosé NV, which was excellent. The sparkling wines from Jacob's Creek show exceptional complexity and character for around $10. If you haven’t tried them—you really should.

And thanks for the cooking lessons, mom. They’ve served me well.