Friday, April 27, 2007

Sparkling Rosés

Catavino is hosting a Virtual Wine Tasting for April with the theme of rosé wines. More specifically, they are asking people to compare Spanish rosé to rosé from elsewhere in the world.

I need very little encouragement to open a bottle of rosé. I also love Spanish wines and try to promote them whenever possible.

It just so happens that on my latest wine-buying foray I ran across a bottle of Jacob’s Creek Sparkling Rosé NV. The theme didn’t mention sparkling or still, so I decided to contribute a bubbly rosé comparison.

I compared the Jacob’s Creek to Casteller Cava Brut Rosé, although it wasn’t a side-by-side comparison. I have had several bottles of the Casteller, so it’s committed to memory at this point.

Because I am feeling lazy, I will review these wines in free-form poetry. Catavino also requested photos, but I am camera-less at the moment. Here goes:

Jacobs Creek Sparkling Rosé NV, South Eastern Australia

Pale salmon,
wiffs of toast and fresh berries
bing cherry, lemon crème and vanilla,
a subtle, elegant beauty,
pinot noir and chardonnay,
make my crab cakes sing,
another bottle is soon to come.

Casteller Cava Brut Rosé NV

Hot pink,
strawberry, raspberry, and cherry—oh my!
berries galore, peach, cinnamon and herbs,
a lively, flamboyant tart,
trepat and garnacha,
one new acquaintance, one old friend,
only three bottles left.

I have Dr. Debs at Good Wine Under $20 to thank for pointing me towards Catavino. It’s a great source of interesting information about the wines of the Iberian Peninsula, which—for anyone whose world geography is as terrible as mine—is home to Spain and Portugal. Anyone who isn’t exploring Spanish (and Portuguese) wines should begin immediately, as they are some of the best wine values regardless of price range.

Look for future posts on Spain and my crab cakes.

Don’t look for any more poetry. I won’t put you through that again.

Thursday, April 26, 2007

What's a Wine Worth?

In one of my (many) previous jobs, I sold high-end stereos. This was the kind of place where it was fairly easy to drop $20,000 on a stereo system.

I didn’t sell many of those systems. In fact, I didn’t sell much of anything.

But I digress. One of the most frequent questions I heard from customers was, “Does it really sound that much better?”

My answer usually was, “Yes, if you're really listening…and that’s your thing.”

Many years later, while selling wine, I was frequently faced with a similar question. A customer would look at a $300 bottle of Château Latour and ask, “Is it really that good?”

My response was always something along the lines of, “Yes, if you’re really paying attention…and that’s your thing.”

For a real Bordeaux-lover, a rare or exceptional bottle might be worth a whole lot more. To the average wine drinker, it might taste better than what they're used to, but it might just as easily taste worse—if they're used to drinking soft, fruity reds. It all depends on your perspective and taste buds.

What anything is worth in monetary terms is highly subjective. Lately, I’ve heard several wine critics and commentators talk about $15-$30 being the sweet spot for really good, interesting wines. While there are lots of great wines in that price range, there are lots of really good, interesting wines below that price range as well.

It seems that once someone has had the opportunity to taste lots of expensive wines, their palate gets tuned into those wines and there’s no going back. It’s not necessarily a bad thing (if your budget allows), but it might cause that person to overlook wines in certain, lower price ranges.

I’m reminded of a customer who once asked me about California cabernets for his wine cellar. At the time, the store where I worked had several cases of 1997 Chateau Souverain Cabernet Sauvignon Winemaker’s Reserve, which we were selling for $30 a bottle.

If you happen to have tasted this wine—lucky you—it is fan-freakin’-tastic.

Beyond my humble recommendation, there was a sign hanging on the shelf with copious compliments from the honorable Mr. Parker, who touted the wine’s excellent aging potential and overall yumminess.

My haughty customer, however, took one look at the price and turned up his nose.

“I’m looking for some serious wines,” he said with a condescending sneer.

What a jackass. That wine blows the doors off Napa cabs that are three-times the price, but this guy just had to have the big price tag to impress his buddies, feed his ego or compensate for other unmentionable shortcomings in his life.

The moral of the story is: no matter what your favorite price range is, take a trip outside of it now and again. Let the wine speak for itself, instead of judging by price.

My sweet spot is $8-$12, but I’ve found some lovely wines for $6, and every now-and-again I buy a $30 bottle just to see what’s out there. Once in a blue moon I even spring for something really pricey just to see how the beautiful people live.

There are tasty, wonderful wines in every price range (except the $8-$10 range for 3-liter jugs). Most of us have had the experience of tasting a wine and thinking, how the hell did they make this for that price?

My favorite in that category is 2002 Hacienda El Espino '1707' CMS , a Spanish blend of cabernet, merlot and syrah that my local wine shop sells for $8.99. How they made that wine, shipped it to the U.S. and made any money is completely beyond me.

I’ve learned not to question—just enjoy.

Tuesday, April 24, 2007

Accept No Cheap Imitations

Although Burgundy and Champagne are probably the most misused and abused wine regions, Chablis is certainly a strong runner-up. To this day, there are still three-liter jugs of Taylor Chablis lining the shelves of supermarkets across the country.

Thankfully, the name-pilfering of famous wine regions is in serious decline. I have to wonder, however, if the misuse has resulted in some permanent confusion, because real Chablis is not a wine I hear discussed very often. The other white wines of Burgundy get much more attention: Pouilly-Fuisse, Mâcon, Montrachet, Meursault, etc.

What a shame. For anyone seeking the antithesis of oaky, California chardonnay, Chablis is the place to look. It’s also a shame that the popularity—and the resulting overproduction and poor winemaking—of chardonnay turned so many people away from this very noble grape.

Comparing the big, oaky, overripe, syrupy Cali-chards to Chablis is a bit like comparing Pam Anderson to Jodie Foster—they’re both blonds, right?

Chablis is lean, elegant and subtle, with a racy acidity that makes it very food-friendly. Oak is used rarely and judiciously. The cool climate and unique soil give Chablis a character that is light-years apart from chardonnay grown in most of California. Chablis is one of the most perfect wines to pair with fish and shellfish, particularly oysters.

Unfortunately for financially-challenged wine drinkers like myself, Chablis can get pretty pricey—expect to pay $20 and up for a decent bottle.

However, Petit Chablis offers a taste of the region for a more accessible price. Petit Chablis is a smaller AOC within the Chablis AOC, and the wines of Petit Chablis can easily be found in the $12–$15 range.

The other night I opened a bottle of Château de Maligny Petit Chablis 2005 ($15), which is a lovely example of what Chablis is all about: pale-straw colored with greenish glints, lean and racy, delicate flavors of lemon, apple, pineapple and flint. I served it with a very simple garlic shrimp pasta and some crusty bread. Wow.

Château de Maligny is owned by the Durup family, who have resided in the village of Maligny for 600 years. Jean Durup's great-grandfather tended the vines of the Château Maligny for 30 years at the end of the last century.

The wine sees no oak treatment. Instead, they use a combination of cement vats lined with fiberglass and stainless steel storage tanks. Their wines are given the minimum amount of processing to highlight the unique terrior of the vineyards.

Château de Maligny is imported by Parliament Wine Company and should be widely available. 2005 is shaping up to be an excellent vintage, and there is plenty of ’05 Chablis to be had.

Cancel your membership in the ABC (Anything But Chardonnay) Club, put back the box of Franzia Chablis and try the real deal. You’ll be glad you did.

Friday, April 20, 2007

A Few Thoughts

It’s been a week of tragic news from home and abroad, which makes me reticent to put words to the page about something as trivial as wine. But life must go on.

While the media outlets bombards us with news of the worst of humanity, reading the musings of my fellow wine bloggers reminds me of the simple pleasures that define my day-to-day life.

A long time ago, I decided that instead of dwelling on all that is wrong with my life and the world in general, I would focus on enjoying the here and now. That explains quite a bit about my keen appreciation of life’s simple pleasures: good wine, good food and good company.

Don’t get me wrong – I’m no Pollyanna. I have more than my share of gripes, nagging worries and real concerns. However, I’m always looking for those moments—no matter how brief—of pure happiness.

In a way, that’s what wine represents to me—whether it’s a glass shared with friends, a sublime pairing of wine and food or a special bottle opened in celebration. Sometimes happiness is merely a moment of quiet reflection at the end of a long day with a well-deserved glass in hand.

My parents will be in town visiting this weekend, which stirs a mix of emotions for me. I haven’t achieved much in the way of conventional success—the things most parents hope for their children. To them, my life probably seems wildly unpredictable and precarious...and it is.

I’m lucky, however, to have such amazing role models, who provided me with the tools and perspective to navigate a wildly unpredictable and precarious world.

So, this weekend I’ll be clinking glasses with my loved ones and counting my blessings. I hope you’ll be doing the same.

Monday, April 16, 2007

The New Phonebook's Here, The New Phonebook's Here!

“Things are going to start happening to me now.”

Let me tell you about my Navin R. Johnson moment. A couple weeks ago, in a moment of searching for some self-validation, I did a Google search for “Brim to the Dregs.” The result was this.

Of course, that recognition and five bucks will get me a cup of coffee. It’s still nice to know that if you go looking for my blog, it’s easy to find. It’s nicer to still to find Brim mentioned elsewhere on the Web. Many thanks to those of you who have linked to me or mentioned Brim in your own writings.

I write this blog for the enjoyment of others, so I want people to find it, like it and, hopefully, share it with their friends.

All this occurred to me when I received an e-mail the other day from Ken at Ala Wine informing me that Brim had debuted on his list of the top 100 wine blogs—at number 93. While I’ve seen the various “top” blog lists, I’ve never paid much attention to them, possibly because Brim never appeared on them.

Another reason I have never paid these lists any mind was that some bloggers seem to gauge their success based on such rankings. If being near the top of the list drives more traffic to your blog, then it’s a worthwhile measure; however, I suspect in many cases it’s more about ego-gratification (this coming from someone who knows a little about that subject).

It’s the wine-blog equivalent of having 5,000 MySpace friends. What is it really worth?

A quick look at the Ala list reveals some interesting rankings. The other day when I checked it, Fermentation, by Tom Wark, was number one; The Pour, by NY Times writer Eric Asimov, was number six. While I have the greatest respect for Fermentation, judging by the average number of comments on The Pour, I think that The Pour is much more widely read. More importantly, I’m willing to guess that The Pour has a higher percentage of readers who aren’t wine bloggers.

Let’s face it—a great deal of the people reading wine blogs also write one. Capturing the average wine drinker’s readership is, in my opinion, the Holy Grail of wine blogging.

When it comes to my own assessment of Brim’s success, I go strictly by comments. The more I get, especially from new readers, the better I feel about the quality of my content. When the comments stop coming, I start thinking of ways to improve.

One of these days I need to start tracking my page hits, but even then I’ll keep watching my comments. If I can write something that inspires my readers to take a minute of their precious time to leave a comment, then I know I’m doing something right.

Thursday, April 12, 2007

Wine Blogging Wednesday #32

(Okay, so it's not Wednesday. I did the tasting in time, but the post didn't get written. I wanted to share anyway.)

While browsing the shelves in my local wine store recently, it occurred to me that Wine Blogging Wednesday #32 would be here before I knew it. I had a wine in mind for the theme of regular vs. reserve, but I thought, it will be hard to find a regular and a reserve in the same vintage.

It is my understanding that wineries typically release regular and reserve bottlings at different times and maybe in different years. Of course, when I looked at the wines I had in mind—they were the same vintage. Shows how much I know.

The wines I selected were:

Los Vascos Cabernet Sauvignon Colchagua 2004

Los Vascos Cabernet Sauvignon Reserve Colchagua 2004

Los Vascos is part of Domaines de Barons de Rothschilds (Lafite), which encompasses multiple wineries around the world. Los Vascos is one of the older foreign-owned wineries in Chile and one of the early advocates of advanced winemaking methods and vineyard management techniques.

Chile is one of the few countries that was never ravaged by the phylloxera epidemic of the late 1800’s. The vines at Los Vascos are ungrafted, pre-phylloxera, Bordeaux rootstock. The vineyard is located in the Cañaten Valley in the Colchagua province of Chile.

I’ve had the regular Los Vascos Cabernet in the past and always considered it a good value, and I’ve been meaning to try the reserve cab to see how it compares. This is definitely a good example of the reserve being worth the price.

Translucent garnet in color, the regular bottling has aromas of fresh cherries and mint. The flavors are black cherry, vanilla and green pepper with soft tannins and a short finish. It’s a tasty quaff at a very reasonable price—around $8.

The difference in the reserve bottling is apparent in the opaque purple color and the complex aromas of plum, dried cherry, garique and cigar box. The more this wine sat in the glass, the more it opened up. The flavors are blackberry, black cherry, plum, cassis, mint and cedar with firm tannins and a lingering finish. This is a rich, deep, complex wine for not a lot of money—around $15.

On an interesting side note, I had a glass of each on the second night, and they both held up very nicely, the reserve especially. This makes me think that if you’re in the market for a reasonably priced cabernet for short term cellaring, the reserve would be a good choice.

Monday, April 09, 2007

I Wanna Easter Egg! I Wanna Easter Egg!

I hope everyone had a joyous and safe Easter/Passover holiday. Or, if you don’t celebrate either, I hope you had a very nice spring weekend.

Unfortunately, I live quite far from my family, so going home to share a meal and spend some quality time is out of the question. My girlfriend and I both share this dilemma, as do many people. While it makes me sad to miss family gatherings, it’s also an opportunity to create new traditions and celebrate in my own way.

We decided to enjoy a nice relaxing day of food and wine to mark the holiday. Instead of braving the Sunday brunch crowds, we brunched at my home, also known as the Park Street Wine Bar (click here to view my favorite table).

The menu was Old Bay-chive crab cakes with red onion-red pepper-gala apple-basil salsa, rosemary roasted potatoes and spinach-feta-oregano-stuffed tomatoes. (Can you tell I’m excited about having fresh herbs to cook with?)

To go with our brunch, we popped a bottle of Paul Cheneau Brut Cava NV. It’s inexpensive enough ($8) that I didn’t feel guilty making mimosas with it, but still tasty enough to enjoy solo with our meal. It’s light and fresh with delicate flavors of apple and pear.

For dinner, we enjoyed a scrumptious lasagna, courtesy of E (my girlfriend, for any new readers). And since I must have Italian red wine with pasta, we enjoyed a glass of Di Majo Norante Aglianico del Molise “Contado” 2002. After a bit of decanting this wine opens up to display crushed blackberries, violets, smoke, spice and a bit of cedar. It’s real good: go forth and seek ye a bottle.

Lasagna for Easter, you ask? That’s what’s so much fun about creating new traditions—there are no rules.

If you're curious about the title of this post, the answer is here. If you spent way too much of your youth watching Saturday morning cartoons like me, you already know.

Thursday, April 05, 2007

Twisting to the Oldies

While Brim is still in a bit of a holding pattern, it’s a great time to revisit previous postings. They may not be as good as Law & Order reruns, but there’s some interesting reading in the archives. Take for instance, this early posting about wine closures.

More and more of the wines I’m drinking are using screw caps and not just the whites anymore. Here are a few screw cap reds I’ve enjoyed recently:

Henry’s Drive Pillar Box Red Padthaway 2005
This is a full-throttle, high-alcohol Aussie fruit bomb. A blend of shiraz, cab and merlot, it's not great for food pairing, but it's a stunning bottle of wine all the same. ($10)

Bitch Grenache Barossa Valley 2005
An excellent bottle of Aussie grenache. It's deeply concentrated and lush, with flavors of black cherry, licorice, pepper and cinnamon. ($10)

Bodegas Lurton Malbec Argentina 2004
I've written previously about the reserve malbec from Bodegas Lurton. This is a nice, inexpensive malbec that makes a perfect hamburgers/pizza wine. Very fruit-forward at first, but the second day it was more balanced and subtle. Look for flavors of raspberry, plum and mint. ($6)

Wineries outside the U.S. seem to be moving faster towards screw caps, but I expect more California wineries will be using them for their inexpensive reds in the near future. Although I dearly love the sound of a cork being pulled, there’s no denying the screw cap is here to stay.

My only complaint about screw caps is that I'm always worried about slicing open my thumb while removing the lower part of the enclosure before I put the bottle in the recycling bin.

Am I the only one with this issue?

Monday, April 02, 2007

The Miracle of the Grill

I’ve mentioned before that my cooking skills are hardly worth writing about. Sure, I can cook a few things pretty well, and I have some recipes that I could make in my sleep—chili for instance. But when I read cooking blogs and what other wine bloggers are whipping up in their kitchens, I feel woefully inadequate.

Take for instance, my inability to grill a steak. I’ve ruined more steaks than I care to talk about. What should really be a fairly easy task has eluded me for years.

So, when I picked up a package of New York strip steaks on Saturday, my girlfriend, E, gave me a concerned look. “You always get mad when you cook steaks,” was her comment.

Yes, it’s true. I have sulked through many a lousy steak dinner, berating myself for my ineptitude.

But, it’s been awhile since my last disaster and since we are headed into prime time grilling season, I thought it was time to try again. I felt certain that I could do justice to these pretty steaks—much like Charlie Brown must feel before he tries to kick the football again.

This time the grill sabotaged me. When I put the steaks on, it was immediately apparent the grill wasn’t hot enough. I looked at E with disbelief and shame.

There was no turning back, however. I re-started the grill and the flames leapt to the correct height. The poor steaks languished in grilling limbo. Ever so slowly, they started cooking.

And when it was all over, they were perfectly medium rare. Go figure.

I had rubbed them beforehand with coarsely ground black pepper and a bit of kosher salt, and finished them with a red wine-balsamic syrup and some crumbled feta. Along with the miracle steaks, we had roasted garlic mashed potatoes and sautéed spinach.

It was lovely to actually enjoy a steak dinner at my house. Making our dining experience even more wonderful was a bottle of d’Arenberg Shiraz-Viognier ‘The Laughing Magpie’ 2003.

Jeff Stai at Twisted Oak Winery recommended this wine to me. It is a big, serious wine that definitely needs decanting. The nose is a curious combination of blackberries and petroleum with a whiff of peaches. The flavors are dark and brooding: black fruit, tar, chocolate, coffee, cinnamon and pepper. Underneath all of that is just the slightest hint of peach, or maybe apricot. It’s very interesting to taste how red and white wine work together when blended.

The wine and food sang together in perfect harmony. The complex flavors of the meal were a perfect match for the complex wine.

I love it when a plan comes together.