Thursday, June 28, 2007

Before and After


Bulgarian #7 tomato on the vine.


The same tomato on my plate with fresh mozzerella, baby greens, ground black pepper and Balsamic Vinegar of Modena.

Tuesday, June 19, 2007

“H” is for Hondarribi Zurri

Some letters are more difficult than others.

When I dreamed up the idea of writing a post for every letter of the alphabet, my goal was to highlight the incredible diversity of wine and, hopefully, inspire my readers to try something a little different.

I have to admit I was sweating my “H” post, but then, along comes a wine made from hondarribi zuri. Talk about something different.

Arabako Txakolina “Xarmant” Txakoli Arabako Txakolina ($14)
(This is either a 2005 or 2006 vintage. I couldn't find a vintage anywhere on the bottle, but I know it is a vintage-bottled wine.)

To clear any confusion, there is no typo in the name. The name of the producer is the same as the name of the Denominatión de Origen (D.O.). The producer is actually a collective of 12 growers who pooled their resources. This collective is the only producer of any real quantity in the D.O., which is comprised of 60 hectares.

So, what’s with the funky name? Although this is a Spanish wine, it hails from a very distinct part of Spain—Basque Country.

Basque Country is one of Spain’s autonomous regions, located in the north-central part of the country, bordering Castilla y León on one side and Navarre on the other. The vineyard sites are located within the valley of Ayala, which encompasses the municipalities of Llodio, Amurrio, Okondo, Artiziega, and Aiara.

Winemaking in this region dates back to 760 A.D., but phylloxera devastated the majority of the vineyards in the 19th century. The vineyards were resurrected in the 1980’s, although the Arabako Txakolina D.O. was only created in 2003.

The grapes used in Txakoli (Chakoli in Spanish) are the traditional and indigenous hondarribi zuri and hondarribi beltza, as well as other local varieties: izkiriota, izkiriota ttippia and hondarribi zuri zerratia (is everyone taking notes?). The blend for this particular wine is 80% hondarribi zuri and 20% hondarribi zuri zerratia.

Xarmant, which is Basque (or French, depending on who you ask) for “charming,” is well-named. “Charming” is how I would describe this wine. Straw-colored and slightly fizzy from a touch of residual carbon dioxide, it is definitely reminiscent of Vinho Verde.

The nose was a bit muted and reminiscent of lemon rind and oyster shells (I swear). This turned out to be false advertising, because the flavor was definitely not muted; although it starts out lean with prominent citrus flavors, it quickly opens up to a creamy mouthful of peach, pear and fig, and finishes on a firm, mineral note.

An interesting tidbit about this wine is that it is traditionally served in a tumbler rather than a wine glass. The idea is to pour a very small amount from a great height (holding the bottle above your shoulder), thereby releasing more of the aromas and flavors. Please feel free to try this at home.

This turned out to be an outstanding discovery, just in time for the really hot weather in South Carolina. Txakolina is meant to be consumed very cold, works well as a low-alcohol (11.5%) apéritif and is very food-friendly. Try it with anything from seafood to chicken curry.

Or, pick up a bottle just to impress your friends with your comprehensive knowledge of the wines of the world.

Sunday, June 17, 2007

Weekend Photo Update

Sweet, delicious, sungold cherry tomatoes.

Wednesday, June 13, 2007

WBW #34 is WWWBW

Could it be WBW #34 already? It seems like just the other day that I was missing the deadline for WBW #33.

In any case, we have a fantastic theme for this month. Washington is an exciting area for grape growers and winemakers.

I happened across this article about the turning point for Washington’s wine industry and the role of Walter Clore in driving the creation of Washingon's world-class wines. It’s very interesting reading.

Our kind host this month is Catie, the Wild Walla Walla Wine Woman, of Through The Walla Walla Grape Vine. Our mission was to avoid the Ch. Ste. Michelle and Columbia Crest wines and seek out cabernet sauvignon from some of the state’s numerous other wineries.

With this in mind, I went out scouting for WA cabs. To my immense delight, I found a bottle of 2001 Isenhower Batchelor’s Button Cabernet Sauvignon Columbia Valley 2001 ($32).

While this is actually a Columbia Valley wine, it is from a Walla Walla winery, which hopefully will score me some extra credit points.

As soon as I picked up the bottle, I realized that I was on to something. The beautiful label suggested a small winery. The back of the label told me that the wine was bottled unfined and unfiltered, which I love, and that 450 cases were produced. The vintage was another good sign, as 2001 was a very good year for Washington cabernet.

My hunches were nicely rewarded. It definitely needs some air, but after some time in my glass and in the decanter—it was pure heaven.

I read somewhere that Isenhower makes their cabernet more in the style of Bordeaux rather than California cabs. Bordeaux-ish is certainly an apt description in my opinion. The blend for this vintage is 90% cabernet sauvignon and 10% merlot, and it reminded me of of some of the best attributes of Paulliac.

In the glass, the 2001 Batchelor’s Button is opaque purple with a deep, concentrated nose of black cherry, cassis, currant, eucalyptus, cocoa, mint, and cigar box. Those flavors continue in the long, complex mouthfeel, which is framed by bracing acidity and persistent tannins.

It nicely sidesteps the plush, overdone fruit and oak of some California cabs, while not leaning too far towards the austerity of Bordeaux wines. Given the amount of breathing time it took for this wine to really show its stuff, I would guess it will continue to improve for another 5-10 years.

What’s even more fascinating about this wine is that this is the first vintage Isenhower produced. Bravo.

I highly recommend a visit to the Isenhower Web site. Denise and Brett have a great story to tell and clearly have a commitment to making outstanding wines. I believe I'll be back to that wine shop in search of another bottle.

Thanks to Catie, and thanks, as always, to our WBW guru, Lenn, of Lenndevours.

Tuesday, June 12, 2007

Who Loves an Old Wine?

The resounding silence on my earlier post regarding the locating of older wines leaves me with the impression there is little interest in such wines. Either that, or no one is reading.

Is this thing on?

Certainly, the price and hassle associated with purchasing "old" wines causes some wine lovers to decide, as a friend put it, "to save my money for Cristal and the [ladies]." New World wine drinkers are notorious for loving young, vivacious wines, but there is still a brisk trade in older vintages, both online and in bricks-and-mortar retailers.

My concerns are about pricing and bottle condition. 1969 was a good year for red Burgundy, but I really don't have four grand to put towards a bottle of wine. It was an off-year for Bordeaux, but the prices are still restrictive.

It's my good fortune, however, that the year of my birth was a good year in the Rhone. Maybe I'll be drinking 1969 Hermitage? Maybe 1969 Côte Rôtie?

But, I’m looking at other options. Cognac, Armagnac and any long-lived wine, such as Cahors, are possibilities. But, the last thing I want is an expensive, poorly-stored bottle of wine. I need to know that every effort has been given to proper care.

Thanks to Golly, of Golly’s Wine Drops, for suggesting Berry Bros and Rudd, a company that has a long history of dealing in older vintages. I believe I’m a little too far away for their services, but you never know.

Maybe they’ll send me a sample.

Sunday, June 10, 2007

Weekend Update

The Canna Lillies are blooming.

Thursday, June 07, 2007

Summer of '69

Normally, I do the expounding and you, as my readers, do the patient reading. For this post, however, I really want to hear from you. I need some wine advice.

If you were looking for a wine from a certain vintage, say...1969, where would you go to buy it?

What kind of wine would you look for? Bordeaux? Burgundy? Port? Something completely different?

I know nothing about buying vintage wine, so I could use some insight into the best way to find great wines in great condition without getting robbed. If you don't know, but you know someone who might, please pass this along to them. Hopefully, I'll find something cool and report back on it.

I'm just curious to see how a 38-year-old wine is holding up.

Tuesday, June 05, 2007


I saw the first fireflies of the season the other night. They appeared like magic after the first drenching rain in what has been a parched couple of months.

Luckily, my neighborhood has enough old-growth shrubs and natural areas to support a modest population of “lightning bugs.” There is something incredibly nostalgic about seeing the sparkle of fireflies on a summer evening.

Fireflies to wine, you might ask? How’s he going to make that connection?

You don’t have to be an environmentalist to love wine, but wine—like fireflies—is one of nature's products. I’m sure many of my fellow wine drinkers have a keen understanding that the product they love so much is best produced in a healthy, natural environment. Biodynamics aside, the wine industry in general seems to be paying much more regard to nature’s process, instead of altering nature to suit its needs.

For those of us who tend back yards instead of vineyards, I recommend a fine piece of reading material, Noah’s Garden: Restoring the Ecology of Our Own Back Yards, by Sara B. Stein. It’s a personal discovery of place and a guidebook for anyone who manages a chunk of this beautiful planet.

It’s been part of my inspiration to convert a sterile, empty back yard into my very own mini woodland garden. With fireflies.