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new era, fresh thinking: inauguration celebration wines

Wine with BreakfastWhether you are in the majority for or in the minority against our next President, chances are you are getting a bit wrapped up in the fervor that surrounds us. Almost everyone I know - correction: everyone I know - is ready for change in 2009. And we're bound to see some soon enough! Where wine and the Inauguration is concerned, a few things have been on my mind lately...  First, when we were looking at our post-New Year's bubbly stock at the store last week, we had to decide if we had enough depth and range to satisfy our customers' demand on Inauguration day; bubbly is a natural, but truth be told, the festivities really start over breakfast. Will people be drinking that early on a weekday? Second, is bubbly too 'just-done' (with the holidays just behind us) such that folks will be looking for something else special to open later that night?

And then, last Wednesday, my fellow wine bloggers took on a challenging topic for Wine Blogging Wednesday: Wines for Breakfast Foods (no bubbly and no rose!).  Things were too nutty after the New Year for me to participate in the fun, but I was intrigued by the challenge. Eggs are considered one of The Hardest food/wine pairings, and bubbly is the given answer - but that wasn't allowed.

Since I'm always a proponent of trying something unknown and since we're about to take on the world from a different perspective (Obama's), today it seemed natural, with just a few hours left under the old world order, to get us thinking outside the box about our Inauguration Celebration wine.  And since Inauguration festivities will begin tomorrow morning, it's only appropriate to start with breakfast.... Below I'm going to link up a few of the posts from last week's Wine Blogging Wednesday and another article or two I've come across lately. Hopefully this will give you enough time to think about where your plans will take you tomorrow  - and to get to your local shop to pick out something special to accompany them!

For those of you starting early, here are a few WBW Breakfast Wines...

Three fun reds? Who knew. It's a Twisted Breakfast(s) extravaganza!

Having a party? Pairing wines for each (breakfast) course. Too much fun.

Anyone who thinks to describe a wine's texture "like wearing some kind of tasty satin underroos for your tongue" deserves a closer look-see, I'd say. Definitely outside of the box thinking on that one!


If you want to stay domestic in your celebratory sipping, while taking it outside the box (aka NOT California) and giving yourself a real treat, check out the musings of Gaiter and Brecher.... Those two know where it's at.

Are you toasting over breakfast? Which wine do you have in mind?

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Wines for Fall: The sweeter finds (and Wine Blogging Wednesday)!

A few weeks ago I stumbled upon a rare treat in the larger wine world, particularly here in North America: Pineau des Charentes. When I saw that Joe the #1 Wine Dude had expanded this month's Wine Blogging Wednesday theme (maderized dessert wines) to include fortified wines, well, it was all I could do to hold off all reports on this fabulous little dessert/aperitif-perfect-for-apple-pie-or-in-front-of-the-fire-or-before-a-chic-meal find! Pineau des Charetes is made from 2/3 unfermented must of fresh grapes and (drum roll please!) 1/3 COGNAC. This is my paradise.

Old wives tales (or perhaps actual history) has it this fun beverage was created by mistake. How so? Well, apparently a grower back in the 16th Century poured grape must (the juice, skins, stems...) into a barrel that already contained Cognac (brandy). The barrel was out of sight/mind for another 5 years or so until a huge harvest came in and additional barrels were needed. Soon enough, the concoction was discovered. The stuff tasted so darn good - fruity, sweet, yet lighter and not cloying in texture - the folks in Charentes, France perfected the process and began peddling it to eager consumers.

This aperitif thrills me for a number of reasons. First, it is a rare find here in the United States. Somehow, the masses have failed to catch on to the glory that is this sweet, little libation. Second, most producers have not chosen to make Pineau, considering it a mere byproduct of Cognac; they simply use Ugni Blanc grapes, which is also used in the production of Cognac. Among those who do make Pineau part of their repertoire, the best wines are made from the freshest (read: from field to barrel in a single day), hand-picked grapes. Only by hand-picking can they know the moment when full maturity is acheived, when the golden grapes turn to a deep topaz color and, for the red wines, when the black grapes turn from crimson to brown.

Pineau des Charentes is often found at 18% alcohol - the optimal level. It must remain in bottle for at least one year before it is sold (and often the best producers wait as much as five years before releasing it). As I alluded above, Pineau is offered in Or (white) or Ruby (red) varieties. In the case of the Ruby, Cabernet, Cab Franc or Merlot varietals are used.

If you've never enjoyed Pineau before or after a meal, please do. You are missing out! For those who don't prefer overly sweet dessert wines, this should be a good fit. Pineau certainly can accompany a little pastry, tart, or ice cream dessert. But it is also delightful with foie gras, oysters, poached fish, goat cheese, Roquefort and even fine game. (Use your gut instinct on which - red or white - variety pairs best with each of these suggestions.) Just avoid consuming Pineau with any 'strong' flavored sauces or dishes, even as simple as olives. It'll taste a little funkity funk....

For Wine Blogging Wednesday I served the Domaine du Perat Or with apple pie two weeks ago. The fruits in the Perat were reminiscent of stewed peaches and ripe apricots. But it also offered a depth of flavors you'll find reminiscent of cognac (burnt caramel nuttiness) - without the burn.  Serve chilled, for optimal flavors.

I'm curious how well received Pineau still is in France these days... do you know? If you're from North America, is this post a throw back to days of old for you? Or is Pineau de Charentes a new one on you?


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Wines for Fall, aka Wine Blogging Wednesday

Once again I find myself scribing another Wine Blogging Wednesday post so quickly, it feels, since the last. Fortunately this month's theme does not stray beyond the parameters of my own Wine Wednesday series of late: Wines for Fall. Russ at Winehiker Witiculture is October's host. Given his passion for the great outdoors and wine, it is no surprise he chose a linking theme: "Which wine will you pour in the great outdoors?" This may be the first theme I didn't even think twice about. For me, the Great Outdoors means a nice bike ride, a grassy knoll and  - if my romantic destiny is every fulfilled - a picnic blanket (with some fall leaves scattered here and there) and a bit of sweet bubbly.

Brachetto d'Aqui is one of the greatest forms of bubbly I have encountered. These wines, named for the grape used (brachetto) and the area from which they hail (the Piedmont, Italy DOCG, Asti), are perfect "Picnic Wines". Just two weeks ago I was sharing this theory of mine with a couple of colleagues. They couldn't have agreed more as we tasted Garitina's 2007 Brachetto d'Aqui release. And we thought 2006 was a good year for this wine. Hello, fresh, ripe, red raspberries and strawberries! Tiny, tiny, bubbles that funnel up to your nose bringing scents of baby roses and violets? Check! Mouthwatering acidity? Check! Gentle tannins to coax your desire for a gorgeous brunch spread?? Check! A sweetness that simply satisfies you??? CHECK!

I don't think Carrie ever unpopped the cork of this small production (aka special) wine with Mr. Big, Miranda, Charlotte or Samantha - but at least one of them should have. Lightly sweet, pink bubbly is the absolute perfect thing when a picnic blanket, red berries, peach tarts, marscapone or pastries are involved. Chocolate, well, now there's a match made in heaven, too. Friends or lovers could actually be considered optional it is so charming all on its own.

User-friendly tips: A traditional "champagne" cork is NOT used for this wine, much like the Moscato d'Asti I blogged about last WBW re: wine & politics. So make sure you have your corkscrew on hand. Champagne flutes are necessary only if you feel so compelled - no need to run out and buy any.

What's your outdoor wine of choice this fall?

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wine blogging wednesday - a toast...

Wine Blogging Wednesday themes never cease to entertain me. This month they're a bit behind schedule, but then again, that seems to work with the theme... A Toast to the End of the Bush Era . I don't usually mix my politics and my wine, so I hope my readers will forgive this inadvertent aberration. In appreciation of your understanding, I will do my very best to keep my comments neutral and focus on the wine I selected this month for this special occasion. Have you ever had the absolute pleasure of drinking a Moscato d'Asti?

My love affair with Moscato d' Asti goes something like this... It doesn't matter if I'm celebrating something in particular and want to have something with a touch of bubbly. It doesn't matter if I've made a fabulous Thai dish or spicy curry for dinner. It doesn't matter if I just want a touch of sweetness after my meal, in lieu of "official" dessert. It doesn't matter if I'm heading out on a picnic (this concept is more of a fantasy for me than something I actually do, for some reason, but I know this would be a perfect wine for that also). And it doesn't matter if I'm settling in for another late-morning brunch watching Sports Center. These wines always scratch the right itch for me.

Northeast of Alba, in the mountain-enclosed region of Piedmont, Italy, you can find the signature grape Moscato turned into all of its magical, wine goodness called Moscato d'Asti. Technically Muscat Bianco is an ancient French varietal that goes by several different (similar) names - and is thought to be the oldest grape known to man (I just love that fact!). The practice of making this wine in a lightly bubbly, or frizzante (fizzy) style via the charmant or tank method began in the 1870. It is delicate, lightly sweet and gorgeously fruity. Winemakers must keep the alcohol low, with a maximum of 5.5% permitted by law. This means very little of the grape's natural sugar is convereted into alcohol and wine remains, you guessed it, naturally sweet! These wines are also stopped with a regular cork because the wine is under less pressure than other bubblies like Champagne, Cava or Prosecco. If you pick up a bottle you'll notice it is vintage dated (and meant to be drunk young and fresh). Drink it chilled and serve it in a regular wine glass. The bubbles are small and long-lasting on their own.

The wine I chose for this "assignment" is the 2006 Borgo Maragliano 'La Caliera' Moscato d'Asti. There is almost no information available on this wine, but fortunately I have a connection with the importer that allowed me to get an inside look...

La Caliera is made by the Galliano family who owns the 35 acres of vines on their property in the smallest DOC in Italy, Loazzolo (boasting 350 people). There is a long history and tradition in the area for making Moscato d'Asti, as I mentioned before. So while the Galliano's make other bubbly wines, this is their flagship. The name 'La Caliera' is actually a tribute to their neighbor, who was described as a generous, kind and warm-hearted woman with a noble and quiet character ~ that which is reflected in the old, limestone and marl vineyards on the property.

Smelling the wine makes you feel as though you've just entered a great, big garden. The wine offers unique aromas of fresh violets! As you take a sip, honey, peaches and apricot flavors dance on your tongue. Its trademark finish is lively, long and luscious and will leave your mouth watering from its vibrant acidity. Suffice to say, this is a wine every great leader should have in his/her repertoire. It delivers only sweet success! (How's that for neutral "political" commentary?!)


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Wine Blogging Wednesday: 2004 Tobin James Dusi Vineyard Zin

Big, red, New World wines (California and Australia) were my first real introduction to the wine world. My Phoenix upbringing/roots made those wines easily accessible in the local market; meanwhile, my older brother and sister-in-law had gotten a jump start on traveling to the CA wine country in search of the best wines on offer. I can't remember exactly which year it was they came across Tobin James Cellars. But I know it was early in their wine making history (mid/late 90s). Tobin James became not only a staple those first years I returned from college for Christmas vacation but also during the summers, when my brother would bring a case to our little vacation spot in Rhode Island. These wines were always a particular treat. On a more daily basis I admittedly spent my pennies on Yellow Tail and Buckley's (a topic for another day, perhaps...). So for this Wine Blogging Wednesday where Lenndevours encouraged us to celebrate WBW's 4th Birthday by returning to our roots, of course Tobin is a natural choice for me. Even though Tobin is a rare find in these parts - especially when it comes to the really good stuff - I happen to have a secret stash in my cellar. The challenge this WBW was not which producer to return to, but rather which wine (read: varietal) to select. I decided to go with the '04 Dusi Vineyard Zinfandel, since Paso Robles is largely Zin Country and I've found Tobin's Dusi Vineyard selection to be consistent vintage after vintage.

I could look at a line up of Tobin red wines and be in heaven. This one was an inky, deep, violet color as it flowed out of the bottle and into my glass. Made from 80-year-old vines such concentration comes as no surprise, nor the fact that it offered bright, juicy fruit, just shy of the fruit bomb jammy explosion I often associate with this part of the world. The wine had just a touch of smoke too, with some earthiness and typical black pepper notes, which sang a soft tune on the finish. I'm not sure how much oak this wine sees, but it doesn't feel heavy-handed; rather the oak imparts a smooth, lush, sexy mouthfeel that sucks you in for another taste. It is well-balanced, with the acidity and tannins commingling happily with the fruit's fleshy, fullness. If you've got a bottle, I encourage you to decant it. I didn't this time because I wasn't sure I would finish the bottle - and actually wanted to taste it again after a day or so. But I definitely got a little extra "protein" on Day 2 as I polished it off.... A final note of applause: this wine doesn't bring the exceptional heat you might expect for a wine coming in at 15.6% alcohol; the layers of flavor are what you remember.

As much as perhaps 90% of my wine expenditures support Old World producers these days, each time I pop open a bottle of Tobin James I'm uniquely satisfied. Granted I'm likely a bit biased because this wine is from my roots. But I'm ok with that. Satisfaction is as satisfaction does.

What wine helps define your wine-drinking "roots"? Have you ever enjoyed a Tobin James selection?

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Wine Blogging Wednesday: Sileni all-star summer

Yes, it's Wine Blogging Wednesday again! Since I knew it was coming up right after my fourth of July getaway, I sneakily packed a few wines in my Survival Kit that fit with this month's theme: Wines Brought to you by the Letter 'S'. I also packed two wines which have come to mean Amazing Summer Sipping as far as I'm concerned - and both have an 'S' component. I've decided to share my thoughts today on the one I realized I just barely favor over the other. (It is only fair I share in the greatest goodness with those who come to read my musings!) Enter the 2007 Sileni Estates Sauvignon Blanc.

I wasn't much of a white wine drinker even as little as two years ago. I had been burned one too many times by (oaky) Chardonnay or overly tart (to my taste some years ago) Sauvignon Blanc, arguably the two white varietals you come across most often here in the US. I was only experimenting with half the possibilities and a true wine adventurer needs to at least know what the heck white is all about. So I solicited a little help from my local wine shop. Whenever I wanted a case of wine in the warmer months, I asked the wine manager to throw in a few whites, too. Soon enough I was hooked! The summer months became a fun time to focus on finding new white varietals to beat the heat; the winter could be reserved for my red addiction. Fair is fair.

Why this side story now? Well, the Sileni Sauvignon Blanc is one of those amazing wines I find many palates (red and white drinkers alike) can appreciate, or as in my case, saddle right on up to with an empty glass. Sauvignon Blanc from warmer climates can take on more tropical flavors of banana and pineapple - of course backed by characteristically citrus (lemon/lime) goodness. Sauvignon Blanc from cooler climates (e.g. New Zealand) errs on the grassier, super zesty grapefruit side. Either way it is an intense, lively, herbal, often zippy little number with great acidity to quench thirst on the hottest of summer days. What can I say, cheesy as it may sound, an image of a tall reed of grass blowing in the sea breeze now comes to mind when I find myself sipping Sauvignon Blanc.

Semillon on its own can take on fuller, rich, almost honeyed flavors. It is widely produced in France, particularly in Bordeaux and used in Sauternes. Australia is also becoming a big producer of the grape. When it is blended with the lean, zesty-tart Sauvignon Blanc, this varietal works some serious magic. The best winemakers know just a little bit goes a long way. Without strong-arming, a drop or two of semillon produces lovely, fleshy and refreshing white wines.

What about the Sileni offering, you ask urgently now that I've wet your whistle??

I'm always amazed by the color of the Sileni. It is a fairly light, almost star-bright color - when I always anticipate it being more honeyed in color, because of it's gorgeous richness on the palate. Indeed, while the label doesn't indicate as much, the winemaker blends in just a touch of tasty Semillon. The result is a fuller bodied Sauvignon Blanc. I find nice tropical fruits, gooseberry freshness and some minerality leap from the glass and similar flavors emerge on the midpalate. Its more typically New Zealand Sauvignon Blanc grapefruit flavors show on the finish. It is so well integrated, the wine's components dance together harmoniously. We paired it with fresh Swordfish steak, corn on the cob and an apple-cider vinegar coleslaw. The weight of the wine complemented the steakier fish perfectly, and the sweetness of the corn and slaw were brilliantly off-set by the fresh acidity of the wine. Yum, indeed!

What wine with the Letter 'S' tickled your tastebuds and fancy this holiday weekend?



Wine Blogging Wednesday: Cote du Rhone Blanc

Today is Wine Blogging Wednesday! And so it is I have the occasion to divert from my typical blogging approach to bring news of a gorgeous, supple white wine from the Cote du Rhone, France: 2006 Chateau de Saint Cosme Cotes du Rhone Blanc. But first a brief introduction to this Wine Blogging Wednesday I speak of.... WBW was started about 4 years ago by Lenndevours to bring a virutal wine tasting to the global masses. A theme is selected by the monthly host and then wine bloggers select a wine they've tasted based on the theme and post their impressions on the applicable day. This month Dr. Debs is our guide. She had the brilliant idea of selecting the Cote du Rhone whites as the theme.

For me this month's "assignment" was a pleasure. The Cote du Rhone could be my favorite region in the wine making world. There is enough variation from the North to South to keep things interesting and challenging, too. The reds are full of character, offering a great sense of place and tradition - one that my palette adores. The whites are often seductive and refreshing. (Note: of course these comments are sweeping generalizations for a large and distinct region, but for the sake of keeping my posts relatively reasonable in length, I can't help but tempt you to explore for yourself. The Rhone is quite fun!)

There are nine grapes of the Rhone. The St. Cosme blends 4 of them: 50% is Roussanne and the rest is Picpoul, Clairette, and Marsanne. Roussanne and Clairette are perhaps two of the most aromatic and elegant grapes in this area - and the St. Cosme surely benefits. Marsanne and Picpoul are more often used as blending grapes (though I've had the latter on it's own and it is quite fantastically refreshing and versatile). Ok, so those are the grapes... "What about the wine?!", you ask?

I was shocked by the St. Cosme's stunning gold color. I couldn't wait to put my nose in the glass! I gave it a swirl and initially found the nose to have hints of petrol followed by intense, ripe pear aromas. As it opened and warmed slightly (it has been HOT in Boston), honey notes emerged. My first taste did not disappoint either. It had an incredible, fleshy-full, mouthfeel and flavors of pear and other tropical fruits danced around in my mouth. It paired well with my meal, too: cucumber dill & walnut salad, grilled tandoori chicken and red potatoes. This wine received my highest "rating": YUM!

I believe every taster has their own experience with and impressions of a wine; that's why I don't blog to rate wines, but rather focus on giving you the 'back story' or other tidbits about wine to increase your curiosity to play (read: taste) as much as possible. After tasting a wine for myself, I often investigate to see what other's think. Sometimes I completely agree, sometimes I don't. Sometimes I laugh at how someone can say a wine is "close to being outstanding" (first, what exactly does that mean??) and then rate it only 89 points.

My recommendation? Go out and splurge on the St. Cosme Cote du Rhone Blanc! Taste the wine and then check out Spectator's and Parker's notes or Google it for more info. After I selected the wine I realized Gary V tasted this wine out not that long ago, too. So there's lots of entertaining reading out there as you sip. Cheers!