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What the blanc?! Part II

With August but days away, we'll be signing off for some needed R & R for a few weeks - perhaps with the occasional insight or newsflash to whet your whistle until we get back into the full swing of things after Labor Day. But we can't NOT go out with Wicked splash first! Head over to Wicked Local today to find out about two more "Blanc" varietals you won't want to miss this summer!  Giddy-up!

Which Chenin Blanc is your summer fav?



Blind Wine Tasting, South Africa and Bukettraube

Go on…. Close your eyes; breathe deep. Do you smell it? White flowers, a hint of ocean air and beach grass, something honeyed and sweet. Yes! It’s summer! A few weeks ago a trip to New York City gave me the same thrill. No, I wasn’t in Central Park. I was at Hearth in the East village having dinner - and the Somellier/Owner Paul Grieco, apparently relishing my enthusiasm for wine, had just placed a glass of Bukettraube in front of me. Of course, he didn’t tell me it was Bukettraube. We were playing a little game of  “Guess That Vin....”

Head over to Wicked Local today to hear more about my blind tasting fun and the delightful surprise on my glass that night!

Have you ever experimented with blind tasting?



Baboons, bubbly, accolades and more!

I have a healthier than normal appetite, I'm told. But it seems South African baboons do, too! Check out this hilarious (but costly) piece on these "Thieving Baboons". The age-old question "does stemware really matter?" has a simple answer: yes. It's because a good glass can really help display aromas and flavors by channeling them in a precise way to your senses. Riedel is the company that has set the bar on this technology. And so they took their a competitor to the mattresses recently when Eisch advertised a breathable glass. Read all about the outcome here.

Speaking of glass, looks like the Champagne Bureau is getting greener! Each bottle of Champagne will now weigh 2oz less than before. Discover the full implications of this move here.

Last but not least, I had the pleasure of meeting the famed Randall Graham of Bonny Doon vineyards a couple of weeks ago at a local trade event. Looks like I had the opportunity right before his celebrity really took off! Graham was just inducted into the Vintners Hall of Fame. Cool stuff.

Which wine headline caught your attention this week?



Friday Wine Fodder

Thanks to fellow wine writer, Natalie Maclean, for this great Fall Wine Festival shot found on Epicurious! suspect with the wine trade's "tasting season" well underway, the Powers That Be at various publications (whether print or more socially-driven), are a bit behind in their usual operations. I know I'm a bit tuckered out, sampling wares from all over the world to suss out the Best of the Best for consumers.  My suspicion stems from a surprising lack of wine news this week. That said, I think I've found a few articles to distract you from your own work today. France is proving a bit fickle in their health/wine reports these days. Check out this Decanter article to learn which way they are flipping (or flopping?) this week.

And South Africa proves a tempting ground - for theft! Did you hear about this major wine heist?

Finally, don't forget to get on the tasting bandwagon yourself in the next week or so! Remember there are a couple of events you should consider attending:

Sept 25-27

Newport Mansions Food & Wine Festival Here’s what they’re saying about it: “Presented by Food & Wine, this spectacular event will feature more than 400 wines from around the world and cooking demonstrations by celebrity chefs Jacques Pépin, Joanne Weir, David Burke and more culinary experts.” Click here for more info and to get your tickets today (and be sure to poke around the web for discount codes…).

Sept 29

All New England 3rd Annual Farm-Fresh Funky Feeding Frenzy @ Craigie on Main. From their lips to our ears, here’s what to expect:  “a 5-course dinner with wine pairings. We have thrown down a challenge to ourselves and pledge to meet it: every single offering on the menu will have been grown, raised or caught within our New England borders.”

Have you sipped and sampled at all this fall? Where abouts?



The fine art of... Chardonnay

Hamilton Russell Chard...Yes, there are the ABC wine drinkers of America - "Anything But Chardonnay". And their club was probably worth forming back in the day given the prolific amount of lackluster Chard on the market, practically flowing with splinters from over-oaking. Before I "officially" became part of the wine world (professionally) I may have even been an "unofficial" member.... What I learned quickly is there is a lot of juice on the market. Some of it is good. Some is ok. Some of it is just plain undrinkable. And, of course, everything in between and beyond! It is not right to discriminate against a grape - or even a style - entirely. You have to be on the lookout for the exception to the rule, the producer who is going above and beyond to let the grape's natural fruit flavors emerge, or the terroir shine through. We've said it time and again: wine making is both an art and a science.

Hamilton Russell Vineyards is the diamond in the rough. Arguably they have a few advantages working for them. They are a South African winery - one of the Southern most in fact, located on the Cape of Good Hope in the Hemel-en-Aarde Valley appellation. South Africa also has it's own unique terroir - vineyard site to vineyard site, of course, but also in broader terms than, say California. South Africa's location and aspect on the globe, let alone its unique soil types, maritime influence and the like, will bring to bear additional nuance to a wine you might otherwise think you've "tried". The Russell family is savvy, too, focusing their efforts exclusively on producing exceptional Pinot Noir and Chardonnay.

I had no extraordinary cause to pop the cork on the 2007 Hamilton Russell Chardonnay (which retails for about $26) other than the end to a gorgeous weekend, and the start of a tremendously delicious meal. I served up a plate of grilled pineapple and veggies - summer squash, zucchini, plumb tomatoes, vidalia onions, and snow peas - dressed in a touch of garlic and a soy/honey marinade.  I threw in a helping of grilled shrimp, seasoned with a touch of red pepper and Old Bay spice.

Enter the Hamilton Russell Chard, a gorgeous wine that happily continues to change and evolve at first sip, with food, and again after you've finished your plate.  As you continue to retaste it, various components tackle your tastebuds. The flavors? Imagine a bowl of apricots, a ring of freshly cut pineapple, and juicy, ripe pear slices all squeezed with lemon juice and then tossed with a great helping of taught minerality. Its backbone of minerality is most intriguing, almost forcing you to question whether you had in fact opened the Chard. But then its satisfyingly rich texture brings you back home again - you know all too well Chard is more of a sultry, curvy broad, like Joan from Mad Men. And this wine is absolutely that.

Most memorably, the Hamilton Russell was an absolutely stunning complement to my meal. It proved to be The Perfect Pairing, as the wine and the food both showed even BETTER when partnered up.  We all strive for such an experience; yet it is a rare treat when a wine and a dish don't just go well together, but each gets better in the company of the other.

This one really is one to behold - and one that's so dynamic even my description leaves room for you to add your own insights. This wine is that good - and that good at defying "the odds".

What wine made you a believer in the "exceptions to the rule" caveat?



July Wicked Wines Uncorked!

July Wicked Wines July can be one of the most exciting months to enjoy wine. BBQ’s, baby showers, open roof decks and the joy of summer office hours (aka “early release” Fridays) coupled with one of the most versatile and delectable produce seasons gives you every excuse to pop a few corks. No surprise then, this month’s Wicked Wines reflect the need for a dynamic line up. Get excited to sip solo, toast the dog days of summer with friends or break out your inner-chef with these wicked good choices! Check them out here!

Then tell us... what's your take on Pinotage?



June's Wicked (Good) Wines Uncorked!

June 09 Wicked Wines!I can hardly believe it is already June - 6 months of 2009 are behind us and only 6 more to go!  Time to officially get our beach chairs out of storage and fill up a second propane tank as "back up" for those terrific nights of grilling ahead. The only thing needed is a few good ideas for what to uncork this month... Head on over to Wicked Local today to get the skinny on four great wines you should give a (s)wirl. Some are a party all in themselves; others will help get it started (without breaking the bank).

What other wines have you tucked into this month? Any destined to become your official summer "house" wines?



Friday wine news to keep you on your toes

Thanks to Ping Lo at ABC Local for the image: just in:  if you like Toasted Head Chardonnay, take note! R.H. Phillips is closing up shop. The product is being moved to Robert Mondavi's Woodbridge enterprise. I'm sorry to hear about the closure not because I enjoy Toasted Head, but because it is closing to improve "efficiency". Granted, this is no doubt a wise business move. But if you've ever read about the French winemakers scrambling to make ends meet just to produce their wines because they feel so passionately about creating something wonderful, it is more tragic. Not that I'm comparing the small French winemaker/viticulturist to a larger than life U.S. corporate entity that churns out wine like water. Rather, to me wine at its best is artisanal. I simply wish Big Business had nothing to do with it. That said, and knowing that's how it is in some cases, I'm bummed the local community will suffer. Meanwhile, on the heels of my Leftover Bubbly article, it turns out Zork is set to launch a special closure for sparkling wines - one where you open the bottle and can reseal it with the same closure thereafter. Studies indicate the wine will keep it's mojo for several days after being opened. I'll believe it when I see it - though if anyone can do it, it'll be Zork.

But the grand prize on wine journalism this week goes to (drum roll, please...) Decanter, for Richard Woodard's article about scientists' efforts in South Africa to pinpoint the reason these wines have a general reputation for smelling (and tasting) of burnt rubber.  I'm chuckling because research to date has been "inconclusive" and - get this - they "have not yet estabilished scientifically...whether it is unique to South Africa". Having just completed the March-May trade tasting season (which included several fairly large South African portfolios), I'm pretty confident stating here this characteristic is ABSOLUTELY unique to South Africa.

And so my question heading into the Memorial Day weekend is....

Why does it feel like New World wine regions in particular are constantly trying to use technology or science to "prove" some characteristic about their wine? Does anyone else feel this way? Can't it just be what it is?



Chenin Blanc: the "other" blanc wine to know

Image thanks to: for Sauvignon Blanc recommendations have been coming pretty steadily as the temperatures have gotten warmer this spring. What I rarely hear a request for is Chenin Blanc. Sure, I get a request for Vouvray, a French village known for Chenin Blanc among those who "know", but Chenin seems more often overlooked by white wine seekers. Here's the 411 on this great grape: Recently I argued Albarino is the most versatile white wine; what readers found out was how terrifically versatile it is as a food wine. Chenin Blanc is perhaps the most versatile style of wine. It can be dry.  It can be sweet. And it can be still - or sparkling! Oh, the possibilities! It is also grown widely throughout the world, in the Loire Valley, France, South Africa and domestically in California.

The Loire Valley delivers my favorite Chenin Blancs. They have lovely stone fruits and citrus flavors - and a unique minerality I quite adore. But remember the French don't always label their wines by varietal. So if you see "Vouvray", "Savenniers," or often "Saumur" (where  Charadonnay is the other white grape permitted), grab a bottle! Better yet, head on in to your local shop and ask for a Loire Valley Chenin Blanc to give a swirl.

"Steen" is another name for Chenin Blanc you may find on a bottle of South African Chenin. These wines have more tropical fruit flavors and a distinct 'funk' you will either love or hate. (Note: "Funk" is a great, acceptable wine term that describes a special character in a wine. Funk can range from barnyard-like characteristics to wet wool, which is the one you're more likely to find in Chenin from South Africa. It's a love/hate thing, truly. Best to try it for yourself and see if you've been missing out on the South African Chenin fun.)

Chenin Blanc from California typically comes across the tasting table in the form of a blend, like 80% Chenin Blanc and 20% Viognier. These blends are enticingly fuller bodied, and offer dramatic floral aromas. Not too shabby in their own right!

Either which way you slice it, Chenin Blanc pairs well with goat cheese, fish, grilled chicken or many vegetarian dishes. Heck - they are brilliant on their own, too! My favorite hosts always have a bottle at the ready because they are so versatile and guest-friendly. But I also often characterize them as "porch guzzlers" - where friends are entirely optional. Some things are too good to share!

Which Chenin Blanc offerings are your favorites? Any particular country that makes your heart beat a bit faster?