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Wine Wednesday


What to do with left over bubbly? drink it!

Did you end up with a few extra bottles of sparkling wine after New Year's this year? It seems to be the normal course of things - and many people hesitate to do the obvious thing with these wines, what with official "celebrations" behind us. But corks are meant to come out! Here's how I've gone about tackling this delicious, festive, "problem": This New Year the Prosecco of choice for my friends and I was Santome. This is one I'm sure I've blogged about in the past, because it delivers lifted, just tart green apple fruit and lemon zest flavors; it's more crisp, dry nature makes it a good one to make cocktails with if that's your bag, but it is also delicious all on its own. For $12.99 you have no guilt opening bottle after bottle - and if you stick with it all night, you're likely in a hangover free zone. But on December 31st we didn't quite make it through the full case, so I anted up for game night last weekend. Santome was the perfect accompaniment to the deviled egg appetizers I whipped up.

Next, I pulled out the bigger guns in my repertoire...

In my bubbly archives, I discovered I somehow still had one bottle of the 1999 Pierre Morlet Brut. With good friends who enjoy good wine, why not pop a cork? They are meant to come out after all, so what more of an occasion do you need? And this wine had already been in bottle for more than a decade. So as the pork tenderloin rested and the cinnamon scented butternut squash mashed potatoes cooled a little, we popped the cork on this bad boy, too. It had a lovely mousse, with just the right amount of toastiness, red and yellow apple fruits, and a lithe lemon cream texture. A wild accent of hazelnuts mid-palate made this wine a favorite among the group.

After savoring Pierre, we finished our bubbly spree with the very dry, mineral-laced Egly-Ouriet Grand Cru Brut. Another winner, we enjoyed the texture of this wine also, with fine bubbles bringing pear and red apple fruit flavors quickly to bear. This wine was particularly memorable for the previously mentioned minerality - a clean, wet pebble/chalky essence. Delicious vin!

Remember, you don't need an official celebration or Real Occasion to enjoy sparkling wine. It is the most food friendly option available, pairing with every possible food, and delicious all on it's own. As you begin to dig your heals into 2011, I beg you to take sparkling wine with you on your travels more frequently! Why not make an easy night in with friends that much more enjoyable?

How often do you drink sparkling wine?



January is short change wine month

What's on my table this January? Everything good n'cheap! It's amazing what you can get your hands on after the New Year in particular, when wine buyers are particularly keen on discovering great wines for short change. Note that savvy buyers often can find wines that are in their prime but are offered by wholesalers for a reduced rate, who are busy trying to move out "old" inventory what with new vintages due in the coming few months. These professionals also appreciate that consumer's credit card bills will have been maxed out during the holiday gifting spree, but that while they still want some vinous love on a chilly night, quality should not be compromised. (Who wants to re-live their New Year's hangover?!) Of course, here in Massachusetts the liquor tax has been repealed. So as of the first of the year, we're "saving" 6.25% to boot!

Curious what am I sipping specifically?

Let's start with last weekend, when I was uber-happy to uncork the 2007 Chateau Les Tours Seguy Cotes de Bourg (Bordeaux, France). This is a wine that is chock full of French-tastic terroir (barnyard aromas and a hint of leather and checked earthy appeal on the palate) and supple blackberry, black currant and even some red fruits. It has great balance, but like most Bordeaux is better with food (game meats, hard cheeses, even pasta with meat sauce like lasagna - hell, I had it with Chicken Mushroom soup because the brussel sprouts and leeks in the dish brought savory earthy appeal to deliver a great match for the wine). We are pretty convinced this is a wine that is in it's prime right here, right now with just light, dusty tannins, good lift and integration. Even better, this is a wine that should retail in the high teens, and it is worth every penny; but because it was one of those wines cluttering up the  wholesaler's warehouse when new vintages are coming in,  it was available for a super low price, which the shop was happy to pass on to customers.  For $8.99, I'm one happy (repeat) customer!

What values are you finding out there so far this Winter?



Fired Up: Do the Right Thing, Consumers!

Old School Goodness: Burmester 89 PortI heart Port. I have said this many times. So imagine my horror when one of the best in the Port winemaking business tells me they have done research.... and have found Americans are drinking Vintage Port younger and younger. Five minutes later I was tasting the Burmester Vintage Port 2007. That's somewhat normal in the trade, because that's how we grow in our wine knowledge - knowing through a quick taste where Port starts, and, most importantly, gaining appreciation for where it goes. Trust me when I tell you the 2007 is some YOUNG stuff.  The 2005 isn't much better. Both are bitingly acidic, tannic and, well, as someone recently described too-young-stuff (who I really respect), I wanted to pull my gums out over my teeth. Yes, you may have guessed, that is NOT cool.

Port is something to behold. It is something that, when done well and has the right amount of age under its belt, has finesse AND structure. I like mine best when it has been aged for an extended period of time. Like 20 Year Tawny. Or the 1985 or 1990 Burmester Coleheita (single vintage, single vineyard Port).

Please readers. Do yourself a favor and contribute to a more efficacious marketing trend: stop buying YOUNG Port! This stuff is meant to be aged. It mellows, often gaining exotic brown spices, burnt orange peel essence, sultry caramel and vanilla notes, all on top of a luscious layer of fruit - whether stewed plums, figs or blackraspberries. Why give that up?

Come on.






It's worth the wait.

Enough said.




Football Touchdown, care of: New England Patriots got the nod this year to play opening week's Monday Night football - as it happened, not just on a gorgeous night in Mass., but with the re-introduction of Tom Brady to the line-up. (Yeah, we've lost a few of our key defenders; but we still have Belichik. And we still have one of the top QBs in the league, even if he is a little banged up and not my personal favorite beyond the playing field.) What's a girl to do on such a momentous night? Make pizza. From scratch. And enjoy exceptional wine(s) - during the preparation process and throughout the meal!  What better excuse do you need to open two of the most highly sought and difficult to find wines in our market: Spencer Roloson Grenache Blanc and Grenache Noir? (Note, the former was enjoyed throughout the preparation process and the latter for the meal and game time festivities!)

Last Spring my "buddies" Dorothy Gaiter and John Brecher wrote about the Grenache phenomenon in the US. I was thrilled by their musings. Yet, the only two Grenaches I've really been completely thrilled with coming out of the California winemaking community are both executed by Spencer Roloson. And they are hard to get your hands on!

Their Grenache Blanc is, quite simply, a rare treat. It is robust, lush, fleshy/fruity (think quince, citrus and pears) - almost perfect for Chardonnay drinkers looking for something different or unique, but more for the nerd drinker in each of us because of its incredible layers and unsuspecting earthiness. It's one of those wines every person I've ever introduced it to has enjoyed, no matter their usual wine drinking habits. It is a true, special and quasi-celebratory wine because it is so difficult to find and oh-so-satisfying on so many levels.

Their Grenache Noir is also a wine of true grace and panache... that's also a "teeth sinker". It is freaking delicious (a technical term...), offering concentrated red berry fruit with some herbs and a sprinkling of burnt orange peel. It finishes bittersweet, like the chocolate. YUM. This wine was a really nice, luscious pairing with our pizza topped with rosemary roast chicken, fresh pineapple, buffalo mozzarella, black pepper and basil. I wish it was 24 hours ago now, as I write this post....

Suffice to say, we're now officially in Football Season. I like a good beer with my  ball. But a great wine - or two - is far more memorable. Cheers to Sundays!

What's your go-to Football wine?



local winery continues to ferment great juice

Westport Line upWestport Rivers Winery in Westport, MA first captured my heart 3 years ago with their 2001 Imperial Sec sparkling wine, which is made from the more exotic or a-typical varietals of Riesling and Rkatsiteli.  Tasting others from their line up, I was pleased to discover their winery was the exception to the "rule" as far as local Massachusetts wine goes.... Other folks in and around Massachusetts haven't been able to do what Westport Rivers has achieved even since then because of two reasons, as far as I can tell. First, they have a truly coastal,  cool climate location.  Second, their wines have a sense of place; each wine represents a unique terroir, (so much so that universities have trekked down yonder to take soil sample after soil sample, run tests, and discovered which myriad soils are present on their 140 or so acres. This research has helped the proprietors plant different varietals in specific soil types). Westport Rivers wines exhibit a uniquely satisfying old-world sensibility, with new world panache.

Maybe one day Westport Rivers will be able to solely produce their exceptional sparkling wines. In the meantime, interested sippers can also bring home their well-balanced Chardonnay, Pinot Blanc, Pinot Gris, or Rkatsiteli among the whites, as well as Pinot Noir rose for the reds or Pineau de Pinot as a dessert wine/aperitif.

The one to catch my particular fancy this season is their rose of Pinot Noir. Pinot Noir is one of my absolute favorite varietals - and I hold out every year waiting for the best possible expression of it as a rose. This year Westport Rivers delivered the goods. The nose is quiet, exhibiting just a hint of baby roses, smoke and cherry fruit. The palate delivers a crisply satisfying, dry, light package of cherry and strawberry fruit; a unique, almost saline minerality quenches your thirst - and soon enough you've put quite a dent in the bottle!

In next few and last (sadly) weeks of summer, seek out rose with great gusto. You'll probably find a few deals on the market - and if you're lucky, you'll be revived with a splash of ocean air and memories of cold-box red and berry fruits. Yum.

Which Westport Rivers wines are your favorites?



Glass wine closures

Glass closureOk, ok. It's "old" news, technically speaking. But how often have you actually come across a glass wine closure? I think I've seen about a half a dozen over the last year - and I know I've seen close to 1,000 wine bottles uncorked. That's a pretty small percentage! Yesterday one of these half dozen wine bottles/closures came across the tasting table. And so we got to talking about it. Did you know Alcoa, the closure company initially responsible for this phenomenon, started the wine bottle glass closure after success with it on medicinal products? No joke. These guys are responsible for the closures on household products, juices and sodas, medicinal products and, since 2006 or so, wine bottles.

What I love about them is the (surprising) seal these things allow! And you can pluck them out of the bottle and fit them securely back in to it if you don't quite finish it off. Back in 2004 Business Wire described it as such: "The Vino-Lok closure looks like a decorative decanter stopper, and it is recyclable. Made with rubberized O-rings, the glass stopper provides a sterile seal, preventing contamination or oxidation. An aluminum cap over the bottle will ensure mechanical protection and temper evidence."

Recyclable, too? Does it really get any better?Apparently they are working on it! This is just the beginning for them. The question is though:

How many times have you had the pleasure of encountering an Alcoa closure? When will this become more "mainstream"?



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?



Episode 3: the love affair between food and wine

Jamaican Jerk Chicken photo care of: 4th of July! Ok... so we still have a few days of anticipation left this week - or a few more days to get our marinades going and our wine shopping underway. This week we resume our food/wine pairing conversation with episode # 3 in our Supper Swap Series: gett'n giggy (jerky?) with chicken and Zinfandel! It doesn't get more American than Zinfandel. Yes, it's widely thought Zin's roots lie in Puglia, Italy where it is known as Primitivo. But the truth is this particular grape's origins are still somewhat of a mystery. All we know for sure is it is America's grape. It really doesn't grow well outside of California. And so Zin has become our baby.

What's even better about this grape is.... it is terrific when Jamaican Jerk Chicken is on the menu! My buddy John is The Man when it comes to marinades. Actually, he's really the guy who got me on the bandwagon. Since I first met him he never missed an opportunity to bring by his  bags of meats. I've learned several things under his tutelage:

1. Ziplock is the key. The bag allows the marinade to coat every centimeter of meat and lock in the desired flavors. It also travels well and takes up no room in the fridge either when your own is full, or when landing at a BBQ and fridge-space is scarce.

2. It is a quick method to employ. I like to spend time in the kitchen preparing my dishes - but I usually have more than one thing going at a time. Marinades allow me to get the meat going first, and then spend the rest of my time preparing my sides. All the while my protein is getting some TLC in the fridge.

3. It isn't messy and clean up is a snap! I love that you can just dump all of the ingredients into one bag and then mush it around. Once your meat is on the grill, the bag can be efficiently discarded without having to clean another bowl.

John did not let us down when we last swapped a few weeks ago, either.  Looking at the recipe later, I would have thought it would have packed more flame-throwing heat. But this particular marinade brings a different kind of heat as all of the flavors blended together and mellowed perfectly as the chicken was essentially slow-cooked on the grill; (we were pacing ourselves what with all of our culinary delights to enjoy throughout the evening).

We didn't have any Zin on hand by the time the chicken rolled out, but it would be a terrific pairing. Zinfandel is perhaps best known for it's juicy, red berry, fruit-forward character; this profile is a great match for any dish that packs a bit of a punch. But even the other style of Zin, the more tannic/structured style with a kick of spice on the finish, would be a good match for this particular recipe. The protein in the tannin would soften and sweeten once in contact with the chicken/meat protein (on your tongue) - and this dynamic marinade, with subtle flavors and nuances, would be enhanced by the slight kick of pepper on the wine's finish.

(NOTE:  I would, however, caution anyone making a truly spicy dish and picking up a truly tannic wine - danger danger! That could cause a bit of a fire-y explosion in your mouth! You'd be better served by a wine with a little bit of residual sugar to put out the flames.)

Suffice to say, as you get your Marinade On this Fourth of July, feel free to grab a bottle of America's beloved Zin to accompany your dish! Be mindful of your spice quotient and simply ask your local wine guru which style/bottle of the juice is your best bet.

Which CA Zinfandel do you enjoy most?



Episode 2: the love affair between food and wine

Black Bean Burger care of: started to revisit the topic of food and wine as a match made in heaven a few weeks ago... My family wine taste-off of sorts interrupted us for a week last week, but with the fourth of July grill fest soon to come, it seems prudent to re-tune the station to another of our Supper Swap success stories! So without further ado, here we have Episode #2 of our Supper Swap series: Black bean sliders! The first time I tried my "Summer is Coming" black bean sliders recipe out on my fellow Swappers I discovered "it needed a little... tweaking", in the words of Tom Hanks in You've Got Mail. Not to worry. I excel at taking a base recipe and fine-tuning it for future endeavors. I discovered Sandra Lee's recipe lacked a bit of bite, sweetness and texture. The food processor process I employed the first time out of the gates ground everything to a paste;  the flavors of each individual component couldn't possibly show through once "grilled". (I also learned the grill is not the cooking tool of choice....) Here's what I came up with as an alternative to this fast summer savior:

Ingredients - black beans (30 oz), 1/2 sweet onion, 1/2 cup of whole beets, 1/2 cup bread crumbs, 1 egg (white)

Directions - Pulse the beans LIGHTLY and in batches in your food processor. Place in bowl. Then pulse 1/2 cup of beets in your processor. (This adds additional flare, color and sweetness to the burgers without being over the top for those who may shy away from beets.) Dice sweet onion into small pieces by hand. Combine, adding black pepper and salt to taste. Then combine with egg and crumbs. Form patties.

Use a skillet to cook each side (about 4 or 5 min/side), til done.

Makes 5 Servings for a large burger, or about 7 sliders.

Serve on a large English muffin and - the key - use Greek yogurt as the topping. Add mango salsa for additional panache!

So, what wine works?

I had a bottle of the Nuevo Mundo Cabernet/Malbec on hand the first time I tasted these re-vamped burgers - and have lived to tell the tale again and again (just ask my poor colleague...)!  But I've also given them a whirl with a Syrah-based Cote du Rhone as well as the Crios Syrah/Bonarda and been oh-so-satisfied. Basically, you want a lush and mouth-filling, deep, dark fruited red wine with a touch of herbaceousness and spice. Other blends that would work happily are the SNAFU (CA) and the Portteus Rattlesnake Red (WA). Or try a good old-fashioned, dark toned, (with chocolate subtones) Malbec!

The point is, these burgers aren't shy, but also offer a touch of spice and sweetness. A wine with dark but lush and sweet fruit or undertones (e.g. the chocolate thing) makes for a great pairing.

What other wines would you pair with such an easy-to-make, satisfying, hearty meal?



"family" wine emerges in MA market

Rethore Davy GamayA few months ago I discovered a wine bearing my family name, Rethore, would be coming to market here in Massachusetts. Tra-la! I had my father do a bit of more specific digging (we knew we were French, but...) and learned my family is actually from the Loire Valley; long story short, it is possible the folks who make this wine are, in fact, cousins. (See! I knew it was in my blood...) The Loire Valley is lesser known for its Gamay wines. (Recall Beaujolais in Burgundy is the appellation in France where these wines are at their best.) The Loire is better known for Sauvignon Blanc, Chenin Blanc and, for the reds, Cabernet Franc.  Yet, Rethore-Davy has crafted a Gamay for the red-wine-drinking public.

Finally landing on our shores, I had the opportunity to try the Rethore-Davy 2007 Gamay last Friday night. And it was exactly as it should be: bubblegum-flavored, tart and a bit high in acid. Not my favorite grape, that Gamay. But it is wicked cheap! For about $11 those who enjoy a solid expression of Gamay can enjoy the Rethore-Davy here in Massachusetts and possibly elsewhere in the US.

A bit anticlimactic, I have to admit. But cool nonetheless. Perhaps one day soon I'll get to try their Sauvignon Blanc? (That one seemed to get a solid review from a fellow blogger.) Here's hoping!

Is wine in your lineage? Have you had the chance to taste an offering?