Music Thursday: Art Rock and Washington Riesling

The triumphant return of the blog comes with one of the best new bands in my library paired with one of the best white wines I’ve had the pleasure of sipping.

The Music

I have been obsessed with this band the past few weeks. They’re a British art rock band with heavy progressive rock and electronic influences. Their vocals heavily depend on male-female harmonies and chant-like repetition, all laid over a saturation of rapid bass and rhythm guitar strokes. The band seems more keen on creating an atmosphere than a poppy sing-along, embracing programmed drums and waves of synthesizers to fill the void left by conventional instruments. The only real breaks in the music seem to be focused on giving full weight to a vocal harmony.

Anyway, the track is “ii) Apogee iii) Requiem for the Lovers” by Pure Reason Revolution. The video is a combination of footage from their tour and a show in London back when they were performing this music before it was released in studio, so you’ll also get to see glimpses of their recording session. Really, all it did was make me desperately want to see them live. Hopefully they’ll come stateside soon.

2009 Kung Fu Girl

Now for the wine: I celebrated a successful first day of my participation in the Midwest Grape & Wine Conference with a bottle of Riesling. I’d originally set out for a bottle of Champagne, but, alas, it was near impossible to find a wine shop open after the conference’s day session, and the hotel bar stopped serving at 7, so I decided to open the Riesling recommended to me by Collin at The Wine And Cheese Place in Ballwin, MO, the previous afternoon. Kung Fu Girl, from the Columbia Valley in Washington, it was.

The wine is surprisingly active, forming a lot of bubbles on the glass after the pour. It has a light straw color, and the swirl suggests quite a bit of heft behind the wine.

The nose is very light and crisp with lilac, citrus, peach, and pear. It just smells like spring. There’s no hint of alcohol heat, no unsavory scents to be had at all.

The flavor is a  mouth-coating blend of white peach, lemon, and pear, with a fantastic perceived sweetness and a touch of minerality. Pear lasts on the medium-long finish. The wine takes all these beautiful delicate spring notes and creates an intense, rich experience. It’s truly an exemplary Riesling. Fantastic balance, with a zesty acidity that you can feel without tasting. The alcohol backs up the body well without overpowering the light flavors.

I’m drinking this wine in the dead of winter after a major snowstorm in a cold city, but I’m thoroughly enjoying it. For optimal results, break this one out in a bright, sunshiney kind of picnic setting, with a light white-meat or seafood offering. [insert aforementioned meat here]-salad sandwiches, deviled eggs, cheese-and-crackers. The sugar can handle a touch of spice, and the body of the wine is built to handle the assault of a primarily poultry meal.

In short, this is one of the best sub-$20 Rieslings I’ve ever had. 8/10.

As a bonus, I sipped from Oenophilia’s Polycarbonate Wine Glasses. Shatterproof wine glasses that look just like their glass counterparts, they were one of the most popular products that I demo’d at the conference. I would wait until a couple people walked past, not really paying attention, and then chuck the glass at a metal display or a table across the way. They’d panic until they realized the glass didn’t break. It cracked me up every time.

The Wine: Kung Fu Girl

Producer: Charles Smith Wines

Vintage: 2009

Region: Columbia Valley, Washington, US

Varieties: 100% Riesling

Alcohol: 12.5%

Price: $18

Breaking out the Big Guns for a Rich, Ripe Rioja

Last week’s wine tasting was a special treat, as Greg broke out one of the cellaring bottles we have in the office. A Rioja bottled around the time of Y2K made an appearance, the cork popping just at the peak of its aging. Because we tend to go for the drink-now wines available at local shops, this was a great way to end the week.

1999 Pujanza RiojaThe 1999 Bodegas Pujanza Rioja is a classic Tempranillo blend from the city of Laguardia, Rioja, in Spain. It sports a deep cherry color with significant tanning at the ages, indicative of its decade spent in the bottle. There is a considerable amount of sediment in the wine, clouding the wine from its initial pour. If we’d had the time, we would have decanted this bottle in a decanter that featured a punt or using a funnel with a filter; as it was, we had to wait for the sediment to settle in our glasses, which also gave us time to let the wine breathe.

The nose of the wine featured a very rich and advanced bouquet, with notes of stewed prunes and olives buoyed by a smokey and spicy aroma. The overall impression was of a baked, savory dish, something classic with Mediterranean flair. The flavors matched, with a subtle minerality holding firm behind the prunes until a medium woody finish. An herbal savoriness also makes an appearance, most strongly reminding me of fresh-cut basil. It was medium-bodied, subtly, silkily textured, with a beautiful balance that offered very fine, powdery tannins. This wine was just on the edge of tired, so I’m glad we opened it up when we did. It’s certainly not a cheap wine, selling for around $60 to $65, but as a harmonious and rich experience, it’ll be well worth it if you manage to find a bottle of this extremely rare treat.

We had the opportunity to give two accessories a try this week: the Stiletto Cork Extractor and an in-bottle decanter. The Stiletto is a ridiculously heavy-duty opener requiring even less “elbow grease” than even the higher quality rabbits on the market. A customer of mine, when she called, told me how much she loved it, as her arthritis made it difficult to use traditional corkscrews and rabbits. The cylindrical style grips the bottle for you, and the intricate gear system helps take a lot of the effort out of the lever movement. We got a clean pull that was surprisingly both swift and gentle, with no crumbling or splitting on a 10 year old cork.

Oenophilia Stiletto Cork Extractor

The other accessory, the in-bottle decanter, is an awesome piece that’s as aesthetically pleasing as it is functional. The most well-known (and arguably most respected) model is the Soiree Decanter. Though the implementation is scary, turning the bottle completely upside down, it’s entirely worth it to get the cascading effect. The wine pours down the edges of the decanter, gently agitating and mixing with the air around it before it comes back together to pour neatly from the spout. It gets the job done, as bloggers will affirm.

In Bottle Decanter Model

Have you tried the Soiree or the Stiletto? What did you think? Are they worth a purchase, or are they more gimmicky replacements for traditional accessories?

Check Norcal Wingman, 1WineDude, and TypeAMom for the linked reviews and more!

Another Gruner and a Neat Little Bottle Accessory

Usually, when we have our office tastings, we get the entire group together for at least a couple wines. We only had 5 people left in the office this past Friday, late afternoon, making finishing two bottles and then negotiating rush hour traffic a baaad idea. Thus, we decided to make this tasting a good one and go with a single recommended selection from Wine Authorities. Coincidentally, it turned out to be from the same producer of one of my favorite frizzanté Rosés, one which I plan on writing up soon.

The wine we tasted this time was a 2009 Weingut Michlits Gruner Veltliner, a variety that, although still relatively unknown to wine consumers in the United States, is nevertheless making headway as a contender to Sauvignon Blanc as a go-to “wine with a bite.” Though capable of producing a variety of styles, including sparkling, Gruner Veltliner generally takes a food-friendly high-acidity, medium-to-full-body character. Its redolent notes and full flavor make it suitable for exotic, spicy cuisine such as curry and sushi.

If you’re tired of the grapefruit-and-cat-pee nature of Sauvignon Blanc, maybe it’s time to give Gruner Veltliner a try.

As for ours?

Weingut Michlits Gruner Veltliner 2009

The nose was surprisingly floral, the scent bright and thick. There were multiple fruit overtones, with green apple, lemon, and apricot all rather stark.  With these spring-like wilderness scents, it all came together in a nose that reminded me a lot of a pond or river out in a field, the perfume-y fruits and flowers blending with a palpable minerality.

The flavors were similarly pleasant, with light floral and citrus characteristics and a prime green apple taste that persisted from attack to finish. The finish itself, decently long, had a smoky characteristic suggested by the mineral-like scent on the nose but in a different realm of flavor. We agreed that it was very active, well, balanced, almost effervescent, and very full. Unlike past wines, it was unanimously revered, which is great for a group such as ours with varied tastes in wine.

Drop Stop Pourer in PackageWe also put to test the Drop Stop pourer, a unique accessory in that its construction allows for a really inexpensive way to get a paper-thin pouring surface. Anyone who’s poured from a wine bottle knows that the thick lip necessary from the glass causes wine to dribble down the side of the bottle at the end of the pour. The basic rule is the thinner the edge, the more precise the cut-off for the pour.

Anyway, the way it works is you roll up the mylar disc, stick it about halfway into the bottle, and let it expand. The mylar opens to form a tight seal, and because the edge is so thin, the wine can’t get any force behind it to push it out or leak around it, something that has happened to me with traditional acrylic or rubberized pourers. It worked like a charm; not a drop of wine spilled after 5 pours. It’s easier to clean than solid pourers as well, as it unfolds into a flat plane that’s easily rinsed and wiped rather than a narrow tube that you can barely get a Q-tip through.

Don’t get me wrong, I love the aesthetic appeal, aerating function, and durability of my Menu Pourer Vignon, but if you’re looking for an inexpensive, reusable pourer with minimal upkeep, the Drop Stop is a viable solution.

What do you think? Would you be okay with pouring from something that looked as basic as this at a party, or would you want something with the flair and functionality of a Menu pourer?

Drop Stop in Bottle

An Office Celebration: We Drank Wine. Surprised?

This week was a bit of a treat. Instead of the usual one-or-two wines, our tasting included three varied wines: a Prosecco, a Port-style Zinfandel, and an Alsatian Riesling. What was the occasion? Does one need an occasion to celebrate life?

Port Sippers Wine Glass

Luna Argenta ProseccoWe started with the non-vintage Luna Argenta Prosecco, a prime example of its style. The color was a very pale straw, and the carbonation appeared to be fine if a bit aggressive. The nose was very aromatic, detectable from a yard away directly after its pour. Apple, citrus, and a light floral scent all cobbled together in a fairly standard bubbly scent. The flavors were a bit different, with pineapple, a bitter berry, and pear all making appearances. It was dry, and the flavor was weak when compared to the aroma. Still, not a disappointing sparkling, especially for one that usually sells for just over $10. This was the clear favorite in the tasting, as the bottle was drained soon after the tasting was over. Compare that to the last wine, which, among the nine of us usually eager wine-consumers, had a half of a bottle leftover that we used to clean our drains.

Evenus Port-Style ZinfandelA bit of a surprise was the 2006 Evenus Port-style Zinfandel. Hailing from Paso Robles in California for just under $10 at Trader Joe’s, this wine was a big change from the Prosecco. We decided to give our Porto Sippers a workout for this one, as we hadn’t had the opportunity in our tastings thus far. The Port sippers will direct and splash Port wine directly onto your tongue, resulting in a unique tasting experience that, admittedly, we hadn’t tried in quite a while. This certainly disappoint, highlighting the flavors of cranberry, raspberry, and baking spices in this wine. We also tried it with dark chocolate, and it paired sublimely.

2004 Kuentz Bas RieslingWe finished with the 2004 Kuentz Bas Alsatian Riesling.  The Riesling was by far (and surprisingly) the worst of the group. The aroma was that of spiced fruit and dark floral, but it seemed slightly spoiled. The flavor wasn’t much better, with orchard fruit and citrus tempered by a floral flavor, though the whole experience was marred by some rotten-sweet characteristic. The texture was lifeless, lame, and the finish was disappointingly short. I wrote and underlined FLACCID on the sheet. The balance was just awful, with no acid activity whatsoever. As the most anticipated wine in our line up, it was a complete let-down.

It was so bad that Ashley decided to see if she could improve its characteristics by drinking it from a coffee mug. Not surprisingly, her plot was foiled.

Wine from a Coffee Mug

A Friday Afternoon Indulgence and an Odd New Accessory

Ken Forrester Pinotage and the Moltes GewurztraminerThe tasting this week was a study in contrast: the whimsical, airy notions suggested by an Alsatian Gewurztraminer and the dirty, heavy-handed character of a South African Pinotage. The Gewurz, a 2008 from Moltes, is a $15.00 gem from Alsace, the eastern-most region of France that borders north of Switzerland and west of Germany. The Pinotage, a 2009 Ken Forrester wine from the Stellenbosch valley in southwestern South Africa, offers a hybrid grape from a terroir nearly 6000 miles away from the cradle of its ancestors in Languedoc and Burgundy.

The Gewurztraminer came highly recommended by Jen, the manager of the Hillsborough Wine Company, one of my favorite local spots to get my wine. I was initially dazzled by the depth of the wine,  with golds and yellows and greens all swirling about depending on where the light caught. The nose was fairly typical for a Gewurztraminer, with floral, tropical, and very slightly grape-y scents. The flavors, though, were unexpectedly complex. Orange zest, lavender, passion fruit, pineapple, and, again, a light grape make an appearance on the palate, with the pineapple overtaking on the finish.

I’m not a Gewurztraminer fan, but when they’re done right, whoo boy, they don’t disappoint.

The Pinotage was received much more coolly. I can definitely understand the lack of enthusiasm; it was simply too young. We gave it a pass through this Menu decanting system, designed to decant and aerate the wine then pour back into the bottle. Maybe we can’t age it in a hurry, but ideally we can at least let it open up to its potential.

What we got from this wine was a consensus of wrong wine, wrong time. This was a very smoky, very sour, albeit very smooth, experience, with aggressive tannins and a heavy-handed flavor. We found it very savory, making it an ideal pairing for barbecue ribs, something that will take the edge off the smoky flavor and allow the red fruits to shine through. The nose gave us a suggestion of what the flavor could become, with a bright cherry shining through the meatiness. Because I neglected to bring in some food for the tasting, however, the world may never know.

At least the Menu decanter was a rousing success. A good, even cascade, solid seal that held a 750ml bottle firmly in place, and a gasket that didn’t spill a single drop while pouring either into the bottle or out. Though one might question the wisdom of decanting a bottle then refilling it, at least from an aesthetic point, the convenience of pouring from a bottle rather than a decanter cannot be overstated.

What do you think? Is this product’s feature a solid idea or merely a gimmick? Would you rather be serving a decanted wine from a decanter, or is the bottle the preferred vessel for when you’re entertaining?

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