Every Monday, I’m bringing you what I sipped on over the weekend as well as what I listened to to enhance the experience.
This weekend, I reconnected with my college days with the band Hidden in Plain View. Yes, I was one for the weepy pop-punk brand of emotional bloodletting, and in some cases, I still am. Not exactly a world-beater in talent or popularity, they’re still a lot of fun for singing along to at an unnecessarily high volume in the car, screechingly-nasal falsetto highly recommended.
I can only imagine how much fun it would be to be their drummer… nothing fancy in his work, nothing intricate, just a straight-up 4/4 hard rock with ample room for fills. He really does drive the band; as often as they cut to him on chorus transitions just in time for a drumstick flourish or crash cymbal roll, his energy necessarily has to be infectious.
The wine for the weekend was a stalwart classic, the California-style Chardonnay. From Concannon Winery’s Conservancy vineyards in the Livermore Valley, the 2008 Conservancy Chardonnay brings every classic characteristic of the California Chardonnay with an ecological benefit: the vineyards were planted to protect land from urban development, and the production of wine is just an added bonus.
The wine has all the traditional notes on its nose: palpable oak, a touch of toast, a hint of butter, a good dose of vanilla, and just a bit of apple and lemon untouched by oak. The flavors match, with just a hint of citrus and tropical fruits that manage to overcome a significant oaking in French and American oak barrels.
Though the wine underwent malolactic fermentation and oak aging, the mouthfeel is not as round as you would expect, as the acidity is a little off. The alcohol, however, provides ample structure at 13.5% without bringing the heat.
Overall, I’d say it’s a serviceable Chardonnay, subtle enough to avoid becoming one of the many over-oaked monstrosities that originate in California, and at $15, it’s not going to put a hurt on your wallet to give it a try. 5/10.
Welcome, potential participants, to the fact sheet for the Triangle Fantasy Wine League! After a long brainstorming session with Gwynne Murphy, we’ve come up with the framework for the league:
We’ll do a 14 week league, meeting every other week for 7 meetings total. There are two byes built into the schedule, very flexible, so you can miss two meetings and still fully qualify for the league prizes. You can even show up for the tasting without bringing a wine, so long as you meet your requirements in the other weeks.
Everyone who participates in the league will be a part of the tastings. Each week, each person who attends will bring a bottle of wine to be judged by the other participants.
We’ll be treating the wines as players on a football team, with different categories counting as the “stats” for the players.
We will be scoring the wines on a scale from 1 to 5 in the following categories:
Appearance: is the wine cloudy and dull or clear and vibrant?
Aroma: Is the nose pleasant, complex, and harmonious or off-putting, off-balance, or weak?
Body: Does the wine have texture and weight, or is it lifeless or watery?
Taste: Does the wine have a rich array of flavors, and is it balanced, or is it simplistic and unpleasant? Does the alcohol, tannins, acidity, or sugar stand out too much?
Finish: Does the flavor persist long after the wine hits your tongue, or does it vanish abruptly?
I will take the average of all scores for all categories and assign those to the wines. If you collect scores for more than 5 wines, your top 5 will be used. Each week, I’ll update the scores for each player as well as list each wine as reviewed by the participants. We might end up with a *very* lengthy consumer’s guide once it’s all said and done!
The winner will be the person whose top 5 averages combined are the highest. I’m working on a tiebreaker system, so a clear-cut winner should always be possible.
We will have 7 “positions,” based on real football positions, and each one will get its own tasting day. It’s in your best interest to submit a wine that fits the criteria for the week, otherwise it might clash with the other wines and be detrimentally scored. You only have to have 5 positions filled to qualify for the prize. Here are the positions:
Quarterback: The face of the franchise. The most skilled player on the field. Many different styles and skill sets, but a complexity unmatched by anyone else on the field. Big reds like Cabernet Sauvignon, Syrah, and Zinfandel varietal wines or GSM, Bordeaux, or Cote-Rotie blends lead the league in accolades, fame, and stat accumulation. Fail to draft a good quarterback, and your offense is stagnant.
Running Back: Stalwart players that, even if they don’t reach the same level of impact or fame as the quarterback, still can serve the role as the centerpiece of an offense. Noble reds Pinot Noir and Merlot are exemplary of this position, though up-and-coming varietals like Cabernet Franc, Malbec, Tempranillo, and Sangiovese or blends like Rioja and Burgundy are also worthy draft choices here.
Wide Receiver: A wide variety of styles and physiques. Your wide receiver can be a gangly, speedy down-field threat or a stocky, tank-like possession option. Noble whites like Chardonnay and Riesling or sleeper choices Chenin Blanc, Torrontes, and Pinot Grigio offer the versatility of minerality, floral character, and many different kinds of fruits that might help you win big.
Tight End: A hybrid of bruising, blocking strength and nimble pass-catching ability. These white wines are a bit more aggressive than the wide receiver, built to take on more punishing foods. Bigger, more acidic whites like Sauvignon Blanc, Pinot Blanc, Gruner Veltliner, and Picpoul de Pinet are a shock for the palate.
Defensive Back: Built like receivers with the mentality of a linebacker, the Rosé takes the best of both worlds. Any red that’s worth its salt, when prepared with minimal skin contact, creates a unique experience with just a bit more vigor than your standard white wine.
Defensive End: No-nonsense, bruising, in-your-face, dessert wines pack a lot of flavor and character into a compact frame. Moscato, ice wine, Tokaji, Port, and off-dry and late-harvest wines all do one job and do it well.
Linebacker: The ultimate combination of strength and speed, they bring a variety of talents with flash and stopping power. Sparkling wines, Champagne, Cava, Spumante, Asti, Vinho Verde, etc, will burst into the play with vigor.
The prize pool is simple: everyone kicks in a bottle of wine. Depending on how many participate, either the winner takes all, or we’ll split the award among first, second, and possibly third place. This decision will be made once the league is together.
Before I can set the schedule, I need to find out when people are available. Please fill out the following poll and let me know which days you are available. I’ll leave the poll open for a week, with the intent to start the league before the end of November. The sooner I get an idea of everyone’s availability, the sooner I can get this league off the ground.
Yeah, if you want to claim your clever fantasy team name, do so in the comments below. If you’ve never named a fantasy team before, or you need some inspiration, these guys have a few suggestions for you. At the very least, let me know if you’re interested, so I can start planning. Questions? Suggestions? Comment, message me, email me… you know how to find me.
Thanks for your interest, guys! Let’s start a new craze!
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.
The 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.
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 bloggerswillaffirm.
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?
This week, we had two Reds from the Iberian peninsula; a varietal Garnacha from Spain and a red blend from Portugal. It really had no relation to our tasting theme, which was a celebration of John Lennon, who would have been 70 years old that day. It was more the idea to bring in wines a little bit different to honor one of the men responsible for much of today’s modern music. Whether intentionally or not, we succeeded, as these reds were just off-kilter enough to give everyone’s palate a nice little shock.
We toasted to his memory and his legacy while a Wings concert cover of While My Guitar Gently Weeps (yes, written by Harrison, we know, the mood was what’s important) crescendoed in the background.
The first wine, 2008 Xiloca Garnacha by Vinae Mureri, was a deep, dark red wine that embodied all the characteristics of Ribera del Jiloca, the designation for Vino de la Terra from the Jiloca valley. Bold raspberry on the nose was tempered by a subtle earthiness and notes of tea and cinnamon. The flavors were bright and pure, with an unexpected, but pleasant, mineral component on the attack. Raspberry was the primary flavor, though there were also earthy and woody qualities that gave way to a peppery finish. a The alcohol, at 14%, was subdued, and the tannins were supple. It paired phenomenally well with mild milano salami and parmesan cheese. For a sub $15 wine, this was a good one.
The second wine, 2008 Colheita Seleccionada by Quinta de Cabriz, hails from the Beiras in Portugal. It’s comprised of three grapes, Alfrocheiro, Tinta-Roriz (Tempranillo), and Touriga-Nacional. The latter two are well known in the world, though Tempranillo isn’t as common in Portugal as Touriga. Alfrocheiro, however, is an interesting and fairly obscure grape. It was even more obscure before the Phylloxera pest devastated European vines, and it was brought in to some vineyards replace more susceptible varieties*. The result is a red blend which combines three fairly subdued varieties into an understated wine.
The appearance is a deep red with a slight peach tint at the edge. The aroma is jammy and sweet, not cloying, but it is a little off, with an earthy, spicy kind of cherry aroma. The flavor is very smooth, with astringent tannins on the finish and a fairly bland black cherry flavor. It’s fruity and dirty at the same time, with a sweet/sour characteristic almost like a Sweetart. It’s definitely got too much sweetness for such a subtle structure, and the flavors are a bit overwhelmed by it. I would say it’s drinkable at under $10, but it’s definitely not a leading option if you’re trying to impress someone who understands red wines.
All in all, this tasting was not one of the best. Though the Garnacha was a pleasant sipper, the Colheita Seleccionada was an underwhelming and bland experience. I had higher hopes for trying a new grape, but at the very least, I can add it to the list for the The Wine Century Club, an in the end, isn’t that what really matters? (no, no it isn’t)
*from Oz Clarke and Margaret Rand’s Grapes & Wines p. 35
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?
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.
We 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?
The goal for this particular day was to create a dish that would adequately pair with a gift wine. Like the Desert Wind Viognier I reviewed a couple months ago, I received the 2008 Duck Pond Cellars Pinot Gris as a gift from the Fries family as a way for me to taste the wines they were pouring at the 2010 Wine Bloggers Conference.
Before I reveal the recipe, however, let’s get an idea of what we’re working with here.
(Yes, I had to sneak a little football into the picture. It’s the time of the season.)
The appearance of the wine is a very pale straw color with a very slight green tint. The viscosity is low, but the depth and clarity is rather impressive.
The nose of the wine is very bright, with honey, honeydew melon, and pear all standing out stark and sweet.
The texture of the wine is a bit thin, with a light body, but it has a crisp and pleasant texture to it.
The flavor of the wine is very subtle at the outset. It gradually encroaches upon the entirety of your tongue, building to a rich, full finish. The alcohol is just a bit prominent, but other than that, the balance is great. Citrus and orchard fruits contribute to the flavor, with a bit of honey for complexity. The finish is a pure, bright melon.
For the Casual Drinker:
This is a wonderfully light, crisp, and flavorful wine that, unfortunately, would probably fail to impress the palates geared towards bigger reds. Light fruits, light flavors, light body, just a hint of sweetness, this is definitely a warmer-weather kind of wine that would do just fine on its own. It doesn’t need food to shine, though, as you’ll see below, the right food certainly will make it a fantastic experience.
Though I’m generally not a Pinot Gris fan, when it’s done right, it’s a very clean and agreeable experience. This Pinot Gris is done right, and it’s a true value buy at $12.00. 7/10
I took several chicken tenderloins and lightly breaded them in a blend of white flour, salt, black pepper, cayenne pepper, paprika, oregano, celery seed, and thyme. I then pan-fried them in oil, resulting in a golden-brown coating that infuses the spices with the meat itself:
After that, I tossed them in a ketchup-based sauce that was seasoned to my taste… here’s the basics for enough to coat a half a pound of tenderloins (about 6 strips), with some leeway as to your personal taste:
You’re going to need finely chopped vidalia onions and peppers. Which peppers you use really depends on the heat you’re looking for, though I recommend staying away from anything hotter than a habanero pepper. For the flavors to match, ideally you’d go with a combination of Poblano, Mulato, or Anaheim peppers. It’s hard to get those outside of a gourmet produce shop, though, so work with what you know. Chilis and Jalapenos are pretty easy to get. You could even go bell if you want no heat at all. For this recipe, you’ll need about two tablespoons of chopped onion and two tablespoons of chopped peppers per half cup of sauce.
If the onions and peppers are fresh, sauté them (but don’t brown them) for a few minutes to soften them. If they’re marinated or have spent some time soaking in water, they’re good to go.
In a simmering small saucepan, blend a half a cup of ketchup with a tablespoon of either raw sugar (for a lighter sauce) or brown sugar (for a thicker sauce). Add splashes of vinegar and soy sauce. Add the onions and peppers. For seasonings, you want to keep it light so it won’t interfere with the onions and peppers (we’re not going with garlic for this sauce). I suggest just a bit of paprika for heat, a bit of ginger for depth, and cilantro to garnish the flavor, but let your taste buds and your sense of smell be your guide. Let it simmer for a good 20 minutes or so, long enough for the peppers and onions to start to melt into the sauce and release their flavors.
I served it (to myself) with some stove-cooked black-eye peas. The sauce, as I prepared it mildly, matched the Pinot Gris very well, accentuating the bold fruit flavors without overwhelming them. A spicier sauce would need a fuller white, either in body or in sweetness.
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?
We 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.
A 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.
We 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.