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?

Gewurztraminer: Yes, I Enjoyed This One

The Back Story:

Gewurztraminer GrapesSometimes a wine has to be forced onto me for me to have to try it. That doesn’t mean that someone is holding me down and forcing me to sip from a glass, of course, just that I wouldn’t have ever spent the money on it myself.

Gewurztraminer is one like that. From the first time I was ever burned by a flabby, rotten, saccharine-sweet Gewurz, sitting so innocently, so golden-deliciously pretty in its glass, I’ve been wary of its devilish charms. It really is like the succubus of the wine world, if there were occasionally good-hearted succubi (or whatever fan-fiction plot twist there exists that would make this metaphor come together in a non-M. Night Shyamalan sense).

Fortunately, I have people around me who take the risks with this grape, weeding out the delightful from the gut-churning and rewarding me with the fruits of their labor. The Durkheimer Feuerberg Gewurztraminer Kabinett is one such wine. From Vier Jahreszeiten, which, from what I can gather on the Google, is more famous as a hotel than a winery, this Gewurztraminer that managed to intrigue me is, of course, from the heart of Germany.

The Results:

The appearance of the wine is a deep gold, though it has a very light green tint at its depth. Swirl suggests a medium viscosity.

The nose of the wine is almost exclusively floral with notes of jasmine and rose. There is a very slight apricot as well as a citrus scent. The alcohol is basically nonexistent on the nose.

The mouth feel of the wine is somewhat full and creamy, though the acidity feels just a bit low.

The flavor of the wine is fairly typical, albeit more intense, for a Gewürztraminer. It has an exclusively floral attack, giving way to overripe tropical fruits on the mid-palate. The finish is a fantastically bright lavender. There’s a minor sweetness to this wine, and it almost tastes like it needs a bit higher acidity to counter it. The alcohol, at 11.5%, supports the flavor very well.

For the Casual Drinker:

This is one of those sweeter whites that really suits a beginner’s palate. It’s got a beautiful floral characteristic as well as ripe fruits combined with just enough residual sugar to give the whole thing a full, pungent flavor. If you’ve got a friend who’s more into red wines, this won’t please their palate, but anyone who is a fan of off-dry whites and dessert wines should enjoy this, at least unless Gewurztraminer simply isn’t your thing.

The Conclusion:

If you were ready to write off Gewurztraminer as a hopeless grape destined for the White Zin crowd, this one might keep you around a bit longer. 6/10

In Case You Missed It:

Wine: Durkheimer Feuerberg Gewurztraminer Kabinett

Producer: Vier Jahreszeiten

Region: Pfalz, Germany

Varietal(s): 100% Gewurztraminer

Vintage: 2007

Residual Sugar: unknown

Alcohol: 11.5%

pH: unknown

Price: $17

Purchased at: A Southern Season, Chapel Hill, North Carolina

This Weekend in Wine: Unfermented Juice and Drinking Jalapeno

This weekend involved two surprises, one really, really good and one really, really bad, as well as revisiting an old standby and a welcome new favorite. The old standby, of course, is the ranga.ranga Sauvignon Blanc, one of the standouts of the Marlborough region in New Zealand. The exceptional herbal, grassy flavors and subdued grapefruit continue to make it a unique experience and one of my most opened bottles. The new favorite? A Spanish blend from Jumilla, Altos de Luzon. 50% Monastrell, 25% Cabernet Sauvignon, and 25% Tempranillo. Beautiful flavor with a fantastic balance, and a refreshingly full red fruit profile with a subtle earthiness.

The two surprises? Let’s start with the bad one… the 2007 Chateau Saint Roch Chimères. I’ve seen reviews of this wine that describe it as hedonistic, that crusty old standby of wine review terms that means a hell of a lot less than people give it credit for. I can tell you that right out of the bottle, it was nigh undrinkable. It was so spicy it burned the tongue, and the nose was so laden with alcohol it made my eyes water.

After an hour in the decanter, the nose had cooled considerably, so I poured a glass and gave it a go. The texture was so unpleasantly acidic, so rough, that we decided to decant it further overnight, hoping the acids would settle down. The next day, the nose had softened to a fairly pleasant mix of hedonistic ripe dark fruits and herbs. I took a sip only to be overwhelmed by spice and acid again. Paired with a variety of cheeses, it ranged from gag-inducing to barely sip-able. 24 more hours in the decanter, it was too oxidized to be drinkable, and it STILL had a palpable spiciness that overwhelmed the flavor. This is definitely a wine that needs aging, and whoever told me it was a drink now affair was, I believe, off the mark.

I’ve seen a lot of reviews for this wine awarding it anywhere from 88 to 90, so I’m wondering precisely what I’m missing that they aren’t. Anybody had this wine before that can give me some insight? Anyone? So far as I could tell, it wasn’t flawed, though I would love to be proven wrong on that front.

As far as the good, the surprisingly good, we go to an unfermented Gewurztraminer.

Oh yes.

From Navarro Vineyards, their Verjus line is designed for two purposes: to provide a cooking juice with a fuller fruit flavor and to allow those who cannot or will not drink alcohol to experience the beautiful flavors of wine grapes.

First of all, this was the first time I’d ever tasted unfermented juice from a traditional wine-making grape. Let me tell you, it was a fascinating experience. The hints of everything that a Gewurztraminer could be were there, the perfume, crisp acidity, full texture, the bright fruits, all with an overwhelming sweetness that really gives you an idea of what the potential alcohol would be.

I was tasked that evening by my girlfriend, the owner of the bottle, to use it in a recipe. She had received a few bottles of various unfermented varietal wines as a gift and had declined to open them until then. The issue facing me, then, is how in the world do you use what is essentially very expensive white grape juice in a main dish?

I began by thinking about what you could possibly use it in. A sauce? A marinade? I sniffed and sipped the juice, then, with the flavors and aromas on my palate and nose, I shuffled through the spice cabinet, sniffing and tasting the contents of various containers to find anything that has a synergy with this pungent, sweet liquid. The juice had an affinity for poultry-friendly spices, and I decided to try a chicken marinade.

Of course, the juice was too sweet for chicken alone, so I tried to think of a good counter. Cheese, with its satisfyingly straightforward fatty and salty flavors, was a shoo-in. Adding a little spice to the cheese was a no-brainer, and combining it with spinach seemed to make a very substantial filling. My friends, a stuffed chicken bake was about to begin. Long story short, here’s the recipe:

1 cup unfermented white grape juice

4 large boneless, skinless chicken breasts

1/2 cup goat cheese

1/2 cup shredded spinach

flour for coating

generous dashes of dalmatian sage, thyme, rosemary, garlic, crushed pepper, and salt for the marinade.

generous dashes of spicy spices for the cheese filling

olive oil (optional)

I began by marinating the chicken in a bag with the grape juice and the above marinade spices for 45 minutes. During, you want to mix the goat cheese and spinach by hand. By hand is important, because it’ll warm and soften the cheese as it mixes with the moisture from the spinach, forming a moldable stuffing. Spice it up to taste, though I recommend starting with paprika and black pepper.

I pulled each piece of chicken out and rolled in a generous portion of flour, making sure each was basically covered. I then sliced each one end to end, as far in as I could get, then added a quarter of the stuffing to each, getting it as even as possible.

Here, if you want a softer, saucier chicken coating (which is what I went for), rub the tops of each piece of chicken with olive oil. If you want it to get crispy, leave it dry. Bake for 25 minutes at 400 degrees. We served it with seasoned boiled red-skin potatoes.

The smells that came out of the oven were heavenly… the marinade was immaculate. The spices and the goat cheese counteracted the subtle sweetness that the chicken picked up perfectly. We paired with a white Cotes-du-Rhone, from Roussanne, Viognier, and Clairette, but the wine was slightly overpowered. Something more aggressively acidic, fruitier would suit this just fine, possibly a German Riesling, a Gruner Veltliner, or a Viognier. You might even be able to get away with one of the more acidic Rosés, something with a bite to it.

Consider me converted. Verjus is my kind of people.

Spin the Wheel: Indie Music Wine Pairings, Large Bodies of Water Edition

I’ve had a thing for unnecessarily long titles lately. You’ll have to forgive me on that front. This week, and I promise I had no hand in this, the two indie songs that came up on shuffle were Sparta’s “While Oceana Sleeps” and Jeniferever’s “From Across the Sea.” Hmm, Ocean… Sea… sounds like a parallel to me. Rest assured, however, that what I plan on pairing with these will be at least a bit more palatable than a glass full of brackish ocean water.

Sparta – While Oceana Sleeps

Sparta is a band with an interesting history. Way back in the day (read:: late 1990s) there was a band called At the Drive-In. They played ridiculously complex music, adding weirdly metaphoric and abstract vocals to off-rhythm drumming and an odd combination of punk and progressive guitar-work. However, there were two members, Cedric Bixler-Zavala and Omar Rodriguez-Lopez, the vocalist and guitarist, who were unsatisfied with their mainstream recognition as simply a punk band. They decided to start their own project, The Mars Volta, to pursue some ridiculously outlandish progressive orchestrations. The remainder of the band, Jim Ward, Paul Hinojos and Tony Hajjar, took their sound in an entirely different direction, towards a classic indie rock sound. Thus, Sparta was born. The band has split once again, with Jim Ward forming an alt-country band called Sleepercar with some guest musicians from previous Sparta releases as well as his father on bass. Go figure.

Sparta’s sound began with that dark passion leftover from At The Drive-In. Ward would play furious guitar riffs and shout-sing his vocals, employing direct lyrics that actively engaged the audience (“How can you sleep at night?”) on matters both personal and political. By the time they released the album Porcelain, however, their sound had seriously softened, employing a slower tempo and more melodic guitarwork. Ward began really exercising his vocal chops, returning to a more poetic, metaphorical lyric style.

If I were to match this band, both in history and content, I would pair them with a Pinot Blanc. Pinot Blanc, an on-vine mutation from the genetically unstable Pinot Noir, produces brilliantly-colored white grapes side-by-side with Pinot Noir’s dark berries. The flavors are suitable for either a dry, acidic style or a sweeter, tamer one, though that largely depends on terroir. As Sparta suddenly split from a darker, more intense parent, so does Pinot Blanc.

As far as the substance? You’re not going to get a world-class cellar-worthy wine from Pinot Blanc, but you will get a fairly safe, palatable wine just about every time. Sparta? Sparta may have a large following, but they’ve yet to release a hit single. Their music is pleasant, with a bit of variety, but still, you always know what to expect in a Sparta song. They’ll give you just a hint of stadium rock, a bit of punk, and a slice or two of indie, all delivered with earnest emotion. It’s certainly enjoyable, but by no means is it life-changing.

Jeniferever – From Across The Sea

Jeniferever is a band that I simply cannot hype enough. They’ve taken in a variety of 21st century-style influences: the vast, distorted soundscapes of post-rock bands like Sigur Ros, the staggeringly complex drumbeats of modern progressive bands like …And You Will Know Us by the Trail of Dead, the saturated, pedal-aided hum of shoegaze bands like My Bloody Valentine; these are all very mature, orchestrated bands.

However… This band doesn’t reach that same level of maturity. The name, Jeniferever (Jennifer Forever… yes…) sounds like a band that has 15000 friends on Myspace with an average age of 14.77. This can partially be blamed on the fact that they’re from Sweden; English is not their first language. And to be fair to them, they’ve carved out a sizable fanbase in the indie/shoegaze scene. If I had to personify the nature of their style, their vocals and lyrics, it would look something like this:

Jeniferever is childlike in their innocence, endearing in their romanticized notions of life and relationships, attempting to put on the big-boy emotions with a pre-teen’s heart. While many modern bands intone that honesty must be brutal and ugly, Jeniferever approaches hard truth from an almost resigned perspective: if it’s unpleasant, why worry about it? A running theme in their music is the inability to accept loss, and the loss is so vague it could be anything: childhood, love, home, a friend, life. When they do get specific, such as the song “Avlik,” the dedication to youth and inexperience really shines through:

He held his breath to hold your hand,
To hear the words to the picture he’d seen.
Watched how you reached for your things to leave,
To walk a block to the car that would take you home
To where you belong.
These hours just made it worse,
For now you’re far from here.
But oh, it was worth it;
‘Cause you’ll always be close to his heart.
You’ll always be close to his heart.

Sappy, straight-forward, Jenifever calls for a Gewürztraminer. If Jeniferever is the aural equivalent of a candy-smeared child handing you a bouquet of flowers, a Gewürz is that in wine. Some people think it’s the greatest thing ever; others are utterly put off by the experience. If you’re someone who can absorb a mouthful of overwhelmingly saccharine indulgence, you’ll get along fine with either of these offerings.

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