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.

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