Saturday, January 31, 2009

It's a bird, it's a plane, no, it's Lodi Zin!

I've promised myself this when I started drinking wine: I would always keep an open mind and continue to try new things. And I do, I really do (see my posts on Godello and Furmint). But I can see myself trending towards Old World vineyards and neglecting my palate's education in other such areas of the world, like California and Australia. I noticed this bottle kicking around downstairs: the 2006 Benson Ferry 9x9 Old Vine Zinfandel. This was a gift to my parents over the holidays; as my Dad doesn't drink wine and my Mom is more of a white wine drinker, I inherited it. I researched online and found that it's going about $11.99 retail, give or take. This zinfandel is from the AVA of Lodi in California. I'm already on a less traveled path for my palate: California and zinfandel are not common in my wine drinking escapades.

To start off the color was a pretty ruby color, one that looked dark, but you could see your fingers through it. Also, there were some rather long legs sticking alongside my glass (something I'm not quite used to with the normal 12.5% or so in Eurowines). This zinfandel smelled like an open-faced blackberry and black cherry pie that just came out of the oven- it's mostly that smell of that smushed up scrumptious berry mixture that always seems to be left on your plate after you finished your slice. But there's a hint and I mean tiny hint of mossy forest floor. It's as if someone tossed a tiny piece of moss onto your pie plate and you're thinking "What's this doing here?" This zinfandel starts off with all that fruit (blueberries, black cherries, and blackberries), shifts to a more tannic, earthy wine at the midpalate, and then finishes with a baseball mitt that has one tobacco leaf and some of that berry pie oozing out of it.

This 9x9 Zinfandel is like the Clark Kent of wines (I'm speaking strictly of his Daily Planet persona, not Superman). As with this wine, Clark Kent is the "gee shucks" type person who is sweet and thoughtful and will do anything for you. At first glance, Clark doesn't seem to be hiding anything. I mean, really, what could be so interesting about Clark that he'd need to lie about? However, he has hidden layers and is more complex than most of his friends would ever give him credit for. This wine, although not a complete 180 from its nose, is certainly more interesting than I first thought it would be. Even though it doesn't make the full Clark Kent/Superman comparison, the Benson Ferry 9x9 Zinfandel does not disappoint and made for a nice treat for my palate.

Thursday, January 29, 2009

E.T. phoned home to RI

This evening I had the 2007 Sakonnet Vineyards Unoaked Chardonnay. Sakonnet (it rhymes with bonnet) is a 125 acre winery in Little Compton, RI and it's the oldest winery in New England (full disclosure: I worked there over the summer of 2008). This is the new release of their unoaked chard. After talking with the winemaker, Elaine, she told me that 2007 was a "meh" year here, as there was quite a bit of fog and rains during and around the harvest.

When I poured it into the glass, it looked so light, like a pinot gris or a sauvignon blanc. On the nose, it smelled of peaches, pears, green apples, and a hint of melon. It smelled like a peach-based fruit salad. Really nice nose, but completely unexpected. On the palate, it explodes with green apples and continues on the fruit salad theme, although it's like someone put a leaf or two of basil in there for good measure (or just to mess with people). The wine has a more sweet edge, but it's not a complete sugar wine; there's some definite acidity there. Seriously, if I had this wine in a blind tasting, I would never guess chardonnay as the varietal! That being said, it's a pleasant wine. If you happen to visit Sakonnet, I'd suggest it on a tasting.

This chardonnay is like the Drew Barrymore of wines. Barrymore started off as a sweet child actor, then had many difficult years of substance abuse issues, and finally has emerged as America's sweetheart again. It's a lot like this chardonnay, where you have expectations for it, they're completely undone, but in the end, you're delightfully surprised. This chardonnay, although it seems more akin to a pinot gris or sauvignon blanc, is a nice detour from the buttery, heavy, and overoaked versions out there. Like Drew Barrymore, this wine provides an interesting story and some nice entertainment.

Boston Wine Expo, Day Two

On Sunday, I started out the day at 11 with the Wine Lib crew, helping them set up before the "scrum" of consumer hours. I had another chance to run off and try some more wines before 1PM and I started off with Ashley who was representing Westport Rivers Vineyards (check out their Rkatsiteli and Sparking Riesling- good stuff). We started off with a recommendation from Justin of the Wine Library to hit up the Terra Mater table. Really good wines from Chile, ranging from a Sauvignon blanc to a Zinfindel. Some of the reserve Cabernet sauvignon and Merlot was okay, but the Zinfindel was a standout in my eyes. According to their representative, this winery was the first to plant Zinfindel in the country. Really great fruit, light oak influence, made for a nice wine. Unsure of the price point, but I think it was in the low teens.

Then Ashley and I hit up the Boony Doon table; we even got to keep a crystal that they use for the biodynamic winemaking (I would not touch the bull horns). We got to taste most of their product line, including: 2007 Ca' del Solo Albariño, 2007 Ca' del Solo Muscat, 2007 Le Cigare blanc, 2007 Vin gris de Cigare, 2005 Ca' del Solo Sangiovese, 2005 Syrah Le Pousseur, 2005 Le Cigare Volant, and the 2007 Le Vol des Anges. It was too bad Randall Grahm wasn't there, but we got to meet Bradley Martin. It was great to see different varietals like Muscat, Albariño, Granache blanc, Roussane, Sangiovese, etc being tried out in California. I have to say, I think the Muscat was my favorite; I'm partial to that grape. The Albariño was definitely solid, but lacking some of that razor sharp acidity.

To continue on Rhône varietals, I visited the fabulous Châteauneuf-du-Pape table and I was blown away. All the wines were barrel samples from 2007, unless otherwise noted. I was unaware of that when I began tasting and this seemed even more amazing after I realized the truth of it. After tasting many barrel samples and fermenting wine while interning in Bordeaux, you can't miss the harsh taste or the overriding oak flavors; these wines, however, were showing like something you'd buy in the liquor store. Let me get on my high horse and yell:

"You need to get some 2007 CdP!!!!!"

Okay, I got that out of my system. And now you know.

Onto the wines. I started off with the 2008 Domaine Lafond Lirac blanc and 2007 Domaine Lafond rouge, recommended by Matt from the Wine Lib. Excellent recommendation. The white had amazing freshness and mouthfeel (50% Grenache blanc, 30% Roussane, 20% Viognier) and the red was a serious blockbuster of a wine (65% Grenache, 30% Syrah, 5% Mouvèdre). It was good to drink on its own, but I'd love to have some BBQ with it. The Pierre Usselio & Fils wines were showing well, my favorite being the 2007 Cuvée de Mon Aïeul. From Bosquet des Papes, my favorite was the 2007 A la Gloire de Mon Grand-Père (98% Grenache and 2% Clairette/Cinsault). This was just a fabulous wine, with good tannic structure and some nice fruit. The granddaughter took over winemaking at the estate, hence the name- to the glory of my grandfather.

The wines that stole the show were from Domaine Boisson which is a Côtes-du-Rhône Villages. The winemaker, Bruno Boisson, was the person pouring and I got to chat with him. He and his brother are in charge of the winemaking at the winery, which is a 25 hectare property in Cairanne. All of the wines were great, both the whites and the reds. The standout red was the 2007 Clos de la Brussère which had great fruit and earth tones to it (60% Grenache, 30% Mouvèdre, 10% Carignan). Simply a lovely balance. And you have to remember once again that these were all barrel samples!

So there it was, the Boston Wine Expo. Excellent wines, excellent peeps. And quite the fabulous weekend.

Oh yeah, and we gave away about 3,000 bags over the weekend for Wine Library!

Wednesday, January 28, 2009

Boston Wine Expo, Day One

This past weekend, I was attended the Boston Wine Expo and had a fabulous experience! Gary Vaynerchuk was the keynote speaker at the Expo and was also there to spread the word about his blog, Wine Library TV, as well as give away tons of free bags and wristbands. I helped the Wine Lib crew at the booth on Saturday and Sunday. During the trade hours, I was lucky enough to be able to run about and taste from some of the hundreds of exhibitors. This weekend was a bunch of firsts for me, as I got to try several Sauternes, Gavi di Gavi, Arneis, Mazuelo (Carignan) from Navarra, Agiorgitiko (St. George), Moschofilero, some bodacious reds from Lodi, and a Zinfindel from Chile from TerraMater. And this was just on Saturday.

That night, I got to eat and drink at the lovely Troquet restaurant in Boston. The food was wonderful and it ran the gamut from minestrone soup with wild boar to confit de canard to pork belly. And of course, when eating with fellow wine nerds, we had some good bottles. The first was the 2002 JJ Christoffel Auslese Riesling Ürziger Würzgarten. Lovely nose, nice peachy notes and great minerality on the palate. Now that is riesling my friends! The red that followed was the 2004 Coche Dury Bourgogne, the super hard to find pinot noir from Burgundy. For my palate, pinot noir usually comes off as too barnyardy and unenjoyable for me. As much as I love Old World wines, this is one varietal that prefer from the New World. The Coche Dury was an exception to that rule; even though there were some light barnyard elements to it, the wine had a smoothness and polish about it that I haven't tasted in Old World pinot before. Perhaps it's that I usually can't afford to drop tons-o-money on a bottle of wine and to compound this, the entrance price to a good pinot has become higher and higher. Call it the "Sideways" effect. The Coche Dury was fabulous and if you ever see it on a list, get it. Not only is a very hard wine to find, but there's some serious juice in the bottle.

And to end the night: the Expo After Party at the Boston Wine School. There were a lot of good Vayniacs there to celebrate. The party was well stocked with wine and small hors-d'oeuvres. The prosecco and the prosecco rosé that was poured was definitely a crowd pleaser, although I prefer wines with a bit more acidity and bite to them. I also got to try out the 2006 Truro Vineyards Triumph, a meritage blend from a local vineyard from Cape Cod. I was a bit skeptical that Bordeaux varietals could fully ripen here, but the wine was not terrible!* I was quite surprised that it had some nice flavors and wasn't completely overoaked. Kudos. That being said, I can get actual AOC Bordeaux wines that cost less even after the import taxes.

All in all, day one of the Expo was a success. Had some great wines, some not so great, and got to meet some wonderful people.

*There is some doubt as to whenever all the fruit is grown in Massachusetts, as claimed by the winery. Check out the comments section.

Wednesday, January 21, 2009

These are a few of my favorite things...

Special Inauguration Special: Bubbles!

In honor of our new President, Barack Obama, I decided to pop a bottle of Champagne. (One day late- sorry Barack. I had to work last night!) I found the Duval Leroy Brut at my local wine shop and decided to try it. Although it's not a "grower" champagne (unfortunately none of these in stock), I decided the Duval Leroy was a better play than a PJ or Dom P, as it was not only cheaper, but unknown to me. I'll admit that the shelf talker (the little tag saying who rated the wine) also affected my purchase. The Duval Leroy Brut was #41 on Wine Spectator's Top 100 Wines of 2006.

This champagne is a pale gold. When I was pouring it into the glass, I could smell it already! A nice, aromatic champagne with a rather traditional nose: toast, green apples, but a hint of grapefruit and lemons. That carried onto the palate, starting off with buttery toast, citrus fruits at the midpalate, and bushels of Granny Smith apples with a touch of vanilla.This champagne is zesty, tart, and vibrant, with a bright acidity throughout. I enjoyed it a great deal. For the $30 I paid, it certainly brought some thunder.

Champagne has an ever growing worldwide demand, hence the prices are more than most Californian, Spanish, or Australian sparklers. In fact last spring, the Institut national de l'origine et de la qualité, the regulatory body of the French appellation system, decided to expand the Champagne region to 38 more communes. They feel that this expansion will help the exploding demand in China and Russia.

The Duval Leroy Brut reminds me of Sawyer from "Lost." (I guess I'm celebrating this post with some of my favorite things: French wine, Barack Obama, and "Lost.") Sawyer can be rough hewn and he keeps things interesting on the island by having some biting sarcastic humor. Also, no matter what new calamity is affecting the survivors of 815, Sawyer is continually a vibrant character, taking joy rides with Hurley in the van, shooting polar bears, or hunting a boar in the jungle. He's not one to take life sitting down. Whereas some people might be turned off by the amount of acidity in the Champagne (or the tartness in Sawyer's character), others are drawn to it. I, of course, am one of the latter.

Happy Inauguration and Lost premiere!

Monday, January 19, 2009

Blockbuster Europeans

Tonight I had another Wine Library specialty: Godello. I had seen this when Gary Vaynerchuk tasted it on episode #554 and I was intrigued. Not only is Godello a special grape, but it was also a good buy. The bottle only cost $10. Upon my pilgrimage to the Wine Library, I knew I had to buy at least one bottle. As a CKC (College Kid Crew), this was a good buy. Plus, I like drinking esoteric wines. This fit the bill on both counts. Now for some fun facts. Godello is a Spanish white wine grape from Valdeorras, just north of Albariño country in Rías Baixas. A versatile grape, it can be aged in stainless steel (for cripsness) or in oak (for a creamier taste).

I had the 2007 Vadesil Montenovo Godello. The wine was pale gold. The Godello smelled like a whole basket of cut up lemons (with a few grapefruits in there for good measure), plus a briny smell, like dried seaweed on the shoreline. It tasted like lemons, sugarcane, grass, and it had a nice long finish with some white floral components. This is an extremely well crafted wine; although it has 13.5% alcohol, I could not taste the heat. Also, I had been expecting an extremely acidic wine, something that would need food to accompany it. However, it had a medium weight and a nice balance of acidity and sweetness which makes it an ideal party wine. (As a side note, I served this at Thanksgiving and it was a big hit. Regular wine drinkers and newbies alike were impressed. Needless to say, the bottle was emptied quickly.)

This Godello is the Kate Winslet of wines. No matter if you're a connoisseur or not, you can appreciate the power of her acting. You know you're watching an amazing performance- Winslet always brings it to the table and she's versatile. Mushiness in "Titanic," comedy in "The Holiday," zest for life (eventually) in "Little Children." No matter the role, Winslet delivers and captures her audience. This Godello acts in the same way, bringing together wine novices and neophytes- quite the blockbuster.

Saturday, January 17, 2009

A Common Denominator Between Eastern Europe and Anna Torv: Furmint and "Fringe"

Today I had a treat of a wine. I found this bottle at the Wine Library in Springfield, NJ when I went to tape a show with Gary Vaynerchuk, gregarious and hilarious host of Wine Library TV. First off, the Wine Library is a mecca for anyone who enjoys going to wine shops (like this wine nerd). If you're in the area (dirty Jerse, just east of NYC), then make a trip. It's certainly worth it not only for the wine, but the amazing cheese and gourmet foods. Anywho, let's get to the wine.

I tasted the 2005 Château Imperial Furmint Dry. It was a Gary Vee show that let me know this varietal even existed and that it was available as a still wine. Here's some more information on Furmint. When I visited, I made sure that I bought a bottle of this as it's practically impossible to find chez moi. The color was of pale straw, similar to a sauvignon blanc or pinot gris. It smelled of a motor shop (nice petrol components), lots of honey, and pretty white flowers. The Château Imperial tasted sweet and creamy at first, with an extraordinary lime component at the midpalate and finished with a good kick of acidity and some more honey. It reminded me of some good Alsatian Riesling with the acidity and honey elements, although it lacks that minerality that I love so much from Alsace.

This wine has character and solid backbone. This made me like it quite a bit. When I think of this Furmint, I think of Olivia Dunham in "Fringe." Don't be fooled- there's a lot behind this woman and she'll let you know it too. Steely resolve, challenges authority. There's a lot to be said of a supposedly "weak" exterior. It can certainly fool your enemies or detractors. But then they'd just be fools.

Friday, January 16, 2009

Montepulciano d'Abruzzo and Forgettable Pop Stars

I tried the 2007 Quattro Mani Montepulciano d'Abruzzo tonight. I'm still trying to expand my palate when it comes to Italian wines and this is my first Montepulciano d'Abruzzo. I found this wine in Massachusetts for about $14. The color was nice, with a dark purple, red hue that you could just see your fingers through. When I popped and poured the wine, it was not a pretty nose: dirty laundry, garrigue, and a slight hint of berries. The mouthfeel was rather austere and harsh, although there were hints of a more fruity wine.

I decided to let it breathe in the bottle for two hours while I cooked my empanadas. This was a great idea. The Quattro Mani changed completely. The nose had extreme amounts of cherries and cassis, with a minty freshness. It started off with fruity, sweet tannins (cherry Jell-O, clear as day) and a spicy finish, including vanilla and cinnamon. This bottle was definitely redeemed in my eyes.

It's certainly a serviceable bottle (after two hours breathing), but certainly not complex or noteworthy. It reminds me of a semi-talented, but ultimately forgettable pop star. She might have a good voice, but someone else writes all of her song lyrics and another writes the music. Like Diana DeGarmo. It's fun while it lasts, but don't expect it to age well. In ten years, you'll pull out her CD and wonder why you bought it.

As for the empanadas, I got the recipe from here, but I substituted the olives for peas. Quite delicious!