Tuesday, January 28, 2020

A Syrah from Dry Creek & a Bowl of Chili

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Posted by Burke Morton On March - 16 - 2010

Ridge Vineyards shipped the 2004 Lytton Estate Syrah as last month's ATP wine. I sat on it for a few weeks before popping one open. The wines from Ridge are the archetypes for food friendly California wine, reminding us that a wine from the Golden State need not be a shameless hussy to be delicious. In fact, non-slutty wine is actually useful for something other than horrendously expensive pancake syrup or an overly sweet and tarry glass of "wine" (which is about the limit of utility for any overtly self-conscious wine). To wit: we were having beef brisket chili with butternut squash (a variation on the one in Bon Appetit a while ago) that I had made last week, before it got warm, intending to have it the following day, but of course it was 65 degrees the next day, so we waited. We had it Saturday night, as the temperature outside dropped. This meeting of flavors in the mouth provided me with an good illustration of the vagaries of wine pairing.

If you stick your nose into the glass, the wine has a heavenly and complex scent dominated by aromas of oranges and blackberries. Ridge's Syrah is comprised of co-fermented lots of Syrah and Viognier, with an addition of Grenache to add some complexity as well as corpulence. As for the chili, its spice is driven by dried ancho chiles with an underlying flavor from puréed oven-roasted tomatoes. The chunks of brisket stand up well with a mighty beefiness. I included accompaniments of diced red onion, cilantro, and chihuahua cheese to finish it at the table.

A taste of the wine after a mouthful of the chili provided a beautiful confluence of flavors--the smokier notions of the wine emerged, the fruitiness lying in the background of the ancho chiles came forward, and the feeling of the two together was very smooth. Yum.

My next bite happened to have no red onion in it, and when I tasted the wine, it had a strong flavor of black pepper, no presence of fruit, with the result of a rather searing quality. Yikes.

I made sure to have red onions in every bite after this.

I've said this a few times in other articles, and many times in other venues: one change can make all the difference in a successful wine pairing. BUT!--if you know your chef (or your own cooking), and you know your wines (i.e., the wines you happen to have on hand), then choosing wine for your meal should be a matter of imagining the flavors in your food (or just taste what you're cooking) and recalling the flavors in your wines and imagine the way they might fit together. This takes some trial and error, but is not an insurmountable problem (this is more about feel than science, so it's accessible to everyone). Besides, as you experiment, you get to drink a boatload of wine (be responsible), so where's the problem?

Popularity: 6% [?]

Syrah v. Shiraz on the Radio

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Posted by Burke Morton On November - 30 - 2009

The always provocative Randall Grahm, the mind behind Bonny Doon wines, who is also the king of the well-marketed wine (Big House Red, anyone?), was on The Splendid Table (listen to it above) a couple of weekends ago promoting his new book, Been Doon So Long. Not one to miss an opportunity like this one, he stirred the pot on Australian Shiraz, and poked a bit at the well-marketed ones, too.

He did acknowledge that not all Australian Shiraz are manufactured, overdeveloped swamp juice, but if one cares deeply about OZ Shiraz, the main point may have been irritating enough to cause them to miss that.

Too Easy to Get Into
His main position is that many too many a Shiraz from Australia is TOO EASY to drink, thus ruining the experience of (or making more difficult the transition to) balanced, carefully made Shiraz and Syrah from all over the world. "Shiraz" as a moniker has come to embody assembly-line wine with over-the-top, fat, roasted, syrupy qualities, and this is evidenced by estates in California using the name to indicate the nature of a Syrah (which is what it is usually called there). There are even some Australian wine makers who have taken to calling their Shiraz "Syrah" to indicate the style of the wine. Some folks feel that (the stereotypical) OZ Shiraz is the Avignon Papacy compared to the TRUE SYRAH found elsewhere. Nonsense. It is just that the empirically less-interesting--if quite delicious--wine happens to be extending the hand of friendship, while great Syrah often presents (if opened and drunk too young) a clinched fist.

A Problem Where There Shouldn't Be One
Why is it a bad thing that Shiraz should be too easy to drink? Well, nothing, per se, is wrong with that, any more than there is anything wrong with White Zinfandel. Despite some who hold out for White Zin's promise in the way that Sarah Palin thinks that elected officials should be no better than an average person, it really is not a true exposure to the best potential of the wine grape in question. Of White Zinfandel I used to say, "that's not wine." But it technically is, just as Yellow Tail, Little Penguin, Three Monkeys (or any other critter-named wine) are also--despite the purists' desire to deny it--wine.

An unadulterated Zinfandel is a RED WINE, bold, plump with berry fruit and in some regions has the potential for such high alcohol that one bottle alone can be a party. Syrah/Shiraz can and should be in that league too: the nature of Syrah is that it is at its best and most emotionally evocative when it tastes appropriately of fruit AND of herbs, rocks, and the undefinable mystery that only great wine grapes possess.

A Road Map for Peace
To my mind, Syrah should not be a front-line wine. Merlot? Of course! Malbec? Naturally! But well-made Syrah--even when it has a forward, friendly fruitiness--has an aloof quality...the vinous equivalent of a cool reception, which evaporates, however, the more time one spends with it. A great wine grape shouldn't be relegated to making one dimensional wine with such preponderance that its name suffers. Merlot has endured this affront at the hands of some irresponsible growers; Pinot Noir may have dodged it in the post-Sideways drift away from mass-consumption of the variety; let's help Syrah/Shiraz avoid it, too.

I applaud Shiraz if it's tasty (no matter the style) and deplore those that aren't (whether they are tarry and overripe, or so "elegant" that they are "dreadful"). Running alongside this is the assembly-line approach to many Shiraz from Australia, which turns me off: wine is not intended to be manufactured, but shepherded from the vineyards through the winery to the bottle. When most of the Shiraz in the world meets this kind of standard, the swamp juice will disappear, the schism between Shiraz and Syrah will heal, and we can raise a glass of the two together.

Popularity: 6% [?]

Wines for Thanksgiving

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Posted by Burke Morton On November - 19 - 2009

Wild Turkey (photo: Alan_Vernon.)There is only a week remaining until one of the most important events on the food/wine pairing calendar! I have always looked forward to this time of year, and when I was a wine retailer it was especially invigorating, because sales were excellent and it was fun to get excited (and get customers excited) about wines for the holidays. Time to spread the joy once more!

Dealing with Thanksgiving Food
The flavors of the foods on the Thanksgiving table are so disjointed that one would almost be better off having a companion drink for each dish rather than a single libation. Or just have water (which is asinine unless alcoholism is a factor, so we'll set THAT idea aside). Back to the food and what's often on the table...turkey (relatively bland); stuffing (rich taste made all the more intense if sausage or oysters are added); green vegetables (green beans are the norm at my house, typically hard on wine); sweet potatoes (rich flavor and welcoming of many wines); cranberry sauce (exuberant flavor, not all that wine friendly); and these are just the basics! Obviously there are too many dishes to even consider multiple wine pairings, so let's look at this a bit more nonchalantly: if you want to taste your drink with your feast, you'll need something with bold flavor. If you want to taste your feast with your drink, you'll need something with some grace. My favorite wines with Thanksgiving are not-necessarily full-bodied, but are somewhat warming, even if normally served cold.

An Opening Consideration
Let's go ahead and eliminate big, fat, oaky wines (this means Chardonnay and Cabernet Sauvignon in their typical guises). Heavy oak treatment generally inhibits a wine's utility with food. There are obviously some Chardonnays and Cabernets Sauvignon that would work fine with Thanksgiving fare, but these will be out of the ordinary. Wines with other stylistic extremes like those with high alcohol levels are fine (as long as they are not too much about themselves (i.e., like the overripe swamp juice out of Australia)), as are those with low alcohol (so long as they still have vivid character). Wines intended for the Thanksgiving table should also have enough zip to pull through the fats in the food, but not so much that your mouth puckers (nor should they be so devoid of "zip" that they seem flabby).

If any of the following suggestions make you think, "What is that wine?", "How can I find that?", or "Now I'm even more confused!", then you should talk to your local retailer. They can help you find the best option for you.

Here are some of my favorite wines for Thanksgiving:

How can you go wrong with rosé? The answer is, YOU CAN'T!!!! If you have any left over from summer, now is the time to drink it, and you'll be glad you did. I particularly like rosés made of Pinot Noir, Grenache, Syrah, or Cabernet Sauvignon (here's a good place for Cab Sauv!). Rosés from the Sancerre region of France's Loire Valley are exceptionally good, as are the famous rosés of the Rhone Valley's Tavel region. I just tried a rosé from Oregon--the Big Fire Rosé from R. Stuart that would be perfect.

The white wines I am particularly drawn to for Thanksgiving include Gewurztraminer, Riesling, and Grüner Veltliner, but there are many others that I find just as scintillating. Gewürztraminer is a mighty, intensely aromatic wine and it can be like a warm blanket for your palate. In my retail days, I sold more Gewurz at Thanksgiving than at any other time of the year because it is so wonderful with the feast. As for Riesling, if you choose off-dry, I prefer Spätlese or Auslese in ripeness, but there are many Kabinett-level wines that can have just as much depth (this is where you'd ask your retailer). If you want a dry Riesling, a big serious wine from a great growing site works best, and usually these wines get better and better with aeration, so if you don't finish it, drink the rest the next day (there's hardly a more soul-stirring experience than this). Grüner Veltliner is glorious here, and you'll be happy you tried it, because it has the staying power to work with the food (surprisingly seamlessly across the table), and is qualitatively superior to it's peers at a similar price point.

I'll also be drinking some Zinfandel. Skip the White Zinfandel, and go for Red. Some like to point out that this is "America's Grape" and what could be more appropriate than that for Thanksgiving? I like to point out that it is genetically identical to European grapes with names like Plavac Mali and Primitivo, so let's drink it for it's merit, shall we? And it has plenty of merit: this year I'll be drinking the Seghesio Home Ranch Zinfandel, and I drank the 2002 Ravenswood Dickerson Zinfandel last year and loved it. A well-made Red Zin has good balance of acidity and fruit and pulls so much of the food on your plate together that it is in the same league as the whites listed above for harmonious food:wine rapport. Another option--a sensational one at that--is Grenache. I like it in the form that is found in the Rhone Valley regions of Chateauneuf-du-Pape and Gigondas. These velvety wines are so gratifying and emotive that they'll make you think of home, and what could be more appropriate than that for Thanksgiving?

For some other suggestions, go to the Wine Pairing Search and look under "Turkey"

Popularity: 11% [?]

Why Should We Avoid Red Wine with Fish?

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Posted by Burke Morton On October - 26 - 2009

Red & Fish (photo: stevegarfield)Long has there been a stigma against drinking red wine with fish. I doubt this is rooted in a James Bond sort of snobby disdain of an incorrect wine choice, though I have heard many suggest this. It is simply a practical consideration for enjoyment (it's just the cultural elite who regard it as outré). The fact is that a red wine can often make even the freshest fish smell and taste exceedingly "fishy"--a magnification of that decaying smell that should warn you off buying a fish from the market. Most every time I have had this combination, I felt not only did the fish taste awful (if I could even taste it at all), the wine suddenly had a metallic taste: sapped of fruit almost entirely. I would gather that this metallic flavor is a magnification of a wine's iron content. I usually remain sensitive to iron in wine, especially reds, for long periods after such an encounter, as iron (or whatever it is that tastes like it) seems to attach itself to the tannins present in most reds.

This iron-ic transformation happens most obviously with Pinot Noir and Smoked Salmon--this is a dreadful combination, which prompts the most tooth-shocking metallic flavor you would never want to experience. Imagine someone filing madly on your teeth, getting dangerously close to the root, and then deciding to scratch his fingers along a blackboard just for kicks. It's that unpleasant. Actually, pairing Pinot Noir and smoked fish of any kind is usually bad, though lean fish (a speedy swimmer like bluefish) seems to be better.

This same disastrous vinous metamorphosis happens with non-smoked white-fleshed fish and robust red wines, though lighter reds like Pinot Noir can often be just fine. Particularly egregious in this metallic offense are Cabernet Sauvignon, Cabernet Franc (which is usually even worse), Syrah, and Nebbiolo (which can be so bad that one needs no further evidence as to why you might want to avoid the red wine and fish combination). The obvious conclusion is that this means that there is some type of fat that iron latches on to, but I know next to nothing about chemistry, so someone else will have to illuminate this aspect of the issue.

I would imagine that this effect is not so bad in wines with very little iron content, a measure that would vary based on the amount of iron present in the soil on which the vines are planted. However, I have never done (and will probably never do) a study to find out. Sounds like a good idea for a science project--too bad science projects are the province of high school students who are underage.

If you are intent on having red wine with fish (which is just fine with me), go with a wine possessing low tannin: Beaujolais would be ideal. If you are having a more robust red-fleshed fish, by all means, have a red wine. Not that red would naturally be my first choice (it depends upon the situation), but there are many fine combinations here. Tuna, salmon, and brook trout can be quite delicious with Pinot Noir, Beaujolais, and a few less common grape varieties, including one from the heel of the Italian boot, Negroamaro (though it can be quite alcoholic, which can hamper its usefulness), and the famous (if widely considered ignoble) German red Dornfelder (which can actually be a wonderful wine for this purpose, if you can find a good one).

There are exceptions to all of this of course, and I would urge you to experiment with red wine and fish if it intrigues you. I am still intrigued by this to the extent that it happens to come up, but I no longer seek this one out.

If you are seeking good pairings for your fish, there are many, many options listed in the Wine Pairing Search, both white and red wine. As an alternative, you could go do some experimenting as a part of the Wine Pairing Course, and report back your experiences.

Popularity: 15% [?]

Excellent & versatile wines from the Northern Rhone

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Posted by Burke Morton On July - 16 - 2009

Chapoutier Crozes-HermitageYesterday I tasted two wines from venerable Rhône Valley producer M. Chapoutier: Crozes-Hermitage Petite Ruche rouge and blanc, both from 2007 vintage. Crozes-Hermitage is the neighborhood/family harlot of the northern Rhône: it is the region's largest appellation, yielding an ocean of wine, most of it relatively easy to get into. Crozes-Hermitage doesn't have the prime real estate of its famous neighbors, as it is situated below and around the hillside that gives us unhyphenated Hermitage, but there are enough producers now who make their wine seriously that there is ample evidence that Syrah from Crozes-Hermitage can be beautiful indeed, and incredibly useful with food.

About 10% of Crozes-Hermitages made each year is white--most of it from Marsanne. The reds are Syrah (and can contain up to 15% white wine, though this is generally not done), and tend to be more approachable than those of Hermitage. Excellent vintages can mature beautifully over a decade or more (especially in the case of the reds), but usually they are best drunk within the first seven years of the vintage.

And for those who care....Tasting Notes:

M. Chapoutier 2007 Crozes-Hermitage Petite Ruche White
100% Marsanne. Aroma of saffron, mint, a slight smokiness, blanched almonds, quartz. Vivid fleshiness and acidity that suggests Roussanne as a minority partner, but it is without Roussanne's unique mineral expression. Brothy and pear- and plum-toned, long, pure finish where the saffron notion returns.
Food Pairings: Lobster (steamed, not too buttery), Pork, chicken, curry (but milder), risotto (sweeter), smoked trout

M. Chapoutier 2007 Crozes-Hermitage Petite RucheRed
100% Syrah. Stiff, tannin influenced aroma of black raspberries and allspice. Flavors of black raspberry a streak of tannin that doesn't release immediately, but with air it opens up nicely with excellent length, spice, and even a touch of meatiness. Finish has an attractive chalk texture, which will soften with some time, which this wine could use...at least five years, or a decanter and a few hours.
Food Pairings: Cheese (hard or aged), Eggplant, Osso Bucco, Venison, ratatouille, smoked meats.

Popularity: 12% [?]

Syrah (Shiraz)

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Posted by Burke Morton On July - 16 - 2009

SyrahSyrah is one of the world's great red wine grapes. It has a principal aroma and flavor of black raspberries. In its native northern Rhône, it is long-lived and can be stiff and somewhat unappealing in its youth, but it can be full of glorious, sensuous fruity and savory characteristics in its maturity. Grown in Australia, where it is called Shiraz (also called Shiraz in other regions where the desire is to communicate a warm-climate character), it comes in two basic styles: laden with jam qualities in hotter climates like Barossa or McLaren Vale, and elusive and edgy--more akin to its Rhône cousin--in cooler areas of Margaret River or Victoria.

Syrah is the northern Rhône's main grape variety. Famously long-term wines come from the appellations of Côte-Rôtie and Hermitage, but equally ageworthy wines hail from the small appellation of Cornas, where a minimum of ten years maturation is the norm for even the entry-level wines. Syrah is used to add some backbone to wines across southern France, usually giving longevity to Grenache-based wines. It is grown is every region of Australia, and is particularly successful in the central coast of California, and in the Columbia Valley of Washington.

Syrah has only recently been definitively determined to be a native of the Rhône Valley. The variety was for years conjectured by some to have originated in or around the ancient Persian city of Shiraz (located in modern-day Iran). A few blustery legends developed around this, but in 1999 a comprehensive ampelographic study determined it to be the offspring of two wildly obscure French grapes, Mondeuse Blanche and Dureza.

Syrah with Food
From the cooler climates, it is excellent with cheese, grilled duck, lamb, osso bucco, steak, venison, and wild mushrooms.
From the warmer climates, good pairings include barbecue sauce, BBQ chicken, BBQ ribs, chili, hamburgers, ribs, and grilled sausages.

Popularity: 7% [?]

Video Today

You don't need to speak French to know that the iPad can double as a Champagne Sabre.... Happy New Year!

Popularity: 83% [?]


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