Thursday, October 19, 2017

Strange Partners

| More
Posted by Burke Morton On May - 23 - 2010

I've been drinking a fairly old wine this evening--middle-aged would be a better description, as it is but 14 years old, in its prime, and not likely to improve further: the Château de Beaucastel 1996 Châteauneuf-du-Pape. It is really quite beautiful, and as this wine is unlike most Chateauneuf-du-Pape anyway (it is mostly Mourvèdre while the preponderance of Chateauneuf is principally Grenache), its silken expression is not entirely a surprise. It has a lovely and much lighter texture than it did when it was young, but that is not uncommon with mature wine. The aromas and flavors have clarified themselves over the years, simplifying the experience of the wine while showcasing and magnifying its complexities. It has become an open transmitter of the growing season and the efforts of the people making the wine. This wine has entered a fascinating phase: there are some notions that swirl in and out of the overall picture of the wine, while other elements--expressly the gossamer luxury of its red fruit qualities--are constants. Its character is volatile (though not scary volatile) and exuberant, yet mature and graceful. Think Cuba Gooding Jr. as he ages--that'd be this wine.

Matching for Dinner
So I've got an unusual food pairing here, one I chose based on having tasted the wine first. I made grilled butterflied chicken alla Diavola, which was an even better match than I had hoped. That might give you some indication of the "weight" of this wine--it feels like (but does not remotely taste like) a fine Pinot Noir at its peak, and this opened the door to the pairing with the grilled chicken. The essence of lemons inherent to Chicken alla Diavola united the flavors with such succulence that dinner seemed to fly by. It was like a ray of sun through the experience, lifting our spirits, which we needed because...

Matching with Entertainment
...as we ate our late dinner, we watched Children of Men, which isn't necessarily (if you knew nothing about the film) the feel-good movie that the title might imply. I had seen it before, but my wife had not, so I soldiered on. It turns out this wine was an excellent pairing for the movie, too!

Popularity: 11% [?]

Selene Wines

| More
Posted by Burke Morton On April - 21 - 2010

In this profession, I meet many suppliers as they travel around the country, and it is particularly nice to see them again (provided I found them scintillating on the first go round). I saw one of my favorite people again a few weeks ago--Mia Klein of Selene Wines. Her wines could be lame and I would still look forward to seeing her, because she is candid in her assessment of wine (her own wines included), generous with her time, and a very thoughtful force in California winemaking (she is the wisely-chosen consulting winemaker at many estates in Napa). As it is, her wines are exceptionally beautiful, individualistic, and user-friendly.

Mia was in town for a winemaker dinner at one of Ohio's coolest (and best) restaurants, The Winds Cafe (thirty years ago, this restaurant was twenty years ahead of its time, so far in the vanguard of the locavore movement that not only was "local" not yet trendy, it was alternative, which--at the dawn of the Reagan Era--was not a compliment; they've been making extraordinary food since the late Seventies, and if you haven't been you should go). I didn't make it to the dinner, tragically, but I did have the wines.

And On to The Wines
Mia presented four current releases, made of varieties one expects from Napa Valley, and here is how I found them, for what it's worth:

Selene 2008 Sauvignon Blanc Hyde Vineyard
Broad and elegant aroma, more perfumed than SB normally is--musqué clone? (I neglected to ask this...)--fluid and fresh with excellent fruit and wonderful body. Not straight-up mouth-searing, but plenty of acid, mitigated by its corpulence, as though it was aged on lees, which I don't doubt that it was. I'd love to have some shellfish right now!

Selene 2007 Merlot Frediani Vineyard
A beefy, serious Merlot. Great flesh and bit of youthful tannin--it has a broad, fairly bright, sweet fruit that is quickly subsumed by the structural elements, only to reemerge as the perception of the acids fade. This wine is in a very cool state presently, and while it could use some time, it is really marvelous. This is a pretty flexible wine food-wise, too...anything with strong proteins--beef, blue cheeses in particular.

Selene 2005 Cabernet Sauvignon Napa Valley
This one is five years in, a beautiful Cabernet Sauvignon, but not "complete" in the stereotypical way of California...thank goodness! It has all the components you'd expect from fine wine, along with a good lance of tannin...like a tent post, but it's so full of fruit that it screams California. With five minutes of non-stop swirling, the tannin yields some, fruit is even bolder--stash this one away for another five years, or have it with dinner--it'd be excellent with leg of lamb. CS from Stagecoach Vineyard is 90% of the blend, and CF from Frediani Vineyard is the balance.

Selene 2004 Chesler Napa Valley
Beautiful--aromatic and long, a great sense of allure. Aroma of lilacs, but it's like you're on the other side of a hill from them. This is so graceful--soft and curvy, feminine and suggestive--hard to beat good Cabernet Franc for that, I guess, but this character seems more amplified than I recall from the '03. The Franc and Merlot were co-fermented (they rarely ripen at the same time, so this is usually impossible), and MK thinks this is what made it so wonderously smooth. Still, it's got plenty of tannin. I think she said 60% Franc, and roughly equal parts of Sauvignon and Merlot (I forgot to write what and which, but it doesn't really matter). It'd be nice to have a roast duck with this one.

Popularity: 12% [?]

Winter Cleaning

| More
Posted by Burke Morton On January - 15 - 2010

Dirty Wine CellarIt's time to clean our basement. It is a naturally cool space that is conveniently damp thanks to the hydrostatic pressure applied by the hillside that rises behind our house, so naturally I have stashed my wine there. I have a fair amount of wine, some of which is neatly stored in racks. The rest of it is stacked rather haphazardly in front of the racks, which is sort of impractical, but there's precious little space to choose from, so there they sit.

This is, of course, the problem. The state of our basement--for which my wife (wisely) refuses to take responsibility--has become a 'situation' because I couldn't find the wine that I wanted to have with dinner. This is not the first time this has happened, but the results were certainly the most outré.

Needle in a Case Stack
I had just served linguine with a Gorgonzola cream sauce with peas and figs, and my wife said to me, "It seems like we should have a bottle of white wine with this." Oooh!!! Throwing down the gauntlet! Of course I was embarrassed that I hadn't thought of this, so I headed for the basement to try to regain my dignity. I wanted a Viognier, but the challenge was finding one. I thought I knew where the Viogniers lived, but after digging through 12 cases of assorted wines (food's getting cold!), the only thing I could actually lay my hands on that seemed appropriate was Alsatian Pinot Gris. Despite being the biggest enthusiast of Alsatian wine I know, I just didn't want that (I have had LOTS of it recently...). So I went with a Chardonnay, which might have been okay had it been a Monterey Chard with a butterscotch thing going on flavor-wise, but no...it was Chablis.

Even if You Believe Hard Enough, You're No Less Wrong than "We'll Be Welcomed as Liberators"
It was a bottle of Verget 2004 Chablis. This was wrong. I knew it was wrong. Chablis would never have occurred to me under any other circumstance. Chablis is, by nature, tensile and minerally, which was not right for the Gorgonzola cream. But I suspended my own disbelief and sought some credible way of shoehorning the choice into place by rationalizing that the Jean-Marie Guffens (the man behind Verget) treatment (which yields a cool creaminess) would help it out. Any help this style of wine making may have made was negated by vivid clarity brought by the 2004 vintage, which energized most white Burgundies beautifully (the reds have not fared so well).

It was delicious wine, no question, and it didn't ruin the food, but it didn't really work, either. It became a little black peppery, which was not the flavor I was seeking. My wife put it well: "It's on the edge of clashing, but it still makes my mouth water." Yes indeed--perfect description.

A Viognier, on the other hand, would have really been lovely, and when I finally found one the next day, it provided a delicious lift to the leftovers.

...I Meant to Do that!
Coincidentally AND ironically, the Chablis was a success with our dessert: we had M&M Bars that I made with my children (essentially Toll House pan cookies made with M&Ms instead). The moment I took a bite, I knew that the Chablis would work, and it was indeed an extraordinary companion. Ha! Redeemed right at the end! .

Of course I planned it all along....

Popularity: 8% [?]

Why Should We Avoid Red Wine with Fish?

| More
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% [?]

Riesling

| More
Posted by Burke Morton On September - 16 - 2009

RieslingThe jewel in the crown of any growing region where it may thrive (and like Pinot Noir, that is a narrow range of places), Riesling is the world's finest white wine grape. Okay, in the interest of equanimity, it is arguably the world's finest white wine grape. Certainly it is responsible for the finest white wines in the cool-climate regions of three of the world's great wine-growing countries--Austria, Germany, and France.

Riesling has suffered at the hands of bad wines made in its name, and suffers still from a bottle shape that also reminds consumers ineluctably of that too-sweet wine that they thought they had left behind. Over the years of rehabilitation, Riesling has proven that--while great--it is certainly not for everyone, and it is still fabulously unfashionable in the minds of drinkers who haven't yet been willing to let go of what they "know" and approach Riesling without prejudice.

Misunderstood though it may be, this statement cannot be gainsaid: based on the kaleidoscopic flavors it can present, along with the incredible sense of fathomlessness (if you want this to be a more dispassionate statement, you may substitute "along with numerous indescribable qualities") it can achieve, whether bone dry or super-sweet, a well-made Riesling has no peer. I'll give Chenin Blanc a close second, a grape is possibly even less fashionable than Riesling lately (given the rate with which Chenin is being pulled up in South Africa).

Riesling has a soaring aroma and intense flavors, and usually a lower alcoholic content, especially in Germany, where after fermentation, unfermented grape juice (usually called süssreserve) is added to the wine in order to balance out the high acids that are routine in the cool-climates of the Mosel River and its tributaries, the Ruwer and Saar Rivers. Alcohol levels of 8% are the norm, but in Austria and Alsace, the wines are much more potent at 12%. They are also generally made in a dry style.

I have poured many a BONE DRY Riesling to customers who will insist that it is sweet after they've tasted it. This happens less often if I can pour it in a blind-tasting. That it continues to happen even in a neutral setting is attributable to the simultaneous purity and depth of fruit inherent to Riesling that Chardonnay, for example, doesn't have. Tasters expecting the relatively fruit-poor expressions of Chardonnay, Sauvignon Blanc, and to a certain extent Pinot Grigio, will no doubt perceive sweetness in a dry Riesling. The irony is that a dry Riesling almost surely possesses less sugar than any of these others.

Food and Wine Harmony

Riesling is among the most useful of wines at the table. Residual sugar is, up to certain limits--a non-issue. Savory food tends to like sugar mixed-in, making Riesling an obvious choice for a mellifluous pairing. It would almost be better to say what it DOES NOT go well with, as that is a much shorter list. Some obvious choices, though, are:
Dry: Asian cuisine, beef (can be a revelation!), cheese, chicken, Choucroute, ham, duck, goose, onion tart, rabbit, salmon, trout
Off Dry: apples, Asian cuisine, chicken, crab, mild curry, roast duck, fish, fruit and fruit sauces, pork, smoked salmon, scallops, roast turkey, Vietnamese food
Sweet: dessert (except chocolate, depending on the wine), foie gras

Unless you want to go deep with Riesling, you may safely stop here without missing a thing.

The natural disposition of Riesling is so fine--provided it is planted in the proper regions--that it can continue to ripen for many weeks after initial ripeness is attained. The natural relationship between the grape's sugars and acids can be maintained while the grape has an opportunity to develop more flavors. This is seen most clearly in Germany, with designations for different ripeness levels that are dictated in several cases by the number of days between harvest (i.e., Kabinett wines may be picked no earlier than two weeks after the first picking of the basic "Qualitätswein")

Riesling from Alsace is not particularly similar to German Riesling, though occasional similarities can be seen with the Trocken (dry) Rieslings from the Pfalz in Germany. German Riesling, especially those from the Mosel area are low in alcohol and can seem to be born out of the ether.

Riesling is a particularly hardy vine, and this is especially helpful in cooler wine regions where other grape varieties might succumb to frost damage. Riesling's springtime bud-break is later than most, and ripening comes earlier than other famous varieties, but achieving full-ripeness in cooler regions can stretch well into Autumn--late October or even late November.

Popularity: 8% [?]

Video Today


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

Popularity: 65% [?]

USER LOGIN

    follow me on Twitter

    About Me

    Store

    Wine Pairing Course

    Wine Pairing Search

    Home

    Designed for Wine - Powered by WordPress