Sunday, August 20, 2006

From the Mailbag

I start this installment with a hearty thank-you to my readers -- both those who have known me and my interest in wine since well before the Naked Vine first took seed (and I think the DJ at Radio Free Newport can probably remember the precise conversation) to the new friends that I've made along the way. To all of you, I say, heartfelt, that I'm glad you're along to raise a glass or two with me.

My wine knowledge is hardly encyclopedic. The most educational side effect of writing this column is learning about new, useful wines. I've had a number of suggestions from fellow lovers of The Grape, and I want to share their selections.

Alice White 2005 Lexia -- Vine reader Ginny M. from Raleigh, NC says, "One that you might want to try is Alice White, Lexia. It has a pleasant sweetness and an incredible fruity aroma. [My husband] hates it, but I think it is divine to drink in the hot weather." Much like Viogners, this wine seems to divide couples. Many men I've spoken to find these varietals too sweet for their tastes. I, of course, am comfortable enough in my masculinity to embrace such a wine…

The Lexia is a strongly fragrant white wine -- stronger even than most Viogners or Rieslings I've tried. Lexia is made from Muscat grapes -- one of the oldest grape varieties. Muscat is well-known for producing wines with a perfumey nature. This grape varietal is best known for use in Italian dessert wines and as a blend in some French wines. The Alice White starts you with a pungent bouquet of mangoes, flowers, and honey. The first taste is very sweet -- more honey than sugar. This sweet broadens into a slight tartness accompanies by apricot. The finish is surprisingly more acidic than one would expect. This wine is sweet enough to be considered a dessert wine -- but could also stand up to spicy Thai or Indian curries quite nicely. If you like a sweeter taste, you should try this decent entry into the pool wine category. However, if you're more into tart, dry whites, you're better off looking elsewhere with your $5-8. (Or, at the very least, farther down the column.)

La Vieille Ferme 2003 Cotes du Ventoux -- Vine reader Dan R. from Eugene, OR offered up this suggestion: "Our favorite cheapies this year have been two Rhone reds: Abel Clement Cotes du Rhone and La Vielle Ferme. Both can be found under $8, and both are genuinely good and not overly simple. Notably, for inexpensive wines, both open up a lot with breathing. Abel Clement, in particular, deserves at least an hour out of the bottle."

Unfortunately, I was unable to track down the Abel Clement, but the La Vielle Ferme was readily available and quite decent. As Dan mentioned (as well as with many French wines) the La Ville Femme is better if you crack the bottle a half hour or so before drinking. The earthy characteristics of many European, especially French, wines can take some getting used to. These aromas can overpower many a palate, but a little decanting (WineSpeak for "letting a little air get to the stuff") can ease the initial shock. One other note: "Cotes du Ventoux" is the region the wine was made, not the grape. The naming standard for French wines can be a little confusing, and I'll touch on that in a later column. This wine is a blend of largely grenache and syrah grapes.

The La Vielle Ferme greets you with a fat smell of freshly turned earth and blackberries. The first taste is a bit tart, with some deep fruit flavors with the earthiness. The finish is somewhat smoky and dry. Like most French wines, lamb, root vegetables, grilled meats, veggie chili, and most stews with beans (cassoulet being the quintessential example) would be excellent. You can take this little trip to the Rhone valley for about $6-8.

Veramonte 2005 Sauvignon Blanc -- Vine reader Mike B. of Mariemont, OH, gives me this suggestion: "Here's a couple of suggestions for wines that you might want to review/consume sometime. I think they are both great values and great tastes.

"Akanena 2005 Chardonnay (Chile) The label says "carefully handpicked" but I don't know if it refers to the grapes or the bottle…I thought it was great -- light for a Chardonnay with that citrus tone that I like.

"Veramonte 2005 Sauvignon Blanc (Chile). Currently my favorite SB, lots of grapefruit flavor."

South America, Chile in particular, is one of the rising stars among the wine making ranks. Among whites, Chile specializes in sauvignon blanc, and their chardonnays are improving quickly. [I'll likely do a more complete column on Chilean wines in the upcoming weeks -- as they're some of the best values going at the moment.] I was unsuccessful in a quick search for the chardonnay, but the Veramonte is available everywhere. The wine has a pleasantly light nose -- gentle citrus fruit and wildflowers at first sniff. Like many sauvignon blancs, the taste is lively and tart -- strong grapefruit and pineapple flavors immediately spring to mind. The finish is gently acidic and dry. The Veramonte is an extremely pleasant summer sipper, pairing scrumptiously with any light chicken dish, Caesar salad, grilled fish, or even a slightly spicy Chinese dish -- think Hunan. The Veramonte runs $7-9, and is well worth the price for the end of summer.

Hawk Crest 2003 Cabernet Sauvignon -- Vine reader McGrupp from Charlotte, NC gives us: "In the past three days I've had a $50 bottle, a $20 bottle, and a $12 bottle [of cabernet] and I found them all to be roughly the same level of quality. This leads me to believe I need to be focusing on that $12 option." The $12 option he mentioned was Hawk Crest.

Many of the high-end wineries, especially California wineries, produce "second label" wines. These wines are generally very good, since an elite winemaker isn't going to produce "ordinary" wine. To the value-conscious consumer, these are some of the better quality/value combos you'll find. Hawk Crest is the second label of Stag's Leap in Napa, California. A bottle of Stag's Leap cabernet sauvignon will set you back close to $50, while the Hawk Crest settles in between $12-15. Learning about second labels almost always yields bargains. Again, more on those later.

As for the Hawk Crest itself -- the wine has a soft, smooth nose of plums, vanilla, and wood. Like any good cabernet, it's a mouthful when you taste it. You get waves of big black cherry flavors and a fair amount of tannic bitterness -- not overwhelming, since it's balanced by the continuing vanilla taste. The finish is long and dry, with a little fruit hanging on. I imagine a ribeye, a baked potato, some steamed broccoli, and a big ol' glass of this one.

Again, thanks so much to everyone -- keep the suggestions coming!

Until next time -- skaal.

1 comment:

The Wizard said...

I had a blend called Ol' Red the other evening. Excellent.