Tuesday, February 27, 2007

Möre fün wïth ümlaüts -- Grüner Veltliner

I promise…no more talk of mullets.

However, Gewürztraminer inspired me to explore a grape from that region I hadn't experienced: Grüner Veltliner. While this may sound like a German airplane, it's a white grape widely grown in Austria. Pronounce it GREW-ner felt-LEE-ner, or just call it, as one wine writer did, "GruVey."

Robin Webb of the "30 Second Wine Advisor" says there's a saying among Austrian wine drinkers, translated roughly as "Why should we drink fruit when we can drink rocks?"

Grüner Veltliner is unique-tasting. It's a crisp, medium bodied wine with a distinctly pleasant aroma -- but the taste is quite "minerally" and very dry. The granite-filled soil in the Wachau region imparts a distinct character. If you've ever been outside on a hot day, been really thirsty, and put a pebble in your mouth to help for a bit -- that's a close estimation to that flavor.

Why drink rocks? This wine gives you the best of all worlds if you're looking for a food-friendly wine. The flavor is in the sauvignon blanc/dry Riesling range -- two of your most food friendly varietals. The mineral character allows the wine's flavor to slice through just about anything -- seafood, chicken, spicy foods, pork -- basically anything except the richest sauces and cuts of beef.

Grüner Veltliner isn't widely distributed in the U.S. -- yet. You can sometimes find a few bottles mixed in amongst German Rieslings. Austrians tend to drink this wine very young, but the best ones will apparently age up to 15 years or so -- very much like a Riesling. I've not tried many older Grüner Veltliners -- but that's definitely on the list. One other nice aspect -- Austrians tend to package wine in 1 liter bottles. Since they're already fairly inexpensive wines, you get a lot more bang for your buck.

Here are a few I was able to track down locally. Please feel free to add more:

Nigl 2004 Grüner Veltliner Trocken -- I was actually surprised at the color of this wine. It's remarkably pale. The nose is of peaches and that mineral scent I mentioned. This wine is absolutely bone dry with a very light body. It tastes almost peppery on the tongue and is a bit tart. The sensation was close to drinking a carbonated beverage, although there are no bubbles. The finish slides into more of that uniquely dry, mineral taste. You could certainly pair this with anything I mentioned above. It would also work wonderfully as a palate-cleansing aperitif. It would also be a very crisp "just worked in the yard" summer wine. Who needs the pebble? $14-15

Loimer 2004 Grüner Veltliner -- This is another dry GV, although it has a little more fruit than the Nigl. The taste isn't quite as dry as its cousin, though the mineral undertones are certainly quite present and pleasant. The flavor is a little grapefruity. The finish is somewhat tart, and doesn't have the same "carbonated" taste. It reminds me a great deal of a French Loire Valley sauvignon blanc, with two major differences. First, obviously, the mineral character is more pronounced. Second, you're not going to find "vins de Sauvignon" in one-liter bottles for $10-12. If you have friends who are French sauvignon fans, spring this on them.

Berger 2004 Grüner Veltliner -- Berger is one of the more unique wines I've tried -- I don't know whether that's good or bad. The nose is hard to define. I would say it's close to mineral-laden pears. The taste is mildly acidic and doesn't have that "carbonated" taste -- but it does have an interesting fruit character. Maybe someone with a better palate than mine could pull it apart. The closest I think I can come (and I'm really not trying to be a wine snob here) is starfruit. The finish is quick and acidic, and mellows into a creamier taste -- almost chardonnayish, if chardonnay were citrusy. If you like pinot grigio, this is a wine you can wrap your tastebuds around for about $10 for a full liter.

Berger also produces one of the few indigenous Austrian reds, called Zweigelt. Aside from being last alphabetically on any wine rack, it's just a straight drinking red. It does have some of the same mineral character (and a similar price point), but I didn't try it with food. It's a curiosity -- but it is in a liter bottle, which is a plus for a cold night.

Until next time…watch your old copy of "Sound of Music" and enjoy some Austrian white. So long, fair well, auf Wiedersehen, goodbye…

Sunday, February 18, 2007

Masters of Our Domain

The Vine now has its own address. As you can see above (if the forwarding is working now)...we're now at: http://www.thenakedvine.net

I feel all official now.

Thursday, February 15, 2007

Think Pink -- Pause and Reflect

On February 24, the Noble Circle Project of Dayton will hold their annual "Wear Affair" fashion show luncheon fundraiser. The Noble Circle is a group of breast cancer survivors helping other women with cancer reclaim their health through holistic methods. They have created an incredibly supportive, vibrant community -- a true source of strength and hope.

My Sweet Partner in Crime's sister was diagnosed with breast cancer over three years ago. We have seen her frustration and fears, but we've also seen her hope, laughter, and incredible demonstrations of spiritual and emotional strength. The Noble Circle has been invaluable for she and her other Noble Circle sisters as the treatments continue.

I know very few people who haven't been touched by this disease. According to the Susan Komen foundation, an estimated 178,480 new cases of breast cancer will be diagnosed among American women in 2007.

In honor of the upcoming event and as a toast to these brave women, I want to celebrate them with pink wines for this installment. I encourage everyone, male and female alike, to learn about this disease and find a way to help. If you're in the Dayton area, explore Noble Circle and consider a contribution, the purchase of some raffle tickets or perhaps a seat at the upcoming fundraiser. Most of all, give your love, prayers, energy, and hope to those around you.

Concha y Toro Frontera 2005 Rosé -- If you're looking for a "starter rosé," this is a wine worth exploring. Frontera is the second label (if there is such a thing) of the already inexpensive Concha y Toro winery in Chile. As I've touched on before, Chile turned itself into a worldwide wine power with inexpensive, decent offerings. While the Frontera reds are probably better avoided, this rosé is actually halfway decent if you're not looking for anything complex. I say it's a good transition wine if you want to move away from white zinfandel. There's a nice berry nose and still some residual sweetness and cherry flavor to the taste -- coupled with a touch of the acidity for which rosés are often known. The finish is short and crisp. I could see this as a summer wine or if you wanted something light to pair with salmon or a salad. $5-6.

Canto Perdrix 2004 Tavel -- Tavel is one of the world's most famous French rosés from the town of the same name in the southern Rhone. The bottles embossed with the town's distinctive "T" shield. Tavel is produced mainly from Grenache. If you're seeking this one out, look for the bottle with the partridge on the label. (Canto Perdrix is "Song of the Partridge.") This is a very dark colored rosé. It could almost pass for a light red (the Sweet Partner in Crime thought I'd put a pinot in the fridge). The Perdrix has a light, easy nose of cranberry and apple. It doesn't have the acidic bite of many rosés -- more of a balance between fruit and tartness. Perdrix is very easy drinking, full of raspberries. Like most Tavels, the finish is fruity, dry, and lingers quite a long time. I'd have this with either a seafood stew or maybe some steamed mussels or clams. A real palate pleaser $13-15.

Bonny Doon 2005 Vin Gris de Cigare -- This is an American version of a "Rhone style" rosé. "Vin Gris" is French for "gray wine" -- one of their names for rosé. As for the "Cigare?" Well, Bonny Doon has long been a winery with a sense of humor. One of the Bonny Doon red wines is called "Le Cigare Volant." In French, the term for unidentified flying object translates literally as "The Flying Cigar." The French town of Chateauneuf-du-Pape passed a city ordinance forbidding UFO's from landing within the town limits. The winemaker, Randall Grahm, has long welcomed UFO's on his property, thus the name of his wine. The basis of his rosé is that wine, blended with white Grenache. This one has a slightly yeasty nose of apples and flowers. Again, an excellent fruit and acid balance, coupled with flavors of berries and honey. Finish is semi-dry, fruity, and lasting. You could have this with a salad niçoise now or pick this up on a summer night and wait for the aliens to come. $11-13.

I also mentioned a couple of other wonderful rosés in an earlier installment: Curtis and Sunstone. I have one additional wine:

Two Brothers 2004 Big Tattoo Red -- Most certainly not pink, but one bearing a mention. The Bartholomaus Brothers started this line of wines as a tribute to their late mother, who lost her battle with breast cancer in 2000. Fifty cents from each bottle sold is donated to various hospices and breast cancer research charities in the state of the sale. Big Tattoo is also a very decent wine. This Chilean blend is half cabernet sauvignon and half syrah. The nose is mellow berries and plums. It's a medium bodied, somewhat earthy red with more berries. The tannins lend a bitter dark chocolate flavor to the finish, which is pleasantly strong, round and lasting. While this is a very nice wine to drink on its own in the evening, like many Chilean reds, this goes well with meats, spicy sausages, or red pasta sauces. Two Brothers has expanded their project, creating Big Tattoo White (a blend of German Riesling and Pinot Blanc) and a straight syrah. I haven't tried the latter two, but with price points from $8-11, they're easy pickups.

So lift a glass, take a moment for silent reflection, and appreciate how truly lucky we are to share in this life.

Monday, February 05, 2007

Valentine's Day Wine -- wine and chocolate pairings

I had mixed feelings about this installment. In the interest of full disclosure, Valentine's Day may be my least favorite holiday. I won't go off on my long-winded rant about "coming through on February 14th," societal expectation, Hallmark holidays and the like – so I'll try to focus on the positive. Valentine's Day is supposed to be a day to do something good for your beloved. Gifts, romantic gestures, etc. are commonplace. (Cynical Mike says, "Why shouldn't that be every day?" Down boy.) Two traditions stand out for me -- wine and chocolate.

The most recent wine tasting I attended, led by Brian of Vintner Select, focused on wines pairing well with chocolate. He made the observation that people either really love the taste of chocolate with wine or it simply doesn't work for them -- not much in-between. I happen to be in the former category, as does the Sweet Partner in Crime. He put together an interesting array. Unfortunately, many were outside Vine range.

However, I shamelessly cribbed the idea and sampled a few wines for readers looking to craft a gift basket for someone special. (And for single Vine readers -- that "someone special" can be yourself. You also get the whole bottle to yourself that way…make the best of it!) So here’s something for every palate:

Domaine Ste. Michele Brut Columbia Valley -- Leading off, the traditional "romantic beverage," sparkling wine. (Remember, it's not champagne.) I find dry sparkling wines work better than sweet with chocolates. Although French-sounding, Domaine Ste. Michele is in Washington and is part of Ste. Michele Wineries. They produce Chateau Ste. Michele, Columbia Crest, and Snoqualmie labels among others. This brut is a simple, refreshing palate cleanser. There's a little fruit behind the bubbles, amplified pleasantly by the chocolate. This wine's also very flexible -- it will go with almost any food. It's equally worthwhile on its own, with desserts, in mimosas for the morning after, or -- as we had had it -- with Kentucky Fried Chicken. Tasty. For $8-10, you won't break the bank.

Rosenblum Vintner's Cuvée XXIX Zinfandel -- If you ever see a wine labeled "cuvée" -- that’s WineSpeak for "a blend of different batches or vintages." Winemakers commonly blend bits of wine from different vineyards. In many cases, the whole outstrips the parts. The Rosenblum Vintner Cuvée series is a very accessible set of wines -- and they're especially good for this price. Their cuvée zinfandel hits you with an enormously fruity nose with strong plum and cherry scents. There's a medium body and lots of fruit. The finish is less spicy and peppery than some zins and not overly dry. If you've ever heard a zinfandel referred to as a "fruit bomb" -- here's a prime example. If your intended doesn't like dry reds, here’s an excellent alternative. However, the finish of this wine doesn't hold up well against dark chocolate. The first sip is nice, but the rest of the flavor combination doesn't work very well. With milk chocolate -- normally not so bitter -- the flavors marry really well. Chocolate-covered cherries would be a great combination here, also. At $8-9, a good choice for the Esther Price recipient on your list.

Rabbit Ridge 2004 Central Coast Cabernet Sauvignon -- Cabernet sauvignon and chocolate is a classic pairing. The Rabbit Ridge has a pronounced nose of cherry and pine trees. The taste is full bodied and full of fruit. It's moderately dry with a long, slightly smoky, dry finish. Dark chocolate and this wine go hand in hand. The bitterness of the chocolate pulls out the wine's fruit, and the wine's finishing tannins take the edge off the deep chocolate taste, leaving a delicious finish. You'll find this for $8-10. (Personal note on Rabbit Ridge -- one of their former winemakers, Susie Selby, started her own winery in Healdsburg, California, and she cranks out some of the best zins and merlots you'll find. They're out of our price range here, but if you splurge on a Selby wine, you won't be disappointed.)

Jacob's Creek 2004 Reserve Shiraz -- Since the Santa Barbara trip, I've become quite enamored with syrah. Down Under, for whatever reason, the Ozzies call the grape "shiraz." Who knows? Who cares? It's scrumptious, just the same. Shiraz is one of the more widely planted grapes in Australia, and goes fabulously well with chocolate. Jacob's Creek is a widely-distributed Australian wine, and their reserve starts you with a subtle combination of pepper and licorice. The first sip is full of soft, velvety fruit, joined quickly by some spice. The finish is nicely balanced with flavors of cloves and fruit. You might want to crack this one and let it breathe for 15 minutes or so before you serve it to let the fruit open up. I was fascinated by the combination of this wine and dark chocolate. The two tastes took turns coming forward, each complimenting the other wonderfully. The finish was very long and tasty. A bottle runs you $11-13 well-spent.

Until next time, be happy with yourself or others and bundle up against the February cold…