Tuesday, January 27, 2009

Liquor Direct staff showcase

One of my favorite times of the year at Liquor Direct. The wine staff has a little competition. They look for a wine that's under $50 (usually way under), is in the store and in good supply. There's usually some...erm...friendly competition surrounding the tasting, which is this weekend. If you're looking for something to do this weekend, head over to Covington or Ft. Thomas.

After all...Don't cost nothin'...

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Sunday, January 25, 2009

Espiritu de Chile

Every once in a blue moon, I get a request to sample wines that are just making their way to the market -- like last year when I sampled the Monsoon Valley wines from Thailand. I was recently asked to give some new Chilean wines the once-over. I received four bottles and recipes to go alongside each.

I've always enjoyed Chilean wines. I think they're some of the best values out there. So I really looked forward to sampling these -- all of which retail for around $11.

Gewurztraminer (2007) -- I'd never had a Chilean gewurz, and at first taste I was a little surprised. It's lighter in body than many of the others we've tried. It's on the drier side, although it's not bone-dry like an Alsace gewurz. It has a slightly floral nose, a flavor of tart green apples, and a soft finish. It's a little bit peppery, but less spicy than many. By itself, honestly, it wasn't my favorite. The recommended food pairing with this wine was a green curry chicken salad. That's where this wine shone. I always add more curry paste than is called for, so this was a spicy dish with some bitter greens alongside. The flavors of this wine cut through both easily. The apple flavor became more pronounced, the peppery notes broadened, and we really enjoyed the complements. I'd put this wine easily with any kind of spicy Asian or Indian cuisine and have a very, very nice match.

Sauvignon Blanc (2007) -- Chile is well-known for sauvignon blanc, and I've praised those wines for their food-friendliness, consistency, and general all-around tastiness. This straw-colored sauvignon has a flavor as light as its color. The nose of slightly floral lemon is barely noticeable at first. If you'd blindfolded me, I could easily have mistaken this for pinot grigio. The body is light, bordering on a little bit watery. The finish is soft and only slightly acidic. The recommended food pairing was an exceptional recipe in and of itself: a simple roasted fish stew. The flavors were wonderful and the citrusy notes in the wine became much more pronounced and interesting. That said, there are less-expensive Chilean sauvignons that I'd probably choose ahead of this one if it weren't going to be paired with something.

Carmenere (2007) -- Carmenere is a first cousin of merlot. It has a slightly fumey, herbaceous nose. This fragrance yields to a medium bodied red with lots of smoky flavors, along with some blackberry. There was also an earthy undertone like a Cotes-du-Rhone with a relatively tannic finish. I was somewhat surprised by the tannins here, since I don't get those in a straight merlot. On its own, it struck me as fairly straightforward, but when set next to the recommended pairing -- which was a grilled marinated sirloin, sliced thin; topped with sautéed mushrooms with lemon juice and parsley; and grilled green onions, this wine was downright delicious. After a bite of the steak, the tannin cut through the steak's fat, bringing out a much more "merlot-ish" flavor. The onions pointed up the earthy flavors, and the mushrooms with it just plain tasted good.

Shiraz/Cabernet (2006) -- Most shiraz/cab blends that I've tried lean heavily towards the "Shiraz" side of things -- the fruit dominates with hopefully enough tannin to make the wine interesting. At a 75/25 split, I expected the same here. However, given a little time to open up, this wine was a completely different story. The nose wasn't all that fruity -- instead leaning towards vanilla and smoke. It smelled a little like roasted meat, honestly. On its own, medium-bodied with more of that vanilla/smoke blend. The finish was tannic. Decent enough. The suggested pairing was a strip steak with chimichurri sauce and criolla salsa. Four for four on food pairings. The smoky flavor of the wine meshed nicely with the meat -- and the sauces made a nice complement. I'd like to try this recipe again in the summer, since all of those flavors would be really nice when it's hot.

So, bottom line, I'd recommend all of these except the sauvignon blanc -- and I only downcheck the sauvignon because of the price point. At $7-8, it would have been perfectly acceptable. They're all definitely wines with a taste for food -- especially recipes similar to these. I also want to pass along a compliment to whomever created these recipes -- they were very easy to put together and were absolutely scrumptious. (Links to the recipes are here and here.)

Many thanks also to Monica and the folks at Balzac for giving me the chance to check these out.

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Friday, January 16, 2009

Cleaning Out My Closet

I didn’t want to leave you hanging all thirsty for some new bottles to try. As you can see from the site index, a fair amount of wine gets sampled around here. Not all of it makes it into the blog. Usually it’s for topical reasons – the wine just doesn’t fit what I’m writing about at the time, but it’s interesting enough for me to keep in reserve. I take my notes and stash them for a rainy day. Well, the clouds have come.

In no particular order, a few wines that were plenty good enough to make the Vine’s cutting, but just never wound up in a column:

Hogue 2005 Chenin Blanc -- Hogue is one of my favorite Vine-level producers. I've been extremely pleased with just about everything that I've tried from them. The Chenin Blanc certainly didn't disappoint. Within each of their varietals, I find the Hogue wines to be much richer than many of their counterparts. Not necessarily more complex, but more full-bodied and, for my money, more "elegant." The chenin has a nose of melon and green apples. I expected this to be a lighter-styled wine, but the body was rich without being cloying. A nice fruity, melony taste with a texture that reminded me a lot of a viognier. The finish is more lingering than crisp. I had this with cod loin with vegetables and herbs cooked in foil packets, and it was wonderful. $8-10.

96 Points 2005 Shiraz/Viognier -- One of the best marketing ideas I've seen – why worry about what Parker’s going to give your wine when you can slap a score right on the label? It's certainly an interesting wine. Australian shirazes are always fragrant, and the viognier in this blend amplifies that, giving this a very strong nose of strawberries, coffee, and mint. Lush on the tongue, and not as fruity as I would have expected. Finish starts out with a light tannin that strengthens for a long time into a lingering coffee flavor. Around $10.

Laurel Glen 2005 "Reds" -- Marketed as "a wine for the people" -- this red blend from Lodi, California is a blend of four grapes -- Zinfandel, Carignane, Petit Sirah, and Syrah. The result is a big ol' smooth red wine. The nose is cherries and blackberries. As you would expect with those particular grapes, this is a big-tasting wine, but the fruit-bomb tendency of the zinfandel is tempered by the syrah and petit sirah -- leaving a taste of smooth tart cherries. The finish slides easily into a slightly dry, slightly fruity end which is quite nice. This wine was born to go with grilled or roasted red meat. Rare roast beef and new potatoes would be scrumptious here. At $8-10, you can spend the extra money on meat from the butcher's case.

Woodsman's White 2005 Cserszegi Füszeres – I simply didn’t know where to put this wine when I first tried it. The grape is pronounced chair-seggy fooser-raish. A clone of a gewürztraminer grown in Hungary. reminiscent of Alsace gewürztraminer. It starts you out with a strong sweet apple nose. Body is initially very dry. After a couple of sips, a gentle fruit flavor comes out. Finish is somewhat crisp. Had this with a Thai eggplant, bean, and tomato salad and it went quite nicely. I first found this at Trader Joe’s for around $4, of all things – it’s definitely worth it!

Chateau de Pena "Ninet de Pena" 2006 Cuvee Rose – A good, basic table rose from the makers of my favorite red box wine. Expect nothing fancy here. The nose is straightforward -- a little bit honey and flowers. Full bodied full for a rose and more than a bit acidic. The finish is bone dry. If you’re just sipping at it on it's own, it's decent. But for something to throw back if you're eating some meat or other earthy stuff and for some reason you don't want a red, it's hard to beat this for $5-6.

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Saturday, January 03, 2009

Felice Anno Nuovo!

Now that I've had a couple of days to rehydrate so that my brain feels less like it's been slow-cooked in bacon grease, I can start the Vine train rolling again.

For those who haven't followed the Vine since its inception, the Sweet Partner in Crime and I hunker down each New Year's Eve, try some recipes that we haven't made before, open a bunch of wine, and generally enjoy ourselves while avoiding Amateur Night in the public square. This year, inspired by our Med Cruise and buoyed by a new cookbook, we decided to think Italian and embark on our own "Big Night." (Side note: if you haven't seen that movie and you call yourself a foodie, you're missing out in so many ways...)

The lineup for the evening (I waived my usual $15 limit, since this was a special occasion):

Terlan 2007 Alto Adige Pinot Grigio ($20)
Bisci 2006 Verdicchio di Matelica ($15)
Cecci 2006 Chianti Classico ($15)
Vietti 2006 Dolcetto d'Alba Tre Vigne ($20)
Rotari "Arte Italiana" Talento Trento Brut ($14)

Aperitif: The Terlan pinot grigio -- to get us started, because how can anyone be expected to make an Italian meal without a glass or two of wine at the ready? Also, since there was a must-see basketball game on New Year's Eve, we had something to sip on while our various dishes started down their succulent courses.

The Terlan was an excellent choice for a starter. This pinot grigio was much fuller and softer than many I've tried. Still a high-acid wine, for sure, but there was less of a citrus taste -- more melon and a crisp, strong finish that wasn't biting.

Antipasti: Our first course was a thinly sliced grouper marinated in lemon juice. The recipe initially called for non-Chilean sea bass or striped bass, but there wasn't any available locally that I could find.

This dish is very similar to ceviche. If you're unfamiliar with ceviche, it's raw fish and red onion marinated in lime juice. The Italian version used flat-leaf parsley and lemon juice instead of lime juice and cilantro. The acidity of the lemon juice"cooks" the fish in a few hours, creating a fully-cooked, light, flavorful concoction. We tried both the Pinot Grigio and the Verdicchio with the dish. (The Verdicchio was a fragrant, peachy smelling white. Full-bodied and crisp, this had a little more oomph than the Pinot Grigio.)

Split decision. I liked the Verdicchio better, since I thought the fuller wine balanced the acidity of the lemon and brought out more interesting flavors. The SPinC preferred the pinot grigio, since she liked the "acid with acid" effect on all the citrus. Either way, you couldn't lose.

Primi: We followed the grouper with the produce of one of our new holiday toys -- a pasta maker.

We wanted to play, so we made homemade linguini in a simple tomato & anchovy sauce became our pasta course. (Don't wrinkle your nose at the anchovies -- the sauce didn't taste fishy at all.) We sampled with both the Verdicchio and the Chianti Classico. The latter was the clear winner, although both wines got outshined by the pasta itself, which was heavenly. A regular Chianti would probably have been a good choice, or perhaps a Montepulciano d'Abruzzo. I don't know if I could get used to making my own pasta every day, since it's fairly labor intensive -- but the difference between homemade and store-bought pasta is nothing short of amazing.

Primi parte due: Here, we broke from "traditional" Italian meal model. Soup generally does not follow pasta, but since we were stretching this meal out over the course of the evening, we decided to do this as a separate course. So, we settled on an an escarole, bean, and barley soup. With this traditional rustic Italian soup, we decided to go with a wine equally rustic. We paired this up with the Chianti Classico and had our first "WOW!" pairing of the evening. Chianti Classico can be a little rough around the edges taken on its own, but nuzzled up against a steaming bowl of this earthy concoction that we had going in the slow cooker for a few hours -- absolutely a heavenly experience. The earthy flavors in the soup deepened. The fruit in the wine shone through marvelously. We ate this course without saying too much, as we were so focused on the flavor.

Secondi: For our main course, we did a pan-roasted veal shoulder stuffed with spinach and garlic. I'd never done a stuffed roast before, and I was a bit nervous about anything requiring the use of kitchen twine, but my fears were unfounded. The roast came out done to a turn -- and after plating it up, we were treated to the second "WOW!" pairing. Dolcetto is from the Piedmont region, home of Barolo and Barbaresco. Dolcetto is a fruitier, more acidic, more delicate wine than those two tannic monsters. The Vietti has a deeply fruity, slightly smoky nose and a wonderful balance of fruit and tannin in its medium-bodied style. As wonderful as the wine tasted, paired with the veal, it was absolutely sublime -- the perfect amount of tannin to cut through the fat, and the savory, delicate flavor of the veal married perfectly with the wine's fruit. Just exceptional.

Dolci: Of course, we needed to finish with a sweet, so I poached tangerine slices in simple syrup, white wine, and lemon juice, then sprinkled them with some allspice. We rang in the new year with this, paired up with the Rotari sparkling wine. By this point in the evening, we couldn't properly appreciate the pairings, but we can safely say that it tasted pretty darned good.

After watching the ball drop, we toasted in the New Year with the Rotari (and I added a shot of grappa...), slammed some water and headed for bed, full and happy.

In case you're interested, the cookbook we used was "Every Night Italian" by Giuliano Hazan. All of the recipes (except for the tangerines) are based on what we found there. Mr. Hazan was generous enough to give permission for me to reprint the recipes. Follow the links to get the individual recipes. If you're interested in the book itself, click here to get it on Amazon.

Welcome to 2009, everyone! May it be a prosperous, healthy year for all of us.