Wednesday, August 31, 2011

National Tempranillo Day

The joys of social media continue. I learned that tomorrow, September 1, is National Tempranillo Day from my new friends at TAPAS – The Tempranillo Advocates, Producers, and Amigos Society. They invite everyone to open a bottle of Tempranillo on that date, drink up, and share the experience on Facebook and on Twitter at #TempranilloDay. They were also kind enough to send along some samples of Tempranillo grown in the good ol’ USA for me to try.

I’d not heard much about North American tempranillo. It’s a grape indigenous to Spain. It’s the main grape used in Rioja and Ribera del Duero wines. There’s also plenty of relatively inexpensive Spanish tempranillo out there. I’ve always found it to be an incredibly flexible food wine. It’s a good summer red option as it’s usually not overly heavy. It’s one of my favorite alterna-reds.

I’d long wondered why this grape isn’t grown in many US wine regions, especially some of the warmer, drier regions of California. It’s a grape that thrives on big temperature swings and dry weather. (I’d enjoy seeing what tempranillo would do in Temecula, outside of San Diego, for instance.) A growing number of winemakers have decided to take a swing at it and I was interested to try this new bounty.

I wanted to spread the wealth, as well. Our friends Milwaukee Mike and @gourmetgroup were hosting a “wine club” gathering at their place. This was our first ever visit to this gathering. The samples showed up just before the scheduled date, so I offered to bring the wine for the group to sample. I didn’t have to twist arms too far. (Also, we discovered were were the lone childless couple, so the Sweet Partner in Crime and I concluded that the club made an excellent excuse to go somewhere after dinner and extend the evening if a sitter was already lined up…)

While high-end Rioja and Ribera del Duero can run into the triple digits, much Spanish tempranillo you’ll find in your local wine store will probably be under $15. Since there’s not a huge amount of tempranillo grown in the US, the prices tend to be a little bit higher. The retail on these samples were between $15-30. I cracked the wines and let the assembled folks have at it. A few decided to play along and help me with tasting notes. Milwaukee Mike, who spent much of the evening wrapped around a bottle or other of Rivertown Brewery Hop Bomber Ale (a Cincinnati concoction which my beer drinking readers need to check out!), gave this helpful note: “They all taste like red wine.”

We had six tempranillos to try – five from California and one from Washington. @gourmetgroup laid out some delicious tapas (the manchego/prosciutto fritters were divine!) and we set to it:

Tempranillo yumminess!

Duarte Georgetown 2007 “Georgetown Divide” Tempranillo – When all was said and done, this wine from Modesto, CA was the big winner of the evening. This wine had little other than positive comments all evening, especially once it had opened up a bit. “Not too fruity,” said the Sweet Partner in Crime, “with some nice mineral on it. Tastes like a European wine, which I like.” @gourmetgroup enjoyed the balance – as did I. My tasting sheet has “Balance!” double underlined. Big cherry notes and a long finish on this. It was the most expensive of the group, retailing at $29.

Pomum 2008 “Tinto” Tempranillo – from Yakima Valley in Washington comes this one, also a crowd favorite. It’s made mostly from tempranillo with some Grenache and merlot thrown in for good measure. It’s a very “solid” wine. @gourmetgroup described it as “tight” and “bracing” – by which I think she meant that you get a whole lot of flavor all at once. Jammy was her thought. An easy drinking, all around quality wine. $25.

Ripken Vineyards 2008 “El Matador” Tempranillo – This wine from Lodi, CA won the award for the best comment of the evening. “This smells like dirty bulls’ balls” said @gourmetgroup. The assembled, for whatever reason, did not press her on how she had definitive evidence of this, but we digress. “Inoffensive but not interesting,” said the SPinC, “Not doing much for me.” I noted that it was a bit funky and earthy, but only stays with you for a moment. I described it as a “hi/bye” wine. At $22, not our favorite.

St. Amant 2008 Amador Tempranillo – Also from Lodi, CA, but the response from the assembled was the other pole from the Matador. The Fat Bastard chimed in with, “This is very easy to drink and goes with every bite of food I’ve tried,” he said, “I can’t say this so much about the others, but I would buy this wine.” This was my favorite of the bunch. I thought it tasted a little like a pinot. Nicely complex, balanced, and just downright tasty. @gourmetgroup wasn’t quite as hot on it, thinking that it needed food. The SPinC thought it was the easiest of the bunch to “just drink” – meaning that it didn’t cry for food. A number of other folks thought so too – it was the first bottle to bite the dust. It’s perfect for parties where folks are just drinking and socializing while nibbling on lots of different foods – like…say…tapas. $23.

Stein Family 2007 “Just Joshin’” Tempranillo – From Napa, CA. This wine with the joker on the label drew decent reviews. I thought it was straightforward and a bit tannic. “Decent, but that’s as far as I’d go,” said my note. The SPinC really liked that it wasn’t a fruit bomb – which is a bit surprising in a wine from Napa. She thought it was a bit “thin,” but that was OK with the profile. @gourmetgroup said that it was “friendly, not aggressive” and “pleasant but with some depth.” At $15, the least expensive of the group.

Tejada Vines 2005 Reserve Tempranillo – “Bring on the funk!” exclaimed @gourmetgroup as she hoisted the last wine of the evening. The SPinC, always a fan of “dirty wine” (as I put on my tasting sheet) wrote, “This is great, IMO. Low fruit, funky but not heavy, but still with a full flavor. Would be so, so yummy with food.” I concurred. I thought that its funkiness (“it’s Parliament, not Prince,” I’d written for some reason) screamed for a steak. This wine also came in a heavy, industrial strength bottle. By “heavy,” this bottle weighed more empty than many bottles of pinot grigio weigh full. Or at least it seemed that way by that point in the evening. Milwaukee Mike considered keeping the empty bottle by the bedside for home defense. “That’s quite a punt,” said @gourmetgroup with a look in her eye that frightened me a bit. $25 and worth it.

I’ll be interested to watch the tempranillo market over the years ahead. If these wines are any indication, there’s an opportunity for U.S. winemakers to make a broad range of styles up and down the west coast, much as they’ve done with shiraz/syrah and merlot. It will certainly be fun to follow.

On a personal note, a big thank-you to our hosts and the other members of the wine club for being such good sports about my little tempranillo experiment. Good fun.


Wine and Dinner of the Month Club – August 2011

August brings us a very local based meal with fruits and veggies from our garden and a couple farmers markets. The wine is a nice sparkling wine with a twist – it’s a rose. The recipes this month, with the exception of the tapenade which I just made up on my own, are from The America’s Test Kitchen Family Cookbook Third Edition (© 2010 by The Editors at America’s Test Kitchen). Enjoy.


  • Sweet Pepper and Tomato Tapenade with Goat Cheese
  • Baked Ratatouille with Rice
  • Baked Bourbon Peaches with Raspberry Sauce and Ice Cream


  • Gruet Rose Brut

What I had planned for this month was a Mexican inspired meal using dried hibiscus flowers in all of the recipes. Do you know how hard it is to find dried hibiscus flowers in Cincinnati, particularly on short notice? Not that easy. I’ll have to plan for this meal a little better next time. Fortunately, Christine was in the mood for a less exotic meal made with some of the local goodies we had in our garden and from other local sources. I started the ratatouille by chopping the vegetables and mixing them with olive oil and some spices. The tomatoes and squash for this dish came from our garden and the eggplant and onion came from McGlasson’s Farm, a farm with a produce stand along the Ohio River about 13 miles from our house ( Everything went into a baking pan and into the oven.

While that was baking I prepared the appetizer. We had a lot of little cherry tomatoes and some sweet peppers and I was wondering what I could do with those. In this situation my motto is “olive oil and garlic to the rescue.” I cut up some tomatoes and the peppers and blended them in the food processor with some olive oil, garlic, salt and pepper. It made for a yummy spread on crackers with a little goat cheese.


Since the ratatouille was still baking, I got started on the rice for the side dish. We recently acquired a rice cooker and if you follow the directions correctly it makes pretty good rice rather flawlessly. The key phrase here is “follow the directions correctly.” I thought I had done just that, but it turns out I did not add nearly enough water for the amount of rice I was cooking. Is rice supposed to be crunchy? I don’t think so. Christine, who is more adept with the rice cooker, pointed out the error of my ways and we made another batch that turned out perfect – firm but tender and nice and fluffy. I plated this up with the ratatouille and we sat down to dinner.


The wine went well with both the appetizer and the main course, which you would expect from a very food friendly sparkling rose. There was not a lot of fat in either dish so the wine didn’t have to compete against that, and the sweetness helped offset some of the acidity from all the tomatoes.

Finally, we had dessert of baked peaches. The peaches for this dish came from McGlasson’s as well. I also made up a raspberry sauce to go over top of them, creating a type of Peach Melba. Pouring a splash of bourbon over the peaches gives them extra flavor and creates additional sauce in the pan to put on them. They were great with just a little vanilla ice cream. If I had it to do again, I would change two things. First, I would not make the raspberry sauce. The sauce from the baking pan is enough to
give the peaches some additional moisture and I thought the raspberry sauce rather overwhelmed the peach flavor. Second, even though the recipe did not call for it, I would peel the peaches. Even after baking the skins were a little tough and hard to cut through with a spoon, particularly since the peach
flesh was so tender.



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Friday, August 26, 2011

Pinot Smackdown!

While I may never get the hang of the full-on Twitter tasting, I’m certainly enjoying the benefits of the integration of social media into the wine tasting experience. I received notification that August 18th was the “2nd Annual Pinot Noir Smackdown.”

According to the release, this day-long event was an online competition among the pinot noir growing regions. Participants tasted pinot, tweeted (or Facebooked) their reviews, and voted for the region they felt was superior. Ed Thralls, marketing manager for Sonoma Coast Vineyards, Windsor Vineyards, and Windsor Sonoma, was good enough to send along a few samples from Sonoma County for the occasion.

I had three bottles to check out:

  • Sonoma Coast Vineyards Freestone Hills 2009 Pinot Noir ($45)
  • Windsor Sonoma Russian River Valley 2009 Pinot Noir ($30)
  • Windsor Vineyards 2010 Pinot Noir ($25)

We started with the Windsor Sonoma. At first pour, even after being allowed to breathe for 45 minutes and aerated, it tasted a little harsh and heavy on the fruit. We split a glass, and we were a bit confused by it. I think we expected a softer profile. This was initially a fruit bomb of a pinot. We finished a glass, recorked it, and decided to try it again in a day.

That next day, we opened the Sonoma Coast Vineyards and poured it side-by-side with the W-S. The Windsor Sonoma had mellowed a bit. It still had a bit of a “spiky” flavor. What’s “spiky?” You’d get big fruit, then an acidic bite, then some smoke. The flavors were all there, but they just didn’t balance as well.

The SCV was a better wine. The flavors were much more integrated initially, but we had to give this one the same treatment. The fruit on the front was just too strong, washing out much of the subtlety usually found in a pinot. After a day, the wine mellowed considerably. It was still fruit forward with lots of cherry and cola flavors, but there was at least a silky smokiness to back it up. I think I liked it more than the Sweet Partner in Crime, who is a huge fan of Burgundy (French pinot noir) which is much more earthy and is a lighter-styled wine.

This lends itself to the idea of terroir. Terroir is the term for the location where a wine’s grapes are grown. More specifically, the climate and the soil where grapes are grown. Sonoma does a lot of things well. Some of our all-time favorite cabernet sauvignons and zinfandels hail from Sonoma. Those wines are big, fruit-forward, and high alcohol. Pinot noirs from Sonoma tend to have that sort of flavor profile, which isn’t generally the characteristics we’re looking for when we crack a bottle of pinot.

Interestingly, our favorite of the three was the least expensive. The Windsor Vineyards was ready to drink right out of the bottle. Even though it was still “Sonoma-ish” with a strong fruit flavor, the cherry and smoke balanced exceedingly well. We tried it with a chicken souvlaki, which had a range of flavors – grilled chicken, lemon, cucumber, yogurt – and it held up extremely well. It was just a plain ol’ nice wine.

Based on these wines, my vote in the Smackdown went to my old standby. I still think that Burgundy makes the world’s best, most consistent pinot noir – my 1st place vote went to the French. The worldwide smackdown winner? New Zealand. I just so happen to have a few bottles of New Zealand pinot down in the cellar. Perhaps next year…



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Monday, August 08, 2011

Repurposing Wine

You may have seen “repurposing” cropping up from time to time in various contexts. First time I saw it, I thought it was first simply a synonym for “recycling,” but I came to understand that it means “converting something for other than its intended use.” For example, if you take an length of old copper pipe, cut it into different lengths, attach it to a piece of scrap wood with fishing line and put a hook on top, you’ve “repurposed” a bunch of junk into a windchime.

Can someone repurpose wine? Sure, I suppose. I guess folks have been doing this for millennia. Vinegar, after all, is just wine that’s gone bad. (the word “vinegar” is actually from the French “vin aigre” – “sour wine.”) But I don’t want to wait until wine is over to repurpose it. For our purposes, why not think about repurposing wine in terms of pairings? When the “traditional” pairing doesn’t work, why not think outside the box?

One evening, The Sweet Partner in Crime and I had a hankering for pepperoni pizza. We ordered one from Newport Pizza Company ( absolutely top notch ‘za, by the way!). We figured we’d crack open an Italian red to go with it. Of course, after we placed the order, we discovered that we didn’t have any Italian reds in the homestead. (Egads! How could this happen?) After an initial panic, we regrouped.

I’d seen a couple of cab francs described as “good pizza wines” recently. I was a little skeptical. I’d thought about it as more of a lighter wine to go with red meat or grilled pork – something to use in place of cabernet sauvignon if that sounded too heavy. We opened the Steele 2006 Lake County Cabernet Franc as a stand-in for our missing Italian.

This turned out to be a good decision on our part. The Steele has a fruitier nose than many Italian wines, but the body and flavor is relatively Chianti-ish. It’s more fruit-forward, but the flavor profile more or less holds – cherries and chalk. The finish has some minerality to go with the tannin. With the pizza – quite excellent. The wine was big enough to stand toe to toe with the meat and come away mostly unscathed. The extra tannin in this wine also helped cut through the inevitable grease. $14-16.

A couple of weeks later, we were at the end of a long weekend and we found ourselves with a bunch of veggies (again from The Chad), a bag of frozen shrimp, and a pack of lo mein noodles tucked away in the back of our pantry. Stir fry time. I cobbled together a spice sauce, so I figured I’d go for a Riesling alongside. Alas, again embarrassingly, there was none to be had in the household. What we did have, however, was a Doña Paula 2009 Torrontes. I’d picked up this Argentinean bottle on a whim. I figured I’d use it for a grilled chicken or fish pairing, but Asian spice wasn’t close to my mind.

Why did I choose to crack it? To be honest…it’s a screwtop, so I didn’t have to think much or go fetch a corkscrew. (Worst case scenario? I get the opener and find another bottle.) The Doña Paula turned out to be a very nice substitute. Rich apples on the nose along with some floral fragrances. The body is a little on the heavy side, but there’s a good amount of apple and lemon flavors. The finish is long, floral, and a little sweet. That sweetness, however, made for a nice match with my spicy lo mein throw-together. The wine had enough weight to be interesting and was firm enough to handle the power of srirachia as a condiment. Certainly a workable choice. $13-15.

I started thinking more about this repurposing thing. Could one go earlier in the winemaking process and repurpose grapes? Turns out the answer is a big ol’ yes. For instance, consider the Rua 2010 Valdeorras. This Spanish white is a blend of Palomino, Dona Blanca, and Godello grapes. While I wasn’t at all familiar with the last two grapes, I’d heard of Palomino. It’s one of the primary grapes in sherry. I’d not tried it in a still wine before. (much like the Pedro Ximenez I mentioned a couple of entries ago). A pretty decent repurposing. It’s got a very light nose of flowers and lemon zest. The body’s of medium weight. It’s got a little bit of glycerin (instead of sugar) thickness there with some minerals at the back. It finishes crisp and dry with plenty of pineapple-citrus flavors. A great summertime white. Had it with some fish tacos. Tasty, tasty. Great deal at $8-10, too.

Since I’ve been stretching the definition a bit here, I’ll close out with an actual repurposing. Perhaps you’ve had a party recently and one of your “friends” brought (and left) a bottle of white zinfandel. You see it every day, sitting forlorn on the bottom of your wine rack. If you’re in this situation, you can make killer Sangria from a white zin:

Cut up a bunch of fruit. I like apples, pineapples, sliced grapes, and strawberries. Put these in a bowl. Pour about a cup of inexpensive brandy over the top. (E&J works well.) Sprinkle with a little bit of brown sugar. Stir this up and put the bowl in the fridge for an hour or so. When you’re ready (since your friends have shown up to drink), get a large pitcher. Add ice. Add the fruit/brandy mixture, the bottle of white zin, a couple of cups of club soda, and three shots of peach schnapps. Stir. Pour. I’m not responsible for what might happen afterwards, but I think you’ll thank me.


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