Wednesday, July 27, 2011

Wine & Dinner of the Month Club – July 2011

It’s July and that means parades, flags, fireworks and RIBS! This year Christine and I were visiting her sister Vida and brother-in-law (and my doppelganger) Rob and their two boys Orion and Jonas. They live on Bainbridge Island near Seattle, Washington, so we got to spend time with them and experience some of the natural beauty of the Pacific Northwest. Since we were going out there, we decided to take the Wine and Dinner Club on the road. With luck and plenty of bubble wrap in the luggage, the wine made it in fine shape, supplemented by some Washington state wines that Rob picked up for the occasion. Enjoy.


Wine (We had a GOOD TIME!!)

  • 2008 Owen Roe Ex Umbris Columbia Valley Syrah
  • 2007 Dominio IV Columbia Gorge Syrah/Tempranillo
  • 2008 Sagelands Columbia Valley Red Wine
  • 2004 D’Arenberg The Love Grass McLaren Vale Shiraz (Naked Vine Recommendation)

We started with some cheeses and cured meats as an appetizer. The cheeses were a manchego and a herbed goat cheese, and the meats were a spicy cured Italian salami and some thin prosciutto. They were served with a sourdough baguette and the first of the Washington state wines, the Ex Umbris. We had asked Rob to pick up another bottle of The Love Grass for the meal, but his local wine shop did not have it in stock and would have had to order it in special. When asked about an Australian wine, the person at the shop said, “Well, that’s one way you could go.” AppsAccording to Rob, he then went on to espouse the superior quality of Washington state wines and pelted Rob with granola until Rob relented and bought the local fare. (That last part may have been a little exaggerated.) As I recall, and since there were four bottles of wine I don’t recall much, nobody was really bowled over by the Ex Umbris. It had a little spice to it, but not enough to stand up to the spicy salami. I thought it went well with the manchego and would probably be good with a simple piece of grilled meat. Thus, we decided it was a good M&M wine (Meat & Manchego).

After the appetizer we had the main meal which included the slaw, corn and ribs that had been cooking low and slow in the oven at 225 degrees Fahrenheit for about five hours. We did two racks. One I dry rubbed with Southside Market & Barbecue Premium Original BBQ Seasoning from the Southside Market in Houston, Texas and the other with Colonel’s Smoky Rub from Colonel De Gourmet Herbs and Spices at Findlay Market in Cincinnati, Ohio. To cook the ribs you just wrap them in aluminum foil, sealing it tightly, and put them on a baking sheet to catch leaking juices. You don’t even have to watch them and they come out supper moist and tasty. I always put a little barbecue sauce on them and put them under the broiler for a while to give them a nice glaze. Oh, and did I mention Rob is the source for my rib recipe? The other key is to wear an orange shirt!


The ribs were delicious and between the four of us we finished both racks. The slaw was tangy and a little sweet and was a cool contrast to the spiciness that the rubs imparted to the ribs. Of the two, the Southside rub was spicier with more pepper in the mix, while the Colonel’s Smoky Rub was just that, smoky. The coconut basted corn was sweet and was a great accompaniment to the meal as well. By this time we were well into the Dominio wine. It was good, but again, nothing really outstanding. We liked saying that the Syrah was tempered by the Tempranillo, but that was probably just MainMealthe second bottle of wine talking. Before we finished the meal, we broke open The Love Grass. We thought this one was a lot different than the others and much better with more flavor and good tannic structure (take that granola boy). Or so I recall. Hey, give me a break - this was the third bottle of the night!

After the ribs came out of the oven and while we were eating, I put the pie in to bake. We took a long break after the dinner waiting for the pie to finish cooking and then let it cool while we cleaned up the kitchen. The pie was delicious with the sweetness of the strawberries offsetting the tartness of the very rhubarb, and the filling could not have been more local with both the strawberries and the rhubarb from Vida and Rob’s garden behind their house.


We finished The Love Grass and opened the Sagelands, which was good, but not too complex. It was a nice sipping wine to finish up the evening. Thank you to Vida and Rob for a great July 4th getaway!


Saturday, July 16, 2011

Rucking the Right Bank


Hand it to the folks at Planet Bordeaux. They’re a creative bunch.

As I’ve mentioned before, Planet Bordeaux is the marketing arm of the winemakers who produce Bordeaux and Bordeaux Supérieur wines. These are the wines that often get lost between the more inexpensive “vin de pays” table wines and the “classified growth” wines that can go for hundreds of dollars apiece. These mid-priced Bordeaux (which actually aren’t much more expensive than the vin de pays) are designed to be solid, everyday values. The Planet Bordeaux folks were looking for spokesmen. They found a bunch of unexpected takers – a bunch of loud, muddy, sweaty, normally beer-swilling men and women:

Planet Bordeaux is now an official sponsor of USA Rugby.

The Rugby World Cup will be held in New Zealand in September. Planet Bordeaux decided to support the Eagles (the US team, currently ranked 17th in the world) on their path to the event. I was fascinated by this choice of sponsors, largely because after my remarkably brief and utterly unimpressive career as a rugger, wine was just about the last thing I associate with rugby. Beer, blood, public nudity, beer, and beer…sure.

Apparently, however, the Bordelais are absolutely bonkers about their rugby and at least some of them are willing to trade national loyalty for commerce and visibility. “Planet Bordeaux and the Eagles are both dedicated to excellence and contributing to the game of rugby beyond the field. The partnership will help to prepare the Eagles for their build up to the world’s largest rugby stage in September,” said USA Rugby CEO and President of Rugby Operations, Nigel Melville.

In celebration of this partnership, the good folks at Balzac sent me another set of Planet Bordeaux samples. My enthusiasm for these bottles was much greater than my desire to put on my old kit again. I’m much better gallivanting in front of a wine tasting than I am running for my life as an overmatched outside centerback.

Here’s the latest rundown:

Chateau Raynier 2006 Marc Lurton Bordeaux – This is an exceptionally easy-to-drink Bordeaux. It has the requisite earthiness and “vegetal” nature, but for the most part, it’s just smooth and balanced. The merlot and and cabernet grapes strike an accord, and you can uncork this one with any number of foods. In our case, we had it with some beef kabobs, also skewered with pineapple, tomato, mushrooms, onions, and green peppers. Also, a salad of greens and basil leaves with balsamic vinaigrette. At 12.5% alcohol, nice and light -- just uncomplicated, friendly, and pleasant. About $14.

Chateau Le Grand Verdus 2009 Bordeaux Rosé – The English translation of the back of the label reads: “Crisp, voluptuous, aperitif, fruity, femininity, passion, lustrous, relaxation, pleasure, fragrant, candy, warmth, temptation, intensity, seductive, summer, modern, raspberry, aromatic, energy…” (Jeez…I need a smoke…) While I won’t cop to every term on that list, I will say that this is an exceptionally pleasant rosé. Made from cabernet sauvignon, cabernet franc, and merlot – this is a hearty rosé with plenty of fruit and a pleasant minerality. We grilled turkey burgers alongside some mushroom and parmesan couscous and it went splendidly. Also was quite tasty on its own. An absolutely smashing deal at $9, as well.

Chateau Ballan-Larquette 2009 Bordeaux Blanc -- This one takes a hard but not unpleasant turn when you get to sipping on this one. It starts out with a very tart lemony zing, but quickly mellows into a nice balance of mineral and fruit, which further mellows and finishes creamily instead of acidically. Medium bodied for a white Bordeaux so it can handle some richer foods easily enough. We did mustard-and-pretzel crusted chicken breasts with some new potatoes sautéed with pancetta. Very tasty. Very interesting value and an excellent dinner white at $10-14.

Chai de Bordes 2008 Bordeaux Rouge – Cracking this one, the nose was floral, almost lavenderish to go along with some light berry scents. It’s light bodied and fairly acidic with a cherry and mineral flavor. The finish is quite dry –tannic, but not harshly so. Reminds me a little of a Montepulciano d’Abruzzo, actually. A very pleasant and approachable Bordeaux. $15-18.

Chateau du Cros 2009 Bordeaux Sauvignon – They call this a “field blend,” which is a blend of two grape varieties planted together in the same vineyard. In this case, it’s largely Sauvignon blanc with a little Semillon and Muscadelle thrown in. It starts you with a fairly strong nose of apples and lemons. I found it to be minerally and sharply acidic, like a shot of “lemon juice light.” Finishes slightly astringent. To me, it seemed like a Bordeaux winemaker was trying to make something that tasted like Italian pinot grigio and just missed. It’s a decent quaff and would go well with shellfish, especially raw ones, but at around $16, you could likely find a better sipper.

Chateau Le Calvaire 2007 Bordeaux Superieur – I didn’t really care much for this one at first sip. I opened it about three hours in advance and was hit with an “alcohol and grape”. As a little of the alcohol dissipated, however, the wine opened quickly. The Calvaire had a really interesting nose of graphite and blackberries. Fairly full-bodied. On the tongue, more of that mineral to go with a substantial dose of dark fruit and some tannins that linger for a half minute or more. A good, big choice for Bordeaux if you’re looking for something with a little more punch. It does seem to call for bitter and dark flavors alongside – grilled meat, dark chocolate – that kind of thing, especially after it’s been open for awhile (a day wouldn’t be bad, if you can wait that long). Pretty good deal at $16.




Wednesday, July 06, 2011

The Pizza Wine Showdown

Oh, do we love ourselves some pizza around the household. Pizza’s so deliciously egalitarian. Make it however you like it. Toppings, your choice. Thickness, your choice. Vegan, Vegetarian, Carnivore – there’s a ‘za out there for everyone. For us, it can range from indulgence to “don’t feel like cooking tonight…what can we throw on a crust?” Yep. Put pretty much toppings on a well-covered crust and I’m signing up.

If you’ve poked around this space for any amount of time, you know my usual recommendations for pizza. I either crack a medium-bodied Italian red or some kind of sparkling wine when the disc of deliciousness emerges from the oven. I swear by them both. After receiving a “come hang out and we’ll order pizza” invite from some friends of ours, the idea hit me – why not try a side by side of Italian wine and bubbly. Cage match. Vino a Vino. Or something.

Regardless, it made for the perfect excuse to kill a couple of bottles.

We’re pretty lucky. About five minutes from us (and a block from our pals) is Buona Vita -- a pizzeria owned by a third-generation Italian family. They make a tremendous Southern Italian, stone oven-baked thin crust pie. We ordered two to sample – one pepperoni, one Margarita. For those not familiar, Margarita (or Margherita) is fresh tomatoes, mozzarella, & basil. If you haven’t given such a pizza (or Buona Vita, for that matter!)…do so. Perhaps now.

We packed up the beagle and headed over to their place. While waiting for our pizza, we enjoyed a delicious antipasti provided by Chris, frontman of local rockers Brewer’s Tongue, and Sunshine Rei, his lovely wife. A sufficient amount of time passed. No need for delivery. A block’s not too far to stroll, after all. Pizza retrieved, we opened the two wines for the evening:The lineup

  • Freixienet (NV) Extra Dry Cava
  • Capestrano 2008 Montepulciano d’Abruzzo

The Freixinet is a Spanish sparkling wine I’ve used as a fallback basic bubbly for eons. It’s very flavorful and crisp. If you remember your sparkling wine terminology, among commonly available wines, one labeled “brut” will be the driest. “Extra dry” means that there’s a hint of residual sugar left in the wine. With something like pizza, an ever-so-slight amount of sweetness can make the wine pair a bit better, in my opinion.

The Capestrano is a very decent Montepulciano. It’s easy to get confused with this wine. You may remember: a Montepulciano d’Abruzzo, like the one here, is made from the Montepulciano grape in the region of Abruzzo. It’s a medium bodied, relatively smooth red. You might also see “Rosso di Montepulciano.” This wine is from the Montepulciano region in Tuscany and is made from Sangiovese grapes, as is Chianti.) For a general “drinking with anything” role, I think Montepulciano d’Abruzzo is generally a very solid balance of value and flavor. Both these wines are around ten bucks.

We fell to eating. We tried our best to do the 2x2 comparison, taking detailed notes and really tasting – but as is so common when we all get together, we got to chatting about everything from the Women’s World Cup to T.Rex to Amsterdam (In my mind, a logical progression). After several slices and a few refills, however, consensus formed in a surprising manner.

The preferences broke along gender lines. Chris and I preferred the Cava with the pepperoni and the Montepulciano with the Margarita. We thought that the sparkler cut the fattiness of the sausage and let the flavor (and they use good pepperoni) come through. We thought the red wine pointed up the red sauce and the basil on the other.

Sunshine Rei and the Sweet Partner in Crime went the other way. They thought that the cava went better with the Margarita, since the bubbles cut the mozzarella and let the fresh basil reign. They also both thought that the depth of the Montepulciano was a better complement for the meat.

Limon! Thanks to a surprise from Chris, we got to do one additional comparison. A good friend of his, Blake, is in the Navy Reserves and is deployed in Italy, where he’s actually working for the Army. He sent Chris a “share package” not long ago. Within were a couple of traditional Italian aperitifs/digestifs: Limoncello and Crema di Limoni from Limonoro, a liqueur maker in Sorrento. We decided to open them. Chris also had some homemade limoncello crafted by his bass player Dave – so we needed to do a side by side of those in the interest of science, of course.

There was a distinct difference between the Limonoro and the homemade. Dave’s limoncello had a slightly sharper flavor. We could taste a thread of bitterness from the rind and the tartness was sharper. The Limonoro was smoother. Chris and I split on this one. Brewer’s Tongue loyalty won out for him. However, with the Crema di Limono, I thought I was going to lose Chris – I think he discovered his touchstone after-dinner drink. “This blows my mind!” he exclaimed. While I wouldn’t go that far, I thought it was pretty darned tasty, and made a good closer for our evening’s experiment.

2011-7-2 Mike,Pam 007

So, what did we learn? Our beagle can co-exist quite easily with a cocker spaniel and a collie. You can’t go wrong with either Italian reds or sparkling wine if you’re throwing down a pizza. And palates may be gender-specific. We’ll have to come back to the last for further examination.

Especially if there’s more pizza involved.