Thursday, August 29, 2013

Naked Vine Triple Lindy -- Mulderbosch Winery

Let’s take a little trip southward from Eurasia and the world of Turkish wines through the Suez Canal, across the Red Sea, and down around the Cape of Good Hope to South Africa, shall we? The wine fairy (with an assist from Paul Yanon of Colangelo PR) delivered a package of summer happiness to Naked Vine HQ from Mulderbosch, one of the better-known South African wineries.

Mulderbosch Winery, located in the Stellenbosch region of South Africa, has changed hands several times over the last few decades. Mulderbosch was purchased most recently by a group of investors led by Charles Banks, former partner in Napa’s Screaming Eagle winery – one of the most famous of the “cult” California Cabernets. (A bottle of Screaming Eagle will set you back around $1500 at the low end.) Mulderbosch isn’t in the business of making wines quite that high end. These wines run in the much more Vine-friendly $10-20 range.

According to Yanon, “What actually caught [Banks’] eye there is the old vine Chenin Blanc that they have planted. He thinks that there is something really, really interesting he can do with single vineyard selections on the estate.”  Chenin blanc, a white varietal that I’ve grown much more attached to over the last few years, is the “Cape’s signature variety.” Mulderbosch cultivates what they claim is the largest planting of Chenin in the world. I also received a bottle of their Sauvignon Blanc, the wine that put Mulderbosch on the map in 1989, and a bottle of rosé to check out. How were they? Let’s go to the videotape…

Mulderbosch 2011 Chenin Blanc Steen op Hout – “Steen op Hout” translates from Afrikaans as “Stone on Wood,” which is a decent descriptor for this particular white. Word to the wise, this is a wine that needs a little time for its natural funk to blow off before. My recommendation would be to crack it and allow at least 10 minutes before you dive in. Once you do, you’ll run into a firm floral nose with a strong lemony tone. The flavor, as promised, has a really nice mineral character alongside a solid backbone of grapefruit. The finish is very flinty with a little bit of a bitter, lemon rind-y aftertaste and just a hint of oak. I love the provided note for this wine: “A delightfully accessible wine that is mouth-wateringly moreish.” Some of the food recommendations for this wine include bobotie, savory mince and saffron rice dish, and biltong, a South African version of beef jerky. We had it with beef and broccoli in a spicy brown sauce and it went quite nicely. $12.

Mulderbosch 2012 Cabernet Sauvignon Rosé – My initial note for this wine says, “a rosé of substance.” If you like fruit-forward pink wines, this will be right up your alley. I found plenty of strawberry and peach on both the nose and palate along with just a hint of sweetness. I’d call it “fully fruited.”  It finishes long and fruity, with just a little acidic zing. I thought it made a quality table rosé. We had this with some roasted peppers stuffed with ground turkey, brown rice, pine nuts, and dried cranberries. The meal was hearty and flavorful, and this number from the coastal growing region of South Africa was very pleasant to have in the glass alongside. $11.

Mulderbosch 2011 Sauvignon Blanc – Like it’s chenin blanc cousin above, this sauvignon blanc definitely needs some air when first opened. Otherwise, it will likely taste a little alkaline. Once the wine takes a deep breath, you’re treated to a pungent nose and strong flavors of pineapple and papaya. I thought it had a fair amount of weight and some nice minerality that eases into a lasting, peachy finish. Our first attempt at a food pairing with this wine was a botch. Initially, we tried it with roasted Caribbean-style pork tenderloin and a salad of hearts of palm and black beans. It clashed, so we screwed the cap back on and popped it back in the fridge for the next night -- when we heated up some absolutely scrumptious paella left over from the weekend. Night and day. With the paella, it was an excellent pairing. I should have read the label first. Paella is one of the suggestions. Interestingly, the label also suggests this sauvignon blanc as a match for goat cheese, asparagus, and artichokes -- three notoriously tough foods to pair, so file this one away for future reference. $13.

Mulderbosch also produces two versions of Chardonnay (a standard and a “barrel fermented” that sounds interesting), a late-harvest version of the Sauvignon Blanc, and a Bordeaux-style blend called “The Faithful Hound.” I'm very interested in trying the Charles Banks single vineyard Chenin Blanc creations down the line.

Mulderbosch wines are readily available at good wine stores across the country.

Sunday, August 25, 2013

Turkish Delight Redux (Wines of Turkey, Part II – Arcadia Vineyards)

The results of May’s 2013 Sommelier Wine Awards, a British-judged international country-on-country wine competition, were released in “Imbibe” magazine.  Quoting from that press release:

“The real surprise of 2013 comes from “forgotten” wine nations of Europe, such as Turkey, Greece, Slovenia and Lebanon. Spearheaded by producers like Kavaklıdere and Arcadia, these countries gave some of the more established wine regions a run for their money. Turkey took the competition by storm, moving to 10th place (ahead of the US and Germany!) in the medals league table. [I]n one fell swoop, the country has positioned itself as a place that ought to be on every restaurant’s radar.”

In my own wine judging event, held over a period of several weeks with a very exclusive panel of judges (two counts as a panel, yes?), I’ll make the definitive statement that I will certainly be looking for these wines as they appear on my wine store’s shelves. The second batch of Turkish samples I received were from Arcadia Vineyards. If you pop back to the Vine’s first Turkey column, I had samples from two of the three main wine growing regions – Anatolia and the Aegean region. Arcadia’s wines are from the third region: Thrace, sometimes known as Marmara. This region is on Turkey’s northwest coast near Istanbul and the Turkish border with Bulgaria and Greece. About 40% of the country’s total production comes from Marmara/Thrace.

This set of Arcadia samples centered on more well-known “Western” varietals such as cabernet franc and sauvignon blanc, rather than the indigenous varietals such as Kalecik Karası, Öküzgözü, and Boğazkere. Narince (pronounced “Nuh-RIN-djeh”) was the only indigenous grape to make an appearance. There’s a disclaimer on the bottom of each wine description on the Arcadia website that suggests giving a bottle 5-10 minutes of air before serving. As I’ve discovered, that seems to be a universal characteristic of Turkish wine. The “Turkish Ten” is a minimum guideline for the whites. Let the reds really get some breathing time for best results.

Overall, I found the Thracian wines – or at least the ones from Arcadia – a little more approachable than the ones from the other regions, but I’m still learning, obviously. I will keep you apprised.

[Follow the series: Turkish Delight I -- Background and Kavaklidere Wine ; Turkish Delight II -- Arcadia Vineyards ; Turkish Delight III -- Sevilen Winery; Turkish Delight IV -- Vinkara Winery]

Arcadia 2011 “Finesse” Sauvignon Blanc/Narince – Narince is an indigenous Turkish grape whose leaves are traditionally used to make tasty appetizers. I ran into a lush variety of floral and tropical fruits on the nose. The quick and citrusy body was followed initially by bit of an odd finish. If this wine hasn’t gotten enough air yet, it tastes a little alkaline. Once that oddness fades, which it will, it has a similiar mineral finish to a muscadet. Like a muscadet, serve it next to shellfish and it really shines. We opened this with shrimp and white beans sautéed with prosciutto. It was a lovely complement. The big fruits made the wine stand out, and the mineral flavor meshed nicely with the shellfish and beans. Thumbs up.

Arcadia 2011 “Fresh” Rosé – According to another Imbibe release, the win of a gold and a silver medal at the Sommelier Wine Awards by the rosés of Arcadia winery “would only have been more shocking had it been written in lipstick on Prince Harry’s naked butt and shown on the Ten o’clock News.” I don’t know if I would consider it quite that shocking, but I would stack this up against some of its Provence brethren. This rosé is made from cabernet franc, cabernet sauvignon, and merlot. It’s very much on the dry side. It boasts a firm nose of apples and melon. The body is extremely lean initially, but fattens up with air into a fairly broad, light grapefruit and melon body. The finish is dry and a bit clipped and also needs some air to not taste alkaline. Once it opens, it’s super-food friendly, and held its own against a cheese tortellini with corn and prosciutto. If you like a minerally rosé, you’ll like this.

Arcadia 2011 “A” Red Blend – Described on the label as a “Bordeaux-style blend of Cabernet Sauvignon and Cabernet Franc,” I had modest expectations for this wine, but these Turkish wines keep exceeding expectations. On first taste, I could certainly see its Bordeaux-ish tendencies, but for me, it tasted halfway between a Bordeaux and a Rioja, which is certainly not a bad thing in my book. The nose is quite full, with a fresh mixture of wood, cherries, and blackberries. The body’s got a nice weight without being too heavy with pleasant dark fruit and coffee flavors that tail off to a finish full of cocoa. I was paying attention to making dinner when I first tasted this wine, and the amalgamation of flavors snapped me out of my cooking reverie and made me say, “Whazzat?” I really enjoyed it.

Arcadia 2011 “Gri” White Blend – This pleasant white is an 80/20 blend of Sauvignon Gris and Pinot Gris. The grapes in the blend led me to expect an acidic, somewhat lean wine. Instead, I was reminded more of a cross between a Viognier and a Riesling. It’s quite floral with some herbal scents alongside. The flavor is very rich and tropical with plenty of mango and pear to go around. The body is fairly full with just a bit of sweetness that becomes less pronounced as the wine gets some air. The finish reminds me of a lemon tart. It’s quite a nice white wine, and was an excellent pairing alongside some grilled trout filets and a bulgur salad with fresh tomatoes.

Arcadia 2009 “Finesse” Cabernet Sauvignon/Cabernet Franc/Merlot Reserve – This one needs more than 5-10 minutes of air, to be sure. Bordeaux blend that follows along those lines of flavors. The nose is full of cherry and herbs. The body is light-to-medium – again, think along the lines of a Bordeaux. The finish is a little on the sharp side, with some full tannins that emerge as the wine gets more air. We had it as an accompaniment to some grilled filets, tarragon potato salad and some sautéed mushrooms. It worked well as a table wine. On its own, it was decent, but not my favorite. (Full disclosure: the cork on this bottle was really stained, but the capsule was intact and there seemed to be no leakage. I don’t think there was any oxidation, but I couldn’t really tell.)

Arcadia 2011 “A”  Cabernet Sauvignon – I’m still figuring out the alchemy of Turkish wine. With Cabernet Franc in a blend, the wines seem French-styled, but this straight Cabernet Franc from Arcadia’s “A” line tasted more Italian. The tannins had a more minerally, chalky edge to them. The nose had plenty of vanilla and a little bit of earthy funk. The body was medium with cherry and woody flavors. The finish had a cocoa-and-graphite flavor that mellowed out over time. I get the sense that this wine is still really young. I opened it a full three hours before dinner and it was still tight as a drum when we sat down to eat. Lots of swirling eventually brought the flavors out. I’d probably stash this for a year or two.

Wines from Arcadia are still making their way to the U.S. They’re not available yet, but I have assurances from Olga at Vinorai Importers that the first parcels are on their way. I hope  they get here soon. These are certainly wines worth trying, especially if the price points are similar to the EU, where you can find Arcadia for 10-15 euro a bottle (about $15-25 US).

Saturday, August 17, 2013

Naked Vine One-Hitter: The Naked Grape Pinot Noir

"It’s an inoffensive, sluggable, dead-on, ‘party red’ wine.”
      -The Sweet Partner in Crime

A couple of years ago, I had the opportunity to try some wines from The Naked Grape – a natural nomenclatural attraction for the column, of course.

The Naked Grape expanded from their original four varietals – Pinot Grigio, Chardonnay, Pinot Noir, and Cabernet Sauvignon – to include four others: Moscato, Malbec (sourced from Argentina), a “Harvest Red” blend and a “Summer White” blend. The occasion for Christine and Shay at Hunter Public Relations to shoot me a package was to announce the release of the 3-liter box version of their Pinot Noir.

The pinot noir was one of the wines that I tried the first time I sampled The Naked Grape, and I was a little cool on it. I wrote, “It’s light bodied and acidic, and there’s a considerable amount of fruit when you first take a sip. However, the flavor slammed its brakes on the back of my tongue. This wine had one of the shortest finishes I’ve ever had. There were cherry flavors along with a “bite” that reminded me a little of a Beaujolais. Uncomplicated certainly was an applicable moniker.”

I can say, honestly, that it has improved. It’s not going to blow you away as a pinot noir. It’s still very straightforward and fruity – largely cherry and blueberry – but  they’ve obviously made some modifications to help those fruit flavors linger all the way through a fairly soft finish with just a smidge of tannin. It’s a $20 box pinot noir – I wasn’t expecting big, complex flavors.

What I didn’t expect was just how dangerously drinkable it turned out to be. It’s relatively low in alcohol and easy to knock back – easy enough, in fact, that we powered through the box more quickly than almost any box wine I can remember. (Under normal circumstances, that is.) The SPinC’s quote heading this article sums it up. It’s a perfect wine to have around if you need something that almost anyone can unthinkingly drink on. A crowd pleaser.

The Naked Grape has a partnership with a recycling company named Terracycle that handles numerous “waste streams” of “non-recyclable or hard-to-recycle items” – such as M&M wrappers, handbags, shoes, cigarette waste, iPods, pens, Solo cups…and Naked Grape wine boxes.

The way it works: you go to and fill out a registration. Once you finish your box, you can break it down and box it, print a UPS shipping label from the website, and ship the items to Terracycle for free.

For every Naked Grape box you send back, Terracycle donates two cents to a charitable organization called Clothes4Souls. I sent a message to Terracycle asking if they accept and recycle other brands of wine boxes like Bota Box or Black Box and, alas, they do not.

Even so, the idea is quite nice in theory – especially if you live in an area where comprehensive curbside recycling isn’t available. Can’t hurt to look into it.

Monday, August 05, 2013

Turkish Delight (Wines of Turkey, Part I – Background & Kavaklidere)

Turkish wine. It’s different….it’s tasty…and it’s coming!

I received an invite to a “Wines of Turkey” guided tasting that sounded absolutely fabulous. Only trouble – the tasting was in Bordeaux, and the Vine’s travel budget is…shall we say…not quite that stout. I contacted Wines of Turkey directly and had a good conversation with Taner Ogutoglu, the director of this organization, which serves as an umbrella publicity group for a number of Turkish wineries and winemakers.

He offered to pass my information along to some of his colleagues around the country. Next thing I knew, I had some samples on the way. I didn’t know a lot about Turkish wine, needless to say, so I wanted a little background before the bottles started showing up at my door.

Winemaking in Turkey dates to pre-Biblical times. Evidence exists that winemaking was going on in what is now the Turkish province of Anatolia 7,000 years ago. The natives of that region introduced wine to Greek colonists in the 6th century BC. From there, word of Turkish wine spread to Italy and France. With the rise of the Ottoman Empire, wine production waned because of religious reasons. Most wine produced in Turkey during the life of the Empire (1299-1923) was carried out by non-Muslim minorities – Greeks, Armenians, and Syrians. There were “wine bars” in Christian neighborhoods where citizens could purchase wine. There were occasional religious bans on the sale and production of alcohol, but they never lasted very long. (More on this in a bit.) During the European phylloxera outbreak in the late 19th century, Turkey’s wine production soared to keep up with the demand from France and Italy.

With the formation of the Turkish Republic in the 1920’s, most of the winemaking fell under government control, but a couple of world wars blunted the growth of the industry. In the latter half of the 20th century, into the beginning of the 21st, wine tourism became a major force in the Turkish economy. Word spread about the interesting native wines (of which there are nearly 800 named indigenous varietals), and the excellent terroir for growing “standard” vinifera grapes like Cabernet Sauvignon. Turkey is still a relatively small player on the world wine production stage, but this may be changing soon.

Most wine produced in Turkey comes from three major growing regions: Thrace (also called Marmara), on the northwest coast near Istanbul; the Aegean region, especially near the city of Izmir farther south down the coast by the Aegean sea; and in the mountains in the aforementioned Anatolia surrounding  the Turkish capital of Ankara. There are other pockets of wine production around the country. The size and geographic diversity of Turkey (it’s larger in square miles than Texas and longer than California) provides a variety of growing areas and climates.

As I mentioned, Turkey has had a number of brief periods of wine-related restriction in its history. We may currently be moving into another one of these times. In June (actually, just after the tasting I mentioned), the Turkish government passed major restrictions on the sale of alcohol. The new regulations make it illegal to sell wine during evening hours, forbid wine displays where they can be seen from a street, and prohibits advertising and promotion of wine. Winemakers hoping to stay afloat will undoubtedly begin offering more wines for sale internationally, so now’s a good time to get in on the ground floor.

What’s Turkish wine like? The notes I took have a lot of “reminds me of” statements in there. The Turkish wines I’ve tried thus far have been quite “old world” in terms of general weight and flavor. I love Mediterranean flavors, and alongside that sort of cuisine, these are winners. One thing I’ve discovered to be near universal. These wines – both reds and whites – need air. Give them plenty of time to decant and swirl them strongly, initially. Otherwise, there’s a bit of an odd alkaline characteristic which, fortunately, fades pretty quickly once it gets some oxygen.

[Follow the series: Turkish Delight I -- Background and Kavaklidere Wine ; Turkish Delight II -- Arcadia Vineyards ; Turkish Delight III -- Sevilen Winery; Turkish Delight IV -- Vinkara Winery]

The first set of samples I received were wines from Kavaklidere, Turkey’s best known winery. The main winery is located in Cappadocia in the Anatolian region, but they have satellite vineyards across the country. I received two bottles each of their “Prestige” and “Pendore” label wines. The Prestige wines are from Anatolia, while the Pendore wines hail from the Aegean region. The price point for these wines is usually around $25-30, but if Turkish winemakers have to increase export production – look for those prices to drop.

Prestige 2009 “Ankara” Kalecik Karası – One of the native grapes, pronounced “KAH-le-djic car-AH-suh,” is a Pinot Noir-ish grape. The translation of the name is “black from the small castle,” referring to the town of Kalecik which has, well, grapevines and a castle! The wine struck me as halfway between a Burgundy and a Chianti. I found it to have a very nice smelling bouquet – with strong scents of cherries and some fresh-cut wood. The initial weight feels light but it finishes strong. The bright cherry up front transitions to vanilla and then into a lingering wood and smoke finish that “bigs up” the flavor. We liked this a great deal. We had this alongside some homemade veggie burgers with a chickpea, pearl couscous, and quinoa base and some roasted beets. It’s $25-30, but as we concurred as we were talking about it later in the evening, we don’t buy a lot of $25 wine. But if we’d paid $25 for this, we wouldn’t be at all disappointed.

Prestige 2010 “Cappadocia” Narince – Pronounced “Nuh-RIN-djeh,” the name of this white grape means “delicate.” If you’re a fan of stuffed grape leaves, traditionally the leaves are from Narince vines. We read the tasting notes to try to find a good pairing, but they were translated from Turkish, so they were a little vague. I expected a flavor like a chardonnay, so I thought about using it with grilled barbecue chicken breasts with some foil packed veggies. Nope. The wine was much lighter than a chardonnay and quite minerally. It also had this weird sharpness at the end. We didn’t like it at first, so we recorked and put it back in the fridge. It hit me later…that weird sharpness was akin to the sharpness at the end of a Muscadet, which can taste almost metallic. Muscadet is a great pairing with shellfish, though. So, the next evening, we made mussels in white wine and garlic with white beans and prosciutto – a pairing we knew would work with most Muscadet. We were dead on. The flavors meshed nicely. I think it’s a bit overpriced, but if you’re into Muscadet, money is no object, and you want a change of pace, it’s not a bad option.

Pendore 2009 Öküzgözü – If there’s a more rock and roll grape in the world, I don’t know what it would be. I mean, four umlauts in eight letters! Crank up the Dokken! The grape is pronounced “Oh-cooz-GOE-zue” and translates as “ox’s eye.” The berries of this particular kind of grape are some of the largest in the winemaking world. The description made it sound like a pinot noir, but it’s actually considerably heavier than that. I thought it was much more like a merlot-based Bordeaux as anything. Lots of blackberry flavors here, along with a really nice earthiness and a lingering finish that’s full of cocoa. As such, it was too much for the chicken/asparagus/fontina combination we’d made for dinner that night, as it was just too heavy. It needs to be served alongside a good with a little more oomph, like grilled meat or some punchy cheese. We had most of this bottle on its own over the course of a relaxing evening. When we pulled out the evening dark chocolate, the Öküzgözü was a deliciously sultry pairing. Thumbs up.

Pendore 2008 Boğazkere – This was my favorite wine of the set. Pronounced “Bow-aahz-KEH-reh,” the name of the grape translates somewhat unfortunately as “throat scraper,” which is far from the truth, in my estimation. To me, once it had some time to breathe, it was reminiscent of a really nice pinot noir. It had plenty of what seems to be the Aegean terroir-based smokiness along with lots of dark, subtle fruit in a reasonably weighted body. Where it really shined was with a somewhat decadent dinner of grilled lamb loin chops with a marjoram/garlic/butter sauce along with some quick-sautéed zucchini. A meal like that sports lots of rich flavors, which the ample tannins in this wine handled with ease. Following Naked Vine Wine Pairing Rule #1, the   lamb made a truly scrumptious pairing. I felt like this wine certainly deserved the pricetag.

Over the next several weeks, I hope to provide some notes on other Turkish regions and grapes. In the meantime, ask for them in your local wine store. Turkish winemakers need our help with demand!

Thursday, August 01, 2013

A Pause from the Glass -- The Naked Vine's Quinoa Chili

My happy cooking accident led to a new vegetarian favorite.

This little bit of deliciousness started out as a humble side dish. Between not having a couple of the original recipe's ingredients, a misread of a couple of amounts, and several "You know, I bet adding this would taste gooood" inspirational flashes, I ended up with a big potful of vegetarian-friendly chili that I'll happily recreate.

Since we're in the low 60's in the beginning of frickin' August, I didn't even have to wait for football to crank this up:

The Naked Vine's Quinoa Chili

2 tbsp. olive oil
1 medium onion, diced
2 ribs celery, diced
6-8 garlic cloves, diced
1 tbsp. chili powder
1 tbsp. coriander
1/2 tsp. ground cloves
1 c. quinoa, rinsed and drained
1 can black beans, rinsed and drained
1 large sweet potato, cut into 1/2 cubes
1 can diced fire-roasted tomatoes, undrained
3 chipotle chilis from a can in adobo, diced, plus 1 tsp. adobo sauce
1 1/2 tsp. dried oregano or 1 tbsp. fresh, diced
1 roasted red pepper (jarred is fine), diced
4 c. vegetable stock or chicken stock
1 bottle stout beer
salt to taste (I start with 1 tbsp, but YMMV)
1 tsp. sugar

In a large pot, heat the oil over medium  heat. Add the onion and celery and saute until the onion starts to brown, 5-6 minutes. Add the garlic and stir. Cook 1 minute. Add chili powder, coriander, and cloves. Stir and cook 1 minute.

Add everything else. Bring to a boil. Cover and cut the heat back back to a simmer. Cook for a couple of hours, until quinoa is done and the sweet potato and beans are very soft. Add additional liquid if your quinoa is extra-thirsty.

Top with sour cream, chopped cilantro, and some diced chives or scallions around. If you've got a bottle of something Bordeaux-ish with a slight chill on it around, crack it. You'll thank me.