Saturday, September 28, 2013

Just in Time for the Playoffs – Joe Morgan’s W1NE for One

Wine at Great American Ball Park? Really?

Walk into GABP and you’ll run across a cornucopia of food and drink options. At its heart, though, Cincinnati is a dog-and-a-beer sort of town. That’s why I was a little surprised to see Lance Lambert’s recent article in the Enquirer about W1NE for One, a partnership between Steelhead Vineyards and one of the Reds’ favorite sons, Hall of Famer Joe Morgan.

W1NE for One (which is currently driving my spellcheck bonkers) is marketed as the “next generation of single serve wine.” I’ll admit – it’s like nothing I’ve seen before. The wine comes in a plastic 187ml screwcap bottle. The “cap” is actually the bottom of a plastic wine glass – so there’s no need to pack along additional glassware and you actually get to feel like you’re drinking a glass of wine while you’re out, rather than surreptitious sips out of a Solo cup. I think it’s a great concept for picnics, hikes, concerts, and other such out-of-the-house situations.

Morgan, who became interested in wine during his stint with the San Francisco Giants (where he once made a barrel of wine under the instruction of Robert Mondavi), thinks the New Zealand-designed bottles are the key. “This wine is great for a setting where you are around a lot of people, or somewhere you might bump into people, because of the bottle’s size,” he told Lambert.

After reading the article, I shot a note to Steelhead Vineyards. Katy Leese, who owns Steelhead with her husband Dan, was good enough to send me some sample bottles of W1NE for One, as well as a couple of other Steelhead wines available in the Cincinnati area.  

W1NE for One comes in two versions:

Steelhead Vineyards 2012 Sonoma County Chardonnay
Steelhead Vineyards 2012 Sonoma County Merlot

If I wanted to, I guess I could give you detailed tasting notes. Honestly, that’s not really the point of these wines. These are to be cracked and poured when you’re thinking about something else -- and in this case, “something else” could easily be an 0-1 pitch to Joey Votto with Shin-Soo Choo on first and two out in the bottom of the sixth while you’re having a conversation with a buddy sitting next to you. In that environment, who’s really paying attention to bouquet, finish, and whatnot? My quality requirements are simple. I want to take a sip of something that tastes decent without worrying that I’ll go, “Ew.”

These wines fill that bill. Neither one is going to blow your doors off. The merlot is solid and standard in the flavor department. It’s got pretty decent plummy fruit with enough tannin to give it a backbone. The chardonnay is a mild California version. There’s some creaminess, some gentle apple flavors, and a little more oak than is my typical preference. I preferred the merlot, but I wouldn’t turn down either one of them if someone offered them to me. Will these wines replace beer as my gametime beverage of choice? Not likely. But I could certainly see times when these wines – and their super convenient delivery systems – would be just what the doctor ordered.

Unfortunately, with the potential of the playoffs upon us, I wasn’t able to do what I *really* want to do with these wines. If a ballpark’s going to be offering wine as a beverage option, then the wine should be enjoyed in its natural state – paired with ballpark concessions at GABP. I want to know how these wines taste with a loaded bratwurst, nachos, ballpark peanuts or funnel fries. You know, for science. The public deserves to know. So, if the Reds have the good fortune to be back at GABP for the playoffs and you'd like to do some advance scouting – the Vine wants your comments.

(And if you don’t know what funnel fries are…you’re missing out. Mo Egger, one of the hosts on ESPN1530, turned me on to these things. They’re stop-your-heart delicious.)

W1NE for One will set you back $10 at GABP. For reference, a 187ml bottle is one-quarter of a full-sized bottle – so a little more than a standard glass. Ballpark pricing, after all. In local stores or on the Steelhead website, you can get a case of 24 individual bottles for $96. Steelhead donates part of the proceeds from the sale of each bottle to various conservation efforts.

Steelhead also sent us two other wines, both of which normally retail from $12-15:

Steelhead Vineyards 2011 North Coast “Steelhead Red”
Steelhead Vineyards 2012 North Coast Sauvignon Blanc

First up, the Steelhead Red. This red cuvee is a little curious, flavorwise. It’s a fairly substantial wine that comes on strong with plum and blueberry fruit. That flavor kicks into cherry in the middle, and finishes with a good balance of fruit and tannin. I wondered at the time if it might be some sort of Zinfandel-based blend, and after checking the specs, I was dead on. It’s about 70% Zin, with petite sirah, syrah, and a couple of other grapes rounding it out. I preferred it with food to sipping it on its own. Think about it as a “California Barbera” pairing-wise. Barbera goes really well with red sauces and spicy meats, like sausages, as a rule. We had this alongside homemade pizza with a goat-cheese blended red sauce, salami, basil, and lots of garlic. With those flavors – meat, spice, richness – it was a champ. I’d get it again for that alone.

The sauvignon blanc is one of the lighter ones  I’ve tasted in awhile. “If I tried this blind, I might think it was a pinot grigio,” quipped the Sweet Partner in Crime. It’s quite light, with a nose and flavor of pineapple and grapefruit. The finish starts tart and finishes up with just a little bit of sweetness crossed with lemon rind. I’d put it in the “serviceable, flexible quaffer” category. By itself, it’s in the pool wine category, but it went along happily enough with a cod-based fish stew with potatoes, fennel, and garden tomatoes. Would be a little pricey at $15, but if you can find it for $10 and you want something light and food-friendly, you can be comfortable snagging it.

Sunday, September 22, 2013

Enjoy a Raptor-ous evening with wine & dinosaurs

If you're an aficionado of the Mesozoic Era, head down to the Cincinnati Museum Center this Wednesday evening, September 25th, from 7-9 PM for a special dinosaur-themed wine tasting. 
Image courtesy Peter Schrank, The Economist

Here's the information from Brittany Brown, the Museum Center's Coordinator of Special Programs:

What do wine and dinosaurs have in common? Find out at this dinosaur-inspired wine tasting with wines from South America. Step back in time to Gondwana when these wine regions were the stomping grounds for some of the fascinating dinosaurs that can be discovered right here at Cincinnati Museum Center.
The event, which will be held in the lobby outside the Ultimate Dinosaurs exhibit will include five wines and food pairings. Prior to the event the OMNIMAX ® film Dinosaurs: Giants of Patagonia will have a late showing at 6PM and the exhibit Ultimate Dinosaurs: Giants from Gondwana will be open throughout the event for guests to purchase at an additional price.
The following wines are included in the tasting:
Alamos Torrontes
Veramonte Chardonnay
Xplorador Moscato

Alamos Cabernet Sauvignon
Xplorador Malbec

Members $20, non-Members $30. Call (513) 287-7001 to buy tickets.

Sunday, September 15, 2013

Turkish Delight III -- Wines of Turkey: Sevilen Winery

Our tour of Turkish wines takes us to Izmir in the heart of the Aegean winemaking region and one of the “older modern” wineries in Turkey, Sevilen Winery.
courtesy Sevilen Group

Sevilen celebrated its 70th anniversary last year at the Isabey Vineyard and Winehouse, Sevilen’s on-site fine dining restaurant. The winery was founded in 1942 by Isa Guner, a first-generation immigrant to Turkey from Bulgaria. Guner’s travels in France planted the mental seeds for Sevilen, and the vineyards sprouted soon after. Now managed by third generation of the Guner family, Sevilen draws upon the winemaking expertise of Florent Dumeau, a consultant from Bordeaux, to produce its wines; as well as a partnership with a Turkish university to create better barrels from French oak.

Sevilen Winery, Manesia, Turkey
Sevilen’s estate-grown grapes are sourced from two main Aegean areas: from the coastal region around Izmir and from the Güney plateau somewhat farther inland. The two areas are climactically different. Izmir is warmer, similar to the weather around Athens – while Güney, at an elevation of 900 meters (about half a mile), has a climate closer to the Rhone region of France.

[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]

We received samples sourced from both of these areas. We did the sampling a little differently. As part of the package, we had pairs of Syrah-based and Sauvignon Blanc-based wines. Each was from a slightly different terroir, so we tasted those side-by-side to check out the contrast. We also had two other wines, a rosé and a Kalecik Karasi, a Turkish indigenous wine. Word to the wise if you get a chance to try Turkish wines. These wines really require some air to reach their full potential. Decant the whites for at least 15 minutes and the reds for half an hour or more. Let’s start with the side-by-sides:

Sevilen 2011 Sauvignon Blanc Denizli-Güney
Sevilen 2011 “900” Fumé Blanc Güney

This pair of Sauvignon Blancs provided an interesting contrast. (Just for information’s sake – Fumé Blanc is just another name for Sauvignon Blanc.) The “non-numbered” wine, which runs about $15, is almost austere until it gets enough air. Once it had time to breathe a bit, it settled on my palate with plenty of lime and apple. I found a fair amount of tropical fruit on the lean body along with a powerful backbone of mineral. It reminded me a lot of Muscadet with more tropical flavors.

The 900, which is only available in limited quantities for around $25, was one of the more interesting wines I’ve had in awhile. “It tastes like a margarita!” exclaimed the Sweet Partner in Crime, and she didn’t mean that in an “I’m on the beach in Mexico” manner. The nose is lime and green apple, with some more apple on the palate initially – but the finish becomes a rocketship of lime and mineral that made me pucker. Even after lots of air (and even the next day), there was enough lime in this wine to cure scurvy. If you like really acidic sauvignon blanc, this might be a wine for you. I didn’t mind it, but the SPinC had a strongly negative reaction.

With food – specificially shrimp roasted in herbs -- the less-expensive Sevilen was the superior wine. I’d get that one again. I’d probably pass on the 900.

Sevilen 2009 “Centum” Güney-Denizli Syrah
Sevilen 2007 “Premium” Izmir/Menderes Valley Syrah/Merlot

The Centum is a full, rich, opulent wine. It’s a full-tasting wine without being too overly heavy. I found lots of dark plummy fruit and exceptionally well balanced tannins. The texture on this wine was lovely. There’s a big nose of vanilla and caramel. I thought this was a really nice wine, and the description of similar terroir to the Rhone is apt here, as the flavor ends up in the neighborhood of a high-quality Cotes du Rhone. It also calls out for Big Food. We grilled up some lamb burgers and sautéed up some potatoes to go alongside the pairing. The Centum was exceptionally good with the burgers. It also worked well with some strong Roquefort cheese that we tried for dessert. It retails for around $30.

While both these wines need air, the Premium does especially after we discovered its flavor does something uniquely odd. At first, it was very pleasant – not too heavy, nice spicy fruit, and a balanced nose of blueberry, cinnamon, and a not-unpleasant scent of roasted meat. It was more tannic than the Centum. After about 15 minutes, the nose’s fragrance utterly vanished. The wine had flavor but no scent, which was weird. Another 15 minutes later, the nose changed to something that smelled like wet brown paper towels like you’d find in a grade school – and then it returned to normal. (Interestingly, the Centum did something similar after being open for a couple of hours – but the “nose neutralization” didn’t last as long.) The Premium wasn’t bad on its own. It wasn’t as good with the lamb, but with the potatoes it was actually a better pairing than the Centum. Go figure. (Note: I couldn't find a price point for the Premium.)

Sevilen 2009 Kalecik Karasi Denizli-Güney – Kalecik Karasi has become one of my favorite Turkish indigenous grapes, but definitely take heed of my “let these Turkish reds breathe before you drink them” advice with this one. After only a few minutes open, it’s tannic and almost sour. There are few wine metamorphoses I’ve experienced more dramatic than this wine has after decanting and some solid swirling. The tannins and tartness mellow and blend into a fragrant nose of vanilla, plums, and fresh cut wood. The body is fullish, with tarry, black fruits abounding. The finish is full of coffee and more dark fruit. We were making kebabs the night we opened this because I figured, “Hey! Turkey! Kebabs!” With the ingredients we had around, the meal’s flavors ended up being much more Cajun than Mediterranean in nature, especially with a side of red beans and rice. Even alongside those spices, this was quite a nice pairing. I would recommend it, especially at $15.  

Sevilen 2010 “R” Syrah-Cabernet Sauvignon Rosé Izmir/Menderas Valley – A very pleasant, straightforward rosé, and the first of the Turkish wines that didn’t require at least 10-15 minutes of air when opened. There’s a very pleasant peach and vanilla nose. Those flavors are echoed on the palate, which is on the lighter side and gently fruited. Weightwise, it’s along the lines of a Cotes du Rhone rosé. The finish is soft, slightly grapefruity, and lasting. An excellent choice with many foods, too, I would imagine. We had this alongside a “Spanish Mixed Grill” – chorizo sausage, chicken thighs in an adobo-lime-garlic marinade, and yellow rice. The fruit held up just fine against those spices and flavors. I’d certainly give this a second try. And it’s very reasonable at $13.