Saturday, October 26, 2013

Turkish Delight IV – Wines of Turkey: Vinkara Winery

The next stop on our tour of Turkish wine country is Kalecik, northeast of Ankara in the province of Anatolia – home of Vinkara Winery.

Vinkara launched in 2003. They state that their mission is to “acquaint and present unique wines…produced with Anatolian grapes from the birthplace of winemaking…to an international audience of wine aficionados.” In 2008, Vinkara hired Marco Monchiero, an Italian oenologist, to improve their winemaking techniques in order to bring out the particular character of the native Turkish grapes. “Turkish wines clearly have their own personality,” said Monchiero. “Our job is to identify and expose it, understand it, and elevate & promote it.”

[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 Kalecik growing region has a very dry climate with hot days and cool nights – a classic Mediterranean climate. This province, Anatolia, is the birthplace of winemaking on our fine planet, as we’ve mentioned before. Vinkara, taking advantage of its natural terroir advantage, has chosen to focus largely on growing indigenous varietals -- Kalecik Karasi, Öküzgözü, Bogazkere, Emir, and Narince – although they do produce Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Sauvignon Blanc, Chardonnay and Riesling from juice sourced elsewhere. About 60% of Vinkara’s vineyards are planted in Kalecik Karasi, unsurprisingly and obviously a grape with origins in the surrounding region.

The good folks at Vinkara sent me samples of their Kalecik Karasi and Narince – both a “standard” version and a reserve. As with most of my previous experiences with Turkish wine, I was impressed – especially considering the price points. Also, as with most Turkish wine – all of these need a little extra decant time for best results:

Vinkara Winery 2011 Kalecik Karasi – As I’ve mentioned in some of the other Turkish reviews, Kalecik Karasi (pronounced KAH-le-djic car-AH-suh) is probably my favorite indigenous Turkish red varietal. I’ll liken it to a solid, quality Burgundy. The nose and palate both have an interesting “fresh cut wood” flavor, along with a fair amount of cherry-ish fruit. It looks very light, but the weight of this wine belies the eye. It’s got a well-balanced structure with enough tannin to hold up under most circumstances. The finish is long and smoky with a good fruit backbone. In short, this is one dangerously drinkable wine. When we had this alongside a dinner of roast pork tenderloin with carrots, chickpeas, and dried cranberries in an orange sauce, we powered through the bottle before we knew what hit us. It’s a wonderful food wine.  When I looked up the price point, I did a double take. This is a $15 wine. Get it.

Vinkara Winery 2012 Narince – The “grape leaf” wine returns to the Vine. If you’ve ever had Mediterranean stuffed grape leaves, Narince (pronounced NAH-rin-djeh) grapes commonly come from vines that produce those particular leaves. As I mentioned, this is a white that definitely needs decanting. We didn’t finish the bottle the first evening, and the flavor was much more balanced and less astringent the second day. You don’t need to wait a day, but open and decant half an hour before you try it, and you’ll be rewarded with a rich, tropical bouquet that leads to flavors of apricots and pears. It’s medium to full-weighted with a fairly creamy flavor, and the finish reminded me a little of lemon pie. I wouldn’t have recommended it the first night, but the extra air makes a big difference. It’s a pretty solid choice for a $15 bottle.

Vinkara Winery 2010 Kalecik Kasari Reserve – The Reserve differs from the standard bottle here by way of 14 months of aging in French oak, followed by an extra year of aging in the Vinkara wine caves. Boy howdy, is this a tasty wine. Like its counterpart, it looks light in the glass but packs a flavorful punch. The nose is a complex mixture of cherry, blackberry, some more of that fresh cut wood, and some floral aromas. It’s medium bodied with plenty of cherry and wood flavors. The finish is long, gentle, and softly tannic – with a little bit of a minerally chalky flavor. We opened it a couple of hours before dinner – which this particular night was one of my red sauce pastas with Italian sausage, mushrooms, and garden herbs. A delightful accompaniment. Think of this along the lines of a high-end Chianti Classico. Worth every penny of the $25 price point.

Vinkara Winery 2010 Narince Reserve – The reserve is a markedly different wine than its younger cousin above. It’s a fascinating wine, aged similarly to the Kalecik. Do a thought experiment with me. Imagine a good quality California chardonnay with a good butter/oak balance along with good apple and apricot flavors. Got it? Now dial back the weight a bit so the body is in the range of a sauvignon blanc. That’s what you’ve got here – a complex, nicely balanced, not overly heavy white that could probably stand up next to just about any food short of beef or heavy red sauces. The Sweet Partner in Crime had a work at home day (which just happened to align with a St. Louis Cardinals’ victory in the NLDS, so she was happy) and she took the opportunity to make chicken noodle soup from scratch. While you don’t typically think of chicken noodle soup as a food to be paired with wine, we pair all our food with wine for the sake of science. And, believe it or not, I would be hard pressed to find a better pairing for this wine than that delicious soup. I’m impressed with the “range” of Narince, and I look forward to trying more of these. The reserve, as with its Kalecik counterpart, is around $25.

Wednesday, October 09, 2013

Naked Vine Double Barrel -- A Party Starting Pair

Keeping with our theme this week of wine for fun social events, here are a couple of additional bottles for consideration as party season gets under way. This pair of bottles – courtesy of Nicole at R/West – would be perfectly workable suggestions for a shindig at any time of day. 

Clean Slate 2012 Riesling Mosel – A brunch wine if I’ve ever tasted one. I was initially a little concerned when I saw the 10.5% ABV on the label. I half-expected a thick, syrupy glassful. Thankfully, this Riesling from the Mosel region of Germany dispelled that apprehension in short order. There is some sweetness here, but it’s in the “honeycrisp apple” family of sweet. Alongside the orange and peach flavors in the body is a fair amount of the mineral implied by its moniker. It finishes sweet and a tad acidic. Overall, it’s really pleasant to drink. It’s recommended with spicy foods – Asian and Tex-Mex – or sushi. We made a Thai-ish tofu stir fry in a spicy sauce and it worked wonderfully. Just the same, I can absolutely see ordering a bottle of this with eggs benedict. Heck, at 10.5%, you should have it for breakfast. And at $11, you can do it without batting an eye.

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Zardetto (NV) Prosecco Brut Treviso DOC – After an exceptionally busy week at Vine HQ, the Sweet Partner in Crime and I discovered that we were basically out of ingredients from which we could cobble together dinner. The cupboard was bare and neither of us had the energy to make a store run. We initially thought about ordering Chinese takeout, but our neighborhood place was closed for remodeling. The call went out to the local pizza joint instead. Happily, Winebow had sent us a bottle of Zardetto Prosecco for sampling. As long time readers know, I find pizza and drier bubbly to be a divine combination. The Zardetto came through nicely in a pinch. It’s a little more fruit forward than I ordinarily would have wanted with pizza, but the pairing worked well enough. Flavorwise, it’s on the peachy end of the scale alongside a nice mineral character. Good firmness on the bubbles, too. I liked it quite well with the pizza, but I think it would be more in its element either as an aperitif alongside a fruit and creamy cheese plate – or as another brunch option. I think it would be wonderful with a cheesy omelette.  Not a bad price at $14, either.

Saturday, October 05, 2013

The Deal with O'Neill

“Just in time for the holidays,” started the release that accompanied the latest set of samples from O’Neill Vintners – California-based makers of Tin Roof, Camelot, Martin & Weyrich, and Pepi wines, all of which have crossed the Naked Vine’s tasting table at one time or another because of the good folks at Balzac Communications. (Thanks, Stacey!)

The set contained wines from three of these labels – all relatively inexpensive bottles squarely in the “take to a party” or “crack at a casual dinner gathering” category.

How were they?

Camelot (NV) Pinot Grigio – A set of Camelot samples came to our rescue during our recent kitchen remodel, but this pinot grigio was not among that set. “It’s peachy,” were the first words out of my mouth at my first taste of this inexpensive white. I’ll say this for it – it’s certainly got more body and fruit than many wines at this price point. Most cheap pinot grigio tends to be fairly mild and almost watery. Not so much here. The nose and flavors, as I said, lean peachy. The finish is a bit odd. There’s a little bit of a bitter undertone that seems to be covered by the addition of a little residual sugar. We are talking about a $7 wine here, so nitpicking the finish is a bit much. It’s drinkable enough if you’re not thinking too much.

Martin & Weyrich 2012 Riesling Allegro – This Riesling is from the same label as Moscato Allegro, which I reviewed about a year and a half ago. This wine is more for fans of slightly sweeter whites. I will say that it’s got some interesting characteristics, especially
on the finish. I thought it started much like a typical demi-sweet Riesling, with flavors like honeycrisp apples and some solid weight on the palate. However, rather than simply having a smooth, sweet finish, this one finishes with a little bit of a lemony zing as well, which was an improvement. The usual Riesling pairings go here – fruit, cheeses, and spicy Asian dishes. We had this alongside a spicy beef and rice noodle salad and it worked just fine. I think it’s a decent value at $12.

Tin Roof Cellars 2010 Merlot
Tin Roof Cellars 2012 Sauvignon Blanc

I sampled Tin Roof’s previous vintage last December. Their sauvignon blanc appears to be a model of consistency. I wrote this review for the 2011: “At first sample, some slightly herbal overtones led to a green apple scented nose. This wine’s mouthfeel has pretty reasonable weight with tart apple and lime as the major flavors. The finish has a bit of an acidic bite, but that’s what you’d expect in a sauvignon blanc. I found it flavorful and drinkable…” My notes (and no, I didn’t cheat) were almost word for word for this year’s entry. Sauvignon blancs run the gamut – so if you really like an acidic style, this might work fine for you. For $10, you’re getting a pretty good deal on a straightforward, food-friendly sauvignon blanc.

The 2009 Merlot wasn’t one of my favorites. I thought it was a pretty good food wine, but it left me cold on its own. Whether my review had anything to do with it or not, I tip my hat to the Tin Roof winemakers. The 2010 is a clear upgrade. They’ve added a little bit of cabernet sauvignon and syrah to the petit sirah already in the blend. The result was a merlot with considerable structure and a much better fruit/tannin balance than last year’s. You get some coffee and cocoa flavors to take the edge off what had been a fairly “fruit-bomby” offering. From a value perspective, it’s drinking well beyond its $10 price point. With food, it’s flexible enough to serve as a worthy table red for almost any occasion. We had it with a beer-braised chicken with lime beans and peas in a creamy sauce. Reds are good chicken accompaniments in certain circumstances, and this turned out to be a very nice pairing.