When I'm not leading the Rebellion you can find me at home making bite sized Admiral Ackbar's snack bars. They make a great finger food to serve as guests are coming out of hyperdrive and docking at your ship. I like to serve them with Rylothian Yurp so you won't get too filled up but will enjoy spice on spice action.Read More
Here's your chance to step with pep into any social setting and drop some wine knowledge like an old school beat. No one likes the snooty know-it-all wine snob in the room, but you can still impress the pants of people by knowing how to taste wine like a sommelier. As a side note, the real wine experts like Master Sommeliers are usually not the snooty know-it-all types in the room. Actual wine experts know wine is about people—people who make the wine, and people who drink the wine.
The goal is to enhance your enjoyment of wine for the rest of your life and be able to know if a wine is good or not. How do you know that? One way is to know how accurately the wine shows typicity. In other words, does it taste like the grape should and does it taste like it should considering where it was grown. You might know that as terroir.
An accurate representation of the grape variety from the place its grown is a good wine. A shitty wine is one that sort of resembles the grape, but the winemaker had to do so much stuff to it that it has no sense of place, or that it taste like a generic grape that could've been grown anywhere. A Chardonnay from Burgundy, France comes across differently than a Chardonnay from Sheboygan, Wisconsin.
The real pimp way to earn respect is to know it, but don't show it. Here's some some ideas on how to go through a wine and identify important "markers":
Roll the wine in the glass
Don't swirl the shit out of it. Gently roll it in the glass. You want to release the aromas in the wine, not break the sound barrier with how fast the wine is being swirled. You can accomplish the same thing by rolling it and not pulling 3 G's like you're in a blender. Look at how the wine drips down the side of the glass. That gives you an idea of how high in alcohol the wine might be.
Look at the color
Color tells you some key things about the wine. Color tips you off to the age of the wine, which is handy to know. Young white wines have a slight greenish tint to them. Older white wines start to get a brownish tint to them. Red wines, as they age will fade in color around the rim of the glass. You can tell an older wine because the rim is sort of orange colored. Younger wines will have more opaque pink eraser color closer to the edge. Try to narrow down to a window of 1-3 years old, 4-7 years old or older.
If you're not sure where to start, just stare at the wine and wonder if there's going to be an NFL season or not then move onto the next step.
Smell the wine
Here's where you start to piece things together. A sommelier, and cool people who read this blog post start to paint a picture that help to identify the wine. First, are there any faults in the wine like being corked (smells like Grandpa's basement), Brett or volatile acidity for example. Is the wine "clean"?
Next, roll it in the glass then shove your nose in there. First impression time—do you smell red fruits or black fruits in red wine? For white wine, do you smell tree fruit or stone fruit? This is what separates real wine experts from everyone. Sommeliers can name specific fruit in the wine. It's not just green apple, it's granny smith green apple. It's not just cherry, it's dried bing cherry.
You want to look for 3 things: fruits, earthiness and wood. Try to name the fruits you smell and be specific. For earthiness, do you smell moss? wet soil? manure? Even chalkiness can be a smell that is "earthy". And for wood, do you smell vanilla? How about baking spices? If not, maybe it's an unoaked wine.
Being able to identify the fruit is one of the most important steps to blindly identifying the wine. Most wines have distinct fruit associated with the grape. For example, Grüner Veltliner has distinct notes of white pepper. Sauvignon Blanc has telltale grapefruit on the nose. Chalkiness is an important one that we'll get to next.
Here's a handy chart that shows what aromas go with with which wine grape.
Taste the Wine
Don't do what what you did in college and shotgun the wine. I mean, you can and I won't judge you but you'll miss out on the beautiful expression of the grape. If you're drinking a wine cooler, stop reading this blog and go to funnyordie.com. Your bong is calling your name.
When you taste the wine, go through the same thing as smelling. Identify fruit, earth and wood. Try to name specific fruits you taste. For red wines really hone in on whether it's red fruit or black fruit. For earthiness, there's something cool known as chalkiness. It literally is like a chalk texture. That's important, because it helps you know the wine grapes were grown in chalky soils like limestone. Limestone is only in certain places in the world. Your brain can narrow down the wine to one of those areas such as France's Loire valley.
The real big thing to look for when tasting is whether the wine is fruit driven or acid driven. Generally speaking, fruit forward wines are "new world" and acid driven wines come from the "old world". Fruit driven wines are just that, wine driven by sweet fruit. Acidity is something you hear about, but what is it? Your palate detects acidity on the roof of your mouth in the back. If that part of your mouth is all tingly, the wine has high acidity. During blind tastings, wine tasters want to know if the wine is old world or new world so they can narrow down on where it comes from. Old world wines come from France, Germany, Italy and other places in Europe. New world wines come from Australia, USA, Chile, Argentina, New Zealand, etc..
Neither is better, just different strokes for different folks. It also helps when trying to decide if the wine has typicity and tastes like where it came from.
Last thing on taste is the tannins and finish. Tannins dry your mouth out like when you drink tea or eat paint chips, which is what I did as a kid. Finish is that lingering taste in your mouth after you've swallowed the wine or spit it out. Can you still taste it 30 seconds after it's gone? That's the finish. How are the tannins, complexity and finish of the wine?
If you were being tested, you would be asked to combine all that stuff (color, age, nose, fruit, earth, wood, finish, etc..) and name the grape varietal and where it came from. All the data would help narrow down what it is. But for you, you can just have a look at the wine and appreciate all that went into making it. Over time you might come to appreciate new things in wine like chalky textures in Sancerre Sauvignon Blancs or make more educated buying decisions. Or if you go to someone's house and they open some sick bottle from their cellar you'll appreciate the gesture.
Who knows, if you're like me knowing stuff about wine might inspire you to be a better cook and understand how to pair flavors together.
There's no wrong way to enjoy wine. Ultimately, it's about enjoying it with or without other people. What you like is all that really matters. There's close to 12,000 wineries in the world and many are making decent juice. Lately, I'm all about finding the best bottle under $15. Hope this helps. Please let me know about your wine discoveries on the path of life.
Pairing Local is all about finding localized wine+food pairings in each region of the world. In this episode I visit Giant Steps/Innocent Bystander in Yarra Valley, Australia and meet a man who knows something about how your palate works. Winemaker, cheese maker and trained chef, Steve Flamsteed took time out of harvest to create pairings that feature the best of what Yarra Valley has to offer.
The first pairing was King Fish in a soy broth paired with Giant Steps Chardonnay, and the second pairing baby chicken with Pinot Noir. It goes to show Mother Nature gives us everything we need to eat and drink well in many regions around the world.
WINES TASTED IN THIS EPISODE:
2008 Giant Steps Chardonnay - Yarra Valley is a place where top notch Chardonnay and Pinot Noir flows like a river. Giant Steps has a unique production facility tucked neatly into into a building that features a bakery, restaurant, wine shop and wood fired pizza ovens. You could spend a week in there and be perfectly happy.
In the glass, this beauty shows candied meyer lemon peel, hawaiian pineapple, yellow carnations and baked bread. There's slight hints of toffee suggesting a deft balance of oak integration married with bright acidity. Yarra Valley is cold enough to give the wine the acidity it needs. It worked with the local king fish because the acidity cuts through the fattier fish, then compliments it with a backbone of minerals aka mild wet rocks (which sound weird but you want that), meyer lemon, honeydew, pineapple, marmalade and other tropical fruits. A ying to the yang of the soy broth on the fish.
2008 Giant Steps Pinot Noir - Australia makes some damn good Pinot Noir. Many wine lovers in the states may not realize it's not all about Shiraz and Cabernet. The Yarra Valley reminds me quite a bit of my beloved Willamette Valley in Oregon. The lush, rolling green hillsides are dotted with green grass and groves of big, bushy trees. It's farmland, and it's cooler than the Barossa or McLaren Vale.
Beautiful aromas of dark cherries, roadside raspberries and rose petals drift out of the glass. You can smell the wine even as it's sitting on the table in front of you. I also found some faint tertiary notes of asian spices. Like many Yarra Pinots there was a light body style, but focused intensity with soft, rose petal texture like cashmere. I liked the almost-chocolate-covered black cherry and RC cola notes, combined with raspberry tart, anise and smoky minerals. The Sexton vineyard fruit provided a fun experience and an exotic, sassy Pinot that paired nicely with the grilled chicken. But the secret to making this dish work was the onion cooked in stock for added complexity and savoriness.
.. During a recent trip to Australia I had a chance to visit one of the most iconic vineyards in the world. Hill of Grace Vineyard produces legendary Shiraz from 140-year old vines. The curators of the vineyard are Steve and Prue Henschke. I call them 'curators' because when you step in the vineyard, you feel like you're stepping into a museum, including the part where you have to step on sponges full of anti-Phylloxera agent at the entrance. It was a highlight for me because after we shot this video, the sun went down and I saw the Southern Cross for the first time. Not a bad place to see it :)
Steve and Prue are two of the world's foremost experts in each of their respective fields, and they just happened to be married to each other. The Henschke-owned land surrounding the Hill of Grace Vineyard is where Prue's true talent can be realized. She's planted entire forests and maintained complete ecosystems in an effort to give Hill of Grace the ideal conditions to grow world class grapes. If you ever get a chance to see all the plant life Prue has planted over the years, you'll see how dedicated she is to viticulture on their entire property.
And then there's Steve Henschke, who carries the weight of five generations of wine making at Henschke. His family has farmed the land, and produced wines since the mid 1800's. Steve is the current head of winemaking, and steward of the Henschke standard of quality. Steve and Prue have two children who are studying abroad in Germany and New York, but will eventually get involved with the family business. Although they make an iconic wine, they are two of the must hospitable and friendly people you could ever hope to meet. They were very generous with their time (and wine).
WINES TASTED IN THIS EPISODE
1997 Julius Riesling - Didn't see this one coming! I thought I'd show up and taste some Hill of Grace and be impressed. When they busted out the Julius Riesling, it was like being in the boxing ring with a boxer who throws a punch you don't expect. This one blew me away, in part because I'm a slut for good Riesling, but also because the age gave the Julius that exotic petrol, flint, steel character you find in upper echelon German Rieslings. I haven't found those notes in many Australian Rieslings.....none, in fact.
Julius could be the winery's flagship wine if it weren't for Hill of Grace. Absolutely drop dead gorgeous on the nose full of all things naughty: Kerosene, matchstick, golden delicious apple, dried apricot and orange peel unfold in the glass. The mouthfeel was rich and showed exceptional typicity, however, the one thing I was craving was more acidity. It didn't quite have it, but that's unfair because similar Rieslings come from Germany, which is much colder. I found the wine to represent what Riesling should be at the place where it was grown. That's what I'm talkin' about!
1986 Hill of Grace Shiraz - This was the main event. Prue was thinking this bottle had a little variation and wasn't showing its full beauty. I had no problem choking it down, however. What can you say about Hill of Grace? It's almost unfair to try to describe a wine that comes from 140-year old vines, grown by a world-class viticulturist and made by a world-class winemaker. It was elegant, youthful, balanced and showing off a cashmere-sweater silkiness. This is an OMIGOD! wine that you open for people you actually like.
More of a European style than what you'd expect from Australia. Floral notes of red raspberry, cedar and an element I can only describe as the smell you smell when you walk into a shoemaker's shop. Lots of old beat-up leather. In the mouth it doesn't make you think of Aussie Shiraz, maybe more like a Rhone style Syrah. Tantalize your taste buds with lush brooding red raspberry, blueberries, faint tar, spice box and vanilla. This is the kind of wine you let unfold over your palate and just go with it. So beautiful, so pure and made with a sense of history of place. Most likely peaked already so if you got 'em, drink 'em (and invite me and my somm buddies over) :). Cheers!
. . Pairing Local is all about finding localized wine+food pairings. I love seeing how chefs marry local ingredients with local wines or beers. Mother nature creates natural pairings for us in each region where wine is grown by providing foods that naturally match the style of wines. German wines happen to go with German food. If you're in Vancouver, Canada where dungeness crab is plentiful, it just happens to go with Sauvignon Blanc from the Okanagan Valley. Argentina has some of the best beef in the world, and just happens to grow great Malbec.
In this episode I had a chance to visit d'Arenberg winery in McLaren Vale, Australia where Chef Peter Reschke (co-head chef with Nigel Rich) sourced local lamb and paired it with Grenache. When you think about McLaren Vale you might think Shiraz, but I really fell in love with the Grenache. Some of the oldest Grenache vines in the world can be found in Australia about two hours north in a little region called the Barossa. Grenache doesn't get much love as a grape, but when you get a good one, it can provide exceptional range in food pairings.
Mother nature blessed these guys with the gift of great lamb, as well as great old vine Grenache. Lamb can be prepared in a way that makes it both savory, yet delicate. Over the years I've really come to appreciate good quality lamb if it's raised right and comes from the right region. Chef Peter Reschke created three lamb dishes specifically to bring out the delicate, yet powerful notes of old vine Grenache and used herbs from their own herb garden at the winery.
WINE TASTED IN THIS EPISODE:
d'Arenberg is a well known Aussie winery in the states for wines like The Hermit Crab, Dead Arm and The Stump Jump. One wine you might not know or appreciate is the 2007 Custodian Grenache which is foot trodden and aged on lees to keep the flavor fresh and bright.
Distinct black cherries, stewed plums, dark red fruits and raspberries (almost blackberries) complimented by tobacco, earth and spice box surround the fine grained tannins. In other words, it was rich and robust without being hot or overpowering, yet smooth as a baby's butt. The reason it works is this Grenache has medium weight, yet great depth and complexity. If Grenache was a musician, it would be in a cool ass jazz trio with Syrah and Mourvedre. The three of them are hip and stylish on their own, but when they come together, they create magic.
Lamb can be a wonderful protein if seasoned correctly. Mutton might not be the way to go, but the three ways chef Peter Reschke prepared lamb not only showed off what this region has to offer, but how versatile lamb can be.
Matching wine with food means combining elements with similar levels of intensity. All three lamb creations, along with the wine had similar weight or intensity of flavor. Add in the complimentary dark fruit with key seasonings and you have another great localized pairing. For about $20 you can't go wrong. I'd highly recommend picking up a bottle. Thank you to the chefs at D'arrys Verandah.
During a recent visit to the Yarra Valley, I had a chance to sit down with one of the most iconic people in the global wine industry. James Halliday AM is a living legend, famous wine writer, winery founder and recent recipient of Australia's highest honor. Mr. Halliday and I had the chance to discuss new media and how it fits into our world of wine. .
As one of the founders of Brokenwood in the Lower Hunter Valley region of New South Wales, and thereafter founder of Coldstream Hills in the Yarra Valley, Victoria, James is an unmatched authority on every aspect of the wine industry, from the planting and pruning of vines through to the creation and marketing of the finished product. His winemaking has led him to sojourns in Bordeaux and Burgundy, and he is constantly in demand as a wine judge in Australia and overseas.
James has contributed to more than 56 books on wine since he began writing in 1979. His books have been translated into Japanese, French, German, Danish and Icelandic, and have been published in the UK, the US and Australia. He is also the author of James Halliday's Wine Atlas of Australia and The Australian Wine Encyclopedia.
to be continued in part 2...
. . Here's a wine+food pairing from Bergstrom's wine club. In my recent shipment they included this recipe, and being the pork lover that I am, I thought it would be good to share with all my readers.
Fruit Stuffed Pork Loin Roast
INGREDIENTS 4 lbs boneless pork loin roast prepared for stuffing 1 cup pitted, chopped prunes 1 cup dried, chopped apricots 1 clove garlic 8 TBSP butter 1 TBSP dried thyme 1 cup Madeira 1 TBSP molasses Salt and Pepper to taste . 1. Preheat oven to 350° degrees 2. Mix prunes and apricots, roll up in cavity of pork loin and secure with twine 3. Cut garlic clove into thin sliver, make slits in roast with tip of knife and push garlic into slits 4. Rub the roast with the softened butter then sprinkle with salt & pepper and thyme 5. Set the roast in a shallow pan, mix the Madeira and molasses, then pour over roast 6. Set the roast on the middle rack of the oven and bake 1-1/2 hours or approximately 20 min per pound. Baste frequently. Roast will be medium when the temperature is 160° degrees 7. When roast is done, remove from oven and cover with an aluminum foil tent for 15 min 8. Slice thin and spoon pan juices over slices. Garnish with watercress if desired.
GARLIC SCALLOPED POTATOES
3 lbs yellow potatoes peeled and sliced thin 2 cloves of garlic 6 TBSP butter 3 cups heavy cream Salt and Pepper to taste . 1. Cut garlic and rub over the survace of a shallow casserole dish 2. Layer potatoes with dots of butter & cream. You can also add caramelized sweet onions to layering if desired 3. Bake slowly at 325° degrees for approximately 1-1/2 hours. It's important to cook slowly so the cream doesn't curdle but gets absorbed by potatoes 4. When done, increase heat to 400° degrees for last 10 minutes to brown tops 5. Let potatoes set for about 10 minutes before serving
. To celebrate the global release of Penfold's Grange's new vintage, Penfold's hosted an evening of wine+food at Ghiradelli Square in downtown San Francisco. Celebrity chef Curtis Stone was tasked with creating food pairings to match with each wine. This was an incredible evening not only because of the food, but the people in attendance provided excellent conversation throughout the night. For me personally, it was a treat as I had just visited Penfolds' Magill estate a few week prior and had the chance to sit down with winemaker Peter Gago. All wines for the dinner were served out of magnum into varietal specific stemware.
One of the real treats of the evening was getting a personalized video greeting from Penfolds winemaker, Peter Gago. He is the man responsible for making Grange, and keeper of the Penfolds quality level. After dinner was over, I had a chance to talk with Curtis and get his thoughts on how he likes to pair wine with his food creations. What he says about balancing intensity of flavor is spot on. Think of intensity of flavor on a scale of 1-10. If you have a wine that's a 7 on that scale, you want the intensity in your dish to also be around a 7. Here's what Curtis created to pair with each wine: .
First Course - Dungeness Crab, Pickled Petit Beets, Tangerine, Arugula, Aragon Oil & Shallot Vinaigrette paired with 2008 Penfolds Yattarna Chardonnay Curtis shaved the beets razor thin and then pickled them specifically to marry up with the acidity in the Chardonnay. The 2008 Yattarna has a distinct acid backbone, so much so that the wine will make the roof of your mouth tingle (which is how you detect acidity).
Second Course - Wagyu Beef "Tataki", Chantrelle Red Wine Compote, Horseradish Créme Friache Foam, Confit Baby Tomatoes, Micro Chives paired with 2007 Penfolds St. Henri Shiraz This was one of my favorite pairings of the night. The Beef was just right and really benefitted from the earthiness of the Chantrelle mushrooms. I think that was the thread that tied the Shiraz and dish together. St. Henri Shiraz might be the most "un-Aussie" style shiraz. The wine is fermented in large neutral oak barrels imparting very little oak influence, which allows the stellar fruit to show through.
Third Course - Strozzapreti Pasta, Foie Gras "jean Louis" Style, Pickled Ramps, Fava Leaves, Fava Beans, Beaufort Cheese paired with 2008 Penfolds 707 Cabernet Sauvignon I wolfed this dish down so fast I didn't even get to take a photo of it. The 707 is an exceptional Cabernet that's decidedly Australian meaning it truly expresses the place it is grown without being overpowering. One of my favorite Cabernets (also Penfolds), Block 42 goes into this Cabernet allowing the wine to have power combined with finesse.
Fourth Course - Sonoma Quail "Lardon", Crushed Purple Potatoes, Bacon, Sauce A La Orange, Frisee paired with 1998 and 2008 Penfolds RWT Barossa Valley Shiraz Curtis wanted to try an alternative version of Duck A La Orange and it worked beautifully. It takes confidence to serve a quail dish after beef and pasta, especially when you're doing a progression dinner. This dish was really tasty, but not the best pairing of the night. The RWT Shiraz was a solid example of what Barossa Shiraz can be in a great vintage, but ultimately it was a bit too much for the quail. The 1998 RWT was so youthful in both color and fruit it was hard to believe this was a 13-year old wine. Many red wines start to change color around the rim as that age changing from red to pink to salmon to a brownish hue. The 1998 was showing now signs of age yet, and with such a youthful nose it's got another 20 years ahead easily.
Fifth Course - Australian Lamb Loin "En Croute", English Pea Puree, Morels, Pea Sprouts, Lamb Jus paired with 1996 and 2006 Penfolds Grange As if the night could get any better, it did. Curtis saved his best for last with the lamb loin wrapped in philo dough. The real star of the dish was the pea puree providing a unique combination of texture and flavor. I take that back, the real star of the dish was the lamb wrapped in a thin puff pastry. No, wait. Maybe the star was the lamb ju. No matter how you look at it, if you're going to create a dish to pair with an iconic wine like Grange, it better deliver and this one did. What can you say about Grange that hasn't been said? This 2006 vintage combines the power of the 2004 but has the elegance and grace of 2000. If you follow the "law of 6's" you'll see Grange tends to be at its best in years that end with the number 6. Can't wait to see how 2006 develops over time.
Dessert - Delice Cheese, Berkshire Lomo, Crispy Bread, Sausalito Springs Watercress, Quince Paste Essence paired with NV Penfolds Grandfather Tawny Port Dessert is my favorite course, and a cheese plate is a good way to go. This cheese was a small little morsel but it was "triple creamed" creating a rich foamy brie texture. The crispy bread was paper thin providing just the right compliment for the cheese. Of course you can't go wrong with a nice Tawny port. I love port, and had a chance to talk port and madeira with Bartholomew Broadbent recently. Many wine lovers might now realize this, but Aussies make some of the best fortified wine in the world from port to Muscat. The Penfolds Grandfather Tawny port was provided an exclamation point on the evening.
. This was a night full of celebrities and great company. Wine+food never ceases to amaze me in its ability to bring people together. From a wine lover standpoint, it was one of the best meals I've had in a long time. From a sommelier standpoint, these wines represent the pinnacle of what Penfolds makes. Mrs B and I don't drink Penfolds as much as we used to, but it's always good to be reminded about a winery is capable of. This meal along with my recent tour through Australia has reminded us about all the great wines coming from Australia, Penfolds and the Barossa. Thank you to Penfolds for inviting my wife and I to be part of the May 1 festivities. Cheers!
INGREDIENTS 16 scallops ½ cup extra virgin olive oil 2 TBSP red wine vinegar 1 TSP coriander seeds, toasted and cracked 3 TBSP orange juice concentrate Salt and pepper 3 oranges, peeled and segmented 2 endives, cut lengthwise, ¼ inch slices 1 red onion, thinly sliced ½ cup chopped walnuts (toast for 10 min. @ 400 covered with butter and honey) ¼ cup dried cherries or cranberries
Blend ¼ cup olive oil, orange juice, red wine vinegar, coriander, salt and pepper. Set aside. Combine oranges, endives and red onion in salad bowl. Toss with half of olive oil mixture. Season scallops with salt and pepper. In large pan heat 1 TBSP olive oil over medium heat. Lightly brown scallops (3-4 min/side). Remove from pan, keep warm. Only cook up to 8 scallops at once. Add walnuts to salad. Portion onto 4 plates, scallops on top. Sprinkle with cherries or cranberries.
This recipe is good, REALLY good. When you chomp into a bite, the subtle orange flavors light up your taste buds like a pinball machine. But it's not just because orange flavors have a tanginess to them, it's because the supporting cast of other nuances compliment different taste regions on your palate. So it's not just about hitting one taste region on your tongue, it's about hitting 'em all at once. I love this salad. When it's complete, it looks like a creation you'd find in a high falutin' restaurant in a cosmopolitan city like San Francisco or New York. It not only tastes good, it looks good--kind of like the type of dish that would be on the front cover of a cook book. But this out when you have someone over you want to impress. And if you really like your guests, pair this salad with a white wine that has more tropical mojo like the Gewurztraminer-like Traminette from Pheasant Ridge in upstate New York. This wine is made from organically grown grapes, and is a hybrid grape which resembles a heartier Gewurztraminer. It's perfect for more interesting chef salads like this one. Bon App!
Peter Gago is the man responsible for creating one of the world's most iconic wines, Penfold's Grange. On a recent visit to Adelaide, Peter was nice enough to sit down and talk about the current vintage as well as share some amazing bottles of wine. During my visit Peter opened a younger Grange from the 2004 vintage along with a 2008 Yattarna Chardonnay and 2004 Block 42 Cabernet.
Peter also gave a tour of Magill Estate, where many of the higher end Penfold's wines are crafted. Pinot Noir grapes were just arriving and being crushed during the visit, so it was a rare opportunity to sit down with one of the world's most famous winemakers: . WINES TASTED IN THIS EPISODE:
2008 Yattarna Chardonnay - Much has been made about this wine being the "white Grange". When Peter mentioned half the fruit was sourced from Tasmania, I got excited because world class Chardonnay's often have higher acidity and less winemaking fluff like overly oaked malo textures. Growing grapes in colder areas that are either higher, or farther away from the equator boost the acid in the wine grapes. It makes a statement to grow half the fruit in their vineyard in Tasmania that's both higher and southerly.
The immediate expression of Yattarna is elegance and refinement. I was thinking it was going to be over the top, but is was very much restrained in the same way automobile designers at Mercedes use restraint when designing a new car. This baby had the Mercedes body with detailed leather seats and fat chrome wheels. It's less oaky and less fruit forward than past vintages. Pouilly-Fuisse lovers would likely enjoy this vintage with its crisp acid backbone, framed up with golden delicious apple, meyer lemon and lees, toasted biscuit notes. You don't have to search for the fruit on your palate, you get it front and center first, followed by refined oak nuances.
2004 Grange - If you've ever had Penfold's Grange, you get a sense of its place in history (and collector's cellars). This is not only one of the most iconic wines in Australia, but also worldwide. From its humble beginnings, Grange has been made as a wine that needed age before drinking. Collectors tuck bottles of Grange away in their cellars without even thinking of touching them for at least ten years, but knowing they'll be rewarded the longer they wait. Over time, Grange develops into a "first growth" type of wine with wonderful Cabernet and Shiraz characters along with exotic spices, shoe leather, cedar and cigar box among other notes.
So it was a bit of a surprise to see the 2004 drinking so well at this stage. I expected it to be a bit closed down, as if asleep in a long slumber. But it was lively and approachable now. It was neither tight nor overly oaked. The 2004 was a decidedly relaxed version of Grange that still exhibited the pedigree you'd expect from Grange. Somewhere along the way it seems Peter realized people want to wait, but not wait their whole life to enjoy Grange.
Dark brooding crimson color in the wine, with so much depth you could get lost staring into the abyss. Dark red fruits waft out of the glass unraveling a mystery of cassis, cocoa, vanilla, stewed plums and tertiary notes of menthol and blueberries. This was cashmere in a glass, exhibiting a more open and refined style than one would expect. It'll only get better with age, but if you have more than one bottle in the cellar take a look at it to see where it is, but also where it's going.
2004 Block 42 Cabernet - As a sommelier and wine blogger, I get to taste all sorts of different wines from around the world. Wine bloggers in general are called upon to share their thoughts, notes and experiences on the wines they taste. When Peter poured this wine everything stopped. This was a wine unlike anything I've ever tried, and quite possibly one of the finest Cabernets I've ever tasted. It was magic in a glass.
As if in a movie, I felt like I was in a slow motion scene drawn out for drama. This wine is not a wine you drink. This is a wine you experience. The Block 42 has only been made four times ever and with good reason. Penfold's uses fruit from the world's oldest operating Cabernet vines to make Block 42 in exceptional years, otherwise the fruit goes into Grange or possibly Bin 707 Cabernet.
I could try to describe what I tasted by pecking away at some tasting notes but my notes wouldn't do justice. The power and finesse on display create an amazing tension between the elements. There was purity and precision as if the winemaking team was saying, "yeah, it's Cabernet from some of the oldest vines in the world". They got out of the way and let the fruit put on a show. Then Peter put an exclamation point on the end and stated the alcohol was only 13.5%. I nearly fell out of my chair. I was guessing it was closer to 15% based on how much impact came across. I hope to be able to try this wine again in my lifetime....what a treat!
I had a chance to visit the Rockwood Room in Houston, Texas. Originally, I visited because their bartender won a drink competition in NYC with his bacon-infused Whiskey. But after meeting with Chef Michael Del Maggi, it became clear he had a perfect localized wine+food pairing that needed to be shared with the world. Chef Del Maggi used pork belly sourced from just north of Houston, he then braised it in a Coca-Cola mix and added some accoutrements to enhance flavors. We paired it with the Becker Vineyards Cabernet-Syrah from Hill Country.* as a side I'd like to apologize for the sound and video quality in this episode. The camera we planned to use crapped out on us so we shot this entire episode on my iPhone. .
WINE IN THIS EPISODE
Hill Country wines are gaining mass love from wine lovers and critics alike. The higher elevation of Hill Country gives Texas wines one of two things they need to make good wine: cold temperatures at night. During the day, heat and sunlight aren't a problem, so it's a good thing when winemakers find a place to grow good, quality fruit.
Becker Vineyards has a long history of making quality wines with critical acclaim. We found the coca-cola braised pork belly had sweet and savory flavors that lent themselves to this new world styled wine. There's gobs of ripe fruit, low tannins and low acidity... Some might compare this wine to some low priced Australian wines. For a localized pairing, it works. Coca-Cola braised Pork is a treat, and this wine is one of a dozen that would've paired well.
Finding a good QPR (quality price ratio) Pinot Noir can be a bit tricky. Pinot is such a temperamental grape—when it's off, it's not very good but when it's good it's magic in a bottle. Perhaps more than any grape, Pinot Noir expresses it's place or terroir more than just about any grape. And it does so pretty dramatically.
Because of how temperamental it is, Pinot Noir is all over the place in terms of quality (read: how much you like drinking it). The grape requires more work in the vineyard and in the winery, which ultimately affects price. You don't see many $10 Pinots for a reason. It's not like Chardonnay, Cabernet or Merlot where you can produce the wine more cheaply. With that said, when you find a Pinot Noir for about twenty bucks that blows your socks off, it's something special.
When I tried the 2007 Domaine Carneros Avant-Garde Pinot for the first time at the winery I said, "@#%! how much is this????" I had to do a double take to look at the price tag. This wine is a Rick's Pick for a few reasons:
1. 2007 is a stellar vintage in California, especially in the Napa area. Most wineries has great fruit to work with, which is 75% of what determines quality.
2. Domaine Carneros produces exceptional sparkling wines made from Chardonnay and Pinot Noir. They don't work with many grapes, but luckily Pinot Noir is one of them.
3. Carneros is known for having a great climate for growing grapes like Chardonnay and Pinot Noir. Carneros is located at the south end of Napa Valley. Most wine drinkers may not realize how close Carneros is to the bay. It butts up against the San Pablo bay, which in turn brings cold air off the water over the grapes. Pinot Noir loves cold air.
4. Domaine Carneros is a fabulous winery, and one of the few wine clubs we belong to. They are owned by the Tattinger Champagne house in France, so their approach to wine making is exceptional. I've yet to find a wine of their that wasn't made with precision and quality.
5. The X-Factor I talked about in my 7 Things About Wine post mentions an element you can't quite describe. A Pinot Noir of this caliber normally goes for $50 easy. Considering the fact the Avant Garde goes for less than $25 we buy it in bunches.
Get your hands on a bottle and get some in your glass. Swirl it around and let the fresh aromatics of strawberry, dark raspberries and black cherries take over your senses. There's a delicate choreography of spicy vibrancy that unfolds across your palate like two dancers on Dancing with the Stars. It's surprisingly complex and well balanced with just the right amount of funky earthiness and a kiss of oak, letting the fruit show through. Well done!
Australia is home to the oldest Shiraz (and Syrah), Grenache and Cabernet vines in the world. Luckily, for the Aussies, phylloxera never made its way to their wine regions. Because of that, Australia now has some of the longest surviving vines in the world. Other countries like France and Argentina have long histories with wine, but the annoying pest known as Phylloxera decimated vineyards in the 1800's.
In 1838, German settlers arrived in Australia and began planting vineyards in the Barossa Valley. A man by the name of Christian Auricht and his family escaped religious persecution in Germany, and fled to the place where Langmeil winery now stands. Langmeil Winery is home to Freedom Vineyard, documented as the oldest Shiraz/Syrah vineyard. They also transplanted another block of 100+ year old vines known as Orphan Block. The beauty of old vines is they often produce exceptional wine grapes that result in higher quality wine. The root system has been able to dive down deep into the soil and water tables, providing complexity in the grapes. Some wineries even "root prune" or cut the roots at the surface in order to get the deeper roots to provide more of the rich nutrients up to the grapes.
Wine tasted from Freedom Vineyard: The 2008 Langmeil Freedom 1843 Shiraz is surprisingly affordable at $100 considering the pedigree of the vineyard. Power and finesse are on display in a silky smooth cashmere ride in a glass. Deep garnet in a color with purple hues, this isn't a wine you drink, it's a wine you experience. Swirl it around and lose yourself in the color. The intoxicating aromas of deep red raspberry and stewed plums combined with a little vanilla and baking spices are like walking into the kitchen while grandma is baking pie. You can't wait to taste it, and when it's gone you shed a little tear.
Langmeil Winery in Barossa Valley has the oldest Shiraz (and Syrah) vines in the world. Their Freedom vineyard is documented as such. But Langmeil has another vineyard called Orphan Bank consisting of 100 year-old vines they transplanted from another location. The cost associated with transplanting vines is steep, but the reward is something that can't be quantified. All the hard work to sacrifice these living legends is akin to preserving a historic building. Vines of this age are hard to come by, and produce pristine fruit in which to make stellar wine from. Here's how it happened:
It's harvest time in the Victoria wine growing region. Although winemakers are hard at work bringing in 2011 vintage grapes, many of them took time out of their day to bring wines to Brown Brothers winery for an afternoon of wine tasting. Did I say wine tasting? I meant rapid-fire one wine a minute lighting round tasting. With limited time, what took place was something more along the lines of speed dating than enjoying wine.
Over the course of two hours, I tasted about 30 still wines and 7 stickies. Victoria is a vast wine growing region with some of Australia's historic wineries. One of my personal longtime favorite wineries is Tahbilk, famous for having the world's largest Marsanne vineyard. Some of the sub regions of Victoria are Yarra Valley, Rutherglen, Heathcote, Mornington Peninsula, Geelong and King Valley. Brown Brothers, located in King Valley is one of Australia's First Family's of Wine with roots tracing back to the 1800's. Located about 3 hours northeast of Melbourne, King Valley is a surprisingly diverse growing area with flat lands and high elevations. It's predominantly a cool climate with above average rainfall with a wide ranch of soils, including alluvial parent soil, some balsalt as well as shallow sandstone.
The wines poured at Brown Brothers were impressive in both the varied selection of grape varietals, but also the quality of wine. We started with Prosecco's, graduated to whites, moved on the reds and then finished with the VGS (Very Good Shit) stickies aka fortified wines. Here's a smattering of wines tasted:
PROSECCO (new website for King Valley Prosecco Road):
Booyah! Right out of the gate we're off on the right foot. Brown Brothers Prosecco NV is grown at a higher elevation of 500 meters above sea level which is approximately 16 inches. No wait, I didn't carry the '1' when converting from the metric system. The grapes were grown at 1640 ft. above sea level, and you know what I love about that? Acidity. Cold climate plus high elevation equals the kind of bubbles I like. Crisp, clean, green apple and pear with some elegant Easter flower notes.
Dalz Otto Pucino Prosecco NV - Pale, Pale almost water color. Asian pear, white flowers, Charmat stye. Light, delicate, green apple. Dalz Otto family came from Italy...brought their wines with 'em
Ciccone Estate Prosecco NV - Tangerine peel, white flowers, medium acid, crisp, clean, fuji apple. Elevation 420 meters. Food: fruit fondue
Sam Miranda 2010 Prosecco - Dry, pear, mineral, Med acid, drier style, lower sugar. Single vineyard. Sam Miranda was a cool dude. Really liked him. Food pairing: gnocchi, blue vein cheese, poached prawns
Sam Miranda 2010 Arneis - Pale straw color. Pear, yellow flowers, almonds, sherbet, great summer drink welcome at any table. Medium acid. Longer finish/Phenolic. Food pairing: Prawn Pizza.
Brown Brothers 2010 Vermentino - Here's a cool thing this winery does that no other winery in the world does (that I know of): They have a building called the Kindergarten winery. This is a full sized facility larger than many wineries that's dedicated solely to experimentation. Winemakers come from around the world to fill test tanks with experimental lots, fermentation techniques or new grape varieties. The BB Vermentino became a product in the lineup after first being a test batch in the Kindergarten winery. Pretty cool.
Feathertop 2010 Vermentino - Green apple, natural acid, longer ferment. Comes from the same vineyard as the Brown Brothers Vermentino with a touch of their own fruit. Asian Pear, lemon peel. Longer, pleasant finish. Food: Salmon Carpaccio
Pizzini 2010 Verduzzo - Tannic white, Red golden delicous apple, medium minus acid, lees stirring in barrel for added richness, slight vanilla, baked pears, thick skin grape... Have to hand pick ‘cause you’ll lose too much juice and the wine will easily become too tannic.
*Fighting Gully Road 2009 Aquila - Wine was inspired by personal favorite, Mas de Dumas Gassac from Landguedoc. Blend of Chard, Viognier & Petit Manseng. Straw color, no oak. Flint, wet rock, Full mouthfeel of fun. Medium acid. Tropical fruits, Lychee. This is the kind of wine you bring out for your wine geek friends. One of my favorites of the day. In speed dating terms, I'd take this one out on the town.
All Saints Estate 2009 Marsanne - golden colored. medium-minus acid. Cuttings from Tahbilk. Underrated, red golden delicious apple, honeysuckle. Food: seafood, but not too fatty. Shrimp Scampi
Sorrenberg SauvBlanc/Semillon 2010 - Organic and orgasmic. When I worked at St. Supéry winery in Napa, we had a wine called Virtu. This very much reminded me of Virtu. The aromatics of the Sauvignon Blanc combined with the fattier mouth feel of the Semillon are a ying and a yang to each other.
Savaterre Chardonnay 2008 - When you read the notes, "Golden, Green apple, pear, flinty wet rock, malo, french oak, spice box, medium acid" it doesn't do it justice. This wine was really pleasant and elegant. Malo and oak were there, but refined.
Giaconda Chardonnay 2008 - Golden, no green hue, Mersault-esque, flinty wet rock, green apple, matchstick, supple and round with medium acid. Lots of finesse and X-factor. A bit on the pricy side at $120 considering the Savaterre is grown across the street with similar presence at $60.
La Zona 2010 Tempranillo - Nice Tempranillo not overly oaked, very easy to drink. Well done for $22. Not over the top, has finesse. The lower amount of oak made this a "drink now" wine. You could taste the grape expressing its dark cherry and plum notes.
*Fighting Gully Road 2006 Tempranillo - dark brick color, bigger, cedar, tobacco, dried red cherry. Right in the pocket at 14%, could go another 15 yrs. More Spanish in style. Considering the La Zona is a "drink now" wine with less oak, this one is a contrast...more of a "need to age" version of Tempranillo. The bigger style with more oak did it justice because the age mellowed it out into a stunner. Both Fighting Gully wines are on my short list.
Brown Brothers Montepulciano Heathcote 2009 - Brand new release made only from 7 year old vines. Beautiful expression of the grape—this baby is going to age beautifully. Older oak barriques used in production. This wine showed so much complexity and X-Factor at such a young age, but it's going to be drop dead gorgeous in a few years. Lay it down, which is where my mind would be in speed dating if this was sitting across the table from me.
Brown Brothers Tempranillo/Graciano 2009 - Another stunner with very little age on it. Dark violet color, red raspberry, stewed plum, cherry filling from pie. A little on the sweeter side, which would be perfect with my Flank Steak w/ Chimchurri recipe.
*Stanton & Kileen The Prince 2008 Reserva Rutherglen - 12.8% ALC very much along the lines of Crasto Douro Red from Portugal, probably because it has some of the same grapes. Savory earthy characters, Dark, raspberry color, love this one! Simon Killeen 7th generation winemaker wanting to introduce different varietals into the family business. One of my faves from the speed dating round.
The Sixties Block 2009 Campbells - Tempranillo, Graciano, Carignan, - orange peel, cinammon, red dried cherry, sweeter, earthy, raspberry. Really intriguing blend of grapes...so distinct in its make up and character. Food Pairing: Orange Beef Chinese Food, Venison Carpaccio
Savaterre 2008 Pinot Noir - Light brick, nice elegant, raspberry, faint orange peel. Light and pleasant, silky smooth like a baby's butt. Winemaker was a real character and says he's the laziest winemaker. He just gets out of the way of the fruit during harvest.
*Castagna 2008 Genesis Syrah - After blowing through all these wines, it wasn't until the last still wine that I found the girl I wanted to take home to Momma. The Castagna Syrah is my wine of the tasting for many reasons. We're in Australia, and they're calling this 'Syrah'. Cofermented with 2% Viognier, this gem has Cote Rotie written all over it. Beautiful "shit my pants" good, spice box, chocolate covered raspberry goodness. Some wines are like a wool sweater on your tongue, this one is like cashmere. Goes beyond just being a glass of wine and becomes an experience.
Overall, the quality level of the wines were superb. More than that, there's rich history here with family traditions and people who are dedicated to making world class wine. Australia has heard us loud and clear, and the wines are responding. Lower alcohol, more finesse and sophisticated labels are all things we don't associate with Aussie wines in the U.S.
I really would have liked to have spent more time with each person to get to know them a little better. It wasn't really fair to just blow through the way we did. But hopefully we'll all see each other again, or at least online. Stay tuned for the next post where I compare tasting through stickies to Bruce Lee's Game of Death..