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Impromptu Evening With Friends? A Bottle of Golden Bordeaux is All You Need

November 26, 2018 6 comments

You just came home from work. It was a hard day. The boss [again] didn’t get your idea, and you didn’t get much support from your coworkers either. All you want to do is to crawl into the old trusted chair with your feet, open the book, and get lost in its pages. Tomorrow will be another day, and all the problems will magically solve themselves. Or you will force them to solve themselves. No matter what, but “me evening” is about to begin.

The doorbell rings. Really? The doorbell? What the heck? You sure didn’t invite anyone over. Get the sleepers on, let’s see, maybe it is just a late package. Ahh, it is not a package. It is your friend. And she just had a rough day at work, and she needs at least an ear, and hopefully not a shoulder.

Walk her in, get her situated on the couch. Then you get this burning feeling – something is amiss. Oh yeah, of course – there is nothing on the coffee table, and your friend sheepishly confirms that she is really “not that hungry”, and your perfectly know what it means – while nobody is looking for a 5-course meal, a little something would be great.

You didn’t shop for a while, and all you got is some crackers, some chips, salami and a bit of cheese. And of course, you need to bring a bottle of wine, which is a must for the free-flowing conversation, but what wine would pair well with such an eclectic spread of crackers and salami?

So let’s stop here, as I’m not writing a fiction novel, and let’s analyze the situation. We got chips, crackers, cheese, and salami – what would pair well with it? I’m sure you have your own take on this, but let me give you mine – how about some Golden Bordeaux to pair with this eclectic mix?

If you are curious what Golden Bordeaux is, I’m sure you can easily guess it – heard of Sauternes? Have you ever seen a bottle of Sauternes? Yes, it typically looks like a liquid gold, hence the reference to the Golden Bordeaux.

The term “Sauternes” here is used rather generically, and Golden Bordeaux might be more suitable than just Sauternes – however, while the Golden Bordeaux makes sense, I’m not sure how common the term is.

Of course, first and foremost, Bordeaux is known for its reds (anyone who experienced Bordeaux whites from Pessac-Léognan would easily disagree, but still). However, Bordeaux is a lot more than just the reds. On the left bank of the Gironde river, which splits Bordeaux in half, lies the region called Graves. Inside of Graves resides the small region of Sauternes with its neighbors Monbazillac, Cérons, Loupiac and Cadillac, as well as Barsac which is a sub-region of Sauternes. Together, all these regions are the source of the Golden Bordeaux, the unique white wine made from the partially raisined grapes due to their contact with so-called Noble Rot. It is common to describe Sauternes as sweet, dessert wines – but the flavor profile of these wines goes way beyond just sweet, offering layers of complexity, and therefore suitable for a lot more than just a dessert course.

A few weeks ago, a group of wine aficionados got together for the virtual tasting of the Golden Bordeaux, hosted and guided by the kind folks from Snooth. This tasting went beyond just a standard format of tasting and discussing the wines – we also had an opportunity to experiment with the variety of savory and spicy snacks, which included Sweet Potato and Beet Crackers from Trader Joe’s, Sriracha Cashews, Jalapeno Chicken Chips, Gusto by Olli Calabrese Spicy Salami, and Jack Link Sweet & Hot Jerky. Spicy and sweet, as well as sweet and salty are well-known combinations for anyone who likes pairing wine and food. However, these Golden Bordeaux wines go beyond just sweet, often adding a layer of forest mushrooms and herbs to their taste profile, which helps to complement the ranges of savory dishes.

I had a few surprises and personal learnings in this tasting. I never paid attention to the mushroom undertones in the Golden Bordeaux, so this was definitely an exciting discovery. I also never thought that those wines need some breathing time – and I was wrong, as you can see in the notes below – another little memory knot is in order. I also found out that not all food can be good for the tasting – the Chicken Jalapeño crackers were so spicy for me, that I had my lips burning for an hour in the tasting. It would be fine if this was a pairing and conversation with a friend, but for the next time around, I plan to taste the wines first, and only then try it again with spicy food.

Now, here are my notes from the tasting:

2016 Château Manos Cadillac (13.5% ABV, $12.99, 95% Semillon, 2.5% Sauvignon Blanc, 2.5% Muscadelle)
Light golden color
Peach, honey, beautiful nose, very inviting
Delicious palate, peach, candied peach, caramel, good acidity 8/8-
Very nice with beets crackers from Trader Joe’s

2014 Château du Cros Loupiac (13% ABV, $12, 90% Semillon, Sauvignon Blanc, Muscadelle
Golden color
Complex nose of caramel and herbs, a touch of spicy notes, great complexity
Beautiful concentration on the palate, candied fruit, golden raisins, perfect balance. 8+
Amazingly elevates sweet and hot beef jerky, wow

2016 Château Loupiac-Gaudiet Loupiac (13% ABV, $17, 90% Sémillon, 10% Sauvignon Blanc)
Light golden color
Sweet apples, herbs. Later on: truffles!
First reaction: Sweet apples on the palate – need more acidity
After 20 minutes: good acidity, mushroom, forest floor. 8-
Excellent with hot beef jerky

2011 Château Dauphiné Rondillon Loupiac (13.5% ABV, $28, 80% Semillon, 20% Sauvignon Blanc)
Golden color
Honey, plums, candied plums
First reaction: Burned sugar, then medicinal. Ouch
After 20 minutes been open: sugar plums, white plums, good acidity showed up. 7+/8-
Later on – mushrooms on the nose (really a discovery for me), caramel. Savory caramel on the palate. Interesting – definitely a food wine.
Very good with salami and sweet potatoes crackers

2015 Château La Rame Sainte-Croix-du-Mont (13% ABV, $22, 100% Sémillon)
Golden color
Very restrained, a touch of tropical fruit, distant hint of honey, gasoline added after 20 minutes
First reaction: Candied fruit, really sweet, can use more acidity. 7
After 20 minutes: vanilla, cookies’n’cream, light, good acidity. 8-/8
Tried with hot beef Jerky – not bad

2016 Château Lapinesse Sauternes Grand Vin de Bordeaux (14% ABV, $20, 100% Sémillon)
Golden color
Lemon, lemongrass, touch of honey, white plums
Candied fruit, apples, good acidity. 8
Didn’t make much difference with spicy salami

2006 Castelnau de Suduiraut Sauternes (14% ABV, $90, 99% Semillon, 1% Sauvignon Blanc)
Dark gold color
Honey, candied lemon, touch of caramel
Beautiful palate, fresh caramel, butterscotch cookie, good acidity. Very rich. 8-
Very good with beef jerky, also with jalapeño chicken strips

Here you are, my friends – Golden Bordeaux and eclectic snacks. Get a few bottles on hand – the wines are versatile, and can be enjoyed in many ways – especially when the late night friend pops in.

The Golden Bordeaux wines are definitely underrated – here is the great opportunity to surprise yourself and your friends. And you can thank me later. Cheers!

Sent with Writer

Full Force of Colors – New England Fall 2018

November 10, 2018 8 comments

Everything has its silver lining – at least this is what we, optimists, think. The “Fall Foliage” is one of the most famous attractions of New England – travel agencies offer special tours and people literally from around the world are happy to come to experience the abundance of color, which typically takes place during the month of October. Only last year (2017), the real abundance of colors never really arrived – of course, trees changed colors and leaves fell down – but it was rather a boring fall instead of a typical color festival.

The 2018 overall was one of the wettest years I remember. It rained non-stop the whole summer, and it was hot. The fall was simply a continuation of the same – we still had to run the A/C in October, and it was raining every couple of days. All the trees were still practically summer-green well into the second half of October. And then the silver lining showed up – Mother Nature magically turned on the color, and the streets and roads became anything but boring – amazing, amazing sight anywhere you look, every day bringing more colors and more joy with it.

As I had done it many times in the past (here are a few posts: 2012, 2013, 2015), I took a few pictures while walking around my neighborhood – with iPhone in your pocket, taking pictures had never been that easy – and now I want to share these beautiful New England fall colors with you. This year we visited for the first time Mark Twain’s museum (mansion) in Hartford, so I included a few pictures here as well.

Hope you will enjoy the beautiful colors as much as I do. Cheers!

WBC18: Merlot Deep Dive with Masters of Merlot

October 18, 2018 2 comments

I remember my first “deep dive” into the Washington wines at the Chateau Ste. Michelle winery a few years ago, where I was told about the power of Washington Merlot. The explanation was given on the example of a group visiting Chateau Ste. Michelle from California, who were complaining that Washington Cabernet Sauvignon was too soft and mild as opposed to the Cabernet Sauvignon from California. The group was offered to taste the Washington Merlot wines next, and this is where they found the right amount of “power” they were looking for (or maybe even a bit more).

WBC18 Masters of Merlot tasting

While attending Wine Bloggers Conference 2017, I was able to start the conference experience on a very high note with the deep dive pre-conference session on the California Cabernet Sauvignon, where we learned about one of the most classic California Cabs you can find – Beringer Cabernet Sauvignon. This year, at WBC18, we started on the equal, or maybe even higher note with the pre-conference session on Merlot. Very appropriately for being in Washington, and for the October being the #MerlotMe month, we were able not only taste a line of Merlot wines but to compare side by side the wines made by two of the Merlot pioneers and, unquestionably, the Masters – Duckhorn Vineyards from Napa Valley and L’Ecole No 41 from Walla Walla Valley.

Duckhorn Vineyards Merlot

Dan and Margaret Duckhorn started Duckhorn Vineyards back in 1976, becoming one of the first 40 Napa Valley wineries. Even in those early days, it was clear that Cabernet Sauvignon was The Grape everybody wanted to work with. At that time, Dan and Margaret decided to proceed in their own way, and instead of joining the Cabernet Sauvignon movement, be unique and different and embrace the Merlot. Ever since their inaugural vintage in 1978, they never looked back and became known as Napa Valley Merlot pioneers and one of the best Merlot producers in the world, starting with their first release of Napa Valley Merlot in 1979. Today, Duckhorn Vineyards expanded dramatically and now comprise multiple wineries and brands around the USA – however, Merlot is the heart and soul of Duckhorn wines, and it is not surprising that 2014 Duckhorn Vineyards Three Palms Vineyard Merlot was the Wine Spectator’s 2017 Top 100 Wine of the Year.

L'Ecole No41 Merlot

L’Ecole No 41 was founded by Baker and Jean Ferguson in 1983 when it became 3rd winery in Walla Walla, and 20th winery in the Washington state. Today the winery is run by the 3rd generation of the family, and sustainably farms estate Seven Hills and Ferguson vineyards. Merlot is the king in Washington, so it is not surprising that the L’Ecole crafts some of the best Merlot wines in Washington – however, their Cabernet Sauvignon, Syrah, and Bordeaux-style blends are equally world-famous.

Now that you know the bit of the history, let’s talk about our tasting. In our Masters of Merlot session, we had an opportunity to taste side by side Duckhorn Vineyards and L’Ecole No 41 Merlot from 2008, 2012 and 2015 vintages, plus a cherry on top (thank you, Duckhorn Vineyards) – 2015 Three Palms Merlot. Before I will leave you with the tasting notes for these beautiful Merlot wines, I just want to share some general observations. The three vintages of Duckhorn Merlot we were comparing had a different grape composition between the vintages while maintaining the same oak treatment for all the wines. As I mentioned in my summary post about WBC18 experiences, Washington weather is very consistent, so L’Ecole No 41 maintained the same grape percentages between the vintages and the same oak regimen – the changing parameters were only harvest dates and the vineyard source composition, which gradually shifted from solely a  Seven Hills vineyard in 2008 to the 50/50 share between Seven Hills and Ferguson vineyards in 2015 (L’Ecole folks are ecstatic about the potential of the Ferguson Vineyard, now introducing more and more single vineyard wines from it).

Masters of Merlot tasting WBC18

Now, it is (finally!) time to talk about the wines. Here we go, in the tasting order:

2008 L’Ecole No 41 Estate Merlot Seven Hills Vineyard Walla Walla Valley (14.5% ABV, $?, 80% Merlot, 10% Cabernet Sauvignon, 10% Cabernet Franc, 18 months in French oak)
Rutherford dust on the nose, chewy, dense, tart cherries, needs time! I want more fruit! Would love to try it in 5-8 years.

2008 Duckhorn Vineyards Merlot Napa Valley (14.5% ABV, $70, 86% Merlot, 9.5% Cabernet Sauvignon, 3.5% Petit Verdot, 1% Cabernet Franc, 16 months in French oak)
Raisins on the nose, very explicit, beautifully dry on the palate, sage, anise, tart, showed a bit of Rutherford dust after swirling, great acidity. Amarone! I want to drink it NOW!

2012 L’Ecole No 41 Estate Merlot Walla Walla Valley (14.5% ABV, $30, 80% Merlot, 10% Cabernet Sauvignon, 10% Cabernet Franc, 76% Seven Hills Vineyard, 24% Ferguson Vineyard, 18 months in French oak)
Espresso, Rutherford dust (a bit less explicit than 2008). More fruit on the palate, bright, beautiful.

2012 Duckhorn Vineyards Merlot Napa Valley (14.5% ABV, $65, 88% Merlot, 7% Cabernet Sauvignon, 2% Petit Verdot, 2% Cabernet Franc, 1% Malbec, 16 months in French oak)
Delicate, fresh plums, a touch of truffle notes, plums and lavender on the palate, delicate, fresh, round.

2015 L’Ecole No 41 Estate Merlot Walla Walla Valley (14.5% ABV, $36, 80% Merlot, 10% Cabernet Sauvignon, 10% Cabernet Franc, 50% Seven Hills Vineyard, 50% Ferguson Vineyard, 18 months in French oak)
Dark fruit, Rutherford dust, dark berries, a bit of bell pepper on the palate, plums, sapidity, interesting minerality. Needs time.

2015 Duckhorn Vineyards Merlot Napa Valley (14.5% ABV, $56, 85% Merlot, 12% Cabernet Sauvignon, 2% Cabernet Franc, 1% Petit Verdot, 16 months in French Oak)
Closed nose, a touch of mint, however – palate is beautifully ripe, open, clean, fresh fruit.

2015 Duckhorn Vineyards Merlot Three Palms Vineyard Napa Valley (14.7% ABV, $98, 91% Merlot, 7% Cabernet Sauvignon, 1.5% Petit Verdot, 0.5% Cabernet Franc, 18 months in French Oak)
Rich, opulent, caramel, anise, sage, on the palate coffee, ripe fruit, mocha, dark chocolate. Big and delicious.

Masters of Merlot tasting

Were these wines similar, even between the different wineries? Of course. I love the presence of the Rutherford dust on many of the wines we tasted – after tasting best of the best in Rutherford in Napa Valley – the BV wines, I picked up that term and I always use it describe the perceived dusty impression of the wine’s aroma. L’Ecole Merlot was a lot more structured and minerally-driven. I would safely say that 2-3 hours in the decanter would help those wines a lot. The Duckhorn Merlot were a lot more fruit driven but offered an impeccable balance with that fruit. If I have to pick the favorite, it would be between 2008 Duckhorn (ahh, that Amarone-like beauty) and 2015 Duckhorn Three Palms, but there were really no bad wines in this tasting.

There you have it, my friends. Beautiful Merlot wines, easy to love and appreciate, and most importantly, offering lots of pleasure. How is your Merlot Me month going? What are your discoveries or the old favorites?

I have to say special thank you to Constance Savage of L’Ecole No 41 and Kay Malaske of Duckhorn Vineyards for offering this special tasting to the wine bloggers! Cheers!

Blending Art and Wine – Galer Estate in Eastern Pennsylvania

September 8, 2018 2 comments

Galer Estate groundsDo you like surprises? It depends, you say? Okay, let me rephrase: do you like pleasant surprises? Of course, you do – and so do I.

What’s up with this “surprises” prelude? Simple – was prompted by the recent experience in Eastern Pennsylvania – at Galer Estate Vineyards and Winery.

With the fear to sound obnoxious (feel free to stamp “snob” and stop reading), I have to say that East Coast wineries are a hit and miss experience. I’m sure this is not just an East Coast phenomenon, but here I experienced it enough to state it. When visiting the winery, I’m looking for the “full experience”. I want the winery to have an ambiance, to have a soul. To me, the wine is a thing of comfort, and this is what I want to experience when I come to taste the wine. I don’t care for glitz and glamor, I don’t care for all the little “look how many cool and utterly useless things you can buy here”. The winery to me is all about a comfort and pleasure, and, most importantly, the real, good, tasty wine.

Oh, and one more thing to add – a conversation, conversation with the person who pours the wine into your glass. I don’t want to be pontificated upon (recent experience at Akash winery in Temecula was beyond terrible), I don’t want to be ignored (“I don’t know anything, I’m just here for a weekend job, here is your wine”). I want a person who pours the wine to share their passion and pride – it makes wine tasting a lot more enjoyable.

I’m happy to say that we had this exact “full experience” on the recent visit to Galer Estate. While the winery, located just a stone throw away from the Longwood Gardens (actually, while driving to the winery, I thought I made a mistake and will simply get inside the gardens instead of the winery), started only about 10 years ago, it looks like it had been there for centuries. It is rustic, it perfectly blends into the surroundings, and it is beautifully decorated – I’m sure the fact that Lele Galer, the co-owner of the winery, is an artist, comes to play here.

Galer Estate tasting Room

Galer Estate tasting Room

The doors of the tasting room had been brought from France, some of the panels are from Italy, stained glass windows are from the midwest USA. The view of the Chardonnay vineyard from the tasting room is beautiful, and all those little details together create the right ambiance for the tasting.

The Galer Estate owns two vineyards, and when necessary, they bring grapes from other vineyards, but all the grapes are still local, coming from the vineyards within 30 miles radius, all located in the Chester County. The selection of grapes is quite eclectic – it was my first time trying Grüner Veltliner and Albariño from the East Coast. Here is what we tasted:

2017 Galer Estate Grüner Veltliner Chester County Pennsylvania ($25) – fresh nose, beautiful grassy palate, great acidity. 8-, excellent effort.

2017 Galer Estate The Huntress Vidal Blanc Chester County Pennsylvania ($25) – Excellent, restrained, nice balance of white fruit, good acidity, elegant. 8, one of the best renditions of Vidal Blanc I ever had.

2016 Galer Estate Red Lion Chardonnay Chester County Pennsylvania ($18) – gunflint on the nose, crisp, green apples, lemon, clean. 8, excellent wine. I’ll take a gunflint on my Chardonnay at any time, and was literally ecstatic to find it here.

2017 Galer Estate Albariño Chester County Pennsylvania ($35) – excellent, varietally correct, touch of perfume on the nose, mineral lemon notes on the palate. 7+, Unique and different – East Coast Albariño, not the wine you can expect to find here.

2015 Galer Estate Chardonnay Reserve Chester County Pennsylvania ($32) – not my favorite – I’ll leave it at that. May be a “sleeper” bottle?

2017 Galer Estate Pinot Noir Rosé Chester County Pennsylvania ($30) – practically no color in the glass. I would prefer a Rosé with more extraction. Not my favorite

2016 Galer Estate The Huntress Red Blend Chester County Pennsylvania ($30, blend of Cabernet Franc, Carmine, Petit Verdot) – excellent, clean, cassis on the nose, cassis and raspberries on the palate. Soft, good balance. 8-, an added bonus – a new grape, Carmine – the grape (a blend of Cabernet Sauvignon and Carignan) was specifically designed to withstand the cold of the East Coast.

We had a great time while tasting, as our host was knowledgeable and engaging. It was also great to have lunch right in the cellar room – it was too hot to sit outside, so after the view of the vineyards, the view, and mostly the smell,  of the tanks might be the most exciting for the wine lovers.

And of course we had an opportunity to snap some pictures of the vines and grapes:

Here you are, my friends. If you are visiting Longwood Gardens in Kennett Square, which is one of my most favorite places, put aside some time to visit the Galer Estate. Considering the full experience, this was one of the very best East Coast wineries I ever visited. And even if you have take a special trip over, you will not regret it. Cheers!

Restaurant Files: Art of Food And Wine at Domaine Hudson in Wilmington, Delaware

September 2, 2018 2 comments

 

Domaine Hudson Special MenuAlmost for as long as this blog exists, and practically every year around this time, I confess my love of traditions. The reason it happens every year around August is rather simple – this is the time when we typically have our “Adults getaway” – a group of friends going away for a weekend of food, wine, and laughter, an insane amount of laughter.

We always spend time arranging for a special dinner – this year was not an exception. It took a bit of work, but after calling and emailing many places around our destination – Longwood Gardens in Kennett Square in Pennsylvania – we found the place which was willing to accommodate our group and seemed to offer good food and wine options. Typically we try to find the restaurant which will offer a tasting menu and allow us to bring our own wines. It does take a bit of effort to come up with wine pairings for the dishes we never tasted – but usually, we fare reasonably well at that exercise. This year, for a change, we found the restaurant which offered us a tasting menu – and paired all the dishes with wines, so all we needed to do is to come and enjoy (one would hope, at least).

It was not just the fully paired tasting menu which was different this time. Typically, when we select a restaurant, we go by Yelp ratings and close proximity to the place we are staying at. As we usually stay in small towns, the restaurants we find are more of a “local significance”. The story with Domaine Hudson is quite different as the restaurant has Wine Spectator’s Best of Award of Excellence. There are only about 1200 restaurants with this type of awards in the whole of the United States, so I hope you agree that it builds some level of expectations.

All the planning behind, and finally we arrived at the Domaine Hudson in Wilmington. Once we got situated, the dinner started with the “Chef’s Surprise” (the Amuse-bouche), which became a double-surprise. The first part of the surprise was in the fact that it was not expected, of course. But the second surprise was the dish itself – Deviled Eggs.

Okay, what can be surprising about the deviled eggs, you ask? You see, for people with Russain heritage, deviled eggs is a staple of the party, and I’m very, very particular to how this simple dish is executed. I had deviled eggs on multiple occasions in the restaurants, and don’t mean to offend anyone, but in the absolute majority of the cases the dish could be described simply as “blah”. Not here. At Domaine Hudson, this was one superb deviled eggs – the egg white was smoked, the filling was creamy and perfectly seasoned, and the smoked salmon on top gave the texture and completed the dish. The simply delicious beginning of the evening.

Before we continue, I have a confession to make. Every once in a while, you want to forget all your social media obligations (obsessions?) and just be a normal person on vacation – don’t take pictures, don’t take notes, don’t try to memorize the experience, just relax, have fun and enjoy the moment. This is what I honestly tried to do. I didn’t bring my SLR, I decided not to take any pictures, just enjoy the dinner and the company. After the first sip of wine and bite of food, which were both excellent, all good intentions went out of the window, and the need to “document the story” kicked in, more as an instinct, a muscle memory so to speak. But – I was left with only my cell phone (meaning – mediocre pictures), and any missed picture opportunities are just that – missed picture opportunities. Now, let’s get back to our dinner and the wine pairings.

Duck Liver Mousse (port wine aspic, pickled stone fruit, grilled bread)
Wine: 2015 Rubus Old Vine Zinfandel Lodi

Superb is a word. The mousse was delicious – texture, flavor combination with all the condiments – I finished the full ramekin by myself, couldn’t stop until the last morsel. The wine was excellent as well – nice raspberries profile, a touch of fresh fruit, not overbearing, but enough sweetness to perfectly complement the mousse. A successful pairing by all means.

Domaine Hudson Culver Farms Baby Greens salad

Culver Farms Baby Greens (grilled corn, fennel, Marcona almonds, lemon aioli, Pecorino)
Wine: 2017 Gateway Vinho Verde DOC, Portugal

Another delicious dish. Fresh, simple, light, very summer-y, fun to eat with all the different crunch elements. Vinho Verde was fresh, grassy and lemony, just as you would expect, and it obviously played perfectly with the salad. Another successful pairing.

Ricotta Gnocchi (forest mushrooms, hazelnuts, summer truffle cream)
Wine: 2016 Domaine Cornu-Camus Bourgogne Hautes-Côtes de Beaune, France

I love mushrooms, so this dish definitely delivered that – great variety of mushrooms, a perfect textural addition of hazelnuts, truffle cream was very flavorful. The gnocchi, which were supposed to be the star of the dish were too dense, I would definitely prefer for them to be lighter and fluffier. Still, not the dish you can really complain about. The wine was fresh and young, red crunchy berries, great minerality, very firm and structured, with excellent acidity – an excellent young Burgundy. However, the pairing didn’t work. I guess the idea was to pair on the contrast, but that didn’t work for me. But – I definitely enjoyed the wine on its own.

Nordic Halibut (Fava beans, Holland leeks, forest mushrooms, lemon butter sauce)
Wine: 2015 Talley Vineyards Estate Chardonnay Arroyo Grande Valley

Crispy fish? Check. Fava beans? One of my personal favorites; check. Mushrooms? Check. You got all my happy ingredients, and they worked very well together. Chardonnay was spot on – varietally correct, just a touch of butter, vanilla, apples, fresh, well balanced with good acidity. And a successful pairing for sure.

Domaine Hudson Prime Holstein NY Strip

Prime Holstein New York Strip (fingerling potatoes, Fois Gras butter, braised greens, red wine demi)
Wine: 2013 Three Wine Company Suscol Creek Cabernet Sauvignon Block 5 Napa Valley

Steak and Cab – need I say more? The steak was perfectly cooked, great flavor, juicy, good sauce – nothing else I can say – if you like steak, you would like this dish. But then the wine… This was easily the best Cabernet Sauvignon I tasted in a long time (bold statement for me, I know). This was in-your-face, juicy, powerful, super-extracted, luscious wine only California can produce – imagine having a ripe bunch of cassis in your hand, and just taking a full bite right there – cassis, blackberries, mint, eucalyptus, everything is there – but perfectly balanced, with good acidity and unquestionably dry – wow. I would never guess this wine had 15.3% ABV – it was just perfectly integrated. Bottom line – superb wine and excellent pairing.

Plum Gelato with Sugar Cookie

The meal should have a sweet ending, right? Excellent gelato, light, fresh, good flavor. A perfect finishing touch.

Let’s summarize the experience – in a word, outstanding. The food was very good, and the wine program was excellent, most of the pairings worked, so I have to say that the Best of Award of Excellence has a good merit, and it definitely makes sense to me.

Have you dined at the restaurant with similar distinctions? How was your experience? Cheers!

 

The Art of Tempranillo

May 24, 2018 7 comments

Source: Vintae.com

I love Tempranillo wines. I wouldn’t call myself an expert, but I had a wide range of Tempranillo – with the exception of Australia, I believe I tried most of the major renditions – Rioja, Ribera Del Duero, Toro, most everywhere else in Spain, Texas, California, Oregon, Washington (am I missing something? do tell!). With all the love and respect to all the regions, if I have to put an order of priorities in that “list”, I would put Rioja first, Ribera del Duero very close second, but the competition for the 3rd place would be severe – in my world, of course.

I like wines of Toro, the closest sibling to the Rioja and Ribera del Duero, but it would be hard for me to place them higher than some of the beautiful Tempranillo renditions from Irwin Family Vineyards, Duchman, or Fields – considering the Toro wines I had in the past. Compared to Rioja and Ribera del Duero, Toro is … well, maybe I need to explain why I keep mentioning Rioja, Ribera del Duero, and Toro together all the time. These are the only three regions in the world where the absolute majority of the red wines is made out of the Tempranillo grapes. Yes, there are Garnacha and Graciano in Rioja, Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot in Ribera del Duero, but still – most of the red wines in these three regions are made out of the Tempranillo, hence the constant comparison.

Out of the three regions, Toro is south-most one, with an expressly continental climate, low annual rainfall amounts, and significant range of day-night temperatures – which typically translates well into the flavor. Tempranillo is the grape of Toro, but similarly to Tuscany/Brunello, where you have Sangiovese and Sangiovese Grosso, Tempranillo in Toro is known as Tinta de Toro, a.k.a Tempranillo de Castilla, a.k.a. Ink of Toro. The grape is a bit smaller, with thicker skin, which coupled with growing conditions typically results, in massive, concentrated wines requiring extensive aging to become drinkable – I still have a memory of trying Alabaster made by Sierra Cantabria, one of the well-known producers in Toro, which was one of the most massive wines I ever experienced. Nevertheless, as I said at the beginning, Tempranillo is one of the favorites, so when the opportunity called to try 3 wines from Toro, I was definitely curious – and a bit cautious at the same time.

To ease things up, together with the 3 Toro wines from Bodega Matsu came a bottle of Rioja Reserva from Bodega Classica. While coming from unrelated producers, there is a common link between them – this link is called Vintae – a young company with a serious passion for the Spanish wine for the modern world. Vintae, started in 1999 by the Arambarri family, set on changing world’s perception of the Spanish wine as “boring”. To the date, Vintae unifies a collection of 11 different “projects”, all focused on showcasing the regions and the grapes.

Going back to the wines at hand, let’s talk about Rioja first. The wine comes from Bodega Classica, located in the heart of Rioja Alta. Rioja Alta offers a unique high-altitude setting to produce arguably the best Tempranillo of the whole of Rioja region. Couple that with more than 100 years old vineyards, and you are looking at some tasty opportunities in the bottle, as this Bodega Classica Hacienda López de Haro Rioja Reserva was. Here are my notes:

2013 Bodega Classica Hacienda López de Haro Rioja Reserva DOCa (13.5% ABV, $16.99, 90% Tempranillo, 5% Garnacha, 5% Graciano, 20 months in French and American oak)
Dark garnet color
Pepper, vanilla, raspberries, mushrooms, nice minerality
Medium body, good acidity, noticeable alcohol burn initially, went away in about 15 minutes, good fruit showed up, characteristic cedar notes, good acidity, round, soft.
8-, nice, just give it a bit of time to soften up at the beginning. The second day continued without changes. Good life expectancy, as expected of Rioja Reserva. And an excellent QPR.

Now, let’s go back to Toro. As I already said, in my prior experience, Toro wines were massive and concentrated, requiring long aging to soften and really show a beautiful expression of Tempranillo. And then there were wines called Matsu.

Bodega Matsu wines

Matsu in means “wait” in Japanese. As we all know, waiting is one of the favorite games of oenophiles. When it comes to the three Matsu wines I had an opportunity to taste, there are many different levels of “waiting”. The wines had been progressively aged for the longer times before the release – 3 months for El Picaro, 14 months for El Recio, 16 months for El Viejo. The grapes were harvested from the vines of different age (again, progressively) – 50-70 years old for El Picaro, 90-100 years old for El Recio, more than 100 years old for El Viejo. See, waiting here is clearly a part of the equation.

And then there are those ultra-creative labels. Not only labels commemorate people who actually worked to create the wines, they clearly identify what you should expect from the wines – in age, in style, and even in price. I conducted a little experiment, first with my kids, and then with the people on Instagram, asking them to identify the most expensive wine – nobody made a mistake, the labels speak very clearly to us.

How were the wines? Surprising. Probably the best Toro wines I ever had – without any regard to the pricing category. Here are my notes, so you can see for yourself:

2016 Bodega Matsu El Picaro Toro DO (14.5% ABV, $13.99, 100% Tinta de Toro, 50 – 70 years old vines, 3 months minimum aging on the lees, concrete tanks)
Bright ruby color, noticeable legs, minimal rim variation
Young fresh berries, medium+ intensity, a touch of vanilla
Surprisingly light on the palate, pleasant tannins, fresh berries, very quaffable.
8-, might be the lightest rendition of Toro I ever had. The smell is a bit more complex on the second day. Palate nicely evolved, good balance, raspberries, no more impression of the young wine, lots of minerality.

2015 Bodega Matsu El Recio Toro DO (14.5% ABV, $21.99, 100% Tinta de Toro, 90 – 100 years old vines, 14 months aging in second use oak barrels)
Garnet color, noticeable legs, minimal rim variation too
Sage, fresh raspberries, quite fruity, roasted notes, minerality, distant hint of cinnamon
Underripe plums, blueberries, thyme, nice herbal component, surprisingly light, still noticeable alcohol, needs more time
8-, needs time. Second day: 8/8+, velvety texture, well integrated, excellent balance, a touch of tobacco and espresso on the palate and ripe plums. Outstanding.

2015 Bodega Matsu El Viejo Toro DO (15% ABV, $46.99, 100% Tinta de Toro, 100+ years old vines, 16 months in new French oak barrels)
Garnet Color, noticeable legs, rim variation is not extensive, but present
Sweet blueberries and raspberries on the nose, sage, sweet oak
8- first day, waiting for more.
Second day: 8, much evolved, more integrated, velvety texture, dark fruit, round, smooth. Will evolve further.

Here you are, my friends – the Art of Wine, from the label to the glass. Very impressive and thought-provoking wines, definitely worth seeking. Have you had any of these wines? Have you had Toro wines before? Do you have any Tempranillo favorites? Cheers!

Stories of Passion and Pinot: Tony Rynders of Tendril Cellars

May 11, 2018 2 comments

Wine and passion are indelible. Yes, wine is a business for the most parts, but making a bottle of wine which someone else is desiring to drink is a labor of love, and every such bottle has a bit of the winemaker’s soul invested in it (feel free to call me melodramatic). Thus I’m always happy to talk to the winemakers, trying to understand what moves them, what drives them to do what they do. A lot of my conversations are virtual, and you can find most of them on this blog.

Many of interviews are truly random in terms of profiling the wineries and winemakers. However, about 2 years ago, with a prompt and help of Carl Giavanti, I started a series of posts called Stories of Passion and Pinot, which are dedicated (so far, at least) to the winemakers in Oregon, producing Pinot Noir wines. Winemakers are always passionate about what they do and the grapes they use – but it seems to me that Pinot Noir, being a difficult grape it is, really asking for a special dedication to allow itself to be tamed – hence the name for the series.

My latest addition to the series is a conversation with Tony Rynders, the proprietor and winemaker at the Tendril Wine Cellars, a young winery in Willamette Valley in  Oregon (the winery officially started 10 years ago, in 2008). While the winery is young, Tony is an accomplished winemaker, who started making wine back in 1989, honed his craft at the wineries around the world, including 10 years as a head winemaker at Domaine Serene, one of the best-known wineries in Oregon.

When Tendril Cellars started, it owned no vineyards, which essentially gave Tony a flexibility to bring the best fruit from the Oregon vineyards he was already familiar with. To my surprise, Tendril Cellars only offers one single-vineyard bottling in their line of  5 different Pinot Noir wines – but you will find an explanation below. In 2013, Tendril Cellars planted a 19 acres Maverick vineyard in Yamhill-Carlton district with Pinot Noir and Chardonnay – the vineyard already producing the fruit which is going into the Tendril Cellar’s second line of wines, Child’s Play (a creative name for the wine, don’t you think?).

Tony 5 Courses instruction 2

Tony Rynders leading five course tasting

Tony calls his approach to winemaking “low and slow” – letting the nature to do its work. He is also aging all of his Pinot Noir wines for 16-17 months, which I find particularly appealing. And then, how many winemakers do you know who run organized tastings for their customers? That is what Tony does, presenting his wines as a “5-course meal” and explaining the concept of terroir to the wine consumers (after tasting Tendril wines, Tony’s approach to the tasting makes perfect sense to me – but we will discuss it in the next post).

After learning a bit about Tony and Tendril Cellars, I decided that the time came to sit down (yes, virtually) with Tony and ask him a few questions. Here is what transpired.

[TaV]: You started making wine for others in 1989. Was there something which prompted you to start making your own wines in 2010, a pivotal moment, or you simply decided that it is time to make wines “my way”?

[TR]: I have had several opportunities making wine since I began in 1989.  Each one has contributed in some way to influence my approach to making wine.  I can tell you that I am a much different winemaker today than I was when I started.  I think it is critical that we continue to evolve and adapt as the climate, consumers, and wine preferences change.

In fact, I started my own brand, Tendril, in 2008.  I was just coming off a 10-year stint as head winemaker at Domaine Serene.  It was a highly formative period in my career as there was a massive shift toward new, estate vineyards during my tenure. The creative “heavy lifting” took place largely during my watch.  I accomplished everything I set out to and more.  It was time for my next big challenge…creating a portfolio of wines for my own brands from scratch.  And tell a story about Pinot Noir in a way that it had not yet been told.

[TaV]: You worked at the wineries around the world. Are there any winemakers you would consider your mentors, either directly or indirectly?

[TR]: There is one fact in winemaking that I completely embrace: There is no way to learn it all…I will never stop learning, growing and evolving.   Every winemaker I have worked with has mentored me, including but not limited to, Rollin Soles, Ken Wright, Co Dinn, Jean-Francois Pellet and David Forsyth.

[TaV]: Can you explain your “low and slow” approach to the winemaking?

[TR]: Just like the “slow food” movement, I use top quality ingredients (grapes) from attentive, engaged farmers (vineyards) with whom I have a very close relationship.  I have hand chosen each of our vineyards myself and each brings a distinctive flavor profile (like spices) in order to make our signature “five-course meal” of Pinot Noir.

For all the Tendril wines, I over-vintage the wines in barrel (at least 16 months) and then bottle age 12 months or more prior to release.  The wines are then at the front end of their drinkability curve, with the potential for a decade enjoyment ahead of them.

[TaV]: I find it interesting that in your range of Pinot Noir you have only one vineyard-designated bottling – I always think that designated vineyards and even specific plots are better identify with quality of the grapes and the resulting wines – obviously you don’t see it like that?

[TR]: While I love to make single vineyard wines, I find that not every site is able to produce balanced, compelling and complete wines every year.  And that, simply put, is my goal as a winemaker.  So this is how the unique story and line-up of wines for Tendril was born.  When I started Tendril, I knew that I wanted to do something different with my portfolio of wines.  And it took 6 years to complete the lineup (Extrovert 2008, TightRope 2009, Single Vineyard (Guadalupe) 2011, C-Note 2011, Pretender 2013).

The common model that exists for Pinot Noir is the single vineyard model.  Wineries make 5-15 (or more) single vineyard wines in a given vintage.  The problem is that not all of the sites deliver on their promise of distinctiveness every year.  The true test is a horizontal tasting in which all of the wines are evaluated blind.  In a given year, some wines are great, some under deliver and some taste quite similar in a given line-up.  This is not consistent with my goal.

So, I created my own, unique model for Pinot Noir.  Each of my wines is distinctive and complete.  Collectively, they show a progression of flavors that mirrors the progression of dishes in a five-course meal.  My wines gain in intensity, darker fruit character and structure as the “courses” progress.  And each of the wines must re-qualify for their place in the lineup each and every year.

I believe single vineyard wines should be special.  Since all wineries charge more money for them, I think they should be worth it.  So we typically do just one offering per year that is, simply put, the “wine of the cellar” from just one site.  As I had anticipated, it has proven to be rotational (4 vineyards in 7 vintages).  It is like a Christmas present in that you don’t know what it is until you open it.

Tendril Cellars Pinot Noir

[TaV]: Your C-Note Pinot Noir is designated as “whole cluster fermented” – is that a substantial differentiator to make it the “top of the line” wine, or is there something else behind it?

[TR]: Of the Pinot Noir line-up, the C-Note is the most stylized wine yet at the same time requires the greatest amount of restraint.  Whole cluster fermentation of Pinot Noir is a technique that I have only attempted since 2011.  The was the first year I made a wine using 100% whole cluster…and it was so successful that it became our first C-Note bottling.

For C-Note, we use 100% Pinot Noir, 100% Whole Cluster fermentation, and age in 100% new French Oak barrels (air dried 3 + years).  The restraint comes into play in order to reign in the “whole clustery-ness” and tame the oak impact to mimic a wine with half the new oak exposure.  We are extremely gentle with our cap management to control the whole cluster notes and we select the most subtle, elegant barrels coupled with long aging to integrate the oak flavors.  C-Note is all about complexity, texture and mind-blowing length.  I love making wines that surprise and beguile.

[TaV]: You are one of the very few winemakers who conduct organized tastings. Can you explain what you are trying to showcase with your 5-course Pinot Noir approach?

[TR]: Yes, I believe the best way to showcase these wines and share this unique experience is to do seated tastings.  Like a five-course meal, our tasting take time (typically an hour and a half or more).  But people leave here feeling that that have experienced something truly special…and that is pretty rare.  They are shocked that they enjoyed each and every wine they tasted.

I began working in restaurants at a young age.  I cooked for several years and really enjoyed it.  A few years after I started making wines, I realized that I was using the exact same skill set to make wine that I used to cook.  I am truly a “wine cook” and make wine with that sensibility.

I wanted to showcase a diverse range of flavor profiles that can be accomplished on an annual basis with Pinot Noir in the Willamette Valley.  Each offering is distinctive, unique and impeccably balanced.  Collectively, they showcase perhaps the greatest range of flavors and textures of Pinot Noir under one brand.

[TaV]: To follow on the previous question, how receptive are your customers (typically) to what you are presenting in the tasting? Do they get your point? Do you offer people to taste the wines blind and to try to identify what they are tasting?

[TR]: The beautiful thing about the “five-course meal” context of our tasting is that EVERYBODY can relate to that experience.  People completely get it and they really get into it.  The wines show a progression of flavors just like a multi-course meal.  They also increase in intensity much like turning up the volume on a radio.

At this stage, the tastings are not blind and are tasted one at a time.  And I don’t have the ability to pair food at this time.  But we have done the “five-course meal” here at the winery a few times. It was a huge success.

[TaV]: Maybe an odd-ball question here – wine is an adult beverage, and nevertheless, you called your line of wines “Child’s Play” (I personally like it very much, especially the labels). Do you think wine consumers might find this controversial? Did anyone ever comment on this wine name?

[TR]: I am a huge fan of the “double entendre”.  Here it is actually triple.  1) My kids playing…my two daughters paintings are the original artwork for all the labels 2) We winemakers are big kids and we get to “play” with offering unique wines (the Pinot Chardonnay is the only still version of Chardonnay and white Pinot Noir in the country…to my knowledge), Zinfandel from WA (a unicorn wine), and a stylistically different Rose of Pinot Noir.  The Pinot Noir is just damn good. 3) Child’s Play implies it’s easy…so easy a kid could do it.  We are taking the pretension out of wine with the packaging and the wines inside.  Great value for money…as it should be.

My customers love it.  The only objection came from the Feds…and a simple paragraph explaining point 3) above got us our label approval.

[TaV]: This one is more of the pet peeve question for me. Your Tendril wines are enclosed with the corks (makes me very happy to see it). The Child’s Play line uses screwtops, so obviously the screwtop idea is not foreign to you. I know that some winemakers in Oregon swear by alternative closures (like Don Hagge at Vidon with the glass stopper), but I personally think that the wine needs a cork to age properly. What is your take on this subject?

[TR]: While I like the idea of cork, the execution of the closure has haunted me for my entire career.  Corks are highly variable in both their flavor impact on the wines as well as the oxygen permeability.  Each one is unique and has an unintended impact on my wine.  I believe natural corks are a huge problem and as such, I no longer use them.  But I do gladly use a cork product in my Tendril wines (looks like a duck and quacks like a duck) that provides consistency of density and very low aromatic impact.  I would be happy to talk to you about this topic some time.  I have researched it for years.

Screw caps are new to me, but I love them in the Child’s Play line to further differentiate the brand from Tendril.  I think the MSRP $30 price point avoids any potential push back on the choice of closure.

[TaV]: Sparkling wines are so popular nowadays, almost everyone is making them, and often with very good results. Considering your experience at Argyle, should we expect to see Tendril sparkling wine at some point in the future?

[TR]: Maybe…but I will wait until we have a great sparkling wine vintage (cool and slow ripening) to make that decision.  If you asked my wife (who is a sparkling junkie), the answer would be yes.

I would only do it if it could have the potential to be a truly special offering.

Maverick Vineyard

Maverick Vineyard

[TaV]: What is in the store for your new Maverick vineyard? How are you planning to farm it – sustainable, organic, biodynamic? Out of 19 acres, you have 10.5 allocated for Chardonnay and Pinot Noir – what about the rest? Any plans to expand beyond Pinot Noir and Chardonnay – let’s say, Pinot Gris, Riesling, etc?

[TR]: At this time, Maverick is LIVE.  We plan to move towards organic over the next few years.  It is an incredibly well behaved site that is already producing strong personality wines.  I view this as a highly desirable trait for a young vineyard.  The Chardonnay for the Pinot Chardonnay (70% of the blend) is all Maverick.  This is the first bottled wine coming from Maverick.

No plans for other varietals at this time.  But the clonal mix for the Pinot Noir (943, Swan, Calera and Mt. Eden) is pretty unusual.

[TaV]: Oregon is clearly a leader in Pinot Noir, considered by many as simply the best in the world, and it is also getting to the same level of recognition with the Chardonnays. What is ahead for the Oregon wine industry? Is the future bright and sunny, or do you see any clouds on the horizon?

[TR]: To me, the only constant is change.  By that I mean that to continue to succeed as an industry, we need to be engaged (both locally and on a world stage), we need to be adaptive (as our climate continues to change, we are in for more and different challenges), and we need to be more concerned about the sustainability of our environment (both locally and throughout the world).

I believe we will have sun and clouds…and perhaps some rain.   Just the weather we always have in Oregon 😉

[TaV]: When you are not drinking Tendril wines, what are your favorites from the other producers and/or regions?

[TR]: Lately I have been enjoying Graham-Beck sparkling wine from South Africa.

Or give me a good single malt Scotch…

Here we are, my friends. I’m sure you are thirsty at this point, but we will talk about Tendril Cellars wines in the next post.

To be continued…

 

Flavor, Next Level – Beyond Salt And Pepper

April 17, 2018 11 comments

I love cooking. Cooking allows you to be creative, and you are only limited by your own imagination in what will show up on the table in the end. That and maybe some skill – but skill, of course, can be learned and mastered.

While creativity, imagination, and skill are important, one quality will separate success and failure in the final dish – flavor. Of course, the situation is not that dramatic in real life – this is what “not too bad” and “interesting” descriptors are for, but the flavor rules. This for sure is true in the home cooking. If dish on the table looks great – excellent, definitely a bonus. The texture typically is important too – if the rice more resembles mashed potatoes, that is not really cool. But flavor rules – once we take the first bite, the presentation becomes secondary and the flavor is what we are looking for to either jump of joy and pleasure or make face and say “ouch” (don’t strangle that inner kid in you, let the reaction come out).

One of my favorite shows on the TV is “Beat Bobby Flay” on the Food Network. Bobby Flay, who is an Iron Chef and a well-known restaurateur, is challenged by some other, also well established and well-regarded chefs, to cook the dish of their choice, their own “signature dish”. The panel of three judges decides on who made a better dish in a blind taste test. Quite often, Bobby Flay wins even when he has to cook the dish he only tried once in his life and never cooked before – and sometimes even those which he never tried. What makes him the winner? When you listen to the judges explaining their decision, there is one most important word which you hear over and over again – flavor. The dish might not look anything like the classic version, and sometimes even not taste anything like the classic version, and nevertheless, the Flavor is the word you hear the most often, explaining the vote of A versus B.

If you see home cooking as a chore, this is probably not the post you want to continue reading. If, however, you are after the pleasure of both cooking and then eating the tasty food, let’s talk more about flavor. As a home cook, you have an arsenal of tools available to you to achieve the flavor – you start simply with herbs and spices, and then enlist the help of various techniques and methods – marinating, basting, slow cooking, pressure cooking and on, and on, and on. I personally like cooking with open fire, and thus grilling is definitely one of my preferred methods, especially when the weather is cooperating.

One of the things I like using to enhance the flavor of the food on the grill is a cedar plank. I would typically make salmon on the cedar plank so the salmon would have that delicious sweet smokey flavor. There is only one problem with this – I typically forget to pre-soak the plank at least for an hour – and unless the wood is soaked, it will burn in no time on its encounter with open flames.

It appears, that my problem (don’t tell me it is only my problem, and looking on a gorgeous piece of salmon you never had to hit yourself on a forehead saying “why I didn’t prepare the plank before”) had been solved! Here comes Beyond Salt and Pepper – a company which was founded (I’m very happy to give you full disclosure here) by my close friend Henry. We always shared our love for cooking with Henry, but Beyond Salt and Pepper takes that passion to the next level.

Pre-soaking of the plank is required before using it for cooking. I’m sure that when you think about soaking of the wood, you think water. But why only water? Wine is a liquid too, and wine is used in cooking, so maybe…? That’s right – we can use the wine, but not only the wine, also beer, rum, bourbon and any other type of alcohol – each one bringing its own unique flavor profile to the table – your table.

I visited my friend – and essentially, the headquarters of Beyond Salt and Pepper, located in the garage, as any self-respecting startup should – and we had a blast (a feast would be a better word).

First, I saw the process – the pre-cut planks of cedar – but not only cedar, Henry uses white oak too and says that imparts particularly nice flavor on the steaks – are soaked in the liquid of choice for days. Then the planks are getting into the machine where they are vacuum-sealed. Put on the label, pack, and voilà, ready for shipping.

And then there was cooking, lots of cooking. If you are still thinking planks are only for salmon, forget this notion as soon as possible. Unleash your imagination – you can make anything you want on the planks – and you can see the proof here in the pictures.

When cooking with the planks, there is a bit of technique which goes into the process – all explained in the recipes available on the Beyond Salt and Pepper web site. In most of the cases, you need to pre-heat the plank by putting in on a hot grill for 1 – 2 minutes on each side. And then you slightly pre-cook the food – for instance, sear steak on one side, and then flip it over on the plank and let it continue cooking as usual – that’s about all the special technique you need.

We had asparagus, artichokes and snap peas cooked on the Chardonnay-soaked planks – we couldn’t keep the snap peas on the table, everyone loved them. How about some little red wine infused smoke on the mushrooms and potatoes? Salmon and tiger shrimp on the Bourbon soaked planks? Yes, please! Chicken with some Merlot smoke on it – yum! Then the steak on the white oak and rum planks – superb. And then some cheese for dessert – but of course, made on the Chardonnay infused plank. Flavor, flavor, flavor – there are no limits to one’s creativity.

 

Here you are, my friends – a simple tool to add to your cooking tools arsenal, to get the flavor to the next level. If you are interested in trying these planks for yourself (and you should, seriously), you can get them directly from the website, or on Amazon (the website offers a bit wider selection). If you need some inspiration and cooking ideas, follow Beyond Salt and Pepper on Instagram. And by the way, while on the website, look for their selection of gourmet peanut butter… Mmmmm… Happy cooking!

An Evening With Friends – In Singapore

April 6, 2018 10 comments

For years I had been following the Oz’s Travels blog, commenting from time to time on the great wine (and food) experiences described there. Over these years, we built a virtual friendship with Oz (Anthony), the author of that blog, with one recurrent theme “one day you will make it to Singapore, and then…”. As amazing as the life is, that “one day” actually happened about two months ago when my business travel finally brought me to Singapore.

Maybe you saw my very excited post about Gardens of Singapore – but the evening before I experienced all the gardens, I was able to meet, shake hands, and share a few (okay, more than a few) bottles with Oz and his friends.

Oz picked me up from the hotel with his friend Rob and we proceeded to the restaurant, where another Oz’s friend (also Rob), was already waiting for us. Then, there was food, wine, and scotch – but let’s take it all in steps.

First, the restaurant – newly open Garang Grill (a sequel to the already successful Garang Grill at another location). The restaurant allows guests to bring their own alcohol, which we took an advantage of – while restaurant provided glasses and decanters. During the course of our dinner, I  had an opportunity to experience a variety of creative dishes. Skewers of sauteed foie gras were melt-in-your-mouth delicious. Luncheon meat fries (yes! talk about creative!)  were superb with delicious dipping sauce. I since made the same dish at home and everyone loved it. Crab rillette, steak – everything was delicious and tasty. Here is an account of our dinner – in pictures.

And then there was wine. What I love about Oz’s parties is the abundance of wine, and not just any wine, but nicely aged wine – and you know how much I admire the wine with a little (or not so little) age on it. Here is what went down:

1996 André Beaufort Champagne Grand Cru Ambonnay. Never had it and never heard of André Beaufort Champagne before. Meanwhile, this happens to be one of the oldest all-organic grape growers in Champagne. This 1996 was disgorged in 2014. The wine had great acidity, green apples, still perfect fizz, candied apples with a hint of cinnamon showing on the nose. Yeast showed up later. Excellent. That was a real treat.

2008 Grosset Polish Hill Riesling Clare Valley. Australian Riesling is not a simple wine. I remember trying young Australian Rieslings many years ago, and putting them into the category of “I never want to drink this again”. It takes a bit of time to understand the beauty of the wine devoid of any sweetness and instead offering in-your-face acidity and minerality. But once you turn the corner, this becomes the style you crave. This particular wine at hand was, in many ways, an encounter with the legend. You see, Clare Valley is one of the best regions for Australian Riesling. Polish Hill is one of the very best vineyards. And Jeffrey Grosset is a legendary producer, one of the best winemakers in the world. Now you add a bit of age, say, 10 years – and you almost get heaven on Earth – petrol on the nose, restrained palate, minerality through the roof, great acidity, just a pure delight in every sip.

1994 Bodegas Beronia Rioja Reserva. Behind damaged label was an excellent wine – still fresh, good fruit, good acidity, excellent. Still has time to evolve. Based on the color also still young – just starts showing age.

2005 Jordan Cabernet Sauvignon Alexander Valley. This was my contribution to our lineup. Jordan needs no introduction to the Cabernet Sauvignon wine lovers. This wine was very good, typical California Cab. The wine had an interesting amount of sweetness, more than I expected – as it showed no age, I would assume it still needs more time to evolve. I have one more bottle from the same vintage – will have to wait with that one for a bit.

2008 Standish Wine Company El Standito Proyecto Garnacha Tintorera Yecla DO. This is a Spanish wine, of course – produced by Standish Wines from Australia. Yecla is the best known for their Monastrell wines – this wine, however, was made from the grape called Garnacha Tintorera, which is also known as Alicante Bouschet, which can produce massive, dense wines. This wine was no exception – excellent, restrained, good balance, good fruit, good acidity – and still in need 0f at least another 20 years to evolve.

2005 Dr. Loosen Erdner Prälat Riesling Auslese Mosel-Saar-Ruwer. You can’t finish such an evening without a dessert wine, can’t you? 13 years old Auslese by Dr. Losen – need I say more? The wine was amazing, great balance, a touch of candied plum, great acidity, fresh, simply superb.

This was the end of our dinner, but not the end of our evening. A short taxi ride took us to the unassuming building (well, it was dark, so maybe it is not as unassuming during the day) which happened to be a Rendezvous Hotel, one of the oldest in Singapore. After taking a flight of stairs up, we entered the room where my jaw literally hit the floor. The “room” was called The Auld Alliance – the scotch and whiskey bar (primarily) with more than 1,600 (!) different whiskeys available to taste and purchase. I never saw anything like that in my life, and the selection there was simply beyond words:

In addition to many whiskeys available by the glass, The Auld Association also offers a number of tasting flights – I had the one called “Smoke around the world” and it was definitely fun (I hope you don’t expect my tasting notes after 18 hours of non-stop travel and prior dinner with all the wines).

So this is my account of an amazing evening in Singapore. It was definitely a pleasure meeting Oz and his friends, and the whole evening was simply beyond expectations. Cheers!

Daily Glass: The Beauty of Aged Wine

March 30, 2018 3 comments

Many wine critics and professionals alike insist that majority of the wines should be drunk while young, and only a few, less than 5% of all the wines produced, can be successfully aged. Well, I can’t speak about the percentages here – I’m a wine consumer, not a wine statistician – but I do like the majority of my wines aged.

Why do people age the wines? There are many reasons. Collectors age wines because they might (and many definitely will, if you pick right) increase in price. Well, that is not the type of wine aging which is worth our attention here, so let’s leave it aside. Many people age wine because they have a special memory attached to those bottles – birth year, memory of the trip, given by a special friend, signed by the winemaker – the OTBN was invented specifically for those people (I’m one of “those people” too, never sure if the moment is already right, or if it can become “righter”). And then there are those who believe that the wine might will improve with age, and therefore, willing to put some bottles aside and wait for the right moment, which we often refer to as “wine at its peak”.

When we finally open that aged bottle of wine, we enjoy it more often than not. There are many reasons and many ways in which we enjoy that aged wine – some of those are purely related to the taste, which we expect to change for the better; some of those reasons are purely emotional. Drinking 50 your old wine at your 50th birthday is definitely a moving experience – the wine might not be perfect, but hey, it is as old you are, give it some respect! Drinking the wine brought from the trip to Italy 20 years ago is guaranteed to send you down the memory lane, letting you re-live those special moments and recreate its pleasure. The wine might not even taste that great (yeah, I knew I should’ve spent another $50), but who cares – those were the times! But the best of all is when, after the aging, we actually get to drink the wine which evolved and got to its peak.

Very often we praise the aged wine for how youthful it tastes (it is especially true of the wines under the screwtop, which pretty much don’t age at all while closed). Assuming the wine was tasty from the very beginning, this is great and deserves full respect, but this is not really what we want when we are tasting the aged wine. We are looking for the next level of taste, for the wine at its peak, for the wine which evolved. We want the wine to deliver a truly special tasting experience, we are looking for the whole bouquet instead of just individual aromas, we are looking for the interplay of complexity which young wine can rarely offer. We are looking for the wine which can possibly become a life-changing experience. We are looking for the wine which can be pondered at, which can stop the conversation and just let the wine lovers be.

A few days ago, a friend was coming over, and it was right before her birthday. Of course, when someone is coming to the house for a dinner, my worry is always to have the right wine for the occasion. So I asked my wife what year our friend was born, and when I heard “1986”, my immediate thought was – “hmmm, I think I have a bottle”. Memory served me right, and the desired bottle was retrieved.

So the bottle at hand was 1986 Chateau Cordeillan-Bages Pauillac AOC (12.5% ABV, $54.97). After inspecting the cork, I decided to try the regular corkscrew first, before getting out the two-prong opener. It actually worked fine, as you can see. Next was the sigh of relief after a quick sniff – no sign of any faults, and off the wine went into the decanter, both to avoid the sediment and to add to the aesthetics (the wine simply looks grander in the decanter, isn’t it?).

Once in the glass, the first sniff simply extorted the “OMG”. The complexity of the aromas was mind-boggling. Rutherford dust, smoke, roasted meat, cassis, minerality, baking spices, graphite, an incredible bouquet. The palate showed soft dark fruit, clean acidity, fresh, vibrant, graphite, well-integrated tannins, pencil shavings, all with the super-sexy, velvety texture. The 32 years old wine – incredible, and it was a conversation stopper. (Drinkability: 9+).

Trying to understand how and where I got this bottle, I figured that I have to thank PJWine, one of my favorite wine stores in New York, for that. The wine is produced at the Chateau Cordeillan-Bages, a tiny property of only 5 acres in Pauillac, planted with 80% of Cabernet Sauvignon and 20% of Merlot. The property is owned by the Cazes family of the Chateau Lynch-Bages fame (5th growth in the 1855 classification), and it also hosts a 2 Michelin star restaurant and a Relais & Chateaux hotel. The Chateau Coreillan-Bages wine is typically only offered at the restaurant, but the Cazes family decided to make a library release to the public, and PJWine buyers were at the right time in the right place – the rest was a history.

Here you are, my friends – a beautiful wine and a special experience. Do you have the aged wine stories of your own? Share them below. Cheers!