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Grenache! Grenache? Grenache!, Few Rare Grapes and a Recipe

January 27, 2015 20 comments

Grenache tastingWhat’s up with Grenache? One of the most planted grapes in the world, a star of Spain, and often a foundation of greatness in the wines of Australia, France, California and Washington. A grape with the range of expression from light, fruity and frivolous to the dark, firm, brooding and confident. Yep, Grenache is well worth an oenophile’s attention. And a special wine dinner.

The theme was set, and then the dinner’s day arrived. This time around, we were a small group (6 adults), so we decided to skip the usual formal blind tasting with the multiple glasses, and instead simply integrate the tasting (still blind) into the format of the dinner. Each couple brought a bottle of Grenache wine, wrapped in  paper bag. The wines were numbered at random and then poured one by one. All in all, quite simple.

But before we got to the Grenache, I wanted to share two special bottles. Don’t get all jumpy at the word “special” – it means different things for different people. Your idea of special bottle might be Chateau Latour, Penfolds Grange or Amarone from Quintarelly – well, if you want to share any of those with me, I’m available any day of the week. However, my idea of special is often limited to something simply unique and different, such as “rare grapes”, for instance – an opportunity to add to my grape count and reach the coveted Wine Century Pentavini (500 grapes).

Along these lines, the first “special” was the white wine from Spain, which was made mostly from Roussanne, but also contained the grape called Albillo2011 Navaherreros Blanco de Bernabeleva Vinos de Madrid DO (14.5% ABV, $14.99, 50% Roussanne, Albillo, Macabeo and other varieties) had beautiful golden color, inviting nose of white fruit, touch of vanilla. Full bodied, creamy, luscious on the palate, touch of earthiness and baking spices, touch of vanilla, good acidity. (Drinkability: 8). This was definitely a delicious way to start the evening.

The next wine was Rosé. It was not just some generic Rosé – it was actually made form the grape which is practically impossible to find, at least in US – and it was on my “target” list for the very, very long time. Just to explain – if you will look at the original Wine Century Club application, you will find 186 grapes listed there, so we can consider those 186 to be a mainstream. In that list, there are still 6 grapes which I never tasted. Well, let me take that back – now there are 5.

There is a good chance that you heard of or even tasted the wine called Picpoul de Pinet, a light, crisp white wine from Rhone made from the grape called Picpoul Blanc. Picpoul Blanc has a cousin, a red grape called Picpoul Noir, which is literally impossible to find. During one of my countless searches online, I found that Picpoul Noir Rosé was available in one (!) single store in US in San Francisco – and luckily, I had a friend there who was kind enough to get it for me. Here is what I thought of the Rosé made out of this super-rare grape: 2013 Julie Benau Pink Poul Rosé Vin de France (12.5% ABV, $17, 100% Picpoul Noir) – restrained nose with a hint of strawberries. The same restrained profile continues on the palate – limited fruit expression, medium to full body, good acidity, food friendly. (Drinkability: 7+)

Okay, now we can finally talk Grenache, which I mentioned 3 times in the title of this post, right? I think when it comes to the range of expression among 7-10 most widely known red grapes, Grenache offer the most versatility, competing may be only with Syrah. From over the top dark chocolate, tar and sweet cherries to the soft, earthy and even acidic, Grenache can showcase quite a range of winemaking styles and terroirs. Thinking more about our tasting, it served exactly as a confirmation to this statement.

The first Grenache we had was that exact over the top style – dark, concentrated, firm, loaded with sweet pleasure in every sip. The second Grenache couldn’t be more different than what we experienced – smoke, mushrooms, forest floor, earthiness, herbs – a restrained beauty which I would never even think of as Grenache – but it was. And the last bottle was all too shy and closed at the beginning, showing again differently from the first two – but as it opened up, it became a younger brother of the first wine – same traits, only dialed down. The 3 bottles we chose completely at random managed to demonstrate that tremendous Grenache range. When we removed brown bags, we learned that we traveled from Spain to Washington and then to France – a very interesting journey.

Here are a bit more formal notes for the the wines, in the tasting order:

2007 Vinyes Doménech Teixar Garnatxa Vella Montsant DO, Spain (14.5% ABV, $75) – Delicious! Dark chocolate on the nose, very intense, ripe red fruit. The same continues on the palate – firm texture, dark chocolate, touch of plums, earthiness, perfect balance and long finish. 8+/9-

2008 No Girls Grenache La Paciencia Vineyard Walla Walla Valley (14.2% ABV, $65) – very interesting. Both nose and the palate show a profile of concentrated Oregon Pinot Noir. Smokey fruit, earthiness, very concentrated, touch of coffee, licorice, raspberries, sage and lavender. Very unique. 8

2012 Domaine La Manarine Côtes du Rhône (14% ABV, $16) – closed nose, similarly closed palate. Opened up after a while, just enough to show some dark fruit (plums, cherries) and a touch of chocolate on the palate. 7+

Okay, enough about wines. Now, this was a dinner, and I promised you the recipe, remember? The dish I made, and the recipe I would like to share will perfectly pair with the cold weather, and it is one of the ultimate comfort dishes ever – braised short ribs. Starting from the ease of cooking and the simplicity of the recipe, and then admiring the goodness of the smell during the long, slow cooking – this is definitely one of the ways to properly spell the word comfort.

Braised short ribs

Doesn’t it say “comfort”?

Here is the recipe:

Braised Short Ribs

Prep time: about 1 hour. Cooking time: 4-5 hours

Yield: 10 servings of two ribs each

8-10 lb beef short ribs – I don’t go specifically by the weight – I generally like to cook considering 2 ribs per person

1 bottle of red wine – Pinot Noir or Beaujolais

5 medium yellow onions

8 sticks of celery

4 large carrots

BBQ/Grilling spices – I use Penzeys spices

4 tbsp Olive oil

Salt and pepper

Serve with: mashed potatoes, rice, pasta, etc.

First of all, decide on what spices you want to use. I generally combine different Penzeys spices, but really – feel free to use anything you have:

Penzey spices

Next, take the meat out of the fridge and line it up on the prepping board, then sprinkle with the spices on both sides, add salt and pepper as needed:

Let meat warm up to the room temperature. Preheat over to 325ºF. While the meat is warming up, you can start working on your “trifecta”. Dice the onions and start sauteing them in the skillet or dutch oven with 2 tbsp of olive oil on the medium heat. Dice carrots and celery. Once onions become soft and translucent and then start gaining color (usually takes about 20 minutes), add carrots and celery and sauté all together for another 10 minutes, then set aside.

roasted carrots, onions, celeryNow, put remaining olive oil into the dutch oven, and heat it up to the high heat. Start searing the short ribs, meaty side down first. You might have to work in the batches, as you want all of the ribs to be nicely seared on both sides:

Roasted short ribsOnce all the ribs are seared, combine them all in the dutch oven, then add the onions, carrots and celery:

short ribs are doneAdd a bottle of wine, cover, put it in the oven and forget it for the next 4-5 hours (you really don’t want to rush this process). When done, you probably will find something like this:

short ribs are doneAs you can imagine, hearty Grenache is a perfect pairing for such a hearty, homey dish – but of course this shouldn’t be your only choice.

Here we are, my friends. A few rare grapes, an amazing range of Grenache wines, and winter-storm-alleviating-ultimately-comforting dish. Stay warm and drink well. Cheers!

 

Of Ancient Vines and Rhone Varietals – #winechat with Cline Cellars

May 9, 2014 11 comments

ClineCellars CorksThink California wines, think California grapes – what is the first grape which comes to mind? I would guess that Cabernet Sauvignon would be the first. Zinfandel, Merlot, Pinot Noir and Chardonnay will trail near by (not in this exact order, of course). Are those the best grapes making the best California wines? Yes, before you beat me up, “best wine” is highly subjective, so let’s not drill on that. But – what else is there in California? Ever heard of Rhone Rangers? In the 1980s, a group of California winemakers made a significant effort to popularize Rhone varietals – Syrah, Grenache, Mourvèdre, Roussanne, Marsanne and many others. While this group of winemakers didn’t have any set structure,  they became collectively known as Rhone Rangers. As the result of the work of this group, Syrah and Grenache became prominent players on the California wine landscape, with the other traditional Rhone varietals taking more on the supporting roles.

Fred Cline, the founder of the Cline Cellars winery in Contra Costa County, was one of the original Rhone Rangers. While Cline Cellars is most famous for their Zinfandel wines (7 different bottlings are produced), it also makes a number of wines from the traditional Rhone varietals. On Wednesday, April 30th, the worldly virtual tasting room, called #winechat, opened its doors to all the wine lovers, coming in to experience and to talk about the Cline Cellars Rhone-style wines. While Cline Cellars winery was officially founded in 1982, the family owned the vineyards since 1800s. After founding the winery, Fred Cline spent a lot of time and efforts to preserve and where necessary, to restore the ancient vines (some of the vines are 80 – 120 years old), hence the name “Ancient Vines” which you can see on the labels of many Cline Cellars wines. Today, Cline Cellars uses sustainable farming methods and it is Green String Certified winery. Wonder what it means? As explained by the @ClineCellars during the #winechat: “Since 2000, Cline Cellars farms the Green String way: naturally & sustainably &avoid chemical pesticides, fungicides & fertilizers”

ClineCellars Wines

So, how were the wines, you ask? During the #winechat, we had an opportunity to try 3 different wines. We started with 2012 Cline Marsanne Roussanne Sonoma Coast (14.5% ABV, 66% Marsanne, 34% Roussanne). Every time I say “these are some of my favorite grapes/wines/etc.”, I feel a bit uneasy. The reason is simple – when it comes to the wines, I like them all. Every time I talk about the subject, I can come up with the new list of favorites, so using that “some of my favorites” moniker feels almost like lying, just a tiny bit. Oh well. So yes, Marsanne and Roussanne are some of my favorite white grapes – the wines from Marsanne and Roussanne, both are core Rhone white grape varietals, are quite rare, no matter where they come from, so every opportunity to taste such wines is always very exciting.

When it comes to Marsanne and Roussanne wines, the interesting thing is that those wines should be consumed at the room temperature. I tried chilling various Marsanne/Roussanne wines, and it never worked for me. This wines works the best at the 18°C – 20°C/64°F – 68°F. Here are the notes:

Color: Light golden
Nose: Minerality, white flowers, touch of honey, touch of white peach, white grape aroma as the wine opened up.
Palate: Touch of sweetness, caramelized sugar, minerality, very complex.
Verdict: This is one delicious wine, which you can enjoy on its own or with some chicken and mushrooms dish, for instance. Drinkability: 7+

Our next wine was 2013 Cline Mourvèdre Rosé Contra Costa County (13.5% ABV, ~100 years old vines), another traditional Rhone varietal. I tried to play with the temperature on this wine, but it really didn’t work – this wine should be only served well chilled.

Color: Intense pink
Nose: Fruit forward, with lots of ripe strawberries
Palate: Strawberries, cranberries, nice acidity (when well chilled!). Very classic and supple Rosé.
Verdict: Ahh, it pairs so well with the strawberries! Serve either as an Aperitif, or with the fresh light salad (like kale and strawberries), or with the fresh fruit after a meal. Very refreshing. Drinkability: 7+

Last, but not least was 2012 Cline Cool Climate Pinot Noir Sonoma Coast (14.5% ABV, aged for 9 month in oak) – yes, not a Rhone varietal, but a California classic, coming from the classic area as well. The climate conditions of Sonoma Coast, with the fog settling down and cooling off the grapes every evening, allow grapes to ripen slowly and to build up a structure and nice acidic core. This wine was very much on par with the good California Pinot Noir expectations:

Color: Dark garnet
Nose: Smoke, minerals, touch of cherries, mushrooms, forest floor, roasted notes
Palate: Minerality, plums, nice acidity, well balanced.
Verdict: Very versatile wine. Perfectly enjoyable on its own, also paired well with wide variety of foods – fresh strawberries (!), roasted chicken, and believe it or not, but bacon cheddar (cheddar cheese with pieces of bacon) was the best pairing! Drinkability: 7+

As an added bonus, this wine even comes with the recipe attached to the back label – very clever idea!

That concludes yet another #winechat report. What is left to say is Thank You. First of all, thank you to the @ClineCellars for providing the excellent wines and enduring the barrage of questions during the intense one hour conversation. And of course, thank you to the Protocol Wine Studio, spearheading the whole #winechat program. And for you, my dear readers? Thank you for reading and come on over! See you next Wednesday on Twitter in the #winechat room. Cheers!

Wednesday’s Meritage – Wine Quiz Answer, #MWWC4 Theme, Merlot is Back!, And a Few Videos

October 9, 2013 15 comments

Meritage time!

Let’s start from the answer to our weekly wine quiz #76, grape trivia – Roussanne. In the quiz, you were supposed to answer 5 questions about white grape called Roussanne.

Here are the questions, now with the answers:

Q1: Explain the source of the name Roussanne

A1: Name Roussanne most like comes from the word “roux”, which refers to the reddish color of the grapes.

Q2: Which one doesn’t belong and why:

a. Hermitage, b. Côte-Rôtie, c. Châteauneuf-du-Pape, d. St.-Joseph

A2: b. Côte-Rôtie. Roussanne is allowed to be blended into the red wines of the three other regions – but the white grape allowed to be used in Côte-Rôtie is Viognier.

Q3: Outside of Northern Rhône, the traditional bending partner of Roussanne is…

A3: Grenache Blanc is the most popular blending partner for Roussanne outside of Northern Rhône

Q4: Roussanne was re-introduced in California in the 1980s, only to be proven in the late 1990s to be not the Roussanne but another grape. Do you know what grape was that?

A4: Viognier. Randall Grahm, winemaker from Bonny Doon winery, brought [illegally] a number of cuttings of supposedly Roussanne from France at the beginning of 1980s. In 1998 it was found that the grape is actually Viognier, not the Roussanne.

Q5: One of the first California “Roussanne” wines from the 1980s had a specific name. Can you name that wine?

A5: The “Roussanne” wine was produced by Randall Grahm under the name of Le Sophiste.

Sadly, there was very little participation in this quiz – I have to acknowledge Julian at VinoInLove, who was a sole participant – thank you Julian! I guess I’m going to far into the vineyard with some of my latest quizzes… Well, one more white grape, and we are switching back to the red right after.

Now, to the interesting stuff around the vine and the web!

First of all, we have a new theme for the Monthly Wine Writing Challenge! Now in its 4th round, it is hosted by The Wine Kat, winner of the round #3. The theme of the #MWWC4 is… OOPS!, and I can tell you that oops is looming, as the submission deadline is already very close, it is only two weeks away – October 23rd. Get your writing pants… oops, may be glass? Writing hat? Well, whatever oops gets you moving, get it on and start writing. The theme announcement and all the important dates can be found here.

Just a quick question at the moment. What do you think of Merlot? Do you still have an image of Miles “I’m not drinking no #$%^ Merlot”, or does it trickle back to you table and Cellar? Well, I can tell you that about 100 Merlot producers from California want to make sure you will once again look at Merlot seriously. Tomorrow, October 10th, is actually the start of #MerlotMe, a month-long celebration of Merlot, taking place both with the live events and all over the social media. You can find more details about the festivities here – and don’t wait, grab your bottle already!

Continuing the theme of Merlot, I wanted to share with you this video, made by one of the Merlot pioneers, Gundlach Bundschu:

And for no other reason, but just for your enjoyment on this Wine Wednesday, here is the video which I wanted to share a while ago – a “Blurred Lines” parody, made by the enterprising folks at Jordan (in addition to making great wines, they also have one of the best social media outreach in the wine industry):

That’s all I have for you for today, folks. The glass is empty – but refill is on its way. Until the next time – cheers!

Weekly Wine Quiz #76: Grape Trivia – Roussanne

October 5, 2013 5 comments

wine quiz pictureWelcome to the weekend and your new wine quiz!

We are continuing our grape trivia series, still focusing on the white grapes, and today’s subject is the white grape called Roussanne.

Last week we talked about grape called Marsanne, and today’s quiz is about its close friend, Roussanne. Similar to Marsanne, Roussanne is also seemed to appear first in the Northern Rhône, and then from there it slowly got into the other wine regions. Today it is growing in different areas in France, in Australia, California, Washington, Texas ( up and coming to the greatness), Spain and … Italy. If you remember, Italy was the major winemaking country which didn’t make any Marsanne wines. Another interesting note about Roussanne is that it is actually allowed to be a part of the 18 grapes permitted in Châteauneuf-du-Pape wines.

Roussanne is a late ripening variety, and it is also susceptible to the various grape diseases, which makes it tricky to work with in the vineyard. However, Roussanne compensate from those vineyard difficulties with great flexibility in the hands of the winemaker, helping to create full bodied, long living wines which greatly improve with age. This is where Roussanne is often paired with Marsanne to create those spectacular ( and very expensive 😦 ) white wines of Northern Rhône.

And now, to the quiz!

Q1: Explain the source of the name Roussanne

Q2: Which one doesn’t belong and why:

a. Hermitage

b. Côte-Rôtie

c. Châteauneuf-du-Pape

d. St.-Joseph

Q3: Outside of Northern Rhône, the traditional bending partner of Roussanne is…

Q4: Roussanne was re-introduced in California in the 1980s, only to be proven in the late 1990s to be not the Roussanne but another grape. Do you know what grape was that?

Q5: One of the first California “Roussanne” wines from the 1980s had a specific name. Can you name that wine?

Good luck, enjoy the quiz and your weekend! Cheers!

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