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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!

 

Month in Wines – November 2014

December 4, 2014 Leave a comment

Here we are again – November 2014 is now a history, so it is the time to summarize the wine experiences. Here is a run down of the best wines November had to offer – most of the wines are rated 8- or higher – with the exceptions possible. Well, I have to add that this post is somewhat unique. In a typical month, this would be really a summary, often including the wines already covered in the prior posts. This time around, I will include wines which will be still covered in the upcoming posts, so the links will be actually coming afterwords (flexibility of blogging doesn’t cease to amaze).

And now, in no particular order:

2010 Michel Chapoutier Marius, France (12.5% ABV, blend of Terret and Vermentino) – bright, uplifting, touch of candied lemon, refreshing acidity, good balance. Very summery overall. 8-

2011 Navaherreros Blanco de Bernabeleva Vinos de Madrid DO (14.5% ABV, $14.99, 50% Roussanne, Albillo, Macabeo and other varieties) – delicious. Plump and round, full bodied for unlimited pleasure. Adding new grape ( Albillo) is a nice bonus. 8

2008 EURL Gilles Bonnefoy Roussanne de Madone Loire Valley, France (12% ABV, 100% Roussanne) – another delicious Roussanne. To be honest, Roussanne is probably one of my most favorite wines. Big body, bright fruit of white plums with the touch of apple, vanilla, spices – all in a round and balanced package. 8-

2012 Willis Hall Viognier Columbia Valley (13.7% ABV, $22.99) – in a word, spectacular. Bright and perfumy nose, as expected from Viognier, and perfectly balanced, round, delicious body of the white fruit – just enough of everything, a perfect harmony. One of the best white wines ever. Period. 9

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2009 Parallax Zinfandel Amador County, Sierra Foothills (15.1% ABV, $5.99 at Grocery Outlet) – dense and dark, with enough smoke and raspberries. 8-

2013 Trader Joe’s Zinfandel Grower’s Reserve Paso Robles (13.5% ABV, $4.99) – open and simple, nice bright fruit – fresh raspberries and blackberries. An outstanding QPR. 7+/8-

2004 Viña Mayor Reserva Ribera del Duero DO (13.5% ABV, ~$20) – dark and powerful. Espresso, cedar box, black fruit, firm structure, perfect balance. Still young. 8

2010 Le Tourmentin Valais AOC, Switzerland (13% ABV, blend of Pinot Noir, Cornalin, Humagne Rouge, Syrah) – Delicious. Unmistakably old world, a restrained and earthy profile, but perfectly “vinous vino” as a call it – you fell like you are in a beautiful, hundreds years old cellar, surrounded by profound goodness of the great wines which lived there. I would gladly drink this wine every day… 8+

2006 Bogle Vineyards Phantom, California (14.5% ABV, Old vine zinfandel, old vine Mourvedre) – QPR of Bogle wines is nothing less of stunning. This was concentrated, dark and powerful wine, with firm structure and youthful elegance. Coffee, dark chocolate and spices taking this wine to the next level. 8

2004 Carlisle Russian River Valley Zinfandel Carlisle Vineyard, California (15.9% ABV) – way too young. Smoke, raspberries, finesse, eucalyptus, menthol cigarettes – in a tight, firm body. 8

2012 Field Recordings Carignan Camp 4 Vineyard Santa Ynez Valley (14.1% ABV, 85% Carignan, 10% Syrah and 5% Cinsault) – fresh berries with a touch of cough syrup and some cranberries. 8-

2013 Field Recordings Cabernet Franc Hinterland vineyard Paso Robles (14.1% ABV, 88% Cabernet Franc, 8% Cabernet Sauvignon, 4% Merlot) – delicious fruit forward wine – layers of fruit, coming in waves – blueberries, blackberries, blueberries again – fresh, just picked, plump and delicious. A distant touch of sweet oak to put everything together. Not the typical Cabernet Franc, but delicious. 8

2007 Teixar Garnatxa Vella Montsant DO (14.5% ABV, $75) – a textbook Grenache deliciousness. Dark red fruit, plums, mocha, dark chocolate, all weaved on the firm, muscular body. 8+/9-

2008 No Girls Grenache La Paciencia Vineyard, Walla Walla Valley (14.2% ABV, $65) – unique and different, very different. Also very unexpected for Grenache. Terroir all the way. Smoke and earth, with a good dollop of fruit and some coffee. 8

2004 Willis Hall Merlot Columbia Valley (13.6% ABV, $27.99) – menthol, eucalyptus, blackberries, touch of cassis, earthy and restrained. 8

2006 Willis Hall Vicki’s Choice v2.0 (13.5% ABV, $19.99, 50% Syrah, 35% Zinfandel, 15% Cabernet Franc) – probably caught at its peak, may be just the very beginning of the journey downhill. Mature fruit, over-ripe plums, still good acidity, nice coffee notes and a touch of spice. 8-

What were your most memorable experiences of the last month? 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!

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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