Archive for the ‘Food and wine pairing’ Category

Hot and Cold: Destinos Cruzados White Wine

whiteEver heard of Macabeo?

I hadn’t. I didn’t know if it was a grape or a town in Portugal. Turns out it’s a grape, all right, and one I’ve enjoyed many times — I just didn’t know I was drinking it.

Macabeo is one of three grape varieties blended to produce Cava, Spain’s sparkling wine. Just to confuse you even more, the grape is also called Viura in the Rioja region. The other two Cava varieties (just in case you want some obscure facts for your next trivia contest) are Parellada and Xarel-lo (no, I don’t know how to pronounce that).

I’m very fond of Cava. It’s a clean, crisp Brut style sparkling wine, and it’s a HUGE bargain compared to French and even most American sparklers. I always recommend a brand called Cristalino, and at only $10 a bottle, it’ll really stretch your wine budget. Cava makes a great aperitif wine: try serving it at your next dinner party with an appetizer of Smoked Salmon and Creme Fraiche or Boursin on a crostini. I guarantee it’ll be killer.

So back to my misterioso Macabeo. You may know that grapes used for sparkling wine production are usually high in acid, and often pretty tart on their own. But that’s what I wanted, because:

It’s mid-August, the Dog Days of Summer, and it’s 90 degrees with 90 percent humidity!

Who wants soft and fruity wine? We all craved something crisp, tart, thirst-quenching and icy cold. So I ordered this wine, untried and untested, for an in-store tasting. Destinos Cruzados 2010 was a big hit. It was just what the doctor ordered…

The color is a pale lemon yellow, suggesting the light body I expected. Sure enough — it was light and clean on the palate, with tangy citrus and green apple notes. There’s no sweetness at all, and the acid isn’t over the top (I don’t like to have my mouth turned inside out like some too-acidic whites can do). The finish is crisp, pure, and yes, thirst-quenching. This wine is simple, and sometimes simple is what works.

Destinos wines are made in the La Mancha region in southeast Spain, which I’ve written about it before in my review of Finca Sandoval Salia. The Destino line (there’s a red blend made from Tempranillo and Syrah) are priced to fly off the shelf. For under $10, I’d buy enough to fill up my picnic basket. Cheers!




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A Vanishing Breed: Guy Allion Malbec Le Poira 2009

Raise your hand if you’ve heard of  Malbec.

Now raise the other hand if you think it’s a wine from Argentina.

If you’ve got both hands in the air, you look like a lunatic and you’re only half right.

While Argentine Malbec is taking up more and more space on wine store shelves, the grape actually originated in France, where it was one of the six blending grapes used to create Bordeaux. In 1956 a killer frost took 75% of the Malbec crop in France, and while a small region called Cahors replanted, Bordeaux did not. Nowadays, you’ll find a little Malbec in Cahors, and even less in Touraine, a district in the Loire in northern France.

I found a bottle called Guy Allion Touraine Malbec Le Poira 2009, and I was too intrigued to ignore it. French Malbec is, after all, a vanishing breed, and the researcher in me was keen to see how the flavor profile of this Old World wine would compare to Mendoza’s New World Malbec.

My research showed me, first of all, that Malbec is a thin-skinned grape that ripens even more slowly than Merlot or Cabernet Sauvignon. Holy Cow! How could it thrive in the cool climate of northern France? Just imagine how happy the grape could be in the foothills of the Andes mountains, where higher elevations produce tons of radiant heat, warm sunny days and cool nights to develop structure.. Read the rest of this entry »

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Mollydooker Knocks It Out of the Park (Again)

feetGetting to know Mollydooker wines is like getting to know the hottest guy in town — it ain’t easy. He’s a lot more popular than you are, so he can be choosy, and make you wait.

I’ve been trying to get to know Mollydooker wines, but they’re maddeningly hard to get (because they sell out). I can’t find them at all in my home state — I had to have a single bottle delivered like a CARE package from the state next door. It was The Boxer, and it was great, and I wrote a story about it that you can read here.

So I just about jumped out of my skin when I saw not one, but two bottles of Molly Dooker Two Left Feet 2008 sitting on a retailer’s shelf. They went home with me, needless to say, and I treated them to a Rib dinner.sarah sparky

Before I talk about the wine, let me fill you in on the winery. ”Mollydooker” is another one of those wacky  Aussie words, and it means “left-handed,” which describes Sarah and Sparky Marquis. This young couple are Australian wine royalty, having won everything from Australian Winemakers of the Year (several times) to  five, count’em, five 99 point ratings from  The Wine Advocate. They started out partnering with grape growers to create exceptional fruit, from which they made exceptional wines. Some of their early brands include Marquis Philips and Henry’s Drive, both of which win the ratings sweepstakes on a regular basis.

The key to their exceptional wines is the vineyard, with a trademarked process they call the “Marquis Vineyard Watering Programme.” Vineyard canopy management and irrigation are meticulously controlled throughout the season, particularly as they near harvest. Here’s why: As grapes near maturity, their sugar levels shoot up very quickly. That may seem like a good thing, but there’s a catch: to reach their full flavor potential, grapes must also be physiologically ripe. The ripening of the polyphenols and other compounds that produce complex flavors lag behind the sugars, so here’s what they do:

“the Mollydooker team applies water to control the sugar level until the flavor level catches up. Leigh, Sparky’s Dad and Vineyard Programme Manager, tells us, “It’s the range and intensity of the flavor which translates into Marquis Fruit Weight™, and ultimately into the incredibly rich, velvety wines that have become Sarah and Sparky’s trademark.”

Now isn’t that cool? Read the rest of this entry »

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The Ghost of Martin Ray

martinCourtney Benham tripped over some dusty boxes, and the ghost of an old winemaker slipped out.

It happened one day about 20 years ago, in a dusty warehouse in San Jose. The winemaker was Martin Ray, long since gone but once known as “the father of California fine wine.” He’d left behind some 1500 cases of library wines, some dating back 40 years, and boxes of press clippings, winery brochures, and price lists.

Courtney, who had grown up working in his father’s winery in the Sacramento Delta,  couldn’t let the past disappear all over again. He set out to reinvent Martin Ray Winery, and started by tasting and analyzing the Cabernet Sauvignon, Chardonnay and Pinot Noir he’d unearthed.

Courtney discovered that the keys to the Martin Ray style were two things — hillside or mountain-grown fruit, and “intuitive winemaking”, or knowing when to intervene and when to let the wine alone to create itself.

Judging from the two wines I tripped over, Martin’s ghost is surely resting easy in his grave. First I tasted Martin Ray Napa Valley Merlot 2009, and I said, “Holy Cow!” (or something like that). This is a big, balls-y, lush, seductive Merlot, and I’m guessing the mountain fruit has a lot to do with that. Read the rest of this entry »

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Intensity Without Heaviness: Siduri Strikes Again

siduriI’ve said plenty of nice things about Siduri Pinot Noir, because they just always seem to be knock-down good.  So when I wanted a Pinot for a wine and food pairing dinner, I took a flyer on a Siduri I’d never tasted and that was so new it had (gasp!) no ratings!

Did I dare serve a wine that hadn’t been blessed by one of the Godfathers of the wine biz? This would be crazy behavior for all those review freaks who drink and buy according to someone else’s opinion, but I know Siduri, and Siduri knows Pinot Noir, so I knew I’d made a safe bet.

So lets’s get down to the wine. I chose Siduri Sonoma County Pinot Noir 2009, which was so new that it hadn’t even made it to Siduri’s own website. I checked out the tech notes on the previous vintage (which was, of course, long since sold out), and learned that Siduri’s Sonoma County is usually a blend of  fruit from several vineyards from Sonoma Mountain and the Sonoma Coast AVA. I’ll discover the blend eventually, but the proof, as they say, is in the pudding, and we sure loved our pudding…

The wine I poured showed very youthful, vibrant color and the nose jumped right out of the glass and into my nasal receptors.The intensity of the fruit was clearly obvious, with rich dark cherry, spice and a hint of smoke. The palate didn’t disappoint — sweet berries hit me right up front, followed by hints of cola, tobacco, and more rich berries. The whole thing was wrapped up in a velvet package, with a mouthfeel that was so voluptuous it was almost sinful (almost…).

Here’s the best part: it was intense without being heavy. It never slipped over the line into that, “Is this a Pinot or Petite Sirah” territory. I think this is an indication of masterful winemaking, and that’s why Adam and Dianna Lee, Siduri’s owners/winemakers, been so well awarded over the years.

Clearly, I was knocked out (again) by a Siduri Pinot. I want to taste it again, though, and see what a few months of bottle aging does to it. Hey, I see another wine and food pairing dinner coming on…. Stay tuned!

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The Wine Lady: Great Wine With Take-out Food

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Like a Girl in a Pretty Pink Dress: Fotinos Brothers Pinot Noir

There’s nothing new about the Fotinos family and their Pinot Noir. Their Carneros vineyards have been in the family for more than 40 years, and their Pinot Noir has been going into bottle almost as long. But it wasn’t always their bottle: for 33 years they private labelled their wine and sourced grapes to a slew of name-brand wineries. In 2006, the sons of the original Fotino created the inaugural vintage of Fotinos Brothers Pinot Noir.

I was sent a bottle of the 2007 Fotinos Brothers Pinot Noir Los Carneros OSRII Block for review, and noted the impressive packaging right off the bat: 24 carat gold embossing screams, “Hello, I’m expensive.” But it could be just another pretty face, right?

The wine poured out a soft rose color, and was almost translucent (I could read my notes through it). The color suggested very light body, but of course, the proof is in the smelling and tasting.

The nose was stand-offish at first. I had to really work to get some delicate Bing cherry, and it was at that point that I realized this thing was gonna play hard to get.

I poured a good slug more to get some volume going in the glass, gave it a hearty swirl, and then turned my back on it — “OK, be that way,” I said.

And eventually, this wine opened. I had to be patient and wait for its richness to develop, but eventually it showed me this:

A delicate, velvety, almost sweet palate of cherries and rhubarb that was as soft as dandelion fluff in my mouth. The more it sat, the more intense it became, until I was picking up hints of caramel (from the French oak, I assume) and rich strawberry. There wasn’t a lot of complexity on the finish, but who needs it when there’s this kind of fruit? Read the rest of this entry »

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In Case You Needed Another Excuse to Drink Wine…

old peopleHere we have it — more irrefutable proof that drinking wine is good, and drinking red wine is really good.

Here’s how it’s been scientifically proven (again)…

A researcher named Dan Buettner studied cultures all over the world in order to write a book called, “Thrive: Finding Happiness the Blue Zone Way.” I have no idea what the Blue Zone is, but I heard him interviewed on The Splendid Table, a show I listen to on National Public Radio (also known as My Sole Source Of Information About The World). As it happens, though, I almost never hear a whole show on NPR, because I’m listening to it in my car, and when I get to where I’m going I step out of the car and miss the end — unless I have a “driveway moment,” and sit in my car looking like a dummy or a stalker until the show finishes.

So Dan was talking about one of the cultures he researched for his book. These folks live on an island something like 30 miles off the coast of Turkey. What makes them unique is that they’re incredibly long-lived;  they’re hale, hearty, happy and healthy at 90 or 100 years old. One of the dietary tricks to which he attributes this is a tea they drink every night that keeps their blood pressure low. OK, that’s great, but I personally wouldn’t stretch the boundaries of time and medicine just for a cup of tea. But the other dietary habit they follow is…

- eating a Mediterranean diet combined with red wine.

That’s not news, you say. We’ve heard the whole “Mediterranean diet” thing before. But here’s the twist: Dan’s research showed that the combination of the two is what’s magical. The benefits aren’t maximized if you slam a glass of wine after work, or sip it as a late-night, TV-watching beverage. You hit the health and wellness jackpot when you drink red wine with a meal rich in whole grains, legumes (that’s beans), lean protein, olive oil, nuts and fresh veg. When these goodies and red wine combine in your digestive track, they create their own antioxidants! That’s in addition to the antioxidants already present in the wine! As Buettner put it, “This is one case where 1 + 1 equals 3.”

Wow, I  feel myself getting younger already. I’m gonna head to the market and load up on the freshest stuff I can find, break out the garlic and olive oil (well, I always do that anyways), and pop open a bottle of red wine.

Oh wait, I always do that, too. Oh well, guess that means I’m gonna live to be 100, which is OK, as long as I can still drink wine in my nursing home. Cheers!


Find the book on  Thrive: Finding Happiness the Blue Zones Way

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The Worst Wine and Food Pairing Ever! Vila Regia Douro 2008

I didn’t do this on purpose.

I planned my meal first, something I really like that I don’t often cook because my spouse isn’t all that wild about it. And then when I was halfway through cooking my dinner, I thought, “Oh my God, what wine am I gonna drink with this?”

Now, even though I’m in the wine business, I don’t have an inexhaustible supply of great wine lying around my house. Tonight was a case in point — I had a few sample bottles to choose from, and I had no idea what they tasted like.

So I held my nose and jumped off the high diving board, and here’s what happened…

The entree I was so keen to prepare was a Thai Chicken dish. If you want to hurt me, you’ll remind me that I always say you should match your wine to the dominant flavor in your dish, and in the case of this Thai dish, the dominant flavor is the coconut milk, lime and cilantro that make up the sauce. There’s a wonderful interplay of sweet, tart and aromatic that is luscious and exotic, but I didn’t know how it would pair with my available wines.

I looked at the two wines I had on hand. One was a Chilean Reserve Cabernet Sauvignon, which I figured had to be earthy and tannic and a truly awful match with the coconut milk. The other was a red table wine from Portugal, which I’d requested from my distributor because I’d heard that Portugal is now doing some good red table wines. It seemed like a better bet than the Cab, so I popped the cork. Read the rest of this entry »

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Wine Doesn’t Have To Make You Fat!

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