Every bottle has a story

I am not a wine expert, but with each bottle I try and share with friends, I learn more. Wine is an exceptional social drink; it is the marijuana of alcoholic beverages because it must be shared. I seek to share with you my thoughts and experiences as I drink the wine in my closet, as well as my enthusiasm for the finds that come my way and the excellent values that I find. I'd love to hear your thoughts and experiences too, so please share!

Sunday, May 16, 2010

Dionysius smiled

During a recent excursion to Binny’s in Schaumburg, Ill., I was delighted to find so many high quality wines priced relatively inexpensively. By that I mean when you can find a 2005 red Burgundy for just $30, that’s a good deal. There was also a Puligny-Montrachet by the same producer, Joseph Drouhin. I showed this 2007 vintage to the fellow at the wine desk and asked if he was familiar; he admitted he was not, but said the producer had a solid record. I thought, what the heck, I’ll take it. I showed him the 2005 red Burgundy I found for $30 and commented that was a very nice price, to which he replied that with the 2005 vintage, you just about can’t go wrong with any of the red Burgundies.

I took a look at some other wines and was about to leave when the same guy asked me, “Did you take a look at this one? It normally sells for $100, but it’s the last bottle.” Frowning, I looked at the mark down. My eyes lit up! It was marked down to $30! “We were holding some of these for a guy, but he never came by to pick them up, so we put them out.”

I grabbed the bottle thinking that any white Burgundy that normally retails for $100 is an absolute bargain at $30. But what did I have?

In the car I called my friend Curt to brag about my find. But when I tried to tell him what wine it was, reading from the receipt, I was a bit flummoxed. “It’s Beaune Mouche something or other, but fercryingoutloud! It normally retails for $100 and I got it for $30!” We immediately made plans to have dinner the following night and drink this bit of luck.

Of course, you all know what the wine is based on the label scan I have with this post. But I didn’t know a thing about this wine until I got home and did a bit of research. And was I ever pleasantly surprised.

This 2006 Clos des Mouches from Joseph Drouhin is from the Beaune appellation within the Cote-D’Or region of Burgundy. It’s name is quite interesting. Literally, Clos des Mouches translates as “closed flies.” There are a half-dozen little flies on the label, but this translation probably isn’t accurate. Does it mean the vineyard is closed to flies? Or have the flies closed the vineyard? If someone can help with a better translation of this whimsical name for this wine, please do!

What I read about this wine indicated that when released, it was considered wound up a bit tight, that it would need some aging and probably wouldn’t be ready until at least 2010. From then it should be good until 2016. By virtually all measures, it was considered a 90-point wine. I was excited! So Curt and I planned our menu.

We settled on salmon filets that would be simply prepared by frying in a bit of olive oil. As sides, I sautéed in butter red, yellow and orange bell peppers with sliced zucchini, seasoned with one of those store-bought herb mixtures (sans salt). I also steamed some fresh asparagus, and we split a potato. A simple meal, but it was a perfect match with the wine.

My first sip nearly sent me into a state of euphoria; a crisp taste of honey and hazelnut with a lemon back that wrapped around your tongue with a bracing smoothness and just the barest hint of oak, coming through more like vanilla. And the finish rich and succulent, dry and fresh. There were subtle herbs, perhaps even a hint of melon. The color was beautiful like honey. The mineral quality gave it a clear, clean taste, and with the salmon and the sautéed vegetables, this wine was a match like no other.

Why can’t New World producers create Chardonnay like this? If some do, I haven’t found them.

This is another example of why you should speak to the folks at your favorite wine store, as there is no telling what extraordinary find they will direct you to.

Wine Spectator scores this wine with a 90. But I am giving this wine a 10 on my scale, the first wine of this blog to be rated this high. What a find! I feel blessed to have enjoyed this wine with a wonderful meal and a true friend!

Sunday, May 9, 2010

Two delicious Kiwi finds

I had mentioned in an earlier post a New Zealand Sauvignon Blanc I had tasted many years ago that had the distinct flavor of bell pepper. It was astonishing when I first experienced it. That was more than 10 years ago, and since then I have not encountered a similar wine. The lush grassiness of the Kiwi wines? Yes, I had drunk and enjoyed many of those. But by and large, the strong herbal Sauvignon Blancs, the ones that taste like a fresh bell pepper, were absent. And the normal experience was with far too many wines in which grapefruit was the dominant flavor.

Well, hello baby! Bell pepper is back big time with these two New Zealand bottlings. And both these intriguing wines can be had for less than $10 per bottle.

The first is from Yealands, a 2009 Marlborough that I randomly grabbed from the shelf at the Binney’s in Skokie. I could smell the herbs and bell pepper right away and I was instantly excited. The bell pepper was prominent on the taste as well, very forward but not over expressive. It had a lively citrus zing as well of lime, and a mineral quality that gave it structure. The finish was juicy and refreshing. It was an easy drinker on its own, but it went very well with some simple baked chicken and frozen vegetables. I’m thinking this one is definitely on my short list for my annual summer purchase.

But then a few days later, I opened another Marlborough Sauvignon Blanc, this time a 2008 by Starborough. This, too, had a delightful herbal nose, with the bell pepper on the taste much subtler than with the Yealands, but still the dominant flavor. There was a zest of white pepper as well, just a hint to give this wine some very interesting character. And oh my, the juicy citrus back end and finish left the palate totally refreshed! This was definitely a wine that could be drunk on its own! But again, it paired well with simple foods. One night I had it with penne pasta in an Alfredo and basil pesto sauce served with a chicken breast that had been marinated with Chinese marinade. And right now as I write this, I am finding it goes really well with comfort food, like the homemade chicken noodle soup I am enjoying. The herbs in the soup tend to subdue the herbal nature of the wine, but it’s still there. Coming forward now is the fresh lime with just a hint of grapefruit – just enough to remind you that you are drinking a Sauvignon Blanc.

Also during this recent round I tasted an un-oaked Chardonnay from the Australian producer The Wishing Tree. This 2008 vintage, also for less than $10, is a decent find. The Wishing Tree is a solid and consistent producer, and this wine will be favorably received by anyone you may serve it to. It’s definitely a safe wine to bring with you to a gathering with friends, a picnic in the park or at an outdoor concert. I must say, however, there is nothing particularly noteworthy about this wine. It is good, presenting apple and pear with a little citrus appeal thrown in. But it’s not on my list for my summer case. Despite that, if you’ve been looking for an un-oaked Chardonnay, definitely give this one a try. Remember, everyone’s tastes are different.

The Yealands I will give a solid 8, while the Starborough gets a definite 8.5. The Wishing Tree un-oaked Chardonnay, while good, I will score with a 6.5.

Saturday, May 8, 2010

Exploring Italian reds

Not every wine I write about here will come from my closet. On occasion I will share with you an experience with a wine from a restaurant menu because often this is an excellent way to discover new wines and new varietals – that is, if you can be a bit adventuresome. It’s very easy, when dining out, to look for something familiar on the wine list, whether it’s a producer or a particular wine. But if you can allow yourself to try something different, the experience can be delightful. And it helps if you have a server or a sommelier that is knowledgeable to guide you. For that to be successful, you also need to relay some information to your “guide”, such as what wines you like and what are you thinking about in terms of matching a wine with your food.

My friend Curt and I, along with Curt’s friend, Shuji, who was visiting from Japan, went to dinner last night at one of our favorite restaurants in Chicago, anteprima, which is located on North Clark Street in Andersonville. This restaurant has a wonderful wine list that is entirely composed of Italian reds and whites; however, my familiarity with Italian wines is quite limited. With reds, I know the regions Chianti, Brunello, and Barolo, and the grape Sangiovese. And that’s pretty much it. With Italian whites, I am even more limited, with Pinot Grigio being just about the only varietal I can think of. The wine list had these, as well as some familiar varietals by Italian wineries like Chardonnay and Sauvignon Blanc, but even these offered me little comfort because I didn’t know any of the particular wines.

I listened to what Curt and Shuji were planning to order and considered my choice as well. The wild striped bass special caught my eye, and Curt was going to order the pan-seared soft-shell grab, which got me thinking that perhaps a white wine would be nice, but then Shuji indicated he was going to order the grilled ahi tuna. So now I’m thinking a light-bodied red, something like a Pinot Noir. There was a Pinot Noir on the list. We also agreed to split a pasta dish as part of our starters, and the one recommended was the spaghetti cacio e pepe, with toasted pepper, garlic, baby arugula, and pecorino cheese. Oh my, what to do? The only sensible thing to do was to ask our server.

She recommended a Teroldego Rotaliano, about which I knew nothing; but her description of it being somewhat light bodied like a Pinot Noir that wasn’t going to be too heavy-handed and should match well with all our dishes sounded like good advice. However, I can’t take the first suggestion without making sure it’s the right one. So I asked her about the Valpolicella selections on the menu. She expected them to likely be a good match as well, with the Valpolicella having a spicy beam to it. That sounded interesting, but the notion of a wine with a spicy note going with the spicy pasta we were ordering sounded like a clash of flavors. So I ordered the Teroldego.

The wine is a 2006 Teroldego Rotaliano by Foradori. This grape comes from northern Italy and is almost exclusively grown in the Campo Rotaliano in the Adige Valley north of Trento, Italy. Its sole appellation of origin is Teroldigo Rotaliano D.O.C. The grape is genetically related to Syrah, as well as the Marzemino and Lagrein varieties. The grape is cultivated to produce fruity wines low in tannin that are intended to be drunk while young. General retail price appears to be from about $21 to $28. Of course, I didn’t know any of this when I ordered the wine.

When it arrived at the table, it had a delightfully fresh nose to it of light fruit. The color was quite dark, a deep ruby. And the taste was bright, minerally with very subtle tannin that I expected would soften up even more. It held up well with the pasta, cutting through the pecorino. And with the entrees, it was a very good match. With my wild striped bass, served with roast wild mushrooms and baby spinach, the wine’s tannin was very subdued and a hint of cherry came through that went well with the fish. I detected something that I thought was perhaps cinnamon as well, but I can’t be sure.

With Curt’s pan-seared soft-shell crab – served with spring onions, sundried pesto and preserved lemon – the tannins completely disappeared, letting the mineral and fruit flow smoothly about the palate with a luscious finish (the nice thing about dining with friends is getting to taste everyone else’s dish!). The tannins were firmer with Shuji’s grilled pepper-crusted ahi tuna, which was served with baby spinach and sweet and sour onions, but still paired very well with the deliciously tender tuna.

This wine turned out to be another example of why you shouldn’t be afraid to try something new when dining out. And, of course, it always helps when you have knowledgeable personnel at the restaurant to help guide you.

I rate this wine with an 8.5. Take a look at my wine rating scale at the left.

Saturday, May 1, 2010

A bottle of pure POW!

Last weekend I had an urge to pull out a bottle from my closet and enjoy it with someone. There was a tenderloin left over in my fridge that needed eating, a perfect excuse to bring out a big, bold red. So I invited my friend Curt over, who also brought along his own beef tenderloin, some fresh green beans and some slaw. I baked an acorn squash, seasoned it with butter, nutmeg and brown sugar.

The selected wine was from the Australian producer Mollydooker, the 2007 bottling of The Maitre D, a moderately priced Cabernet Sauvignon from the McLaren Vale. I had heard a lot about the various Mollydooker wines, all of it praiseworthy. But many of these wines are very expensive. The Maitre D, however, I saw for $23, so I picked up a bottle and put it in my closet. That was last year.

Interestingly, this wine is not corked. It has a screw cap. And as more and more research evidence comes out, it is becoming increasingly clear that screw caps are superior to cork. The most recent Wine Spectator has an item that shows evidence that wines with screw caps are protected from oxidation much more effectively than bottles with corks. And you don’t have to worry about tainted corks either.

When we opened this wine, it presented the typical Aussie nose full of jammy fruit. When Curt took his first sip, he immediately said, “Wow!” Indeed, this wine had power. There was big, bold fruit, a chewy punch of blackberry backed with soft tannins. As the wine aired out a bit, the fruit took a softer position, allowing flavors of vanilla and chocolate to come through. Later still, it became toasty. But all the way through the bottle, blackberry played the starring role. Clearly, I think this wine could have managed more time in my closet, even with its less-than-ideal conditions. It went very well with our delicious and tender beef tenderloins, and despite the softer tannins, it matched well also with the acorn squash and all its flavors.

I will certainly consider buying more of the Mollydooker wines I find in the moderate price range, but when it comes to the more expensive items, I’ll stick to my French Rhones.

I’ll rate this one an 8.5. See my wine rating scale at the left.