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, January 16, 2011

Clos de L’Oratoire des Papes

Man, do I wish I had more of these. A subtle spiciness, yet light, with a true taste of rocky soil, mineral and cold rivers. Fruit was very subtle, currant surrounded with hints of cinnamon, cardamom even. It’s a blend of 80 percent Grenache, 10 percent Syrah, 5 percent Mourvedre and 5 percent Cinsault.

It was served with a roast leg of lamb, white beans and plum tomatoes. Acorn squash seasoned with cinnamon and nutmeg. It was a new method of preparing the lamb I was trying. Found the recipe in the Women’s Day Famous French Cookery. The beans are mixed with the plum tomatoes, as well as caramelized onions; a bit of seasoned salt and Rosemary is added. The leg is placed on top of the beans in a roasting pan then slow roasted until medium rare.

From the back label of the wine: “L’Oratoire means ‘Oratory,’ a place of prayer. This simple stone structure in a corner of the vineyard is dedicated to Saint-Marc, patron saint of grape growers and of Châteauneuf-du-Pape.”

I think this was another 10. It was really, really delightful.

A classic apéritif from Provence

I’ve been reading “The Magic of Provence: Pleasures of Southern France,” by Yvone Lenard, a wonderful book about the author’s experiences in Provence after she and her husband bought a vacation home there. And one of the very cool things about this book is that each chapter ends with a recipe. One of the recipes that caught my eye right away was for kir.

While there are many variations on the kir, the classic kir is made with a Chardonnay wine, usually a Chablis, that is poured over a small amount of Crème de Cassis. There is also the Kir Royale in which Champagne is substituted for the Chablis. You can use a New World Chardonnay as well, as long as you find one that hasn’t been in oak or has that annoying creaminess that too many American Chardonnays have.

Friends Nate and Steve came over for dinner and I asked them to bring such a Chardonnay with them for making classic kir. None of us had ever tasted this before, so we weren’t sure what to expect. I supplied the Crème de Cassis, but I had a bit of a dilemma when it came to what food to serve with the kir. Crème de Cassis is a sweet, dark liqueur made from blackcurrant. Given that, I was anticipating the sweet fruit of the cassis along with the freshness of an un-oaked Chardonnay with some minerality. I asked someone at Whole Foods, but they were just as flummoxed as I. For cheese, I settled on some drunken goat cheese, as its smooth and creamy texture ought to work well with the kir. And I also picked up some smoked salmon.

For a proper kir, you want both ingredients very cold. Pour a small amount – about a tablespoon – of the Crème de Cassis into the bottom of your wine glass. Then pour in the wine. Nate and Steve brought a 2009 Santa Barbara Chardonnay that worked excellently. The Four Vines Naked Chardonnay is aged in steel rather than oak, so it had the crispness and acidity desired. When you pour it into the cassis, you get a rosé-colored liquid that is rich and enticing. And tasting? It was delicious! Definitely a new drink to enjoy with friends. You could taste the blackcurrant, but the Chardonnay lightened it up so it wasn’t too sweet at all.

And it was fabulous with the smoked salmon. The drunken goat cheese was delicious with it as well. So I highly recommend serving kir as your next apéritif with friends.

A great deal from the Rhône

This will sound absolutely crazy to you, but it’s true: A 90-point Châteauneuf-du-Pape for less than $20! And it’s cellar-worthy for about another 7 years, which ought to do it some good.

It’s the 2006 vintage from Domaine La Roquète, and you can find it for just under $20 at World Market as long as you’re a member there (it’s free). I’ve been accumulating this one like you steadily buy a good stock. But after tasting one, I’m saving the rest for a while.

This one has the fine minerality of any good Châteauneuf-du-Pape, but it’s still a bit wound tight. I think with some modest cellar time this one will be fantastic. Wine Spectator describes it as, “Silky and fresh, with shiso leaf, raspberry and spice bread hints backed by a supple, fine-grained finish.” I get the silkiness and the raspberry, as well as the spice, but as I said, it was a bit tight.

Interestingly, and surprisingly perhaps, the bottle I opened had sediment on its side. So this one will benefit already from decanting.

I’m going to give it an 8.5 using my scale at the left. However, in a year, I fully expect this to be a 9 or 9.5.

A Rhône white worth trying

I still had the empty bottle sitting on a bookshelf, so I thought I’d write a small bit about a white wine from the Rhône, a Châteauneuf-du-Pape white no less.

Astounded you are? You thought that Châteauneuf-du-Pape only made reds? True, the region is dominated by red varietals and production, but a small portion is set aside for white wines, and a Châteauneuf-du-Pape white is something you really ought to treat yourself to if you’ve never had one.

While I don’t recall the specifics of the Clos du Mont-Olivet 2006 I drank (I can’t even remember when it was), I know that I liked it. I’m sure I would score it with at least a 9 (Parker gave it an 87). To give you an idea of how much land is set aside for the white varieties, Clos du Mont-Olivet has 2 hectares devoted to the white grapes out of 28 hectares.

In white Châteauneuf-du-Pape, Grenache blanc and Roussanne provides fruitiness and fatness to the blend while Bourboulenc, Clairette and Picpoul add acidity, floral and mineral notes. It has the freshness and bracing acidity of a fine Chablis or white Burgundy, but the floral characteristics really give the Châteauneuf-du-Pape whites a character all their own.

They tend to be pricey considering most are made to be drunk young; a few are cellar-worthy, but most will come with the notation of “drink now.” And at an average of $25 to $30, it’s not often that I will go out and buy one unless I have a specific meal planned around it. Despite the price, however, it is worth going out and picking one up the next time you’re at your favorite wine retailer. Not many carry the white varieties from this appellation, but when you find one, chances are you will be pleasantly surprised.

Malbec mania

Bodega Norton is a solid producer of Argentine wines from the Mendoza region. The wines are also frequently inexpensive. A good bet just about every time it is released is the Bodega Norton Reserva Malbec, and the 2007 vintage is out on store shelves right now. Rated with 90 points from Wine Spectator, you should be able to find this gem for less than $14.

The first one I opened had me worried. The nose was so heavy with blackberry it was like sniffing a jar of Smucker’s jam. Really jammy. But when you let this one breathe for a while, the nose becomes delicate and the blackberry jam recedes to the background. The wine has a beautiful and rich, deep garnet color. It’s a wine that’s easily influenced by other aromas in the vicinity. The tannins are firm but not quite chewy, and there is a slight mushroom quality that goes really well with beef.

I'll give it an 8.5 using my scale at the left.