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, August 14, 2011

A red Burgundy like Mary

Similar to what I said in a previous post about white Burgundy, red Burgundy can also be very pricey and not always worth that cost. And even when the region has an outstanding year as it did in 2005, you can still find yourself paying a premium for a disappointment. Nonetheless, 2005 was a grand year for red Burgundy, with wines produced from that vintage showing superb class and finesse virtually across the board. And it’s quite possible that my previous “dud” was more related to how I was storing it rather than the wine itself. After all, my wine cellar is a closet.

Pinot Noir is the primary grape for red Burgundy, hence its ephemeral nature. It takes great skill to craft a wine from this delicate grape, and Bouchard Père & Fils does it again with the 2005 Gevrey-Chambertin, which I was able to find for just under $40. It’s been “cellaring” for a little more than 2 years in my closet, and last night became its moment.

My guests – Curt, Steven and Nathan – and I all agreed that while this wine was truly splendid, we didn’t want to mire ourselves with the same old tired descriptors. And as we discussed this wine’s subtle beauty, we gradually arrived at this wine’s character.

“This wine reminds me of Mary in ‘Gosford Park,’ in that the character Mary was very restrained, she was very reserved, but she was very astute, she knew what was going on,” I explained to my guests. “And this wine has a reserved character of intensity as well as, what? Tell me!”

Well, the discussion degenerated a bit into a puerile comparison, but alas we were saved by Curt.

“Think of a Scottish banker,” Curt said to our confused silences. “It just means she keeps it all to herself, that she is very reserved and conservative. She doesn’t share much with anybody, but when she does, she’s really generous. And that describes this wine.”

That was beginning to capture the experience, because despite the restraint, you could taste the bursting fruit and mineral tones while enjoying a delicate and beguiling boquete.

“The bouquet says she’s a coy little whore,” Stephen suggests. “She’s not going to tell you a whole lot about her trade, but you know what’s going on.”

“I don’t think that’s so,” Curt counters. “I think she’s an ingénue.”

“OK, so this is not Marilyn Monroe,” I say, running with the analogy, “this is Bridgette Bardot?”

“No, that’s all flash in the pan, and that’s not what this is about,” Curt retorts. This was beauty, he said, but an enduring and wholesome beauty, much like Mary in “Gosford Park,” Curt continued to say.

And then Nathan put it all into place: “It’s not trying hard to be what it is, because what it is is amazing.”

This beauty of a wine was served with an herb roasted chicken seasoned with fresh thyme, Rosemary, and lavender buds; beet greens prepared with bacon, onion, garlic, carrot, some sugar and apple cider vinegar; roasted potatoes; and a new beet preparation with sliced onion and a vinaigrette prepared with horseradish and champagne vinegar. When roasting the chicken, I basted using equal parts chicken broth and an inexpensive Pinot Noir from Smoking Loon.

It was an exceptional meal with a delicious wine that I shall rate with a 10 using my scale at the left.

Friday, August 12, 2011

When white Burgundy wins

From time to time, as my regular readers know (I am aware there is only a few of you and I thank you all so much!), I pull out a wine from my closet because I sense its time has arrived. Feeling all Orson Wells-like, I was sure that time was arriving for a white Burgundy I had lying in the gloom of my closet. But first some background.

I don’t have an inexhaustible fund for buying and closeting, er, cellaring wine, particularly when that wine cellar is my closet. So I do my best to find what I hope to be outstanding wines at reasonable prices. Burgundy is traditionally known as the premier appellation for Chardonnay when it comes to white wine, but Burgundy is also traditionally known for its price. Some of us may need a guide, a compass to help us know when an inexpensive white Burgundy might be worth buying. And what is an “inexpensive” white Burgundy?

My threshold is about $35. When I see a white Burgundy for that price, my interest is aroused. But it’s not just the price point. Remember the Wall Street Journal wine columnists Dorothy J. Gaiter and John Brecher? They “invented” the classic “Open that bottle night,” a night when you have that special wine lying around and you need an excuse to drink it rather than save it until it spoils. Gaiter and Brecher had some very sound advice when shopping for white Burgundy.

There were two particular appellations in the Burgundy region they suggested as the most consistent, and when you’re looking at prices in the range of $50 and more for white Burgundy, it’s not unusual to pay that much for a rather disappointing wine. But, Gaiter and Brecher guided, if you focused on the appellations of Chassagne-Montrachet and Pugliny-Montrachet, you could hardly go wrong.

That sage advice has guided me with virtually all my purchases of white Burgundy. Granted, I haven’t strictly followed this rule. But as a general guideline, it has served me well. So I was understandably delighted when I found a 2007 Pugliny-Montrachet from the very consistent house of Joseph Drouhin for $30.

This wine had a creamy floral nose with pear and bright citrus. It was delicious with bracing mineral and lime followed by a fresh, clean finish. It was really delightful. I served it with poached cod and it was exceptional. The poaching recipe comes from the pages of some women’s magazine, maybe a Ladies Home Journal or Better Homes & Gardens. The page looks like it was circa 1970. And while the recipe is for poached sole with hollandaise, the preparation works excellently for poaching cod.

It’s pretty simple. Just heat up 2 cups of water with a sliced carrot and sliced celery stalk, add half an onion sliced up (recipe calls for 1 small onion, but most onions these days are fairly large), 1 lemon sliced up, some pepper corns, 2 bay leaves and some fresh parsley or cilantro sprigs. I used cilantro. Also, a teaspoon of salt.

Let this simmer for at least 10 minutes. I actually let mine simmer for about 20 minutes while I prepare other items or enjoy a bit of cheese and crackers with my guests. After this has simmered, remove all the ingredients and discard. Poach the fish in the remaining water covered for about 4 minutes or until the correct doneness, when the fish easily flakes but won’t completely fall apart. Serve the fish with sliced lemon and garnish with more parsley or cilantro. I didn’t bother with the hollandaise.

It was a delicious meal. I rate this wine a 9.5 using my scale at the left.

Monday, August 8, 2011

Dry Chenin Blanc with Coho salmon

What goes with a really well-prepared Coho salmon fillet? A really inexpensive dry Chenin Blanc, that’s what, and the 2009 Clarksburg vintage of Dry Creek Vineyard’s Wilson Ranch Dry Chenin Blanc is a great match and value at just $10 a bottle.

The first word I tapped into my iPhone notes about this wine was “Wow!” I’m going to be buying some more of this, that’s for sure! This crisp, dry, bright wine has a mineral quality and bright acidity that really buoys the citrus fruit and juicy green apple. The finish is clean and fresh. Just really grand for a $10 wine.

The Coho served with this wine was simply prepared. I sprinkled some fennel seed onto the fish and pan fried both sides in a bit of olive oil. I then added some sake and lemon juice for a final steam before serving. The Chenin Blanc was excellent with the preparation, the licorice-like flavor of the fennel playing really nicely with the fresh citrus of the wine.

I score this wine a 9 using my scale at the left. It’s worth repeating, I will be getting some more of this while it lasts in the stores!

A deliciously complex Albariño

I’m a relatively new convert to Albariño, a deliciously crisp and vibrant white varietal from northwest Spain, and this has been a great year to try this wonderful wine.

Recently I shared a bottle of the Burgáns 2010 Albariño with my friend Curt at Glenn’s Diner here in Chicago. This was a deliciously beguiling wine! Yes, it was fresh and vibrant, but it had a very blossomy nose like a fruit orchard. I suggested to Curt it was orange blossom. The wine tasted juicy like baked apple without the sweetness, but definitely with a spiced back end. That was the beguiling part – what was that spice? It was so familiar, but I just couldn’t name it. The best I could come up with was cardamom with a hint of snake fruit – a delicious and somewhat spicy fruit I had once in Bali. And there was blood orange.

Whatever the tastes were, the wine was delicious! We split a Cobb salad as an opener and the wine was great with it. And it was well suited with both our entrees, although I didn’t think the sauce with my seared sea scallops was the right style. Despite that, it was a great wine and meal.

This is a wine I have no qualms with scoring a 9 using my scale at the left.

A southern Rhône producer does it again

I wrote about the 2009 vintage of the Le Pavillon du Château Beauchêne rosé from the Côtes du Rhône with high praise for this juicy wine that packs delicious strawberry on a solid mineral beam with just the right amount of dryness. Well, guess what? The 2010 vintage is another great one from this producer, and is widely available.

The latest vintage is consistent with its fresh strawberry and bracing mineral qualities that give this a clean and fresh finish. Very food friendly, I enjoyed with everything from strongly-flavored soft cheese to pasta with tomato sauce. And it’s also excellent for just plain drinking! And perhaps best of all, you can find it for $10 a bottle!

Another great year for French rosé. I score this with an 8.5 using my scale at the left.

Sunday, August 7, 2011

Villa Medoro, Montepulciano d’Abruzzo, 2007

My previous experience with Montepulciano d’Abruzzo, a light red wine from central Italy, was unmemorable. But the 2007 vintage from Villa Medoro was much better, and being priced from $12 to $15 makes this a decent value (granted, I’d be more likely to pick this one up again if it were just a tad cheaper).

This was an inky wine the color of dark prunes. It had a really interesting nose with aromas of meat and vanilla with a hint of chocolate; it was very earthy, not fruity at all. It had firm tannin as well, but the taste was not very distinct; it wasn’t bad, but rather undistinguishable. After being opened a while, the wine’s dark prune color transformed into an even darker blackberry.

It was a pleasant wine that went well with pasta and tomato sauce. A fair value that I will rate with a 6.5 using my scale at the left.

An unmemorable Italian red

There were notes for this wine entered into my iPhone, but I obviously didn’t write about it soon enough after drinking it because I was unable to find the label. Did I throw the bottle away without first saving the label? Alas, no, this was a wine I drank at a restaurant with friends, hence the very dark image that is displayed. It finally occurred to me to search for the image in a computer folder. And after looking at the image background, which for quite awhile wasn’t stimulating my memory, I finally remembered where and with whom I drank this. It was at Francesca’s on Bryn Mawr in the Edgewater neighborhood of Chicago, and it was with Curt.

What did we have to eat that night? I made no notes as to what we dined on. Judging by the notes I did make regarding the Barba Colle Morino, Montepulciano d’Abruzzo, 2006, this wine was OK, went well enough with what we did eat, but not really memorable.

Here’s what I tapped into my phone: Light and acid, nose is much better than the taste, buttery blackberry on the nose, but tastes more cherry.

And that’s it. Given the terse nature of my notes, I would say this wine didn’t inspire much (unlike Thomas Jefferson it seems, who was very impressed with the wines of Montepulciano). It was acceptable. I’m sure the meal itself was wonderful – they always are at Francesca’s. The wine, however, I will rate with a 6 using my scale at the left.