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!

Monday, December 31, 2012

Boxing Day 2012

When you've been holding a wine for 30 years, you can expect some variation from bottle to bottle within the same vintage. That was our experience for this year's Boxing Day dinner at Philander Hall in Dixon, IL.

Oh please don't ask me where is Dixon. Suffice it to say that my friend Curt has a "cellar" there that still has a fine collection of Bordeaux from the 1980s. While my wine cellar is a closet - and I mean that literally - Curt's wine cellar is a crawl space at Philander Hall, his home/art center in Dixon. The temperature in his crawl space is a fairly consistent low 60s, so temperature fluctuations aren't an issue for him like they are with my closet. But he does face problems from time to time with humidity variances. That was evident when we opened the two 1982 St. Julien he brought out for dinner, as the corks fell apart in both bottles.

But I am getting ahead.

We enjoyed two classic wines on Boxing Day that I must say performed exceptionally well given some of the tasting notes I've reviewed on the web.

It was a fabulous dinner that began a sumptuous lobster pot pie served with a reduced cream and white wine sauce. This was paired with the 1993 Clos Windsbuhl Tokay Pinot Gris from Domaine Zind Humbrecht. It was a deliciously creamy wine that paired excellently with the lobster pot pie, and I think we might have been exceptionally lucky with it. Some tasting notes described this wine as being "over the hill" and "tired." Not ours, however; it was succulent with delicious and juicy fruit.

The next course was a salad of mixed greens with seared duck breast, Roquefort, and some pomegranate seeds.

Selected to go with the main course was the 1982 Chateâu Gruaud Larose, which was paired with quail stuffed with foie gras and morel mushrooms, with a side of polenta made with shaved black perigord truffles; all presented in a Madeira sauce. We had two bottles of the Chateâu Gruaud and while they were both 1982s, each was distinctly different.

The first bottle has a definite blackberry nose, but that was gone in minutes to be replaced with more earthy scents of leather and anise. Its color was a brick red, almost prune-ish. The wine had a light mineral quality and a finish that lingered on and on and on.

The second bottle had much more fruit and its nose more floral; it was altogether a different character with different color as well, a deep garnet, almost ruby red. Even with the more fruit, the second bottle still had that delicate essence of a wine cellared for 30 years. And the tasting notes on the web suggest this wine can still be held for another 20 years! However, I do think the first bottle was caught just in time.

I will score both of these wines with a 9 using my scale at the left.

Monday, October 15, 2012

Alamos 2011 Malbec

There's a plethora of very tasty and very inexpensive Argentine Malbec on store shelves right now. Seems like you can grab just about any bottle you see and you'll take home a winner! Another fairly inexpensive Malbec out there is the Alamos 2011, which you should be able to find for $12 or less.

This went really well with a roast pork I recently prepared with some butternut squash and green beans. A simple meal, but the wine brought a delicious elegance to the table with some sturdy tannins on the finish. Like many Malbecs, it was dark, inky; the nose a delicate mixture of floral and fruit scents with a racy flavor of blackberry. This is definitely a good find, but I think for the price and the taste I might lean more toward the Diseño I recently wrote about.

I rate this with an 8 using my scale at the left.

Sunday, October 14, 2012

Diseño old vine Malbec

Oh the joy of finding a great value! The 2011 Diseño old vine Malbec is a wine crafted in the great tradition of Argentine Malbec that tastes much better than you would think for a $10 bottle. Malbec at this price point can be jammy with way too much fruit, but not this one!

It has the hefty structure and complexity of great Malbec and while the fruit is definitely there, it's balanced on a smooth beam of mineral and subtle notes of tobacco. When pouring you immediately see its dark inky color, a deep purple so dark it verges on black. The nose is subtle and floral rather than like a jar of Smuckers.

It's supremely drinkable and a great food match, doing well with anything from spicy tomato sauce pasta with spicy Italian sausage, to sauteéd boneless chicken thighs. I most recently had this with a spiced pork chop agrodolce accompanied with some lemon garlic Brussels sprouts and butternut squash; it was very good! The pork chop is very easy to prepare and you can find the recipe on my Pinterest page.

I rate this an 8.5 on my scale at the left.

Wednesday, October 10, 2012

Vale do Bomfim 2008

I'm feeling just a bit embarrassed because I haven't written about this delicious wine. Not only was it delicious (notice the verb tense), I paid just $10 for it!

This Douro from the House of Dow, the 2008 Vale do Bomfim, is among the most delicious $10-bottle of wines I've ever had. Full-bodied with lush fruit, but with a tannic structure and mineral quality to let's you know this is a wine with deep character.

This was very versatile. It went well with pasta, with roast pork, and with seared tuna. It was just delicious! And I'm a bit saddened that I drank the three bottles I picked up. Wine Spectator categorized this wine as a "drink now," but the producer notes on the back that while it's good right now - nay, great! - it will "continue to improve further in bottle." Hmm, for how long I wonder?

I know if I see any more of these I will pick up as many as I can. And I think you should too.

I rate this a 9.5 using my scale at the left.

Sunday, October 7, 2012

Brasato al Barolo

I am no stranger to using a fine bottle of wine for cooking. As some of you may know, I have been known to use a Châteauneuf-du-Pape when making lamb stew, not that I would do that every time, mind you. So when I found this recipe for a Brasato al Barolo, I was excited about giving it a try. Having said that, I was not prepared to use an entire bottle of Barolo to prepare it. Even with the lamb stew I only used about half a bottle of the Châteauneuf. Perhaps someday I will follow the recipe more closely.

But I did pull out from the closet a 2005 Barolo by Silvio Grasso to serve with this dish. If you find any 2005 Barolos still out there, you should grab them, for the year was an outstanding vintage for that region. This one still has a lot of cellar time left, even in my closet. Lucky for me I still have a few bottles left. The tannin remains firm, but it is rich with dark cherry and even a hint of tobacco. It was an excellent wine, but I am dreaming of the day in maybe another year or two when this wine will be heavenly.

For the Brasato, I used a bottle of Damilano Marghe, a 2009 Nebbiolo D'Alba. I figured it would be a suitable substitute for the Barolo in the dish considering the grape was the same. It wasn't badly priced and I was familiar with the house of Damilano. The dish is relatively easy to prepare, but does take a long time because the meat is braised at a low temperature of just 250 degrees. It was served with Brussels sprouts roasted with dried cherries and walnuts, and roasted parsnips (which, sadly, were overcooked).

I'll rate the Barolo a 9 for now, but it wouldn't surprise me if this reaches 10 status in another year or so.

Sunday, September 23, 2012

Try something new when dining out

Dining at a new restaurant, one you've never visited before, is not just a great opportunity to try something new when it comes to food. It's also an excellent opportunity to experience new wine. Maybe it's a varietal you've never tried before, or perhaps a region; regardless, dining out is a great time to try something new in wine.

My brother and niece were visiting this weekend and as we were disuccsing dining opportunities, my brother suggested lamb. Well, I said, there's a Greek resatuarant about two blocks aways that's always busy and I've always wanted to try.

It was settled; we went to Melantios Greek Char House. In addition to the sumptuous menu, the Greek wine choices by the glass were plentiful, and I was determined to try one.

One of the specials that night was a lamb shank slow cooked and then roasted to deliciousness. I knew I wanted a Greek wine but I really had no clue what to order, so I let the server steer me. And his recommendation was really delicious.

It was the Ktima Tselepos Cabernet/Merlot blend from 2007. The blend is 70/30, producing a rich wine that is sumptuous and a bit fruit-forward, but retains the stern structure and dryness of a Cabernet Sauvignon. It wasn't a cheap pour at $14 per glass, but it was an excellent match for the lamb shank. I'll be curious to see how much it fetches retail for a bottle.

Often when we dine out, particularly when we are trying out a new place, we can slip into a mode of safety when reading a wine list. We can have a tendancy to look for something familiar, whether it be a particular brand or varietal. But if you can resist that tendancy toward safety, you can find some great wines, new styles, and new regions that you might not otherwise experience but for visiting that restaurant.

Got any great wine stories to share of when you let yourself be steered toward the unfamiliar on a wine list? Please share in the comments! I'd love to read them.

Friday, September 14, 2012

Despite Two Left Feet, this wine can dance

My friends Nate and Steve recently had me over for dinner at their new Chicago condominium in Edgewater, a fabulous place just a block away from Lake Michigan. I offered to bring a wine, but wanted to know ahead of time what they were preparing so I could select an appropriate bottle from my cellar, er, closet.

I had several bottles ripe for drinking, but each were quite different in character. And when they said grilled skirt steak, my choice was easy.

Ah yes, there was that bottle of Mollydooker that had been lying in my closet for about 3 years, which translates to about 6 to 7 years cellaring time given the fact my closet has been known to hit temperature extremes that make grown men weep in terror. Not temperatures high enough, mind you, to completely cook a bottle. But over time, and a very short time it can be, wines kept in a closet can age more quickly and become over the hill before you know it.

I have largely been blessed with success, with only one wine so far going over the hill on me (and thank goodness I drank two good bottles of that before opening the third a year later). A closet can be an excellent option for wine storage when you don't have the space or the money for a wine refrigerator (and besides, the key to buying the right wine refrigerator is not the brand of the refrigerator, but the brand of the cooling unit it uses). If you have a closet where you can avoid wide fluctuations in temperature, particularly at the high end, you can safely store wine there for several years at a time. I currently have some wines in my closet that have been there for 7 years.

The skirt steak was sans marinade, so I chose the 2007 Mollydooker Two Left Feet, a blend made with Shiraz, Cabernet Sauvignon, and Merlot. The history of Mollydooker is pretty interesting and worth reading. This was a big wine with strong fruit as one would expect from an Aussie Shiraz, but it was not a fruit bomb. It was smooth and velvety, with a texture and flavorful hint of butterscotch. And when the skirt steak was sprinkled with just a bit of truffle-flavored salt, it was a delicious match.

While I probably could have held this bottle for a bit longer, there probably wasn't a whole lot left to go. The tannins were very soft, but still detectable. When I bought the wine, Wine Spectator rated it an 88, but Robert Parker gave it a 93. It certainly was in the realm of deliciousness when served with that skirt steak and a side of roasted red pepper.

I give it a 9 using my scale at the left.

Friday, August 17, 2012

Rosé is a wine for summer

We may be on the backend of summer, but there is still plenty of time to enjoy some delicious rosé, and as they have done in recent years past, the French are producing some marvelous rosé with much of it available for less than $12.

Many of my favorites have come from Provence and the Southern Rhône area, but an exceptional good buy widely available now come from the Bergerac area of Dordogne in Bordeaux. The 2011 Chateau Haut Sarthes can be had for as little as $8 and it's a delicious find. I would call this wine delicious if it were $15, but for $8? This is totally delightful.

This is a lovely find because apparently just 15 percent of the rosé produced in the Bergerac is exported, and most of that goes to Great Britain, Germany, Belgium and the Netherlands.

And it goes well with a wide variety of food. The first time I had it, my friend Curt brought it along to have with artisan pizza at the Pizza Art Cafe in Ravenswood Gardens here in Chicago. A crisp dry rosé with the sumptuous flavor of ripe strawberries, it also went well with a pork tenderloin served with Brussels sprouts and corn on the cob. It really is a juicy and versatile wine.

I rate this wine with a 9.5 using the scale on the left.

Tuesday, July 24, 2012

Two Premier Cru Chablis as different as can be

Well, look at that! It's been a half-year since I last wrote something, and you would be within your right to ask, "Hey! What the heck happened?"

What happened was a lot of wine, but something always seemed to get in the way of writing about it. And by the time I got the time, my tasting notes weren't all that clear. And besides, I was going through a string of some rather ordinary wines.

But recently I had a reason to break out two Chablis Premier Cru that had been in my closet, er my cellar, for slightly more than a year. Both were 2008 vintages and both were similarly priced at less than $30, which made them all the more exciting. But that's where the similarities ended, because these wines were as different as they could be.

The first was a Vaillons by Thierry Laffay. This was a very good wine, but it really didn't taste at all like what I would expect from a Chablis. I served it as an apparatif with my sister and her husband when they visited in late June. We had some delicious smoked salmon and shrimp cocktail.

The Vaillons tasted very citrusy, more like a Sauvignon Blanc with bright grapefruit and high acidity. As I said, it was good, but it was so different than any Chablis I had in the past. There was no brightness, no mineral notes.

We took the second bottle with us to a tappas restaurant. The Montée de Tonnerre from Domaine Servin had slightly less alchohol by volume that the Thierry Laffay (12.5 percent versus 12.8 percent), which I don't know made a difference, but the Chablis from Domaine Servin had all the classice elements of a Premier Cru Chablis. It had the bright, crisp flavor of fruit with just a hint of acid, giving it a smooth and delicious finish. It had a mineral quality like a laughing brook, and a finish that was just long enough.

Clearly this was the better wine of the two. And it went exceptionally well with our tappas, particulary some grilled squid charred with the squid's ink.

These were both good wines, but the one by Domaine Servin was truly the best. So don't be surprised if you find a Chablis that tastes more like a Sauvignon Blanc. There are, apparently, a few out there.

And my rating? The Vaillons I will score with an 8, while the Domaine Servin I will give a 9.