Sunday, March 30, 2014

Alen Bibic Wine Paring Event at Bin 56

Living in Long Island with a couple of active kids, I often get teased by all the great wine tasting events that happen in New York City that I rarely have the time to attend.  I was pleasantly surprised a few weeks ago when I saw an announcement from the good folks at Blue Danube Wine Company about a winemaker tasting with Alen Bibic that was actually taking place in Huntington, NY at the fantastic Bin 56.  Before I get into the actual tasting, I should tell everyone a little bit about Bin 56, which is in my humble opinion the best wine bar on Long Island.  They have an extensive menu of very interesting wines by the glass that goes beyond your normal California, French, and Italian selections.  On a typical night there, you might see wines from Greece, South Africa, Slovenia, and Hungary among others.  The ambiance is great, and just as important as the good wine selections is the great preservation system that they have that will insure that your wine won't be oxidized.  Its also a pretty safe bet that if you visit Bin 56, you will see some wines from another well kept secret of the winemaking world and the subject of the tasting, Croatia.

Croatia, much like the rest of Central Europe, has a long tradition of winemaking that dates back over 2000 years.  Throughout that time there were very challenging periods that included the 20th century challenge of communism in the former Yugoslavia.  Under communist rule, quantity was emphasized over quality, which just doesn't work well in the world of fine wine.  After the fall of Yugoslavia and with some help and attention from Mike Grgich of Grgich Hills and Chateau Montelena fame as well as pioneers like Alen Bibic, the wine scene in Croatia is once again lively and exciting and focused on quality.

Our tasting was hosted by the great people at Bin 56 as well as Stetson Robbins from Blue Danube Wine Company and Alen Bibic himself from the Bibich Winery.  The restaurant, which is small, cozy, and inviting was set up with great menus with wine maps of Croatia and interesting glasses from Bibich and Wines of Croatia. 

Our first wine was the 2012 P9 Posip, which was paired with a cheese and charcuterie plate.  The Posip was golden in color with apple and pear on the nose.  On the palate, the fruit leaned more towards pear, but there was also a great salty, mineral component that added a lot of depth and interest to the wine.  The finish was bone dry and almost astringent in a good, refreshing way. 

After the Posip, we moved on to the 2010 Lucica Debit.  This wine is one of Alen's personal favorites and made in very small quantities (less than 2000 cases).  We were told by Alen and Stetson that the wine was macerated with the skins like a red wine would be.  The color was a very deep yellow-gold color that gave the impression that the wine would be full bodied and sweet, but it was medium bodied and dry.  The nose brought notes of apricot, peach, and a floral element.  This was paired with a Croatian style octopus salad.

Next, we moved on to the reds.  Our first red was an international varietal that showcased what Croatian terroir can do.  The 2010 Sangreal Shiraz was a very interesting Shiraz/Syrah.  On the nose, it smelled like an over the top Aussie Shiraz, but once you drink it, you find that it is a nice well balanced Shiraz in more of a French style.  The acidity was perfect, and the finish was sneaky long.  Its also interesting to note that although this was most definitely Shiraz/Syrah, it also had that uniquely Croatian minerality and salinity.  I found this to be a great reminder of what different terroir can do for a wine.  This was paired with an absolutely delicious Croatian stew of peppers, tomatoes, and onions. 

Our second red was the highlight of the tasting for me.  The 2010 Bibich R6 Reserva Cuvee is a blend of native Croatian varietals Babic, Plavina, and Lasin.  The bouquet had elements of red and black berries, but leaned more towards red fruit in your mouth.  There was also a healthy dose of Rhone like garrigue as well as some spice on the nose.  I found this to be a very nice medium bodied red with some good balance to it.  It also had some of that minerality and saltiness that is so uniquely Croatian.  This paired wonderfully with a Dalmatian style pot roast.

We finished the tasting with the Bibich Brut Sparkling Rose which was fresh, crisp, bone dry and just plain old fun and refreshing.  Made from the Plavina varietal with no dosage, it was a great way to finish the afternoon, and the Fresh Figs with Port and Citrus paired with it were delicious. 

Overall, this was a first class event that was fun, delicious, and informative.  If you get the chance, try some Croatian wine from Bibich or any of the other great producers there.  You won't be disappointed, and if you happen to be on Long Island, be sure to try some Croatian wine by the glass at Bin 56.



Sunday, December 8, 2013

2007 Rottlan Torra Priorat

In the spirit of full disclosure, I have to say that Priorat is my very favorite wine region in the world.  Wine has been made there for many centuries, but it is unique in that the wine industry there pretty much shut down when Phylloxera hit the region in the late 19th century, and it never really recovered as a wine making region until the late 20th century.  As a result, Priorat has a very unique blend of old world terroir and tradition with some modern influence from the pioneers who "rediscovered" the area in the late 1970s and early eighties.  Priorat wines are typically pretty bold and muscular, but they have an added depth and dimension of minerality that is believed to come from the "llicorella" which is what the local Catalans call the mixture of slate and mica that dominate the soil in the region.  Priorat reds are typically blends that are dominated by Garnacha and Carinena, but may also contain Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, or Syrah.  Typically the only thing keeping me from drinking more Priorat is the high price tag, which is why I'm so excited about this 2007 Rottlan Torra.

The 2007 Rottlan Torra is a deep garnet red in your glass.  The nose brings elements of blackberry and dark cherries along with a pretty strong spice component to it.  I also get a hint of cola, which is somewhat unexpected in a Priorat, but it seems to work well here.  On the palate, you get delicious cherry fruit with well integrated tannins that are just a little dusty and stony. Very good acidity leads to a long finish that is pretty amazing for a wine that costs less than $15. 

From a pairing standpoint, I would serve this with a nice steak or any grilled red meats.  It would also go nicely with traditional Spanish tapas meats such as jamon iberico, chorizo, or morcilla. 

Overall, this is a really nice wine that is an amazing find for just over $14!  I'm going back to the store to stock up on this one!



Friday, November 8, 2013

Quick Review: 2009 Muruve Toro by Bodegas Frutos Villar

Today I am reviewing the 2009 Muruve Toro from Bodegas Frutos Villar.

The Basics:  This wine is from the Toro region in the northwest of Spain where the locals refer to the Tempranillo graped used in the wine as Tinta de Toro

In Your Glass:  The wine is deep purple in color

On The Nose:  Dark cherry and blackberry fruit dominate the nose.  Notes of vanilla and some herbs and baking spices round it out. 

On The Palate:  Dark berry and sweet cherry fruit are front and center.  Smooth tannins provide some structure and lead to a rather long finish for a wine in this price range.

Overall:  Toro is always a great region to look to for Tempranillo values, and this one does not disappoint.  It packs a lot of punch for a price tag right around $15.  This Tinta de Toro would pair perfectly with an authentic Spanish Jamon Iberico and aged Spanish cheese. 

Saturday, October 12, 2013

2011 Pfneiszl Kekfrankos "Ujra Egyutt" Sopron Quick Review

So its been awhile since I've posted anything new due to an extremely busy summer where I spent lots of time sipping wine but very little taking notes or writing about it.  In the interest of keeping more active online, I have decided to add "Quick Reviews."  These will have less background story on the winery, region, etc...and be just more to the point on the wine, so here goes...

The Basics:  From the Sopron region in northwestern Hungary, the wine is made from the Kefrankos (aka Blaufranksich) varietal.

In Your Glass:  The wine is garnet red in color

On The Nose:  Red fruit dominates the bouquet.  I get some strawberry, sour cherry, some floral notes, and just a bit of barnyard that doesn't overwhelm.

On The Palate:  Sweet and sour cherry fruit that is beautifully balanced with nice acidity and a bit of minerality.  Light bodied with very mild tannins.

Overall:  This is a very nice, easy drinking wine that can be had for under $15.  It's a lighter red that is very food friendly and versatile.  We paired it with some grilled Hungarian sausage and it worked very nicely.  This is also a great summer red that benefits from a little chill before serving on a warm summer day when you just don't want white.


Monday, May 27, 2013

2011 Bodrog Bormuhely Harslevelu Dereszla

On the day of this American holiday, my mind is on Hungarian wine and American freedom.  As a first generation American with two Hungarian parents, I'm particularly grateful for those who have fought to keep the United States a truly free country that welcomed my parents from a place that was not at all free at the time.  Fortunately a lot has changed since then, and things are much better in Hungary today than they were 57 years ago when my father left.  The iron curtain is gone.  Democracy is doing its thing, although not without controversy and intense fighting amongst rival political parties, which sounds pretty familiar for us Americans these days. 

I could go on about the change in Hungary, but I'm selfishly most interested in the change in the wine scene in Hungary and the availability of good Hungarian wine in the US today.  The fall of communism in Hungary marked the beginning of a resurgence in high quality Hungarian wine, and today the world is reaping the benefits.  The relatively small geographic area of Hungary has a large diversity of microclimates and many unique wine regions.  You can find a wide variety of reds and whites from throughout the country, some of which are made from traditional, international varieties like the Bordeaux style blends coming out of Villany in the south.  There are also many native Hungarian grapes and lesser known varietals from other parts of Europe that are making some really interesting wines.  These are varietals like Kekfrankos, Kadarka, Furmint, and today's subject, Harslevelu, which can be quite a mouthful to say and is pronounced HARSH-leh-veh-loo.  Harslevelu is often found as a blending component in the botrytized wines of Tokaj, but it can also be found in dry blends or on its own.  It is known for fantastic aromatics and very nice acid, and there are some really nice examples that are finally making their way to the United States.

One of these is the 2011 Bodrog Bormuhely Harslevelu Dereszla.  Pale gold in color, the wine brings aromas of mixed citrus peels - lemon, lime, and tangerine - as well as some notes of peach and honey.  In your mouth, the lime dominates, and although its bone dry, it reminds me a whole lot of key lime pie.  The acidity is fantastic and refreshing and leads to a really nice finish with a bit of salinity. 

Overall, this is a really interesting wine that would pair very well with shellfish or just a warm summer day.  At a price tag in the low $20s, its not an everyday wine, but its a great choice when you want something unique, different, and delicious. 


Saturday, May 18, 2013

2007 J & J Eged Hegy Dulo Kekfrankos

Earlier this month I wrote about Hungarian wine with an offering from Tokaj, which is Hungary's most famous wine region.  Right behind Tokaj is the relatively well known region of Eger.  Unfortunately for many people in the United States, Eger was only well known for making communist era Bull's Blood, which was truly pretty awful stuff at the time.  Without getting too deep into the politics of all, the communist regime in Hungary treated wine just like any other agricultural product and was only interested in maximizing production.  The quality of what they produced didn't matter all that much.  They just wanted a lot of it. 

It was only after the communist regime fell, that grape growers and wine makers in Eger realized that they had some great terroir that in past centuries made great wine.  They realized that with some care and attention to quality that they could make some really nice wines.  Today in Eger, there are some really fantastic wines that almost have me forgetting all the times that my parents served me the awful communist era stuff. 

Today's subject is a really nice Kekfrankos from Eger.  Kekfrankos, also known as Blaufrankisch, is one of the main varietals used in Bull's Blood and is often bottled on its own as well as in red blends.  The 2007 J & J Eged Hegy Dulo Kekfrankos is a deep garnet red in color.  The nose brings aromas of sweet red and sour cherries with a very pleasant and subtle hint of barnyard.  With a sip, you get some of the same cherry flavor as well as some cranberry and strawberry fruit.  The fantastic acidity really has the sour cherry and cranberry shine on the finish. 

The acidity combined with the medium weight and mild tannins, makes this a very food friendly offering.  Having grown up on Hungarian food, I find myself wanting Chicken Paprikas or a nice, traditional Hungarian pork stew to go with this, but it would also pair well with any braised meats like osso bucco or lamb shanks.  For a price in the mid $20s, this wine really delivers a lot.  Look for it in your favorite wine shop or check it out at



Saturday, April 27, 2013

2011 Bott Teleki

I wish I could take a poll and find out how many of my readers in the United States are familiar with Hungarian wines.  I'm guessing that many have never had a Hungarian wine.  The unlucky of those who have tried one have probably had a bad bottle of Bull's Blood.  The fortunate ones may appreciate the wonderful botrytized wines of the Tokaj region, but likely are not familiar with the many other delicious wines of Hungary.  The Blue Danube Wine Company is working hard to change all that.  Blue Danube is an importer that is focused on the wines of Hungary, Croatia, Austria, and many other emerging wine regions in Eastern and Central Europe.  Thanks to their efforts, you can now find some of these unique and delicious wines in restaurants and retail shops in the greater New York City area where I live and in many other parts of the country. 

Within the rather small, geographic area that makes up Hungary, there is an amazing diversity of microclimates and different wine regions.  There is no disputing that the best known is Tokaj in the northeast corner of Hungary near the Slovakian border.  Tokaj has been classified as an appellation longer than Bordeaux, and the botrytized wines of Tokaj have been recognized as a top wine in Europe for centuries.  Louis XV himself referred to Tokaj as the "Wine of Kings, King of Wines" back in the 18th century.  What is interesting today is that the world is starting to discover that the Tokaj region can also produce fantastic and unique non-botrytized and dry white wines, and that brings me to today's wine. 

The 2011 Bott Teleki is made from two indigenous Hungarian varietals.  The blend is 80% Furmint and 20% Harslevelu (HARSH-leh-veh-LOO).  The bottle is in the Mosel/Alsace style and one of very few wines that I see using a glass closure.  In your glass, the wine is pale gold in color.  The bouquet is really interesting and rather complex.  It's almost Riesling like in its mix of fruit and floral notes, but its not quite as sweet smelling as Riesling.  The apple and citrus along with floral notes make for a great nose that I could just breathe in for hours.  On the palate, the fruit leans more towards white stone fruit.  Apricot and peach flavors abound, and the wine has a fantastic medium weight and mouthfeel to it that is just right.  Perfect acidity that does not overwhelm, leads to what is a really long and fantastic finish for a white wine.  

At just under $30 per bottle, this is not an everyday value, but it is a great wine for special occasions and the right food.  As I drank this, all I could think about was pairing it with my Hungarian mother's incredible roasted duck that she often serves at the holiday table.  It would also pair beautifully with other game birds or even work well for a Turkey dinner. 

If you haven't had a dry Tokaj wine, go seek one out and try it.  Also, feel free to contact the fine folks at Blue Danube Wine Company at to find out more about Hungarian wine.




Sunday, April 14, 2013

2011 Saint Cosme Cotes-du-Rhone

I am a big fan of the Southern Rhone for everyday values as well as some of the great village level wines from places like Chateauneuf du Pape, Rasteau, and Gigondas.  I first discovered Saint Cosme through their phenomenal and incredibly consistent Gigondas, and I have enjoyed many vintages of this delicious but not inexpensive (about $40 per bottle now) Grenache driven blend over the years.  It was only recently that I discovered that Saint Cosme also has a great Cotes-du-Rhone that you can take home for a little over $10/bottle.  It has quickly become one of my everyday favorites.

The 2011 Saint Cosme Cotes-du-Rhone is rather unique in that it is a Southern Rhone wine that is not Grenache based.  It is 100% Syrah, which is much more typical of the Northern Rhone.  In your glass, the wine is intense purple in color.  The nose brings aromas of blackberry, black raspberry, and black pepper along with a bit of garrigue and that almost gamy, meaty smell that most of my favorite Syrahs have.  In your mouth, this wine is very true to the nose with great blackberry fruit.  The little bit of funky game, garrigue, and mild tannins give remarkable balance and complexity to a wine that I paid less than $12 for.  This wine is a steal.

Pair this delicious and inexpensive Syrah with lamb, game, or any grilled red meats, or at $12 a bottle just sip it on its own.


Saturday, February 23, 2013

2011 Bedrock Wine Company Pagani Ranch Heritage Wine

Bedrock is a different sort of winery.  It starts right from their own description on their website which states, "Bedrock is an itsy-bitsy winery making wine in a converted chicken coop," and it gets better from there. They even state some unique and interesting objectives on their website, many of which are in line with what I'm looking for:

  • To channel the fruit of ancient vines into powerful, elegant, and distinctly Californian wines.
  • To spread the gospel of Syrah in California by sourcing fruit from great terroirs throughout the North Coast.
  • To proclaim the greatness of Sonoma Valley Cabernet Sauvignon by sparing no expense on wines of uniqueness and personality.
  • To reclaim rose’ from the excesses of saignee and focus on precision, delicacy, aromatics, and food friendliness.
  • To make fascinating and quixotic white wines from unique sites and interesting varietals.
  • To make California Pinot Noir that ages as well as ’74 Swan.
  • To dream big but keep production low!

  • I only wish that more California wineries were thinking this way.  California has so much great terroir, but so little of it actually makes it to the average consumer.  There are simply too many places in California where its easy to make boring but OK wine at a low cost that appeals to the casual consumer who is more interested in brand or varietal than in place or terroir.

    Unlike the winery itself, Bedrock's lineage is not all that small.  Winemaker Morgan Twain-Peterson literally grew up in a winery.  His father Joel Peterson is the man behind the much bigger and better known Ravenswood Winery.  Morgan was exposed to wine at an early age, and today he is using that background and knowledge to make unique and interesting varietal wines and blends. 

    The Pagani Ranch Heritage Wine is a true, old fashioned field blend.   Made up of approximately 65% Zinfandel with the rest primarily Petite Sirah, Alicante Bouschet, Grand Noir, Carignane, and Mourvedre that is all picked and fermented together, this wine is a throwback to the days before California became obsessed with single varietal wines. 

    In your glass, the Pagani Ranch Heritage is deep purple in color.  The bouquet brings aromas of cherry, black raspberry, and a little dried plum with a wonderful but mild funk to it.  On the palate, you get black cherry and blackberry fruit with a good dose of tannins and excellent acidity.  This is a wine that has enough balance from all the different elements to break my general rule of not liking wines that are 15% alcohol or more.  All the flavors, tannins, and acid linger around for quite some time after each sip, which makes this very interesting wine that much more enjoyable. 

    From a pairing standpoint, I think this is surprisingly food friendly given the high alcohol.  It would be great with good old fashioned, smoky BBQ or any grilled red meats.  It would also pair beautifully with a roaring fire on a cold winter night. 

    Overall. its not an everyday wine at $37/bottle, but it is an excellent example of what place rather than manipulation can bring to a great wine.  If I were tasting this blind, I would bet big money that it was from the south of France from someplace like the Languedoc or even Bandol.  It is very nice stuff with that little bit of delicious funk and complexity that makes you not only enjoy, but also contemplate each delicious sip.            

    Sunday, January 13, 2013

    Our Visit to Clos de L'Obac in Priorat

    Our Visit to Clos de L’Obac in Priorat

    Very old vines in Gratallops
    Priorat is one of those wine regions that seems to struggle a little bit in reputation.  Those who really know their wine are familiar with it and typically rank it among one of the best wine regions in the world.  Many casual wine drinkers, though, have never heard of this little gem nestled in the mountains of northeastern Spain about 2 hours from Barcelona.  

    The winemaking tradition in Priorat is long and storied.  Carthusian monks started making wine at the Scala Dei monastery in the 12th century, and the region continued making wine for centuries until it was devastated by phylloxera in the late 19th century.  Phylloxera didn’t just destroy the wine industry here, it essentially wiped out entire wine producing  towns.  The pre-phylloxera population of Priorat was about 25,000 people.  In 1979, when the area saw what would prove to be the beginning of its resurgence, there were only 1200 people left in the area.  There were deserted homes and properties everywhere, but there were also a lot of available vineyards that had old vine Garnacha dating back to just after the phylloxera infestation.  At this time there were some young and eager winemakers who believed that the land in Priorat was something special, and they set out to prove that great wines could be made in Priorat, especially near the village of Gratallops.  This group included well known names in the wine world like Alvaro Palacios and Rene Barbier as well as a young gentlemen named Carles Pastrana, who started the Costers del Siurana winery, which is better known by the name of its flagship red, Clos de L’Obac.  Early on, they shared winery facilities and worked together to restore the former glory of the region, and 33 years later I think its safe to say that they succeeded.  

    The beautiful Priorat landscape
    Our visit to Priorat really began with the scenic drive in to the area.  The land itself is stunning with hills, steep cliffs, and valleys everywhere that are all lined with mostly terraced vineyards.  The Montsant mountain range in the distance provides a perfect backdrop for this spectacular visual experience.  The soil in Priorat is so rocky that the average backyard gardener wouldn’t believe that anything can grow in it.  The local Catalans call is llicorella, and it is a mixture of different colored slate and shale with some mica mixed in and very little actual soil.  The rocky nature of the soil is part of what makes the terroir here so special.  Vines are forced to work extremely hard to get nutrients and water.  In many spots the roots go down well over 50 feet into the rocks, which helps to insure that the vines don’t get overwatered in the rain or under watered in the dry summers.  

    The entrance to the winery
    Upon arriving to the winery, we were immediately greeted by Carles Pastrana himself who would be our guide and host for the next 2.5 hours.  Carles is one of those charming, magnetic personalities who makes you feel like a long time friend in a matter of minutes.  He took us through his whole operation, which is producing about 30,000 bottles annually from his estate vineyards.  He explained how everything works in his winery, and he shared with us some of his winemaking philosophy.  In an age when so many wineries try to produce a consistent house style from year to year, Carles believes that wine should be vintage specific and that each year’s wine should express what happened in the vineyard in that particular season.  Carles referred to this as allowing each vintage to express what the “hand of God” brought that year.  He also relayed a great story about a conversation he had with Robert Mondavi on this topic.  Mondavi told Carles that he strives to make Opus One taste the same every year, to which Carles replied, “Then why do you put a vintage on the label?”  I would have loved to see Mondavi’s face upon hearing that question.  Carles and his winemaking team is also passionate about their barrel program.  They use only French oak since they feel American oak imparts too much sweet flavor, and Carles passionately believes that “wine should taste like wine and not wood.”  

    The winery itself is small and charming, and Carles displays some fantastic photography of vineyards, barrels, roots, fermentation tanks, and just about everything related to the winery.  After our tour it was finally time to get to tasting the wines.  The tasting room was absolutely first class.  Our wines were all poured in great stemware and covered with these really neat glass lids.  The glasses were on a personalized paper placemat with each wine label printed just below the glass.

    The tasting table with the custom
    glass tile ceiling above.
    Our first wine was the 2008 Kyrie, which is 35% Garnacha Blanca, 30% Macabeo, 30% Xarello, and 5% Muscat.  It had a honeyed, floral nose with notes of white stone fruit and apple.  The body was medium-full and it had very nice acidity that led to an unusually outstanding finish for a white.  Carlos said his team set out to make a white that can age for 10 to 20 years, and I think its fair to say that his mission has been accomplished.  The 2008 Kyrie would pair perfectly with shellfish and would also work well with other seafood and many cheeses.  

    The second wine was the 2004 Miserere, which Carles described as the feminine counterpart to his masculine Clos de L’Obac.  The wine was deep purple in color and had intense blackberry fruit dominating the bouquet with a floral element in the background.  The wine is a blend of 27% Garnacha, 27% Tempranillo, 27% Cabernet Sauvignon, with the remainder evenly split between Merlot and Carinena.  On the palate I got great fruit with layers of smoke and spice from the Tempranillo that added a deeper level of complexity to the wine.

    Our third wine was the flagship 2004 Clos de L’Obac, which was absolutely fantastic.  The blend is 35% Garnacha, 35% Cabernet Sauvignon, 10% Syrah, 10% Merlot, and 10% Carinena, as it is in every year its been made.  This consistent blend from year to year is part of Carles philosophy that vintage should be unique and express the ‘hand of God.”  In your glass, the wine is deep purple in color.  The nose has fantastic blackberry and black raspberry fruit with a hint of cherry as well, but it is the fresh minerality that really completes the bouquet.  You can almost smell the llicorella in your glass.  The wine is very well balanced with beautifully integrated tannins and a very nice, long finish.  This is truly a world class bottling.  Carles also gave us a taste of the 2002 Clos de L’Obac which was similar but much more delicate and nuanced that the more powerful 2004 vintage.  It was a very obvious example of what different vintages can bring to the same vineyards.  

    Our personalized tasting placemats

    The last wine we tasted was the 2006 Dolc de L’Obac, which was the rare fine red wine that is sweet.  The wine leaned more towards red as opposed to black fruit than the dry reds we tasted, and it also had a sweet caramel flavor to it that thankfully wasn’t the overly burnt caramel that results from over-toasting of barrels.  Its also interesting to note that the sweetness did not come with the thick, syrupy quality that so many sweet wines have.  Carles told us that making this wine was a real challenge for his team.  He was very concerned about how to stop fermentation.  He didn’t want to use high amounts of sulfites nor did he want to go the route of fortification as he feels that the high alcohol completely changes the flavor of the wine.  In the end he decided to quickly freeze the wine to kill the remaining yeast and stop fermentation with 50-60 grams/liter of residual sugar.  I am generally not very big fans of sweet/dessert reds, but I may have finally found my match here.  This was very tasty and unique.  

    Carles Pastrana with Lynne and me
     tightly clutching my cool new briefcase.
    After we finished tasting and hearing Carles plentiful and colorful stories, we got up from the tasting table to buy some wine.  Before I bought anything, though, I asked Carles about a wooden Clos de L’Obac briefcase he had on display in the tasting room.  He told me that is was a prototype that he designed for Porsche who is going to order a few hundred of these cool looking briefcases that hold 5 bottles of wine in the padded inner compartment.  When I asked Carles how much he would want for the prototype, he simply said “if you like it, its yours - take it.”  I thought that my perfect day couldn’t get any better after this, but Carles proved me wrong.  Upon learning that a couple in our party was celebrating their 5th anniversary, he disappeared for a few minutes and returned with a bottle of 1990 Clos de L’Obac that he gave to us and insisted that we open and enjoy at Cellar de Gratallops, where we were going for lunch.  This 22 year old Priorat was simply stunning and a perfect end to the single best winery experience of my life.        

    Sunday, December 16, 2012

    Braised and Pulled Short Ribs in Red Wine Sauce

    It seems that no longer how low and slow you cook short ribs, there are always some left over fatty pieces where the fat just won't render.  After trying numerous recipes, I finally came up with my own where after braising for a long time, I remove the ribs and pull them just like you would with pulled pork or brisket and then return them to the dutch oven.  It results in an absolutely delicious stew like dish that pairs beautifully with a hearty red like Cabernet Sauvignon or a meaty Syrah.  Here how to make it:

    5 lbs short ribs
    3 tablespoons olive oil
    3 celery stalks chopped
    3 medium onions chopped
    5 medium carrots very coarsely chopped (these will be reserved in the ribs)
    1 whole head garlic sliced in half so that each clove is divided in two
    1 bottle of decent, dry red wine (if you wouldn't drink it, don't cook with it!)
    32 oz beef stock
    sea salt
    black pepper
    8 sprigs fresh thyme
    8 sprigs fresh parsley
    4 sprigs fresh oregano
    3 sprigs fresh rosemary
    2 bay leaves
    4 tablespoons flour
    1.5 tablespoons tomato paste

    Preheat oven to 350.  In a large dutch oven (preferably cast iron), heat the olive oil over medium high heat on the stovetop.  Once hot, add half of the short ribs and brown for about 2 to 3 minutes a side on all 6 sides, and salt and pepper each side as you go.  Once done set aside to a plate and repeat with the remaining ribs and then add those to the plate.  Add the celery, onions, and carrots to the dutch oven and cook for about 5 minutes until vegetables start to soften a bit.  Add the flour and tomato paste and stir in for a minute or two to coat all the vegetables.  Next, add the red wine, bring to a boil and scrape the pan bottom as you go to make sure to deglaze the pan.  Once the red wine is boiling, add all the herbs and the garlic and then add the beef broth and return to a boil and simmer for 30 minutes.  Cover the dutch oven and transfer to oven and cook for 2.5 hours.  Remove the short ribs from the dutch oven and set aside on a warm plate.  Strain all the liquid and reserve the carrots and return to the liquid and then discard any other solids and return the liquid to the dutch oven.  Use a fork to pull the short ribs and then return to the dutch oven.  Heat liquid and pulled ribs over medium heat on the stove top for an additional 30 to 45 minutes until the liquid thickens nicely and any remaining fat renders.  Remove from heat and let the pot rest for 5 to 10 minutes and then spoon off any fat that has settled at the top and its ready to serve.

    This works very nicely over orzo, polenta or even mashed potatoes.  This is a fantastic meal for a cold winter day and all that time it spends cooking makes your whole house smell great.


    Saturday, December 8, 2012

    2009 Penalolen Cabernet Sauvignon

    If there were an award for of unsung hero of the world of wine regions, I think I would have to give my vote to Chile.  They don't have the mass appeal that their neighbor Argentina has, nor do they have a signature varietal or blend that so many regions have.  At the bricks and mortar retail shops, they tend to get lumped in with either Argentina and/or Spain, and there is no good reason for that.  Aside from the fact that the grapes are grown in a Spanish speaking country, there is really no relation at all between Chilean and Spanish wines, and very little commonality between Chilean and Argentine wines.  Unfortunately, I think Chilean wine tends to be lost or forgotten  because of this.

    Chile produces a number of varietals in varied regions and terroirs, but for me the most interesting is Cabernet Sauvignon.  Good Chilean Cab has distinct elements that just taste like Chile and are pretty consistent.  The key one being a fresh, earthy element that adds a level of interest that most California Cabs in lower price ranges don't have.  The earthy element is fresh and clean, which is different from the almost dirty, dusty earth that I get from Bordeaux.  The best thing about Chilean Cabs is that you get a lot of value for your dollar.  For me, most Bordeaux and California Cabernet in the high teens and low $20s is somewhere between bad and boring, and in the same price range, Chile is producing very good and very interesting Cabernets. 

    Today's subject is a Cabernet from the Maipo Valley in Chile.  The 2009 Penalolen Cabernet Sauvignon is a deep red in color.  Cassis dominates the nose along with notes of black raspberry.  Underneath the fruit there is an herbal element that is mostly sage, and there is, of course, that classic Chilean fresh earth.  In your mouth, you get more black fruit along with a smoky and spicy element that reminded me a bit of smoked Spanish paprika.  The tannins are very nice, and the finish is subtle but rather long.  Overall, this is a very nice Cabernet that can be had for under $20. 

    Pair this with traditional South American fare and you can't go wrong.  We had it with grilled skirt steak with a chimichurri sauce, and it paired beautifully.  So go to your local wine store and seek out some Chilean wines wherever they might be hiding them.  You won't be disappointed.   



    Sunday, December 2, 2012

    2008 Vinarija Dingac Postup

    A few weeks ago I tasted an wrote about my first Croatian wine, the Frano Milos Plavac  I was very pleasantly surprised by the quality of that wine and wondered if it was just one good wine, or if there was something to the relatively unknown wine regions of Croatia.  Since then, I tried a few more Croatian reds from producers like Bibich and Dingac, and I'm here to say that Croatia wine is the real deal.  The wines are unique and interesting with definite terroir, and there are some winemakers who know what they're doing.  If you want to try some Croatian wine, like the Vinarija Dingac Postup that is today's subject, you can order them online at

    The 2008 Vinarija Dingac Postup is an almost brownish brick red in your glass.  The nose brings very nice red berry fruit that is dominated by the distinct smell of fresh, homemade strawberry jam.  Underneath the fruit, there is a really nice element of fresh herbs that is reminiscent of the garrigue that comes through in wines from the Rhone Valley.  Smelling the rosemary and thyme made me want to go the garden and cut some fresh herbs to cook with.  In your mouth, some really interesting things happen with this wine that is made from 100% Plavac Mali grapes.  The red berry fruit from the nose still comes through, but it is much more of a background player.  When first opened, the wine is almost overwhelmed by flavors of wet rocks.  There is also a nice spicy element on the mid palate and then the stony tannins and decent acidity give the wine a subtle but rather long finish.  Its also important to note that this wine changed quite a bit over the 90 minutes or so that we drank it.  The gravelly element that was so strong when first opened, really calmed down after about an hour and was replaced with some more spice and subtle notes of sour cherry. 

    Overall, this was a really good and very interesting wine that retails in the mid $20s.  Its very food friendly and versatile.  It would be perfect with cured meats and cheese, or with slow cooked meats like braised short ribs.  I also think its medium body and flavors would go well with pork.  If you can find some, give a Croatian Plavac Mali a try.  You won't be disappointed.


    Wednesday, November 28, 2012

    Tagliatelle with Venison Ragout

    Here is a great healthy recipe made with very low fat ground venison.  I know that many people find venison to be dry and gamy, but I assure you that this recipe is moist, juicy, and not gamy tasting at all.  Give it a try with a nice bottle of red. 
    1/3 cup olive oil
    2 pounds ground venison
    2 medium carrots

    2 medium onions
    2 stalks celery
    1.5 tablespoon tomato paste
    2 cups dry red wine
    2 14 oz cans canned cherry tomatoes - do not drain.  Use plum tomatoes and chop if you can’t get these.
    3 ½ cups low-sodium chicken broth or water

    4 sprigs fresh thyme
    1/2 teaspoon ground fennel
    1/4 teaspoon coarsely ground black pepper
    1/4 teaspoon red pepper flakes
    1/2 teaspoon salt
    2 sprigs fresh rosemary

    2 sprigs fresh oregano
    2 bay leaves
    1/2 teaspoon ground coriander
    1/2 teaspoon ground cumin
    1 pound tagliatelle
    Fresh grated pecorino cheese to taste

    Heat 1/4 cup olive oil over medium high heat in a 5 to 7 quart saucepan or pot.   Add the venison and cook and continually break up any clumps until it is all browned – about 5 to 10 minutes. Chop the carrots, onions and celery together in a food processor and then stir in to the meat. Cook until the vegetables start to soften, about 3 to 5 minutes. Stir in the tomato paste and cook for another 2 minutes.

    Add the red wine and stir in for a minute making sure to deglaze the bottom of the pan cleanly and then add the canned tomatoes, broth and all the herbs, spices, salt, and pepper.  Reduce the heat to medium-low and simmer. Stir regularly (every 5 to 10 minutes) and continue to simmer uncovered for about 2 1/2 hours, or until most of the liquid evaporates and the ragout has a nice dark brown color. You can continue cooking or keep warm on the stove, but you will want to cover it if you do.

     Cook the Tagliatelle in lightly salted water and serve in pasta bowls with Ragout served over top. Add  fresh grated pecorino as desired.

    We had this recently with a nice cool climate Syrah from Sonoma county and it paired perfectly. 


    Saturday, November 10, 2012

    2008 Frano Milos Plavac

    I just read a great blog post on The Gray Report about the Prestige/Intrigue divide with wine buyers in the $15 and up price category.  The post suggests that there are two major types of wine buyers once you get out of the bargain basement.  The first group is all about big scores and fame - the Prestige group.  The second is drawn more to unique and interesting wines - the Intrigue group.  I find myself much more in the Intrigue group.  Although I have certain go to varietals and regions that I buy regularly, I am always looking for something new and interesting.  If its from an unknown or little known wine region - all the better.  I love discovering new regions to explore through wine.  Today's wine absolutely fits that bill.  It's a Plavac Mali from the Peljesac Peninsula in Croatia. 

    The 2008 Frano Milos Plavac is made from grapes grown in a peninsula on the Adriatic coast of Croatia.  For those who are geographically challenged, imagine going a little south and then east from Tuscany in Italy to the Adriatic Sea and then go directly across the sea to Croatia.  You'll find yourself smack in the middle of Frano Milos' coastal vineyards, where his family has been making wine for 500 years.  The grapes themselves are indigenous to Croatia and resulted from the crossbreeding of Zinfandel (known as Crljenak Kaštelanski in Croatia) and Dobricic, another Croatian grape.  The wine is aged in Slavonian oak, none of which is new, and is unfined and unfiltered.

    In your glass the wine is a deep garnet red in color.  The bouquet has a lot going on and is hard to define.  There is cherry fruit, but beyond that I get a lot of spice elements, especially a very pleasant cinnamon as well as some very interesting elements that I frankly struggled to define.  On the palate, you get much of the same along with fantastic acidity and mild tannins.  The finish is very nice and has some decent length.  Overall, this is a truly intriguing wine that is very multi-dimensional.  For a price in the mid $20's you get something very unique, interesting, and delicious. 

    From a pairing standpoint, this wine could go so many ways, although with Thanksgiving approaching, its got me thinking that it could go very well with all the different elements that make up a traditional turkey dinner. 

    If this wine in intriguing to you, you can find it online at  This is a great website with interesting wines from Croatia, Hungary, and Austria among other interesting wine regions.  Check it out and try something new and different. 


    Friday, November 9, 2012

    2010 K Vinters "The Deal" Syrah Sundance Vineyard Wahluke Slope

    I have seen many offerings from Charles Smith/K Vintners on retail shelves at the past, but I never tried one before.  I guess it might have something to do with the labels, which often have "K Syrah" featured or go right to silly labels like their "Boom Boom" Syrah.  I've never been a fan of critter or funny labels, but as I took a closer look at "The Deal" I noticed something even more interesting on the label hidden in the fine print.  In an age were New World Syrah is often near 15% or sometimes even higher, "The Deal" weighs in at a scant 13.5% alcohol.  Upon noticing this, I felt that I had put aside my aversion to the label and give it a try, and I'm sure glad that I did.

    In your glass, the wine is deep purple in color.  The bouquet is bright and complex with aromas of blueberry pie, violets, fresh earth, and just the right amount of funk.  If I were tasting this blind I would absolutely guess Northern Rhone as opposed to Northwest US based on the bouquet alone.  On the palate, the fruit leans more towards blackberry and black raspberry, and it is balanced out by nice acidity and fine tannins.  The finish is not overwhelming, but it has quite a bit of length to it.  Overall, this is a really nice Syrah that has a lot of really good fruit, but also a much lighter mouthfeel than you'd expect from a Washington Syrah.  For a price in the low $20's, its a very good wine.  I might even have to go try the "Boom Boom" after how good this was. 

    Pair this with just about any grilled red meat or a nice stew.  Lamb shanks braised in red wine might just be perfect with it. 


    Saturday, October 20, 2012

    2009 Chateau Croix Figeac Saint Emilion Grand Cru

    Bordeaux is wonderful and frustrating all at the same time for me.  The best wines of Bordeaux are incredible, but very often out of reach financially.  There are also many lower priced Bordeaux bottlings out there, but so many of them are overwhelmingly uninspiring.  What I've been finding over the last few years is that the sweet spot for values seems to be in my $16-30 price category and that the majority of the values are coming from the Right Bank.  One of these better values is the 2009 Chateau Croix Figeac Saint Emilion Grand Cru.

    In your glass the wine is reddish purple and brings aromas of cassis, blackberry, and cherry fruit.  Underneath the fruit is a layer of very pleasant vanilla and fresh earth.  On the palate the fruit leans more towards black as well as red currants and their inherent sour notes.  The tannins are just a little bitter but well integrated.  Medium acidity provides some balance and gives this just enough structure to keep it from being flabby.  With a little bit of decanting, this is drinking pretty well in 2012, and it should keep getting better over the next couple of years.  At a price in the low to mid $20's, you're getting a very nice Right Bank Bordeaux that isn't necessarily everyday, but it wont break the bank either.

    As far as pairing goes, I always love lamb with Merlot.  This would be a perfect pairing to my Roasted Rack of Lamb With Balsamic Demi-Glace


    Saturday, September 15, 2012

    2005 Novy Syrah Judge Family Vineyard

    This is my second post on a single vineyard Syrah from Novy.  As noted in my review of their Christensen Family Vineyard , Novy is a really great small producer who focuses primarily on making single vineyard Syrah although they do work with a few other varietals.  Owners and winemakers Adam and Dianna Lee believe that the wine should be a pure expression of what's coming out of the vineyard and as they say on their website they "are determined not to let any overt winemaking components mute the personality of an individual site."  I believe this is an excellent philosophy overall, and I think its a particularly great approach for Syrah which can really change depending on where its grown and how it's treated.  I can't say that I love every Novy Syrah that I'm lucky enough to find, but they are certainly all unique and most of them are pretty darn good or even better.  The Novy Judge Family Vineyard is one of my favorites so far.

    In your glass the wine is deep purple that bleeds to garnet at the edges.  Blackberry and black pepper dominate the bouquet but their are some other subtle elements lurking quietly including a bit of raw red meat.  On the palate I get sweet blackberry fruit up front that then transitions into less ripe blackberry, plum, and very dark cherry that leads to a nice, lengthy finish.  The tannins are very well integrated and the acid is just enough.  Overall, this is a really nice and well balanced wine.  There is nice up front fruit that dies quickly, but it's followed by a darker second wave of flavor, tannins, and acid that just keeps going. 

    From a pairing standpoint, this wine makes me want lamb.  Rack of lamb, leg of lamb, lamb chops. lamb stew...I don't care which one, just give me some lamb!  This wine is made for it.  At about $35 a bottle its not for everyday, but it sure is a nice treat for the right occasion. 



    Sunday, July 29, 2012

    2009 Ferraton Pere et Fils "La Matiniere" Crozes-Hermitage

    The Northern Rhone really has a lot to offer.  The finesse of Cote-Rotie and the power of a great Hermitage are well known and delicious, but they can often be out of the average wine lover's budget.  The good news is there are plenty of other regions in the Northern Rhone that are producing more budget friendly wines.  Cornas in the southern end of the Northern Rhone produces some rustic but very interesting Syrahs that aren't necessarily budget friendly, but they do provide a nice value relative to Hermitage.  Saint Joseph and Crozes-Hermitage on opposite sides of the Rhone are both larger regions that produce some average stuff as well as some really great values.  Today's subject is not in my $15 and under category, but it is a Crozes-Hermitage that provides great value in the low $20s. 

    The 2009 "La Martiniere" is 100% Syrah that is grown in rocky soils and aged for 12 months in oak before bottling.  The wine is a deep reddish purple in your glass.  The bouquet brings pretty intense blackberry and raspberry fruit with some black pepper and a bit of vanilla.  In your mouth you get more mixed red and black berries, but the fruit is much more subdued on the palate than the nose.  Decent acidity and some mild tannins make this a very nicely balanced offering.  All of this is brought to a close by a very subtle but long finish.  The bottom line is that this wine has a little something for everyone.  Fruit lovers will fall for the bouquet, and those who like a little more finesse and balance will not be disappointed. 

    This is not a hard wine to pair with food.  It could go with the usual Syrah suspects of lamb or other grilled red meats, but it could also work with braised chicken dishes like coq au vin or even pasta with a meat sauce.  It would also be a great red to serve with fine cheese and elegant hors-d'oeuvres.


    Friday, July 6, 2012

    Mako Shark with Lemon Tarragon Butter

    If you're looking for something different to cook on the grill during this hot summer weather, here's a quick easy recipe that's simply delicious.  There is very little work involved, but you can easily impress your friends with this low maintenance meal that takes less than 20 minutes to make.  The hardest part of the whole thing is finding some great quality fresh fish.  If your local fishmonger doesn't have Mako shark, you can substitute fresh swordfish or even halibut steaks.  What's important for this is making sure whatever kind of fish you get is fresh caught and not frozen.  Here's the ingredients you will need to serve 6.

    • 6 fresh Mako shark steaks about 1.5" thick
    • 4 tablespoons butter
    • Juice of half a lemon
    • 1 tablespoon chopped fresh tarragon
    • Sea salt to taste
    • 1 tablespoon olive oil
    Start by melting 4 tablespoons of butter and add lemon juice and tarragon to the butter and salt to taste.  I split the butter between two ramekins, but you could put it all in one small bowl.  Once the butter mixture is in the bowls, set it in the fridge so that the butter hardens.  Preheat your grill to medium high heat and make sure the grates are well brushed and oiled.  While the grill is heating coat the Mako shark steaks with the olive oil to prevent sticking.  Grill steaks for 3 minutes a side so that fish is just cooked through but still nice and moist. Serve the fish and then top with a bit of the lemon tarragon butter and enjoy. 

    We've paired this with a few different white wines that all have nice acidity.  My personal favorite is a nice Spanish Albarino. 


    Friday, June 22, 2012

    2009 Josmeyer Pinot Blanc

    Alsace is a region in northeast France that has been fought over by the French and the Germans for centuries.  Throughout all the time the rights to this land has been contested, there have been growers and winemakers planting and working wonderful vineyards in this tiny little corner of France.  The more Alsatian wine I drink, the more I believe that this is what all the fighting has been about.  Who wouldn't fight for the right to make wine from the fantastic vineyards of Alsace?  Their dry climate and wide variety of soil types makes for some outstanding terroir for a number of different varietals.  Although Alsace is best known for Riesling, they produce wonderful expressions of many different white varietals like Gewurztraminer, Pinot Gris, Sylvaner, Muscat, and the subject of today's post,  Pinot Blanc. 

    The 2009 Josmeyer Pinot Blanc is a golden straw color in your glass.  The bouquet has elements of  Meyer lemon and peach, and in your mouth you get much of the same with an added element of pineapple.  Very good acidity tickles the tongue up front, recedes and then returns on a very nice and rather long finish.  The wine is medium in body and is crisp and quite refreshing.  It would be nice on a hot summer day, but this is not just an ordinary summer sipper.  At a price of about $17 its a fairly good value and something that I will be buying many more bottles of.

    From a pairing standpoint, this would go very well with seafood.  We drank it with a fresh caught Mako shark steak on the grill finished with a tarragon butter and it worked beautifully.


    Saturday, June 2, 2012

    2009 Andrew Murray Vineyards Tous Les Jours Syrah

    There is nothing like finding a wine that fits in your everyday price range that you really enjoy.  Lets face it, finding good wine is not that hard with an unlimited budget, but not too many of us out there are in that situation.  The rest of us must be able to find wines that are delicious and interesting that we can actually afford.  So the big question is how to find these value wines that drink really well. 

    For me, I have two main types of sources.    The first is finding great retailers which is a whole subject in itself that I've blogged about before  The other way I find great wines and great values is by reading other wine blogs.  If you can find a small group of bloggers who just plain make sense to you after reading a few of their posts, then you should be able to find some nice wines through their posts.  Today's subject is a wine that I learned about through a blog that primarily focuses on everyday value wines.  Written by Jon Thorsen, another plain old wine consumer/lover like me, its a great source for everyday wines.  I also love that Jon doesn't just taste wines and write about them, he actually drinks them.  It's a subtle distinction but I think its important to the everyday wine consumer.  You can find his blog here   

    The 2009 Andrew Murray Vineyards Tous Les Jours Syrah is deep purple in color.  The nose brings really pure aromas of blackberry fruit with a nice black pepper element and just a slightest hint of game to it.  On the palate you get the same blackberry fruit up front, but the fun doesn't end there.  Decent acidity and very smooth tannins provide just enough structure to set this apart from many other Syrahs in this price range, and what really makes it shine is a very long, peppery finish that is very unusual for a bottle that I picked up for only $16.  Unfortunately the 2009 is sold out, but the 2010 vintage is now available on the Andrew Murray website for the same $16 price.  I'm hoping it will be just as good. 

    From a pairing standpoint, this would go well with grilled red meats, BBQ, and definitely with venison or lamb.  For a price of only $16, though, it works really well if you just pair it with a nice red wine glass. 


    Friday, May 25, 2012

    2009 Donelan Family Wines Kobler Family Vineyard Syrah

    "Wine is a journey not a destination."  That's what Joe Donelan of Donelan Family Wines has to say right on the front label of his wines.  I feel that part of that journey is taking all the really interesting turns you find along the way that your taste buds lead you on.  One of the most interesting and rewarding turns for me recently has been the one that has led me down the road of cool climate Syrah.  More and more, I'm finding that Syrah in a cool climate is the varietal that brings the most incredible balance of delicious fruit, great body and weight, ample acid, and just the right tannins when done well.  For me it is the perfect combination of power and restraint, and trying all the examples that lean to one side or the other of the power/restraint continuum is a journey I'd like to continue for quite some time. 

    In your glass, the 2009 Donelan Family Wines Kobler Family Vineyard Syrah is deep purple in color.  The nose is a wonderful conglomeration of cherry, blackberry, pepper, and some meaty/gamy notes.  There is also a really unique element of pine nuts.  It sounds crazy and took me a while to identify it, but once I figured it out, this subtle smell was just like a pignoli nut cookie baking in your oven.  I cant wait to see what happens with the bouquet as this wine ages.  In your mouth, you get delicious blackberry fruit with really nice acidity and a medium body.  Smooth tannins lead you into a fantastic and long finish.  Overall, this is a wonderful and very food friendly Syrah that is clearly cool climate and very delicious.  It is an elegant example of Syrah that is Northern Rhone-like in its exceptional balance. 

    From a pairing standpoint, the combination of acidity and smooth tannins found in this Kobler Family Vineyard Syrah makes this really versatile.  It could go with anything from a grilled pork tenderloin cooked medium to grilled steak or venison.  I think its sweet spot would be a seared duck breast or roasted rack of lamb, but I don't think you can go wrong with this great Syrah.  Available for a price of $45 at , its worth every penny if you're a fan of food friendly Syrah.



    Sunday, April 29, 2012

    2006 Chateau La Roque Coteaux du Languedoc Pic Saint Loup Rouge "Cuvee Les Vielles Vignes de Mourvedre"

    Wow!  After that mouthful of a title do I really need to write anything else for a nice, lengthy blog post?  Well of course I do, because the Languedoc is not well known enough to most of the world and they are making some really good wines these days.  I'm here to help spread the word!  Coteaux du Languedoc, where this wine is made, is the 2nd largest AOC in the Languedoc, and rather than being one contiguous area, the classified growing areas are a number of separate areas scattered throughout a large portion of the Languedoc. Most of the wine produced in the Coteaux du Languedoc is made from red wine grapes, with the main varietals being Grenache, Syrah, and Mourvedre, with Carignan and Cinsault also being allowed by the AOC. It is also important to note that Coteaux du Languedoc has only had AOC status for 25 years, and the area anticipates having many additional AOCs in the future as the growers and winemakers find out more about each of the many microclimates in the region.

    You would think that this would be a relatively young region based on there short period as an AOC, but that is absolutely not the case.  Wine has been made in this are since Roman times, and the De La Roque brothers planted new vines in the Chateau La Roque estate vineyards in the 13th century!  The history in the Languedoc region is long and storied, but it is in recent times that the attention to quality vs. quantity has really improved turning the Languedoc into a great up an coming wine region.  It is these types of regions where great wine values can be found, and this offering from Chateua La Roque is no exception. 

    Made from 90% old vine Mourvedre and 10% Grenache, the wine is a very deep, garnet red in your glass.  The nose brings aromas of black cherry, blueberry, game, and just a hint of barnyard that is quite pleasant.  On the palate I get cherry, blackberry, and blueberry fruit with a spicy element on the finish.  Decent acidity and solid tannins bring some structure, and an enjoyable finish.  Overall this is a good and interesting wine that can be found for about $20.  I found it in a cool shop I just discovered not too far from my Long Island home called Lake Side Emotions in Stony Brook, NY.  

    I happened to sip this all by itself last night and it paired really well with my glass, but this is a pretty food friendly Mourvedre.  Its not just a big ball of muscle and power.  This would be great with just about anything on the grill.

    As a final side note, this wine is imported by Kermit Lynch who has even more interesting info about the Chateau on his website at  


    Saturday, April 28, 2012

    Pan Roasted Free Range Chicken With Lemon & Sage

    4 free range chicken breast halves
    2 tablespoons chopped fresh sage
    Juice of 1 lemon
    1 tablespoon olive oil
    1.5 tablespoon butter
    Sea salt
    Black pepper

    Serves 4 to 6

    This recipe is about as simple as it gets, and it's the rare recipe that I made up on the fly that didn't need any tweaking the second time around. They key is having good quality free range chicken and fresh herbs. I prefer to buy whole free range chickens and quarter them myself. When I quarter them, I debone the breast, but I leave a small portion of wing bone attached to it. This gives you the benefit of still being able to effectively brown both sides of the breast while getting some added flavor to the dish from the bone, but you could certainly make it with a fully boneless breast.

    Heat oven to 350 degrees. Sprinkle sea salt and pepper on the chicken breasts while you heat the olive oil over medium high heat on a oven safe skillet, preferably cast iron. Once the oil is heated, place the breasts in the pan skin side down. Let the breasts cook until they easily release from the pan - about 6 minutes. If they don't release, they are not ready to turn. Once they release, flip the breasts in the pan and sauté for 3 minutes. Drain all but about 1 tbs of liquid from the pan and then roast in oven until chicken is cooked through - about 8 minutes. Return the skillet to the stove top over low heat. Squeeze lemon juice evenly throughout the pan and sprinkle sage throughout the pan. Add butter and melt and then spoon the liquid all over the breasts.

    Remove the chicken to a cutting board and slice crosswise. Plate the slices and spoon a little bit of the sauce over the slices and serve. I served this with roasted asparagus and a Parmesan couscous and it was delicious. This dish will pair well with many whites and especially well with something with medium body and nice but not overwhelming acidity.

    Wednesday, April 18, 2012

    Home on the Range...My Free Range Chicken Rant

    I must confess that I was not originally drawn to the natural and organic food movement. Free range chicken? I figured a chicken that ran around a lot would be skinny and that a fat, lazy chicken might taste a little better. Well after years of frustration randomly getting bad chicken in the grocery store, I'm here to say that I'm a believer in organic, natural, free range chicken. I'm done with pre cut up breasts, thighs, and drumsticks from a factory farm. I'm done with chicken that has seen more steroids than an NFL linebacker and more antibiotics than the Center for Disease Control.

    I'd love to say my motivation was pure and for the betterment of the world and fair treatment of chickens everywhere, but the fact is that the natural, organic, free range chicken just tastes better. Regular chicken is sometimes OK and sometimes as rubbery as an old set of Goodyears. The problem is there is no telling what you'll get on the table when you look at the chicken in the store. With free range chicken I've found very consistent results. After trying numerous free range chickens I've discovered that they're always moist, juicy, delicious and never tough or rubbery.

    So get to your local store and do something good for the treatment of chickens out there and try some free range chicken. Your taste buds will thank you. Free range chickens can be found at many stores, farmers markets, and most definitely at Whole Foods where I buy them.

    Saturday, April 14, 2012

    2009 I Campi Campo Vulcano Soave Classico

    Soave. Easy enough to say compared to some other Italian wines, but it kind of sounds funny doesn't it? Just saying the word makes me think of that awful Gerardo hit from the early 90's - "Rico Suave." Up until now, Soave also hasn't conjure up the greatest wine memories for me. When I think of Soave, I think back to its original heyday when my parents served it out of jugs and it was so bad that as an underage drinker, I had no desire to steal it out of their fridge. Its safe to say that these thoughts of Soave don't exactly take me to my wine happy place, but that all changed for me a couple nights ago when my new friend Melissa at 67 Wine on Manhattan's Upper West Side recommended a great Soave for me to try.

    Before I get to the wine, lets talk a little about Soave in general. Soave is a wine that has suffered abuse at the hands of some larger producers as well as governing bodies, but recently a core of producers are working to produce better quality wines and increase the reputation of this region in the Veneto. There are DOC and DOCG zones in the region and both require the use of at least 70% of the Garganega grape, with many other white varietals allowed to complete the blend. The additional varietals are dependent on whether its a DOC or DOCG. There is also a "Classico" designation for wines made from grapes that are grown in the oldest parts of Soave in the hillsides.

    The 2009 I Campi Campo Vulcano Soave Classico is a light straw color that moves towards clear at the edge. The nose is somewhat closed, but there are some nice citrus elements of lemon and grapefruit. On the palate you get more of the same citrus with pineapple and some other tropical fruits but without any sweetness. There is also some very interesting minerality. For me, the most enjoyable part of this wonderful Soave was the crazy cool finish. I got a really unique, refreshing, and mineral drying sensation on the top of my tongue with long lasting waves of mouthwatering acidity on the sides of my tongue on the very back of my palate. It was fascinating and like nothing else I have ever tasted. I tried this wine amongst many others in a quest to find some new white varietals that my wife and I can both enjoy. Mission accomplished with the I Campi Campo Vulcano Soave!

    Pair this with a glass and some sunshine. At a price of just under $20, I'll be buying much more of this to enjoy by the pool this summer with cheese and crackers or other pre-dinner fare. It could also pair nicely with lighter chicken and fish dishes. No more thoughts of jug wine and bad 90's songs for me anymore. Thoughts of Soave can now take me to some very good places.


    Friday, April 6, 2012

    2007 Chimney Rock Cabernet Sauvignon Stags Leap District

    Sometimes a glass of wine can just take you to another place and time. When that place is in the Stag's Leap District looking out across the vineyards to the Stag's Leap Palisades to the east, then I'm a pretty damn happy man. I've had the good fortune to visit Napa Valley many times, but for me there is no place that has memories quite like my visits to the Stag's Leap District. The landscape around the Silverado Trail is just beautiful, and I love that it still feels a little bit like you're off the beaten path. There are many fine wineries there, and one my favorites for the wines and the tasting room is Chimney Rock. Every time I have a glass, my mind takes me back to that beautiful place.

    In your glass this outstanding Stag's Leap District Cab is a deep purple-red in color. You get aromas of black cherry, blackberry and just a hint of vanilla. In your mouth you get some fantastic fruit and just enough acid, but its really the tannins that make this wine stand out. They are somehow big and soft all at the same time, and they help frame a really nice and sneaky long finish. For me, I think this is what makes wines from the Stag's Leap District so special. When done right, they have a mouthfeel that is just wonderful and absolutely unique to this tiny little slice of Napa Valley. In 2007, Chimney Rock has clearly done it right!

    From a pairing standpoint, this wine was made for grilled red meat. It would be perfect with steak, lamb, or venison. At a price of around $60, its not an everyday red, but it's well worth it for special occasions.


    Sunday, March 25, 2012

    2005 Paraiso Vineyards Wedding Hill Syrah

    Lest we forget, I'm here to remind everyone that there is a lot more to California wine than just Napa and Sonoma. Although those areas get the bulk of the attention and retail shelf space, there are amazing winegrowing areas scattered throughout California, including one of my favorite little AVAs, the Santa Lucia Highlands. The Santa Lucia Highlands have been a home for vineyards since the Spanish missions, but they got their real commercial start in the 1970's when a few growers put down roots there. AVA status was achieved in 1991. Many of the vineyards are planted on the edge of the Santa Lucia mountain range, and they get plenty of sun but also get cool maritime breezes that make for a nice, long growing season that is not overly hot. Pinot Noir and Chardonnay are the stars here, but they now have almost 500 acres of Riesling and about 200 acres of Syrah as well as many other varietals. One of the pioneers in the Santa Lucia Highlands was the Smith family of Paraiso, who were the first to plant Syrah in the AVA in their Wedding Hill vineyard. I'm sure glad that they made that decision.

    The 2005 Paraiso Vineyards Wedding Hill Syrah is opaque garnet red in your glass with a wonderful mix of blackberry, black pepper, game and a little smoke on the nose. In your mouth, the wine has surprisingly nice weight that is not too over the top for a wine that's 14.8% alcohol. There is nice fruit up front, but the fantastic acidity and soft tannins that go with it provide structure and a nice long finish. I picked this up on a clearance deal, and I don't think there is much left out there to be had, but I will definitely be looking into some more vintages and other Syrahs from Paraiso.

    Pair this with grilled red meats. A venison steak or lamp chops would be perfect. It would also work really well with some slow cooked, smoky BBQ.


    Saturday, March 24, 2012

    2007 San Pedro 1865 Single Vineyard Syrah Los Quillayes Vineyard

    So I must admit that for quite some time I was guilty of the crime that I see wine retailers and consumers committing all the time. Simply put, that crime is not paying enough attention to the wonderful and unique wines being made in Chile this days. It seems that in the press, on retail shelves, and in the hearts and minds of consumers, Argentina gets all the attention in South America. Don't get me wrong, I think Argentina is great, but I also think Chile is fantastic and quite a bit different from its neighbor to the east. Where Argentina is really good at one thing, Malbec (and arguably Torrontes too), Chile has an amazing diversity of microclimates in its little vertical slice of South America. Depending on where you are in Chile, you can find great wines that are really good values made from Carmenere, Cabernet Sauvignon, Sauvignon Blanc, Merlot, Syrah, Chardonnay, and even a little bit of Pinot Noir. Our recent wine rut (I say that in a good way) has been with Syrah, so I have been exploring some Chilean Syrahs to see how they hold up against the rest of the world, and the results have been pretty darn good.

    The 2007 San Pedro 1865 Los Quillayes Vineyard Syrah is a deep, garnet red in your glass. When first opened, this bottle smelled a little bit like a hickory smoke bomb went off, but after about 30 minutes in decanter that settles down and you get very pleasant smoke and game along with some blackberry and just a little bit of bell pepper. On your palate, you get enjoyable but subdued blackberry fruit upfront and some smoky bacon on the finish, and the tannins are already pretty mellow. Although the alcohol is pretty high at 14.5%, the profile of this wine leans more towards the Rhone than it does Australia. It is also has some unique qualities, like that very subtle bell pepper, that just taste of Chile, and that's one of the things I really like about Chilean wine - they exude terroir.

    From a pairing standpoint, this wine makes me want cheese, but it is pretty versatile. It could also go with grilled red meats or even some smoky BBQ. At a price of only $15, its a pretty strong value.