Thursday, January 28, 2010

Seghesio Aldo e Riccardo Barbera d'Alba DOC 2007

Italy has such an amazing variety of wine grapes. One of the true workhorses that most serious drinkers and Italian wine lovers know, but that many casual drinkers are not necessarily familiar with is Barbera. Barbera is grown in many areas of Italy, and for many years it was used to make high volume, second-rate wine. In recent years, though, the quality of wine made from this grape has improved dramatically. The best Barbera is grown in Piedmont in the Barbera d’Asti and Barbera d’Alba regions – thank you Italy for actually putting the name of the grape on the name of the region in this case to keep it simple for us! Barbera wines are generally medium bodied with a variety of red and black fruit flavors and very nice acidity that makes it rather food friendly. As a rule it is a wine that can be enjoyed in its youth but doesn’t necessarily have to be drunk young.

Seghesio Barbera D’Alba 2007 is a deep purple red in your glass. The bouquet brings cherry, blackberry, and blueberry fruit with some subtle leather. On the palate, the blackberry fades into the background, and the black cherry and blueberry fruit dominate along with a strong earthy component on the finish. The tannins are mild and nice acidity adds some balance to this wine. Overall, this is a nice wine that doesn’t knock my socks off, but it provides some complexity and a decent value at a price point just under $15. I should also note that I drank my first glass with minimal decanting, and it was definitely a little tight and harsh at first. It was much better after about 45 minutes.

This is a little darker and more full bodied than most Barbera, and it would pair pretty well with pasta with a classic Bolognese sauce.

If you're interested in seeing some other great Italian wines, see this link


Monday, January 25, 2010

Chicken Breats with Roasted Red Peppers and Portobello Mushrooms

For today’s post I’ve got a recipe that brings together some of my favorite flavors. The sweetness and deep flavor of roasted red peppers, the delicious earthiness of Portobello mushrooms, and the sharp, nutty flavor of Asiago cheese. Put them together with a chicken breast as your canvas, and you’ve got a colorful and delicious meal that also happens to be pretty healthy. Here’s what you will need to serve 4:

4 chicken breasts pounded to about ½” thickness
12 oz of roasted red peppers chopped into about ½ to ¾” squares
12 oz Portobello mushrooms sliced into strips
2/3 cup white wine
2/3 cup chicken broth
Freshly Ground Pepper
Shredded Asiago Cheese
1 Tbs. Flour mixed with 2 Tbs cold water.
2 Tbs. Olive Oil

Heat olive oil in a large frying/saut̩ pan under medium-high heat. Salt and pepper the chicken breasts and brown in the oil Рabout 3 to 4 minutes a side. Set chicken breasts aside on a warmed plate, and add mushroom to the pan and saut̩ them for about 5 to 7 minutes. Add wine and chicken broth and cook until liquid is reduced by half, and then add flour and water mixture as needed to thicken the sauce just a little. Return the chicken breasts to the pan and add the roasted red peppers and cook on low for about 10 minutes or until chicken is done. Serve chicken smothered with mushrooms, peppers, and sauce and add a little shredded Asiago cheese on top. You should also have enough sauce. peppers, and mushroom to spoon some over your favorite pasta or plain couscous.

Although most would think of white wine for chicken breasts, this meal pairs much better with a nicely structured red wine, and I prefer to have it with Grenache based blends like the Camille Cayran Gemellus Rasteau 2006 which you can see here or the Mas Donis Barrica Old Vines Montsant 2005


Saturday, January 23, 2010

Castell de Falset Montsant 2004

All week I have been writing about wines from regions that are not necessarily the best known in their respective countries. We have looked at wines from Campania in Italy, Vacqueyras in France, and the Columbia Valley in Washington. Today we’ll be taking a look at a great little region from Spain. Spain is very famous in the wine world for Tempranillo based wines from Rioja, but it has a great variety of different regions and grapes (for more in depth info on the main Spanish red wine regions, see my post on Spanish wine here ). Spain’s second best known region is probably Priorat, which produces some intense, highly sought after collectible wines. Just to the south of Priorat, almost in a horseshoe shape around it on three sides, is the relatively newly formed region of Montsant, which just received its Denominacion de Origen or DO classification in 2001.

Montsant does not have the same elevations and steep hillsides as its neighbor to the north, but it does have the benefit of the same great climate with the combination of hot days and cool nights that can be so good for developing powerful but nicely structured wines. Most of the DO is planted with Garnacha (called Grenache in most of the world) and Carinena (called Carignan in most of the world), which even many experts mistakenly refer to as French grapes; however, the truth is that both of these varietals are native to Spain and have been grown there for wine for centuries. There are also plenty of wineries experimenting with international varieties like Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, and Syrah.

The Montsant we are looking at today is the Castell de Falset Montsant 2004. Consisting of 50% Carinena, 25% Garnacha, and 25% Cabernet Sauvignon aged for 12 months in French oak, the wine has an intense purple color in your glass. The nose brings wonderful aromas of black cherry and blackberries with a hint of cedar. In your mouth you get a very nice and very dark black fruit profile with a little bit of earthy minerality. There is enough acidity and very smooth tannins that provide some structure to balance out the fruit. This wine is drinking great now and probably just in the beginning of its prime. You could easily lay this down for a few more years.

Overall this Montsant is a very nice wine that has a great combination of fruit and structure. Retailing for about $27, it gives you much more bang for the buck than similarly priced wines from Priorat. In fact it drinks like a $50 bottle of Priorat.

This would pair well with grilled beef or lamb, or my preferred pairing would be with an appetizer or tapas course of authentic Spanish Serrano ham and Mahon cheese. Yum!

As a final note, if this all sounds great, but you want to start with a less expensive wine from Montsant, check out my review of the Mas Donis Montsant here


Thursday, January 21, 2010

Domaine de Montvac Arabesque Vacqueyras 2007

This week I’m focusing on regions that aren’t necessarily the best known in their respective countries. Today I’m looking at a wine from the Southern Rhone in France. This is a region that is somewhat well known, but not nearly as well known as the French regions of Bordeaux, Burgundy, or Champagne. Within the Southern Rhone, the best known and most expensive wines come from the village of Chateauneuf-du-Pape which is its own AOC or Appelations d’Origine Controlee; however, Chateauneuf-du-Pape is just one of many AOCs in the Southern Rhone. The Domaine de Montvac Arabesque 2007 that is our subject today is from the AOC of Vacqueyras, which is about 8 miles to the northeast of Chateauneuf-du-Pape geographically and about $15 to $50 to the south of it in price.

Vacqueyras is the newest of the Southern Rhone AOCs, having just achieved AOC status in 1990. Stylistically they are a little more subdued than wines from Chateauneuf-du-Pape. The quality of the wines, though, is quite good, and the values you can find here are excellent. The Domaine de Montvac Arabesque 2007 is one of the best values that I have found from Vacqueyras.

Made from 70% Grenache, 25% Syrah, and 5% Mourvedre, the wine is red-purple in color, and the nose brings intense cherry with notes of plum. More of the same cherry fruit pleases your palate with just a hint of spice. Very nice acidity and silky tannins make for a nicely structured wine and lead up to a mouthwatering finish with some decent length to it. This wine is every bit as good as some 2007 Chateauneuf-du-Papes that I have had in the $30 and $40 price range, and it retails for a little under $20 a bottle. It’s an outstanding value, and I wouldn’t be the least bit surprised if it ended up on my 2010 list of top wines.

From a pairing standpoint, this would go perfectly with pot roast or a nice beef or lamb stew. It would also work well with grilled red meats.


Monday, January 18, 2010

Matthews Estate Columbia Valley Syrah 2007

This week I’m focusing on regions that aren’t necessarily the best known in their respective countries. In today’s case we will be taking a look at a wonderful wine from the United States that isn’t from Napa Valley or anywhere in California. Today’s topic is a fantastic Syrah from the Columbia Valley in Washington. The Columbia Valley AVA does not have quite the same well established reputation as Napa or Sonoma Valley in California, but they produce some outstanding wines that are really growing on me lately. It is also interesting to note that from a stylistic standpoint many of the wines from the Columbia Valley have a much more restrained, Old World feel to them than most wines from California. This Syrah from Matthew Estate has a wonderful combination of Old and New World attributes.

Matthew Estate is a small winery in Woodinville, WA that only produces about 3500 cases a year. Their winemaker, Aryn Morrell, spent five years in Napa Valley working for a number of wineries including Silver Oak before deciding to return to his native Washington. Based on what I have tasted of his work at Matthews Estate, I am very glad that he returned home to become the winemaker at Matthews Estate.

The Matthews Estate Columbia Valley Syrah has an intense purple color in your glass. The nose brings aromas of black raspberry, plum, and orange zest – yes, I said orange zest for a Syrah. It sounds crazy; however, it is not only true but also very pleasant. In additon to the fruit, you also get a little bit of earth and black pepper on the nose. On the palate, you get the same unique combination of fruit that you get on the bouquet. Cedar and an earthy minerality give an additional depth of flavor to this wine that I’m not accustomed to seeing from New World Syrah. Very nice acidity and earthy, stony tannins add structure and balance that should allow this to improve over the next five years.

Overall this is a wonderfully complex expression of the Syrah varietal from the Columbia Valley that combines New and Old World elements in a great way. Retailing for about $28, it gives you a lot of bang for the buck and compares favorably to many Northern Rhone Syrahs that retail for much more.

From a pairing standpoint, this would go very well with just about any grilled red meats or sharp cheese.


Saturday, January 16, 2010

Terredora Di Paolo Aglianico 2008 Campania IGT

One of the greatest revelations for me over the last few years as I have become more and more serious about learning all I that I can about wine, has been the realization that so many countries now have regions beyond their most famous ones that are producing fantastic wines. Everyone knows Napa Valley in the United States, but have you had a great wine from the Willamette Valley in Oregon, the Columbia Valley in Washington, or even the Finger Lakes Region in New York? Most casual wine drinkers have had a French Bordeaux or a Spanish Rioja, but have you tried any of the great values coming from the Languedoc in France or Jumilla in Spain? This list could go on and on in today’s global wine world. There are so many different corners of the world that are producing great wine, that it is hard for even the experts to keep track of them all these days.

Another country that has a fantastic diversity of great wines is Italy. Many still just think of Chianti or other Tuscan wines when they think of Italy, but there are great wines coming from Piedmont in the north all they way down to Calabria and Sicily in the south.

Today’s topic is a strong value that I found from the Terradora Di Paolo winery in Campania in Southern Italy. The region of Campania primarily grows the white Greco di Tufo grape and the red Aglianico varietal. Aglianico has been grown in Southern Italy for centuries. The grape was brought to Italy by Greek settlers centuries ago, and the name Aglianico itself is a rough translation of the term Hellenic. The varietal is a late ripening one that can’t be ripened effectively much further north than Campania, but when it can be ripened properly it can produce some very interesting results. The family running the Terredora Di Paolo winery has been growing Aglianico for about 35 years, and they started their own winery operation in 1994. They are the largest producer in Campania with vineyard holdings of about 600 acres.

The Terredora Di Paolo Aglianico 2008 has a nice ruby-purple color in your glass. The nose is dominated by black raspberry and blackberry fruit. On the palate, the wine is fruit forward with lots of dark berry flavor, but this is no simple fruit bomb. The wine has very intense but pleasant acidity for a fruit driven red, and the tannins provide additional balance. The finish has a little length to it and brings an added layer of spice and minerality. Overall this Aglianico has some very nice flavor and structure. There is quite a bit going on here for a bottle that retails for about $14 and delivers great value for the money.

This wine can be pretty versatile from a pairing standpoint, but I think it would go best with a tasty meat lasagna. It would also work well with beef prepared just about any way. If you need some recipe ideas, Terredora Di Paolo has a great English language website with some very interesting looking recipes. You can find it here So give this interesting and delicious red from Campania a try, and remember that there are literally hundreds of fantastic wine regions in the world. How many have you discovered yet?


Thursday, January 14, 2010

Produttori del Barbaresco D.O.C.G. 2005

Who needs Barolo when Barbaresco can be this good – especially when Barolo is typically twice the price? That’s the question I asked myself after trying the Produtorri del Barbaresco D.O.C.G. 2005. As many of you know, Barbaresco and Barolo are both made in the Piedmont region of northern Italy from the Nebbiolo grape. The Barbaresco region is just a few miles to the northeast of its more famous neighbor, but with rare exceptions in the higher price ranges, its wines are not given the same critical acclaim and respect as those from Barolo. The Produttorri del Barabaresco 2005 is a rare exception in a not so high price range - at least comparatively. So even though I may still need Barolo once in awhile, it's a lot easier on the wallet to get my Nebbiolo fix with this great value Barbaresco.

In addition to the fact that this wine is surprisingly great, I am even more surprised by the fact that it is made by a large cooperative of growers. Usually the grower’s cooperatives lose their focus on quality, but in the case of this group of 56 growers farming over 250 acres of Nebbiolo vineyards in and around the village of Barbaresco, they have remained intensely focused on producing quality wine. In addition to this wonderful Barbaresco, the co-op also makes a basic Nebbiolo as well as a number of single vineyard Barbarescos.

Made from 100% Nebbiolo grapes grown on hillsides at 650 to 1300 feet in elevations with clay soil filled streaked with limestone and calcium, this Barbaresco is aged for 20 months in oak casks. Mostly ruby red in color with just a little bit of brick to it, the wine is very pretty in your glass. The nose brings cherry fruit with notes of black raspberry along with a very nice earthy element and just a hint of pencil shavings. In your mouth you get a combination of black cherry and sour cherry fruit with a touch of spice. This medium bodied wine has very nice tannins that are just a bit chalky with nice acidity to balance things out. It’s drinking quite nicely now, but it has the structure to age at least another 5 years. It also has nice length to the finish.

I had this wine with Osso Bucco, and it was a heavenly pairing! It would also go very well with grilled game or a wild mushroom risotto. Retailing in the mid $20’s for a bottle, this Barbaresco is a steal. For similar quality Barolo made from the same Nebbiolo grape, you will pay twice as much. Lucky for us there were 17,000 cases made, so there should be plenty of this great wine for all!


Friday, January 8, 2010

Gere Attila Kopar Cuvee 2006

For most of my life as a Hungarian American, I was convinced that Hungarian wine (other than Tokaj dessert wine) was pretty awful. For many years my Hungarian born father served me Egri Bikaver (or translated Bulls Blood from the city of Eger) with the best intentions of giving me something good, and every time I tried to gently tell him that it really wasn’t so good. In fact, it was quite bad.

It was only after I visited Hungary that I learned that the country not only produces some good wines, it produces some great wines from many different regions. The problem is that most of the wines being exported to the US are from large cooperatives set up by the old communist government. These cooperatives were (and some still are) much more interested in quantity than quality. Having only experienced these export wines, I initially resisted visiting the city of Eger and its numerous wineries, but after my father’s insistence on taking me there, I was very pleasantly surprised by the many excellent wineries I found there. Moving on to other wine regions from there, the surprises kept coming.

The region that impressed me the most during my visit to Hungary was Villany in the south. After visiting a few wineries here, it was apparent that this region had some pretty special terroir. Wineries like the Jozsef Bock Winery and the Gere Attila Winery were making some great wines from native Hungarian grapes as well as classic Bordeaux varietals. I also quickly learned that it wasn’t my personal favorite Cabernet Sauvignon that was the star here. I discovered that the terroir in Villany is perfectly suited for Cabernet Franc as well as pretty darn good for Merlot. It became apparent that this region in Southern Hungary had something in common with the Right Bank in Bordeaux. My biggest frustration after packing as many bottles as I could of these wines into my suitcase was that the wines of Villany were just about impossible to find in the US.

Although most of these wines are still not distributed in the eastern half of the US to my knowledge, I did just discover that K&L Wine Merchants in San Francisco is now offering some Gere Attila wines for sale on their website. Upon finding this out, I promptly ordered a number of bottles of the Gere Attila Kopar Cuvee 2006 and had them on my doorstep 36 hours later.

I then promptly showed my impatience and uncorked a bottle, putting aside any fear of bottle shock that I had. After decanting for about 45 minutes, I poured the wine, closed my eyes, and found myself back in Hungary for a minute there. The 2006 Gere Attila Kopar Cuvee had a beatiful garnet red color in my glass. The bouquet was wonderful and complex. Floral elements, leather, and spice added to the black cherry fruit on the nose. On the palate, I got black cherry as well as currant and blackberry that was balanced by some subtle minerality, decent acidity, and very nice, smooth tannins. The finish was long with a touch of dark chocolate that lingered for quite a bit.

Overall this was a lovely Bordeaux Blend done in more of a Right Bank style composed of 52% Cabernet Franc, 46% Merlot, and 2% Cabernet Sauvignon. The wine had a wonderful dark fruit profile to it with very nice balance and structure. For a price tag of $51, it compared favorably to similarly priced wines Bordeaux wines. I enjoyed the wine with grilled venison steaks with a port wine-mushroom reduction, and the pairing worked beautifully. So if your looking something unique and different, but still delicious, give this Bordeaux style blend from the Villany region of Hungary a try. You won't be disappointed.


Wednesday, January 6, 2010

L'Oustal Blanc Naick 6

Every once in a while, I’m lucky enough to taste something that is just so different from other wines out there that it’s crazy. Sometimes it’s crazy in a bad way, and when I’m lucky it can be crazy in a good way. The L’Oustal Blanc Naick 6 (the 6 is for 2006 vintage) is a white table wine that is crazy in numerous and fantastic ways. L’Oustal Blanc is a very interesting winery run by Claude Fonquerle, who grew up in the vineyards of the Languedoc and spent a number of years working in Chateauneuf-du-Pape. He, along with his winemaker, Philippe Cambie, is making some outstanding wines with fruit mostly sourced from Minervois and Minervois La Liviniere in the Languedoc. Their self proclaimed style is to go for “purity and complexity” in their wines, and with this L’Oustal Blanc Naick 6, they have certainly hit their mark. The L’Oustal Blanc Naick 6 is sourced from grapes in Minervois and Minervois La Liviniere, but it is sold as Vins de Table or table wine, which is generally the lowest classification in the French wine law. The reason for this is that Fonquerle and Cambie have gone with a non-traditional grape blend that doesn’t meet the AOC requirements for varietal use. The blend in this case is 95% Grenache Gris and 5% Macabeo. Grenache Gris is an uncommon relative of the red Grenache grape, and Macabeo is a varietal I’ve only seen in Spanish Cava before this wine. I’m not sure what gave L’Oustal Blanc the idea for this blend, but I’m here to tell you it works wonderfully! In your glass you see an intense golden color, almost to the point of looking like a dessert wine. The nose brings a lot of peach with a touch of orange and pineapple, that doesn’t smell nearly as tropical and fruity as that sounds. You also get some subtle oak on the nose. The palate brings some more of the same fruit and nicely done oak from the bouquet, but it also has a wonderful stony minerality and great acidity. The body is full, but somehow this wine is full bodied and refreshing at the same time, without being the least bit flabby. It’s almost as if you’ve taken the body of a California Chardonnay and the minerality and acidity of a great White Burgundy and somehow blended them together perfectly. That’s a crazy description for a wine that doesn't even have any Chardonnay grapes in it, but this is a wine like no other that I’ve had! It’s very unique with a wild mix of flavors and characteristics that all somehow combine to produce a beautifully balanced wine with a solid finish. L’Oustal Blanc’s English language website is filled with horrible translations from French, but in their own “Frenglish” way, their tasting notes get this much right, “The taste is wide, elegant, finely wooded, and fresh.” Retailing in the mid $30’s, this is no everyday wine, but it delivers excellent value and unbelievable complexity for the price. I had this with a baked chicken breast with artichoke pesto, and it worked pretty well, but with the complexity of flavor this wine had, I have to say I enjoyed it best after dinner all on its own. Cheers!