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.


Saturday, March 17, 2012

Chicken Saltimbocca

Chicken Saltimbocca loosely translated means chicken that jumps in your mouth. It took me trying a lot of different recipes and then trying a few variations of my own before perfecting what works for me, which is a wonderful combination of salty, sour, and earthy flavors that do jumping jacks in my mouth. The key for me is lots of fresh sage. Here's the recipe:

6 boneless chicken breasts – flattened
Approx. 30 fresh sage leaves (depends on size ) - 20 to 24 whole and the remainder finely chopped.
6 large slices of Prosciutto di Parma
6 to 12 slices Fontina Cheese – enough to cover the 6 chicken breasts
1 tablespoon butter
2 tablespoons olive oil
1/2 cup white wine
1 cup chicken stock
Juice of one fresh lemon
1 tsp Sea Salt
1 tsp Black Pepper
½ cup Flour

Mix Flour Sea Salt and Pepper together on a plate and dredge chicken in flour mixture. Heat the oil over medium high heat and brown the chicken on both sides, remove and set aside. The chicken should be almost but not quite fully cooked through at this point. Add wine and deglaze pan. Add chicken stock and simmer for approximately 10 minutes to thicken the sauce, and once thick add 1 tbs butter. While the sauce is simmering, place 3 to 4 sage leaves and a slice of prosciutto on each chicken breast, and then cover with Fontina cheese – use enough slices to almost fully cover the chicken. Once the sauce is thickened, return the chicken to the pan and cook for an additional 2 to 3 minutes until the cheese is melted. Add the chopped sage and lemon juice and then serve the chicken with the pan juices spooned over it. I like to serve this with some linguine with garlic and olive oil on the side.

This dish can go a lot of different ways with the wine pairing. The sauce and the chicken tend to pair well with whites that have some nice acid to them, but for me the prosciutto combined with this just begs for a nice light to medium bodied acidic red like a Barbera d’Alba. As long as you don’t choose something too heavy, I don’t think you can go wrong here.


Girard Petite Sirah 2009 Napa Valley

Over the last month or two we have been drinking a whole lot of Syrah, so I figured why not open and write about a bottle of Petite Sirah. Petite Sirah or Durif, as it was called in France, is the offspring of Syrah and Peloursin, that was developed in the Rhone valley but never really had much success there. When brought to California, however, the grape thrived. Petite Sirah typically has very small berries, which result is a lot of color, flavor, and tannins. These are wines that can pack a whole lot of punch due to all that dark skin.

One of my very favorite examples of Petite Sirah year in and year out is the Napa Valley Petite Sirah from Girard. The 2009 vintage is intense, opaque purple in your glass. The bouquet brings black raspberry fruit along with some cherry pie, but it also has notes of vanilla, lavender, and spice. In your mouth you get a big blast of up front fruit that is dominated by black raspberry. On the mid-palate you get a little bit of very pleasant spice. Then a wave of mouthwatering acidity and some bold tannins take you for a hedonistic ride to the finish. There is nothing subtle about this wine at all, but with all the fruit, acid, and tannins working together, there is a nice balance and structure to this somewhat complex Petite Sirah. For a price tag in the mid $20's, this is a real crowd pleaser that has something for everyone.

As far as food goes, this big, bold Petite Sirah wants some big and bold food. Get me something that has the fat and flavor to stand up to all those tannins and fruit. This would be fantastic with some slow smoked baby back ribs or a juicy cheeseburger. Its early in the AM as I write this, but I'm already thinking about firing up the grill and popping the cork on another bottle this afternoon. Sitting outside on this ridiculously warm spring day with a big ol' cheeseburger and a glass of Girard Petite Sirah sounds just a little bit like paradise.


Thursday, March 15, 2012

Domaine Louis Cheze Caroline Cuvée Prestige Saint-Joseph 2009

Here I am writing about Syrah again We've been trying a whole bunch from all over the world, and one of the best places in the world for Syrah is the Northern Rhone. The wines of Hermitage and Cote Rotie get a whole lot more press, but there are also some very good wines and values to be found in Saint-Joseph. Geographically, Saint-Joseph is the largest AOC in the Northern Rhone, and it stretches 30 plus miles from Cornas in the south, where it is right across the river from Hermitage and Crozes-Hermitage, all the way up to Condrieu in the North. It's boundaries have changed a few times, but recently they have reduced the size of the AOC and eliminated some areas that are not as desirable as the sloping vineyards near the Rhone river. The red wines of Saint-Joseph are all Syrah, and the expression varies depending upon what part of the region the grape are grown in. Safe to say, though, that as a rule, these are cool climate, food friendly Syrah's that are much more subdued than your typical Australian Shiraz.

The Domaine Louis Cheze Caroline is a fantastic example of what a great Saint-Joseph can be. Deep, reddish purple in your glass, the wine brings aromas of blackberry and plum with some floral notes and leather as well as some mild spice. There is quite a bit wrapped up into that bouquet so take your time and enjoy it. In your mouth you get fantastic blackberry fruit that is backed up with great acidity and mild, well integrated tannins. It's also important to note that the weight is pretty light for Syrah. That lighter weight and the structure provided by the acid and the tannins make this a really food friendly Syrah, that will pair nicely with a wide variety of meals.

Suggested pairings for the Louis Cheze Caroline are varied. This could work with the traditional grilled red meats or aged cheeses, but it's delicate and balanced enough to work with some lighter fare. I found myself wanting a seared tuna steak or even some grilled salmon to go with this. It could also work well with some pork dishes.

It's not an easy wine to find, but I got a nice clearance deal and picked these up for $29 a bottle, which was an absolute steal for this delicious wine. If you can find it, definitely give it a try. You won't be disappointed.


Saturday, March 3, 2012

Hughes Family Vineyards Savannah Vineyard Syrah 2007

Que Syrah Syrah. We are becoming Syrah addicts, and we're OK with that. Recently, Wine Enthusiast wrote an interesting article about Syrah being the red skinned stepchild of California grapes. The writer argues that with so much attention and money showered on Cabernet Sauvignon, Pinot Noir, and Merlot, it is a tough decision for any person or company to decide to plant a vineyard with Syrah. The article stated that Syrah just can't command the price in the market that Cabernet and Pinot can, and therefore not that many vintners are growing and bottling it. Furthermore, those who are, are having trouble selling it. This is all bad news for the wineries, but it has been good news for consumers who are scouring their local wine shops or the internet for values. It is also interesting to note that although California Syrah can't command the same price as other California reds, it can produce some really wonderful wines, and these wines often walk a fine line somewhere between the subdued Syrahs of the Northern Rhone and the Aussie fruit bombs.

Today's subject is a real world example of the Wine Enthusiast story. The Hughes Family Vineyards Savannah Vineyard Syrah 2007 retails for $40, but I got it in a clearance sale for half that price. Deep purple in color, the wine brings aromas of cherry and blackberry fruit, black pepper, and the gamy, meaty quality that is so uniquely Syrah. In your mouth you get delicious cherry fruit with great acidity and very well integrated tannins. It is definitely a full bodied wine, but I'm pleased to say it doesn't have any of that heavy, syrupy feel that is so typical of Aussie Shiraz. The up front fruit, the acidity, and the tannins all slowly combine and linger on the palate in what is a fantastic finish. Overall, this is a very nice Syrah, and to me it embodies what California Syrah should be. Its a more easily approachable than Northern Rhone Syrahs (which I do love by the way) with a little more up front fruit, but it is much more than just a fruit explosion on the front end. There is some structure and balance that make this a really nice wine.

From a food standpoint, this would be a great wine to pair with grilled red meats - especially game. It would work beautifully with a rack of lamb or some grilled venison. It would also pair nicely with some good old fashioned BBQ. The Hughes Family Vineyards Savannah Vineyard Syrah is a decent value at $40 and a phenomenal value at $20. I'm kicking myself for not buying a lot more than the 4 bottles that I bought at that limited time only price.