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Monday, 13 July 2015 11:06

July 10, 2015 Wine Pick of the Week

Gallo Hearty Burgundy

Hearty Burgundy

 

Gallo Family Vineyards

California

Alcohol: 12%

Suggested Retail: $8.99 (1.5L)

 

“Gallo’s Hearty Burgundy has introduced millions of people to the pleasures of wine. First marketed in 1964, this wine really has nothing to do with Burgundy (the place), but that’s beside the point. Hearty Burgundy is reliable and good value. And, when sampled this week, tasted much the same way as I remember it did when it first came out. In the ephemeral world of wine, it’s satisfying to know there’s such consistency.

”In 2015 most American wine shoppers are familiar with products labeled with the name of the grape(s) whose juice is inside the bottle. It wasn’t always so. To this day, European wine rarely identifies itself by using the grape name. Identities of the producers and their locations were—and continue to be—the norm. As the California wine industry developed, it eventually put names of wine regions on bottles. In an earlier era, however, vineyards were located in places that hadn’t yet established a reputation for a style and quality of wine. California was growing winegrapes from Calistoga to Cucamonga and beyond, but customers would respond better to labels referencing the names of better known European growing regions like Burgundy, Chablis, Chianti and Claret (English-speak for Bordeaux). Hearty Burgundy was created in this climate and has not tried to re-brand with a trendier name. They have updated the package, however. When ‘jug wine’ became a pejorative for newer consumers developing their wine experiences, Gallo changed to a cork-finished 1.5 liter bottle, whose shape likely is perceived as more upscale.

“While a bottle of French red wine from Burgundy would contain juice from Pinot Noir grapes, Gallo Hearty Burgundy is made from several winegrape varieties and it’s unlikely any of them would be Pinot Noir. The blend changes from year-to-year and the back label doesn’t list the grapes used, but we’d guess there’s a fair amount of Zinfandel in there. Gallo’s objective is consistency and this seems to be achieved regardless of which grapes are crushed for Hearty Burgundy.

“The color is a good medium-to-dark red and the flavors evoke blackberries and plums. Hearty Burgundy is a dry wine, but doesn’t seem so dry as to offend the palates of occasional wine drinkers. Nor does its (perhaps benign) personality put off a veteran wine writer. This is not a wine meant to be the star of the show. But it’s a solid member of the cast. Quality, taste, affordability—no wonder Gallo Hearty Burgundy is still selling more than half-a-century after it debuted.”

Food Affinity: “Almost anything you’d eat with red wine would be o.k. here. If you were spending the bucks for rack of lamb, you might want to splurge on a good French Burgundy or California Pinot Noir. Special occasions aside, what do you drink as an everyday wine? Hearty Burgundy is a fit companion for any Italian dishes made with red sauces. It’s great with pizza and grilled burgers, too.”

Monday, 16 February 2015 17:42

February 13, 2015 Wine Pick of the Week

lembergerwrap1 Picmonkey

2012 Red Mountain Lemberger

 

Kiona Vineyards

Red Mountain (Washington)

Alcohol: 13.5%

Suggested Retail:  $15

 

“Lemberger has the reputation in the wine industry as being ‘a tough sell.’ That’s a shame, because it’s really a worthy option among red wines. Just as Zinfandel and Merlot are names of grape varieties, so, too, is Lemberger. It has no relationship to that pungent cheese bearing a similar identity, but somehow there’s a negative connection for the consumer.  Lemberger is a variety known by other names, notably Blaufrȁnkisch  in Austria and some eastern European countries.  Wineries in New York state also produce this variety as does at least one California winery, Shooting Star, which markets it under the name ‘Blue Franc.’ "

For wine drinkers relatively unfamiliar with Washington wines, the name on this bottle may also conjure memories of an inexpensive wine popular in an earlier era. Those jugs bearing the Red Mountain brand  were actually acceptable, low-end table wines from California’s San Joaquin Valley, but tended to be consumed in too-substantial quantities by college students, some of whom now believe that the product was ‘full of chemicals’ because of the hangovers they remember from the day after. The more plausible culprit was the quantity they consumed, given that  Red Mountain’s price appeal to the college student budget.  These days knowledgeable consumers recognize Red Mountain  as the name of an American Viticultural Area (AVA) in southeastern Washington known for producing extremely high quality wines, particularly red ones.

“Kiona Vineyards has pioneer status in the Red Mountain AVA, having begun planting of vineyards there in 1975.  They produce many other varieties more acceptable in the current market climate, but still make about 3,000 cases of Lemberger each year. Fans of this variety hope they never stop.

“Lemberger isn’t exactly like any other wine the reviewer has experienced.  When he first tasted this variety about 25 years ago, he thought it was somewhat like a lighter Zinfandel . . .  but not exactly. The 2012 Kiona Red Mountain Lemberger (their current release) had a hint of that Zinfandel personality, particularly in that bit of spice or black pepper on the finish. A closer analogy might be to a good Gamay, which, when grown in Beaujolais, is an attractive, lower-cost alternative to the Pinot Noirs of Burgundy. In both aroma and taste, this Kiona Lemberger first reminded us of just-baked blackberry or Boysenberry  pie, but there are aspects of other fruit here, too--blueberries and cherries.  Tannins are very gentle and sufficient acidity means it will pair well with a fairly wide variety of foods.”

Food Affinity: “Lighter treatments of pork and veal dishes with morel mushrooms. Good crackers and triple-cream cheeses. Baked eggplant served with a not-too-acidic tomato sauce. Ragout of mushrooms.”

Friday, 27 December 2013 14:05

December 27, 2013 Wine Pick of the Week

Vinha do Monte Tinto 2009 bottle Picmonkey

2010 Vinha do Monte

 

Producer: Herdade do Peso – Sogrape Vinhos

Appellation: Alentejo (Portugal)

Alcohol: 13.5%

Suggested Retail: $13

 

“This red wine comes from the Alentejo, an area an hour or two east of the Portuguese city of Lisbon. Its countryside is home to vineyards and cork oak forests and resembles the lower elevations of Amador County in Northern California. The Vinha do Monte is a blend of five grapes, most of which will be unfamiliar to American drinkers (Aragonez, Alfrochero, Trincaderia, Syrah and Alicante Bouschet). No oak aging is employed in the vinification, as the wine goes from stainless steel direct to bottle.

“Aromas of blackberries and plums greet the nose and subsequent tastes reveal bright berry-like fruit that lingers to a fairly long finish. It is not a complex wine, but neither is it (overly) simple. Further sips will reinforce the first perception of quality, but not demand analysis (sometimes it's preferable to have a wine that is just a worthy component of the meal, rather than the star). For those who have experienced rustic red wines in the Alentejo, this will just what they remember. Most American consumers might find it similar to traditional—and food friendly--Zinfandels of reasonable alcohol levels.”

Food Affinity: “Grilled sausages, lamb chops and full-flavored pork dishes.”

Saturday, 21 September 2013 11:26

September 20, 2013 Wine Pick of the Week

 

 

Ventoux bottle shot Picmonkey

2007 Ventoux (Rhône red wine)

 

Producer: J.V. Fleury

 Appellation: Appellation Ventoux Contrôlée

Alcohol: 14%

Suggested retail: $13

 

“This Ventoux rouge contains more Syrah than many of the red wines of this region. Its composition includes Syrah (60%), with lesser amounts of Grenache (30%) and Mouvèdre (10%). The Ventoux refers to a mountain in Provence at the southern end of the Rhone growing region. In some years the route of the Tour de France goes up and over it.

“Bright fruit, with cherry and raspberry aspects set against a briary, smokey background. Some spice and ground pepper are there, too.”

Food Affinity: “Candidly said, most red wines would go with most red meats. In this case the Fleury Ventoux was poured with a first-class treatment of lamb—thick cut small loin lamb chops rubbed with garlic, rosemary, pepper and olive oil, then seared in a cast iron skillet. It was a memorable birthday dinner of an old French friend and the bottle of Ventoux played its role.”

Saturday, 11 August 2012 19:24

Big Red for a Big Bear

By Dan Clarke

Though I didn’t get to Chicago until I was in my 40’s, I had looked forward to the visit for a long time.

My presumptions about the city came in part from grade school teachers. Most of these women in the bulky black habits were from the Chicago area. They did a fine job imparting the basics of our education, but they also told us about the Bears, the Cubs, Wrigley Field and El trains—all topics more interesting to most of us than the Beatitudes, Sorrowful Mysteries and diagramming of sentences.

I remember one spring day when Sister St. Arthur showed our catcher how to pick off a runner. From a crouch behind home plate she fired the ball out to our second baseman--flat, no arc. It made an audible pop when it hit his glove about a foot above the bag. She threw a football better than our quarterback, too. We assumed these nuns had God on their side, but we figured they didn’t need His help to deal with the likes of us. They were Chicago and they were tough.Bill George photoBears linebacker Bill George.

Growing up in Northern California, most of us were 49er fans, but we had to respect the Bears of the 1950’s when they were known as “The Monsters of the Midway.” Detroit and Cleveland may have been winning more games then, but Chicago’s irascible head coach and owner George Halas had guys like Ed Sprinkle, Rick Casares and Bill George. They were physically formidable and borderline scary. A few years later Chicago drafted an end from Pitt who also had that toughness. Mike Ditka played 12 years in the National Football League. Later he returned to coach the Bears. Along the way he got into the restaurant business and is now the proprietor of Mike Ditka’s Chicago on East Chestnut Street.

My first visit to the city was about 20 years ago. It was May, so catching a Bears game was out, of course. But I did see the Cubs beat the Dodgers at Wrigley Field and rode the El trains. Chicago seemed exciting then—vibrant. Several subsequent trips have only confirmed that first impression.

More than once I’ve heard people call Chicago “a great restaurant town.” I couldn’t disagree, as I’ve enjoyed many fine meals there. While I haven’t yet been in Ditka’s place, a visit to the restaurant’s website has led me to put it on my list for a future trip.

When I heard a few years ago that the Bear Hall-of-Famer had his name on a bottle of California wine I was mildly intrigued. Learning that it would be available in a limited national distribution and not just at his restaurant made the news more interesting. And discovering that the Mendocino County Zinfandel blend would retail for something approaching $50 really got our attention.

So we acquired a bottle of 2004 Kick Ass Red. But what to do with it? We assumed it would be on the brawny side and that it was intended to complement the robust cuisine at Ditka’s restaurant. These days so many “big” California wines—especially Zins—are way too alcoholic to enhance a meal. Would this be another of those misguided macho efforts? Tasting it with food seemed the only way to go. We thought it would be unfair--and unfun--just to try to copy entrees seen on the menu page of the restaurant’s website. Maybe barbecuing our own idea of Kick Ass food would be a better path.

Mike Petersen, who has written book reviews for this publication and for California Wine and Food, is a native Chicogoan. He’d have to be included in whatever analysis might ensue. A couple of days after Petersen bought into the idea, the two of us met for beers with our friend Mike Eady. Before we could announce our barbecue plans, Eady related a story about his driving a rental car out from Chicago to see a minor league baseball game somewhere in Northern Illinois just because he’d heard that the ballpark served great pork sandwiches. Clearly, he was the kind of guy who should be included in our project. It was agreed that we’d gather at my house to inaugurate the winter barbecue season, each of us preparing a dish he deemed a potential companion for a wine named Kick Ass Red.

Later, Brendan Cooke and Gary Young also volunteered to attend the tasting, though they opted to limit their participation to consuming, rather than preparing food.

Mike Ditka Kick Ass Red was primarily Zinfandel (56%), the balance comprised of Syrah (24%) and Petite Sirah (20%). The alcohol was 14.5%, which would have been high a decade or two ago, but is a point or point-and-a-half less than many of today’s offerings. As it is, the level was certainly sufficient and preferable to that of current “monsters” favored by the misguided.

Ditka as Coach PicmonkeyMike Ditka, "Da Coach"It turned out that the Kick Ass Red worked fine with all three of our dishes. Yes, it was a big wine but it was balanced. Predominant qualities were blackberry and a little black pepper. There were a couple of arched eyebrows when considering the 50 bucks we’d heard was to be the retail price, but all five on the evening’s tasting panel liked the wine. More to the point of the exercise, all agreed that the wine worked with each of the three dishes we’d cooked on the grill—the pork, the lamb and the beef.

Editor’s note: The Kick Ass Red was made by the Mendocino Wine Company in Ukiah, California (www.mendocinowineco.com). Readers who’d like to try it in it’s natural environment can find out more at www.mikeditkaschicago.com. Alternatively, they may check out three recipes we thought worked pretty well with this wine (and wouldn’t be bad with many other sturdy reds either).

 

IBVM Burgers

“I chose not to use the blue cheese or to do excessive spicing because I wanted to emphasize the flavor of the really good beef I was using (chopped sirloin, USDA Prime, about 12-15% fat content)” --Dan Clarke

1 ½ pounds ground beef2-4 strips thick bacon1 Tablespoon chopped fresh onion1 teaspoon minced fresh garlicKosher saltFreshly ground pepper1 Tablespoon crumbled blue cheese (optional)

Chop one or two thin slices of onion.Mince two or three garlic cloves.Mix one Tablespoon of the onion and one teaspoon of the garlic with the ground meat—distribute as evenly as possible.(optional) Place a little of the crumbled blue cheese in the center of each portion of meat to be made into a patty.Make two 12-ounce patties approx. 1 ½ inches thick.Wrap the perimeter of each patty with bacon, affixing the strips with toothpicksSeason each patty with salt and pepper.

Grill over a medium-hot fire ‘til medium rare. Searing each side of the patties is the goal, but the bacon fat can lead to flare ups. Move patties to indirect heat after searing to minimize this possibility.

Serve as you would any steak and without a bun.

 

Chicago Lamb

“When one thinks of a Chicago meal you picture big meat. Big, red meat. Throw in some creamed spinach and a baked potato the size of a canoe and you’re talkin' Chicago. So does lamb count as big red meat? Of course it does. Lamb is a fine accompaniment to creamed spinach and canoe potatoes. So when I fired up the grill for Chicago Night I had a beautiful boneless leg of lamb seasoned with herbs and ready to pay homage to the hearty appetites of the heartland” -–Mike Eady

1 leg of lamb, boneless and tied, about 3 ½ to 4 lbs.Olive oilRosemaryThymeCuminKosher salt

Mix together herbs and spread over the lamb after it has been given a coating of olive oil.

Cook over indirect heat in covered grill until internal temperature reaches 133 degrees for a perfect medium rare. Let rest for about 10 minutes before slicing.

 

Hog Butcher Pork Shoulder

“Although Chicago is no longer hog butcher to the world, the real Chicagoan still eats a lot of pork.” --Mike Petersen

Pork shoulder, approx. 4 poundsPolish sausage meat, approx. ½ poundRub composed of equal parts:

Sweet paprikaSpicy paprikaCayenne pepperSalt

Garlic flakes to taste

Add preferred amount of garlic flakes to rub, stir.Sauté the sausage meat. Drain and allow to cool.Rinse pork shoulder and pat dry, then cut in half.Slice a pocket into each of the pieces of pork and insert ¼ pound of Polish sausage meat into each.Rub meat with paprika/pepper/salt/garlic mixture.

Cook on covered grill over indirect heat ‘til medium.

by Dan Clarke

 

I drove over to Livermore yesterday. The occasion was the 10th Petite Sirah Symposium. As you might expect, all assembled had an interest in wines made from the Petite Sirah grape. There were farmers who grew the grape, wine makers, wine marketers and members of the press.

Early versions of this annual gathering were held at Foppiano Winery up in Sonoma County. I had attended some of them and the Livermore meeting was a good time to catch up with recent developments.

Getting away from the computer on this last day of July took longer than I had hoped and by the time I arrived at the Martinelli Event Center I had missed the keynote speaker, Evan Goldstein. Evan is a qualified Master Sommelier, which means he knows a hell of a lot about wines—all wines. Scholarship and unerring palate notwithstanding, his greatest skill may be his ability to communicate. Like all great teachers, he chooses to engage his audience in a way that encourages them to share his enjoyment of the subject. His topic this day was “Why Evan Believes in Petite Sirah.”

Disappointed though I was at being late, three presentations still lay ahead, as well as a nice lunch under the arbor at nearby Concannon Vineyard and a tasting of over 40 examples of current Petite Sirah releases.

Third Generation Wine Grape Growing Family Successfully Takes on Winemaking Toodavid mounts with grapes PicmonkeyDavid Mounts brought jar of vineyard soil and a grape cluster.

David Mounts' family has farmed property in Sonoma County since it was purchased by his grandfather Jack at the end of World War II. Although grapes had been grown in the area for nearly a century before that time, prunes were the big crop back in the 1940's and the Mounts family grew prunes and raised sheep in the early years. David's Dad Richard began planting Zinfandel and Petite Sirah grapes in 1967. Their winery came into being in 2005 when they made a total of 500 cases of wine, 300 of which were Petite Sirah. Since then the production has grown, but the winery is still a small operation which allows an intimate relationship with both the growing of the grapes and with their vinification.

David, who is both grower and winemaker for the family endeavor, wove a tale of “what we've learned in the last 45 years farming rocky, hillside vineyards--some of them dangerously steep.” Variables in the process include pruning styles, the use of native yeasts to start the fermentation process rather than purchased “designer yeast,” and allowing for a little dehydration of the grapes just before harvest, which leads to a wine higher in alcohol and better suited to the style David said he's looking for.

A Cult Petite that Rocks

Nils Venge's topic was “Creating a 'Cult' Petite That Rocks.” Nils is about my age and I suspect that wasn't his turn of nils venge 2 PicmonkeyNils remembered Cancannon's Petite Sirah.phrase. Nonetheless, the audience understood what was meant and you probably couldn't get a more appropriate guy to address the subject of cult wines. The Napa Valley legend has been creating great wines for more than 40 years. However, just as Yankee's pitcher Don Larsen was forever known as the man who threw a perfect game in the 1956 World Series, Nils Venge has a reputation forever framed by his own perfect effort. The 1985 Cabernet Sauvignon Reserve he made for Groth was given a 100-point score by writer Robert Parker, the first time the oracle ever awarded such a score for any California wine.

Venge still makes outstanding Cabernet for his own winery, Saddleback Cellars, but he's not limited to just that niche. He makes whites and reds other than Cabs—among them Petite Sirahs. He recalled his first exposure to variety as being in the mid-1960s when, as a UC Davis student, he worked for a short time at Concannon, the first California winery to produce a varietally-labeled Petite Sirah. Sitting in front of a microphone across the room, Jim Concannon interjected that he remembered Nils from that period—though not necessarily because he'd demonstrated great skill as a fledgling winemaker. Jim recalled their playing tennis some 45-years ago. “You beat me,” said the now-75 year old Concannon, “And I was pretty good, too!”

Nils first made Petite Sirah with grapes from a warm weather vineyard near Calistoga at the northern end of the Napa Valley. Since then he has added another source of grapes. He also gets fruit from the Red Hills near Lake County's Cobb Mountain. The vineyard is at higher elevation and is cooler. Both vineyard produce good fruit, but are made into separate wines, each having its own characteristics.

jim concannon PicmonkeyJim remembered Nils' tennis game.In winemaking there are few absolutes. Factors contributing to the final product include what the French call terroir. The phrase means the land, but it's more than that. The soils, the weather and a hard to define “sense of place” all contribute to it. Add all the variations in viticultural practices (the growing of the grapes) and the enological practices (the making of the wine from crushed grapes onward), and you have a long and complex process. Presentations such as those made by David Mount and Nils Venge were given to an audience of wine professionals, but briefer and less technical delivery of similar information can be of help to the consumer. Restaurants offering “Winemaker Dinners” can be a great way to learn more about wine, especially when a principal of the winery or, better yet, the winemaker himself is in attendance. A sommelier or knowledgeable waiter can help you learn—and help you enjoy wine more, as can a wine merchant who really knows his/her stuff.

Food and Wine Pairings

Joyce Goldstein prepared her audience for the lunch to follow by addressing “Food and Wine Pairings for Petite Sirah.” Goldstein was once chef at the Café at Chez Panisse. Later she owned and operated the San Francisco restaurant Square One, which celebrated food from many Mediterranean cuisines. A prolific cookbook author, she's currently working on a history of California cuisine for the University of California Press.Joyce Goldstein at Livermoe PS Symposium PicmonkeyJoyce Goldstein suggested innovations.

In a state where Cabernet and Chardonnay are kings (or King & Queen?), a lesser known variety like Petite Sirah has to work harder to get the attention of restaurant wine buyers. Beyond the broad category of “American food” are identifiable cuisines—or at least American interpretations of them—that might be candidates for matching to the flavors of Petite Sirah.

Italian food, especially the northern Italy dishes now popular in California, would have affinity for this grape variety,” said Goldstein, “but Italian restaurants tend to favor offering Italian wines on their lists.” Some French dishes would also be well served by the accompaniment of Petite Sirah—Steak au Poivre, for instance, “would be a slam-dunk.”

While acknowledging that the variety could pair well with many familiar cuisines, Goldstein suggested taking the road less traveled might be more productive, especially in the sophisticated and hyper competitive restaurant atmosphere of the nearby San Francisco Bay Area. “Go to new restaurants in San Francisco,” she urged. “They'll be much more open to you.”

Referencing a Turkish dinner she once made, she recalled “the lamb was prepared with a little tomato sauce and some smoky eggplant and the Petite Sirah brought it all together.”

Acknowledging that there aren't too many potential wine customers owning Turkish restaurants, she said there are dishes from many other cuisines that would have potential. She suggested a Spanish beef stew in a preparation including “clove, cinnamon, wine and a little bitter chocolate.” North African cuisines would have many possibilities, including the tagines from Morocco. “Instead of making my normal fried chicken this Fourth of July, I put in a ton of Morrocan spices,” she recalled of an experiment that apparently was a hit. Kebabs and meatballs served with cumin would likely be good pairings. Greek moussaka would work, as would a Greek stew called stifado, “which includes cinnamon, cloves, red wine and currants--ingredients that contain your flavor profile.” A Persian recipe for duck with pomegranate and walnuts is another inspiration in this vein.

Further from the Mediterranean are other food cultures ripe for matching with the wine. Mexican moles, for instance, “include nutmeg, cinnamon, clove, anise—those flavors are in your wine,” Goldstein said, “so it's a natural.

Meats of all kinds are likely to show affinity for this Petite Sirah grape. The variety of grilled meats served in Brazilian churrasco-style restaurants would be appropriate. Texas beef brisket is in that direction, even beefy chile “if you play down the heat,” she said. “Korean short ribs, rubbed with sesame, garlic, pepper and ginger,” is offered. Even Germany's sauerbraten, prepared with ginger snaps and raisins, is also a candidate. At this point Joyce Goldstein's audience really is looking forward to the barbecue lunch soon to be served over at Concannon. Referring to pages of notes and recipes she's brought with her, the chef tantalizes listeners who enjoy cooking with names of several other dishes and a few ingredients each includes. Rattling off idea after idea, she challenged her audience to “look further afield. The trend is going to be melting pot cookery. Some people (who'll be cooking it) won't have a clue, but others will be good.” Urging marketers of Petite Sirah to find newer restaurants and actually work with the chefs to create a wine and food synergy, she advised, “Don't ignore the little guys. You'll find some magic pairings out there.”

Tasting the Current Releases

Rusty Eddy pours at Concannon PS PicmonkeyRusty Eddy pours Clayhouse.Following lunch was a tasting for members of the wine trade. In the Eric Cohen Shoeshine PS at Concannon PicmonkeyEric Cohen makes Shoe Shine.Concannon barrel room purveyors of more than 40 of the state's best Petite Sirah poured their offerings. A few rosé wines made from this grape variety were in evidence and tasted especially good on the warm afternoon. Most of the wines were substantial reds that are the more traditional product of this grape. Styles differed. Alcohol levels varied. Retail pricing of these wines covered a broad swath, varying from about $8 to $50. Comprehensive tasting notes weren't taken on this occasion. Better than reading my opinions—or anybody else's, for that matter—is to explore this variety for yourself. Any good retailer would have some examples and many restaurant wine lists would include at least a couple of options. To learn more about this variety a good resource is www.psiloveyou.org. Included in this site is a great recipe section,.