Friday, January 29, 2010

Voulez vous Vouvray?

Wine: Domaine de Vaugondy Vouvray

Paired with: Success, baby!

Comments: I'm not sure exactly how sparkling wine evolved into THE thing to have for a celebration. I guess technically it's rare compared to non-sparkling wines, and if you are looking for actual champagne it can get pretty expensive. Oh, and bubbles are kinda fun.

But there's no need to spend oodles of cash on champagne when there are so many other great sparkling wines on the market. Take this Vouvray, for example. For about $20, you get a sparkling wine that actually tastes like something you want to drink. (I am not a huge fan of most champagnes, in case you couldn't tell.)

So anyway, Vouvray (named for the region of France in which it's produced) is typically chenin blanc because that's pretty much the only grape grown there. Vouvray is also produced as a still wine, if you decide you like the flavors, but not the bubbles.

Tasting Notes - pre-food: This is a very pleasant sparkling wine, very light with a mostly appley flavor. Not a lot of aromas - not sure if we had it too cold or if it's just not a very aromatic wine.

Tasting Notes - with food: Oops. Were we supposed to have this with food?

Color: Pale yellow-white.

Price: $19.75 at The Greene Grape in Manhattan

Verdict: Friday, or Monday, or whatever day you have something to celebrate.

Tuesday, January 26, 2010

A treat from Argentina

Wine: Torrontes 2007 Giminez Riili Perpetuum

Paired with: Panko-crusted chicken tenders.

Comments: Torrontes is Argentina's most famous white wine. The grapes love the dry climate that characterizes much of Argentina's wine country. We had never heard of the wine before our first trip to Argentina, mostly because we really knew nothing about Argentine wines. They're still a well-kept secret and an amazing value, so really, we're not doing ourselves any favors by blabbing about them here, are we?

Anyway, Torrontes is a very light, fragrant white wine, well suited to drinking in the hot weather where it grows. Stick your nose in your glass, and you'll smell flowers and/or tart fruits like green apple. Take a sip (well, two sips, since it takes two to really be able to taste a wine), and you'll find a refreshing wine that's similar in body and taste to a dry riesling.

Tasting Notes - pre-food: Very refreshing with crisp green apple as the predominant flavor. The wine had a respectably long finish for a white.

Tasting Notes - with food: This wine didn't change too much with food, which was unusual. A mistake on our part was the honey-mustard dipping sauce we made to go with the chicken. The mustard turned the pleasant tartness of the wine into an astringent, unpleasant quality. Lesson learned!

Color: white gold

Price: approximately $15 (it's part of a wine club, so I don't have an exact price)

Verdict: Tuesday for this particular torrontes. We've had some with a little more personality that qualify as Friday, but this one didn't stand out too much, so just a pleasant accompaniment to a weeknight meal.

Friday, January 22, 2010

How about cab franc, eh?

Wine: Stoney Ridge 2006 Twenty Mile Bench Reserve Wismer Vineyard Cabernet Franc

Paired with: DVR'd episode of "Three Sheets"

Comments: You know how certain things influence you to want something? You go to the movies, and the smell of popcorn makes you crave it, even though you know there's not really anything resembling popcorn or butter in that salty, goopy mess. Well, we were watching "Three Sheets," which is a show where a vaguely obnoxious guy travels around the world and drinks whatever that country's famous for producing. He was in Italy. He was drinking a Super Tuscan. (We simultaneously hate this guy & covet his job.) So we had to have wine.

Not having any Super Tuscans in our collection -- although, we wouldn't turn one down -- we went trolling for an alternate big red wine and settled on the Stoney Ridge Cab Franc. Normally, I'm not a huge fan of Cab Franc - I find the green bell pepper flavors overpowering in too many of them. But this one's an exception, not being equipped with a green pepper that smacks you in the face, crawls up your nose and takes over your brain. Instead, it's equipped with great fruity balanced flavors and, for me, just enough tannins to give it good body. I know we tasted it when we bought it, but I was still surprised by how much I liked it once we opened it.

With this wine being a 2006, there were still plenty of tannins left in the wine, so if  you like having those to chew on (yes, it can really feel like like you have something to chew, even though wine is liquid), it's absolutely a wine to drink now. The winery recommends cellaring it for up to 8 years, so I wish we had another couple of bottles to put down and try later on in another few years. Sadly, we didn't make Stoney Ridge on our recent Niagara trip, so we'll have to hope they still have some when we go back.

Tasting Notes - pre-food: The most prominent aromas are cherries and tobacco. As befits a Cab Franc, this is a big wine with lots of red fruit flavors - think cherries, strawberries, plums, blackberries.

Tasting Notes - with food: No food. We decided, after dinner, that we really wanted a glass of wine.

Color: Deep ruby red

Price: About $17 (Canadian)

Verdict: Friday, but requires food to be truly enjoyed thanks to the tannins remaining in the wine.

Wednesday, January 20, 2010

What it's all about

So, anyone who is following at this point may have noticed a distinct lack of Friday and Tuesday postings these last few days. Well, January is that golden time of year when Amy and I make our annual trek to the frozen fields of Canada's Niagara Peninsula.

We've restocked our selection of Canadian vino and have been once again reminded why we started this wine thing to begin with.  For us, the essence of wine is the friendship. Wine is a social drink, something to be shared and appreciated with others. The solo practitioner of the sipping arts is just, well, pathetic. So while we went for a tasting adventure, it was mostly about the friends. That's what it's always about.

Anyway, expect a return to form this Friday and look for our take on some of the Canadian wineries over the next month or so. We may even slip a few of the Niagara bottles into our weekly selections. Keep an eye out.

Tuesday, January 12, 2010

The Doctor is In

Wine: Loosen Bros. "Dr. L" 2008 Riesling / Mosel Valley, Germany

Paired with: Shrimp & Arugula Pasta (from Jamie's Italy by Jamie Oliver) aka Chris' "Get out of jail pasta" and Great Big Sea mix

Comments: Dr. L was the first riesling we liked -- I mean really liked in that "Where can we get more right now?" way. We first tasted it about four years ago, at the beginning of our real wine journey. At that point, the 2003 vintage was the one on the market. It. Was. Amazing. Up to that point, we thought rieslings were sickly-sweet and avoided them like the plague called Arbor Mist. Bleah. Ugh. Yuck. So I was a little leery when the clerk at a local wine shop (LWS) near my office recommended it. But I decided to trust him, and I'm so glad I did.

We've tried numerous vintages of Dr. L, and while the 2003 is undoubtedly the best, the 2008 (available now) is quite good. I'd probably rank it second-best of the various ones we've tried. And for around $10, you're getting a really good value from a well-regarded German winery.

Now, keep in mind that "dry" where a riesling is concerned is not quite the same as "dry" when you're thinking about, say, a cab sauv. You won't have overwhelming tannins or feel like your whole mouth has dried out. Here, "dry" translates to a tartness that creates an almost-effervescent quality. I would even serve it as an apertif in place of something like prosecco. There are no bubbles, but it is so refreshing and so much fun to drink, that you won't give the lack of bubbles a second thought.

Tasting Notes - pre-food: seriously tart, almost effervescent quality; hard to pick out specific flavors over the dryness

Tasting Notes - with food: the tartness evolves into a citrusy quality (but by no means goes away), and a mellow green apple flavor

Color: white gold

Price: estimated $10-$12, depending on the store (this one was a gift)

Verdict: Tuesday night because it's a pleasant wine that doesn't scream for attention, but is still worth savoring. Our first Dr. L was, without doubt, a Friday night wine because it was just THAT good. But newer vintages, definitely Tuesday night.

Friday, January 8, 2010

A great find in Chablis

Wine: "La Chabliesienne" 2001 Chablis Grand Cru (Chardonnay) / Chablis, France

Paired with: Serrano ham, Manchego cheese marinated in tomato & rosemary, fresh bread and MP3 flamenco mix

Comments: I'm going to get this story out of the way now because it's possibly the wine-snobbiest story we'll ever tell you.

We won a fabulous trip to France in 2006 (no, that's not the snobby part). As part of our trip, we decided to drive through the Rhone Valley on our way up to Paris. Our last stop of the day was a winery/tasting room we would normally avoid like the plague - huge, slick and with about 4 tour buses in the lot. But it was France! And Chablis! So we stopped.

I have to say, even with 4 tour buses and my embarrassing French, the staff was very nice to 2 Americans who wandered in 15 minutes before closing. We tasted several wines (chardonnay is the primary grape in that area - like most European countries, the French name their wines after the region in which they're produced), and decided our favorite was the Grand Cru. That means the grapes came from a vineyard which has a reputation for producing great grapes, and it's basically top-shelf as far as wines are concerned. The wine was about 30 euros (about $40 at the time), but it was France! And Chablis! So we bought it.

When we came home, we decided to check the availability of La Chablisienne here in the states, just in case we wanted to buy more. Good news? We could get it. Bad news? It would cost us about $1,000. We seriously debated selling the bottle to finance our next vacation, but decided to keep it for a special occasion. After 3 years of trying to figure out what was special enough, we finally said "to hell with it" and decided New Year's Eve 2009/2010 would qualify. Wine does have a shelf life, after all.

So there's our snobby story about our $1,000 bottle of wine. Done, and out of the way -- and back to our regularly scheduled $15 wines from now on!

Tasting Notes - pre-food: Lots of green apple at first - very crisp and very dry. After about 5 minutes of the bottle being open, some of the crispness mellowed into creaminess. After about 15 minutes, a floral scent & taste appeared. (In hindsight, we should have decanted this, even though we usually don't decant whites.) Not a huge amount of oak, which was fine with me, as heavily-oaked chardnonnays just aren't my taste, but it was there.

Tasting Notes - with food: This worked surprisingly well with the Manchego. The dish was pretty salty, between the cheese itself and the salt in the marinade, and that brought back some of the initial crispness of the wine.

Unfortunately, not a great pairing with the Serrano ham. Something in the ham eliminated everything but the oak -- which was not a predominant flavor to begin with -- and left the sensation of chewing on the barrel. My guess is that the sweetness of the ham cancelled out the sweetness of the wine, leaving just the tannins. But, again, just a guess.

Color: Extremely pale yellow-gold

Price: 30 euros (about $40 at the time of purchase)

Verdict: Friday night. Not just because it was our last bottle from a fantastic trip, not just because it was apparently such a rare thing in the US. This wine kept us talking about it right up until the last sip.

Tuesday, January 5, 2010

Ringing in the New Year...

Wine: Lailey Vineyard Zweigelt, 2006 / Niagara-on-the-Lake, Ontario, Canada

Paired with: broiled skirt steak & garlic-thyme roasted potatoes and a DVR'd episode of "Glee"

Comments: Okay, so this one is kind of a ringer, but sometimes you want something safe. We first encountered Zweigelt (and have only found it to date) at Lailey Vineyards. It's an Austrian grape developed in the 1920s, and is apparently the most commonly grown grape in Austria, and making huge inroads in Niagara -- who knew?

This is the type of wine where we always buy a couple of bottles when we visit the winery because it's food-friendly and accessible. A great wine to have on hand and serve it to those people who want the great stuff but haven't yet learned the difference. Of course, it's good enough for your wineaux friends to enjoy also, so great for mixed crowds.

Like we said, a little bit of a ringer. In the past we've paired it successfully with all sorts of meals. We especially love it with those dinners that don't really call for a great wine, but you still want a wine with them: pizza, burgers, etc. It's similar to a zinfandel in its versatility, but not as full-bodied.

It's basically just a good, simple wine. Perfect background note to a relaxing meal.

Tasting Notes - pre-food: Slightly sour cherries & other red fruits, very jammy, even some licorice on the finish. Light tannin.

Tasting Notes - with food: The tannins were nicely balanced by the steak, and the cherries got a little sweeter with the meat.

Color: Garnet/pinkish.

Price: approximately $15/bottle

Verdict: Tuesday night. Not the most complex red wine, but a very pleasant accompaniment to everything we've paired with it.

Friday, January 1, 2010

Welcome to Tuesday/Friday wine!

The Italians believe that there are two types of wine – drinking wines and thinking wines. Drinking wines go with food; thinking wines are the ones that are to be enjoyed with good conversation and great company.

We agree that there are two categories of wine, but we classify them a little differently. For us, there are Tuesday night wines and Friday night wines.

Tuesday night wines are wines that are good, but not special. They’re a background complement to something simple for dinner -- burgers, takeout Chinese food, pizza, leftovers, etc. – and something entertaining on the DVR.

Friday night wines, well, they’re a whole other thing. Friday night wines deserve a meal that had some thought put into it. The kind that’s eaten at a table and requires silverware. No TV, just good music and thoughtful conversation. These wines can take center stage on their own or make the food even better.

It doesn’t have anything to do with the price, the varietal, where the wine came from, or a certain name on the label. It’s about whether we’d drink it on a Tuesday night or a Friday night.

We’re not wine experts and we’re not wine snobs. Actually, we think we’re wine geeks. The difference is that while wine snobs try to make everyone else feel bad that they don’t know as much, wine geeks are so excited about vino that they want to tell everyone else about it and get them, well, geeked up about it, too.

So, join us as we share what we’re tasting and decide whether it belongs early in the week or is the perfect way to start the weekend. We’re also planning to talk about some of the wineries we visit and other things we’ve learned along the way.

Cheers, sante, salud and chin-chin.