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An apéritif of Gougères and Bourgueil Rosé

Date: Thu, Jun 11, 2009 Wine Tasting

Gougères are a specialty of the Burgundy region. These small cheese puffs are usually served as apéritif with a glass of Kir. They are delicious and easy to make, basically a cream puff dough (pâte à choux) with grated Gruyère cheese added to the dough before baking.

There was no Kir with our gougères, but instead, a light Rosé from the Loire Vallée, the 2008 Bourgueil Rosé Domaine de la Petite Mairie. Bourgueil is one of the major red wine appellations in the Loire Vallée. Wines are red or rosé and made from Cabernet Franc, locally called Breton. The story is that Cabernet Franc was introduced to the Loire Vallée by Cardinal Richelieu in the 17th century and planted at the Abbey of St-Nicolas-de-Bourgueil under the care of an abbot named Breton.

The wine had a bright salmon color and floral notes and citrus aromas on the nose. On the palate, it was dry, juicy, fruity, and very refreshing. If you're looking for something light, fresh, and tasty for the summer, this is exactly what you need, and don't forget the gougères!

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How to taste like a Pro

Date: Wed, Jun 3, 2009 Wine Tasting

I don't think it is too hard for anybody to follow the ABC of Wine Tasting, which involves 5 basic steps also known as the 5 Ss: See, Swirl, Sniff, Sip, and Savor. But if you want to drink wine like an expert, things become significantly more complicated. This article lists the ten most important attributes that one should look for in a wine, according to winemaker Aaron Pott

The first two, Typicity and Sense of Place, are I think the hardest to perceive. How to identify the unique properties that identify a grape varietal, or the land, the terroir from which the grapes are grown? These two are also tightly related: “A wine with a sense of place has typicity and wine that shows typicity shows a sense of place,” says Pott.

As I looks at the next seven attributes listed, Complexity, Integration, Elegance, Length, Balance, Power, and Texture, I think Integration, Balance, and Elegance are the ones I personally care the most. They're also related: “Elegant wines don't necessarily need to be complex but most certainly are integrated,” says Pott. Moreover, elegant wines don't require power and length, but they do need balance.

Now, the last attribute is for me the most important of all: Pleasure. “In the end,” concludes Pott, “the only question is, Do I like this?”

The whole article is here.

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Yes, wine can work beautifully with vegetarian fare

Date: Thu, May 28, 2009 Wine Tasting

Roughly a year ago, my daughter convinced us to go vegetarian one day a week. There's plenty of good reasons to do so. It saves natural resources, decreases waste, reduces your contribution to global warming, and it's good for your health. The other fun part is to discover new vegetarian recipes and experiment with all sorts of ways to accomodate tofu, vegetables, legumes, and spices.

So last Thursday (that's our vegetarian day of the week), I decided to make pasta with goat cheese, lemon, and asparagus, a recipe that looked fresh and seasonal. As for the wine that could go well with the dish, I really got inspired to choose the 2002 Vouvray Sec Domaine de la Fontainerie Cuvée C, which was slowly aging in the cellar.

Pasta With Goat Cheese, Lemon, And Asparagus

Domaine de la Fontainerie has five hectares in production in the Vouvray appellation where the family has been growing Chenin Blanc since 1712. Catherine Dhoye-Deruet, who is now in charge of the family estate, would typically vinify her Vouvray dry and make off-dry and sweet Vouvray in exceptional vintages only. She believes in minimal intervention in the vineyard and harvests her grapes manually.

The wine had a deep golden color and a nose of ripe apple and pear. On the palate, it was dry, quite tight, with some acidity and a distinctive mineral character that was intensified by the creaminess of the goat cheese, the tanginess of the lemon, and the assertive flavor of the asparagus. I don't think anything fishy or meaty would have been any better with the wine.

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Wine and Cheese party at GC's Tasting Cafe in Menlo Park

Date: Wed, May 20, 2009 Wine Tasting

GC's Tasting Cafe is a casual and friendly place downtown Menlo Park, offering a good variety of sandwiches and small plates based on cheese and charcuterie. Thanks to Gérard, co-owner and Maître Fromager, the cheese selection is particularly expansive. The place is also a tasting room where you can purchase your own wine or taste by the glass. The wine selection includes well chosen wines from local wineries as well as from California, Europe, and the Southern Hemisphere.

For the party, I was asked to choose some of the French wines sold at the cafe that would go well with the cheese, and so here is what we tasted:

• 2006 Sancerre Les Monts Damnés Domaine Roger Moreux: Sancerre, located in the eastern part of the Loire Valley, is regarded as the spiritual home of Sauvignon Blanc, producing wines of great minerality and elegance. Les Monts Damnés or Damned Mountains is a terroir of chalky purity with an abundance of crushed oyster shells and wet stones. Domaine Roger Moreux has been making wine since the 16th century. It is located in Chavignol, a small village within the Sancerre appellation, also known for France's most famous goat cheese, the Crottin de Chavignol. The wine had an attractive, floral nose. The palate was crisp, with notes of grapefruit, and a persistent stony finish. And of course, it was delicious with the goat cheese.

• 2006 Chablis Premier Cru Fourchaume Domaine Séguinot-Bordet: Chablis is located at the north of the Burgundy region, along the 48th parallel north which places Chablis at the northern extremes of viable viticulture. The soil is a mix of Kimmeridge clay from the Jurassic age, with the same chalk layer that is found in Sancerre and up to the cliffs of Dover. The appellation produces white wines only, all made from the Chardonnay grape. Thanks to the region's cool climate, the wines have more acidity and less fruit than Chardonnay wines made in warmer climates. Domaine Séguinot-Bordet is a 16 hectare family estate that has been growing vines since 1590. For young winemaker Jean-François Bordet, the main emphasis is to get the best fruit possible through careful pruning, debudding and harvesting. The wine had a focused nose of stone fruit, and a complex, mineral backbone on the palate. It was much less fruity than the Sancerre but nonetheless not less intense.

• 2005 Chorey-Lès-Beaune Vieilles Vignes Dominique Laurent: Chorey-Lès-Beaune is the Burgundy village appellation closest to Beaune. The appellation has no grand or premier crus, but the village wines have gained reputation of being among the best value on the Côte de Beaune. The total area under production is 136 hectares, the vast majority of this being Pinot Noir. Dominique Laurent is a renowned grower-producer in Burgundy. He owns only tiny parcels of vineyards and buys grapes or new wine from various growers, focussing on old vines, low yields and minimal intervention winemaking. The wine had a pleasant earthy nose of red cherry. The palate was tart, light-to-medium bodied, firm, but rather unbalanced in terms of acidity.

• 2005 Côtes du Rhône Domaine du Pesquier: Guy Boutière from Domaine Pesquier farms around 30 hectares of vines spread among Gigondas and Côtes du Rhône vineyards. The Côtes du Rhône is a classic Rhône blend of Grenache, Cinsault, Syrah, Mourvèdre and Carignan. It had a nose of sweet berry fruits and spices. The palate was full-bodied, quite robust, and richly flavored. A stronger wine, perfect with the salami.

• 2005 Château Charmail: Château Charmail is a Cru Bourgeois in the Haut-Médoc appellation, bordering Saint-Estèphe. It is produced by the Sèze family who also owns Château Mayne-Vieil in Fronsac. Planting is 48% Merlot, 30% Cabernet Sauvignon, 20% Cabernet Franc, an unusually high proportion of Merlot for the Médoc. I think this was the best red wine of the evening. It had a nose of black fruit with some notes of licorice. On the palate, it was medium-bodied, still young and tannic but very well balanced, tasty, and excellent with Petit Basque.

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Tour of the Marin County Tasting Rooms

Date: Wed, May 13, 2009 Wine Tasting

Earlier this month, on a cool and rainy Saturday morning, we drove north towards Marin County for some wine tasting. Deciding which wineries to visit was easy: only two wineries in Marin County have tasting rooms opened to the public.

Our first stop was for a hearty lunch at the Station House Cafe in Point Reyes Station. Then after driving about 2 more miles north on Highway 1, we found the entrance to Point Reyes Vineyards.

Estate vines behind the tasting room at Point Reyes Vineyards

The family owned and operated winery, the first in Marin County since prohibition, is in a peaceful pastoral setting with beautiful views of the West Marin rolling hills. Six acres of grapes are grown just behind the winery that are used to produce a sparkling wine, unfortunately sold out and unavailable for tasting that day. Overall, we didn't enjoy the selection of wines offered in the tasting room, some we found too oxydized, others too high in alcohol, and left disappointed.

The Ross Valley Winery is the other Marin winery with a tasting room. It is situated downtown San Anselmo, about 20 miles north of San Francisco. The place really feels like a neighborhood wine bar with the winemaking facility located in the storefront's back room. Owner and Winemaker Paul Kreider is a jovial man with a laid-back attitude and a minimal intervention philosophy towards winemaking. His wines are seldom fined or filtered and only minimum amounts of sulfites are used. He makes the wines he likes, fruity and accessible instead of hard and tannic.

Owner and winemaker Paul Kreider at The Ross Valley Winery

This time, we enjoyed the wines we tasted as well as the company of our friendly host, even exchanging a few words with some customers passing by. Here are the wines we liked the best:

2006 The Ross Valley Winery Chardonnay Grebennikoff Vineyard Sonoma Valley: light yellow color, no oak, unfiltered, apple and pear on the nose, fresh and crisp on the palate.

2005 The Ross Valley Winery Merlot Oller Vineyard Sonoma Valley: medium red color, black cherry and crushed peppercorns on the nose, juicy with some tannins, slightly oaky on the finish.

2004 The Ross Valley Winery Cabernet Sauvignon Leoni Vineyard Sonoma Valley: medium color, red berries on the nose and notes of vanilla, supple with spices and good acidity on the palate.

Related post:
A discovery: Riesling from Marin County

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Blind Tasting of Cabernet Blends from Washington State

Date: Wed, May 6, 2009 Wine Tasting

Earlier this year, our wine tasting group met again, this time for a blind tasting of Cabernet blends from Washington state. Each guest brought a mystery bottle that was quickly covered by one of our homemade purple velvet bags with a random letter pinned to it. The guests had to also bring their own glasses to be placed in a semi-circle in front of them, one glass for each wine.

The bottles are ready to be tasted blind

The tasting setup

Although about 50 years ago, there was no serious wine made in Washington State, it has quickly become the second largest fine-wine-producing state after California. Originally, Washington was mostly a white wine producing region, primarily using Chardonnay. Nowadays, it's more like 52 percent white to 48 percent red, the most widely planted grapes being Chardonnay, Cabernet Sauvignon, and Merlot.

Geographically, Washington State is located approximately on the same latitude (46ºN) as Bordeaux and offers a variety of very different climates. Western Washington, west of the Cascade Mountains, has a oceanic climate with relatively mild temperatures and wet, cloudy winters. Only 1% of the state's wine grapes are grown there. The other 99% of the wine grapes are grown east of the Cascades where the climate is semi-arid with long daylight hours during the growing season.

Here are the wines that we tasted:

2001 Seven Hills Reserve Cabernet Sauvignon Walla Walla Valley: founded in 1988, Seven Hills Winery is one of the region's oldest and most respected wineries, producing wines from the Columbia and Walla Walla valleys as well as Oregon's Willamette Valley. Walla Walla Valley is the most remote Washington wine region located at the Southeastern corner of the State. Although Walla Walla is a Native American name that means Place of Many Waters, the area has dry, arid conditions and cold winters. Our notes: nose of sweet fruit, herbs, and anise, medium-bodied with notes of oak, fresh, light finish. Ranked fifth place.

2005 Seven Hills Cabernet Sauvignon Klipsun Viyeyard Red Mountain: the wine comes from the 120-acre Klipsun Vineyard on the western slope of the Red Mountain appellation. Klipsun means sunset in the Chinook Indian language. The soil is shallow with sand and silt. Our notes: mint and eucalyptus on the nose, round and chewy on the palate, good flavors. Ranked third place.

1997 Columbia Crest Reserve Red Wine Columbia Valley: founded in 1983, Columbia Crest has grown from a small winery in a relatively unknown wine region to one of the largest wineries in the United States. By 1990, wine critic Robert Parker had named Columbia Crest one of the 24 best value wineries. The wine is a blend of Cabernet Sauvignon (39%), Merlot (39%) and Cabernet Franc (22%) sourced from four Columbia Valley vineyards. Our notes: sweet red fruits on the nose, supple, tasty, meaty on the palate with aromas of raspberry liqueur, Bordeaux-like, food friendly. A big favorite, ranked first place.

2001 Kiona Reserve Cabernet Sauvignon Red Mountain: founded in 1972, Kiona Vineyards and Winery is a family-owned and operated estate that pioneered the development of the Red Mountain AVA. Red Mountain is part of the Yakima Valley AVA, which in turn is part of the larger Columbia Valley AVA. Kiona is a Yakima Indian name that means brown hills. Our notes: subtle nose, tobacco and chocolate on the nose, nutty and flavourful palate, medium finish, well balanced, opens up nicely in the glass. Ranked second place.

2006 Isenhower Red Paintbrush Columbia Valley: founded in 1999, Isenhower Cellars is a boutique winery located south of Walla Walla. It produces wines using fruits coming from a variety of sources in the Columbia Valley. Their 2006 Red Paintbrush is a blend of 67% Cabernet Sauvignon, 17% Cabernet Franc, 11% Merlot, and 5% Petit Verdot. Our notes: fresh raspberry and cocoa on the nose, tight on the palate, too young, a bit harsh on the finish. Ranked sixth place.

2000 Woodward Canyon Artist Series #9 Cabernet Sauvignon: Woodward Canyon Winery was one of the first two wineries (with Leonetti Cellars) to help put the Walla Walla Valley on the Washington wine map. The Artist Series started in 1992 to showcase Washington State Cabernet Sauvignon. The label changes every vintage with work from different local, Pacific Northwest artists. Our notes: chocolate and pepper on the nose, full bodied, tannic, good finish. Ranked fourth place.

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A strawberry colored wine for a strawberry themed meal

Date: Wed, Apr 29, 2009 Wine Tasting

What do you do with a few pounds of strawberries? a strawberry themed meal of course. First start with a Strawberry and Mixed Green Salad, followed by a Strawberry Risotto. The salad is fresh and fruity and the risotto creamy and tasty and not really sweet.

Strawberry and Mixed Green Salad, and Strawberry Risotto

For the dessert, I highly recommend making some Strawberry Shortcakes, a delightful dessert that consists of round biscuits cut in half and filled with sliced strawberries and whipped cream.

Strawberry Shortcakes

Then, what do you drink with a all-strawberry meal? A strawberry-colored wine such as the 2006 Cline Mourvèdre Rosé.

The Rosé, produced by Cline Cellars, is made from Mourvèdre grown on the winery's 100-year-old Oakley ranch vineyards in Contra Costa County. Cline Cellars makes four different bottlings of Mourvèdre: two reds (Ancient Vines Mourvèdre and Small Berry Mourvèdre), a dessert wine (Late Harvest Mourvèdre) and a Rosé. The Rosé is made in the style of a white wine, the skins being removed before the beginning of the fermentation, which allows the wine to pick-up a small amount of color and tannins. Fermentation is done at cold temperatures to preserve the fruit flavors, and halted just before the wine is dry.

The wine has a bright strawberry color and a nose of wild forest berries. On the palate, it is refreshing, citrusy, and slighly off-dry. Not a bad wine at all to go with the strawberries.

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A discovery: Riesling from Marin County

Date: Wed, Apr 22, 2009 Wine Tasting

Marin County? A little known wine region for sure. Located north of San Francisco and just a stone's throw from Napa and Sonoma, this county has more suburbs than vineyards, with just approximately 200 acres under vine, planted to Pinot Noir, Riesling, Chardonnay, Gewürztraminer, Merlot & Cabernet Sauvignon.

It's a coastal region, bordered by the Pacific Ocean to the west and the San Francisco Bay to the east, with a climate marked by relatively warm winters and very cool summers. Thanks to a long growing season, the resulting wines are characterized by a high acidity, low alcohol, and bright flavors.

Winegrowers and winemakers Jonathan and Susan Pey of Scenic Root Winegrowers are pioneers in the production of wines grown exclusively in Marin County. Their Shell Mound Riesling was named after the many mounds of oyster shells left by early Americans settlers across western Marin County. The wine is estate grown in an eighteen year-old vineyard located less than eight miles from the cold Pacific Ocean. While the vines require meticulous work, very little is done in the winery. After hand-harvesting and hand-sorting, there is no oak, no blending, and no malolactic.

The 2007 Pey-Marin Vineyards The Shell Mound Riesling Marin County is only 11.8% alcohol. It had a bright color and a mineral nose with notes of citrus. On the palate, it was dry and crisp with a nicely concentrated mouthfeel and aftertaste. Try it with an Alsatian onion tart, it's delicious!

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Spring salad and spring wine

Date: Wed, Apr 15, 2009 Wine Tasting

The other day, my daughter found a delicious salad recipe that she made for us last Sunday. The salad, a mix of asparagus, green onions, and cucumbers, combined with various chopped herbs and lemon vinaigrette, was fresh, crunchy, and bursting with flavors.

Asparagus, Green Onion, Cucumber, and Herb Salad

With the salad, I opened a 2005 Campanaro dei Feudi di San Gregorio Fiano di Avellino. Fiano di Avellino is a small Italian appellation from the region of Campania, producing white wines made from the ancient Roman grape Fiano. With vineyards located on lush, volcanic hills, about an hour from Naples and Mount Vesuvius, Feudi di San Gregorio is an acclaimed wine estate that has put a modern spin on wines made from the region's ancient indigenous grape varieties.

The wine exhibited a bright golden color and aromas of pear and citrus on the nose. On the palate, it was fresh and dry, leaving a crisp mineral finish. A perfect treat with the salad!

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Tasting the wines of the Rhône Valley

Date: Tue, Apr 7, 2009 Wine Tasting

How familiar are you with the wines of the Rhône Valley? Although the Rhone Valley is among France's best wine regions, we are not always aware of its multi-faceted viticulture and wine traditions.

The Rhône Valley consists of two fairly distinct viticultural regions. The Northern Rhône is characterised by a continental climate with cold winters and warm summers. It produces red wines from the native grape Syrah, which is sometimes blended with white grapes, and white wines from Viognier, Marsanne, and Roussanne. The Southern Rhône has a Mediterranean climate with mild winters and hot and dry summers. The region produces red, white and rosé wines, which are generally blends of several grapes including Syrah, the drought-resistant Spanish grapes Grenache, Mourvèdre, and Carignan, as well as Cinsault, Viognier, Marsanne, Roussanne, and Clairette.

For this tasting, we had a selection of seven white and red wines from Northern and Southern Rhône. Here are the wines that we tasted:

2006 Crozes-Hermitage Blanc Albert Belle Les Terres Blanches: a former member of the local co-op, Domaine Albert Belle has developed a solid reputation for producing top quality wines. The estate has now 19 hectares over 4 communes and two appellations, Crozes-Hermitage and Hermitage. This Crozes-Hermitage Blanc is a blend of Marsanne and Roussanne. My notes: light golden color, shy nose, fresh and light-bodied on the palate with an oily mouthfeel. Butterscotch aftertaste. Pretty nice.

2007 Le Secret Ivre Domaine Pierre Gaillard: Pierre Gaillard started working in the wine business at a very young age and is now considered one of the Northern Rhone's best producers. Le Secret Ivre, which means The Drunken Secret, is 60% Viognier and 40% Roussanne. My notes: golden color, floral aromas on the nose, somewhat unbalanced on the palate. Not a crowd pleaser.

2005 Saint-Joseph Domaine Coursodon Silice: Domaine Pierre Coursodon is a 12 hectare estate in the Saint-Joseph appellation — the second largest appellation in the Northern Rhône after Crozes-Hermitage — growing Syrah and Marsanne grapes. Harvests are manual and vinification is traditional. My notes: 100% Syrah. Deep color, expressive fruity nose, fresh and supple on the palate, excellent with charcuterie.

2005 Cornas Eric et Joël Durand Empreintes: Cornas, a Celtic word that means burnt earth, is one of the smallest appellations in the Northern Rhône. The production is only red wine from the Syrah grape. Domaine Eric et Joël Durand is located in the southern part of the Saint-Joseph appellation and is also making wine from the neighboring Cornas. My notes: 100% Syrah. Dark color, peppery and blackberry aromas on the nose, full-bodied, great texture on the palate, multi-dimensional. Very classy, a big favorite of the evening.

2006 Lirac Domaine de la Mordorée Cuvée La Dame Rousse: Lirac is located along the right bank of the Rhône river, opposite Chateauneuf-du-Pape, in the southern Rhône Valley. Domaine de la Mordorée is named after the poetic local nickname used for the woodcock that flies over the region during its migrations. The domain produces wines from the Châteauneuf du Pape, Lirac, and Tavel appellations. The Dame Rousse cuvée is half Syrah, half Grenache from 40-year-old vines. My notes: deep color, sweet fruit on the nose, but after the Cornas, seemed aggressive in the mid-palate. More detractors than amateurs.

2005 Châteauneuf-du-Pape Domaine Chante Cigale: Châteauneuf-du-Pape is the most renowned appellation of the Southern Rhône Valley. Its terroir is characterized by a soil covered with galets or pebbles. The pebbles retain heat during the day and release it at night, which accelerates the ripening of the grapes. It also retain moisture in the soil during the dry summer months. Thirteen grape varieties are allowed to be used in the Châteauneuf-du-Pape appellation. The Châteauneuf-du-Pape of Domaine Chante Cigale is a blend of 65% Grenache, 20% Syrah, 10% Mourvèdre and 5% Cincault. The average age of the vines is 50 years. The vinification is traditional and ageing is done with a combination of foudres, new barrels, and cement tanks. My notes: deep color, aromatic nose, rich and full-bodied on the palate, tasty finish, another favorite of the evening.

2005 Gigondas Domaine Raspail-Ay Réserve: Gigondas is one of the best appellations in the Southern Rhône. The production is mostly Red with a small amount of Rosé. The place has been renowned for the quality of its wines since Roman times when it was named Jocunditas, which means joy or pleasantness in Latin. Founded in 1854, Domaine Raspail-Ay is a respected 18 hectare property around the village of Gigondas. My notes: a blend of Grenache, Syrah and Mourvèdre. Deep color, ripe berries on the nose, full-bodied, bigger than the Châteauneuf, slightly more rustic but good.

For our next meeting, we'll be pairing wine and cheese, so don't miss it!

Previous wine club tastings:
Pinot Noir Tasting
Second "Guess The Wine" tasting party
Wine and Cheese pairing

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A taste of Sonoma from St. Francis Winery

Date: Wed, Apr 1, 2009 Wine Tasting

Founded in 1971, St. Francis Winery & Vineyards is a winery located in the heart of Sonoma Valley, in Santa Rosa, California. It was named in honor of St. Francis of Assisi in recognition of the saint's love of the natural world. The Saint is also credited with bringing European grape cultivation to the new world.

The winery's President, Christopher Silva, is a fifth generation Sonoma County native that believes that the best wines can be grown in Sonoma County. His mission is for St. Francis Winery to become the premier producer of Sonoma wine. He is also seriously engaged in green practices such as water and energy conservation, wild life and natural resource preservtion, and use of solar energy.

I recently received a sample of the winery's new releases sent to me for review by Kobrand Corporation and so here are my tasting notes:

2005 St. Francis Cabernet Sauvignon Sonoma County: made from grapes coming from five Sonoma County appellations: Sonoma Valley, Dry Creek Valley, Russian River Valley, Alexander Valley, and Rockpile. My notes: dark red color, black and wild berries on the nose, firm backbone on the palate, young but well balanced, good acidity, food-friendy. Try it with a Southwest Blackened Beef Rib Eye.

2005 St. Francis Merlot Sonoma County: the fruits come from selected vineyards through out Sonoma County, with diverse micro-climates ranging from the hillsides of the Mayacamas Mountains to the cooler Sonoma Valley floor. My notes: dark color, sweet berry and vanilla on the nose, softer and sweeter on the palate than the Cabernet, smoky finish. Try it with Pork Chop with Caramelized Onion

2006 St. Francis Zinfandel Old Vines Sonoma County: comes from head-trained and dry farmed vines that must be at least 50 years old, with many as old as hundred years old. My notes: medium garnet color, sweet red fruit on the nose, berry compote on the palate, juicy, pleasant finish. I am usually not too crazy about Zinfandel but this one was actually very tasty and food friendly in spite of its 15.5% alcohol content. Try it with Sonoma Sausage Sauté with Peppers and Mushrooms

Wild Oak by St. Francis is a new line of hand-crafted, limited production, varietal wines, named for Sonoma's Heritage oak trees.

2004 Wild Oak Cabernet Sauvignon Sonoma County: according to the winery's notes, the fruits for this wine come from diverse locations: Lagomarsino Vineyard in the Russian River Valley for generous power and luscious mouthfeel, the red volcanic soil and high altitude climate of Nuns Canyon Vineyard for firm structure, dark color, rich berrylike character and ample tannin, the McCoy Ranch in the Mayacamas Mountains for intense Cabernet and firm chewy Merlot, more Merlot coming from the estate Behler Vineyard, and a touch of Rockpile's Petit Verdot to deepen the color and expands the texture and finish. My notes: dark garnet color, blackberry and wild berry on the nose, rich, firm, and oaky on the palate with some good acidity, promising but needs more cellaring time. The wine was actually better the day after opening. Try it (in a few years) with Braised Lamb Shank Osso Buco

2005 Wild Oak Merlot Sonoma County: according to the winery's notes, the grapes coming from the 35-year-old estate Behler Vineyard in Sonoma Valley bring intense, rich, fleshy fruit typical of Merlot grown on cooler valley floor vineyards. Additionally, a small amount of Merlot and Cabernet from Nuns Canyon Vineyard located along the Mayacamas provides the mountain grown fruit possessing the tannins needed to give the wine structure and complexity. My notes: deep purple color, sweet berry and tobacco on the nose, full-bodied on the palate, quite young and oaky right now. Try it with Five Spice Spare Ribs

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How to make food more wine friendly

Date: Wed, Mar 25, 2009 Wine Tasting

Some food is not easy to pair with wine — asparagus, artichokes, green salad with vinaigrette — but apparently, you can now purchase a seasoning blend called Vignon that makes food more wine friendly.

Vignon's secret ingredient is umami, as the seasoning is an umami-rich blend of Parmesan cheese, mushroom, and tomato, balanced with salt, garlic, and citric acid. Umami, a Japanese word that means tasty, savory, is one of the five basic tastes sensed by the tongue. The four others are sweet, sour, salty and bitter.

Now, is this working? Fiona Beckett, a food and drink journalist that writes for Decanter Magzine, is unconvinced:

With cooked asparagus, it was weird, again removing the vegetable's characteristic grassiness, but also having no perceptible effect on the two unlikely wine pairings I'd put up against it, an over-oaked Languedoc Merlot and a Blossom Hill white Zinfandel.

Vignon is obviously not intended for people like me, who believe in the art of food and wine pairing,“ she concludes. ”But that's not saying it won't be successful. It can be ordered, if you're curious, from www.napaseasoning.com.

Now, can't you simply add a stir-fry of mushroom to your asparagus or some shaved Parmesan and a drop or two of balsamic vinegar to your salad? I am sure that that should do the trick.

Fiona Beckett's article can be found here.

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Magret de Canard and Côtes de Castillon on the Île de la Grande Jatte

Date: Thu, Mar 19, 2009 Wine Tasting

While I was in Paris earlier this month, my father-in-law took me out to a nice lunch on the Île de la Grande Jatte.

The Île de la Grande Jatte is a 2 km long island just outside Paris. It has been made famous by the painting Un dimanche après-midi à l'Île de la Grande Jatte (A Sunday Afternoon on the Island of La Grande Jatte), by the French artist Georges Seurat. Seurat was not the only artist inspired by the island. Other painters, like Monet and van Gogh, also found their inspiration there. At the time, the island's grassy banks provided a popular getaway for Parisians.

Un dimanche après-midi à l'Île de la Grande Jatte

Nowadays, the island of La Grande Jatte is a posh residential area but the Guinguette de Neuilly is still around with its pleasant riverside terrace (in the early 20th century, Guinguette was the name given to small restaurants by the river Seine where people were going on Sundays to have lunch and party in the afternoon).

La Guinguette de Neuilly

For lunch, I chose the duck breast accompanied by a 2005 Château de Clotte from the Côtes de Castillon appellation. Roughly a third Merlot, a third Cabernet Franc, and a third Cabernet Sauvignon, the wine had a dense garnet color and aromas of black cherry and cassis on the nose. It was still pretty young but had a good structure on the palate and a fruity finish. The duck was tender and tasty and worked quite well with the wine.

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Paris, Oysters, and Muscadet

Date: Tue, Mar 10, 2009 Wine Tasting

If you happen to be in Paris in winter, don't pass up the chance to eat oysters. Whether you choose to go to a simple bar à huitres (oyster bar) or one of these glamourous brasserie, you can check how fresh and bright they are as oysters are traditionally kept on display on stalls that stand outside the restaurant.

In France, they typically come from three main production areas, all located on the Atlantic coast: Arachon near Bordeaux, Brittany, and Marennes-Oléron. One of my favorite oyster varieties is the green-tinged Fine de Claire from Marennes. They have a firm flesh and a bright ocean sea taste. Actually, that's what I had last week in a brasserie near the Saint-Lazare train station. The oysters were heavenly and the wine, a 2007 Muscadet de Sèvre-et-Maine sur Lie Château du Cléray Réserve, was delicious.

Muscadet is usually a light, refreshing and affordable wine produced at the western end of the Loire Valley and made from the Melon de Bourgogne grape variety. Because the grape itself does not have much flavor, most Muscadets today are vinified sur lie to add complexity. This means that after fermentation, the wine is not racked off the lees at the bottom of the vat. To be allowed to mention sur lie on the label, the wine must stay on its lees until at least the 1st of March following harvest before being bottled.

Nevertheless, the best producers can craft a much richer and deeper wine than the average production and I have to say that our Château du Cléray Réserve was a real treat with the oyster: tangy and sappy with citrus and mineral aromas, quite creamy and rich on the palate with a savoury aftertaste.

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