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A glass of Barbera d'Asti with a homemade Marinated Roasted Peppers and Broccolini Pizza

Date: Wed, Sep 23, 2009 Wine Tasting

A couple of weekends ago, my daughter decided to make a pizza from scratch. In some ways, she was inspired by our new cooking book Pizza: And other savory pies. The book has some good thin crust and whole wheat pizza dough recipes, and also basic toppings recipes like caramelized onions and marinated roasted peppers. Moreover, it is filled with mouth-watering photos, which is why we bought it in the first place.

She decided to try the whole-wheat pizza dough topped with marinated roasted peppers and broccolini. The result, to our delight, was a crunchy, flavor-rich pizza, and very professionally made.

Whole wheat Pizza with marinated roasted peppers and broccolini

With the pizza, we opened a 2003 Garetto Barbera d'Asti Superiore Fava. Barbera d'Asti is a Piedmontese appellation located around the town of Asti. It produces a red wine mainly from the native grape Barbera. Tenuta Garetto is a small wine estate established at the beginning of the last century. It has 18 hectares of vines near Asti, growing on south and southwest facing hills at about 250 meters above sea level. Plantings are 80% Barbera and 20% Dolcetto, Grignolino, and Chardonnay.

To our pleasure, the wine exhibited a dark garnet color and a peppery nose of blackberry. On the palate, it was lush, spicy and full-bodied with earthy notes on the finish.

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Scallops with Vanilla Sauce and a Chardonnay from the Santa Cruz Mountains

Date: Wed, Sep 16, 2009 Wine Tasting

A few days ago, a good friend of mine showed me one of her favorite recipes: Scallops with Vanilla Sauce. This is the kind of recipe that I like, easy to make and the result is delicious: pan fry the scallops with butter, then remove them from the pan. Pour white wine, cream, and fish stock infused with a couple of split vanilla beans. Bring to a gentle broil. Return the scallops to the pan and allow to simmer. Season to taste. To serve, spoon the sauce over two or three scallops and garnish with a piece of vanilla bean.

Scallops with Vanilla Sauce

With the scallops, we tasted a 2005 Chaine d'Or Chardonnay Santa Cruz Mountains that I bought at my local grocery store. Chaine d'Or Vineyards is a small winery located above the town of Woodside, in the Santa Cruz Mountains appellation. The wine showed a light golden color with a nose of ripe pears. On the palate, it was nutty, creamy, with a fresh acidity on the finish. It's a well-crafted and well-balanced wine. Unfortunately, 2006 was the last vintage to be made by Chaine d'Or founding winemaker Anne Anderson. However, it seems that the new winemaker Paul Romero plans to produce a 2008 vintage. The wine is a real good value so look for it.

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Pairing wine and cheese

Date: Tue, Sep 8, 2009 Wine Tasting

Pairing wine with cheese was the theme of our last wine club event before the summer. Choosing the type of wine that works well with cheese is always a challenge although some pairings are natural: Sancerre with Goat Cheese or Port with Stilton. On the other hand, try a young Cabernet with Camembert, that's pretty tough! Try it with aged hard cheese instead.

That evening, we tasted cheese from four different kinds (goat cheese, soft cheese, hard cheese, and blue cheese) with three whites, three reds, and one dessert wine, and found some really good matches.

Our cheese selection

Our wine selection

Here are the wines that we tasted:

2007 Schmelz Grüner Veltliner Loibner-Gärten Federspiel: Grüner Veltliner is a white grape variety grown primarily in Austria (it accounts for 36% of all Austrian vineyards) and in the Czech Republic. Weingut Schmelz is located in the Wachau appellation, which is Austria's most famous wine region. It's a narrow valley that runs along the Danube river where vines grow on steep terraces carved into the slopes. The Schmelz family has been making wine for five generations. Manually harvested, the grapes are fermented in stainless steel tanks. My notes: pale yellow color, citrus on the nose, dry and mineral on the palate, long finish. A perfect accompaniment to our Redwood Hill Goat Cheese.

2007 Neudorf Sauvignon Blanc Nelson: Nelson is located on the northern end of New Zealand's south island. Cool growing conditions are well suited to Chardonnay, Sauvignon Blanc, Riesling and Pinot Noir. Neudorf Vineyards is a small family owned winery producing Chardonnay, Sauvignon Blanc, Riesling, Pinot Gris, and Pinot Noir. My notes: light color, aromatic nose, notes of grapefruit and tropical fruit, fresh finish. A good match with the goat cheese.

2006 Emile Boeckel Gewürztraminer: Gewürztraminer is the second most planted grape variety in Alsace where it comes in different styles from the very dry to the very sweet. Domaine Emile Boeckel has been making wine in the village of Mittelbergheim in Alsace since 1853. My notes: golden color, expressive nose of rose petals and caramel, off-dry on the palate. Try to find a strong tasting cheese like Münster to go with it.

2004 Muri-Gries Abtei Muri Lagrein Riserva: Lagrein is a red grape variety native to the Alto Adige (or Süd Tyrol) region in Northern Italy. It is related to Syrah and Pinot Noir. Cantina Convento Muri-Gries is an ancient Benedictine monastery in Alto Adige. It was built in the late eleventh century originally as a fortress. My notes: deep red color, aromas of black cherry on the nose, earthy on the palate with notes of coffee on the finish. Lagrein is also the name of a cheese made from cow's milk from the same region. If you're lucky to find it, try it with the wine.

2006 Celler de l'Encastell Marge Priorat: Priorat lies in a remote mountainous area, 80 miles southwest of Barcelona, in Catalonia. Vineyards are planted on steep terraces at altitudes of between 100m and 700m above sea level. Summers are hot and dry, while winters are cold. The soil, made of reddish and black slate with small particles of mica (called llicorella in Catalan), reflects and conserves the heat. The main grape variety is Garnacha or Grenache, followed by Cariñena (Carignan), Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, and Syrah. Founded in 1999, Celler de l'Encastell is a small family-run winery that makes two wines. Roquers de Porrera is a blend of 40% Cariñena, 40% Garnacha, 20% Merlot and Syrah, aged in French oak for 16 months. Marge is a blend of 60% Garnacha, and 40% Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot and Syrah, aged in French and American oak for eight months. My notes: dark color, spicy nose, opulent on the palate, try it with aged Manchego.

2006 Tamarack Cellars Cabernet Franc Columbia Valley: believed to be one of the genetic parents of Cabernet Sauvignon, Cabernet Franc is grown primarily to be blended with Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot and is rarely vinified alone, except in the Loire Valley. With long summers and cool autumns, Washington State offers good growing conditions for Cabernet Franc and the varietal is today the fourth most widely planted grape in the state behind Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot & Syrah. Founded in 1998, Tamarack Cellars hand-crafts small-lot wines from the Walla Walla, Yakima and Columbia Valleys. My notes: dark garnet color, black fruit aromas on the nose with notes of oak and tobacco, rich mouthfeel leaving hints of cocoa on the finish. A big favorite of the evening, it worked well with the parmesan, and the chocolate!

Blandy's Malmsey 5 Year Old Madeira: Madeira is an Atlantic island belonging to Portugal and also a fortified wine that is probably the most resilient wine in the world. Winemaking in Madeira dates back to the Exploration Age. Madeira was the port of call for ships heading to Africa, Asia, and South America. At the time, in order to prevent wine deterioration, neutral alcohol was added to the wine. It was soon found out that wine exposed to heat and rolling movements on the ship somehow tasted better. Today, Madeira is known for its unique winemaking process meant to duplicate the effect of a long sea voyage. This involves heating the wine up to temperatures as high as 60°C and exposing the wine to some levels of oxidation. Malmey, made from the Malvasia grape, is the sweetest style of Madeira that gains in richness and concentration with time in cask. My notes: dark amber color, nutty aromas with notes of dried fruits, sweet, but not cloying, with fresh acidity. An interesting match with the blue cheese and an excellent way to end the evening.

For our next meeting, we'll be tasting wines from the Santa Cruz Mountains wineries. Stay tuned!

Previous wine club tastings:
Tasting the wines of the Rhône Valley
Pinot Noir Tasting
Second "Guess The Wine" tasting party
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Boxed wines are for green wine lovers

Date: Tue, Sep 1, 2009 Wine Tasting

Forget Franzia's 5 liter Merlot, boxed wine is now an integral part of the new green cuisine. Typically, boxed wine containers are recyclable and take less energy to produce, transport and recycle. Moreover, an increasing number of boxed wine brands use premium fruit sourced from sustainable vineyards.

The thedailygreen.com has a review of 8 green boxed wines:

French Rabbit sources its wines from sustainably farmed vineyards in the Languedoc Roussillon. The packaging reduces waste by 90% compared to glass bottles, and reduces emissions and greenhouse gases during shipping. Furthermore, French Rabbit plants trees. According to the company's website, at least 35,000 trees have been planted through their partnership with American Forests.

From the Tank specializes in natural wines from the Southern Rhone Valley. They use less pesticides, only wild yeasts, no enzymes, no filtering, & minimal sulfites. The wine is packaged in a three liter bag-in-box. The red is 40% Grenache, 35% Syrah, 15% Carignan, the white is 100% Grenache Blanc.

Boho Vineyards makes wine from California's Central Coast. The wine is boxed in 95% recycled materials, which are printed with 100% soy-based inks. The package's carbon footprint is 55% smaller than the four 750ml bottles it replaces.

Three Thieves is a pioneer in the smaller, more portable boxed wines. In addition to their one-liter Bandit boxes, they now have 500ml boxes. They are making different varietal wines from California, including a Pinot Grigio, Chardonnay, Merlot, and Cabernet Sauvignon.

Herding Cats is part of Better Wines, Better World, which promotes Bag in Box (BIB) packaging for wine. According to the website, since 99% of wines sold in the US are made for immediate consumption, packaging these wines in BIB containers would save 1.5 million tons of CO2 per year. Herding Cats produces different blends from South Africa including a Chenin Blanc/Chardonnay, Cabernet Sauvignon/Shiraz, Merlot/Pinotage, and Chardonnay/Viognier.

Yellow + blue make green. Yellow+Blue Organic Wines produces wines from certified organic grapes. The packaging is a Tetra Pak carton made from 75% responsibly managed forest trees. They offer a Malbec and a Torrontes from Argentina and a Rosé blend of Monastrell and Syrah from Spain.

Black Box Wines launched the first premium boxed wine on the market in 2002. Today, Black Box makes wines from different wine regions of the world, including a Cabernet Sauvignon from California, a Riesling from Washington State, a Sauvignon Blanc from New Zealand, and a Pinot Grigio from Italy.

Don't be a square, think outside the box! Four produces a wine packaged in a tube made in recyclable materials. It has a 50% reduced carbon footprint compared to traditional wine packaging and its label is printed utilizing wind power. Four has a 3 Liter Cabernet Sauvignon sourced from sustainable vineyards in the Paso Robles, Monterey and Lodi appellations.

So far, I have only tasted the Bandit Pinot Grigio. The wine was fresh, aromatic, and actually very pleasant. But would you dare bringing a boxed wine to a dinner party?

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US palate on the light side

Date: Tue, Aug 25, 2009 Wine Tasting

In the last supplement to Decanter Magazine on California wines, Sonoma based wine columnist Dan Berger investigates how California winemakers are adapting to the evolution of American wine lovers: they want less oak, less alcohol, less ridiculously high prices, and more elegance and balance.

“The US consumer wants a lighter, more drinkable wine, one that has the dinner table in mind, and California winemakers are slowly catching on.” explains Dan Berger in his article.

One of his interviews is with Steve Cornwell, operation manager for MacArthur Beverages in Washington DC. “Consumers are developing their own palate, which is quite a bit apart from what the press and magazines are saying. Also, there is the influence of bloggers, and consumers looking for different styles” says Cornwell.

Many wine lovers are definitively backing off from the expensive bigger style of wine, the “Parker wines”, and they find plenty of imported wines that offer balance and good fruit at a modest price.

So how are California wineries adjusting to the evolving American palate?

According to Rod Berglund, winemaker for Joseph Swan Vineyards, his winery has already made the shift: “In the past, when we talked about Pinot Noir with subtlety and elegance, you'd get a blank stare. But now that consumers are exposed to it, they prefer this style of wine, which offers better balance and a highter level of compatibility with food. Those are the styles that we are selling now.” says Berglund.

For David Munksgard, winemaker for Iron Horse Vineyards, his Pinot Noir wines are actually showing better when their alcohol levels are closer to 13.5% then 14.5%.

In a related article in the Los Angeles Times featuring Adam Tolmach of The Ojai Vineyard, the winemaker confesses: “We got the scores we wanted, but we went away from what I personally like. We lost our rudder when we went for ever bolder, riper flavors.”

He believes that the alcohol levels of his wines, at 15% and higher, are too high but with careful vineyard management, he says, it is possible to retain rich flavors without sending alcohols soaring. It's a matter of spending more time in the vineyard and it's about picking at the right time and from cooler climate vineyards. In the end, Tolmach's goal is to find the balance between California ripeness and European elegance.

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Port4olio Tasting in San Francisco part 2: wines from France, Spain, Portugal, and South America

Date: Wed, Aug 19, 2009 Wine Tasting

The following wines are part of the portfolios of importers and distributors International Vineyards and Vinos Unico:

From France (International Vineyards):

2005 Cahors Les Comtes de Cahors: from Cahors, an appellation in the southwest of France producing robust red wines made primarily from Malbec. A blend of 70% Malbec, 20% Merlot, 10% Tannat. Dark color, spicy nose, firm tannins, still very young.

2001 Domaine du Grand Ormeau Lalande de Pomerol: Lalande de Pomerol is located north of Pomerol on the right bank of the Garonne river. Soils are a mix of clay, stones, and sand, which are particularly beneficial conditions for Merlot. Blend of 80% Merlot, 10% Cabernet Franc, 10% Cabernet Sauvignon. Red-brown color, attractive nose of sweet berries, soft on the palate, mature but tasty.

From Uruguay (International Vineyards):

2007 Monte de Luz Cabernet Franc Uruguay: a wine produced by Vignobles Lesgourgues, owner of 6 wine estates in Bordeaux, the southwest of France, and Uruguay. The Lesgourgues family founded the Domaine Monte de Luz in 2000, planting 34 hectares of vines including Tannat, Cabernet Sauvignon, Cabernet Franc, and Syrah in the foothills of the Mahoma Mountains in Uruguay. 100% Cabernet Franc, garnet color, clean fruity aromas on the nose, good acidity, mineral finish.

From Spain (Vinos Unico):

2008 Ochoa Navarra Blanco: Bodegas Ochoa grows Tempranillo, Merlot, Cabernet Sauvignon, Garnacha, Moscatel, Viura, and Chardonnay in Navarra, at the foothills of the Pyrenees Mountains. Blend of 70% Viura, 30% Chardonnay, floral nose, fizzy and light-bodied on the palate, refreshing.

2008 Bodegas del Abad Abad dom Bueno Bierzo Godello: Bierzo is a up-and-coming wine region in Northeast Spain. The wine is 100% Godello, a white grape variety native to Galicia. The wine is unoaked, dry-farmed, organic. Light yellow color, grapefruit, citrus on the nose, crisp and off-dry on the palate.

2006 Bodegas del Abad Abad dom Bueno Bierzo Mencia: 100% Mencia, a red variety native of Bierzo. Wine made with 55 year old vines, dry farmed, organic. Dark color, smooth on the palate with notes of oak, tannins grip a bit on the finish.

From Portugal (Vinos Unico):

2007 Paulo Laureano Alentejo Reserve Branco: Alentejo is an emerging winemaking region in Central Portugal, bordering Spain on the east and the Algarve on the south. The wine is 100% Antão Vaz, a local white grape. Light color, pear, tropical fruit aromas on the nose, fresh and bright on the palate.

2005 Paulo Laureano Alentejo Reserve Tinto: a blend of local red grapes: 40% Alicante Bouschet, 30% Aragones, 30% Trincadeira. Dark color, blackberry on the nose, rich flavors on the palate, balanced finish.

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Port4olio Tasting in San Francisco part 1: wines from Eastern Europe and Italy

Date: Mon, Aug 17, 2009 Wine Tasting

Earlier this summer, I was invited by Frank Dietrich of Blue Danube Wine at the Port4olio Tasting in San Francisco. The tasting took place at the firehouse in Fort Mason where four California based importers and distributors were pouring wines from Eastern Europe, France, Italy, Spain, Portugal, and South America.

Besides wine, there was an abundance of food including two humongous paellas, a whole roasted pig (that I missed unfortunately), and a selection of cheeses from Cheese Works West.

The paellas at the Port4olio Tasting

Cheeses from Cheese Works West

Outside the firehouse, you can sip your wine in front of Alcatraz

My notes for the wines I tasted:

From Austria (Blue Danube Wine):

2006 Juris Zweigelt Selection: Zweigelt, a cross of Blaufränkisch and Saint Laurent, is the most widely-grown red grape variety in Austria. Dark red color, fruity nose, spicy on the palate, reminded me of a Syrah.

2007 Juris Saint Laurent Selection: Saint Laurent is a grape variety related to Pinot Noir. Light red color, light-bodied, a subtle wine.

2007 Juris Pinot Noir Selection: floral nose, medium-bodied, spices on the finish.

From Hungary (Blue Danube Wine):

2008 Szoeke Matra Irsai Olivér: comes from Hungary's largest historic wine region, which is located at the foot of the Mátra Mountains in the northeast part of the country. Floral nose, strong muscat character, dry.

From Bosnia-Herzegovina (Blue Danube Wine):

2007 Citluk Herceg: a unique blend of three native grapes from Herzegovina: Zilavka, Bena and Krkosija. Light, fruity, refreshing.

2006 Citluk Kameno: a blend of Zilavka and Bena. Single vineyard, more serious, less fruits and more minerality.

From Croatia (Blue Danube Wine):

2006 Bibich Riserva: a blend of three native grapes from Northern Dalmatia, related to Zinfandel: Babich, Lasin, and Plavina. Red berry nose, light to medium bodied, flavorful, tasty.

2006 Bibich Mantra Grenache: Grenache from Northern Dalmatia. Sweet nose of ripe fruit, pruny on the palate.

From Italy (Siena Imports):

2008 Livon Friulano Collio: Friulano is a native variety from Friuli, previously known as Tocai Friulano. Light color, nose of stone fruits, good acidity.

2007 RoncAlto Ribolla Gialla Collio: Ribolla Gialla is a white varietal mostly found in Italy's Friuli-Venezia Giulia region and Slovenia. Fragrant nose, rich aromas of stone fruits and minerals.

2000 Costa di Bussia Barolo Tenuta Arnulfo: from Italy's Piedmont region, Barolo is made from 100% Nebbiolo. Red-brown color, sweet fruit on the nose, soft on the palate, mature wine.

2001 Di Meo Taurasi Riserva: Taurasi is an appellation from Campania that produces wines made primarily from the Aglianico grape. Deep color, notes of moka, rich and dense on the palate, good acidity.

2001 Cesari Amarone della Valpolicella Bosan: a blend of Corvina, Rondinella, and Molinara , this is a single vineyard wine. The grapes are left to dry in special drying chambers for four months before fermentation. After that, aging lasts three years in oak barrels. Dark color, prunes and dried fruits on the nose, velvety palate, very distinctive.

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A tale of three Rosés

Date: Tue, Aug 11, 2009 Wine Tasting

Just before going on vacation, I received three bottles of Rosés from the Kobrand Corporation. We enjoyed them with friends one warm evening with grilled steaks and a nice, big salad.

The lightest of the three was the 2008 Beaujolais Rosé Louis Jadot. The Beaujolais region has a long tradition of producing rosé, a wine made from Gamay like the red version. For this Rosé, the Gamay grape is vinified by being immediately pressed like a white wine after limited skin contact. The wine is then put into stainless steel vats. Showing a delicate pink color, it is fresh, dry, citrusy with a crisp finish, and perfectly pleasant as a light aperitif.

The spiciest was the 2008 Wild Rock Vin Gris Rosé. A blend of Merlot, with some Malbec, Syrah and Pinot Noir, the wine comes from Hawke's Bay, a major wine-producing region on the east coast of New Zealand's North Island. Hawke's Bay enjoys a dry and temperate climate with long, hot summers and cool winters. Vin Gris means gray wine and is another term for Rosé. The wine exhibits a medium pink color and aromas of honey and red berry on the nose. It is medium dry on the palate and slighly fizzy with a juicy finish.

The most serious one (and the one that worked best with the steaks) was the 2008 Tavel Château d'Aquéria. The Tavel appellation is located in the southern Rhône Valley, north of Avignon, and makes only Rosé wines. This one, produced by the Château d'Aquéria, is a blend of Grenache, Syrah, Mouvèdre, Cinsault, Clairette, Bourboulenc, and Picpoul, grown on sandy hillsides and clay. After being completely destemmed, grapes are put into maceration vats for 24 to 48 hours. Grape varieties are then blended two by two for greater aromatic complexity. Then the juice is drawn from the vats and fermentation takes place. All the grape varieties are then blended together and age for several months before being bottled at the estate. The wine has a light red color with aromas of red berries on the nose. On the palate, it is dry, well structured, with fresh mineral notes and a nice complexity on the finish.

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Tasting Syrah in Crozes-Hermitage

Date: Thu, Aug 6, 2009 Wine Tasting

This year, a family reunion took us to the northern Rhône Valley, not far from the village of Mercurol considered to be one of the best locations for the Crozes-Hermitage appellation. Between long family meals and other activities, we took the time to visit two wineries there.

The village of Mercurol

The first one was the Domaine des Entrefaux, a family-owned estate farming 21 hectares of Syrah and 4 hectares of Marsanne and Roussanne on the hills around Mercurol. Grapes are hand-harvested and fully destemmed before being aged in vats or oak barrels.

Domaine des Entrefaux

The wines we tasted:

2007 Crozes-Hermitage Blanc Domaine des Entrefaux Les Pends: blend of 70% Marsanne, 30% Roussanne from Les Pends, a slopy vineyard in Mercurol. Aromatic nose of stone fruit, oily mouthfeel on the palate, richly balanced.

2007 Crozes-Hermitage Domaine des Entrefaux Les Champs Fourné: a blend of estate young vines and from a vineyard called Champs Fourné. Aged in stainless steel vats. Fig and dried fruits aromas on the nose, medium-bodied, bright acidity on the palate.

2007 Crozes-Hermitage Domaine des Entrefaux : older vines from the estate. Soil made of rocks, pebble stones and clay. Partly aged in oak barrels. Sweet prunes aromas on the nose. More tannins, spices and licorice on the finish.

2006 Crozes-Hermitage Domaine des Entrefaux Les Machonnières: 25 to 50 year old vines from a hilly vineyard in Mercurol. Aged in oak barrels, 5% new. Blackberry jam, plums and prunes on the nose. Toasty, yeasty, tannic on the palate, needs aging.

Wine from the Domaine des Entrefaux

The Domaine des Remizières is not far away on the main road leading to Tain-l'Hermitage. The winery is family-owned since three generations and had originally approximately 4 hectares of vines. Part of the production used to be made at the local cooperative, but since 1973, all the wine is produced at the domain, which has now 30 hectares under vines.

The wines we tasted:

2008 Crozes-Hermitage Blanc Domaine des Remizières Cuvée Christophe: blend of 85% Marsanne, 15% Roussanne growing on clayey-limestone hill-side, south-facing soils. Aged in oak barrels. Nose needed to open up. Dry and fat on the palate, complex finish.

2007 Crozes-Hermitage Domaine des Remizières Cuvée Particulière: clayey-limestone hill-side soils. Aged in oak barrels, a few new. Pepper and red berry on the nose, full bodied on the palate, good acidity .

2007 Crozes-Hermitage Domaine des Remizières Cuvée Christophe: 65 year old vines on average. Aged in oak barrel, 70% new. Spicy, more tannic, needs time.

2007 Saint-Joseph Domaine des Remizières: granitic hill-side, south-facing soils. Floral, spicy nose. Round and silky on the palate, tannic finish.

Wine from the Domaine des Remizières

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Problem with name registration of ManageYourCellar.com

Date: Fri, Jul 31, 2009 Wine Tasting

It should be resolved soon. In the meantime, please use

Sorry for the inconvenience.

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Visiting Fleurie in Beaujolais

Date: Thu, Jul 30, 2009 Wine Tasting

Between July and August, millions of Europeans take the Autoroute du Soleil to reach the beach resorts of the Mediterranean, but few care to stop and visit the vine covered hills of Beaujolais just south of the Mâcon exit. They are too eager to leave the heavily congested Lyons bypass motorway behind.

It's a pity. There are so many charming villages quietly nested in the hills of Beaujolais. One of them is Fleurie, a small village perched at about 800 feet and overlooking the Saone river valley. From the main square, a narrow winding road leads to a chapel built in 1875 in honor of the Madonna to thank her for protecting the vineyards. From the chapel, there is a superb view of the entire region. The Gamay vines growing on the granite hillside surrounding the chapel are owned by the Desprès family of the nearby Domaine de la Madone.

Driving up to the Chapelle de la Madone

Fleurie and the Saone valley from the Chapelle de la Madone

During our one-night stay in Fleurie, we had the chance to visit that excellent domain and here are the wines that we tasted:

2007 Fleurie Domaine de la Madone Tradition: made to be drunk young. The average vine age is 40 years. Garnet color, peppery nose, light-bodied and pleasantly fruity.

2007 Fleurie Domaine du Niagara: from a different estate called Niagara and produced by Arnaud Deprès, the son of the family. Deep color, intense aromas of red and black currant on the nose, some tannins on the palate, rather assertive.

2007 Fleurie Domaine de la Madone Grille Midi: the Grille Midi is a granite amphitheatre bathed in sunshine. The average vine age is 65 years. Peppery nose, firm backbone on the palate, some tannins, lengthy finish, ageworthy.

2007 Fleurie Domaine de la Madone La Madone Cuvée Vieilles Vignes: from the La Madone vineyard, vines averaging 80 years of age, the oldest vine being 116 years. A lot of fruit on the nose, rich and velvety on the palate, ageworthy.

The wines of the Domaine de la Madone

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Still on the road...

Date: Sat, Jul 25, 2009 Wine Tasting

But I'll be back soon!

The hills of Beaujolais

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Bouchon in Santa Barbara: good food and a great wine-by-the-glass service

Date: Mon, Jun 29, 2009 Wine Tasting

On our way to L.A., we stayed overnight in Santa Barbara. This was a nice break: the town has pretty beaches, downtown shopping is great and dining options are plentiful. Looking for a good restaurant, our internet query listed Bouchon on Victoria Street, a block away from State, the old town's main artery. Although a dressy attire seemed to be recommended on the Yelp website, we decided to have a look at the place anyway.

We found out that the restaurant had in fact a lovely and inviting patio and the atmosphere seemed pretty casual. The food was wine country cooking and the wine list offered an extensive choice of wines from Santa Barbara County. So we decided to stay.

We had a great dinner there but what was most remarkable about the restaurant was the special attention given to the wine-by-the-glass service. Each bottle was brought to the table so that we could look at the label (and take a picture of it!), and taste the wine before generous pours were served into large glasses.

The wines we tasted:

2007 Ojai Viognier Icewine Roll Ranch: according to the winery's website, ripe viognier grapes are taken from the Roll Ranch vineyard to a commercial freezer in Oxnard, and when they are solidly frozen they are transported back to the winery and pressed immediately. The first juice that is pressed out is fermented in older barrels, stopping the fermentation before the alcohol level gets too high. The wine was extremely sweet with some good acidity and aromas of apricot and muscat. A good match with the Pan-Seared Foie Gras althought slightly too sweet for our taste.

2006 Consilience Roussanne Santa Barbara County: Consilience is a small Santa Barbara County producer loosely focused around typical Rhone varietals. In the northern Rhone Valley, Roussanne is usually blended with Marsanne but here, Roussanne is bottled by itself. The wine had a deep golden color and a nose of cane sugar juice. It was rather dry and tight on the palate but opened up nicely as I was enjoying my Flatbread with Roasted Tomatoes, Artichoke Hearts & Fresh Mozzarella.

2007 Melville Pinot Noir Estate Santa Rita Hills: sourced from the estate vineyards of Melville Winery in the Santa Rita Hills appellation. The wine had a herbal nose of menthol and eucalyptus with aromas of dark cherries and caramel. Good accompaniment to the Bourbon & Maple-Glazed California Duck Breast.

2006 Tercero Cuvee Christie: Tercero is a small boutique label produced by Larry Schaeffer, assistant winemaker at Fess Parker, and his wife Christie. The wine is a blend of 60% Grenache, 30% Syrah, and 10% Mourvèdre from Santa Barbara County. Each component was fermented and aged separately, and the final blend was combined about a month before bottling. The nose showed aromas of figs cooked with spices. On the palate, it had a rich and velvety texture. Delicious with the Venison Loin.

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Will Sell Husband for Wine!

Date: Wed, Jun 17, 2009 Wine Tasting

Guess what? My husband bought me this new tee-shirt the other day. It has a big quote that says: “Will Sell Husband for Wine!” But the best part is the tiny note just below it:

“If wine is REALLY good will throw in kids with husband. If wine is REALLY good and huge QUANTITIES are involved, will throw in House and Cat with Husband and Kids. No substitutions. No exchanges. Very Limited warranty on husbands.”

Hilarious, even if you don't have a cat!

The tee-shirt itself is wine dyed: “Straight from the vine come our shirts dyed in rich red wine. ” says the website. And there are many other Gourmet Dyes available depending on your taste, including Kona Coffee, Beer, Chocolate, and Key Limes. Too bad they just smell like plain cotton!

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