Wednesday, December 12, 2007

Wine Blogging Wednesday #40: 2005 Rosenblum Cellars Petite Sirah Heritage Clones

The Story: The theme of Wine Blogging Wednesday #40, "Que Que Sirah," is brought to us by Sonadora from Wannabe Wino. Eager to participate in my second WBW and taste my first Petite Sirah, I braved the cold and the rain and booked it on over to K&D Wines. The store only had three Petite Sirahs, only one of which was under $35. I picked up the 2005 Rosenblum Cellars Petite Sirah Heritage Clones for $17.99 and returned home to drink it with a braised lamb shank I had made the day before.

The Region: Contra Costa, California. Contra Costa is located in the San Francisco Bay area. Rosenblum Cellars on Google Maps.

The Grape: Petite Sirah, aka Durif. According to Jancis Robinson's The Oxford Companion to Wine, Petite Sirah is known for producing a "dark, well-balanced, sturdily tannic, red wine of agreeable if not highly distinctive flavor." Some more information on Petite Sirah can be found here.

The Look: Very dark, inky purple.

The Aroma: Strong odors of black pepper and blackberries. Very spicy aroma.

The Swish: At first, I was unable to get beyond the spicy taste of black pepper. Pepper is not a flavor I have come across in a wine before. Eventually, blackberry and coffee notes revealed themselves. This wine had a very thick mouthfeel and a nice, long finish.

The Verdict: Black pepper is not exactly the most pleasurable flavor in a wine, so it took me some time to decide whether or not I liked this wine. While the spice of the pepper was undeniably present in this wine, so too were the delicious coffee and blackberry flavors. The pepper notes in this wine played a similar role to the black pepper I ground on my lamb shank-- enhancing the wine without overwhelming its other wonderful flavors. This wine was perfect on a cold winter night with a hearty winter dish. I would definitely buy it, and other Petite Sirahs, in the future. Thank you, Sonadora, for a wonderful WBW theme and for turning me onto a new varietal.

Monday, December 10, 2007

Gutturnio at Via Emilia

This past weekend, I celebrated my friend Adam's birthday at Via Emilia, an Italian restaurant on E. 21st St. serving the food of Emilia-Romagna region. All of the food we ordered was excellent, especially the chicken and mushroom tortelloni with truffle oil my friend Justin ordered, but what stood out most was the restaurant's wine list. Like the food, all of the wine at Via Emilia is from Emilia-Romagna. Aside from several Cabernets and Sangioveses, there was very little on the wine list that was familiar to me. Fortunately, the list had helpful descriptions of each wine, so it was not not too difficult to pick out something that sounded as if it would suit my taste. I selected the 2006 Ferrari & Perini Gutturnio, and while I had never previously heard of the designation, I was very happy with my choice. Gutturnio is a 70/30 blend of Barbera and Bonarda. This wine was medium-bodied with roasted fruit on the palate and nice acidity. It paired very nicely with my rich tortellini alla panna. I found the 2006 Ferrari & Perini Gutturnio at Crush Wines for $20.99. You may not have heard of Gutturnio, but it is yet another esoteric Italian wine that is well worth trying.

Tuesday, December 4, 2007

Essential Wine Websites for Newbies

I have always wondered what it must have been like to be a wine drinker before the Internet era. How did people research wines back then? How did they track of wines in their cellars? How did they compare prices? Call me spoiled, but I can’t imagine being a wine drinker and not having the internet. Aside from the forums, blogs, and other wine-centric websites, here are three sites that everyone, especially Wine Newbies, should have in his or her tool kit:

CellarTracker: CellarTracker is an inventory tracker. While it is used by experienced wine collectors with thousands of bottles in their cellars, it is also an essential tool for the wine novice. Immediately after returning home from a visit to the wine shop, I log into CellarTracker to add my purchases to my modest online inventory. Generally, the wines I add to my inventory have already been added to CellarTracker's database, so I can quickly see all of the helpful information on the wine (varietal, desgination, region, etc.) as well as tasting notes written by other CellarTracker users. I generally avoid looking at the tasting notes until after I have tasted the wine so as not to bias my novice palate, but the tasting notes are extremely helpful when use CellarTracker to research wines to buy, which I frequently do. My favorite part about CellarTracker is that users can perform all sorts of fun and useful analyses at the click of the button: the largest cellars on the site, producers whose wines are most owned, most popular wines for the year, etc. CellarTracker is not only a fun wine tool, but it is also incredibly useful for the someone who is trying to learn more about wine.

Wine-Searcher: I follow wine forums and blogs on a regular basis, so I am always finding new wines that I want to purchase. Generally, the wines I read about online are fairly obscure and thus cannot be found at any wine shop. Fortunately, I have Wine-Searcher at my fingertips and can immediately find a store that sells the wine in my area. Even better, if multiple retailers sell the wine, Wine-Searcher will tell me which store has the best price. Wine-Searcher also serves as quite an eye opener as to how widely prices vary for the same wine from store to store.

It must have been hard times for wine drinkers before the Internet existed. How did wine snobs keep track of their inventories? Did wine drinkers have to rely on professional reviewers only for providing tasting notes? How would a wine drinker find a store that sold a wine he was looking for? Once he found that store, did he unwittingly overpay for a wine that could have been found for several dollars less at another store? Thank heavens for the Internet!

I think that both CellarTracker and Wine-Searcher should be websites in every wine beginner's arsenal. What other sites should be included?

Monday, December 3, 2007

Braising: The Best Way to Cook with Wine

Tonight, I made Tom Valenti’s lamb shanks to go with the Petite Syrah that I will post about for next week’s Wine Blogging Wednesday #40 brought to us by Wannabe Wino. I will write about the Petite Syrah I drank with my dinner next Wednesday, but today, I want to write about the technique I used to cook the lamb shanks, braising.

Braising is without a doubt my favorite cooking method. As a young professional who lives alone, what I like love about braising is that it’s easy, it's inexpensive, and it fills my tiny studio apartment with wonderful aromas of herbs, wine, stock, meat, and vegetables.

Of course the single best thing about braising is that a braise often requires a cup or two (or even an entire bottle) of wine to be added to the braising liquid. Not only does a braised dish often contain wine, but it also pairs very well with wine. In many ways, a great braised dish is similar to a great wine. It gets better with age (although a braise will age to its full potential after a or two, rather than years). A braised dish is simple, yet elegant. It’s rustic, yet refined. For these reasons, I think that braised meat is the perfect wine food. Forget about using a cheap wine to braise a dish—just crack open something good, pour a glass into the braise, then drink the rest with the meal. It's a match made in heaven.

Every wine lover should have braising in his or her cooking repertoire. It's the perfect hearty dish for winter, so why not braise some meat this weekend? Tom Valenti's lamb shank recipe was delicious, and would be the perfect recipe to start with.

Friday, November 30, 2007

Tasting Note: 2005 Lavradores de Feitoria Douro

The Story: It's Thursday night, and it's been a long week at work. I want an inexpensive red to drink with dinner: sauteed pork chop in a sherry shallot pan sauce. I look at the options I have on hand and the most fitting looks like this Douro. I bought from Mister Wright for $11 a few weeks back because wines from Portugal have been all the rage among wine geeks recently, and I have never tried one. Tonight seems as good a night as any to test drive a Douro.

The Region: Douro, Portugal. The Douro region is in Northern Portugal. It is the same region of Portugal where Port is produced. Lavradores de Feitoria is located in Vila Real., the capital of the province of Trás-os-Montes. Vila Real, Portugal, on Google Maps

The Grape: This is a red blend. Traditionally, Douro wines include Tinta Roriz and Touriga Nacional grapes, among others. The same grapes are also used to produce Port.

The Look: Dark purple.

The Aroma: It takes a good amount of swirling for me to identify anything. Eventually I notice hints of raspberry, but the aroma is mostly "red wine."

The Swish: I manage to break the cork in half the first time I try to open the bottle. As I try to pull out the second half of the cork, pieces of the cork crumble and drop into the wine. A little cork never hurt anyone. I hope the cork does not absorb too much wine.

As I take my first sip, the wine tingles the tip of my tongue. This is a sensation I have never felt before. In that first millisecond when my tongue touches the wine for each sip, my tongue tingles and I briefly taste raisins. I wonder if this taste is something that the wine picked up from its sweet cousin, Port. It is a very unusual taste for a red wine, but I like it.

Once the wine passes the tip of my tongue, it is fairly one dimensional, but enjoyable. I notice hints of plums on the palate, but for the most part it just tastes like fermented grape juice. I taste more alcohol than I would prefer. I manage to swallow some cork, but it does not detract too much from the wine. Despite the alcohol flavor and the cork, the wine is easy to drink. It is full-bodied and has a nice finish for $11.

The Verdict: I still cannot get over the tingling sensation and that this wine had on my tongue when I first sipped it. One day after opening the bottle, the tingling sensation was gone, but I will remember this wine by that sensation. I've never had a dry red wine that tingled on the tongue and tasted of raisins. Do Douros usually have this characteristic? While I did not love this particular wine, I am intrigued by Douro wines. I would not buy this wine again, but I definitely will purchase other Douros.

Wednesday, November 28, 2007

Vinquire and A New Idea for a Wine Website

In her latest post, Dr. Debs of Good Wine Under $20 wrote about a new wine website called Vinquire. You can read Debs' post or visit Vinquire to learn more information about the site, but it is essentially a combination of Wine-Searcher and Cellartracker, where users can make an online price comparison of any wine as well as provide there own tasting notes on any wine. If Vinquire continues to gain popularity, with more people posting tasting notes, I think it will become a very useful online resource.

As I browsed Vinquire, I started to think about how great it would be if someone could create a site that was similar to Wine-Searcher, but was a repository for tasting notes. Between Cellartracker, blogs, forums, and professional reviews, there is a countless number of websites that have reviews of wines. It would be great if there was a site where you could search for the name of a wine and find every tasting note of the wine that is on the Internet. Does such a site exist?

Monday, November 26, 2007

Cyber Monday and Proper Stemware

Today is the Monday after Thanksgiving, so-called "Cyber Monday." Traditionally (at least since the internet commerce age), today is one of the biggest online shopping days of the year. The theory is that workers return to their offices after the Thanksgiving holiday, and since late Nov. is a slow time at many workplaces, end up shopping for Christmas gifts online. Internet retailers, capitalizing on the idea, have started to have big sales on Cyber Monday to entice shoppers to waste even more of their time and money from their cubicle. If Valentine's Day is a Hallmark Holiday, then Cyber Monday is a Amazon Holiday.

While I was actually very busy at work today, I still found some time to browse for some internet deals. The best one's I came across were at Amazon, where I found some huge discounts on wine glasses. I currently have inexpensive all-purpose wine glasses that I am pleased enough with, but I have always heard that a great wine will never reach its fullest potential unless it is drunk from a quality glass. However, fancy wine glasses are quite expensive, and I rarely drink wine that is good enough to warrant a glass that costs more than a few dollars in price. With with Amazon's sales marking down Spiegelau, Waterford, and Riedel glasses by up to 50%, I decided that today was as good as any to buy some nicer wine glasses.

Browsing the selection of glasses, I realized that shopping for stemware can be just as overwhelming as shopping for wine. Each producer makes glasses for Burgundy, Bordeaux, Merlot, Nebbiolo, Viognier, Riesling, the list goes on and on. With all the choices to choose, from I decided to purchase a pair Waterford Mondavi Bordeaux glasses that were marked down to $25.00 from $50.00. All I wanted was a glass that was large enough that I could swirl a full serving of wine without spilling, and these seem like they will do the trick. I also purchased a pair of Waterford Mondavi Champagne flutes for the same price.

Since I had to keep my purchase a good deal, I selected the free Super Saver Shipping Option from Amazon, so who knows when I will actually receive the glasses and try them out. But I will definitely report back-- I think the first wine in my new glasses will have to be a Cabernet.

What are your thoughts on wine glasses? Is it really worth it to invest in good ones? What are the differences between glasses for each varietal?

Saturday, November 24, 2007

Tasting Note: 2006 Les Vins de Vienne Côtes du Rhône Les Laurelles

The Story: Tired of eating meat and turkey for the last week, I decided to cook seared scallops with chorizo and lemon juice last night. I had a Gruner Veltliner and a Riesling on hand that probably would have paired decently with the dish, but I thought that a nice buttery Chardonnay would pair best. I had also been meaning to try out a new wine shop near me, Cellar 72, which is supposedly run by former sommeliers at several NYC restaurants (Per Se, Marseille, and Nice Matin). With those two thoughts in mind, I headed to Cellar 72 to pick out white wine that would go with my scallops and chorizo.

Although I my assumption was that a full-bodied Chardonnay would pair nicely with my dinner, I knew that a former sommelier would probably have more knowledge about pairings than this newbie, so I told him what I was cooking and let him take the reins. I patted myself on the back when the sales clerk suggested Chardonnay. The sales clerk gave me two options: a "smoky" California Chardonnay or a white Cotes Du Rhone, that, while not a Chardonnay, had Chardonnay-like characteristics that would pair well with the scallop dish. I have had many smoky California Chardonnays, so for the sake of being adventurous, I selected the 2006 Les Vins de Vienne Côtes du Rhône Les Laurelles, which just under $18. The clerk mentioned that this wine was one of his favorites, so I assumed that I picked well.

The Region: This wine is a Cotes du Rhone from Southern Rhone. Les Vins de Vienne on Google Maps

The Grape: This is a white blend. The back of the bottle tells me that it is composed of 50% Marsanne grapes and 50% Viognier grapes and that the wine has been aged for 10 months in tanks.

The Look: Medium-dark amber.

The Aroma: Apples predominated. I also smelled hints of lemon and fresh-cut grass.

The Swish: I am often disappointed with my first taste whenever I taste a wine. I do not know why this is; the only possible explanation I can think of is that I am thrown off when a wine does not taste as I assumed it would. Rather than becoming more interested in a wine that tastes different from expectations, I tend to be disappointed at first. This wine is no exception. Even though I was well aware that this wine was not Chardonnay, I expected it to taste like a Chardonnay. Instead, I was thrown for a loop when I noticed strong flavors of lychee-- it reminded me of a Gewurztraminer. I have tasted Gewurztraminer only once before, but I did not care for it, so I was disappointed with this wine at first.

As is usually the case with wines that I have high hopes for but disappoint me with the first taste, this wine proved itself after a few more tastes. The lychee transformed itself to pear. I was able to identify apples and lemons as well. This was a very interesting wine.

The Verdict: I really enjoyed this wine. I think the best proof of my enjoyment of this wine would be that I sipped two glasses over the course of almost an hour and a half. I did not take a long time to finish it because it was bad, but because it was so good. I tend to quaff most decent wines, but this one I sipped all the way through because it was such an interesting wine. With each sip, I tried to figure this wine out, to notice all of its nuances. I have never tasted anything quite like it. It paired very nicely with my scallop dish, and I would definitely buy it again.

Friday, November 23, 2007

Two Brief Thanksgiving Tasting Notes

I had a wonderful Thanksgiving at my brother's house in Boston. I was too busy chatting with family and friends to do a thorough tasting, but I did make a few mental notes on the wines that my parents brought to dinner:

2005 La Crema Chardonnay: An easy-drinking California Chardonnay, although I prefer Chardonnays with more oak. Nonetheless, this was nice to sip before Thanksgiving dinner-- lemon was the prevailing flavor in this wine. I enjoyed the wine, but once I saw the $19 price tag attached to the bottle, I did not like it quite as much. I have had Chardonnays that I like more for several dollars less.

2004 Sebastiani Vineyards and Winery Cabernet Sauvignon: I drank this wine with the delicious meal that my brother and his wife cooked. Initially, I was very put off by the wine, as all I tasted was alcohol. I only took a few sips over the course of the meal. However, by the time dinner was over, the wine had become much smoother and full of roasted fruit. At $18, this is a good Cabernet at a great price. I would definitely buy it again and remember to decant a couple of hours before serving.

As I stated in my previous post, Thanksgiving is all about who you spend it with, and not necessarily what you drink. While neither of these wines blew me away, they were great for Thanksgiving because I could just enjoy them, and therefore enjoy wonderful day with my family, without worrying too much about what was in my glass.

Tuesday, November 20, 2007

Some Thanksgiving Wine Advice from a Newbie

Most people agree that Thanksgiving, with all of it's contrasting flavors, is an incredibly difficult holiday when it comes to pairing wines with the meal. For this reason, every expert seems to have his or her own idea regarding the perfect Thanksgiving wine. Between blogs, magazine articles, and newspaper articles, I think I have seen almost every varietal out there nominated as a "great Thanksgiving wine."

Due to all of the contradicting opinions on Thanksgiving pairings, I have come to the conclusion that there is no perfect wine for Thanksgiving. As with any holiday that brings family and friends together, pick any wine that you love, and I promise it will be a perfect pairing. Whether it's a wine that recalls great memories, a wine you have been waiting forever to try, or just a simple tried and true that you like, you will have chosen a great Thanksgiving wine. There is no need to stress about whether a particular wine might clash with the sweet potatoes. All you have to do is open a few wines you love while eating a feast with with friends and family, and I can guarantee you that you will have the perfect Thanksgiving wine. Pairing advice does not get any simpler than that.

I will be traveling to Boston for the holiday, and I am not sure if I will have a chance to update the blog until Saturday, so I am wishing everyone an early Happy Thanksgiving. I hope you all choose perfect Thanksgiving wines!