Big, Dark, and Delicious

I was headed home Friday after another week of too many hours, and not enough rest. I decided to pick up a pizza on the way home because we’d opened a 2006 Rosenblum Cellars Richard Sauret Zinfandel (88pts) the night before. I decided to get a pizza topped with grilled chicken, sausage, linguica, roma tomatoes, red and green onion topped with a BBQ drizzle, which I thought would pair nicely with the pizza.  I wasn’t disappointed.  The Zinfandel was a good pairing with the pizza.

The next day, to my surprise, I discovered the pizza made it through the night and the next day (we have a 17 y.o. boy at home…enough said).  As fortune would have it, my wife had opened a 2007 Rosenblum Cellars Petite Sirah Pato Vineyards (90pts) the night before so a friend who’d never tried a Petite Sirah (“PS”) before.  While the pizza with the Zinfandel was a good pairing, the PS  with the pizza was a great pairing.  As I savored the PS/pizza pairing, I remarked to my wife “You know, I love a wine with some tannins in it”, which is why I love PS!

PS tend to be “big” wines, meaning generally rich, full-bodied, intensely flavored with a concentrated feel on the palate. It’s known for its dark inky red color, and firm tannins. PS characteristically have effusively fruity, wild berry, or plummy aromas and flavor, along with rustic spiciness that may bring to mind pepper, nutmeg, or cloves. And some would suggest it is the most intense red wine in the world.

For those of you who may not have tried a PS (Peh-TEET Sih-RAH), it’s a wine with an incongruous name because it’s neither petite, nor a Syrah.

In fact PS is the love child of the “noble” Syrah grape, and the little known Peloursin grape.  It was created by a French botanist, Dr. Francois Durif who crossed the flower of a “mother” vine with the pollen of a “father” vine, and named the offspring after himself. So, it’s possible you may come across a wine made with Durif grapes, which is synonymous with PS in the United States.  Ironically, though the grape originated in France, it is virtually extinct there today.

Like Zinfandel, PS has a long history in California, and in fact is the other American Heritage grape (along with Zinfandel) because of its long history here in the States, particularly CA where about 80% of worldwide PS vineyard acreage is planted.  Historically, like Zinfandel, PS was planted as part of a  field blend interspersed with other grapes such as Carignan, Grenache, Mourvèdre, Mission and Muscat.   And PS has long been used to add tannins and color to jug wines.  The first stand-alone PS wasn’t released until 1964 by Concannon Vineyards of Livermore Valley.

I was introduced to PS by a mutual friend, Zinfandel.  A few years ago while tasting through Zinfandel at Rosenblum Cellars; I learned that a particularly tasting Zinfandel wasn’t 100% Zinfandel.  Upon further inquiry, I learned that PS is added to Zinfandel to give it color.  But I also noticed that particular Zinfandel seemed “bigger” than the others.  After tasting through Zinfandel I tasted a PS.  I found that I enjoyed the dark fruit, but at the time found the tannins a bit off-putting.  Now, I enjoy and appreciate a wine that is “chewy” (i.e. you sense the tannins without them being overwhelming).

Now that we’re in Fall, with Winter approaching, it’s a great time to give PS a try.  It pairs well with cold weather savory dishes like pot roast and stews.  It’s also pairs well with the same foods that Zinfandel pairs with like burgers, BBQ, mesquite grilled steak, roast duck, and dark or bittersweet chocolate.

For a more detailed profile of PS, click here

Mine Eyes Have Been Opened Wide…

Seghesio Family Vineyards

Image of Seghesio Family Vineyards via Snooth

I love Zin.  It’s one of my favorite varietals.  In fact, my epiphany wine was a Lolonis Zinfandel I had about 10 years ago.  Before that, I liked wine and would consume it occasionally.  But after that, I came to love wine.  I can still remember the juicy berry flavor of that wine!

But when it comes to pairing it with food, I don’t perceive it to be as versatile as other wines, such as Pinot Noir, or Syrah, in terms of reds.  I must confess that I mostly consider zinfandel to be a B&B (Burger & BBQ) wine.  That all changed this past weekend when we attended the 2010 Seghesio Chef’s Harvest dubbed a “Cuisines of the World with America’s Wine”

Zinfandel is widely considered to be America’s grape, and thus America’s wine because the world’s oldest zinfandel wines reside in California, and because other popular grapes such as Cab, Pinot Noir, Chardonnay, and Riesling have hundreds of years of history in Old World Europe, while Zinfandel transformed from a little known grape to one planted to 50,000 acres here in America.  There is more Zinfandel planted in California than anywhere else in the world.

The Seghesio event featured 5 renowned Chefs from around the country preparing World Cuisine paired with their Zinfandels to showcase the food pairing versatility of Zinfandel.  All the Zins were produced using Sonoma County fruit from Alexander Valley and Dry Creek Valley.

Each Chef prepared small plates with three dishes.  Each cuisine was paired a different Zinfandel.  The featured cuisines and dishes are detailed below:

Wine Cuisine
2008 Home Ranch Zinfandel Asian Jumbo Tiger Shrimp Sate with Spicy Peanut Sauce/Grilled Beef in Grape Leaves with Nuoc Cham/Edamame & Corn Salad with Walnut Miso Dressing
2008 Old Vine Zinfandel Persian – Eggplant Crostini with Sun-dried Yogurt and walnuts/Pistachio Meatballs with Harissa-Pomegranate Glaze/Yogurt Marinated Flat Iron Steak with Cucumber Raita
2008 Rockpile Zinfandel Cajun – Duck and Andouille Gumbo/Smoked Cajun Sausage with Pickled Peppers/Louisiana Blackeyed Pea and Rice Salad
2007 Cortina Zinfandel Spanish – Tomato and Watermelon Gazpacho/Cordero Al Carbon – Spit roasted young lamb/Seafood Paella of Lobster, Prawns, Clams, and Mussels
2007 San Lorenzo Zinfandel Italian – Northern Halibut, Sweet White Corn & Bulls Horn Peppers/Lamb Polpette with Sheep’s Milk Yogurt & Salsa Rustica/Trio of Sonoma Tomatoes – Crudo, Concentrato, Gelatina

Mission accomplished!  The Zins were paired wonderfully with all the cuisines.  My favorite pairing was the 2008 Seghesio Rockpile Zinfandel with Duck and Andouille Gumbo, but I enjoyed all the pairings!  The experience definitely opened my mind to Zin’s possibilities beyond the All-American B&B realm. Learning is always best when it’s fun, since there was a band and plenty of wine, and wine lovers we had a blast!

We currently have more Zinfandel than any other varietal in our modest “cellar”. Now that mine eyes have been opened wide..I don’t know how long that’s going to last!

Blind tasting and strip poker, Oh my!

After our most recent wine tasting club meeting I began to wonder why it is that the least expensive wine frequently wins.  At our wine tasting club, we do blind-tasting. The bottles are covered up to conceal the identity of the producer. We typically pour an ounce or two, and score the wine on a 25 point scale, 5 points each for appearance, aroma, body, taste, and finish.  We scored 10 different sparkling wines. The winner was the least expensive of the bunch.

Is it simply that once potential external influences are removed from the equation, that we’re more readily able to identify what we truly like?  Or is there more to it? Inquiring minds want to know!

The advantage of blind-tasting wine is that price-based expectations don’t unduly influence the tasting. In other words, you’re not predisposed to respond positively to a more expensive, and/or well recognized brand. Instead you get the opportunity to discover what pleases your palate, regardless of external influences like advertising, marketing or price.

On the other hand, blind-tastings, especially in a group setting, tend to favor wines that offer immediate pleasure and gratification (i.e. wines that are soft, fruit and sweet) because I think our senses gravitate toward the obvious rather than the subtle, especially untrained senses.

I offer the “Pepsi Taste Challenge” as a comparable situation that might illustrate the point.  When Pepsi is blind tasted against Coke, most people prefer Pepsi.  But when they purchase, most people prefer Coke. Branding experts claim that all the advertising/marketing investment in the Coke brand explains the reversal.  However, another explanation is that Pepsi tastes sweeter and therefore we like it more when we drink small amounts.

I think the same thing can happen when blind tasting a wine, and that’s why often, the least expensive wine is the winner.  It offers the most immediate pleasure and gratification.  I’m not suggesting anything is wrong with that, or that the winners are not worthy.  They are. Rather, I think it’s important to be aware inherent limitations of blind tasting in a group setting, such as a wine club tasting.

And in my opinion, there’s something to be said for a wine that gets better the more time you spend with it, as opposed to a wine that may be more enjoyable initially, but that’s as good as it’s going to get.  And from a practical stand point, unless you regularly polish off a bottle of wine in one night, something to consider is what a bottle of wine will taste like the day after it’s opened.   Of course there are numerous factors that could affect the taste the day after, including how “complex”, the wine is and how it’s stored. But I think all things being equal (and they never really are, are they;-) a more “complex” wine will hold up better the day after opening than one that is less complex.

So go ahead a buy a bottle of the least expensive wine that won the blind tasting, especially if it was the one you enjoyed the most.  It’s worth a shot, but a couple of things to keep in mind.  Just because you liked a sip, doesn’t necessarily mean you’ll enjoy an entire bottle. And keep your palate and your mind open to wines that you find interesting, but may not be what you’re accustomed to.  And just like you evolve with time, so will your palate!

There’s a whole wide world of wine out there, let your palate lead you to new and interesting places!

Finally, I leave you with this interesting quote from Kermit Lynch“Blind tastings are to wine what strip poker is to love”

Start the car….I gotta steal!

Just a few short years ago, before the Great Recession, there were many wine lovers, and just plain showoffs who seemed to revel in telling anyone who would listen, or pretend to listen, how much they paid for a bottle of wine.  Well, the tables have turned.  Now, it seems it’s cool to tell folks how little you paid for a bottle of wine!  Even if I were well heeled enough to afford to pay hundreds of dollars or more for a bottle of wine, it’s not my style to to tell folks how much I paid for a bottle of wine, but I’m more than happy to add my voice to “Guess what, I only paid…” chorus!  So…

Guess what, I only paid $10 for what I consider to be an outstanding (90 Points) bottle of wine from Spain. It’s  the 2006 Bodegas LAN Crianza.  It made with  is 100% Tempranillo that spent 12 months in French and American oak by Bodegas LAN, a  traditional Rioja house that makes good-quality wines all along the Rioja spectrum. With 200,00o case produced, this wine should be widely available.  I picked up a bottle at my favorite wine store, K&L Wine Merchants.  After I tried it, I promptly went out and bought a half case! Click here to see my detailed review on Cellar Tracker!.  While you’re there you may check availability and pricing in your area clicking on $$ FIND THIS WINE on WINE-SEARCHER.COM $$ )

If you’re not familiar with Spanish wines here’s a quick primer…

Spain has more land under vineyard acreage than any other wine growing region in the world. It’s also one of the worldwide leaders for producing  “value” wines – wines prices at $15, or less of very good quality.

Like France, Spain has rigid wine laws called Denominacion de Origen (DO) which define and protect specific geographic areas.  There are fifty-four DOs.  In addition, Rioja is the only Demoninacion de Origen Calificada (DOC), or Qualified Denomination of Origin.  To qualify as a DO, or DOC a wine region must meet rigid requirements around specific viticultural, and wine making standards.

Spanish wines are classified based on the quality of grapes and how long the wines are aged.  The hierarchy includes crianza, reserva, and gran reserva.  The red crianza wines are required to be aged at least two years, one of which must be in oak barrels,  reserva wines must be aged at least three years, one of which must be in oak barrels, and gran reserva must be aged at least five years, two of which must be in oak barrels and the remaining three must be in the bottle.  While the law dictates the aforementioned minimums, in practice many are aged much longer, particularly in Rioja, and at the gran reserva level.

Crianzas tend to be easy drinking wines with vibrant flavors.  Reservas are made from better grapes from better sites, and tend to be more lush and concentrated than crianzas, and Gran reservas are only made in exceptional years and come from the very best vineyards.

Rioja has historically been considered Spain’s greatest wine region, and is especially renown for red wine made from the indigenous Tempranillo grape.  Wines from Rioja are aged longer before release than any other wines in the world. The other major wine regions of Spain are Ribero Del Duero, Priorato, Penedes, Rias Baixas, and Jerez (the home of sherry).

So far, Spain has been the source of the international “value” wines I’ve enjoyed the most.  Stay tuned for more on Spanish wines, because I’ll definitely be drinking more!  I hope you’ll try some too!  And if you already have some favorites from Spain, please do share!