Muscadet in Tomales Bay

(Click on the images below to enlarge)

It’s always fun for me to try new wines, especially after hearing about this, or that wine pairing well with food I enjoy!

Such was the case with Muscadet (pronounced mew-skuh-Day), a French wine made from the Melon de Bourgogne grape. The wine originates from the Loire Valley in France, more specifically the Muscadet de Sèvre-et-Maine appellation, which is on the western most part of the Loire bordering the Atlantic.  Curiously, Muscadet is the name of the wine, rather the name of a place, which is typical in France.

I’ve read that Muscadet was excellent with shellfish, and specifically with oysters, which I love, so I picked up a bottle of 2009 Michel Delhommeau Muscadet de Sèvre-et-Maine Sur Lie Cuvee Harmonie (89 pts – $13), but the wine has been sitting in my refrigerator since August 2010!, awaiting the right opportunity.  The opportunity arose recently when we took a road trip to Tomales Bay near Point Reyes for a picnic.  We went to Tomales Bay Oyster Company.  It was a gorgeous day, and we quickly found a prime spot near the edge of the Bay, and bought oysters, mussels, and clams.  Additionally, we brought along marinated baby-back ribs and corn on the cob to grill, and potato salad.  In addition to the Muscadet, we brought along a sparkling wine; NV Mumm Prestige Cuvee Sparkling Wine, and a Rosé; 2009 Silver Mountain Rose of Pinot Noir.

We ended up buying 100 oysters for seven of us!  The vast majority of the oysters were consumed raw.  The mussels, and claims were grilled.  As advertised, the Muscadet paired with mollusks exceptionally well, with the citrusy and minerally flavors of the wine, playing off the brininess of the mollusks, brightening and enlivening their flavors (especially the raw oysters), and vice-versa.   It didn’t seem to matter much whether the raw oysters were consumed naked, or dressed with the typical Tabasco/lemon juice or the mignonette sauce of rice vinegar, cilantro, Vidalia onions my wife prepared.  I also tried the oysters with the Mumm sparkler, because oysters and sparkling wine is also a good pairing.   I enjoyed that pairing as well, though not quite as much.  As for the Rosé, that also worked with the oysters and was the wine of choice with the BBQ ribs, and potato salad.

It was a fun day with family, friends,  wine, and food that brought to mind one of my favorite quotations…

“Drinking good wine with good food in good company is one of life’s most civilized pleasures.”— Michael Broadbent

And trying a new wine that I really enjoyed was part of a memorable afternoon.  I will be buying more Muscadet to keep on hand for our next oyster orgy!  If you’re a fan of mollusks, and seafood, it’s a nice change of pace from Sauvignon Blanc.  Give it try!

What’s your favorite wine to pair with raw oysters? Leave a comment and let me know….

Drink Pink…Top 10 Rosés!

They say the first step is to admit you cannot control your compulsion…here it is then…I am a Rosé fiend!  Not only are Rosés my hands down favorite during the warmer months of the year, I enjoy Rosé pretty much all year-round because it’s such a versatile food friendly wine.  For example last week, on the hottest day of Summer 2011, so far, I made Chipotle-Rubbed Flank Steak w/Gorgonzola Sauce.  I wanted a chilled wine because it was hot, but also a wine that would stand up to the meatiness of the steak, the spiciness of the spice rub, and the brininess of the Gorgonzola cheese sauce.  A Rosé from Spain was just the ticket and paired wonderfully with the dish.

I’ve been on a serious “Rosé Run” between the beginning of May and now; having tasted at least 25 Rosés from California, France, Germany, Italy, and Spain.  With that brief, but salient background, here are my Top 10 Rosés of 2011…at least so far…I’m sure I’ll be trying more throughout the summer!

First, the method to my madness:

  • The wines are ranked in inverse order.
  • If I scored wines the same, price is the tiebreaker, with the lower priced wine being ranked higher.
  • For more detailed information including the region from which the wine comes, grape varietal(s), more detailed tasting notes/comments,  and a Wine-Searcher.com link to find the wine, click on linked name of the wine.

Here we go…

10.  2010 Ameztoi Getariako Txakolina Rubentis -  Spain.  Pink with silver hue color of watermelon flesh.  Strawberry,  and wet stone aromas. On the palate, bone dry, light-bodied, and fizzy with mouth-watering acidity, with strawberry, mineral, and citrus flavors. Medium finish. (88 pts) – $21

9. Frick Winery Cinsault Rosé  -  California.  Dark pink with a reddish hue. Strawberry, and tart cherry aromas.  On the palate, between dry and off-dry, medium bodied, with a trace of tannins, and strawberry, cherry, spice, and a touch of pomegranate flavors.  Medium finish (88 pts) - $19

8.  2010 Quivira Rosé North Coast -  California.  Faded pink color. Strawberry and spice aromas.  On the palate, closer to off-dry than dry, and approaching medium bodied with strawberry, melon and spice flavors aroma.  Short finish.  (88 pts) – $17

7.  2010 Château d’Esclans Cotes de Provence Whispering Angel - France. Very light salmon pink with a copper hue.  Offers melon, and mineral aromas.  On the palate light bodied, and dry with not quite ripe melon, citrus, and little bit of earthy flavor.  Medium finish.   (89 pts) - $17

6.  2010 Bonny Doon Vineyard Vin Gris de Cigare -  California. Salmon color with raspberry, and mineral aromas.  On the palate light bodied, balanced with strawberry, melon, apricot flavors.  Medium finish. (89 pts) – $15

5. 2010 Dashe Cellars Vin Gris  - California.  Deep strawberry red color.  Strawberry, dried cherry, and spice aromas.  On the palate, balanced with lush mouth feel with lively strawberry, cherry, spice and mineral flavors.  Medium-long finish.  (89 pts) - $14

4.  2010 Bodegas Muga Rioja Rosado -  Spain.  Light pink color with pale orange hue.  Strawberry, apricot and melon aromas.  On the palate, dry with medium acidity, moderately complex.  Tangy with strawberry, orange/tangerine, and mineral flavors.  Medium finish. (89 pts) -  $13

3.  2009 Bonny Doon Vineyards A Supposedly Clever Winemaking Protocol I’ll…Ca’ del Solo - California.  Bright strawberry red color with pale orange hue with strawberry, and melon aromas. On the palate,  medium bodied with a hint of tannins, good acidity, and juicy strawberry, melon, and just a bit of kiwi flavors.  Barrel-fermented. Brought to mind a chilled light bodied red wine.  Medium finish.  (90 pts) - $16

2.  2010 François Chidaine Touraine Val de Loire - France. Lovely light salmon pink color with wild strawberry, floral, and faint dusty aromas.  On the palate, complex and tart with lively acidity, and strawberry, tart berry, and orange flavors.  Medium long finish.  (90 pts) – $13

1.  2010 Bedrock Wine Co. Mourvèdre Ode to Lulu Rosé - California.  Gorgeous eye of the partridge color with fragrant raspberry, white peach, wet stone, and floral aromas.  On the palate, approaching medium bodied, dry with wonderful acidity, and mouth feel, with spicy white peach, citrus and mineral flavors.  Medium-long finish (91 pts) - $20

Although, my Top 10 is dominated by Cali Rosés, that’s because I prefer to taste before I buy, and my proximity to Northern California’s wine regions affords me the opportunity to do that.  Of course, I’m also up for trying wine recommended by other “Winos” I trust, and that’s how I was introduced to a few of the wines.

Not only is the my list dominated by Cali wines, I noted that all but one of the wines is made from various Rhone varietals (Grenache, Syrah, Mourvedre, or  Cinsault among a few others), and that’s not happenstance.  I think Rhone varietals add a layer of spiciness to the wines that I really enjoy.

Do you have a favorite Rosé?  If so, leave me a comment! I’m always looking to try something new, and the Summer is young!!

T.G.I.F. Champagne and the like – N.V. Gloria Ferrer Blanc de Noirs

I’m going back to Cali this week with the Blanc de Noirs from Gloria Ferrer.  Blanc de Noirs (a French term literally meaning “white of blacks”) are sparklers made with black, or red-skinned grapes.

Gloria Ferrer was established in 1986, and was the first sparkling wine house in the Carneros AVA.  Since it’s cooler in Carneros than in the other Napa sub-appellations,  grapes like Pinot Noir and Chardonnay thrive there.  So, while Gloria Ferrer is primarily known for sparkling wines, they also produce estate-grown Chardonnay and Pinot Noir.

The fruit for this one if from the Sonoma side of the Carneros (which straddles both Sonoma, and Napa counties).   According to Gloria Ferrer the “cuvée is a blend of 18 different base wines” .  It spent 18 months aging on lees during the secondary fermentation.  It gets its copper, almost rosé like color from vin gris of 5-7% cold-soaked Pinot Noir blended into the base wine.

Gloria Ferrer Blanc de Noir

NV Gloria Ferrer Blanc de Noir

Region: USA>California>Sonoma>Carneros

Variety – Pinot Noir (90%), and Chardonnay (10%)

Dosage – 13g/Liter

$15, 12.9% a.b.v.

Production method: Méthode Champenoise;

My tasting notes follow:

Appearance: Light copper color with salmon hue.  Loose bead with tiny bubbles

Aromas: Cherry, strawberry, and warm biscuits.

Body: Refined mouth feel with a creamy mousse.  Light bodied, fruit forward, with straight forward, but enjoyable flavors, and good balance.  

Taste: Cherry, sweet apples with a subtle vanilla.

Finish: Short

Pair with: The beauty of sparkling wines is their versatility with food.  We enjoyed this with a bucket of KFC, cole slaw, and mashed potatoes and gravy! It paired well with that diverse palate of flavors, spices, and textures.  It should also pair well with Thai food, crab, and roast fowl.

I really enjoyed and it’s a good value at $15.  I will be buying this again – and I recommend you do too! 87 pts

How To Perfect Your Palate…

Image of California sparkling wines.

Image via Wikipedia

I recently came across an article by Matt Kramer, of Wine Spectator, entitled “Palate Perfection” (to download the entire article, click here) .  According to the article…

“At first glance, you’d think that the idea of “perfecting your palate” involved acquiring greater tasting acuity…”

However, in this case, perfecting your palate is about “living” with a particular wine, learning everything you can about it, and buying as much of that wine as you can.  You might even visit where the grapes, which are made into the wine, are grown to get a sense of the place if you’re really into it (one of the benefits of being a wine lover is traveling in wine country.  I find it to be so beautiful and serene.  Voila – vacation/getaway plans taken care of!)

According to Kramer…

“Why is a process like this so essential? Because it’s only when you live with a wine over a reasonably long span of time that you begin to grasp not just its subtleties, but its possibilities. You acquire, sip by sip, week after week, an intimacy. This is something that you cannot achieve any other way.”

In Kramer’s case, he is doing it by having a glass of Tokaji nightly after dinner.  In my case, I’ve been doing it by drinking at least one bottle of sparkling wines on a weekly basis after my wife suggested it to me.  I’ve been doing this for the last 5 months, or so, and blogging about it (for the most recent blog in the “T.G.I.F Champagne…and the like” series click here)

Initially, the idea of “living with a particular wine” seemed counter-intuitive to me because I’m a “promiscuous” wine consumer.  I enjoy trying new wines all the time.  But now that I’ve been “faithful” to sparkling wine for a while, and in the process, have been “perfecting” my palate for sparkling wine, I can tell you the idea has merit.

My palate for sparkling wines is greatly improved.  I’m able to feel the difference in the creaminess of a sparkling wine’s mousse from wine to wine.  I can more readily discern, the size of the bubbles, and how long the bubbles last.  And not only am I learning which regions produce sparklers I prefer, I’m also learning what I prefer in a sparkler.  For example, I’m finding that I generally prefer Pinot Noir dominant sparklers to Chardonnay dominant sparklers, and Rose sparklers to non-Rose sparklers. These are all things I couldn’t have discerned by drinking a handful of sparklers on an annual basis, as I used to.  And all I’ve had to do is pop, pour and pay attention on a regular basis!

I’ve enjoyed the pursuit of perfecting my palate for sparklers and look forward to perfecting my palate with other wines too.  Given my affinity for food friendly wines, perfecting my palate for Beaujolais, or Santa Lucia Highland Pinots comes to mind, or maybe even better since I live in the Bay Area, Sonoma Coast, or Santa Cruz Mountains Pinots. I encourage you to give it a try!

T.G.I.F. Champagne and the like – 2008 Reginato “Celestina” Rosé of Malbec

My virtual trip around the wide world of sparklers takes me to Argentina this week.  Yes, a sparkler from Argentina!  I was surprised, though I suppose I shouldn’t have been.  At this point in my world wide sparkling wine journey, it’s clear to me that sparkling wine is made in virtually every corner of the world.  In fact, only about 8% of the world’s sparkling wine is actually Champagne made in France.

On the other hand, if you asked me to guess where a sparkler made from Malbec  is produced, Argentina would be my first guess.  Argentina is the world’s 5th largest wine producer, and Malbec is their signature grape.

The producer CJR Reginato, is a family run winery that oversee the entire wine making process from the vine to the bottle.  They produce sparkling wines made via both the Charmat method and the “Metodo Tradicional”.

2008 Reginato Rose of Malbec

Cost: ~$20

Region:>Argentina>Mendoza>Cuyo

Variety – 100% Malbec

Dosage – Unknown

12.9% abv

Production method: Méthode Champenoise

My tasting notes follow:

Appearance: Intense strawberry red color with intermittent stream of tiny bubbles; the relatively sparse bubbles brought to mind Spanish Cavas

Aromas: Baked bread and ripe cherries.

Body:  Fruity, yet pleasingly more dry, than off-dry with an explosive, creamy mousse, delicate almost imperceptible tannins, and mouth-watering acidity.

Taste: Cherries, raspberries, and a hint of spice.

Finish: Medium

Pair with:   We enjoyed this with a variety of  tapas from Cesar Latino.  The sparkler was served  before our tapas arrived, and I enjoyed this as a juicy, yet refreshingly dry quaffer.  When the tapas arrived,  it was just as enjoyable, if not  more so, with our food.  Try it with Mexican, or Southwestern cuisine, even a grilled skirt steak!

This is a fun and tasty sparkler I very much enjoyed.  I would purchase again.   I recommend!   87 pts

Is La Mancha ready for Primetime?

Last week, I attended my first wine event as a member of the “trade”.  The event was hosted by “Wines of La Mancha“.  Since it was my first such event as a member of the trade,  I wasn’t sure what to expect, other than Spanish Wine – which I enjoy, having had wines mostly from the La Rioja, Castilla y Leon, Aragon, and Galicia regions.  It was a walk-around tasting with 11 wineries represented.

It turned out to be a top shelf event at Robert Fountain Studio in the Potrero Hill neighborhood in San Francisco.  In particular, the food served was remarkable, with whole roasted pig being the centerpiece of a bounty that included a wonderful assortment of Spanish tapas-style small plates.

Click images to enlarge

I must confess I knew little about the La Mancha DO.  While doing some “discovery”, I noted little (The Concise World Atlas of Wine), or nothing ( The Wine Bible) was said about La Mancha – thus the event; to heighten awareness of this wine region which lives in the shadows of more renown wine regions in Spain like La Rioja, Catalonia  (Priorat),  Castilla and Leon (Ribero del Duero), and Andalusia, from which Sherry hails.

Here’s the 411 on La Mancha:

  • Part of the Castilla-La Mancha autonomous community
  • Largest of 9 DOs in Castilla-La Mancha, which is the largest continuous vine-growing area in the world
  • Claim to fame – The stomping grounds of the famed literary figure Don Quixote
  • Climate – According to a local proverb – “nine months of winter and three months of hell”
  • Authorized red grapes: Cencibel (a.k.a Tempranillo, Grenache, Moravia, Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot and Syrah
  • Authorized white grapes: Airén (pronounced “Aye ran”), Macabeo (a.k.a. Viura), Chardonnay, Verdejo, Moscatel de grano menudo, and Sauvignon Blanc
  • Achieved DO status in 1976
  • Known for producing wines with great price/quality ratio, and formerly known for producing bulk wines
One of the things I found interesting about La Mancha, is that they have more than the 3 classifications used to designate the ageing of wine common to Spain (Crianza, Reserva, and Gran Reserva).  In addition to the three aforementioned classifications, La Mancha wines are also classified as “Young” (Vino Joven) wine, and Traditional.  The Young and Traditional wines see no oak.  In fact, the Young wines are intended to be comparable to famous (or infamous depending on one’s tastes) Beaujolais Nouveau from France.

It’s always fun for me to try new grape varietals.  I tried Airén, and Macabeo, on a standalone basis, for the first time.  And there were some wines I really enjoyed, and/or found interesting.

My favorites whites:

Anil Macabeo – 100% Macabeo. Tropical fruit, herb nose.  Tropical, citrus palate.  Juicy light-medium mouth feel.  Short finish – 87pts

Allozo Verdejo – 100% Verdejo.  Grassy, citrus, faint vanilla nose.  Stone fruit, citrus palate.  Light bodied with crisp acidity, and slightly bitter on back palate.  Short finish – 86pts

My favorite reds were:

La Villa Real Reserva – Aromatic nose of black currant, oak, and spice.  Black currant, dark cherry, chocolate palate.  Med-long finish – 88pts

Casa Antonete  Gran Reserva – Black currant, oak, leather nose.  Cherry, coffee palate, and smooth tannins.  Long finish – 90pts

Casa Antonete Crianza – Intense cherry/black currant liqueur nose.  Vibrant cherry palate. Balanced. Medium finish – 89pts

Torre de Gazate Reserva - 50/50;Cencibel/Cab blend. Tobacco, cherry, oak nose.  Currant, cherry, spice palate.  Medium finish – 87pts

I was also pleasantly surprised at the prices for the higher quality wines. Most of the wines lived up to their great price/quality reputation.

On the other hand, I found the majority the whites I tasted to be a bit austere for my tastes.  And quite a few of the reds, too tannic for my tastes (And i like a wine with some grip).  I also found that I didn’t care much for the Young wines I tasted. But, I also think the wines may have been served too warm, and I look forward to trying a Young wine again served at a cooler temperature.

The verdict? For me, I enjoyed the wines, though not as much as comparable wines I’ve had from Rioja, Ribero, or Priorat.  However, it’s clear to me that La Mancha is a full participant in the Spanish wine revolution that’s bringing modern wine making techniques, experimentation with other than traditional grape varietals, and new plantings/re-plantings to Spain.  While it’s “not there yet” La Mancha is on the rise, and on my radar!

Can playing music to your aging wine improve it?

From the venerable Jancis Robinson comes this video about the effect of music on aging wine.

I’ve heard this theory before.  Both for wine aging in bottles and in barrels. This so reminds me of the Baby Mozart boom of the ’90.  I do wonder why it always seems to be classical music (although I have also seen Jazz mentioned as an acceptable genre of music by which to enhance the aging of your wine)

Fad or fact?  What do you think?

Does Playing Music to Ageing Wine Make It Taste Better? (Zagat)

T.G.I.F. Champagne and the like – Great QPR Sparkling Rosé from S. Africa!

My virtual trip around the wide world of sparklers continues this week with a sparkler from Graham Beck of South Africa, which has over a three-hundred year history of grape growing.  Although, until relatively recently, most of the grapes were used to make cheap distilled spirits, or grape juice concentrate of which South Africa is the world’s largest producer.

The eponymous Graham Beck was founded in 1983.  The first sparkling wine was produced 8 years later in 1991.  In 1994 Graham Beck was served at the inauguration of Nelson Mandela.  Once apartheid and isolationism were gone, the wine industry in South Africa made great strides.  In addition to 5 others sparkling wines (both vintage and non-vintage), they produce a diverse line of reds, whites, and a rosé that’s a blend of Malbec and Sangiovese.

In South Africa, the Méthode Champenoise is referred to as the Methode Cap Classique (“MCC”), and the sparkling wines go by the same initials.

Graham Beck Brut Rosé - Photo courtesy of K&L Wines

Cost: $15

Region:>South Africa>Western Cape

Variety – Pinot Noir (51%);Chardonnay (49%)

Residual sugar - 13.80 g/l

12% abv

Production method: Méthode Champenoise

My tasting notes follow:

Appearance: Watermelon pink with a hint of silver.

Aromas: Yeast, and raspberries.

Body: Tiny dispersed bubbles, with a creamy mousse. Fruity yet dry with crisp acidity.  

Taste: Raspberries, cherries, with a slight mineral notes.  There’s a bit of citrus on the back palate for me.

Finish: Short-medium

Pair with: The beauty of sparkling wines is their versatility with food, especially Rosé sparklers.  For example, we enjoyed this with a variety of Turkish food to include grilled chicken kebabs, along with Beef and Lamb Doner Kebab.   Both dishes were a bit spicy, and a sparkling rosé was just the ticket for the mix of red and white meats.

I recommend! 88 pts

Is “2011 A Very Bad Year for Wine”?…

Wine grapes.

Image via Wikipedia

Well, it is according to this a post entitled 2011 a very bad year for wine foist upon us by  NBC News Bay Area, which leads with the following statement…

“Years from now at some fancy wine shop, don’t expect to pay top dollar for the 2011 vintage.  If there is any for sale.”

Wow!  Talk about misleading, if not downright irresponsible reporting!  I realize we’ve gotten more late season rain than usual here in Nor Cal.  And that the rain is creating some gray hairs for some grape growers.  The worse thing that could happen is that there may not be as much fruit, which may actually be a good thing for the quality of the fruit, which is determined throughout the entire grape growing season.  Such a proclamation by NBC is very premature in my view.  How NBC makes the leap to it being a “very bad year for wine” is beyond me!  “If there is any for sale” Really..?

I’m more worried I won’t be able to drink the few cases of Rosé I have before the the warm weather subsides, and my tastes in wine goes back to red!

T.G.I.F. Champagne and the like – 2005 Nigl Brut de Brut

This week’s sparkler is from Austria. It’s my first Austrian wine, sparkling or otherwise.  According to the Wine Bible…”Austria makes the raciest, most exciting wines in central-eastern Europe”  That’s big claim since the region includes Germany which is known primarily for their Rieslings, and up and coming countries such as Croatia, Hungary, and Romania.   Austria is reputed to have great dry white wines, especially Grüner Vetliner, of which I’m a fan, and Riesling.  In fact, I sought out this sparkler because I thought it was a Grüner (a.k.a. Groovy, GV, GruVe).  It turned out it’s mostly Chardonnay (80%), with the balance being Grüner.

The producer, Nigl is well regarded.  In addition to the winery, Nigl also runs a restaurant*, and hotel*, so if you’re ever in Austria…

* Note: The website is in German.  Use Google Translate…it’s a great resource!

2005 Nigl Brut de Brut

Cost: $27

Region:>Austria>Niederösterreich>Kremstal

Variety – Chardonnay (80%);Grüner Vetliner (20%)

Dosage – Unknown

12% abv

Production method: Méthode Champenoise

My tasting notes follow:

Appearance: Very light straw color, almost clear with persistent stream of tiny bubbles.

Aromas: Yeast, and wet stone, with faint apple notes.

Body: Aggressive mousse, dry, crisp, with racy acidity.  

Taste: Tart apple with peach, and mineral notes.

Finish: Short

Pair with: The beauty of sparkling wines is their versatility with food. This one is no exception.  It’s enjoyable as an aperitif, and with food.  We enjoyed it with a variety of Thai food. It held up quite well against the spicier dishes. Try this one with Vietnamese as well.  I also think it would work well with spicy fried chicken and fixin’s (especially greens) too!

I enjoyed this one, but I didn’t enjoy it enough to recommend buying it at $27.  It made me want to taste a Gruner Vetliner dominant sparkler though.  Let the search begin!;-) 85 pt