Italian Reds Smackdown – 9 Italian Red Wines Blind Tasted

I can hardly believe it, but our community wine tasting club – The Pacific Pointe Wine Tasting Club (“PPWTC”) is entering its fifth year, and going stronger than ever. Our most recent gathering had an Italian theme.  Since we’ve previously tasted Chianti, and Barbera those were not options.  But with over 500 different Italian grape varieties, including at least 10 major grape varieties, there were still plenty of options. We settled any Italian Reds, and folks were encouraged think beyond Sangiovese!

Our tastings alway start with a “Happy Hour” where we get a chance to catch up with each other, and grab a bite to eat (we do a themed potluck).  Since we had an Italian theme, there was plenty of Italian food (click to enlarge)

Here’s how our blind-tasting went down:

  • Italian red priced between $15-$25
  • Maximum of 9 bottles tasted
  • There were 19 tasters, with a diverse range of experience with wine
  • Tasters are required to score all wines
  • Both average and median scores are calculated.  The winner determined by highest median score.  Average score used as tie breaker.

photo 1 (10)

We had a nice selection of wines that showcased some of the diversity of Italian wines. Geographically speaking, Tuscany was the most well represented, but there were also wines representing Veneto, Piedmont, Sicily, and Campania.  From a grape variety standpoint, Sangiovese was the most well represented, but we also had wines made from Aglianico, Corvino, Corvino blends, Nero d’Avola, Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Cabernet Franc, and Syrah.

The wines tasted were:

  • 2010 Poderi Foglia Aglianico Gallucio Concarosso (Aglianico) – $20
  • 2010 Montechiara Amarone della Valpolicella (Corvino Blend) – $25
  • 2011 Luisi Barbera d’Asti (Barbera) – ($17)
  • 2007 Rubbia al Colle Toscana IGT (61% Cabernet Sauvignon, 19% Merlot, 11% Cabernet Franc, 9% Syrah) – ($13)
  • 2012 Rocche di Cusa Cabernet Sauvignon (Cab + Nero D’Avola) – ($15)
  • 2009 Fattoria del Cerro Vino Nobile di Montepulciano Riserva (Sangiovese) – ($19)
  • 2009 Castello Banfi Chianti Classico (Sangiovese) – $17)
  • 2010 Allegrini Palazzo della Torre Veronese IGT (Corvino Blend) – ($21)
  • 2011 Straccali Chianti Classico (Sangiovese) – ($21)

The wines were scored based on 4 criteria (aroma, body, taste, and finish) - each on a scale of 1-5 (1-low; 5-high). Therefore minimum score = 4 point and maximum = 20 points

Italian Wine night score Sheet

Image courtesy of Jojo Ong

The Winner:

Italian wine night winner

Photo courtesy of Jojo Ong

With a median score of 13.5pts

The runners-up were and scores in descending order were:

  • 2012 Rocche di Cusa Cabernet Sauvignon (12.5 pts)
  • 2011 Straccali Chianti Classico (12.3 pts)
  • 2010 Montechiara Amarone della Valpolicella  (12.0 pts)
  • 2011 Luisi Barbera d’Asti (11 pts)
  • 2010 Poderi Foglia Aglianico Gallucio Concarosso (10 pts)
  • 2010 Allegrini Palazzo della Torre Veronese IGT (10 pts)
  • 2009 Fattoria del Cerro Vino Nobile di Montepulciano Riserva (10 pts)
  • 2009 Castello Banfi Chianti Classico (9.8 pts)

Blind tastings are always fun, and there’s almost always a surprise of some sort.  More often than not, it’s a $10 wine beating our a $25 wine.  Not only did the lowest priced wine, but it was made from a blend of mostly (91%) Bordeaux grape varieties – definitely non-traditional Italian grapes.

Likewise for the second place wine, which was the second lowest price and made primarily from Cabernet Sauvignon.

I think the obvious answer is that our tasters prefer the “New World”, rather than “Old World” style wines.  Speaking from personal experience the more rustically styled Italian wine can take some getting used to.

Regardless of which style one prefers, I think everyone found a wine or two they really enjoyed, and got a chance to try something new (it was my first Amarone, and Aglianico) while expanding their wine knowledge.  And isn’t that what a wine tasting club experience is all about?

Seafood Gumbo and Wine Pairings for Soul Warming #SundaySupper

This week’s #SundaySupper theme is all about soul warming foods.  You know, those soups, chili, stews, and other soul warming treat we seek when the weather turns cold.

When I first saw the theme, my first thought was of “Soul Food”. I’d  bet that “Soul food” is one of those phrases that if you ask 10 people what it means, you’d get 10 different answers!  Soul Warming foods and Soul food are one in the same to me, and when I think of Soul food, the first dish that comes to mind is Gumbo!  We have a tradition in our family of making Gumbo each New Year’s day, but it’s  a soul-satisfying meal whenever there’s a chill in the air.

Since I’m a Wino with latent foodie tendencies, I decided let my foodie nature rise up, and do a dish, and wine pairings this week!

Here’s my Seafood Gumbo (we …OK make that “I”, call it “Yumbo” – lame right?..but I like it!)

Seafood Gumbo

Seafood Gumbo

For me, there are two things you’ve got to get right to make a gumbo – the “roux” (I prefer mine to be dark brownish), and you must have stock that is chock full of flavors.  Sure you could take a short-cut, and go with store-bought (I’ve done that for a  ” quick and dirty” version of this dish, but the flavors are not as complex and intense for me. If you get those couple of things “right”, it’s clear sailing thereafter!

Seafood Gumbo and Wine Pairings for Soul Warming #SundaySupper
Author: 
Recipe type: Stew
Cuisine: Cajun
Serves: 10-12
 
Adapted from Emeril's Classic Seafood Gumbo recipe
Ingredients
  • ¾ cup vegetable oil
  • 1 cup all-purpose flour
  • 1½ cups finely chopped onions
  • ¾ cup finely chopped green bell peppers
  • ¾ cup finely chopped celery
  • 2 tablespoons minced garlic
  • One 12-ounce bottle amber beer
  • 6 cups Shrimp and Crab Stock
  • ¼ teaspoon dried thyme
  • 2 bay leaves
  • 2 small Dungeness crabs
  • 2 teaspoons Worcestershire sauce
  • 1 tablespoon salt
  • ½ teaspoon cayenne pepper
  • 2 pounds medium shrimp, peeled and deveined
  • 1 tablespoon Emeril's Original Essence
  • 2 cups shucked oysters with their liquor
  • ¼ cup chopped fresh parsley
  • ½ cup chopped tender green onion tops
Instructions
  1. Follow directions for cleaning and prepping crab to be cooked (click here, except remove crab legs and claws. Follow directions for Shrimp and Crab stock, except add crab shell and crab butter (roe) along with shrimp.
  2. Place an 8-quart stockpot over medium heat, and add the oil. Allow the oil to heat for about 5 minutes, then add the flour to the pot. Stir the oil and flour together with a wooden spoon to form a roux. Continue to stir the roux for 20 to 25 minutes, or until the color of milk chocolate. Add the onions, bell peppers, and celery to the roux and stir to blend. Stir the vegetables for 5 minutes, then add the garlic. Cook the garlic for 30 seconds before adding the beer and Shrimp and Crab Stock to the pot. Season the gumbo with the thyme, bay leaves, crabs legs, Worcestershire, salt, and cayenne. Bring the gumbo to a boil and lower the heat to a simmer. Continue to simmer the gumbo for 1 hour, skimming the foam and any oil that rises to the surface.
  3. Season both the shrimp with 1½ teaspoons Essence. Stir the shrimp into the gumbo and cook for 2 minutes. Add the oysters to the pot and cook, stirring often, for an additional 5 minutes. Taste the gumbo and season if necessary.
  4. Garnish with the parsley and green onions and serve in shallow bowls over white rice.
Notes
Recommended Wine Pairings - I paired this with the Navarro Vineyards Edelzwicker, a blend of Riesling, Gewurztraminer, and Pinot Gris. It would also pair well with Viognier, a dry Rosé, or White Zinfandel. If you elect to go with a less spicy version try a Pinot Noir!

 

Take a look at the culinary cornucopia the #SundaySupper team has put together for this week’s gathering around the #SundaySupper table! My recommended wine pairings (click on the name of the wine to find out where to purchase) are italicized.

Main Entrees: 

Pair these main dishes with Pinot Noir.  Look for the 2010 Davis Bynum Pinot Noir. It’s a silky smooth Russian River Valley Pinot Noir with a core of raspberry  and spice aromas and flavors, with caramel edge. Why it works: Pinot goes with just about everything.  It’s a white wine, in red wine clothing, which makes it incredibly flexible with dishes and methods of prep.  Pinot is sublime with poultry, and complements foods that are slow roasted, or braised.

I recommend a Chardonnay for these dishes.  Look for the 2009 MacMurray Ranch Chardonnay Sonoma Coast. It’s a medium-full bodied Chardonnay that’s undergone malolactic fermentation, that’s moderately oaked.  The oak aging brings vanilla and caramel notes to the party to go along with its ripe apple, tropical fruit and lemon cream character.  Why it works: The texture, and weight of wine complement the dish, and it has enough acidity to “cut” the dish a bit and prepare the palate for the next mouthwatering bite.

Pair this dish with a Tempranillo from Rioja Spain.  I really like the 2007 Viña Eguia Reserva. It’s shows great balance between oak and fruit with a cherry, dried herb, spice, leather and vanilla character.  Why it works: Tempranillo is an underrated food pairing partner.  It’s tends to be a light-medium bodied earthy red wine. It’s between a Pinot Noir and Cab.  It’s fruity with moderate tannins, and acidity making it a good fit for somewhat spicy fare like Spanish, Mexican and similarly spiced fare.  

Pair this classic Italian dish with Sangiovese.  Try the 2010 La Mozza I Perazzi Morellino di Scansano. It’s a blend of 85% Sangiovese, 5% Syrah, 5% Alicante, plus a couple of other indigenous Italian grape varieties from Tuscany  It shows juicy red and black berries, with some licorice and spice notes supported by soft dusty tannins.  Why it works: The food of a place and the wine of a place is always a good place to start when pairing wine and food.  On top of that, its high acidity, together with its medium-bodied character enable it to stand up to more substantial dishes.  Sangiovese is a wine that loves dished prepared with fresh herbs, rich thick soups, mushrooms and tomato based dishes

Pair this dish with an Edelzwicker, a blend of the “noble” Alsatian varietals of Riesling, Gewurztraminer, and Pinot Gris.  Look for the 2011 Navarro Vineyards Edelzwicker. It’s an aromatic white wine with a stone fruit, spice, and hint of citrus character. Why it works:  The spicy character of the wine, along with some sweetness (spicy likes sweet) and acidity make a great match!

Chili/Stews:

Pair these hearty dishes with Cabernet Sauvignon.  One of my favorites is the 2010 Columbia Crest Cabernet Sauvignon “H3″  It’s from Washington State, and is a bold wine that delivers delightful floral, dark fruit, cocoa aromas followed by plum, black cherry, vanilla and cocoa flavors. Why it works: Cab works well with red meats, dishes with earthy, herbal elements.  This youthful wine has plenty of fruit which make it a nice complement to longer cooked meats and stews.

Try these dishes these with a Cru Beaujolais (not to be confused with Beaujolais Nouveau hitting the store shelfs soon), a wine from France made from the Gamay grape. Look for the 2010 Georges Debœuf Moulin-à-Vent with a wild red fruits, and white pepper character that a juicy easy drinker.  Why it works: Like Pinot Noir, the Gamay grape is naturally high in acidity, and is light-medium bodied with low tannins. It pair well with dishes with veggies,earthy flavors. Great picnic wine too! Er..but I digress;-)

Syrah is a good match for these hearty flavorful dishes.  I like the 2009 Jacob’s Creek Reserve Barossa Shiraz from Australia. It’s has a fruity core of black cherries, plums, baking spices, and vanilla that balanced by some oak.  Why it works: Syrah is an ample full-bodied wine that likes thicker, fuller dishes like slow braises, stews (especially tomato-based), and one-dish meals.

Pair these dishes with the Sangiovese noted above:
Pair these dishes with the Pinot Noir noted above:
Pair this dishes with the Tempranillo from Rioja noted above:

Soups:

Pair these soul-warming soups with a Sauvignon Blanc from the Pouilly-Fumé region of the Loire Valley in France. Look for the 2011 Patient Cottat “Le Grand Caillou” Sauvignon Blanc.  It has a lovely tropical fruit, citrus, spice and mineral character with a tangy acidity.  Why it works: Sauvignon Blanc with its “green” (gooseberries, lime, green olive, papaya character and a mineral component attributable to the terroir of the Loire Valley make this a good match for vegetarian soups, spicy (hot) fare, dishes with acidic ingredients.  It’s a very versatile food pairing partner in that it work nicely as a complement or a contrast.

Pair these satisfying soups with Pinot Gris.  I recommend the 2011 King Estate Pinot Gris Signature Collection from Oregon. It has juicy lemon-lime, stone-fruit, green apple, pineapple and spice character.  Why it works: Pinot Gris likes ethic foods, especially coconut-milk based curries. 

Pair the rest of the soups with the aforementioned wines as noted in parentheses:

Desserts/Beverages:

Pair this Hot Fudge Pudding Cake (That Skinny Chick Can Bake) with the Terra d’Oro Zinfandel “Port”, a dessert wine made for chocolate! I like the what the Wine Enthusiast says about it…”The first duty of a Port-style wine is to be dazzlingly rich and sweet yet balanced in acidity, and this bottling is all that. Waves of blackberry jam, cassis and dark chocolate are brightened with zesty acidity

  • White Hot Chocolate with Orange – GirliChef

Join on us on Twitter throughout the day during #SundaySupper.  And join us at 7pm EST, for our live weekly #SundaySupper chat.   All you have to do is follow the #SundaySupper hashtag or you can follow us through TweetChat.

And be sure to check out the #SundaySupper Pinterest board. We’d love to feature your Sunday Supper Soul Warming Recipes and share them with all of our followers.

Value Alert! – Crazy Good Spanish Gem For $11!

I picked up this wine, the 2010 Celler Piñol Terra Alta Ludovicos, from the Wine Mine in Oakland.  It’s a great wine shop with a knowledgeable proprietor and staff, a diverse collection of wines from around the world, and good prices.  Their tag line is “The Wine Mine – Wine Gems, Rock Bottom Prices”.  So far, I’ve found that to be the case as I’ve gotten a few good recommendations including a crazy good Nero D’Avola, and an excellent Sparkling Rosé from Sicily (click here for my blog post) The owner, David Sharp was recently voted “Best Wine Guru” in the East Bay Express – Best of the East Bay 2011.  They do weekly wine tastings for $1! And that’s how I discovered this wine…

2010 Cellar Pinol Ludovicus

Here’s the wine geek stuff:

Where it’s from: SpainCatalunyaTarragonaTerra Alta

The grapes: 40% Garnacha, 20% Syrah, 15% Carignan, 15% Tempranillo, 10% Merlot

Aging: Four months in French and American oak barrels

Cost: $11

Alcohol: 14%

Here’s my tasting notes:

Deep dark garnet color with very aromatic dark fruit, earth and faint tobacco aromas. On the palate, it’s satiny, and medium-bodied with well-integrated tannins, and blackberry, blueberry, vanilla, and a hint of tobacco flavors. Medium-long finish. Great QPR for $11!

As noted above, the wine is produced from grapes sourced in the Terra Alta region, which is the most southerly of Catalonia’s wine regions.  It’s a region with which I wasn’t familiar.  It achieved D.O. status relatively recently, in 1985. It is a part of the Catalunya (Catalonia) wine region, which is best known for its diversity of wine styles.  The two most well-known styles being Cava, and its still reds produced from a wine range of grapes including Grenache, Tempranillo, Syrah, Carignan, Merlot, and Cabernet Franc.

This is going to be a repeat purchase for me!  I highly recommend! Click here to find the wine

Wine Of The Week – 2005 Rosenblum Cellars Syrah Reserve Kick Ranch

My wine of the week for April 7-April 13 is the 2005 Rosenblum Cellars Syrah Reserve Kick Ranch.

The Winery

Rosenblum Cellars is an urban winery in Alameda, CA.  It was founded by Kent Rosenblum, a veterinarian in 1978.  In 2008 it was sold to beverage giant Diageo.   Rosenblum made their reputation making premium Zinfandel, but they also make Rhone varietals.  Their 2003  Rockpile Road Zinfandel was the #3 wine in the Wine Spectator Top 100 wines of 2005.

The Wine

Syrah is on the rise.  I think that’s a good thing.  I actually prefer to Syrah to Cabernet Sauvignon because it’s a more versatile food pairing partner.  I’m oversimplifying  a bit, but bear with me. Generally speaking Syrah comes in two styles “cool climate”, and “warm climate”.  Warm climate Syrah tends to be more lush, with higher alcohol, and blackberry, plum flavors.  That style tends to be more popular with the average consumer.  On the other hand cool climate Syrah tends tobe lower in alcohol with more red fruit, mineral, and spicy aromas and flavors.  They tend to be preferred by more serious wine aficionados.  Of course, it’s all about what you as a consumer like.  I point this out because it may help you decide which style you prefer.

This wine comes from a cool climate vineyard.  The Kick Ranch vineyard located in Santa Rosa is located at the western foot of Spring Mountain.  It’s considered “cool climate” because even though it receives plenty of sun, in the evenings the vineyard is cooled by fog and breezes that come in from the Pacific Ocean through the Petaluma Gap.  According to KickRanch.com..“We devote 16 acres to 4 special clones of Syrah brought in from vine cuttings from the Northern Rhone. In the Northern Rhone appellations of Hermitage and Côte-Rotie, syrah produces wines of phenomenal elegance and longevity”

Event though the wine comes from a cool climate vineyard, it straddles the line between a cool climate Syrah and a warm climate Syrah in that it’s significantly north of 15% alcohol. It had just enough lushness of a warm climate Syrah, along with the complexity associated with a cooler climate Syrah for me.

There were 494 cases of this wine produced.  My tasting notes follow:

Opaque purple-red color with dark fruits, including cassis and smoked meat aromas. On the palate full-bodied, balanced, intense, yet refined with black cherry, cassis, and a bit of plum and vanilla spice flavors. Long finish. Drinking quite well! 

Pairing with food

I very much enjoyed this with a marinated rack of lamb for Easter.  Syrah tends to be a versatile food pairing partner.  This would also be wonderful with prime rib, jambalaya, pork or even chili.

What Are The Most Food Friendly Wines?

It’s my pleasure to share this post of mine recently published by 12most.

12 Most Food-Friendly Wines

In my recent post entitled “12 Most Practical Wine and Food Pairing Guidelines”, one my recommendations for sensibly pairing food and wine is to get to know “food-friendly” wines. Food-friendly wines have three primary characteristics 1) Palate-cleansing acidity, 2) Lots of fruitiness with low tannins, and 3) Balanced components (i.e. fruit, acidity, and tannins).

Try these wines for those times you don’t want to put a lot of thought into what wine you’re having with weeknight meals, or more casual gatherings. There’s something here for everyone — Whites, Reds, Sparkling and Rosé. Keep in mind that each of the wines come in broad range of styles. Let your palate be your guide for the style you prefer.

Reds

1. Beaujolais

This wine, made from the Gamay grape is named for the region from which it hails. Think Beaujolais when you want a red that you’d normally have with a white wine. Many top crus go for around $20
Recommended Region(s): France – Cru Beaujolais (non-Nouveau)
Profile: Light-bodied with moderate to high acidity, and low tannins with aromatic red plum, cherry, raspberry, hints of black pepper aromas/flavors.

2. Pinot Noir

Pinot Noir is the most well-known food friendly red wine.
Recommended Region(s): France – Burgundy, California, Oregon, and New Zealand
Profile: Light/medium-bodied with high to very high acidity with aromatic with floral, cherry, red currant, raspberry, and sometimes gamey aromas/flavors when young, aging to vegetal and mushroom when mature

3. Sangiovese (san-jo-veh-zeh)

Generally speaking, Italy makes a plethora of food friendly wines, especially reds. Sangiovese is the most planted red grape in Italy, and the most important grape used in the great wines of Tuscany. It is one of the wine world’s great gifts to the culinary world! It’s a natural for dishes containing tomatoes, or acidic tomato sauces
Recommended Region(s): Italy (Tuscany), California
Profile: Light/medium-bodied with high to very high acidity with black cherry, spice, smoky, herbal savory aromas/flavors.

4. Zinfandel

Zinfandel can go far beyond burgers and BBQ. I’ve enjoyed with Mexican, and Pakistani dishes. The style of Zinfandel is crucial for matching it with food. Look for lighter “Beaujolais” style Zinfandel at around 14% a.b.v, and “Claret” style between 14% and 15% a.b.v. for maximum food pairing versatility. If prefer “bigger” Zinfandels, then opt for pairing with richer foods.
Recommended Region(s): California
Profile: Medium/Full bodied moderate to high acidity, and strawberry, raspberry, plum, blackberry, pepper, bramble, and spice aromas/flavors

5. Syrah

Syrah and Syrah based blends do a great job of striking a balance between finesse and power. It can be full-bodied and complex like Cabernet Sauvignon, but tend to be less tannic. Cool climate Syrah is especially food friendly. And many very good examples can be found for less than $20.
Recommended Region(s): France (Rhône), California, Washington, and Australia
Profile: Medium/full-bodied with moderate to high acidity, with blackcurrant, plum, blackberry, earthy, herbal, chocolate, and violet aromas/flavors

Whites

6. Riesling

Riesling is the most well-known white food friendly wine. Thanks to its food loving nature, it’s on the upswing. If you’re looking for one wine to serve with many dishes, Riesling is an excellent choice, especially if you’re not into red wine. Look for dry and off-dry styles
Recommended Region(s): Germany, France (Alsace) Washington, New York, California
Profile: Light-bodied with high to very high acidity, and Intensely aromatic with floral, green apples, light spice aromas/flavors when you ageing to petrol and honey when mature

7. Sauvignon Blanc

Stylistically, Sauvignon Blanc tends to be the opposite of Chardonnay. That’s because it tends not to see as much oak as Chardonnay and its acidity is more apparent. It’s very versatile food wine, especially with dishes emphasizing, or enhanced with fresh herbs. Try it with guacamole!
Recommended Region(s): France (Loire, and Bordeaux), U.S., New Zealand,
Profile: Light-bodied with high to very high acidity, and aromatic, grassy, herbaceous, tropical, citrus, and gooseberries aromas/flavors

8. Grüner Vetliner

Grüner Vetliner (GROO-ner FELT-leen-ner) is indigenous to Austria, where it accounts for about a third Austria grape production. It’s a favorite of many sommeliers because of its versatility with foods. Here in the US we often reach for red wine to accompany meat dishes, but in Austria, Grüner is served with game, beef, pork, poultry and veal. Looking for a wine for tough food matches like asparagus, and artichokes? Try Grüner. And it’s great with fried chicken!
Recommended Region(s): Austria
Profile: Light/medium-bodied with high to very high acidity, with vanilla-dipped peach, grapefruit, and aromas/flavors with a distinctive spicy finish.

9. Chardonnay

This most popular wine has very good “foodability” if it is not overly oaked. In fact, more unoaked Chardonnay is being produced these days. While unoaked Chardonnay may be a bit more versatile food partner, oaked (used judiciously) Chardonnay typically makes a more full-bodied wine.
Recommended Region(s): France (Chablis, and Burgundy), California, Australia, Chile, and Argentina
Profile: Light/Medium-bodied with high to very high acidity, and floral, ripe apple, pineapple, butterscotch, lemon, vanilla, and custard aromas/flavors.

10. Sherry

Hear me out on this one. I’m not referring to your grandmother’s Cream Sherry. I’m referring to dry Sherry. And thanks to adventurous wine geeks, and passionate sherry lovers, this fortified wine is gaining in popularity because of its food friendly nature and exceptional quality/price ratio.
True Sherry, is only produced in Spain’s “Sherry Triangle”. It’s a singularly unique beverage because of its terroir, and the method by which it is produced. With its unique tangy, sometimes oxidative and saline flavors, it can be polarizing. It was a bit of an acquired taste for me, but I think it’s fabulous with food!

The principles of pairing Sherry with food are like other wines, according to weight and texture. For Fino and Manzanillo think appetizers, seafood, and sushi, and sashimi. Pair Amontillado, with its rich nuttiness, with stronger flavored foods (including spicy foods) like oily fishes and chicken dishes. Serve chilled.

Recommended Region: Spain

Profile: The main styles of Sherry are light-bodied, straw colored, dry Fino, and fuller bodied darker Oloroso. Between Fino and Oloroso in body, and dryness are Manzanillo, and Amontillado.  Typical aromas and flavors of Finos are yeasty, toasted almond, green apples, and slightly oxidative.  Oloroso tend to be more aromatic with fresh mixed nuts, dried fruit, and citrus peel.

11. Rosé

Rosés (in particular dry Rosé) combine the best of white and red wines, while maintaining their own unique charm. They possess the crisp acidity, delicacy and freshness of white wines, and the body, and flavors of red wines. Rosés are diverse bunch, produced from a wide range of grapes, in various styles ranging from simple quaffable wines to complex gems in a wide palette of colors. Don’t relegate these babies to warm weather months. Because of their versatility they’re wonderful year-round!
Recommended Region(s): France, Spain, Italy, and U.S.
Profile: Light/medium bodied with strawberry, melon, and cherry aroma/flavors

Sparkling

12. Sparkling Wines

Sparkling wines are very versatile and food friendly because of their innately high acidity levels, and their palate cleansing “scrubbing bubbles” effect. They can be served throughout the day, and throughout a meal too. The driest ones are excellent as an aperitif and with shellfish and caviar. Off-dry bubbly is suitable for brunch, lunch, salads, and many dinner entrees. The sweeter ones pair nicely with fruit- based desserts.
Recommended Region(s): France, US, Spain (Cava), Italy (Prosecco)

Profile: Light to medium-full bodied, and bone-dry Extra Brut to sweet “doux”.  Typical aromas and flavors are yeast, apple, citrus, stone fruit, and cherry depending on the blend of grape varieties used

With these 12 wines in your vinous arsenal, you’ll overcome many a gastronomic challenge! Are there any favorites of yours that I left out?

Featured image courtesy of jinhai via Creative Commons.

Syrah Smackdown: 7 Contenders, 1Winner, and a Great QPR Pretender!

At the most recent meeting of the Pacific Pointe Wine Tasting Club it was Syrah night.  However, for the first time, we encountered a situation where one of the wines to be tasted was not the selected varietal.  That’s because it didn’t meet the at least 75% threshold for a wine to be labeled a particular grape varietal.  In this case Syrah.  One of the wines was 62% Syrah.  It was inadvertently purchased in the “Syrah/Shiraz” section of a local wine store.

The thing is, we didn’t realize that until we’d tasted through all the wines.  We decided to “disqualify” the Syrah blend from the competition, since it was Syrah Night.  So we ended up with 7 contenders, and 1 pretender!

Before we embarked upon the wine tasting, we had a bite to eat, potluck style.  In addition to the featured dish of the night, Arroz Con Constra Paella, our hosts also provided Prosecco, Rosé, and a Pinot Noir to prepare our palates for tasting.  Aside from the usual assortment of cheese, crackers and a vegetable platter, we enjoyed homemade meatballs, Beef Bourguignon, and a couple of different types of pizza.

Tony's Paella - Arroz Con Constra! Photo Courtesy of Jojo Ong

After a bite to eat, and some wonderful fellowship, it was time for some serious fun tasting the wines.  All the wines were blind tasted.  There were 12 tasters.  The contenders tasted, the order in which they finished, and my corresponding tasting notes follow:

The Winner

2006 Rosenblum Cellars Syrah England-Shaw - USA, California, North Coast, Solano County
Dark garnet color with black fruit, black currant aromas. On the palate fruit forward, medium-bodied with blackberry, black currant, vanilla, and spice flavors. Medium-long finish (Ave. score = 90 pts.)

2006 Rosenblum Cellars England-Shaw Syrah. Photo courtesy of Jojo Ong

  • 2007 Everett Ridge Syrah Estate - USA, California, Sonoma County, Dry Creek Valley
    Dark garnet color with dark red fruit, currant, and a hint of baking spice aromas. On the palate approaching medium-bodied with firm tannins, and somewhat candied dark red fruit, vanilla, and black currant flavors. Medium finish (Ave. score = 86.6 pts.)
  • 2008 Jim Barry Shiraz The Lodge Hill - Australia, South Australia, Mount Lofty Ranges, Clare Valley
    Deep violet color with dark red fruit, and a hint of bittersweet chocolate aromas. A bit warm upon opening. On the palate, medium bodied with nicely integrated tannins with blackberry, and vanilla flavors. Medium long finish (Ave. score = 86 pts.)
  • 2002 Robert Hall Syrah - USA, California, Central Coast, Paso Robles
    Garnet color with black fruit, herbs, and cigar box aromas. On the palate, fruity, but balanced with black currant, vanilla, and spice flavors. Medium-long finish (Ave. score = 85.1 pts.)
  • 2008 Astrale e Terra Syrah - USA, California, Napa Valley
    Violet color with dark red fruit, oak aromas. Warm nose. On the palate thin, light-bodied, with black cherry, and vanilla flavors. Short-medium finish. (Ave. score = 84.5 pts.)
  • 2007 Charles Cimicky Shiraz Trumps - Australia, South Australia, Barossa, Barossa Valley
    Dark garnet color with black cherry, earth and clove aromas. Medium bodied with black cherry, vanilla, and spice flavors. Medium long finish. (Ave. score = 84.5 pts.)
  • 2007 Alexander Valley Vineyards Syrah - USA, California, Sonoma County, Alexander Valley
    Garnet color with black fruit and tar aromas. On the palate medium-bodied, and smooth with cherry, vanilla, and mineral flavors. Medium finish (Ave. score 80.5 pts.)
As for the pretender?  It was the highest scoring wine of the night with an average score of 91 points!  It’s a great value at less than $15.  

2007 Marquis Phillips - Sarah's Blend. Photo courtesy of Jojo Ong

  • 2007 Marquis Philips Sarah’s Blend - Australia, South Eastern
    Blend of 62% Shiraz, 25% Cab, 10% Merlot, and 3% Cab Franc. Opaque violet color dark cherry, spice and hint of floral aromas. On the palate creamy, and smooth the black currant, plum, spice and vanilla flavors. Medium-long finish.
It was another great night of wine tasting fun and learning about wine.  I think we’ll do Syrah blends at one of our future meetings!

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

Que Syrah Syrah

We went to an Indian restaurant recently.  Indian food can be a challenge to pair with wine, so we asked our food server for a recommendation for the entrees we ordered.  He suggested a couple of wines that he felt would pair well with our meals.  The wines he recommended turned out to be good with our entrees.  But  it got me to thinking about great wine/food pairings. The first such pairing that comes to mind is Hearty Italian Meat Sauce (Sunday Gravy) we had with a 2005 Rosenblum Cellars Reserve Kick Ranch Syrah.

Italian Meat Sauce (Sunday Gravy) is an over the top tomato sauce that typically calls for six different types of meat and a day at the stove.  I took some short cuts, and used 3 types of meats – baby back ribs, meatballs made with ground beef, pork, and veal, Italian sausage, prosciutto, and Pecorino Romano cheese.  It turned out quite well, the ribs were tender, and the meatballs were the best I’ve ever had!

It paired perfectly with the Syrah – meaning the wine and food, each made the other taste better.

I think Syrah is a wonderful varietal for a couple reasons:

  1. Syrah is a pretty versatile wine that can be served with a variety of dishes.  Of course it works well with all kinds of red meat from burgers to roasts, but I’ve found it pairs well with tomato based dishes including jambalaya and pizza.
  2. I think it tends to be a better value than the more prevalent reds such as Cabernet Sauvignon, or Pinot Noir.  Particularly the Syrahs (a.k.a Shiraz) from Australia.

Syrah is made in a variety of style depending on where the grapes are grown, weather, and vinification (turning grapes into wine,  including fermentation, types of barrels used, etc.)  Try a few to see what you like.

In terms of flavor/aroma profile of Syrah  – look for black cherry, blackberry, plum, clove, licorice and smoked meat. Its aroma can range from violets to berries to chocolate and  espresso.  These aren’t all inclusive of course, but they’re a good place to start.

I like to share the flavor/aroma profile of varietals because rather than smelling a wine and trying to think of what it smells like, I like to run list of possibilities through my mind.  I find it easier to hit on the aromas I’m searching for.  For me, it’s the difference between essay vs. multiple choice, if you will.