16 November 2014

2012 M. Chapoutier Banyuls

Sometimes a sample has to sit around for the right moment. Banyuls is not well known in the United States. It's a fortified dessert wine similar to Port that's made in the south of France. It pairs beautifully with dark chocolate and is the kind of thing that you'd love to sip on around a fire in the winter. So when this bottle arrived on a hot summer day several months ago, I knew that I couldn't do it justice.

This past weekend I was invited to a dinner party hosted by my friend Melissa, and I offered to bring a dozen wines with the one request that dessert feature dark chocolate so that we could properly enjoy the Banyuls. I thought that we might just have a few squares of 80% cacao, but she went all out and made a torte from scratch. Bonus points for the banana pie!

I was excited to serve the wine to a group of people that had never had it before, and the bottle emptied quickly.

2012 M. Chapoutier Banyuls
Banyuls AOC, France
100% Grenache
$30/500mL bottle, 16% abv.

Intense aromas of stewed fruit, raisins, and black cherry. Dark fruit flavors and sweet but not cloying. The dark chocolate provides a powerful contrast of bitter notes which makes you go back and forth between the dessert and the wine, activating all parts of your palate. Highly recommended for the holiday season.

Note: This wine was provided as a sample for review.

11 November 2014

50 Harvests Followup

I wanted to do a followup to my previous post on the 2012 Scotto Celllars 50 Harvests Meritage based on a surprise that showed up today.

I love being a wine writer and there are a lot of perks to the job, both here and in the world of freelancing. There are times when it is stressful and I generally keep those concerns private with fellow writers, because it sounds like whining to the rest of the world. "I had to taste thirty Sauvignon Blancs today... I can barely feel my tongue." If you take this gig seriously, trying thirty wines in a row can be exhausting from a sensory and mental standpoint. Take whatever you like: football, for instance, and instead of just watching your favorite team once on the weekend, you instead have to watch just the first five minutes of thirty different games, take notes on said five minutes, provide analysis... it can be tiring, but at the end of the day there are worse ways to pay the rent.

My one bittersweet complaint that I have mentioned here from time to time is that at a certain point, you start trying a bunch of wines that are great now but are really going to shine in a few years or a decade. And you can't really wait that long because the publicity cycle is at release or tied to a certain holiday. Who knows what may happen--a winery could go out of business, the small exotic wine region could be disrupted by economic or military concerns, anything. So you write about it now and give your best guess for when you think it will be in the Goldilocks Zone based on prior experience with similar styles that have been aged.

After I said, "And oh, to be able to taste this in 6-8 years when it will really shine...", Anthony Scotto was kind enough to send me a second bottle to try in 2021 with instructions written on the bottle in silver ink. This is not a quid pro quo: I'm not promising a good review in seven years per my sample policy. And there is journalistic precedent for this, in terms of privately requesting a second bottle if the sample you received is corked or damaged in shipping. Nothing was wrong with the first bottle (quite the opposite), but I appreciate the opportunity to try this one with proper aging. I have no idea what the wine writing world will look like then, but I am committed to keeping this one stored properly so that I can evaluate it at that time.

I've been given older vintages in the past, and of course have had the chance to try some spectacularly aged wines at private tastings, but this is the first time that I've been provided with a sample with the intent of getting back to them in seven years. I'm looking forward to the experiment!

Note: This wine was provided as a sample for review... in 2021.

05 November 2014

2012 50 Harvests Meritage

I'm always honored at the opportunity to taste small production wines. I tried the 2011 50 Harvests Cabernet Sauvignon in March, a Napa wine designed to celebrate 50 years in the California wine business. That link will tell you a lot of this family's history and how they got into the winemaking business.

This year, they marked their second half-century with their first Napa Meritage (from the 2012 vintage), made by the same Scotto family who produced the William Tell Cider I recently reviewed. This might be the most elegant Meritage I've ever consumed. I'm a fan of the type--Bordeaux-style without infringing on labeling laws and without strict varietal rules (though Meritage has a few...). Mainly California in source, but there are others produced domestically and internationally. You can find quite good, "drink now" bottles in the $20-30 range. Orthodox Bordeaux is wonderful, but sometimes it can be a little more fun with a bit of Petite Sirah or Zinfandel in it.

Last time I thought their release would go well with a well-aged ribeye, and this time around I did just that. Sometimes there are wines that you just sample and move on, but others you make a plan for. Nothing fancy, just a two-inch thick boneless ribeye cooked to medium rare, a loaded baked potato, and some steamed broccoli on a quiet evening at home. I'd had a glass breathing for about an hour, and finally gave it a sip. And oh, to be able to taste this in 6-8 years when it will really shine...

2012 50 Harvests Meritage
Napa Valley, California
60% Cabernet Sauvignon, 20% Merlot, 10% Malbec, 10% Petite Sirah
1,520 bottles produced (mine is #1248)
$50, 13.9% abv.

There is a lot going on with this particular nose. Aromas of chocolate, leather, coffee, black plum... On the palate dark fruit flavors of ripe blackberry follow with amazingly smooth tannins. Tart black cherry finish with a lingering flavor. The pairing with a thick, buttery ribeye was precisely what I was craving at the moment and I can't think of any combination that would work better for me. Highly recommended if you have the opportunity to try this impressive wine.

Note: This wine was provided as a sample for review.

02 November 2014

Woof Gang Bakery

This weekend I spent some time trying out new places in my neighborhood. My little patch of suburbia has a rich and constantly changing set of dining options, including a second Ethiopian restaurant that just opened up not far from the first one.

I'd noticed Woof Gang Bakery in Trinity Commons last year, but with a twinge of pain following the loss of my own faithful Wolfgang. But Bella came along a few months ago, and while running an errand I decided I had to stop in.

Woof Gang Bakery & Grooming Cordova
714 N. Germantown Pkwy
Suite 1
Cordova, TN 38018

I picked up a handful of dog biscuits baked on site, though they have a pretty wide range of healthy treats made out of things like dried salmon skin (favored by Alaskan sled dogs since the Yukon gold rush).

Clockwise from the upper left, there is a large frosted biscuit decorated in honor of breast cancer awareness month, a small pizza bone, a squirrel with a glazed tail, and a bagel.

After a 2.5 mile walk, I decided to check out these treats and let Bella sample a small portion of each. The squirrel and large bone are both very hard and slightly sweet, with the squirrel having sort of a gingerbread profile. The pizza bone is less dense and has a dark grain flavor. Finally, the little bagel is airy and crisp and would be perfect for older dogs with more sensitive teeth.

Bella does not get to participate in wine tasting or slugging down oysters, but was very happy to evaluate these treats. After a few hours I decided she should be allowed to eat the rest of the squirrel cookie since she'd chased several up a tree during our morning walk.

Overall, I was pleased with my trip to a dog-focused bakery and can highly recommend it for those of you in the northeast corner of Memphis.

29 October 2014

2012 Collazzi Libertà & 2009 Cune Rioja Reserva

Here's a glimpse behind the curtain of the wine writing world. A lot of people think that a sommelier shows up at your door, knocks politely, and then proceeds to poor a perfectly curated selection of wines that are all related to each other. Three vintages of a specific Chateau, for instance.

In reality, it is common to receive completely unrelated wines, but these are often linked by importer or distributor, or sometimes by grape or style. Thus the pairing shown here of two hearty reds in the $20 range.

2012 Collazzi Libertà
Toscana IGT
55% Merlot, 30% Syrah, 15% Sangiovese
$24, 14% abv.

Syrah and Sangiovese really dominate with the Merlot playing a surprisingly background role. Big tannins, spice, black pepper, and a long finish. Don't save this one for pizza night--make a marinara sauce from scratch and boil up a big pot of spaghetti and meatballs. This wine deserves a home cooked meal.

2009 Cune Rioja Reserva
Rioja, Spain
$20, 13.5% abv.
85% Tempranillo, 5% Mazuelo, 5% Graciano, 5% Garnacha Tinta

Light chocolate and leather profile, smooth body with mild tannins. Delightful balance and an elegant finish. Rioja remains an outstanding bargain across many producers and you'll see what wonders a mere five years of aging is able to accomplish with these grapes. Serve with a thick, medium-rare roasted pork chop that is heavily marbled and you'll never forget the meal.

Note: These wines were provided as samples for review.

26 October 2014

Romanian Dinner

Recently, a Romanian winemaker named Georgetta Dane who has worked for Kendall-Jackson and Big House and other California brands posted a link on Facebook about Romanian food. And I realized that 1) I haven't been doing a lot of cooking recently due to a busy day job and 2) I really needed to taste something different. Dinner at the Benito table for one was going to be ciorbă de fasole cu afumătură and ardei umpluţi.

Both required long cooking but not a lot of effort. The dishes were basically a bean and bacon soup accompanied by a trio of stuffed peppers. My soup incorporated the following ingredients: cannellini beans, salt pork, Vidalia onions, Swiss chard, carrots, parsnips, and chicken broth. For the stuffed peppers, I used little yellow Hungarian peppers and filled them with a combination of pork sausage, onion, rice, and paprika. The sauce was made from sour cream and tomato paste thinned out with water. The peppers were roasted for a good hour and I was able to scoop up the sauce to spread over them.

I was very happy with the results, and think that the soup in particular will be useful to anyone bringing home winter vegetables from the farmer's market. The salt pork was delicious, but in the future I'd probably use a smoked ham hock or similar pork product, and I'd probably cook it longer to allow for the bones to provide an increased depth of flavor.

23 October 2014

Welcome, New Readers!

If you're seeing this blog for the first time, it's probably because of a Canadian study about analyzing content on wine blogs using new software called Leximancer. My wine blog was one of five chosen for a study published in the International Journal of Wine Business Research. The other four blogs used in the analysis were Vinography, Dr. Vino, 1WineDude, and Wannabe Wino.

Becca over at The Academic Wino blog wrote up a nice summary of the paper. Be sure to check it out as well as her many other fascinating articles about the world of wine research.

Check out the links to the left for the quick intro to my blog. Favorite Posts is self-explanatory, Press covers various media appearances and awards, and Other Publications goes into my freelance work for a number of different websites.

Welcome to Benito's Wine Reviews, and I hope you enjoy it!