18 April 2014

A German Grape Takes a Tour of Europe

I've always been interested in studying transitional geographical regions--places that have changed hands over the centuries and today contain elements of the various cultures that have occupied the physical area. Granted, a lot of that involved war, religious persecution, or other horrible things, but they remind us that national borders are not firm laws set down from time immemorial, but often redrawn when one side has more power, and endure when the other side doesn't feel like fighting back for the dozenth time.

I've written a lot about Alsace and how I feel it is its own unique European region nestled between Germany and France, hence the reason for using the flag of Alsace rather than the tricolore. In today's post, I'll extend the same courtesy to the Alto Adige region of Italy, an autonomous state that borders Austria and Switzerland. I make these decisions not for political reasons but more for cultural ones--Trentino-Alto Adige (or Südtirol) was part of the Austro-Hungarian Empire until after WWI, and German is still spoken there. In both cases, you've got German-speaking folks living on the borders of other countries, growing their grapes for a long, long time.

Although this particular quartet of Gewürztraminer presents a fun orthographical dichotomy: Italy uses the umlaut, France doesn't. I'll respect the choices for the names of the wines, but since the grape is more commonly spelled with the umlaut, I'll use that for the varietal name... So ist das Leben.

2011 Hugel Gewurztraminer
Alsace, France
100% Gewürztraminer
$23, 14% abv.

This bottle showed up sweet and spicy, round with low acidity. Really a classic Gewürztraminer and one that would fall in well with both German and New World versions.

2008 Domaines Schlumberger Les Princes Abbes Gewurztraminer
Alsace, France
100% Gewürztraminer
$28, 13% abv.

I found the Schlumberger similar to the above, but more earthy and with a honey element. Obviously it has aged quite well without becoming cloying. There's a lot of depth here as well as structured acidity, which almost pushes this into dessert wine territory. A great bargain for a well-aged wine.

2013 Elena Walch Selezione Gewürztraminer
Alto Adige, Italy
100% Gewürztraminer
$20, 14.5% abv.

It showed great apricot and floral notes, almost perfume-like, but in contrast to the Alsatian wines this was quite dry with low acidity and a round mouthfeel. Good minerality. Excellent wine made in the Austrian style.

2012 Elena Walch Kastelaz Gewürztraminer
Alto Adige, Italy
100% Gewürztraminer
$32, 14.5% abv.

Coming to the end of the quartet, I've got to say that Alto Adige won me over, and this particular bottle was my favorite of the four. It has many of the attributes of the former Elena Walch wine but with a luscious honeysuckle aroma that captures my heart every time. However, this bottle had better acidity, firmer body, making it a more serious wine all around. Serve this with roast quail and a winter vegetable purée and you've got a magical combination during this lingering cold weather.

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Thanks for reading, and remember that you can still follow GrapeCollective.com and register to win two Riedel wine glasses:

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Note: These wines were provided as samples for review.

16 April 2014

Riedel Wine Glass Giveaway with Grape Collective

I was recently interviewed on GrapeCollective.com, as was my dear friend Fredric Koeppel. Both were conducted by my SnoothPVA pal Jameson Fink, but the site also features the work of Managing Editor Meg Maker, another SnoothPVA friend. Wine brings folks together, and thanks to this website, you now have an opportunity to get some fancy Riedel glasses if you follow Grape Collective on Twitter and Facebook. Here are the details:

a Rafflecopter giveaway

They're putting out some great writing and great interviews, and I urge you to check out the site. If you like it, follow the links in the above section and you'll be registered to win some Riedel glasses. The contest period is open from 2014-04-16 at 12:00 a.m. to 2014-04-21 at 12:00 a.m.

14 April 2014

2011 Faust Cabernet Sauvignon

There's nothing quite like a good Bordeaux blend, even if it's made in California (and sometimes especially if it's made in California). I tried the 2005 Faust in 2008 and was delighted to try a current release here in 2014.

This blend uses all five of the Bordeaux red grapes to achieve outstanding balance and a bottle that will certainly improve over the next five to ten years. While I love experimentation in wine and don't mind some of the crazy blends coming out of Paso Robles and Lodi, there are reasons why certain classic combinations have endured for so long.

I am also a big fan of the label, which has changed slightly over the years while retaining certain critical elements. The 2011 label displays a heart of vines full of leaves. It's an odd situation in which the exact same design looks perfectly elegant on a wine bottle but would have a somewhat different impression if tattooed on the upper right breast of a biker chick at Sturgis.

2011 Faust Cabernet Sauvignon
Napa Valley, California
78% Cabernet Sauvignon, 17% Merlot, 3% Petit Verdot, 1% Malbec, 1% Cabernet Franc
$55, 14.2% abv.

The wine has a rich nose with deep cassis and chocolate, touches of cedar and pyrazine (tomato leaf, tobacco). On the palate it is full of dark fruit flavors, medium tannins and a long, lingering finish. I would recommend decanting at this stage in its development, though in the coming years it will most likely soften and be ready to serve right away.

Memphis is in a weird weather spot right now, as it was in the 80s yesterday but a few days from now it will be in the 30s at night. Since today was cloudy and quiet, I took the opportunity to celebrate the end of winter with one last glorious casserole dish. I made a simple veal and spinach lasagna served with a little red leaf lettuce and Roma tomatoes. Splash of vinaigrette and we're done. It hit the spot, and I celebrated a glorious combination of great wine and hearty food with a healthy nap, accompanied by Bella who snored away at my feet.

In the words of my grandfather Chuck, "Fellers, it just don't get any better than this."

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

09 April 2014

Stinson Vineyards of Virginia

Years ago, I was surprised to taste a wine with an Italian name that was from the Galilee region. At the time I thought it was somewhere in California, settled by particularly religious settlers from Sicily. Nope, it was an Israeli wine from the original Galilee.

Someone could have a similar reaction to pulling out a bottle that says Monticello. Italian? No. From somewhere in the New World settled heavily by Italians, like California or Argentina? No. This one bears its name from the home of Thomas Jefferson in Charlottesville, Virginia. I've visited a lot of presidential homes and libraries, particularly during the year I worked in Ohio. I even passed up an off-hours dinner with co-workers to zip west to check out the Rutherford B. Hayes Presidential Center in Fremont.

Stinson Vineyards is located near Jefferson's estate and continues on the tradition of growing Vitis vinifera grapes in the Old Dominion since the 18th century.

If you're interested in Virginia wines, bloggers from that state tend to be highly engaged in their local wines, and a list of them can be found at my Winebloggers In The South sister site.

2012 Stinson Rosé
Shenandoah Valley, Virginia
100% Mourvèdre
$17, 13% abv.

The wine pours with bright acidity, mostly expressed in overripe strawberry elements and a slightly ashy finish. I actually tried this last year but got an off bottle. This one was enjoyable and presented in the French profile, and made for a delicious pairing with a croque madame.

2012 Stinson Cabernet Franc
Shenandoah Valley, Virginia
80% Cabernet Franc, 10% Merlot, 10% Petit Verdot
$23, 12.8% abv.

Light plum aromas with a touch of spice, followed by firm dark fruit flavors from the tiny grapes. The tannins are fairly mild and there's a long dark fruit finish. Cab Franc and Petit Verdot are two of my favorites, and while this doesn't taste Bordelais, it doesn't taste Californian either. Excellent example if you want to explore the influence of Virginia terroir on French grapes.

Note: These wines were provided as samples for review.

07 April 2014

2013 M. Chapoutier Belleruche Rosé

M. Chapoutier is a négociant based in the Rhône region of France. That means that the grapes are purchased from nearby vineyards and made into the various bottles that bear the Chapoutier name. This is not a practice that is isolated in France, but I don't think that any other countries have a specific name for it.

I love rosé year-round, and was absolutely delighted to get to try this tasty pink wine in the spring...

2013 M. Chapoutier Belleruche Rosé
Côtes du Rhône, France
Grenache & Syrah
$8, 13% abv.

Light aromas of tart raspberry with flavors that follow, including a burst of lemony acidity. Round mouthfeel with a beautiful salmon color and a long, tart finish. Incredible bargain and highly recommended. I had some very specific ideas about what sort of meal I would pair with this wine.

Spring has not entirely arrived here in my dear River City, something that brings me much joy. We had a few warm days last week but thankfully it's dipping down near freezing at night. However, I acknowledge the longer days and greening of the foliage with a proper Provençal lunch: stuffed clams, asparagus tips, and grilled lamb chops. Such a delicious pairing with this rosé and one that I hope you will enjoy at your own table.

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

04 April 2014

2012 Gnarly Head Malbec

A little site news first... Be sure to check out my latest post on PalatePress.com, in which I discuss awkward wine moments I've experienced. I've told a few of these stories here before, but I go into more depth in this new article. Also, I was recently interviewed by Jameson Fink for Grape Collective. There are some neat stories coming up in the next month, but I don't want to spoil anything quite this early.

On to the wine!

Even though the weather is getting warmer, it's still nice enough to enjoy some great reds before the searing Memphis heat turns our attention toward clean, crisp whites and fruity rosés. While Gnarly Head is most known for their Old Vine Zin, they've launched an Argentine Malbec as well. I would recommend both for your steak and burger nights, perhaps like the old 3Bs guys' nights that Paul and I enjoyed for years while he was still living in Memphis (3Bs = beef, booze, bad movies).

2012 Gnarly Head Malbec
Mendoza, Argentina
100% Malbec
$12, 13.5% abv.

Mild and fruity with great black plum aromas and flavors. Gentle tannins and soft acidity contribute to the round mouthfeel, and the good dark fruit shows well at a range of temperatures. Good bargain and it should be easy to find anywhere in the country.

Look at that! A sighting of a Nomacorc! It's pretty cool knowing that I've seen the actual machine that produced and cut that cork, as well as all of the equipment used in the testing and research. While I'll have some more details on the cork factory in the future, I'd highly recommend checking out this video of the factory shot by my friends at Wine Folly. It will give you the brief tour of how the synthetic corks are extruded and sliced.

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

01 April 2014

Red Wattle Hog

In nine years of swine blogging, there are always old favorites that you return to year after year. I most recently wrote about the Red Wattle pig last year for the Cochon Heritage Pork event here in Memphis, where that breed (and a few Berkshire hybrids) were used in the cooking of over forty distinct dishes using every part of the pig except for the oink.

The Red Wattle is easy to identify even at a young age, due to the presence of the distinctive "wattles", or pair of fleshy tags that hang down from the neck. These serve no evolutionary or culinary purpose, but remain as iconic as the beautiful chestnut roan color of the hair. The breed is known for being friendly and easy to handle, and the sows reliably deliver litters of up to 15 piglets. They're great if you've got a lot of oak trees, since they love to forage for acorns and that will definitely help deliver the classic heritage breed flavor. They are on the lean side, though the meat is not bland like most of the current lean hogs used for mass production. You can correct for that by wrapping chops in bacon or through the use of a larding needle for roasts. Whatever you do, don't overcook it.

There are varying theories about the origin of the Red Wattle breed. Some point to Texas, but I've always preferred the more legendary origin of French colonists bringing the pig to the US in the 1700s from the island of New Caledonia, a collectivité sui generis française located in Melanesia east of Australia.

Pigs were first introduced to the South Pacific some 3500 years ago, and pig roasts remain popular for special feasts throughout the islands. It is not improbable that some random mutation from an East Asian pig resulted in the familiar Red Wattle profile, though breeding records from those areas are highly unreliable. Still, the breed is making a renaissance in the United States, and I hope to see more of them in organic farms and in discerning butcher shops throughout the country.