Trick Or Treat!

What do you think of when you think of Halloween?  Do you think of adorable kids in fuzzy costumes trick or treating?  Or do you think of mischief and mayhem, of horror movies and egging the neighbors’ house?

The great thing about Halloween is that it’s about all of these things, but it is, above all, about candy.  Maybe some people ‘mature’ and ‘grow out of their sweet tooth,’ but many of us don’t, if we’re really honest with ourselves.

The difference is that now you can have a little sip of something strictly not for kids while you raid the candy bowl.  What could be better to pair with your pilfered PayDay than one of the many styles of wine that’s gotten a bad reputation – not for knocking over mailboxes, but for being unsophisticated, or just plain old bad!

For candy in the nut/nougat/caramel family, tawny port is a great way to go, but there are several other styles of fortified and dessert wines that will play well with the toasty, nutty flavors of nuts, caramel, and salt.  For the past few months we’ve all been flipping for the Rozes Porto White Reserve.  If there ever was a wine with a bad reputation, White Port is definitely it.  This beauty, though, with its 8 years of barrel age, has just the right amount of sweetness, and tastes great both chilled and a little closer to room temperature.

Riesling has also got some bad behavior to atone for.  Anyone who’s had a bottle of Blue Nun takes one look at the long, tapered bottle shape of a bottle of Riesling and shudders a little.  Well, Riesling has gone to finishing school, and many of them are perfect matches with things we don’t usually consider wine-friendly food.  One of our favorite new, unique sparklers is the delicious Klemens Weber Trocken Seckt 2009. A single-vintage, 100% Riesling sparkler, this is a party in your mouth. Though it’s fermented dry, it’s got so much fruit and acidity that even Sour Patch Kids won’t annhiliate its flavor.

Got something with marshmallow or coconut in the candy dish?  The Erdener Pralat Auslese from Monchoff is just the thing to sip on.  Its unctuous texture and sweetness will enhance all of those flavors, but its bright acidity, especially in the 2010 vintage, will keep things from getting too sticky.

Chocolate is a subject that elicits passion and strong opinions.  And, if you’ve ever opened a food or lifestyle magazine or gone to Napa or Sonoma during the Valentine’s Day season, you know that chocolate and Cabernet is a common pairing.  A teacher of mine once commented that because chocolate and Cabernet Sauvignon are both sexy, rich, and dark, that people assume they’ll just automatically go together, like Brad Pitt and Angelina Jolie.  Unfortunately, the pairing is more Gigli than Mr. and Mrs. Smith.  Chocolate needs something a little sweeter than itself, otherwise it can taste unpleasantly bitter.

What chocolate really needs is a red wine with a little sweetness, and Fracchia’s fun, fizzy red sparkler is just that.  Sweet red wine tends to make people run for the hills as they wince at the memory of Franzia Chillable Red drunk from a box.  But the Fracchia Voulet, made from a red variety of Malvasia in Italy’s Piedmont region, is another animal entirely.  With loads of big, juicy red fruit, low alcohol, sparkle and sweetness, it’s just the thing to have with the Hershey’s Special Darks that always seem to be left at the bottom of the bag after the Crackles and Mr. Goodbars have been eaten.

So, what’s your favorite Halloween candy, and have you ever gotten into any October 31st mischief?

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Our “House Wine” Premiers!

   

Why does Doug look so happy?  If you’d just showed off your very own cuvee of Puligny-Montrachet to a packed restaurant of customers, you’d be pretty thrilled, too!  This past Thursday, winemaker Sylvain Bzikot and local superstar importer Olivier Daubresse joined us for a fabulous dinner at Mediterranee Restaurant for an evening of white Burgundy and a special menu by Jacques Imperato.

   The story of Cuvee de la Maison (mason means house in French – see what we did there?) all started back in January of 2011, when Doug was on his annual trip to Burgundy with impoter, Olivier Daubresse.  He’d decided he wanted to buy a barrel of Sylvain Bzikot’s wine, but when it came time to decide which of the nine barrels of Puligny-Montrachet he liked best, he was having a little trouble.  It was down to the final two, and he kept going back and forth, until finally Sylvain blended the two together.  Bingo!  So, what could he do but buy both?

Cuvee de la Maison is a single-vineyard Puligny-Montrachet from the Les Nosroyes vineyard, and Chef Imperato paired it with a scallop dish with beurre blanc.  This is the first wine Sylvain has ever made with 100% new oak, but no one, including many industry professionals we’ve poured it for, has guessed!  The fruit has completely absorbed the oak, and has remained mineral and delicate enough to pair with the sweet, subtle flavor of scallops.  With the extra bit of structure from the oak and the drive and intensity of the 2010 vintage, this is a wine that’s delicious now, but will go the distance as well.

We didn’t think it could get any better, but then came two vintages of Les Folatieres, 2006, and 2008.  Both were paired with a lobster and shiitake mushroom dish, and each wine paired differently, but equally well with the rich, savory dish.

   One of the many great things about dinners like this is that they allow us the opportunity to try older vintages of the same wine.  Very few importers keep back vintages of wines in their warehouses, and we are so lucky that Olivier Daubresse is one of them!

Towards the end of the meal Sylvain led us in singing a traditional song, and everyone joined in!

Thanks to Sylvain Bzikot, Olivier Daubresse of Vinifrance Imports, Jacques Imperato of Mediterranee restaurant, and everyone who came out and shared this incredible evening of wine and food with us.  Peruse the links below to see what you missed!

Bzikot Bourgogne Blanc 2010

Bzikot Puligny Montrachet Cuvee de la Maison 2010

What We’re Drinking: Keeping an open mind

Doug pulled out a Chateauneuf-du-Pape from his cellar and was kind enough to snap a photo before it was gone.  Domaine Grand Veneur has never been his favorite producer, nor 2003 his favorite vintage, but a few years of age yielded surprising results.  The aggressive heat had dissipated, leaving lovely, sweet fruit that was a wonderful counterpoint to thick-cut, grilled pork chops with rosemary and basil.  A perfect Fall meal if you ask us!

Diane had a great time with a friend at Proof in the District exploring the restaurant’s extensive wine list.  The highlight was something even the most enthusiastic wine lovers too often overlook: Madeira.  With a selection of salty, washed-rind cheeses, they tried the Rare Wine Company’s Boston Bual Special Reserve.  We carry the drier and more versatile Barbeito Madeira Charleston Sercial Special Reserve.  The Boston Bual is richer and sweeter, with aromas of dried fruit, baking spices, and something salty and briny in the background.  Both are part of the company’s Historic Series, which aims to create affordable versions of the vintage Madeiras enjoyed back in the wine’s heyday, 18th and 19th centuries.

Even when tasting wine is your job, it’s all too easy to get into a rut, to dismiss producers, vintages, or entire categories of wine because of one or two bad experiences or lack of knowledge.  This was a delicious reminder of the rewards of an open mind.

Tablas Creek and Beaucastel – Wines of the Haas/Perrin Partnership with Danny Haas

 

Thursday night’s Tablas Creek and Beaucastel class turned out to be one of the most extensive tastings ever for the store.  When we started talking to Danny Haas of Vineyard Brands about which wines to show, we knew it would end up being a bigger than usual class, with more wines, but Danny outdid himself.  With every email and phone call, it seemed, he added more wines – slow down, Danny, we thought, or we’ll all have to spend the night at the store!

In the end, though, he was right – such an extensive tasting allowed everyone to gain a real perspective on the range of styles from these two biodynamically farmed estates.

Danny has grown up in the business, working for his father for Vineyard Brands, and helping to form Tablas Creek through their work with Ch Beaucastel, so it was great to hear his firsthand perspective on the two wineries.

We started with a range of whites from Ch Beaucastel’s sister winery in Paso Robles, Tablas Creek.  Made all from Rhone varietals taken from cuttings at Beaucastel, these displayed a minerality and freshness you don’t normally associate with wines made in a warm area like Paso.  In many warm growing areas, white wines (and sometimes reds) are acidified to bring their ripe fruit into balance, but at Tablas Creek this isn’t necessary.  Minimal irrigation, organic farming, and carefully chosen vineyard sites help make this possible.

The white of the night, though, was the Ch Beaucastel Blanc 2010.  At once rich, mouth filling, and vibrant, it had so many layers of flavor and clearly so many years left ahead to evolve and express itself.

The reds represented the full range of Perrin family projects, from the Nicolas Perrin Syrah, whose earthy meatiness was balanced by a dash of aromatic Viognier, to the crown jewel of the Perrin family, the Ch Beaucastel Chateauneuf du Pape Rouge 2010.  Though this is a wine meant for aging, it was wonderfully approachable.  The buy of the night, though, was the Coudoulet du Beaucastel 2010, a ‘baby’ Chateauneuf that, in the hands of any other producer, would simply be labeled Chateauneuf du Pape.  With rich, ripe fruit and vibrancy, this is a fantastic step up from weeknight wine, perfect for hanger steak or a nice grilled lamb chop.

      

Plenty of smiling faces and a huge lineup of fantastic wines – what more could you want?  Thanks to Danny Haas and Olivier Lotterie of Vineyard Brands and Mark Longsworth of Country Vintner for their support in setting up this tasting.  Peruse the links below to see some of what we tasted!

Tablas Creek Vineyard Patelin de Tablas Rouge 2011

Perrin et Fils Gigondas La Gille 2009

Good Wines Gone Bad

Good Wines Gone Bad, our semi-regular class on how to tell if something is wrong with your wine, has become one of our most popular classes, and we’ve learned as much putting it together as the participants have taking it.

Knowing when a wine is flawed is one of those things that’s expected of an industry professional, whether you work in retail or as a sommelier in a restaurant.  However, there are surprisingly few teaching tools out there for learning how to recognize these flaws, so we had quite the adventure creating our own.  Stay tuned for the next installments of Good Wines Gone Bad in 2013 – until then, here’s a handy dandy guide that will help you figure out what’s wrong with your wine.

Corked  Of all of the wine flaws, cork taint is the least understood, largely because it has a misleading name.  Wine that is corked doesn’t have cork floating in it, nor does it refer to a broken cork.  Wine that is corked has been tainted by TCA, which stands for 2,4,6 trichloroanisole (we can’t pronounce it, either!).  Wine that is badly corked will smell of moldy cardboard – musty and faintly chemically.  Barrels and other winery equipment can become tainted with TCA as well, but the most common culprit is the cork.

Sometimes, though, wine that is corked won’t necessarily smell strongly.  The wine will just be sort of ‘off’ in a way that’s hard to describe.  This is because cork taint dampens the fruit in wine before it actually starts smelling actively of cork taint.  To us, the biggest indicator is the finish.  If a wine’s finish abruptly dies off rather than lingering pleasantly, something might be wrong.

Heat Damage  During the oven-like temperatures we experienced this summer, heat damage was on all of our minds.  Of all of the flaws we wanted to show in our class, we thought it would be the easiest to create on purpose.

We started by taking a bottle of Sauvignon Blanc and putting it in the trunk, imitating a common activity – you buy wine on a hot day and get stuck on a longer-than-usual errand. We left it there for an entire day on a real scorcher and then let it cool down again for a few hours.  When we opened it side by side to an undamaged example, they were almost identical.  What madness was this?  Prolonged exposure to 80 degree + temperatures is supposed to be death for wine!

We also tried wrapping a heating pad around a bottle.  this looked really funny, but again, no dice.

What finally worked was our high-temperature dishwasher, which gets up to 180 degrees!

So, why was this so difficult?  What we’ve concluded is that wine must be exposed to 80+ degree temperatures for quite a long time for heat damage to really set in, and that heat damage can take time to show itself.  It can cut into the end of a wine’s life that you’re cellaring.  But, leaving something you’re planning on drinking in the next few months in the trunk for a few hours probably isn’t the end of the world.

Heat damage can present as prune-y aromas and flavors, or as really big fruit aromas that fade into nothing on the palate.  Wine that is heat damaged can also take on Madeira-like aromas and flavors, since Madeira is a style of wine that is created by intentional heat damage.

Oxidized  Oxidation is one of the most insidious wine flaws because it’s often subtle.  It happens when air somehow gets into the bottle, usually from a tiny hole or flaw in the cork, but sometimes there are other causes.  While winemaking and aging is all controlled oxidation and spoilage, when extra, rogue oxygen enters the mix, things go south quickly.  One thing to watch for is a bottle that has leaked.  If the neck the bottle is sticky, it often means that wine leaked out from a tiny hole in the cork.  If wine got out, that means air got in.

Wine that is oxidized can smell like old apples and/or cardboard, and, like heat damaged wine, oxidation can cut off the finish.  If you get a whiff of something that reminds you of sherry, be suspicious, since sherry is a style of wine that is oxidized on purpose.  That is the mental template many of us have for the aroma markers for oxidized wine.

Next are the beauty marks of the wine world, the flaws that are character for some, and unacceptable to others.  Both, when they take over the wine, are bad.

Brettanomyces is a secondary fermentation that can produce aromas that range from bandaids to a stinky barn.  Brett, as it’s commonly referred to, can sometimes add to the complexity of a young wine.  In the past it was so prevalent in some wines of Bordeaux and Rhone valley that it became inextricably linked to them as a stylistic marker.

So, a little funk can be a good thing, but if you feel like you’ve stuck your nose into a box of Curad band-aids, something has gone wrong at the winery.  Brett can be hard to get rid of, and once it works its way into your barrels and equipment, there’s often nothing you can do but start over.

Volatile Acidity is what happens when the bacterium acetobacter creates vinegar-like aromas and flavors in wine.  Like brett, a little can be a stylistic marker and can lend additional complexity to wine.  Often found in Italian wines and the whites of Alsace, it can accentuate the ‘high tones’ of a wine’s aromatic profile.  Too much, though, just smells like vinegar or nail polish remover.

Our noses are amazing pieces of equipment – if a wine in a restaurant or that you bought in our store smells or tastes ‘off’ to you, speak up!  Often, your nose knows something is wrong, even if your brain can’t quite put it into words.  So, trust yourself, and don’t be a victim of good wine gone bad!

Wining Around the Alps

“Mountain people are…odd.  Not ‘you don’t want to be in a room alone with them’ odd, but odd.”  Eric Hauptmann of Potomac Selections, our presenter for the evening, opened with this statement, and it set the tone for a delicious and interesting tasting.

   

And, maybe this speaks to our own oddness, but a description like that makes us want to hop on a plane!  The wines of the Alpine regions of Italy and France are not mainstream wines, and they tend to not be made by mainstream people.  Growing grapes at high elevations gives wine a freshness and natural acidity that we love, but it’s also tough work.

Many of the photos Eric showed highlighted how difficult it is to harvest grapes that are grown on steep inclines in rocky, poor soil.  People who choose to make wines in difficult places, from grapes no one has heard of, and in styles that are unlikely to get big scores from the mainstream wine press tend to be as unique as their wines.

Eric described one winemaker who goes out into the vineyard with a bottle of wine and communes with his grapes for hours.  He says they speak to him, and tell him what they need.  Eccentric?  Very.  However, as with some of the kookier-sounding aspects of biodynamics (which many of these winemakers practice as well), even if the specific act of ‘listening’ to your grapes, or burying a dung-filled horn in the middle of your field doesn’t have a direct effect on the wine, anyone who cares that much about their vines is making wine with attention and passion.  That, you can definitely taste.

We started with the Dom Labbe Abymes from the Savoie region in France, made from the Jacquere grape.  This crisp, bright white was the perfect way to start the tasting, as its high acidity and lightness on the palate got everyones’ mouths watering.

Next we headed to the Italian Alps to try Paves Blanc de Morgex et de la Salle 2010, made from the Prie Blanc grape.  We’d never heard of it, either, but for a few of us, it was the wine of the night, with its beautiful aromatics reminiscent of chamomile and honeysuckle.  Interesting and refreshing all at once.

We tried two different wines from France’s Jura region, known for its wines made from Savagnin and Chardonnay that are done in an oxidative style.  They remind many tasters of Fino sherry, and they make wonderful aperitif wines, perfect with nuts, cheeses, and smoked fish.  Lighter versions of this style, like Dom de Montbourgeau’s L’Etoile Blanc, are also fantastic with sushi.

La Mondianese Grignolino, which has become a permanent part of our Italy section and was our first red of the evening, showed beautifully.  Its color can be startling at first – it’s so light that there are probably roses out there that are darker.  But don’t let the color fool you, because it’s got a nice bit of toothsome structure from fruit tannins, and bright acidity.  It perfectly falls into the category of ‘in between’ wines: lighter reds and bolder whites that work with food where you’re not sure if a red or white is the thing to have.

Other standout reds included the Grosjean Freres Gamay Vallee d’Aoste 2010 and the Iaretti Paride Gattinara Riserva 2004.  Despite its French name, the Gamay is Italian, from the Valle d’Aosta, and it was one of the more divisive wines of the evening.  The aromas right now are wild, feral, and a bit reductive.  On the palate, though, it’s a whole different experience: lovely, sweet fruit and a wonderful texture, perfect for game.  The Gattinara was one of two Nebbiolo-based wines we tried, both serious expressions of the Nebbiolo grape that show what lies beyond Barolo and Barbaresco.

We had some delicious cheeses from the northern regions of France and Italy to accompany the wines as well, including Piave from Italy’s Veneto region, and France’s creamy Comte.

There is an important place in the world for wines that make you think a little bit, that don’t spoon-feed you basic, unchallenging flavors.  When you submit to an unfamiliar flavor, let it wash over you, then think about whether or not you like it, and what you would eat with it, you’re expanding your palate and your world.  And, you’re doing it all without leaving your chair, often for not much money!

   

Thanks to everyone who joined us for this palate and mind expanding evening – if you couldn’t make it, here’s what you missed!

Dom Labbe Abymes Vin de Savoie 2011

Dom de Montbourgeau L’etoile Blanc Jura 2008

La Mondianese Grignolino d’Asti 2011

What We’re Tasting – A Baby Rhone and White (yes, white!) Pinot Noir

White Pinot Noir?  We thought it sounded crazy too, but then we tasted it.  Gugiarlo’s Pinot Nero Bianco from the tiny Oltrepo Pavese region in Lombardy really does smell like Pinot Noir in the glass, but lighter and brighter.  Ripe pear aromas come out first, followed by the aroma of really fresh apple cider.  On the palate it’s got nice richness, but finishes clean.  This is the perfect fall white – we spent several minutes talking about what we’d pair with it, from pork to butternut squash to salmon.  Delicious!

“Good wine needs time” is one of those cliches that exists for a reason, but sometimes the exuberance of a young, fresh wine is really appealing, too.  When we first tasted the new vintage of the Pigeoulet en Provence from Kermit Lynch importers, the product of a partnership between them and Daniel Brunier of Vieux Telegraphe, there was a simultaneous ‘woah!’  The aromas of ripe, just-picked berries almost knocks you over as soon as you put your nose in the glass – but in  good way!  Doug commented that it almost smells like it’s still fermenting.  On the palate it’s juicy and full, with bright, pleasing acidity.

While stately, mature wines have their place, sometimes a big mouthful of fruit is just the thing.  Perfect for grilled sausages or a big, thick sandwich piled with charcuterie.