March 2009


Stodgy Old Label
BORDEAUX — It was announced today that Chateau Lynch-Bages, a mainstay of Bordeaux’s Pauillac commune, is changing its traditional label and staid image to become Large Bunny. This attempt to appeal to a younger demographic of wine consumer was explained by Lynch-Bages owner and manager Jean-Michel Cazes with a shrug that could only be called Gallic.

“C’est la vie,” said Cazes, standing in the courtyard of the estate that dates back to 1749. “These young people no longer are New “Fun” Label! interested in wines that are — comme dit-on? — stuffy and sacrosanct. They like the immediate appeal of labels that are relaxed and hip. The wine is the same, n’est-ce pas? But outside, you see, it is the coolness factor. Why should all these penguin wines and monkey wines and moose wines, wines of fish and birds and kangeroos, capture the market? Lynch-Bages, that is, Large Bunny, is now in the avant-garde.”

The over-achieving Fifth Growth property may be in the vanguard, but rumors abound in the Great Gray City of Bordeaux that other prominent chateaux are planning similar label and image transformations. Mentioned in scandalized conversations in brokers’ offices and in the town’s dignified boites are Chateau Petrus, rumored to become The Stormy Petrel; Leoville-Las Cases, perhaps looking at Lion City, and, most surprising, First Growth Chateaux Margaux, which anonymous insiders insist is contemplating a change to Chateaux Magret, with a different label every year depicting a duck preparation by a Michelin-starred chef.

“Change is good,” said Achille Apollinaire, spokesman for the Bordeaux Chamber of Commerce. “It is time for Bordeaux, this ancient region where the best wines in the world are made — ask Mr. Robert M. Parker Jr. if you don’t believe me — to move ahead and join the rest of the winemaking industry in expanding its markets. Our new motto is, ‘Yellowtail — Watch Out!’”

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dregsreport.com
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Whoa, I’m actually getting the Wine of the Week posted on Monday, instead of Tuesday at 11 p.m. (or Wednesday morning)!

For this week turn to a delightful yet slightly serious entry from Tuscany, the Pagano Chianti 2007. Wines labeled simply Chianti represent the working class of the Chianti realm, hefting the other categories on their shoulders and not getting much respect. This wine, however, offers authentic sangiovese touches of strawberry and raspberry, smoke and dried spice, violets and potpourri. In the mouth, the flavors darken a bit with strains of black currant and plum given a shaded hue by hints of tea-like mossiness and underbrush. Tannins are earthy and a bit gritty, giving the wine a bumptious, rustic aspect that smooths out with some time in the glass or going back to the wine the next day, as we did. It’s direct, it’s countrified, it’s tasty, a good match for hearty pizzas and pasta dishes or with burgers. Very good. About $10.50.

Scoperta Importing Co., Cleveland Heights, Ohio. Available primarily in the Upper Midwest and on the East and West Coasts.

When LL says, “You know, I feel like making risotto tonight,” I promise that I am not the boy who replies, “Damnit, I was hoping for succotash and tuna-noodle casserole,” because she is, as far as I am concerned, the Queen of Risotto. Here are two examples, one from about a month ago and one from last night.
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These words say it all: “Risotto with Duck and White Balsamic Vinegar.” The recipe, inspired by a dish at the restaurant La Stua de Michill in the Italian Dolomites, is in the March 2009 issue of Bon Appetit, An unusual point here is that the liquid, instead of the typical chicken broth, was beef broth, an element that lent additional richness to the dish. The duck was a pair of breasts from Whole Foods. The result was phenomenally, sublimely delicious.

For the wine, I opened a bottle of the Pali Wine Co. Thorn Ridge Ranch Pinot Noir 2007, Sonoma Coast. Pali Wine Co. is owned by a group of 21 friends and coworkers who, however hard they labor in the corporate world, share an obsession with pinot noir. The pali.jpg company purchases grapes from highly regarded vineyards in Oregon’s Willamette Valley and throughout California. For 2007, Pali produced small quantities of 13 different pinot noirs, of which I tasted four; I’ll mention the other three in an upcoming post on pinot noir wines from California. Pali’s winemaker, through the 2007 wines, was Brian Loring, who makes a series of pinot noir wines under his own label; beginning with ’08, winemaker will be Kenneth Juhasz. The winery is in Lompoc, the “City of Arts and Flowers,” in Santa Barbara County.

Loring, and the owners of Pali Wine Co., favor full-throttle pinots that emphasize, to greater or lesser degrees, power over elegance while retaining a firm grip on varietal character. The Thorn Ridge Ranch Pinot Noir 2007 offers an exuberant bouquet of roasted black currant and black cherry packed with black pepper and bacon fat, earth and minerals and, around the edges, a filigree of ripe mulberry, rose petals and smoke. The earthy aspect burgeons in the mouth with moss and mushrooms and a rooty tea-like element, all permeating flavors of smoky black currant, black cherry and cola. A wash of tannin sweeps the finish, bringing an austere note. 180 cases. Drink now through 2012 or ’13. Excellent. About $60.
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Last night’s risotto was pure improvisation, with mixed dried mushrooms, diced country ham and green peas. It was fabulously flavorful and filled with texture, a sort of late-winter/early spring transitional dish

This time I opened a less expensive and more widely available wine, Boony Doon’s Ca’ del Solo Sangiovese 2006, San Benito County. The unusual blend is 77 percent sangiovese, 16 percent freisa, 6 percent syrah and 1 percent grenache, all from the biodynamically-run Gimelli Vineyard. The dark ruby colored wine bursts with freshness and immediate seductiveness; the bouquet is clean and bright, seething with notes of ripe, meaty and fleshy raspberry, black currant and mulberry, violets and rose petals and dried spice. It’s a rich and savory wine, deeply rooted in spice and such earthly elements as briers and brambles and damp leaves that bolster tasty black current and raspberry flavors. The texture is smooth and polished but pleasingly roughened at the edges with slightly gritty tannins. California has not done sterling service regarding the sangiovese grape; this is one of the best renditions. Excellent. About $18, though found on the Internet as low as $13.

Pali image (much cropped) from the website of the Santa Barbara Independent newspaper.
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Fried chicken is something we eat about as often as Howie Mandel gets dandruff, but be that as it may, last night LL brought angove-rose.jpg some fried chicken home from Whole Foods, along with a white bean and corn salad and sauteed kale. It has long been an established tenet with me that the best wine with fried chicken is rosé, and it just happened that there was a bottle of the Angove Nine Vines Rosé 2008, South Australia, in the fridge.

A blend of 70 percent grenache and 30 percent shiraz (syrah), the wine sports a ravishing bright magenta-cerise color. Aromas of peach, pear and melon entice the nose, along with hints of dried herbs and limestone. In the mouth, the wine is quite dry, vivid with acidity and juicy with flavors of sour cherry, melon ball and candied apple. The texture balances attractive lushness with the spareness of scintillating minerality. A superior rosé and thoroughly enjoyable. Very Good+. About $13.

Imported by Trinchero Vineyards, St. Helena, Ca.

We have had Whole Foods in Memphis only a few months, that is, since the company took over Wild Oats and gradually replaced that store here. The prepared foods are excellent; I would put their fried chicken up against any of the numerous fast-food outlets that crowd our city.

Feeling peckish, I found some oil-cured sun-dried tomatoes in the fridge, so I brushed some olive oil on a couple pieces of rustic bread, smeared some of the tomatoes on them and sprinkled on a little fresh thyme, then I ran them under the broiler for a few minutes. I sliced some Comte cheese and some dry salami, put everything on a plate and thought, “I need a glass of wine.”
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Happily, I opened a bottle of the Saint Laurent Syrah 2005, Wahluke Slope, Washington. The more I try wines from this young region , granted appellation status in 2006, the more convinced I become that the syrah grape finds a natural home there. Lying within the vast Columbia Valley appellation and north of Yakima, the Wahluke Slope is the state’s warmest grape-growing area.

The dark purple wine opens with authentic notes of smoke, earth and minerals, black currants and black cherries, plums and mulberries, beet-root, wet fur and black pepper. These elements develop in intense and concentrated form in the mouth, expanding into realms of briers and brambles, with burgeoning smoke and minerals, leather and violets. The wine is, altogether, heady and powerful stuff, though chewy tannins and spicy oak — 18 months in French barrels, 35 percent new — are handily balanced and integrated. Drink now through 2011 or ’12. An eloquent, multi-dimensioned expression of the syrah grape. Limited availability geographically, so mark this Worth a Search. Excellent. About $22.

Mystery Sauvignon Blancs
I can go along with a stunt with the best of them, so when the offer came from Terlato Wines International to sample three sauvignon blancs wrapped in black paper so I would, if I wanted to, taste them blind, my response was, “Oh, sure, what the hell.” Lined up on the kitchen counter, they looked sort of cool and elegant in their black habits, like monks with marathon numbers.

LL works late on Tuesdays, and I usually cook dinner — late enough to be called supper since we sometimes don’t sit down until after nine — and last night I decided to make a sort of spring-like dish of eggs on toast with mushrooms and onions cooked in Fried Eggs on Toast with Sherried Mushrooms sherry. You scatter chopped flat-leaf parsley on top .This is from the April 2009 issue of Food & Wine magazine. You can see in the image of the dish that I added some basil oil for color and piquancy. On the side, I served a simple mixed green salad. Oh, for mushrooms, I used crimini, porcini and a few precious, pungent morels.

I tasted the wines in the kitchen, while I was cooking the mushrooms, put the bottles back in the fridge, and then got them out and LL and I tried them during dinner.

A hitch occurred when I unwrapped Wine #1, and there was the cork, with the winery name printed on it; so much for subterfuge! The other bottles were closed with screw-caps, so I truly did not know what they were. To keep to the program, I won’t mention what the first wine was yet.

So, Wine #1 offered a fresh clean, vibrant bouquet with green apple, citrus, baking spice, thyme and tarragon. Touches of grass and hay came into play, along with, in the mouth, citrus and green plum flavors. This had attractive heft, a sense of textural authority that comes from oak, though obviously held to a minimum.

Wine #2 gleefully cried “New Zealand!” with its audacious lime, gooseberry, fennel and grapefruit aromas and snappy acidity.

Wine #3, however, immediately won my heart through its winsome pear, honeydew and jasmine bouquet, its hints of almond blossom and orange zest, its engaging liveliness and immediacy.

While we ate supper and tried the wines again, going back to each several times, details and dimensions were filled in. Wine #1 fleshed out with notes of leafy fig, a rich hint of currant and a layer of slightly dusty yet clean earthiness. Wine #2, unfailingly exuberant, added touches of green pea and fresh-mown grass, while Wine #3 continued to impress with its lovely balance and integration, with piercing purity and intensity. It was clearly my (and our) favorite.

All were quite delicious, in their different manners, with the eggs and sherried mushrooms on toast.

The wines? Ta-dah! hanna.gif

#1. Markham Vineyards Sauvignon Blanc 2007, Napa Valley. With 10 percent semillon grapes, this is fermented in stainless steel and then given 3.5 months in wood tanks, not small barrels. Excellent. About $17.

#2. Wairau River Family Estate Sauvignon Blanc 2007, Marlborough, New Zealand. Made completely in stainless steel. Very Good+. About $19.

#3. Hanna Winery & Vineyards Sauvignon Blanc 2008, Russian River Valley. Also made completely in stainless steel. Excellent. About $19. If I hadn’t already posted a Wine of the Week, this would be it.

Here’s an interesting and unusual conjunction of wines that we tried in the last week of March, 1984, on the 26 through the 28th, like two days away from 25 years ago. One was a failure, one a triumph.

I remember hesitating for weeks before buying the Chateau Beychevelle 1977, from Bordeaux’s commune of Saint-Julien, because I beychevelle.jpg knew that it might not be too good. In my favorite wine volume at the time, and still one of my favorites, The Great Vintage Wine Book (Alfred A. Knopf, 1982), Michael Broadbent calls 1977 “one of the least inspiring vintages of the decade,” so, having pored over Broadbent’s annotations numerous times, I can’t say that I wasn’t warned. You know though, there it was on the shelf, it’s a Fourth Growth (according to the Classification of 1855), the chateau possesses ancient and noble lineage, the label is classy — and it was only $10, so I ponied up.

It was terrible. My notes: “Reflects the year. Brownish rim; some typical cabernet nose; a bare glance at complexity, some earthiness, but basically weak — an impression of tiredness and thinness.” So there.

The blend at Beychevelle, by the way, tends to be about 62 percent cabernet sauvignon, 31 percent merlot, five percent cabernet franc and two percent petit verdot.

Fortunately, those same days, we consumed a bottle of the Mayacamas Vineyards Sauvignon Blanc 1980, which at the time carried a California appellation.

The winery was founded, high on Napa Valley’s Mount Veeder, in 1889 by German immigrant John Henry Fisher. He went bankrupt after a few years, and the winery was abandoned and fell derelict, until it was purchased in 1941, in a pioneering move, by Jack and Mary Taylor. They sold the property, in 1968, to Robert and Elinor Travers, who still own it. The winery’s reputation stands on its rock-ribbed, long-aging cabernet sauvignon wines, and I’ll tell you the truth. If someone, say a bright and shining angel, came to me and said, “F.K., you have been such a Good Boy and so exemplary in thought, word and deed, that I am going to offer you the chance to experience vertical tastings of any Napa Valley cabernets your heart desires,” I would say forget the cult cabernets, the new darlings of collectors, the Screaming Eagles and so on, and give me the old mountainside wines, Mayacamas, Mount Veeder, Diamond Creek, Dunn, let me feel the rich austerity and dignity of the altitudes.

Anyway, Mayacamas makes about 5,000 cases of wine a year, of which about 600 cases are sauvignon blanc that is given a short aging in American oak. Now I’ll confess that I have not seen a Mayacamas Sauvignon Blanc on a retail shelf for decades, in fact, maya.jpg not since the one under discussion here, so that’s 25 years ago. Nor have I seen a zinfandel from this winery, and zinfandel is not listed as part of the production on the website, but one of the most memorable wines of my career remains the Mayacamas Late Harvest Zinfandel 1984.

Anyway, the Mayacamas Sauvignon Blanc 1980, California, was splendid, sporting a pale straw color, a spare, elegant bouquet with touches of lemon and spice, “full body, exceptional balance, suave and smooth, dry.” It was certainly the best sauvignon blanc wine I had tasted up to that point and serves, in many ways, even today, as a model of excellence in my memory.

I often open bottles of chardonnay from California with trepidation, fearing that I will find an over-oaked, stridently spicy, tropical fruit cocktail laced with meringue and caramel. Yuck! So I was casting about last night, after LL had seared and roasted a fillet of morgan-label-ch-highland-07.jpg wild Coho salmon, roasted some fingerling potatoes and sauteed some sea-beans with preserved ginger, and she said, “Wait, isn’t there one of those chardonnays that we like in the refrigerator, one of those steely ones?”

Yes, Morgan Winery to the rescue!

The Morgan “Highland” Chardonnay 2007, in Monterey County’s Santa Lucia Highlands, was exactly what we were looking for. The wine is carefully made to preserve freshness, focused acidity and classic chardonnay flavors. The wine is fermented in French oak, but only 35 percent new barrels; it ages only 10 months in oak, and only 35 percent of the wine goes through the malolactic process, so any element of lushness or creaminess is held to a minimum. Primarily what you get are riveting purity and intensity, scintillating elements of limestone and shale, and perfect balance and integration. Delicious green apple, pineapple and grapefruit flavors unfold to offer hints of peach and pear and an even more delicate strain of jasmine and honeysuckle. A few moments in the glass unleash touches of baking spice and buttered toast, with a high bell-tone of crystallized ginger. The finish brings in a bit more wood, a sort of dry, blond spiciness. This should drink beautifully through 2011 or ’12, well-stored. 13,000 cases were produced, so there’s plenty to go around. Excellent. About $26.

I mean the country of France.

LL spent most of yesterday putting together a pot au feu — which means basically that the pot is on the fire and you throw things into the simmering broth — under the guidance of a recipe in The Zuni Cafe Cookbook (W.W. Norton & Co., 2002), derived from Judy Rodgers’ great restaurant in San Francisco. Her pot au feu calls for four pounds of beef short ribs, yellow onions, carrots, leeks, celery root, white turnips and rutabaga, all of this cooked in stock for two and a half hours or so. I’m truly sorry that I don’t have a picture of the result, because it looked glorious, but we took the dish to the house of some shut-in friends and I didn’t think about taking the camera until too late. It also tasted glorious: deep, rich, hearty, complex in pungency and flavor. One serves this pot au fer with a powerful mustard vinaigrette (made with a tablespoon of the broth) and cornichons, those tiny pickles. Chunks of crusty bread are a necessity for sopping up the broth left in the plate. Wow, what a Sunday night supper!

For wine, I took the Renaissance Vineyard & Winery Syrah 2005, Sierra Foothills, North Yuba, a superb example of the grape and of the individual style of winemaking from this producer. The bouquet is dusky and bosky, an entrancing wreathing of dust and sy2002-resized.jpg leather, flint and granite, macerated, spiced and stewed black currants and plums and a hint of violets. In the mouth, flavors of mulberry and blueberry are brought in, along with touches of fruit cake, briers and brambles and a slightly mossy, earthy strain of dried porcini. The wine is dense and chewy, warm and enveloping, luscious and juicy yet with a pervasive tannic element that provides depths of gravity and foundation. The oak regimen here is fascinating. The wine ages two years in one-to-six-year-old barrels, and then nine months in neutral — that is long-used — large casks; the result is a wine of tremendous presence and power and tone yet one in which wood itself feels almost invisible. This should drink beautifully — and was wonderful with the pot au feu — through 2014 or ’15. As is always the rub with products from Renaissance, availability is an issue; production of this wine amounted to a whopping 356 cases, so put out feelers, send telegrams and email messages, make those phone calls. Excellent. About $35.

With her quiet, pleasant yet commanding and even iron-willed manner, Alice Waters tends to get what she wants, and what she Alice Waters got — or what she was a huge influence in getting — is a vegetable garden on the grounds of the White House, a symbol of sustainability, sensible and local eating and connection with nature and the food chain. The image of First Lady Michelle Obama helping to delve the initial shovelfuls of dirt with a group of school-children made all the print and broadcast media last week, and that’s as it should be. Let the White House vegetable garden serve as an inspiration to the rest of America at a time of economic hardship and rampant obesity. Let’s eat right!

Now, how about the White House becoming a symbol of the diversity of American wine.

Grapes are grown and wine is made in all the 48 of the continental states. No, I’m not going to be so patriotic as to assert that every state produces wine good enough to showcase at the White House, much less on anyone’s dinner table. I was in Indianapolis last summer for a few days, and I tasted through a range of wines made in the state. No wonder the labels say: “For sale only in Indiana.” (Though that’s a curious notion; does any other state make that restriction?)

Considering the states and regions that do produce good and even great wine, however, gives the White House a chance to bring American wine and its industry into focus as a national effort and treasure. Every major wine-producing country in Europe fields a government-financed trade bureau devoted to publicizing the wines of those countries and increasing awareness of them in this country; even separate regions in these countries — I mean France, Germany, Italy and Spain primarily — employ trade units to bolster their presence through advertising and education on these shores. Our government does nothing like that, heaven forbid! so it’s up to the White House to take up the slack.

Now is the time to build a thoughtful cellar in the White House that encompasses the complete range of what American wine offers. At the next state dinner, instead of just making the easy choice and hauling in products from California, as was the case with the inaugural luncheon, how about beginning with a sparkling wine from New Mexico, continuing with a viognier from Virginia, going to a pinot noir from Oregon’s Willamette Valley and concluding with a dessert wine from New York’s Finger Lakes region? And when this happens, make certain that the menu and wine choices are known and written about, that a sense of pride is felt in the use and enjoyment of American wine.

Sure, the chief executive and his cabinet and advisers have a lot on their minds now. I don’t expect President Obama to jump up and rush down to the kitchen or wherever they keep wine at the White House and say, “This Koeppel guy has the right idea. Let’s get in touch and follow up and see what can be done.” But I hope somebody reads this and starts to ponder and then realize that my plan is just another small but important way for Americans to feel good about their culture, their country and themselves. I mean, I’m working on that list now.

Image of Alice Waters from creativeloafing.com.

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