April 2009



Here’s a phenomenal bargain in a sauvignon blanc from Chile.

The Palo Alto Reserva Sauvignon Blanc 2008, Maule Valley, opens with a burst of pure lime, grapefruit, gooseberry and limestone. This is a snappy sauvignon blanc, fresh and clean and sassy, permeated by the savoriness of dried herbs and grass — think of thyme and hay — with the zesty quality of lime peel, citrus and pear flavors and a rounding out by a hint of damp stones and bracing grapefruit bitterness on the finish. The vibrant acidity makes your mouth tingle. For all this sort of evanescent effervescence, the wine offers real substance and texture. Try with sushi or ceviche, seafood tapas, grilled shrimp, fish tacos; you get the idea. Very Good+ . About $13.

Royal Imports (a division of Banfi Vintners), Old Brookville, N.Y.

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A business group asked me to recommend four wines for a “Spring Fling!” open house, and here (briefly) is what I came up with to match the theme:

>Nino Franco Rustico Prosecco. This is one of my favorite proseccos. It’s a lightly yet persistently sparkling wine that’s delicate and elegant, but a little earthy, bursting with almond blossom and citrus notes, and lemon-pear flavors resting on a vigorous bed of limestone. Very charming. Very Good+. About $20. Imported by VinDivino, Chicago.

>Verget du Sud Rosé de Syrah 2007. As delightful as this rosé was, I would rather drink the 2008 version, which should be released soon, for the sake of freshness and immediacy. Still, this offered tasty strawberry, melon and cherry/berry scents and flavors with hints of dried Provencal herbs and a powerful mineral element. Drink through the end of summer 2009. Very Good. About $16. North Berkeley Imports, Berkeley, Cal.

>Fritz Sauvignon Blanc 2007, Russian River Valley. What a lovely sauvignon blanc! Thirty percent is given a little oak, so the wine offers a bit more texture and substance than many sauvignon blancs while retaining amazing freshness, crispness and juicy, grassy citrus flavors. Drink through the end of 2009. Excellent. About $17, Good Value.

>Louis Jadot Beaujolais-Villages 2007. If what you expect from a well-made Beaujolais-Villages is fresh, ripe, grapey black currant and black plum flavors with a backing of spice, leather and dried flowers, well, here’s your model. Try with lighter grilled foods — pork chops, veal — or as a picnic wine with ham or fried chicken. Very Good+ and a Bargain at $13 to $15. Imported by Kobrand Corp, Purchase, N.Y.
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The rest of the wines mentioned in this post were tasted, consumed, drunk with food prepared by LL or me, and frankly, this is my favorite way to try wine. It’s not always possible of course to sip wine for an hour or so under the best “dinner conditions.” There are enough bottles resting in my wine rack or sitting on the sideboard, gazing coolly at me even now, or standing on the floor, that sometimes I just have to line them up on the counter and spend a morning or afternoon going through the drill. And there are the zoo-like trade tasting or luncheons, the tastings organized by stores and so on; these are all necessary to the life of the wine writer or blogger. The best for me, however, is a quiet dinner with great food and a bottle — or sometimes two for comparison — right here in our own house or, now that the weather permits, out on the screened porch. Just call me Mr. Domesticity.
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Last week I prepared dinner from a recipe in the March issue of Gourmet magazine, the “Provencal Chicken and Tomato Roast.” It’s a terrific dish, complete in itself, since it contains chicken, tomatoes, potatoes, celery and black olives. I don’t do recipes on BTYH*, but here’s a link to epicurious.com, which also carried the recipe.

For wine, I chose a bottle of the Black Kite Cellars Kite’s Rest Vineyard Pinot Noir 2007, Anderson Valley, an absolutely beautiful, pure and intense pinot noir that called forth terms like “Wow!” from my pen. The bouquet is a classic wreathing of smoky black cherry, cola, cloves and plums, with, in a few moments, whiffs of violets and dried rose petals. The wine delivers great presence, tone and texture, sliding across the tongue like warm satin but without being heavy or obvious; it draws you in like banked embers on a chilly night. Flavors of black cherry and plum with a hint of cranberry become a little tea-like, and after some time, say an hour, the wine takes on a note of austerity, and the oak and tannin come up, foresty and mossy. A complete success, elegant and exciting. 726 cases. Excellent. About $42.

*Recipe Alert! A few weeks ago, Eric Asimov, on his blog The Pour, suggested that I provide the recipe for the pizzas I write about frequently. So: this Saturday (May 2), LL is going to document photographically the pizza-making process, and on Sunday (May 3) I will post to BTYH an illustrated, step-by-step explanation of how I make pizza.

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LL works late on Tuesday for part of the year, like this part, and I try to have dinner going for when she gets home, which may not be until 8:45 or 9, and sometimes, truly, we don’t sit down until 9:30 or a quarter of 10. So, last Tuesday I made a roasted radicchio and endive salad, with red leaf lettuce and Gorgonzola cheese (see image above), and another dish from the same issue of Gourmet mentioned previously. Here’s a link to the recipe: click.

The dish is “Linguine with Brussels Sprouts Barigoule,” a sort of brothy pasta with Brussels sprouts (natch), Savoy cabbage and leeks; lemon, white wine, thyme and garlic make the broth pungent and flavorful. It’s quite good and virtuous and obviously pretty healthy; we’ll make it again.

I had been wanting to try the Fritsch Reserve Riesling 2003, from Austria’s Wagram region, and this dish seemed as if it would provide the perfect foil, and, lordy, it did. Lovely aromas of pear and lychee, lime and damp limestone and rubber eraser led to flavors of roasted apricot and honeyed peach wrapped around a core of baking spice and crystallized ginger. The wine is bone-dry, but enticingly juicy, so crisp with acidity that it’s almost startling and profoundly rooted in mineral elements; still, it manages easily to be delicious and charming. The finish brings up a hint of grapefruit bitterness, a touch of dried herbs and intriguing coffee-like earthiness. Yes, this is great, for drinking through 2012 or ’14, well-stored. Excellent. About $25, a Bargain.

The next riesling we tried with a spinach salad with warm bacon dressing, red onions and seared scallops, a quick dish LL did for a Sunday supper out on the back porch. The wine was the Reichsrat von Buhl Forster Jesuitengarten Riesling Spätlese 2006, from Germany’s Pfalz region. I thought that the sweetness of the Spätlese would go well with the innate sweetness or impression of sweetness that scallops evince, as well as act as a foil to the earthy, sprightly vinegar and bacon dressing. This is an ethereal wine, pure and intense, the embodiment of the Platonic ripeness of peaches, pears and apricots deeply permeated by electrifying acidity and scintillating minerals, fleshed out by the slightly astringent note of lychee and the requisite petrol or rubber eraser character unique to the riesling grape. The wine is indeed sweet at the entry but quickly turns dry by mid-palate; the finish is all stones and spice. This should develop beautifully through 2012 to ’15 or ’16. Excellent. About $45.
A Rudi Wiest selection for Cellars International, San Marino, Cal.
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LL doused two thick swordfish fillets with a lime and ginger marinade and let them sit for an hour and contemplate the higher calling of feeding us, and then she seared them in a cast-iron skillet. I opened a bottle of the Clos du Val Chardonnay 2007, Carneros, just released this month. If you read the entry about California chardonnay that I posted last week and if you know anything about Clos du Val, you will anticipate that I really liked this wine. It is a chardonnay of notable balance and integration, elegant, pure and intense. The color is medium straw-gold; aromas of roasted lemon, pineapple and mango are knit with hints of spicy wood and minerals. In the mouth, this wine is supple and silky, vibrant with clean acidity and an amalgam of delicious citrus-pineapple flavors infused with liquid limestone. The wine is barrel-fermented and ages 10 months in French oak, of which 20 percent of the barrels are new. A beautiful chardonnay that was perfect with the simply-prepared swordfish. Excellent. About $24.
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For lunch, I prepared some little open-face sandwiches — black olive tapenade, fresh basil, slivers of leftover roasted chicken and olive oil-marinated dried tomatoes, with a sprinkling of grated Parmesan on top, zip!, run them under the broiler for about three minutes. Ta-dah! Then I opened a bottle of La Braccesca Sabazio 2006, Rosso di Montepulciano, a blend of 85 percent prugnolo gentile (a local name for sangiovese), 10 percent merlot and 5 percent canaiolo. The grapes derive from vineyards owned by the Antinori firm in southeast Tuscany, just north of Umbria. Sabazio 2006 is robust and hearty, bursting with notes of dusty plums and currants, leather and potpourri; the wine is deep, intense and concentrated, characterized by a persistence of black fruit flavors shot through with touches of plums and prunes, a hint of fruit cake and grasping undertones of grainy tannins. Try this with grilled red meat, from burgers to steaks, and full-flavored pasta dishes. Very Good, and Good Value at about $12 to $15.
Imported by Ste. Michelle Wine Estates Ltd., Woodinville, Wash.

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In the past few years, chocolate has gotten pretty complicated and high-minded. This is a fad, of course, but since I like — i.e., adore — dark chocolate, it’s a boon to go into a grocery store like Fresh Market or Whole Foods and see the array of producers and the almost infinite variety of products. Of course everyone offers plain dark chocolate in a range of “darkness,” usually listed as a cacao percentage, but they also seemingly compete to deliver combinations that range from delicious but mundane, like dark chocolate with roasted coffee nibs — I never noticed coffee having nibs — to infusions that are daring and sexy, like the famous and decadent “Mo’ Bacon” chocolate bar from Vosges, which indeed incorporates bacon in its make-up.

Many of these companies espouse worthy causes, utilize organic methods and and support fair trade. You’re not merely buying a chocolate bar; you’re buying (or buying into) a philosophy. Not surprisingly, quite a few of these chocolatiers are on the West Coast.

O.K., so I stand in Fresh Market and read all the text on the back of these various chocolate products, all about where the chocolate came from and the name of the estate and so on, and that’s all become standard stuff, but on the back of a bar of Chuao Chinita Nibs (“Dark Chocolate Bar with Caramelized Cacao Nibs and Nutmeg”) was a term I had never seen on the package of a chocolate bar:

“Slave-free cacao.”

Now I know that slavery is a grave problem in many parts of the world. Sexual slavery is rampant in Southeast Asia, labor slavery is found in many parts of Africa, women from former Soviet republics are sent to America to be nannies and maids in an indentured servant situation. Slavery is real, and it’s serious.

Considered from a marketing standpoint however — and what between the shining seas cannot be considered from a marketing standpoint? — Chuao, based in San Diego and run by two Venezuelan brothers, has scored a coup. If no slaves were employed in the farming and harvesting of the cacao that goes into the Chuao Chinita Nibs, what about all the other gourmet chocolate bars whose cacao originates in South and Central America? I mean, I might have to buy no chocolate other than Chuao Chinita Nibs just so I know there’s no chance that I might be supporting slavery.

Look at it this way. When a box of crackers or chips states “No Gluten” on the package, we know that assertion establishes a contrast with all the other cracker and chip products that do contain gluten because they’re made either completely or partially from wheat. I mean, when was the last time you saw a box of Ritz crackers or a package of Chips Ahoy — both names being hallowed trademarks and I mean no disrespect — that said “Gobs o’ Gluten!” Well, no. There’s a thin but discernible line between promoting and warning.

My point is that Chuao Chocolatier has, with this tiny gesture, cast doubt on all the other chocolate producers that do not tell us that no slaves were involved in the production of their cacao.

Think of that the next time you stop at the Pac’N'Snac to pick up a Snickers.

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In the “Wine of the Week” post on March 24, for the Morgan “Highland” Chardonnay 2007, Santa Rita Highlands, I mentioned that I sometimes face the prospect of uncorking a bottle of chardonnay from California with trepidation because I fear finding “an over-oaked, stridently spicy, tropical fruit cocktail laced with meringue and caramel. Yuck!”

This brought a response from Robert Dwyer of The Wellesley Wine Press blog, who said, “Ironically, your description of the ‘Yuck!’ wine aligns almost exactly with one of my *favorites* from last year: here.”

Dwyer asked for some examples of my “Yuck!” chardonnays so he could compare them to the kinds of chardonnays he regards as his favorites. I have tasted a few “Yuck!” chardonnays recently, and I will oblige a fellow-blogger, but first, let’s take this opportunity to examine what makes a “Yuck!” chardonnay.

The main principle involved here is “Purity vs. Process,” that is, the purity of the chardonnay grapes versus the winemaking process that can, potentially, mask and distort the grapes’ character with the extraneous elements that when emphasized or exaggerated produce what to my palate is a “Yuck!” chardonnay, a chardonnay that is — to quote the approving Wine Spectator — “superripe and exotic,” “rich and creamy,” with “buttery pear, fig and toasty oak” and “roasted marshmallow on the finish.” Friends, if I wanted roasted marshmallows, I’d sit by the old campfire and sing “Kumbaya.”

Intrinsically, there’s not a damned thing wrong with barrel-fermentation, oak aging and malolactic fermentation (a misnomer, since the malolactic process has nothing to do with fermentation). These processes can do much to enhance the complexity of a wine, in this case chardonnay, but carried out by rote, or with a sense of entitlement, they can destroy a wine’s nature and turn it into nothing more than a vehicle for transferring wood from the barrel to your mouth. These brief remarks, by the way, greatly simplify the chemical processes and implications involved in oak-aging and malolactic.

When you smell coconut in a chardonnay, that element didn’t come from the grapes; it derived from the lactones in the oak. Vanilla? Nope, that’s not part of the chardonnay grape’s flavor profile; vanilla comes from oak’s phenolic aldehydes. Roasted, dried spice and smoky aspects? Call those qualities volatile phenols. The caramel flavor that so many people inexplicably admire in chardonnay — as far as I’m concerned, you can save the caramel for ice cream — is a product of carbohydrate degradation resulting from toasting the barrels when they’re manufactured.

Any of these qualities deployed with subtlety and nuance can help shape a chardonnay’s pleasurable aspects, but too many winemakers use oak as a sledgehammer to bludgeon the grape into submission in the winery. I cannot tell you how many times I have heard producers assert that the chardonnay grape is a blank slate waiting for a winemaker to write his or her techniques and personalities on the poor grape. Oh shame! As if a great and noble grape like chardonnay required the errant egos of winemakers to give it character.

The bacterial malolactic process, which coverts crisp malic (“apple-like”) acid into softer, creamier lactic (“milk-like”) acid is a naturally occurring — though it’s usually induced — and useful transformation, especially in cooler regions where high acidity can be a problem. Both red and white wines may go through “malo,” though lighter wines intended for immediate consumption are better off without it. The creamy, buttery, butterscotch qualities that so many winemakers and consumers find desirable in chardonnay wines (sounds like birthday cake to me) derive from the malolactic process, in particular from excess diacetyl (2,3-butanedione, used by manufacturers to impart a butter flavor to margarine and baked products).

And while I once heard a winemaker in Australia assert that no great wines could be made without oak, the truth is that some of the greatest white wines — some chardonnays of Chablis, rieslings of Alsace and Germany, chenin blancs of the Loire Valley — often see no oak and damned little malolactic.

Some of my favorite producers of chardonnay in California are Cakebread, Grgich Hills, Oakville Ranch, Hendry, Nickel & Nickel, Morgan, Smith-Madrone, Truchard, Chalone, Landmark and Ridge, all of which manage oak very carefully, tailoring the proportion of new to used barrels to the vintage and the vineyard instead of blindly adhering to a set regime. Now the situation is not a matter of tit for tat; one cannot say literally that one winery’s chardonnay is over-oaked because this amount of new oak was used for a certain number of months and another’s isn’t because a lesser amount of new oak was used for a shorter aging period; it’s not that simple. Yet oak (and malolactic) make a difference, and to my palate a huge difference, between wines that reflect the purity and character of the chardonnay grape and those that turn chardonnay into a Frankenstein monster manipulated into being in the laboratory of the winery.

Image #1, courtesy of pro.corbis.com.
Image #2, courtesy of crafty-owl.com.
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All right, here are links to reviews of chardonnays (under $50) that I thought were extra-terrific, posted on BTYH within the past year: Louis Latour Chassagne-Montrachet 2006 ($46); Louis Latour Viré-Clessé 2006, Maconnais ($18); Louis Jadot Saint-Vèran Domaine de la Chapelle aux Loups 2006 ($19); Domaine Faiveley Mercurey “Clos Rochette” 2006 ($34); Capel Vale Chardonnay 2007, Margaret River, Western Australia ($22); Gundlach-Bundschu Chardonnay 2006, Sonoma Valley ($25); Nickel & Nickel Medina Vineyard Chardonnay 2006, Russian River Valley ($45); Oakville Ranch Chardonnay 2006, Napa Valley ($46); Truchard Chardonnay 2006, Napa-Carneros ($30); Landmark Damaris Reserve Chardonnay 2005, Carneros ($35); The Lane “Beginning” Chardonnay 2005; Adelaide Hills, Australia ($45); Picket Fence Chardonnay 2006, Russian River Valley ($20).
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And here are new reviews of 18 chardonnays from California that I tried over the past six months, with the preponderance in the last two weeks. The order is alphabetical, not hierarchical. Several are ideals; several are “Yuck!” wines; most fall in between.
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Cuvaison Chardonnay 2007, Napa Valley-Carneros. Medium gold color; green apple and peach, pineapple and grapefruit in the nose with touches of woody spice; very dry, good balance between spareness and opulence, pineapple and grapefruit flavors with hints of pear and honeydew; more oak comes up on the finish and more dried spice but leavened by penetrating minerality. Neither the press material that came with this wine (and the next) nor the winery’s website indicate how much oak is embodied in these wines. Suffice to say that this “regular” bottling of Cuvaison’s Napa-Carneros chardonnay is more integrated than the following example. The alcohol content is 14.2 percent. This rates Excellent. About $24.
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Cuvaison S Block Chardonnay 2006, Napa Valley-Carneros. To my palate, this chardonnay is a disaster. Way over-wrought, almost hysterical with oak. All smoke and toast and roasted marshmallow and strident spice. Fruit? Forget it. Alcohol content is 14.5 percent. Avoid. About $36.
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Cycles Gladiator Chardonnay 2006, Central Coast. Surprisingly complicated for the price, with enticing notes of orange zest, dried spice and white, waxy flowers; this is rich and spicy in the mouth, with lightly buttered and roasted grapefruit and pineapple flavors and deftly balanced acidity and mineral qualities for structure and backbone. 60 percent oak, 40 percent stainless steel. Alcohol content is 13.5 percent. Very Good and a Bargain at about $10. Frankly, I would rather drink this cheapo chard than many of the expensive, over-elaborated examples mentioned on this page.
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Normally, readers — though which of us would define normal? — I would not select as Wine of the Week a product that costs $30 a bottle. I try not to go over $25 and usually make an attempt to keep the price under $20. If, however, I were to tell you that this 30 buckeroos would buy you what is perhaps the finest rosé wine you will ever drink, would you be tempted? I hope so.

The Domaine de la Mordorée — the word means “woodcock” — is a meticulously run property that produces Cotes-du-Rhone and Chateauneuf-du-Pape and the wine in question, the Domaine de la Mordorée Rosé 2008, from Tavel. The blend of grapes is what one would expect from a Cotes-du-Rhone or Cotes-du-Rhone Villages: 60 percent grenache, 20 percent syrah, 10 percent cinsault and 10 percent clairette, a white grape not of much account itself but often blended in small quantities into the red wines of the southern Rhone, Provence and Languedoc.

The color is what LL called “red tourmaline,” which to my eye appeared to be a sort of rosy-pink-light cherry hue with no copper or peach; this is pure radiance. The nose? Strawberry and raspberry with undertones of red currant and plum. Flavors encompass red currant with melon and dried red fruit and hints of dried thyme; a few minutes in the glass bring in some spice, an intriguing touch of Red Hots, a note of wild berry and heaps of limestone in the finish. Most roses can’t approach the Domaine de la Mordorée in terms of substance and style; it’s bone-dry, of course, yet ripe and seductive, deftly balanced between crisp, mouth-watering acidity and a silky texture. This should drink well through the end of 2010. Excellent. About — as I said — $30.

On Saturday for lunch, LL made some open-face ham sandwiches with black olive pesto and put some potato salad and white bean salad on each plate. This rosé was perfect with that sort of luncheon, picnic-type fare. Sunday afternoon, we finished the bottle sitting on the back porch. Again, perfection.

Imported by Kysela Pere et Fils, Winchester, Va.

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(Lord have mercy, readers, this is my 400th post on BTYH since the launch in December, 2006!)

2006? That’s right, and I was a little hesitant to order a Gavi from ’06, which in the lifespan of most Gavi wines is ancient history. The reputation of a producer, however, often tells us a lot about a wine’s potential quality.

The cortese grape, found principally in Piedmont, is one in which reasonable people put not a huge amount of hope but which in the right hands is capable of making a clean, refreshing, spicy white wine. This example from Pio Cesare surprised me by being not only wonderfully fresh, clean and attractive, but rich and ripe with scents and flavors of lemon in all its aspects buoyed by touches of pear and green apple. Enlivened by bright acidity and a scintillating mineral element, the wine felt compulsively drinkable, so much so that our table ordered a second bottle, which proved to be even better than the first. The second bottle added more minerals to the package, some nutty and floral hints and an unexpected wash of a rooty, moss-like tea and a flavor of green plum. The current release for this wine in 2007, but there seems to be plenty of the ’06 in the market. Very Good+ and just a hair away from Excellent. This was $34 on a restaurant wine list. Suggested retail is $19. I have seen it on the Internet priced from a compelling $17 to an outlandish $25.

Imported by Maisons Marques & Domaines, Oakland, Cal.

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… that Smith-Madrone made only 378 cases of its Riesling 2007, from the Spring Mountain District of Napa Valley. Smith-Madrone’s is a legendary California riesling, along with rieslings from Trefethen, Navarro and a few other producers.

Last night, LL brought to the dinner table filets of salmon (coated with gray sea-salt and thyme), a white bean and carrot salad and sauteed Swiss chard, while, for my part, I opened a bottle of the Smith-Madrone Riesling 2007. This is a wine that breathes the essence of crystalline clarity and purity, of perfect balance and poise. A pale straw color, the wine opens with scents of lychee and camellia, with back-notes of pear and peach and a hint of the grape’s requisite petrol-ish element. Sheaves of delicacies are strung on a wire of electrifying acidity that keeps the wine virtuous and vibrant without breaking the aura of subtlety and nuance. Mildly spiced and roasted lemon dominates citrus flavors imbued with a tinge of melon; the wine’s texture serves as an exemplar of how tautness and crispness may seamlessly coexist with juicy flavors and moderate lushness. Along with a tremendous wash of limestone minerality in the finish, the wine brings in a final fillip of lime zest and orange rind. Drink (well-stored) through 2012 to ’15. Exceptional. About $25.

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The port houses represent bastions of tradition in an ever-changing world of wine production, yet innovation is occurring here and there. Fonseca, founded in 1822, just issued its Terra Bella Reserve Porto, a completely organic port in the sense that not only was the base wine made from certified organic grapes but the neutral spirit that stops fermentation and makes the port a sweet fortified wine is also organic. The product is certified by the USDA National Organic Program as well as the European Ecocert.

“Reserve Porto” is the term now employed for what used to be the “Ruby” category, that is, young ports sufficiently aged, in this case in oak vats (not small barrels), so that they’re ready to be consumed when they are released.

The Fonseca Terra Bella is a knock-out, a heady, intense seductive port — colored dark purple tending unto black — that fills the mouth and soothes the soul. Grapey aromas of ripe black currents, blackberries and plums are permeated by dried herbs, fennel and anise, cocoa powder, dust and minerals. The wine is dense and thick, luscious and chewy, deeply rooted in spicy wood, in juicy black fruit flavors tinged with lavender and licorice and a hint of orange rind, all of this given a serious edge by a chastening element of mineral-laced earthiness that turns the port’s initial sweetness into a finish that’s almost formidably dry, while the feral grip of charging acidity enlivens the entire package. What a performance! Excellent. About $20 to $23.

Imported by Kobrand Corporation, Purchase, N.Y.

We sipped the Fonseca Terra Bella Reserve Porto with a new — new to us — chocolate bar from Vosges Haut-Chocolat, the “Black Pearl Bar,” a combination of 55 percent cacao dark chocolate with wasabi, ginger and black sesame seeds, an amazing concoction that replaces out previous favorite Vosges offering, the “Red Fire Bar,” which brings together 55 percent cacao dark chocolate with ancho and chipotle chilies and Ceylonese cinnamon (and hasn’t Ceylon been Sri Lanka since 1972?). I wrote about tasting a range of Vosges chocolate bars with a variety of red wines last April; you can read that report here.

The Black Pearl Bar isn’t startling, as some of the other Vosges “Exotic Bars” are; the wreathing of the wasabi and ginger and black sesame seeds is subtle, robed in the suppleness of the rich, dry, slightly bitter chocolate. The black sesame seeds provide a slight nutty crunch, while the wasabi and ginger emphasize the bar’s touch of green, woody Asian spiciness. Yum, and superb with the Fonseca Terra Bella Reserve Porto, which seemed to bring out the chocolate bar’s dimensions while enriching itself with the chocolate. A great experience. Vosges “Exotic Bars” sell for about $7 for three ounces.

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This pleasing duo comes from the inexpensive Elsa label of Valentin Bianchi, in the San Rafael area of Argentina’s Mendoza region.

Made all in stainless steel, the incredibly fresh and attractive Elsa Torrontes 2008 bursts with notes of honeysuckle and jasmine, lime and limestone, lemon curd and dusty orange rind. In the mouth, ripe and juicy lemon and grapefruit flavors are permeated by dried thyme and tarragon, smoke and minerals. The wine is quite dry, vibrant with crisp acidity, nicely balanced between a sense of spareness and moderate lushness; a bit of time in the glass adds to its richness and palatability. A lovely quaff for drinking through the end of 2009. Very Good+

(The label on the image is 2007; the wine under review is indeed 2008.)

A hint of oak gives the Elsa Malbec 2008 a degree of suppleness and a background of spice. The wine is luscious and flavorful, deep with ripe black currant, black cherry and plum flavors highlighted by touches of wild berry, dried flowers, smoke and leather. Drink through 2010 with burgers, pizzas, hearty pastas and pork tenderloin. Very good.

These wines are priced at about $9, making them (especially the Torrontes) Great Bargains. They are closed with screw-caps for easy opening.

The importer is Quintessential, Napa, Cal.

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We don’t typically celebrate Easter or mount a special meal for the occasion, but some friends suggested that we collaborate on a dinner, so after a bit of discussion and investigating, we agreed and settled on a menu. There would be three couples and a child. The menu: ham; sweet potatoes with apples and a maple glaze; roasted fingerling potatoes with tea-marinated black figs, thyme and garlic; asparagus with lemon and Parmesan cheese; cornbread; and for dessert a cake that was supposed to look like a lamb but that didn’t quite work out, though of course we ate it anyway. LL and I prepared the cornbread and fingerling potatoes; another couple — parents of the charming and precocious six-year-old Gia — brought the incredibly tender, sweet-glazed spiral-cut ham; and the host couple did the sweet potatoes and the, um, cake.

With ham, I immediately thought of the fresh appeal of rosé and riesling wines, so I took to the dinner a bottle of the Belle Glos “Oiel de Perdrix” Pinot Noir Blanc 2007, Yorkville Highlands, Mendocino County, and the Pierre Sparr Reserve Riesling 2007, from Alsace. One advantage to these selections is their modest and manageable alcohol content, 12.8 percent for the rose and 12.5 percent for the riesling.
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“Eye of the Partridge” in the case of the Belle Glos Pinot Noir Blanc 2007 translates to a lovely peach-melon hue. That theme continues with scents of peach and melon permeated by pear and a hint of ripe red currant. Flavors are more red than pale (and a little spicy), as in red current with a touch of raspberry. The wine is spare, minerally, even a touch attenuated at first, though it gains weight and substance in the glass. Quite enjoyable (and good with the dinner), though I look forward to the release of the 2008 version as perhaps more lively with acidity and vigor. Still, I’ll rate it Very Good+. About $25.

I’ll repeat what I have said about the presentation of this wine, and their other highly-rated pinot noirs. Belle Glos, a partner winery of Caymus, would do everyone a favor by abandoning the drape of wax-like plastic the covers the top and neck of the bottle. The material is, first, unsightly, and, second, very difficult to penetrate. Any method you use to try and open a bottle results in pink shards scattered over the table. A wine intended for immediate and pleasurable consumption should be more accessible.

The label image here is the 2006; the wine under review is 2007.
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No caveats whatever about the Pierre Sparr Reserve Riesling 2007. This is a marvelous wine, fresh, crisp, energetic, yet composed of strains, threads and layers of deft and elegant delicacies. Classic aromas of rose petals, pear, lychee and the requisite rubber eraser (some call it petrol), with a background of exotic spice, are enticing. In the mouth, the wine is almost electric with acidity; it’s very dry, spare and supple, delicious with roasted lemon, pear and peach flavors. As a few minutes pass, it unfolds scents of jasmine and honeysuckle, while a wash of limestone-like minerality completes the finish. This was great with the Easter dinner, nicely bridging the different flavors and the contrasting elements of sweet and savory. Drink through 2012 to ’14. Excellent. About $20 to $23, though I have seen this wine discounted as low as $17.

Imported by W.J. Deutsch & Sons, White Plains, N.Y.

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