June 2009


No, that’s not the title of a two-person law firm.

Despite the fact that it’s hot as blazes in this neck o’ the woods, I decided to grill hamburgers outdoors last night to pair with the Rancho Zabaco Sonoma Heritage Vines Zinfandel 2007 that I was presenting to an online wine tasting. The joke — haha! — was on me though, because I discovered at the last possible frantic, hectic moment …… that we were out of charcoal. Well, O.K., there’s nothing wrong with a burger fried in a cast-iron skillet. What you lose in smokiness, you gain in richness and flavor derived from sizzling olive oil and a few drops of bacon fat. Vegan spoiler alert: There’s a lot of meat in this meal.

I followed, pretty much, a recipe for “Steakhouse Burgers” in the Summer 2009 issue of Cook’s Illustrated devoted to grilling. The article calls for ground beef that is 85 to 90 percent lean; I bought ground sirloin that was 95 percent lean. You add the fat back to the burger though three tablespoons of bacon fat; use the fried bacon on the burger, if you wish. For binder, you soak two slices of white bread in a quarter-cup of milk and mash it into a paste. Combine the meat (one and a half pounds), the bacon fat, the bread-and-milk paste, salt, pepper and three cloves of minced garlic and shape into four fairly large patties.

The result was probably the best, the juiciest, the most flavorful hamburger I have even eaten, though LL, while conceding that the burger was delicious, thought that the texture was too smooth.

The Rancho Zabaco Sonoma Heritage Vines Zinfandel 2007 is a blend, we are told, of 90.4 percent zinfandel, 6.1 percent petite sirah and 2.5 percent syrah, and if the quick-witted among my readers instantly perceive that those figures total 99 percent, I won’t contradict you. The opposite of a blockbuster zin, this is smooth and sleek but with plenty of substance and structure, the smoothness a little roughened, as if it had been stroked a few times with sandpaper; it’s a pleasing sensation. The bouquet is a seductive amalgam of black currants and black cherry, smoke and spice, briers and brambles. The wine is quite dry yet juicy (but not “jammy”), that lusciousness balanced by polished oak and soft, chewy tannins and the essential point of lively acidity. The finish brings in strains of minerality and clean earthiness, along with a late burgeoning of spice. Terrific with our burgers, this would be a satisfying wine with all sorts of grilled meat dishes, full-flavored pastas and Mexican fare. Very Good+. About $15, marking a Great Value.

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Here it is, friends, the ultimate cheese toast, the baroque-est of the baroque, the heartiest of the hearty, the manliest of men. What you have here are pieces of FK’s homemade bread slathered with another of our new favorite condiments, Bone Suckin’ Mustard — motto: “We’re Talkin’ Serious” — distributed by Ford’s Foods in Raleigh, N.C.; topped with diced tasso, a ham that directs its feet to the spicy side of the street; further topped with a few slices of Roma tomato. Rummaging through the fridge, I found, in a box of take-out whatever, some slivers of roasted red and yellow pepper, which I requisitioned. I shaved cheddar cheese, Gruyere, a mystery cheese from which the label had fled, and after arranging those, of course I grated some Parmesan. Finally, a dusting of our other new favorite condiment, Urfa Pepper from Turkey. More about that anon.* Run those babies under the broiler until the cheese gets all melty and crusty. Woo-hoo, readers, these cheese toasts were flat-out, freakin’ great!

The wine? It certainly needed to be hearty and manly to match this over-the-top version of cheese toast, so I chose the Diseño Malbec 2007, from Argentina’s Mendoza region. The nose is all briers and brambles, roots and moss, earth and minerals, with hints of blackberry, black currant and wild berry. It’s tremendously spicy, packed with dried fruit, fruit cake, oolong tea and orange zest, with touches of intense and concentrated black fruit flavors. Chewy tannins and polished oak lend framing and foundation. A good choice with burgers and steaks and full-flavored red sauce pastas — as well as Terminator Supreme cheese toast. Very Good. About $13, Good Value. I have seen this wine discounted as low as $9, though at winechateau.com, the “regular” price is listed as $18.89, but the “sale” price is $13.79. Caveat emptor, indeed!
Imported by International Cellars, Gonzales, Cal.

*Urfa biber is a red pepper grown around the ancient city of Urfa in southeast Turkey. Almost black in color, the peppers are sun-dried during the day and tightly wrapped and sweated at night to concentrate the deep, earthy, meaty, raisiny flavor. Urfa pepper flakes are spicy hot — say a bit hotter than medium –but more intense than merely mouth-burning. We got out little jar from Zingerman’s mail order website and we use the stuff on everything, from cheese toast to tuna.

Jean Hugel died a week ago today, at the age of 84. As the head of an estate in Alsace that dates back to 1639, Johnny Hugel, as he was called, helped lead a renaissance in Alsace after World War II, advocating, indeed working earnestly for the creation of a Grand Cru program based on vineyard quality and on a classification system for the region’s sweet wines.

Coincidentally, last week I came across a small cache of wines from Alsace in a friend’s closet, where they, among other bottles, had been resting, right there on the floor. Vintages ranged from 2001 to 1998. I brought home a few to try and was not only mainly gratified with the results but, with a couple of wines, actually stunned.

On Thursday, I opened three of the bottles, starting with the Hugel “Hugel” Gewurztraminer 2001. This was a few hours before I learned that the patriarch of the Hugel family and its centuries-old estate had died.
Here are my notes on the first three wines:

>Hugel “Hugel” Gewurztraminer 2001. Medium straw-gold color; rich, spicy, honeyed bouquet, green apple, peach and pear, lychee and mango, touch of honeysuckle; round and flavorful,
stone-fruit, quince, achingly dry, electric with crisp acidity; a model of purity and intensity, beautifully structured; mid-palate, minerally races like a tide, layers of shale and limestone. A revelation. Great winemaking. Drink through 2010 or ’11. Excellent.
Imported by Frederick Wildman & Sons, New York.

>Jean-Baptiste Adam Reserve Riesling 2000. Radiant medium gold color; nose a little funky, a little ashy, some pear and peach, hint of petrol; pulls together nicely, solid structure and length, acidity could do a better job here; tremendous minerality. Lacking in the middle, a bit of a void. Enjoyable, but doesn’t quite hold up. Very Good.
Imported by Chapin cellars, Springfield, Va.

>Domaine Barmes Buecher Rosenberg de Wettolsheim Pinot Blanc 2000. Radiant pure gold color; LHM, what a nose! green apple, peach compote, spiced pear, smoke; mouth-filling, very dry, acidity so resonant that it’s almost visible; baked apple and lemon balm, stone fruit, yellow plum; backnotes of ginger and cloves; formidable minerality. A brilliant wine. Excellent, close to Exceptional. Remember, this bottle was not stored in a wine cellar but in an ordinary closet; if you have any of the wine in a cellar, you’re lucky indeed. Drink (well-stored) through 2012 to ’15.
North Berkeley Imports, Berkeley, Cal.
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I opened the next trio of wines from Alsace yesterday; the results were not as pleasing, but, after all, this is an exercise not merely in trying some older wines — these were all from 1998 — but older wines stored in far from perfect circumstances. The lesson is: If the bottom of a coat closet is the coolest place in your house, keep wine there, by all means, but don’t keep it too long.

>Trimbach Pinot Blanc 1998. The Trimbach family has been making wine in Alsace since 1626, even before the Hugels. This brassy-gold example, however, was around the bend, displaying petrol, caramel and treacle, limp acidity and general tiredness.
Imported by Seagram Chateau & Estate Wines (now Diageo Chateau & Estate Wines), New York.

>Domaines Schlumberger Pinot Blanc 1998. Medium gold with slight green highlights; fairly clean and fresh, yellow plum, pear and quince; losing body and tone, but acidity still crisp and vibrant; touch of spice; not bad, but certainly drink quickly. Very Good.
Imported by Maison Marques & Domaines USA, Oakland, Cal.

>Kientzler Riesling 1998. Bright yellow gold; roasted peach and pear, ginger, orange marmalade; quite dry, in a way that drains energy from stone fruit flavors, still, pretty tasty; not much vibrancy or resonance, clearly at the end of its days, yet not undrinkable, even enjoyable. Very Good.
World Wine Imports Inc., Atlanta.
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Image of Jean Hugel courtesy of hugel.com.
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LL was working on dinner last night — the subject of a subsequent post — and said, “You know, I really feel like a gin and tonic, but I don’t think we have any tonic water.”

I said, “You’re right, we do not.”

And she said, “Do we still have any of those French sodas?”

She was referring to the Lorina sparkling lemonades that come in different flavors. We keep a few bottles on hand for guests who don’t drink alcoholic beverages. They’re quite pleasant in a mildly effervescent, delicately fruity, slightly sweet manner.

“I think so,” I said, and went to check the drinks refrigerator, where I found a bottle of Lorina Sparkling French Berry Lemonade.

“O.K.,” I said, “let’s see what we can do with this.”

I filled a tall glass with ice, poured in some of the pale pink, fizzy berry-lemonade and added a couple of caps-worth of Amsterdam gin. LL had just squeezed a lime for a cucumber-lime salsa, and she said, “Put a little lime juice in. It probably could use the tartness.” So I did that and also dropped in a couple of pieces of lime peel.

Voila! A very tasty, refreshing and uncomplicated cocktail, light, pretty to look at and easy to drink.

Now — what shall we call it?

Snatch the grilled shrimp from the grill or, quite differently, chow down on a refreshing Vietnamese seaweed salad or a platter of spring rolls, and to accompany these dishes, twist open a bottle of d’Arenberg “The Stump Jump” Verdelho 2008, McLaren Vale. Fourth-generation winemaker Chester Osborn continues to exercise his talents as one of the most ingenious winemakers in Australia; this bottle is a delightful illustration of what he accomplishes with an interesting grape at the low end of the price scale.

Verdelho was once an important grape in the production of Madeira, but it is rarely found on the island now. Instead, it has, since the mid-19th Century, found a home in Australia, producing crisp, spicy white wines.

The d’Arenberg “The Stump Jump” — the nickname refers to a type of plow — Verdelho 2008 is delicate and attractive, with aromas of pink grapefruit, honeydew melon and pear wreathed with scents of jasmine and honeysuckle. Flavors of yellow plum and roasted peach are nestled in a texture that balances moderate lushness with tingling acidity. As a few moments pass, the aromas and flavors gain intensity and resonance, and the floral and spicy elements increase; the wine’s mineral quality comes to the fore, adding weight, depth and a hint of astringency to the finish. Fifty percent of the wine aged six months in seasoned, that is, used, oak casks (not French barriques), contributing to the wine’s spicy and slightly smoky nature. In short, this wine begins in a simple and fairly lighthearted manner, but fills out and gains some measure of character and complexity, without, however, losing its footing in pure delightful deliciousness. Very Good+. About $11, a Phenomenal Bargain.

Imported by Old Bridge Cellars, Napa, Cal.

Pim Techamuanvivit, producer and writer of the popular food blog Chez Pim, startled the blogging world last week by announcing that she was “partnering” with Rachel’s to promote or endorse a new line of cottage cheese and yogurt. Pim told Kim Severson (for whom she declined to name the amount of money involved), on The New York Times food blog: “It’s a great relationship between blogging and branding … This is a business now.”

Comments from Pim’s readers are overwhelmingly positive, of the “You go, girl!” and “Can’t wait to try the honey-plum-lavender!” type. Response on The New York Times blog is more measured, with some readers saying that Pim is (as she says herself) a brand so why shouldn’t she endorse a product “she believes in” the way athletes endorse shoes, to others who assert that she is a complete sell-out to capitalism and can never be trusted again.

If you read back through the archives of Chez Pim, you will realize that Pim’s appeal is to other foodies or wannabe foodies who are mainly (the responses seem to indicate) young and female. She is an entrepreneur whose product is herself, and her readers not only like her but are devoted to her.

One should not be alarmed that by endorsing Rachel’s yogurt and cottage cheese Pim is violating any code of journalist ethics because she isn’t a journalist; she’s a personality who writes about food and restaurants, that is to say, the food she eats and the restaurants to which she goes, from a stance that is completely uncritical and unskeptical. She does not review food products from a critical distance, and she does not review restaurants. As she notes, in a post on July 21, 2006, when she and her boyfriend trek to Etxebarri, a famous all-grill restaurant in the Basque village of Axpe, “As is our custom, instead of ordering from the menu, we asked the kitchen to do a tasting menu for us.” That may be their custom, but it is not the practice of a journalist or reviewer. (For objective reviews of the Rachel’s “Exotic” and “Essence” yogurts, see this page at nibble.com.)

Were it not for the fact that Pim is a roaring success — she has a book coming out too — she would be very difficult to take seriously. Pim writes in an annoyingly breathless and gaga style, including using words like “bestest,” and her posts are filled with misspellings and typographical slips. (Everybody needs an editor, Pim, even you and me.) She blithely skates across the surface of food and restaurant issues and concerns while providing her readers with recipes for chocolate chip cookies and dark chocolate hazelnut bites. On the other hand, as one comment on The New York Times blog points out, Pim never said that she was doing Consumer Reports.

Rachel’s, by the way, is a product line of White Wave Foods, a division of international diary megalith Dean Foods.

If Pim’s readers clearly don’t give a damn that she endorses a product, makes some moolah and increases her visibility, I don’t think that we shouldn’t either. As I said, she’s not a journalist or a critic; she’s a personality. Would we care if Perez Hilton endorsed Rachel’s cottage cheese or, say, a line of mascara? Of course not, but we wouldn’t want Matt Drudge doing it — well, maybe the mascara — because he is a journalist, or bears some resemblance to one. The Drudge Report does carry advertising, but that’s not the same thing as an endorsement. A Walmart banner ad at the top of TDR’s home page is a sign of an equation: “I give you money = You give me space.” It doesn’t mean that Matt Drudge is standing up and saying, “Personally I shop at Walmart because I love the prices and the pathetic old geezers who greet you at the door!”

The Chez Pim brouhaha in a demitasse serves a purpose, though, and that is bringing to the tea-table the issue that gives many involved in (to be specific) wine-blogging the heebie-jeebies, and that’s The Whole Ethics Thing. Indeed, the conjunction of those loaded “B” words — blogging, branding and business — tends to sow dragon’s teeth into a fertile field where the giants called Conflicts of Interest spring forth, or may be perceived to do so.

Obviously, wine-bloggers who engage in serious critical reviews of wine and commentary about the wine industry should never endorse a product. Giving a wine a good review, incidentally, is not the same as an endorsement of the wine, just as a rave review of a book is not an endorsement of the book. One may receive bottles of wine as samples but without the obligation to write about the wine and with no guarantee about the outcome if you do; those conditions need to be made clear to producers and importers who send wine to bloggers, either by practice or in a statement on the blog’s home page.

Recently, for example, a publicist sent me an email saying that he or she wanted to send me two limited edition wines on the condition that I would include, in whatever I wrote, the high score one of the wines had recently received in The Wine Enthusiast. I said that no, I would not accept wines that came with any conditions whatsoever, and that if I reviewed the wines it would only be on my terms. And of course they apologized and said that no, of course, they had not intended such a condition and so on. Bloggers, you must not allow your skepticism and objectivity to drop for one moment.

Even the notion of receiving samples of wine makes some bloggers nervous, but I think the uneasiness is misplaced. With the exceptions of The Wine Advocate, whose well-known publisher and chief writer Robert M. Parker Jr. has managed from the beginning to fund his wine-tasting, and Eric Asimov’s New York Times wine blog, The Pour, most publications, web-sites and blogs that review wine would not exist without samples, just as newspapers and other journals and blogs that review books (to extend the analogy) would not get the job done without the review copies that publishers sent out by the box-load. I promise that the book reviewers for the nation’s Sunday book sections spend not a single sleepless night worrying that the novel they reviewed that day came as a free copy from Doubleday. It’s part of the process, not a quid pro quo balancing act.

And bloggers, you’re not special, so don’t act so damned grateful, when you do get samples; the cost of sending wine to writers is written into the budget of every producer and importer. Acting as if you’ve had a gift bestowed upon you — yes, I’ve seen you do this — only contributes to the amateurism of the wine-blogging sphere.

Let’s face it, most blogs (of any kind) are neither businesses nor brands, the exceptions, in the wine area, possibly being the highly visible and always active Dr. Vino, Vinography, Good Wine Under $20 and The Pour. The rest of us labor on, sans real advertising or book deals, wishing we had the numbers and the clout to draw advertising inquiries. Of course lines have to be drawn here too. Wine blogs should not carry ads from wineries, producers, importers or distributors, that is, from entities that deal with specific wines. Alternatives would be advertising from retail stores, Internet wine sellers or wine events; restaurants, hotels and the hospitality business in general; or any enterprise that seems reasonable and would not present a conflict of interest, though the entire issue may be merely of academic interest until wine blogs find more of a national presence.

So, fellow wine-bloggers, don’t be jealous of Pim Techamuanvivit because her blog is immensely more popular than yours and she makes a hell of a lot more money by blogging than you do. You and she exist in parallel universes, and while she inhabits the glamorous food circles of New York and goes to parties all the time and hobnobs with celebrities and travels all over the place, thank your lucky stars that you don’t have to do that.

O.K., be a little jealous.

Top image from chezpim.com.
Second image from nibble.com.
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What do you do when fava beans are in season? (And we are getting to the end of the season for fresh favas.) Well, in our house you make fava risotto, which LL did Sunday night, from a recipe found in Chez Panisse Vegetables by Alice Waters (HarperCollins, 1996), which also uses green peas and tender asparagus tips for a true taste of Spring.

Vicia faba has been a mainstay of Mediterranean cuisine since ancient times. J.G. Vaughan and C.A. Geissler, in The New Oxford Book of Food Plants (Oxford University Press, 1997), report that the earliest archeological findings of the beans date to 6800-6500 B.C. in Israel, and that the plant apparently spread south along the Nile Valley to Ethiopia and eastward to northern India and China, which now, thousands of years later, produces 65 percent of the world’s crop.

Favas are as protected from harm as a Victorian damsel in her multiple foundation garments. First, the bean must be extracted from the long tough pod, which, depending on the species, holds six or eight beans. Once that is done, the bean must be stripped of its pale green skin, which grows increasingly bitter as the season progresses and the plants mature. Very young favas may be eaten with the skin on and in parts of Italy are consumed raw with sharp young cheese. Waters mentions that dried fava beans, which are usually available at Italian and Middle Eastern food-stores, may be soaked overnight, drained and dried and then fried crisp in olive oil; these are served with salt and lemon wedges, as a snack or appetizer.

Anyway, the risotto, for which one makes a fava puree, was wonderfully redolent and sweetly flavored with fresh and mild green vegetable earthiness. It was pretty too, dotted with peas and asparagus and garnished with shaved Parmesan.

I decided that night to try three Soave wines from one producer, and I can already hear you saying, “F.K., forget it, I’m closing up shop here and going to watch reruns of Gilmore Girls. I mean, don’t you know that the Soave region is overextended geographically and overcropped generally and that even the establishment of a DOCG in 2002 not only didn’t improve quality but complicated almost beyond comprehension the minutiae of label designations.”

Uh, well, yes, thank you, I did know that, and I know that reputable producers of Soave wines have a hard row to hoe, I guess literally and figuratively, in persuading American consumers that what they make bears little resemblance to the familiar swill — good name for a rock band — that emanates from the whorish alluvial plains instead of the rigorous hillside vineyards. One of these hard-working producers is I Stefanini, a small estate owned by the Tessari family since the 1950s. Vineyard manager is Valentino Tessari; winemaker is his son, Francesco. Production is about 2,500 cases annually of three levels of Soave: Il Selese is a basic Soave; Monte de Toni is Soave Classico; Monte di Fice is Soave Classico Superiore. Tessari father and son are particularly to be praised for raising the quality of Soave without resorting to oak barrels, the usual procedure in neglected or rising wine regions where producers throw oak at a wine to pump up its appeal to the so-called American palate. These wines see no oak and are all the better for it.

We tried Il Selese and Monte de Toni while cooking dinner, had the Monte di Fice with the risotto and then went back to try the others.

I Stefanini wines are imported by Domenico Selections, New York, and are, sadly, limited in distribution.
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I Stefanini “Il Selese” 2007, Soave, made completely in stainless steel and with 10 percent chardonnay blended with the typical garganega grapes, offers an enticing bouquet of stone fruit, yellow plums, lanolin and little waxy white flowers and a zap of spice. Flavors of roasted lemon and lemon curd unfurl hints of peach, spiced pear and dried herbs, and as the wine warms slightly in the glass, it becomes positively summery, with a whiff of meadow flowers and clean earth. All of these qualities are fused and fueled by vibrant acidity. A beguiling Soave for drinking through 2010. Very Good+, and a Bargain at $11 to $13.
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Made in stainless steel from 100 percent garganega grapes, I Stefanini “Monte de Toni” 2006, Soave Classico, manages that difficult feat of seeming intense and subtle simultaneously, and in that leap of craft and faith establishes itself as an entity that scarcely exists in the realm of other Soaves. Lovely in tone and character, seductive in texture and remarkably floral is this wine, and yet its dryness and brisk, almost clinging acidity take your palate by surprise, and its layers of dusty minerality announce a serious intention that fortunately does not belie its delicious flavors of spiced lemon and pear. A wonder. Drink (well-stored) through 2011 or ’12. Excellent, and a raving great value at $15 to $17.
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I Stefanini “Monte di Fice” 2006, Soave Classico Superiore, is a real mouthful of wine that exhibits the purity and intensity of which the garganega grape is capable, one element of which is, unexpectedly, elegance. Lemon in every aspect — fresh, lip-smacking lemon, roasted lemon, lemon curd and lemon drop — characterize aromas that are permeated by lanolin and white flowers (similar to its younger cousin, Il Selese, but more pronounced) and a prominent mineral quality. An amazing texture that’s almost powdery is enlivened by crisp acid, while a few minutes in the glass reveal notes of lavender, tarragon (for a slight herbaceous touch) and spiced peach. The wine is quite dry, earthy, enclosed in limestone, yet the finish is light, spare and thirst-quenching. Another terrific effort. Drink (well-stored) through 2011 or ’12. Excellent. About $20 to $22.
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Casting about at lunchtime for what to put on my cheese toast, I came across some leftover black bean and corn salsa and thought “Eureka!” And I would have said it in Spanish if I had known how. So, first I slid the bread into the toaster for a minute so it wouldn’t be too soft and get soggy and fall apart under the juiciness of the salsa. Then, I slathered the slightly toasted bread with mustard, dropped on some diced tomato, and spooned on the salsa. This I followed with shredded and grated Cheddar, Gruyere and Parmesan cheeses. Over these toppings, I sprinkled salt and pepper and some powdered chipotle. Because the cheeses were shredded or grated, under the heat of the broiler they melted into the salsa, as you can see in the accompanying image. Wow, all I needed was a mariachi band and a glass of wine!

Looking for the wine, I decided — defying all expectation! countermanding common sense! — to go with a crisp cool white, in this case the Mahoney Las Brises Vineyard Albariño 2007, Carneros, since, after all, the albariño grape is widely grown in Spain, where the population speaks Spanish, and in Portugal, where, well, they don’t. Anyway, my wine of choice is a light straw color and offers aromas of spiced lemon and peach with a hint of jasmine and a touch of dried herbs. Flavors of lemon balm and lemon verbena find support in zinging acidity and a bright mineral note, leading to a finish in which a bit of spicy, roasted pineapple seems swathed in meadowy hay and straw. A lovely wine, subtle and supple and highly drinkable, even with “Tex-Mex” cheese toast, though seafood dishes would be more logical. Production was 350 cases, so mark this wine Worth a Search. Excellent. About $18.

As food-friendly as a teenager after school, the Tapeña Tempranillo 2007, Vino de la Tierra de Castilla, hunkers right down with red meat pastas, pizza, steak and pork chops, shakes hands and stays awhile. Personally speaking, we had the wine with pizza two Saturdays ago. What was on that pizza? Tomatoes, pancetta pepata (peppered pancetta), bell pepper, green onions and mozzarella and Parmesan cheeses, accented with dried oregano, basil and marjoram.

If what you expect from an inexpensive tempranillo is a melding of leather and violets, black fruit scents and flavors highlighted by a dusty plum essence, briers and brambles, with a finish that brings in red currants, mossy tannins and a whiff of orange zest, all set in a texture that’s moderately dense and chewy, well, that’s exactly what you get here, and there’s not a damned thing wrong with that, if a wine is tasty and tempting. Enjoy 2010 or ’11. Very Good. About $10.

There’s also a Tapeña Garnacha 2007 that I found more generic and far less compelling that the Tempranillo.

Vino de la Tierra de …. (fill in the blank) is roughly equivalent to the French Vin de Pays system for Spanish regions in a holding pattern before being granted full Denominacion de Origin status, if they wish to apply. Tierra de Castille, smack in the middle of central Spain, was established in 1999; the area is planted to a staggering 1.5 million acres of vineyards. The climate is hot and arid, well-suited to hardy characters like Don Quixote and the tempranillo grape.

Imported by Freixenet USA, Sonoma, Cal.


Though June is only one week old, summertime is well upon us, so I offer today a roster of white wines designed to cool, to refresh, to quench, to accompany your lighter summer snacks and meals, your moments of relaxation on the porch or patio, at pool-side or on picnics. Life is no picnic, as they say — the economy lost another 345,000 jobs in May, and we’re supposed to be happy about that — but let’s try to make it as much of a pleasant outing as possible. The wines are listed by grape variety, with no attempt at order, class or hierarchy; it’s summertime, and life is too short.
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>Pinot Gris. The incredibly appealing Morgan R & D Franscioni Vineyard Pinot Gris 2008, Santa Lucia Highlands, offers aromas of green apple, roasted lemon and lemon curd with hints of jasmine and honeysuckle. A soft blur of oak — from four months in three-year-old French barrels — provides a lovely texture, deftly balanced between moderate lushness and crisp acidity, a fitting support to spicy pear, melon and lemon flavors that extend to a lively, slightly bitter grapefruit finish. The Morgan Franscioni Pinot Gris is consistently one of the best pinto gris wines in California, and the ’08 version does not disappoint. Excellent. About $17.
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>Sauvignon Blanc. Get ready for a knockout nose of roasted lemon, peach and mango from the Rodney Strong Charlotte’s Home Sauvignon Blanc 2007, Sonoma County, an exuberantly fashioned sauvignon blanc that avoids the kiwi-pea-grapefruit excesses of the prevalent New Zealand style. Nestled in a seductive texture that’s almost pillowy, while retaining crispness and vibrancy, delicious citrus flavors are highlighted by orange zest, leafy currant and a refreshing wash of limestone. Another perennial achiever; great with vegetable spring rolls and sushi. Very Good+, and Great Value at about $15.
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>Muscat. We were quite happy drinking a bottle of the Bonny Doon Ca’ del Solo Muscat 2008, Monterey County, with shrimp risotto. The wine, made from the producer’s biodynamically-farmed (if you care) Ca’ del Solo vineyard, is composed of 88 percent moscato giallo grapes and 12 percent louriero, the grape that in Portugal is made into Vinho Verde. The aromas are incredibly floral, encompassing honeysuckle and almond blossom and one of those mysterious, astringent little white flowers, which lends an air of spareness. Scents and flavors of peach and pear are coddled with dried spices; a slightly herbal aspect, like fresh pea shoots; and a touch of fig. This charming wine bears a texture that’s smooth and suave, almost viscous, and there are hints of petrol and grapefruit in the slightly astringent, stony finish. Delightful. Very Good+. About $18.
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>Riesling. Well, I felt as if I could eat the Ad Lib Wallflower Riesling 2008 with a spoon. This seductive riesling from Western Australia’s Mount Barker region bursts with apple, orange zest, lime and grapefruit, jasmine and honeysuckle and a touch of the grape’s requisite petrol or rubber eraser element. The wine radiates purity and intensity, scintillating acidity and resonant minerality, while flavors of citrus and peach with a hint of lychee are etched with hints of cloves and crystallized ginger. Despite this array of delights, the wine displays a high-toned sense of reticence emphasized by a finish that bristles with grapefruit and limestone. Excellent. About $17.
Imported by Vintage New World, Shandon, Cal.
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>Viognier. I realize that The Crusher label (from the Three Loose Screws division of Don Sebastiani & Sons) refers to the mechanical device that crushes grapes before they go into the fermentation tank, but you have to admit that the name conjures a super-hero out of a Marvel comic book (or movie). Extra-cultural considerations aside, the label is devoted to wines from California’s Clarksburg region, west of Sacramento. The Crusher Wilson Vineyard Viognier 2007, Clarksburg, opens with notes of macerated peach and spiced pear, with an overlay of guava, smoke, dried herbs and fennel. In the mouth, a keen edge of acidity slices through a slightly cushiony texture that bolsters roasted peach and lemon flavors heightened by a dry meadowy aspect. Bracing bitterness buoys the finish. Try with moderately spicy Southeast Asian cuisine. Very Good+, and well-worth about $13.
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>Semillon. I think of semillon as an underrated grape, being, for most producers, more handy for lending luster and glamor to sauvignon blanc than as a star on its own. So, I’m happy to go to bat for the Brokenwood Semillon 2008, Hunter Valley, New South Wales (a few hours drive north of Sydney), a 100-percent semillon wine made completely in stainless steel. In classic form, this wine displays leafy, figgy, nutty qualities that adorn scents and flavors of apple and ripe stone fruit that segue into green grapes with a touch of lychee. Lemon, lime and limestone — but no grapefruit — coincide with snappy acidity, while a few minutes in the glass bring up notes of almond blossom and orange zest. At 10 percent alcohol, this goes down very easily, but don’t think for a moment that it’s uncomplicated. We had this bottle with baked salmon wrapped in lemon slices and kale, a great pairing. Excellent. About $20.
The label illustration is from the previous vintage; it is the 2008 under review here.
Imported by Old Bridge Cellars, Napa, Cal.
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>Chenin Blanc. The chenin blanc grape receives its apotheosis in France’s Loire Valley, in dry, semi-dry and dessert wine manifestations. The Domaine Le Peu de la Moriette Vouvray 2007, made by the family-owned Domaine Pichot, is, yes, slightly sweet at the intake — don’t be afraid! — but by mid-palate feels bone-dry and indeed exhibits a touch of refreshing astringency on the finish. Beguiling aromas and flavors of slightly honeyed peach, pear and yellow plum are imbued with smoke, anise, lavender and a hint of flint. In the mouth, the wine is quite earthy and minerally yet displays a texture so delicate and finely woven that it’s gauze-like in lovely effect and appeal. The wine sees no new wood, resting six months in used 450-liter oak barrels, twice the size of the standard 225-liter barrel of Bordeaux or the 228-liter barrel of Burgundy; the point is that oak here provides shading and nuance rather than a direct woody, spicy influence. Drink with roasted or grilled fish, quenelles, blanquette de veau or as an aperitif with goat cheese. Excellent. About $19.
Imported by Vineyard Brands, Birmingham, Ala.
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>Chardonnay. Inexpensive and well-made chardonnays are about as easy to find as foie gras in a vegan’s refrigerator, but the Joseph Drouhin Mâcon-Villages 2007 comes through for us. It doesn’t hurt that ’07 is an excellent vintage in Burgundy, including the Mâconnais, which serves as a sort of southern appendix — one has to count the Chalonnais too — to Burgundy’s more majestic Cote d’Or to the north. Whatever the case, Drouhin’s Mâcon-Villages 2007 — made completely in stainless steel –reflects vintage, region and grape in its attractive spiced peach and pear bouquet that offers a sibilant whisper of spice and a bright nudge of pineapple; a few minutes in the glass unfold a hint of honeysuckle. In the mouth, the wine exhibits moderate richness and an almost creamy texture cut by the electric vibrancy of crisp acid and the sober scintillation of limestone, an element that really comes to the fore on the spare finish. A delightful chardonnay for serving with grilled fish and seafood pastas and risottos. Very Good+. About $14.50.
Imported by Dreyfus, Ashby & Co., New York.
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>Finally … let’s admit it: sometimes all we want to do is lie back in the sun — or shade, whatever your wont may be — put the feet up, relax and have a glass of quaffable wine we can knock back mindlessly and not bother our pretty little heads about, and I mean that only in the most positive sense. New Age White Wine, a non-vintage gulper from Valentin Bianchi, in Argentina’s Mendoza region, fills the bill handily. Made from sauvignon blanc and malvasia grapes, a 50/50 ratio, this young, fruity, spritzy sweetheart — fermentation is stopped early, so some residual carbonation and sugar remain — offers apple, apple and more apple with a hint of lemon, apple blossom and orange zest in a 9.5 percent alcohol package that gets the job done. Drop a slice of lime in the glass, and, baby, you’re good to go — or not go, that being the whole idea. Good+. About $10.
Imported by Quintessential, Napa, Cal.
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Picnic image from frenchrabbit.com.
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