December 2010


Last night LL made one of our favorite cool weather dishes, the roasted chicken with figs, garlic, thyme and bacon. Yes, it’s exactly as good as it sounds, and as we were chowing down, we kept stopping, each of us, and saying something like, “Holy shit, what a fabulous dish!” I wrote about this item previously, in October 2009; follow the link for a fuller description of the dish and how it’s made.

Anyway, to drink with this delight of savory and hearty flavor, I opened a bottle of the Niner Wine Estates Bootjack Ranch Merlot 2008, Paso Robles. which I’ll get to in the reviews further along.

The winery was founded in 2001 and is owned by Richard and Pam Niner. Richard Niner, a product of Princeton and Harvard Business School, spent 30 years investing and turning around small businesses before visiting San Luis Obispo County and deciding to get into the wine industry. He bought the Bootjack Ranch on the east side of Paso Robles in 1999; a later purchase was Heart Hill Vineyard, in the western reaches of Paso Robles, 12 miles from the ocean and often 10 degrees cooler than Bootjack. Chuck Ortman consulted for the first vintages produced by the winery; since 2004 winemaker has been Amanda Cramer.

These wines were samples for review.
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For a winery that concentrates on red wines, Niner turns out a splendid sauvignon blanc; in fact, along with the Merlot 2008 and Syrah ’06, the Niner Bootjack Ranch Sauvignon Blanc 2008, Paso Robles, was my favorite of this group of recently tasted wines from the producer. The color is very pale straw-gold. Aromas of roasted lemon, tangerine and grapefruit are imbued with notes of lemongrass, dried thyme and tarragon and a pungent element of gunflint and limestone; this is a bouquet I could sniff and contemplate for hours. The wine ages briefly in a combination of stainless steel barrels and once-used and neutral French oak, so the wood influence is subtle and supple, a soft blur and burr of dusty spice. In the mouth, the wine is taut with spanking acidity and clean limestone-backed minerality; pert flavors of lemon and grapefruit wrap around hints of meadow grass and leafy fig; the finish is long, lacy, spicy, chalky. A great sauvignon blanc for drinking through 2012. 14.3 percent alcohol. Production was 1,395 cases. Excellent. About $17, a Remarkable Value.
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The Niner Bootjack Ranch Merlot 2008, Paso Robles, is one of those rare merlots from California that asserts its individuality from under the mantle of cabernet sauvignon; that is to say, it smells and tastes like something other than cabernet. This polished beauty offers notes of blueberry, mulberry and cassis ensconced in graphite, cedar, lavender, thyme, pepper and black olive. The wine retains something untamed and plangent, high tones of wild berry and exotic spice, along with more typical black and red currant flavors bolstered by shale-like minerality and burnished oak from French and Hungarian barrels, one-third new. Tannins are finely-milled and plush, with just a trace of rigor and authentic austerity on the finish. This was terrific with our dish of roasted chicken, bacon, figs, garlic and thyme, with which we had roasted potatoes and sauteed chard. Now through 2013 or ’14. Alcohol content is 14.7 percent. Production was 908 cases. Excellent. About $24.
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The Niner Bootjack Ranch Sangiovese 2007, Paso Robles, is a curious matter in that it’s a thoroughly enjoyable wine, but it doesn’t have much to do with the character of the sangiovese grape. Actually, it behaved more like a well-made, non-blockbuster zinfandel. The color is deep ruby-red; the bouquet offers red and black currants, black cherries and touches of smoke, coffee and tobacco. Dense, grainy tannins, polished oak and vibrant acidity provide structure that’s firm and lively in its support of luscious black currant and cherry flavors. Now through 2012 or ’14. Production was 851 cases. 14.9 percent alcohol. Very Good+. About $24.
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I was, on the other hand, quite pleased with the Niner Bootjack Ranch Syrah 2006, Paso Robles, which I will call, as a matter of fact, one of the best renditions of the grape I have tasted from the Golden State. The color is deep ruby with a slight magenta/blue cast, an entrancing hue; the ripe, meaty, fleshy bouquet offers a rapt rendition of spiced and macerated red and black currants, blueberries and blackberries backed by black pepper, briers and brambles, smoke and moss, honed granite and slate, all seamlessly layered atop a foundation of clean loamy earth and a touch of wet dog funk. Yes, this is the real thing. At fours years old the wine is beautifully balanced and integrated, and while 16 months in small French and Hungarian barrels (one-third new) lend the wine a character of unassailable oak, added to dense, velvety tannins, broad and generously spiced black fruit flavors make this very drinkable, especially with such full-bodied fare as venison, pork chops and beef stew, now through 2005 or ’06. Production was 1,281 cases. 14.5 percent alcohol. Excellent. About $20, representing Great Value.
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My slight beef with the Niner Bootjack Ranch Cabernet Sauvignon 2006, Paso Robles, is a strain of vanilla that my palate and sensibility register as a flaw, if not a downright aberration; if vanilla is what you want, order a dish of crème brûlée. ANYWAY, this cabernet, like its merlot cousin fairly individual in style, is big, dense, furry, chewy, intense and concentrated; sleek, polished and honed; black currant and black cherry flavors are touched with wild berry, lavender and violets, licorice, smoke and potpourri, rhubarb and sandalwood; a few minutes in the glass bring out classic tones of cedar and tobacco.. The exoticism does not get out of hand, however, held firmly in check by keen acidity, heaps of granite-like minerality and tongue-swathing tannins. I sipped this with a strong Irish cheddar-style cheese, and it was perfect thus. Drink now, with a steak, through 2016 or ’17. Production was 2,294 cases. 14.3 percent alcohol. Excellent. About $28.
____________________________________________________________________________________________________________________ I’m sorry to say that my reaction to the Niner Fog Catcher 2005, Paso Robles, was not ecstatic, though the wine, a blend of 65 percent cabernet sauvignon, 25 percent cabernet franc and 10 percent merlot, is well-knit, impeccably balanced and integrated, smooth and mellow, enjoyable, with classic notes of smoky cedar, fruit cake and spice cake, brandied black cherries, honed shale and so forth. It’s just not very exciting; it doesn’t offer that edgy poise between power and elegance, dynamism and transparent austerity that great cabernet-blend wines should possess. Plenty of pleasing personality here but not enough character; a wine at this price should not be so easy. 550 cases. 14.1 percent alcohol. Very Good+. About $58.
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We’ve been tasting and drinking quite a few vigorous and rigorous cabernet sauvignon wines from California, even if they didn’t necessarily make a good match with what we were eating, so for Saturday night’s pizza — pepper-cured bacon, roasted tomatoes, shiitake mushrooms. goat cheese — I went in the direction of something more simple, more direct and more appropriate. That turned out to be The Climber Red Wine 2009, a blend of zinfandel (63%), cabernet sauvignon (21%), syrah (12%), petite sirah (2%) and merlot (2%), the sort of fruitful melange you’re likely to see nowhere but in California. The Climber label comes from the people that started the Clif Bar company in 1992. While the winery and farm are in Napa Valley, the grapes for the Climber 2009 came from Mendocino and Lodi; the wine carries a California designation. So, what’s here? A robust, ripe and vibrant red wine that’s packed with fleshy, meaty blackberry, black currant and plum flavors deeply permeated by spice, black pepper, briers and brambles and soft, cushiony tannins that float over the palate like a dusty cloud. This is a terrific pizza wine, though it would serve equally well with burgers, fajitas, pulled pork and other such hearty carnivore-targeted items. Winemakers are Sarah Gott and Bruce Regalia. 14.1 percent alcohol. Production was 3,500 cases. Closed with a screw-cap. Very Good+. About $12, a Great Bargain.

A sample for review.

We were introduced to sorrel soup by Justin Young, who was chef at the now closed La Tourelle (in Memphis) in the early 2000s. Not having had such a thing in years, we bought a pound of sorrel at the Memphis Farmers Market last Saturday — the market will not open again until April — and looked for a recipe, which we found in the essential Chez Panisse Vegetables by Alice Waters (HarperCollins, 1996).

Sorrel (Rumex acetosa) is a green leafy vegetable, accounted more as an herb that vegetable in some national cuisines, whose chief characteristic is a sour grassy character that derives from oxalic acid, which is fatally poisonous in large quantities. How large? Sources aren’t very specific about that point. More than a pound certainly. Perhaps a bale.

Anyway the issue that intrigued me was what wine to drink with sorrel soup. That notable sour quality, which possesses a hint of sweetness — LL likened it to pulling up a grass stem and sucking on the root, a memory from childhood — might be a challenge to any number of wines. (The sourness is leavened somewhat by the gentle stewing in chicken stock of diced potatoes, carrots and onions.) In the interest of research, I lined up five white wines, several of which seemed probable matches and at least one of which seemed doomed to failure by its very nature. These were the wines we tried: Domaine Ferret Pouilly-Fuissé 2008; Grinalda Vinho Verde 2009; Albert Mann Pinot Blanc 2008; Mendel Semillon 2009; Unus Old Vine Macabeo 2009. These wines were samples for review.
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Among this experiment’s surprises was how well, even how profoundly so, the Domaine Ferret Pouilly-Fuissé 2008 went with the sorrel soup. The domaine was founded in 1840; the Burgundian negociant Louis Jadot acquired the property in 2008. The wine is, of course, made completely from chardonnay grapes; it ages half-and-half in stainless steel tanks and oak barrels and sees no new oak. I had doubts about chardonnay pairing with the earthy sourness of the sorrel, but the wine’s purity and intensity, its crystalline acidity and minerality created a risky synergy that practically vibrated in our beings. The wine is a medium gold color; aromas of roasted lemon are permeated by ripe peach and pear, with traces of quince and ginger and a hint of camellia. Befitting its pedigree and reputation — “the Montrachet of Pouilly-Fuissé” — the wine delivers wonderful presence and body yet remains delicate, fleet and racy. Citrus flavors dominated by lemon with a touch of lime peel are deeply imbued with baking spices but even more with depths of limestone-like minerality and scintillating acidity. Drink now through 2014 or ’15 (well-stored). Alcohol content is 13.5 percent. Excellent. About $30.

Imported by Kobrand, New York.
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Let’s turn to the simplest of these wines, simplest yet definitely lively, tasty and appealing. This is Aveleda’s Grinalda Vinho Verde 2009, from the vast Vinho Verde region that stretches north from the seacoast town of Oporto to the river Minho and also east and southeast of Oporto. (You drive east through this area to reach the Port estates of the Douro Valley.) The wine is a blend of loureiro grapes (55%), trajaduras (32%) and alvarinho (13%). These “green wines” are fresh and vigorous and intended for early drinking. Made all in stainless steel, the clean, fresh Grinalda Vinho Verde 2009 bursts with scents and flavors of apples, pears and spiced lemons bolstered by heaps of earthy limestone and vivid acidity. There you have it, and you could not ask for anything more from such a fresh, delightful wine. Drink over the next six months. Alcohol content is 11.5 percent. Very Good+. About $14.

How did this match with the sorrel soup? It didn’t. The sourness of the sorrel washed right over it, tromped on it, obliterated it, left it for dead.

Imported by Winbow, New York.
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Let’s go back to France for the Albert Mann Pinot Blanc 2008, from Alsace. The estate is the result of the joining of two venerable grower families in Alsace, the Manns and the Barthelmes, each of which has been cultivating grapes since the first half of the 17th Century. The Albert Mann Pinot Blanc 2008 is absolutely lovely in every aspect. The color is bright, shimmering medium gold; aromas of apple and spiced pear, with a touch of leafy fig and orange rind, all founded on the dominent presence of limestone, balloon from the glass. The paradox of a texture that’s both suave and elegant, on the one hand, and nervy and crisp, on the other hand, contributes considerably to the wine’s charm and fascination. It’s quite lively and dry, vibrant with limestone- and shale-like minerality, and its spicy, slightly earthy citrus qualities increase through the finish. The estate is organically managed and certified by Ecocert. 12.5 percent alcohol. Drink through 2012 or ’13. Closed with a screw-cap. Excellent. About $20.

This was lovely with the sorrel soup, having the interesting effect of bringing out the herb’s hint of sweetness.

Imported by Weygandt-Metzler, Unionville, Penn.
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Another very attractive match with the sorrel soup was the Mendel Semillon 2009, from the Altamira-Uco Valley area of Argentina’s Mendoza region. The vines, which stand at 3,600-feet elevation, are more than 60 years old, lending the wine irresistible depth and character. Fifteen percent of the wine aged eight months in new American oak barrels. Hay, honey and waxy white flowers, roasted lemon and lemon balm are woven in the seductive bouquet. If you can tear yourself away from these heady aromas, you’re treated to a wine that in texture and structure is as refined and ingratiating as you could ask for, though I don’t mean to imply that the wine is wimpy or over-delicate; in fact, it feels rather as if it had been honed from limestone and slate and burnished to a sheen with a little of that oak (and plowed by keen acidity). It’s sunny, leafy, with touches of fig and fresh-mown grass, hints of cloves and ginger, greengage and pear. Quite an experience, round, complete, balanced, complex. 900 six-packs were imported. 13.6 percent alcohol. Drink through 2012 or ’13. Excellent. About $25 and Worth a Search.

Imported by Vine Connections, Sausalito, Cal.
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Last, we come to a wine that was fine, you know just fine, with the sorrel soup but opened to more astonishment than the other wines because of its amazing quality and price ration. I wrote previously about the great bargain called Agustin Cubero Unus Old Vine Garnacha 2007. Today it the turn of that wine’s stablemate, the Unus Old Vine Macabeo 2009, likewise from Spain’s Calatayud region, situated about halfway between Barcelona and Madrid (but closer to Zaragoza). The macabeo grape is also known, perhaps better-known, as viura, though clearly we’re not taking sauvignon blanc here. Made all in stainless steel, the wine is beguiling, intriguing and really pretty. Grass and hay, dried wild flowers, cloves and allspice, apple and pear, quince and ginger — all combine to charm and enchant. Now in truth these sensual qualities so seductive in the bouquet also characterize what goes on in the mouth; there’s no sense that flavors develop beyond the aspects of the bouquet (though the texture — the “mouthfeel” — is graceful and delightful), but who cares when the price is — ready? — a wallet-busting $9. Buy this by the case for drinking over the next year. The rating is Very Good+. A Bargain of the Century and Worth a Search.

Scoperta Imports, Cleveland Heights, Ohio.
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Sprecher Brewery was founded in Milwaukee in 1985 by Randal Sprecher, who trained as an oceanographer but had to abandon that career because of an alarming tendency to seasickness. The brewery is now in the nearby town of Glendale. Sprecher makes a full line of permanent, seasonal and specialty beers but sells more root beer than all its alcoholic beers combined. Sprecher “Fire-Brewed” Root Beer is something of an icon in Wisconsin, and a big deal is made about that fact that it’s sweetened with “raw Wisconsin honey,” as if that factor were a signature of pride in The Badger State. According to the ingredients list on the label, Sprecher Root Beer is also sweetened with glucose syrup and malto-dextrin, so the “raw Wisconsin honey” shtick doesn’t carry much weight with me.

Here’s the complete ingredients list for Sprecher Root Beer: “Carbonated water, glucose syrup, malto-dextrin, WI raw honey, natural and artificial flavors, sodium benzoate (preservative), phosphoric acid, quillaia/yucca extract, sodium chloride, caramel color, and vanilla”.

“Glucose syrup” is corn syrup — as in Karo pecan pie — while maltodextrin is a polysaccharide produced by partial hydrolysis of corn starch, so it looks as if the corn is about as high as an elephant’s eye in Sprecher Root Beer. (Can you say “agricultural subsidies”?) Maltodextrin increases the specific gravity of a beverage — it’s often used in beer — and adds to body and what’s called “mouthfeel.” I’ve written about sodium benzoate and phosphoric acid in previous entries in the Root Beer Journal, so I’ll quote myself here:

“Sodium benzoate (NaC6H5CO2) is the sodium salt of benzoic acid. It is used as a preservative against bacteria and fungus in such acidic foods as salad dressings, carbonated beverages, jams and fruit juices, pickles and other condiments. Oddly enough, sodium benzoate is also used in pyrotechnics as a (highly explosive) fuel in something called ‘whistle mix,’ a powder that emits an eerie whistling sound when compressed into a tube and ignited.”

“Phosphoric acid (H3PO4) is an inorganic mineral acid that lends liveliness and tang to cola-style soft drinks. It’s cheaper and more widely available than citric acid. Phosphoric acid is also used as a rust remover — ‘naval jelly’ — and has been linked to lower bone density in habitual cola drinkers.”

Quillaia extract derives from Quillaja saponaria, the soapbark tree native to central Chile. The familiar yucca plant, an ornament to many homes in the suburban reaches of America west of the Mississippi, is a member of the agave family, which includes Yucca elata, the soaptree yucca.

“All right, already,” you’re saying, “get on with it! What does Sprecher Root Beer taste like?”

Well, o.k., I just want you to know what you’re getting into when you open a bottle of this stuff. The truth shall set you free and all that.

Sprecher Root Beer is actually quite attractive in a balanced, moderately spicy middle-of-the-road style. It’s undeniably full-bodied and creamy, with a lovely almost pillowy texture enlivened by sprightly acidity; in this direct, sensual appeal lies Sprecher Root Beer’s chief virtue. What I miss here is the rooty, herbal medicinal edge, something dark, earthy and paradoxically crystalline, that the greatest root beers embody, though I enjoyed Sprecher Root Beer immensely and would be happy to drink it again. It comes in a 16-ounce bottle.

Thanks to Hamlett Dobbins for passing a bottle along to me.

Two wines today, and following impeccable logic, one is — guess what! — white and the other is, um, red.

These wines were samples for review, and, in case you’re wondering, according to FCC rules, we bloggers have to say that, though writers for print media, like magazines and newspapers, are not required to do so.
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Toad Hollow Vineyards has been producing an unoaked chardonnay since the 1993 vintage, making the winery a pioneer in that concept. That was, in fact, the first wine released by Toad Hollow, founded by Todd Williams (1938-2007) and Rodney Strong (1927-2006).

The Toad Hollow Francine’s Selection Unoaked Chardonnay 2009, Mendocino County, made all in stainless steel, begins with a radiant medium gold color; it offers classic aromas of pineapple and grapefruit with mildly spicy undertones and hints of floral and mineral elements. The wine delivers lovely purity and intensity in the form of moderately lush pineapple and grapefruit flavors, touched with a bit of mango, tangerine and spiced peach; crisp acidity is vibrant, almost electrifying, and after a few moments scintillating tides of limestone wash up, lending liveliness and firmness to the wine’s structure and even some stony austerity to the finish. Thoroughly enjoyable. About 42,000 cases of this wine are made, so there’s plenty to go around. 13.9 percent alcohol. Very Good+. About $15, representing Great Value.
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The Highflyer Centerline 2007, Napa Valley, is an only-in-California blend of syrah (45%), zinfandel (19%), petite sirah (15%), tempranillo (14%) and grenache (7%). Most of the grapes — 92 percent — derive from the Somerston Vineyard located in the Elder Valley region of the eastern Napa Valley, with the rest coming from the Vivio Vineyard in northern Sonoma Valley. Winemaker Craig Becker packs a lot of character into this deep, rich, warmly attractive red wine. A seductive bouquet of spiced and macerated black cherries, black currants and plums is permeated by notes of smoke and ash, fruit cake and potpourri, all borne by layers of dusty shale. There’s a great deal of authority here, with a vivid presence centered on essential acidity, polished oak and dense, rather velvety tannins that cushion and imbue flavors of ripe black fruit highlighted by something wild and piquant and savory. The spicy quality increases as the wine opens, and so does the influence of granite-like minerality. Very well-made wine, both boldly assertive and seamlessly balanced. Production was about 3,000 cases. 14.9 percent alcohol. Drink now through 2013 or ’14. Excellent. About $28.
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A couple of nights ago, LL made two beautiful BLTT sandwiches on ciabatta rolls — bacon, lettuce, tomato and turkey — and I opened, with a deft twist of the wrist, a bottle of the Pali Wine Co. Summit Pinot Noir 2008, 55 percent from Monterey County, 45 percent from Santa Barbara County. This line of wines represents a sort of entry-level group for Pali — there’s also a chardonnay and a cabernet sauvignon — a producer of limited edition, single-vineyard pinot noirs that cost $44 and an $80 Reserve Chautauqua Thorn Ridge Ranch Pinot Noir of which fewer than 25 cases are made. The wines in the Appellation Cuvee series are named for neighborhoods in Pacific Palisades, where the founders of the winery are from. The winery is in Lompoc, in Santa Barbara County, “City of Arts and Flowers” and home to Vandenberg Air Force Base and a Federal Corrections Institution.

All finished with screw-caps. These wines were samples for review.
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The Pali Wine Co. Summit Pinot Noir 2008, Monterey/Santa Barbara, is deep, dark, spicy and robust, as Pali’s pinot noirs tend to be. Beguiling aromas of spiced plums and macerated black cherries are woven with heady notes of rhubarb, sassafras, lavender and sandalwood. Yes, it’s pretty damned exotic, all right, and that individual personality continues in the wine’s ripe black and blue fruit flavors, its super-sensuous drapery-like texture and its bass-tones of foresty elements, honed shale and plush tannins. Despite this fairly extravagent exhibition, the wine is neither heavy nor obvious; one would not mistake it for, say, zinfandel or syrah, nor, on the other hand, for anything resembling the bearable lightness of elegance that marks great pinot noir wines. It was, oddly, terrific with the bacon, lettuce, tomato and turkey sandwiches. 14.6 percent alcohol. Production was 252 cases. Excellent. About $29.
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My enthusiasm for the Pali Charm Acres Chardonnay 2009, Sonoma Coast, was thoroughly dampened by the fact that the wine is made in a style that I find undrinkable. From its bright straw-gold color, to its flamboyant aromas of baked apple, pineapple and grapefruit blended with mango, cloves and ginger, to its silky-viscous texture that wraps pineapple-grapefruit flavors tinged with custard, brown-sugar and toffee, it’s a chardonnay that has Wine Spectator targeting written all over. I also thought that the wine lacked the essential backbone and nerve of crisp acidity and minerality. At 14.7 percent alcohol, the wine feels unbalanced to my palate, though I know there are legions out there who inexplicably dote on this style of chardonnay, and for those people, bless their little pointy heads, I will wrest a rating of Very Good from my dire black heart. About $24. Production was 495 cases.
___________________________________________________________________________________________________________________ Let’s return to sanity with the Pali Highlands 2007, Napa Valley, a blend of 87 percent cabernet sauvignon, 6 percent malbec, 4 percent cabernet franc and 3 percent merlot. Like the Summit Pinot Noir 2008, this cabernet displays an exotic edge in its full-blown bouquet of brandied black cherries, cedar, cloves, fruit cake, iodine and mint and brambly red and black currants. The wine is no less individual in the mouth, where it makes a frank statement about ripe, spiced and macerated black currants, raspberries and cherries (with undertones of lavender and bitter chocolate) saved from ostentation by an assertive strain of dusty tannins, wheatmeal, gravel and slate; vibrant acidity also helps keep it honest. Drink now through 2013 or ’14. Alcohol content is 14.2 percent (on the label; 14.9 according to the technical material). Excellent. At $33 I don’t think this is the “fantastic value for Napa Valley Cabernet” touted by the press release — $23 would be more like it — but it’s certainly well-made and attractive in many ways. Try it with a medium rare rib-eye steak, hot and crusty from the grill.
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Yesterday was inadvertently a turkey day at our house. I finished the turkey, barley and mushroom soup for lunch, and for dinner, we just microwaved the leftovers and basically had Thanksgiving dinner again, while watching the (melodramatic) spy thriller The Eye of the Needle (1981) with Donald Sutherland and Kate Nelligan, and whatever happened to her? With both meals, I opened a pinot noir wine, and I’m not really comparing the two, I was being fastidious, I mean facetious about that; the situation was utter coincidence.
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With the hearty, flavorful turkey, barley and mushroom soup, I tried the Wakefield Pinot Noir 2009, from Australia’s Adelaide Hills, a wine that provides an intriguing interpretation of the grape. The wine is fermented in stainless steel tanks and ages about 12 months in one- to two-year-old French oak hogsheads, meaning large barrels; in other words, the oak influence is very subtle, a gentle shaping rather than an overt or intrusive force. The beguiling bouquet weaves bright strands of rhubarb, cranberry and cola with a persistent high note of mint and undertones of briers and brambles. In the mouth, the wine is a supple, silky and smoky amalgam of red and black currants and black cherry with a touch of cloves and a slightly exotic hint of sandalwood. This is all quite charming, tasty and drinkable, now through 2012 or ’13. Alcohol content is 14 percent. Very Good+. About $17, representing Good Value.

Imported by American Wine Distributors, South San Francisco. A sample for review.
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I had picked up a bottle of the Domaine Serene Yamhill Cuvee Pinot Noir 2007, Willamette Valley, to sip with the actual Thanksgiving dinner, but stayed with the other wines on that occasion (Trefethen Dry Riesling 2008, Ridge Three Valleys 2008) and left the pinot noir on the sideboard. Last night, perhaps closing the book on the Thanksgiving leftovers, I thought, “Oh what the hey,” and brought it along. The Yamhill Cuvee is, in a sense, Domaine Serene’s entry level wine, and certainly its price, about $42 at the winery, is a bit less daunting than the costs of the limited edition pinots like its Evenstad Reserve ($58), Jerusalem Hill Vineyard ($70) and Mark Bradford Vineyard ($90). The Yamhill Cuvee is made from grapes derived from Domaine Serene’s estate vineyards in the Eola Hills and the Dundee Hills; it ages 10 months in French oak, 43 percent new barrels. The bouquet is unmistakable for the producer and the Willamette Valley: pungent, almost homey aromas of briers and brambles and moss, smoked black cherries and red currants and deep strains of cloves, cinnamon and sassafras. These elements assert themselves throughout one’s experience of the wine, adding notes of leather and violets and forest floor to the medley. The texture is ultimate satin, a suitably suave and elegant cocoon for flavors of spiced and macerated black cherries and plums with a plangent note of wild berry, all of this singing, in alto range, above a bass-line of rich, clean earthiness and damp shale. Yeah, I freakin’ love this wine! 13.8 percent alcohol. Drink now through 2012 to ’14. Excellent. I paid $47.
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Oh, yeah, the holiday is over but the turkey lingers on, so LL and I were thinking about turkey hash, but she did some Internet research and found a recipe for Turkey Shepherd’s Pie. You would think that this would be a pretty simple dish, but it ended up using so many pans and bowls that it well-nigh wrecked the kitchen. The result was good though. What’s interesting is that the recipe calls — in addition to turkey, of course — for peas, cauliflower, potatoes and carrots. LL, in one of her typical astute moments, said, “Wait a minute. That stuff is exactly what you find in an Indian curry.” So she dumped some curry powder in with the turkey and vegetable mixture, and I think the dish was improved considerably.

Curry? Well, the wine had to be riesling, so I opened a bottle of Schloss Johannisberger Riesling Kabinett 2008, from Germany’s Rheingau region.

Schloss Johannisberg is an ancient estate that occupies a magnificent site on a broad hill that slopes in a southerly direction down to the Rhine. Grapes have been grown there apparently since the 12th Century, during monastic days. It has been an all-riesling property since 1720 and was one of the first, if not the first, in Germany to make a late harvest sweet wine from grapes affected by botrytis cinerea, the “noble rot.” In 1816, Schloss Johannisberg was given to Prince von Metternich by the Austrian Franz I for services at the Congress of Vienna — which redrew the map of Europe after Napoleon’s final defeat at Waterloo — and while the Metternich name still appears on the estate’s labels, it has been owned since 1974 by the giant conglomerate Dr. August Oetker KG, manufacturer of baking soda, dessert mixes, frozen pizzas and yogurt and owner of breweries, sparkling wine facilities, hotels and so on.

Schloss Johannisberger Riesling Kabinett 2008 is categorized as Prädikatswein, which is to say, Qualitätswein mit Prädikat (QmP), though aiming at simplified terminology labels are no longer required to state the whole term, only the shorthand of Prädikatswein. This top category encompasses what are potentially the finest wines made in Germany’s vineyards, though of course many factors enter into a determination of quality, especially the weather throughout the growing season and at harvest. According to germanwineusa.com, in an assessment of 2008 in all the country’s vineyard regions, in Rheingau “the 2008 vintage will be known particularly for high-quality Kabinett wines.”

Why, then, is this wine not better? Not that it’s not attractive and enjoyable. The first impression is of lovely fruit scents and flavors in the form of ripe peach and pear with a hint of apple; the wine is lively and refreshing, quite spicy, moderately sweet on entry but dry from mid-palate back. The texture is sleek and silky, though tingly with crisp acidity, and the finish brings in a tide of limestone. So, pleasant and tasty, indeed, and an entertaining match with the turkey shepherd’s (curry) pie, but what the wine lacks is ultimate verve and nerve, the depth of exhilarating stony/spicy/citric vibrancy that should characterize a QmP-category riesling (with a profound history and heritage) from 2008, supposedly a great Kabinett vintage in Rheingau; it quaffs much easier than it should. 11 percent alcohol. Very Good+. Prices on the Internet range, ludicrously, from about $20 to $35.

Imported by Valckenberg International, Tulsa, Okla. A sample for review.

So, I’m sitting here working away — slog, slog, slog — and suddenly I realize that the month is December and that I missed by three days the Fourth Anniversary of the launching of BiggerThanYourHead.net. Sacre bleu! The actual date was December 3 (which was Friday), 2006, and I skated right over that because it was a busy day. Anyway, here we are, four years and 754 posts down the road, and the wine keeps pouring in, figuratively and literally, so I’ll certainly keep the enterprise aloft for another year. If you don’t mind.

With a pasta Bolognese, I opened a bottle of the Sartori di Verona Regolo 2007, Rosso Veronese. Sartori is one of those old companies — it was founded in 1898 — that undergoes a transformation by bringing in an outsider to shake things up, the figure in this case being consulting winemaker Franco Bernabei, hired in 2003. Bernabei reduced yields, usually the first step a consulting winemaker takes, and launched a thorough examination of all 16,540 acres — that’s a lot of vines — under Sartori’s control, the point being to see what vineyards produced the best grapes and how the sites were matched to appropriate grape varieties. He also, in collaboration with Andrea Sartori, initiated several new wines, one of which is Regolo. Unlike most Valpolicella wines, this is not a blend but made from 100 percent corvina grapes, hence the Rosso Veronese designation. In February after harvest, the wine enters the traditional ripasso stage, in which it rests — “passes again” — on the lees of Amarone wines, after which it aged 18 to 24 months in medium to large oak casks; no fashionable barriques used here.

The Sartori Regolo 2007 displays a dark ruby color almost unto opacity with a bluish-purple rim. The bouquet bursts with notes of violets, plums, tar and black and red currants, with an undertow of potpourri, and the whole package displays a lovely intensity of dusty slate, smoke, cloves, lavender and wild blueberry. Reining-in the delirious sensuousness — I mean it really is appealing — is a more sober-minded aspect of robust but not rustic tannins and a sheen of polished oak, lending the wine both suppleness and purpose, while it gains increased shale- and granite-like minerality and a touch of tannic austerity on the finish. This will drink nicely through 2013 to ’14 with braised meat dishes and hearty pastas. 13.5 percent alcohol. Very Good+. About $19.

VB Imports, Old Brookville, N.Y. A sample for review.

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