Do 2006 and 2007 sound too old for rosé wines, which are supposed to embody all that is fresh and immediate about a delightful, dry, light wine made from red grapes? Can rosés age even a year beyond their making?

Last July, I wrote about two rosés from Prieuré de Montèzargues, an innovative producer in Tavel, a traditional (and often over-produced) seed-bed of rosé wines in the southern Rhone Valley region. The winemaker for Prieuré de Montèzargues, Guillaume Dugas, believes that his rosés, made from fairly high-elevation vineyards, can stand the test of time, as least for two or three years. Recently, I tried the 2006 and ’07 from the producer again, and I thought it would be useful to compare how the wines fare now with how they performed last summer.

Here’s the previous review:

Prieuré de Montèzargues 2007 offers a lovely color of bright garnet flushed with salmon’s orangy-pink. Notes of strawberry, raspberry, peach and orange zest waft from the glass and segue seamlessly to the mouth in consistent flavors. The texture is soft and enticing but energized by crisp acid and a scintillating mineral element that expands to dominate the finish. Great balance and freshness. Very Good+.

And here’s my impression of the Prieuré de Montèzargues 2007 from last week: Pale salmon-peach color; lovely aromas of strawberry and raspberry, melon and mulberry, with a hint of roasted lemon. Quite earthy, almost tannic in the mouth, silky texture, deftly balanced between bright acidity and a substantial quality that would tend toward lushness if a sense of mineral-like discretion didn’t keep it delicate. Flavors of strawberry and dried current are accented by touches of dried herbs. Quite tasty and certainly a completely viable rosé for drinking through the end of 2009. We had this with salmon tacos, made at home. This gets an upgrade to Excellent.

How about the version from 2006? Here are my comments from last July:

The color is similar, perhaps with a shade of magenta, but the wine is robust, ripe and fleshy, delivering scents and flavors of strawberry and peach with touches of melon and dried herbs. A few minutes in the glass bring up hints of cherry/berry and Bazooka Bubble Gum, with orange zest, limestone and earthy notes and a lingering hint of cloves on the finish. This is an unusually complicated rosé for drinking through the end of 2008. Great detail and dimension. Excellent. If you can find the ‘07 and the ‘06, buy some of each.

I was not so impressed when we tried the Prieuré de Montèzargues 2006 last week. The color was a radiant pale copper-salmon; aromas of raspberry and cherry with a touch of roasted peach were seductive. In the mouth, this rosé was very earthy, almost smoky and sooty around the contours, and while flavors of red currants, roasted peach and rhubarb were tasty, the wine lacked middle, and the fairly fragile finish felt overwhelmed by acid. This gets a downgrade from Excellent to Very Good, perhaps to drink with fried chicken or roasted veal, but I greatly prefer the ’07 version.

These wines cost from $18 to $23. They are imported by Henriot, in New York.

My linkedin profile.

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

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

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

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

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

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

Image of Alice Waters from creativeloafing.com.

So, I’m embarrassed. I concluded my post Friday about BTYH winning the “Best Wine Reviews” category in the American Wine Blog Awards with the injunction, “So, back to work.” But I didn’t do it!

Well, you have probably inferred, readers, that one of the philosophies of this blog is Never to Go Off-Topic, and while it may occasionally seem as if I skirt perilously close to violating that principle, I try to make certain that every post has something to do with drinking or eating. A five-day hiatus, however, seems to me reason enough to edge down the slippery slope of the personal and mention that I have been, as the phrase goes, “under the weather,” though isn’t that an interesting way of saying that one has been ill, since, we are always, when you think about it logically, under some kind of weather. Stew about that for a while.

Anyway, I apologize, and I’ll get things back in motion in a couple of days. Until then, thanks for all the positive reaction to the award, both here on the blog and in email messages.

You all are just so freakin’ nice!

I love this stuff, this elixir!
… I finished the bottle — and I’m not sorry!

I do love this stuff, this elixir of medieval medicinal indulgence, such as monks would concoct in the moldy cellars beneath their monasteries, employing their arsenal of ancient herbal knowledge; their exploration into the healing powers of hallowed, astringent, Alpine flowers; their initiation into the arcane catalog of knotty, pungent, tea-like roots; their unholy penetration of the primal secrets of the European heritage of folk remedy and the magical conjunction of the sacred and the profane; and you’re thinking, readers, “Damnation, F.K., do you never give up? Go to bed, man!”

And so I will.

Dear readers, colleagues, friends, neighbors, passing acquaintances: Bigger Than Your Head has been nominated for the 2009awbafinalistbadge.jpg second year for an American Wine Blog Award in the category of “Best Wine Reviews on A Blog.” The competition is fierce; I’m up against three excellent wine blogs that I look at myself frequently — sterling company indeed.

The ranking is based 70 percent on the popular vote — that’s you — and 30 percent on a panel of anonymous judges. That’s why I need your votes. Anyone can vote by going to http://www.fermentation.typepad.com

The American Wine Blog Awards are organized and hosted by Tom Wark at Fermentation: The Daily Wine Blog. Sponsors are Riedel Crystal, OpenWine Consortium and Mutineer Magazine.

Thanks for your readership, your attention — and your vote!

Pulling the cork on a bottle of Kendall-Jackson Vintner’s Reserve Riesling 2006 last week, I noticed something written on the label. cork_p1160013.jpg That phenomenon is not unusual; corks often have words and numbers printed on them, from practical matter, such as the name of the producer and year the grapes were harvested (which should match the name and vintage on the label; that’s why the waiter presents you with the cork, to check the wine’s authenticity, not really to smell the cork), to the whimsical, as in the “Ribbit” that Frog’s Leap Winery puts on its corks.

This, however, was different. The words were: “I selected this cork to ensure the highest wine quality.” Under this screed was the tiny printed signature of Jess Jackson, owner of the Kendall-Jackson empire. Well, O.K., Jess, that certainly reassures us that your eye is on the cork, if not the sparrow, though was it actually necessary to inform us of the fact? Why not just say, “We buy a million of these doodads because that’s what we decided to do”? Must we get up-close and personal with synthetic corks?

(BTW, I like the legend printed on the cork in this illustration, which translates as “Bottled in France.” That’s really reassuring.)

The cork in question is quite ordinary and is not, as is the case with so many corks today, made of cork. It is, rather — and as the cork industry likes to point out — a synthetic cork, made of some slightly creepy-feeling plasticky space-age material. Many wineries use such bottle stoppers nowadays, made from a variety of materials and all designed to replace the increasingly marginalized “real” cork, a trend that makes the hitherto mentioned cork industry very anxious. As most wine drinkers have experienced, “bad” corks, like bad apples in their barrels, have a deleterious effect on wine, making it “corked,” that is smelling of damp cardboard.

What really struck me, though, standing in the kitchen rolling this ordinary object in my hand, is that a cork stopper for a bottle is an example of a thing made of a certain material that has taken on the name of the material itself. First came the cork tree (an evergreen oak, Quercus suber), and then the small cylindrical or tapering object that someone discovered was perfect for jamming into the necks of bottles so the contents did not flow out. Eureka! And then, in the mid 16th Century, according to The New Shorter Oxford English Dictionary (Vol. I. A-M), that object became known as “a cork,” not just “something made of cork.”

The NSOAD mentions that this object, this stopper, may be made “of cork or some other material,” acknowledging the fact that a cork is not required to be made of, you know, cork.

Anyway, I spent almost a week trying to think of another example of this occurrence, an object known by the same name as its glass_empty.jpg material, and then yesterday, I was standing in the kitchen staring at the cabinet that holds the — you know what’s coming, right? — glasses, and I thought, “Oh, yeah, right.” Glasses, vessels made of glass for holding and conveying, generally, liquids, are known by the name of the material from which they are made.

The NSOED offers, as part of a long segment on “glass,” this definition: “A glass vessel or receptacle. Also, the contents of such a vessel or receptacle. A drinking-vessel made of glass; a beverage, (esp. alcoholic) contained in such a vessel,” in the sense that we say, “Have a glass of wine,” when what we mean is “Have a glass filled with wine.” And when the responder replies, “Sure, I’ll have a glass,” they mean, “Sure, I’ll have a glass filled with wine.”

We also say “glasses” for the objects we wear on our noses to enhance vision, a locution that goes back to the mid 17th Century. And from the early 17th Century, magnifying objects like telescopes and microscopes with lenses made of glass were called a “glass,” as when the dreaded pirate says, “Pass me the glass, matey, so I can spy out the cut of yon jib.”

Well, we have wandered far from our original subject here, but if you object to this linguistic digression, all I can say is “Put a cork in it, Jack,” though it’s up to you to decide of what material the cork is made.

Images from wikimedia.

Sorry , readers, BTYH was disabled for about 10 hours today and just got back up at 9:34 p.m. The problem was purely technical, though even after talking to two support people at BlueHost, I don’t really fathom what the Big Deal was. Something about repairing and optimizing tables in the c-panel. So, here we are, thanks to the valiant efforts of my designers at Mouse Foundry. Did I mention that I hate computers?

Now hear this, Readers: Bigger Than Your Head was launched two years ago this week, on December 3, 2006, to be precise. megaphone_yellows_med.jpg

Since that day, I have posted 302 entries.

Since that day, visitors to the blog have numbered 464,882. (Damnit, I was hoping for the half-million mark!)

How has the activity grown? In the first full month that BTYH was running, January 2007, visitors numbered 6,800; last month, there were 26,978. No, it ain’t YouTube — or “The Pour” — but it makes me happy.

Just as it makes me happy to write about the wines I taste or the wines that LL and I have with dinner or with pizza on movie night and to write about issues in the wine and restaurant industries and, whenever possible, bring some humor, if not outright sarcasm or downright annoyance, to the scene.

I’m having fun doing this, and I hope you’re having fun too, and learning a few things about food and wine, eating and drinking.

It’s almost Christmas and New Years, so let’s shove on and keep doing what we’re doing.

And thanks for all the responses and email messages; those are what make this endeavor worthwhile.

Megaphone images from bccforums.org.uk.

Notice that I didn’t say “a great pizza wine.” The concept of a great pizza wine, I think, embodies a tasty and fairly nino_negri_quadrio_04.jpg straightforward quaff, rather rugged and rustic, that goes well with the hearty flavors of a pizza, full-bodied pasta dishes, burgers and so on. Not a damned thing wrong with that. This wine, however, the Nino Negri Quadrio 2004, Valtellina Superiore, was great with our pizza Saturday night but is essentially a versatile red wine that would shine and perhaps even ennoble many dishes, particularly small game, such as rabbit and squab.

Valtellina Superiore is a DOCG region (Denominazione di Origine Controllata e Garantita) in Lombardia, in northern Italy, lying along the right bank of the Adda (a name beloved by crossword puzzle makers) River within sight of the Alps. DOCG is supposed to indicate the highest level of Italian wine classes and regions, but — surprise! — since the system was first used in 1980, it has become highly politicized. The principal grape in Valtellina Superiore is chiavennasca, the local name for the nebbiolo grape that is put to such felicitous use in Piedmont, to the west. Wines from Valtellina Superiore must contain 90 percent chiavennasca grapes.

The Nino Negri Quadrio 2004 ages 18 months in 80-hectoliter Slavonian oak vats. How big are they? Eighty hectoliters equals about 2,112 U.S. gallons; by comparison, the standard French oak barrel holds about 59 gallons. The point is that such large casks impart very little wood flavor to the wine; instead they lend some spice and gentle shading and shaping to the wine’s structure. Quadrio 2004 contains 10 percent merlot grapes in addition to the nebbiolo.

The wine felt truly classic, like a cadet version of Barolo. The color is moderate ruby-garnet, not too dark or overly extracted. The bouquet offers notes of dried cherries, cloves and sandalwood, mulberry, leather and moss, with hints of fresh and dried flowers. In the mouth, flavors of spiced and slightly macerated black and red currants and raspberries lie over leathery and earthy elements bolstered by gentle tannins and a streak of vibrant acid. Drink now through 2011 or ’12. Very Good+, and at about $21 a Good Value.

I think this wine, which would be so appropriate, as I said, with roasts and game, went well with last Saturday’s pizza because I have been working on getting my pizzas more simple and pure. No caramelized radicchio on this one; just tomato and green pepper and red onion, a bit of guanciale, fresh mozzarella and parmesan. I sliced the tomatoes and bell pepper as thinly as possible, so during the 12 minutes in the oven they would get a little roasted. Perhaps it was the simplicity of the pizza, its spareness, that matched so nicely with the Nino Negri Quadrio 2004.
This was my fault. For a snack on Sunday, I made open-face sandwiches by taking two ciabatta rolls, slicing them in half and spreading Dijon mustard on them. Then I layered a few pieces of baby arugula, sliced tomato and pieces of roasted ham, all this topped with grated Parmesan cheese, a dribble of olive oil, ground salt and pepper. I ran these under the broiler for a few minutes until the cheese and the edges of the bread got nice and toasted, and then I served them to me and LL with a glass of the Simi Roseto 2007, Sonoma County. EEEERRRRNNNNGGGG! Didn’t work. The mustard tromped all over the wine. It would have been better if I just spread olive oil on the bread, or perhaps used some tapenade as the condiment, but the mustard was too powerful, too spicy.

There’s not a damned thing wrong with the wine, though. It’s a winsome rosé, a blend of 97 percent syrah and three percent viognier. It features bright cherry-berry flavors with touches of melon and rhubarb, subtle notes of dried herbs and flowers, hints of Bazooka Bubble Gum, and a mineral element that dominates the finish. Quite tasty and rated Very Good. About $11, more than fair.

This is not a big deal or anything, but we were having Chinese take-out last night, and I reached in the fridge, grabbing a bottle of, um, let’s see, what is this? August Kesseler, well it’s from 2004, an excellent year in Germany that produced nervy and dynamic wines, it’s from the Rheingau and it’s a Qualitätswein Trocken. No mention of a grape; in fact, the back label says, succinctly, “White Grape Wine.” There’s riesling here certainly, but it feels like a blend; perhaps some sylvaner? “Qualitätswein” (“quality wine”) is about as reassuring in a German wine as “premier” is in California, though Qualitätswein is an official government designation. So, I guess my point is that this rather anonymous wine, finished with a screw-cap, is, at four years old, clean and fresh and zesty, possessed of lovely ripe yellow and stone fruit scents and flavors and vivid acidity. No, it doesn’t offer much depth and structure, and, yes, it dries out along the circumference, flattened the spicy and floral qualities, but gosh, it’s really delicious. The problem is that I have no idea how much it costs or even where I got it or who gave it to me. If you have a notion — I mean about the price — or if you have tried this wine, let me know.

David Lett, a pioneer of the Oregon wine industry, died Thursday. He was only 69. He went to Oregon’s Willamette Valley in 1965, convinced — against all the advice he had been given — that this would be fertile ground for pinot noir and pinot gris. The wines he produced at The Eyrie Vineyard proved him right. david_lett.JPG

While a later generation or two of winemakers moved toward ripe, dark, heavily extracted wines, Lett continued to make pinot noir on the Burgundian model of spare elegance and delicacy, with spicy red fruit flavors and whip-lash acid. Delicious in youth, the wines, especially the Reserves, aged beautifully for 10 to 15 years. His chardonnays were wonderful too.

By happenstance, I spent an afternoon with David Lett during the International Pinot Noir Conference in 2003. A friend and I hitched a ride with him in his Jaguar, we visited the winery (in an old turkey warehouse) and drove out to his house. It was a beautiful, still afternoon. We wandered through his old vineyards, not even talking most of the time, not that he didn’t love to talk. That night, at the big banquet and salmon cook-out, Lett brought some old bottles of his pinot noir and chardonnay. They were lovely, the pinots taut and vigorous, yet satiny and flavorful, the chardonnays seamlessly layered with minerality.

The younger winemakers I talked to at the conference were clearly fond of Lett, but he was also clearly regarded as eccentric, old-fashioned and stubborn. Subtlety, he was condescended to. I tried the pinot noir wines concocted by these young winemakers, these pinots that burst with ripe black fruit flavors, that seethed with spice and smoke, that felt plush and velvety, and I made notes on them. The wines I kept going back to, however, were David Lett’s pinot noirs.

His was the vision at the beginning; his will be the vision at the end.

Image of David Lett from Wikipedia.

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