Fruits and black pepper : Penfolds Shiraz Cabernet

Penfolds Koonuga Hills Syrah Cabernet 2011

Region: Koonuga Hills, South Australia, Australia

Grape: 77% Shiraz, 23% Cabernet Sauvignon

Price: around $12

Once again, I am lucky to date a woman who is willing to eat the results of my cooking efforts and also willing to listen to me ramble about wine while we’re having dinner. I am truly a lucky man. So, this lucky man made some lamb chops with roasted potatoes and opened up an Australian red to go with that.

A few weeks ago I drank the 100% Shiraz Koonuga Hills from Penfolds and I really enjoyed it, fruity and spicy with a nice texture, very easy to drink. I was curious about the addition of Cabernet to this wine, the logic would call for such a blend to have a little more bite and structure due to the addition of Cabernet. The wine spends a year in both American and French oak, so there should be some wood notes to identify.

Yes, I have Game of Thrones coasters...

Yes, I have Game of Thrones coasters…

Eye: Clear, dark ruby

Nose: Clean, medium minus intensity, black fruits (blackberries), spices (pepper), chocolate

Palate: dry, medium-minus body, high acidity. Aggressive tannins when just opened but they soften after 30 minutes or so. Medium length finish. Notes of blackberries, figs, olives and black pepper along with some nice tobacco flavor from the oak

The bottle definitely took a little time to open. The first few sips were pretty bad with high acidity, aggressive tannins and not much fruit. The wine felt really thin and forgettable. After 30 minutes to an hour it was another story, much more rounded, more fruit, and more body. It ended up being perfectly fine to drink after the initial scare. It’s a solid red without too strong a body but with a nice peppery kick.

Lamb chops

Food pairings: Can’t go wrong with lamb, it would work with beef and pork too.

Overall opinion: Good value for money, just give it time to open up or you’ll make a face when first tasting it

Grade : 6/10 or 3/10 right after opening

A cheese and wine habit

I have a confession to make, a dark secret, a deep flaw, an unspeakable weakness in my otherwise pristine character. I cannot resist cheese. As far as I remember, I was never able to control myself around a piece of cheese. During the month I spent in Paris around the holidays, I’m pretty sure 75% of my meals were cheese and bread with sometimes a bit of lunch meat thrown in for good measure.

And, well, I did it again… Last weekend in New York City I wandered into a dark place, a place of addiction and despair, a place of cheese. This is my story, may God have mercy on my soul and may it serve as a warning to you. Don’t let your children get hooked up on camembert.

So yeah, cheese. Cheese and wine actually, I found a bistro that offers a few cheese and wine flights designed to go together, and, since I have a problem, I had not one, but two such flights : six cheeses, six wines. It made for a beautiful way to start the day.

Flight number 1:

cheese flight 1

Delice de Bourgogne with Ca’Furlan Prosecco (Veneto, Italy)

The pear and orange aromas of the wine compliment the creamy, dairy-like flavors of the cheese. The pairing makes it lighter, crisper, it cleans the palate and supports the cheese

Robbiola due latti with Three Saints Chardonnay (Napa Valley, California)

The cheese is very creamy and the wine very oaky. It works out well, without the oakiness the wine wouldn’t be able to keep up with the strong flavor. Both wine and cheese have a nutty taste that makes for a really nice finish.

Pont-L’Eveque with Louis Jadot Santenay (Burgundy, France)

Pont-L’Eveque is an intense, funky cheese from Normandy, kinda like the weird cousin of camembert. The Santenay as enough acidity to hold its own and cut through the funkiness, the aromas of tart red berries from the wine give a necessary dose of freshness to your taste buds

Flight Number 2:

cheese flight 2

Pecorino with Hugel Riesling (Alsace, France) :

Both wine and cheese have a salty, mineral side that blend together and create something even better.

Brillat-Savarin with Olivier Leflaire Bourgogne Blanc (Burgundy, France)

Brillat-Savarin is the creamiest cheese ever. The simple chardonnay with good acidity is a good match, it’s actually a very classic match between creamy cheese and acidic wine to cut some of that fat from the cheese

Epoisses with Chateau Haut-Selve, Graves (Bordeaux, France)

Ah, Epoisses,… Stinky, almost liquid, delicious Epoisses. A cheese that you are allowed to eat with a spoon… Here paired with a very fruity Bordeaux it’s the cheese that provides acidity and the wine that is rounder. Another great pairing.

After all that cheese and wine I stepped back into the sunny streets of NYC. So, I have a little bit of an addiction, but I can stop whenever I want! The only thing is that, well, I really don’t want to.

A Rhone away from Rhone, Treana Marsanne Viognier

Treana Marsanne Viognier 2010

Region: Central Coast, California, USA

Grape: 50% Marsanne, 50% Viognier

Price: around $23

I’m an expat, which means I am from one place, but, presented with the opportunity of living someplace else, I chose to go for it and make a new home. There is another word to describe a person like me, a transplant. Easy transition from my boring little life into the wine blogging part of this wine blog, you can also transplant vines.

I’ve always been curious to see how some varieties, or blends that are typical of an old world region turn out in a different setting. In a way they are like me, expats, transplants, refugees, exiles, except that I actually decided to move, nobody just grabbed me and uprooted me to a strange place. In the case of today’s wine, Marsanne and Viognier are a traditional blend from the Rhone Valley region of France (sometimes involving another variety called Roussanne). Viognier is the aromatic part of the blend with Marsanne providing body, staying power, color and ageing potential. They are used to produce some of the most respected whites from the Rhone Valley, like the Hermitage appellation in the Northern part of the Rhone.

Treana is the name of a range of wines from Hope Family Wines out of Paso Robles, California. The vineyards are located in the Central Coast, a region that is known for the cooling influence of the Pacific Ocean on its climate which should help make the climate more similar to the windy northern Rhone Valley.

Treana glass

Eye: Clear, Deep gold, Marsanne is known for giving wines a lot of color

Nose: Clean, medium plus intensity, stone fruits (yellow peach, apricot), tropical fruit (passion fruit), white flowers, candied orange peel

Palate: dry, medium-plus body, medium minus acidity, long finish. Notes of yellow peach and apricot along with cloves and a slight mineral quality. Nutty notes from oak on the finish.

This wine has a lot of aromas; it’s very fruity but also has spicy, flowery, mineral and oaky elements which give it a lot of complexity. It’s a wine that makes me think of summer whenever I take a sip, not a lazy summer day but rather a full, busy, fun summer day. Ripe fruits, a rich style, nice body, long finish, there are a lot of things going on.

Food pairings: White meat, shellfish and spicy foods sound like potential matches.

Overall opinion: Complex and rich with a lot of aromas, a good fuller bodied white wine that remains fruity. The wine also has potential to age for a few more years. I think it’s a winner.

Grade : 7/10

Southern France, 1 (big) region, 6 wines

I went to a tasting last Friday that offered various wine from Gerard Bertrand, one of the main producers in Southern France. He’s a bit of a media darling, having graced the cover of Wine Enthusiast under the headline “Southern France’s Leading Man” complete with a picture of him with flowing locks and boyish good looks.

Anyway, he produces a lot of different wines, from a vast collection of vineyards and regions spread around the central part of Southern France, around the cities of Narbonne, Montpellier and Perpignan and his production is structured in ranges, including an organic wine range called Naturalys.

At the tasting I went to we had access to wines in the Terroir (focused on a region), Grand Terroir (focused on smaller, more defined appellations) and Reserve Speciale (variety-based) ranges. Here are my quick impressions

Cremant de Limoux : $12

cremant de limoux

Started off with the sparkling. Cremant is a generic word for French sparkling wines. Usually made with the same techniques than champagne, cremants can be found in various regions: Cremant d’Alsace, Cremant du Jura). This one is made from Chardonnay, Chenin Blanc and Mauzac, it was nice and refreshing, an easy alternative to champagne.

Terroir Picpoul de Pinet : $12

gb picpoul

Made entiterly from the Picpoul variety. I never tried this grape and I ended up finding the wine a little flabby, lacking some acidity to give it structure. Nice pear notes but it remains my least favorite wine of the tasting

Reserve Speciale Viognier : $15

viognier

One of my favorite grapes, very aromatic, lots of white peach, apricot and white flowers, great value for money if you like Viognier.

Reserve Speciale Pinot Noir : $12

GB pinot noir

I always have my doubts about warm climate Pinots, they tend to be overly jammy for my taste, not this one. Apparently the grapes are grown on the highest part of the vineyards where the temperatures are a bit cooler which preserve enough acidity for the wine to function. You still get ripe fruit but not overwhelmingly so, very enjoyable, a twist on regular Pinot Noir that will not make my Burgundian ancestors roll in their graves.

Grand Terroir Pic Saint-Loup : $17

gb pic st loup

I actually wrote a full review of this wine a few months ago. I stand by it, it’s easy to drink and I would still call it a slut of a wine, but I use the term affectionately. It’s a classic GSM wine (Grenache, Syrah, Mourvedre)

Grand Terroir Tautavel : $13

tautavel

This one comes from the appellation Cotes du Roussillon Villages Tautavel. Another solid red wine. Blend of Grenache, Syrah and Carignan. Lots of ripe red fruits with a little bit of spice. Nice body and tannins.

All the wines have decent value for money, except for the Picpoul which I didn’t care for. It seems that Gerard Bertand is focusing quite a bit on the US market so most of these would be available stateside. Gerard Betrand has a lot of different wines, what is listed there is but a small sample. Sound off in the comments if you had some of his other products.

Summer cocktails 101

If that is alright with you, I will make a small infidelity to wine today by talking about another drink. Something vaguely resembling spring has come to Boston, at long last, and so, it becomes socially acceptable to drink Campari. By the way, don’t bother drinking Campari in winter, I’ve done it, it just doesn’t work for some reason. It’s like drinking pastis when you can’t hear cicadas, the whole things seems off.

campari

What is Campari you ask? Well, Campari is technically a liqueur (a distilled spirit flavored with fruit, herbs, spices… and bottled with additional sugar). It’s more specifically a bitter and its flavor comes from various herbs and fruits, the exact composition being of course a secret. The more distinctive feature of Campari is its red color that originally came from the use of carmine dye.  Campari was created by Gaspare Campari in 1860 in the Italian city of Novara, near Milan. From there it spread to the French Riviera and then to the rest of the world.

How do you drink Campari you ask? Well, you could drink it on the rocks but it’s not my favorite approach, it might be too bitter and a little syrupy. An alternative would be to make it a Campari and soda, very refreshing, not as bitter and actually sold pre-bottled in Italy.

Campari Soda Bottle

Campari is used in some classic cocktails such as the Negroni: gin, vermouth, and Campari or the Campari Spritz: Campari, soda, Prosecco). My personal favorite though is the Americano. It’s simple enough to make: Campari, Cinzano (sweet vermouth) and club soda, served in an old-fashioned glass with a slice of orange. It’s very refreshing, bitter without being overpowering and it’s an absolutely iconic cocktail, James Bond drinks it, and Gaspare Campari, the inventor of the liquor was the one who created the cocktail. That is some solid credentials. Additional bit of nerdery, the Americano is also known as the Milan-Torino, because Campari is from Milan and Cinzano is from Torino.

cocktail_americano_pag_foto

Why should I drink Campari you ask? Well, the truth is, you don’t really have to… I love the bitter taste, I think the color is awesome and screams summer, sunglasses and swimsuits. It’s a perfect warm weather drink, a great aperitif and to me, at least, it summons images of Italy, classy summer dinners with relaxed but impeccably dressed guests, a perfect vision of an Italian vacation that probably only exists in my mind.

That is actually a great transition to this song, Voyage en Italie (Trip in Italy), a French summer hit from 1994 that mentions driving down the Italian Riviera, drink Martini, bathe on a Capri beach, dance the calypso while looking down at the Arno river, and of course, drink some Campari. They even include a bad pun in the lyrics : Campari / Quand Paris (when Paris). Of course it’s a song after my own heart.

Wine Music : Grenache

After a lengthy Twitter and email discussion with Zelda of Illustrated Wine, I decided to change the angle of my Wine Music posts a little bit. She argued that it would be more interesting to illustrate wines with more obscure or local music. Given the fact that I have an endless supply of French music to share, and that my previous offering of Burgundian songs was well received, I thought it would be worth a try.

It also helped that I had the perfect music/wine combo in mind for that new approach. Grenache is a grape from Spain which is most famous for the wines produced in France in the Southern Rhone Valley. It’s a lighter, fun, fruity grape that works well in blends and is fairly easy drinking by itself.

Given those characteristics, I think I would use a song by French band Les Negresses Vertes called Sous le Soleil de Bodega. Like Grenache, it’s light and fun, and also, it displays some Spanish sounds which calls back to the Spanish heritage of the grape. Finally, the song was made to illustrate wine as it contains a few invocations to Dionysos (Dionysus), the Greek god of wine, wine making and general drunkenness: “Toi Dionysos, bénis ma chair, bénis mes os” or, you Dionysus, bless my flesh, bless my bones.

Last reason I wanted to post this song, summer is finally coming to Massachusetts and not a moment too soon. This song always makes me think of summer, of heat, sun and lazy afternoons spent drinking wine on the terrace with my dad, this song is actually a favorite of his. Now I get that I’m the only one with an emotional connection to the song, but do you agree with the pairing?

The Ramblings : MWWC9, Opening night dinners and glassware

Ramblings time.  A few thoughts and links that don’t really warrant a full post but that might however be of interest.

MWWC9 : Fear

Voting for the Monthly Wine Writing Challenge 9 is now open. As always, there are some fantastic entries, this month’s theme was fear which inspired various reactions. You can vote here, my entry is Fear and Loathing in wine tasting, it’s about self-doubt and Dune, and the fact that fear is good; fear is right, fear works.

Wine Blog Awards

WBA_logo_rotator

Someone was nice enough to nominate my blog in the Best New Blog category for the 2014 Wine Blog Awards, so I don’t know what is going to happen, but I thought I’d mention it anyway.

Liquid Art House

I went to the opening of a new restaurant in Boston, the Liquid Art House. Great dinner that culminated in a dessert wine tasting: 2 Italian passitos (Toscany and Sicily), 1 late harvest tokaij from Hungary and 1 ice wine from Canada, here’s a picture that can’t possibly do justice to how great everything tasted.

the end of a happy dinner

the end of a happy dinner

Other tidbit from that dinner, apparently I can be fussy about Italian whites, at least that’s what my friend told me. She might be right too; I think it can be expanded to most whites from warmer climates. I tend to look for acidity in a white wine and as a rule, the warmer the climate, the less acidity there is! But then, I love viognier which isn’t known for high levels of acidity so… I guess it’s a matter of taste. At least now I’m aware of it.

Glass recommendations

Finally, I’m looking to buy new wine glasses, any recommendations about brands and models? I’m looking for versatile and not to fragile. Any advice?

 In any case, and until next time, Cheers !