Tasting Notes : Summer afternoon in a glass

Raats Family Chenin Blanc 2009

Region: Stellenbosch, Western Cape, South Africa

Grape: 100% Chenin Blanc

Price: around $23 online


I had a friend over last week and I decided to flex my cooking muscles with a jambalaya recipe, I love Cajun food and I always wondered about wine pairings for it. Basically the recipe calls for rice, ham, chicken sausage, green bell peppers, onions, green onions, celery, tomato sauce and spices. It turned out really well, but, as I was cooking I wondered which wine I should serve. On a hunch I decided to take out that Chenin Blanc from South Africa. It’s from Stellenbosch, the premium region within Western Cape and it’s made by the Raats family winery which has a good reputation (or so the Internet tells me). The grape is Chenin Blanc, a white variety which is widely used in South Africa (where it is known as Steen). My knowledge of the grape comes from wines made in the middle Loire Valley in France (Anjou and Touraine). Wines from Chenin Blanc can be dry, as the Raats is, but it can also be used to make sweet and/or sparkling wines such as Vouvray. It has a reputation of being a fairly versatile grape. So basically, I knew nothing going in

Eye: medium to deep lemon with hints of green (also, it might be the lousy lighting in my apartment…)

Nose: Clean, medium intensity, citrus fruit, green fruit (mostly pear) and white flowers aromas. I can’t possibly tell you which white flowers, sorry… I mean seriously, I don’t even know what most flowers smell like, I should get one of these “wine aroma” boxes. I also got hints of something heavier like honey.

Palate: dry, medium to high acidity, full body

All right, I’m still mad at South Africa for stealing the 1995 Rugby World Cup (Derek Bevan, you pathetic excuse of a human being) but that will not prevent me from enjoying this wine. It’s very balanced and structured. It opens with a fresh fruit quality (grapefruit and pear), then moves on to a fuller, heavier, fatter feel that almost gets sweet but not quite, and finally there is a mineral quality to the finish. All three phases: fruit, sweet, mineral, are thoroughly enjoyable. What struck me is the fullness of the body.

Food pairings: Turned out to be a pretty good choice to go with the jambalaya, it had enough body and acidity not to be overwhelmed by the rich dish. I felt that this wine could actually go with a lot of different dishes. The bottle recommends pairing it with oysters which sounds weird to me, I feel like it would be a disaster with that full body and almost fat quality, but maybe I should give it a try.

Overall opinion: Need to try more South African Chenin Blancs. As in the Loire Valley, they are made in a variety of styles and I was definitely impressed with this dry, structured, full-bodied example.  I’d compare this wine to a well spent vacation afternoon : you go to the beach, you take a nap, you go play some tennis, you watch the sunset,… a lot of things happen and they leave you contented.


Tasting Notes : COS Pithos Bianco Sicilia 2011

COS Pithos Bianco Sicilia 2011

Region: Italy, Sicily

Grape: 100% Grecanico

Price: around $30 online

COS Pithos Bianco 2011

For my 31st birthday I went to have dinner with a friend at Island Creek Oyster, a renowned seafood place in Boston. My friend actually works in the wine industry so she was tasked with selecting the bottle and her eyes lit up when she saw that particular bottle on the list. It’s a wine from Sicily, made from Grecanico, a common white grape in southern Italy but there are 2 twists in the wine-making process. First, they leave the grape skins soak with the juice, which is the normal process for a red wine but out of the ordinary for whites. Second, the entire fermentation process takes place in terracotta amphorae. A unique wine-making process should translate into a unique wine, so I waited for the bottle with unfeigned interest.

Eye: medium gold with pretty intense tinge of orange

Nose: clean, medium intensity, a definitely saline tone. To me it smells like the sea, a salty odor almost like the smell of a lean oyster

Palate: medium to low acidity, medium body, medium to long finish

This wine humbled me as a wine lover and a writer both. It is so far out of my system of reference that I’m having a hard time writing about it. It is, literally, unlike anything I ever had. The wine is very well structured, with tannins that mesh well with the acidity and provide good balance. The aromas are definitely salty, with some bitterness and some gamey flavors. Even the color is unusual. I think it’s all because of the approach chose by COS to treat a white grape as if it were a red, in any case it worked, I’m sold.

Food pairings: I had raw oysters as an appetizer, took one sip with them then didn’t touch my wine until I moved on to the entrée. It was a bad combination; the slight bitterness of the COS didn’t mesh with the oysters at all. It worked well however with the swordfish I had afterwards. I thought this bitter quality helped make the creamy sauce lighter. I would love to try this wine with white meat. It certainly opens the door to interesting pairings.

Overall opinion: Wow. My overall opinion is “Wow”. It’s a unique wine; at least it is for me so far. It’s like nothing I’ve ever had before and it’s, among other things, undoubtedly interesting. That’s one thing I love in wine, sometimes you find a UFO, a wine that makes you forget all those Bordeaux Superieurs that all taste the same. They are not bad, they are just, well, a little bit boring. Sometimes you are surprised, and it’s a good thing. If you get the chance to try it, do not hesitate. I know I will hunt down other wines from this producer anyway.

Tasting Notes : Costamolino Vermentino di Sardegna 2012

Cantine Argiolas Costamolino Vermentino di Sardegna 2012

Region: Italy, Sardinia

Grape: 100% Vermentino

Price: around $15 online

Costamolino Vermentino

I had diner at Taranta, a Southern-Italian / Peruvian fusion restaurant in Boston’s North End. My friend ordered Amazonian white fish and I had orrechiete with spicy sausage. The food was excellent and I chose this wine mostly out of curiosity because I didn’t know the grape variety, not even by name. Vermentino is native to the Mediterranean, mostly the islands of Sardinia and Corsica, but also on the mainland like in Tuscany or Southern France (where it is called Rolle).

This particular wine comes from Sardinia, one of the three major Mediterranean islands (and the only one I haven’t been yet). The Vermentino grape is actually responsible for the first Sardinian DOCG (Denominazione di Origine Controllata e Garantita, premium classified growing region) Vermentino di Gallura. The majority of the production, like the Costamolino I’ve had is sold under the basic DOC (Denominazione di Origine Controllata) Vermentino di Sardegna. So, appellation wise, it’s an entry level wine, as the price reflects.

Eye : clear, pale to medium lemon with a tinge of green

Nose : clean, low to medium intensity. Citrusy notes along with a slightly herbal quality I can’t quite place, overall it’s very pleasant, one whiff of the nose and you feel like the first sip is going to be refreshing

Palate: medium acidity, light to medium body, low to medium length of finish

Yep, I was right, refreshing it is. The wine is very crisp, clean and refreshing without being too harsh. The lighter body and acidity are balanced and the flavors are a little surprising, the citrus  is there but there is clearly some white peach or other stone fruits. It makes the wine a lot fruitier than I expected without ruining the crisp, refreshing quality of the wine.

Food pairings: I had it with pasta in a creamy sauce; it worked out well because the freshness of the wine would cut the rich cream sauce. My friend was extremely satisfied by the pairing with a white river fish. I’d say this wine would work with a surprisingly wide array of dishes, I would stay away from red meat though.

Overall opinion: My discovery of the Vermentino grape was a pleasant one indeed, especially for a supposedly entry level wine. It’s a definite winner for summer days and evenings.