Wednesday, May 31, 2006

Hot Spain

In today's Dining Section of the New York Times there is an article about the Bierzo wine region of Spain. Here in Memphis Spanish wines are hot, hot, hot! People are wild about them for a number of different reasons.

1. They are absolutely delicious
2. Most of the wines are value priced
3. They offer something different

The article goes on to describe Bierzo as an out of the way region that has not sacrificed it's traditional grape, Mencia, for fashionable grapes, such as Cabernet Sauvignon and Syrah. Some of the mencia vines are 40-100 years old! That's old vine for you.

Unfortunately, Bierzo's presence in Memphis is fairly weak. I did see one bottle at Joe's on Poplar and would recommend starting there.

Monday, May 22, 2006

The Scotsman's Birthday

My friends and I will use any opportunity to cook. Paula and Doug came in town from Louisville to visit; and it just so happened to be Doug's birthday. So Kristi, Jeff and I decided to prepare a birthday meal for Doug. We got together to brainstorm over coffee. Halfway through our discussion, two men sitting near us told us to keep it down. We thought at first that they were being rude, but it turned out that we were just making them hungry. We had the menu planned and our courses assigned. Off we went.

At 5 on Sunday Phil, Jeff, Paula, Doug, Kristi and Warner arrived and the feast began. I asked that everyone bring rose wine. Rose, I felt, would best pair with the spicy flavors on this menu. I also prepared a fresh pitcher of mojitos to start off the dinner.

Jeff prepared some incredible mini tostadas with spiced refried black beans topped with a mango-jicama slaw and queso fresco, puff pastries stuffed with chorizo and manchego cheese, and chipotle cheddar mashed potatoes stuffed inside a grilled red pepper.

Kristi prepared crispy jalapeno peppers stuffed with cheddar, roasted root vegetables, grilled bbq shrimp, spiced brownies and cinnamon ice cream.

I cooked grilled corn salad with avocado and red pepper in a cumin-orange vinaigrette, and a spice crusted grilled london broil.

Accompanying this spice-laden meal were some lovely wines. Rose is a perfect partner to spice. The full fruit and refreshing quality of rose complements and contrasts spicy flavors in food. The Vision Cellars Rose was full bodied and packed with cherry and berry fruit with a crisp dry finish. The Remy Pannier Rose d'Anjou had light hints of watermelon with a slight off-dry quality. Toad Hollow Eye of The Toad Rose of Pinot Noir was light, refreshing, and full of bright fruit.

Anytime is a good time to prepare a wonderful meal, but food and wine always taste better when you surround yourself with loved ones. Happy Birthday Doug!

Sunday, May 07, 2006


Last week Sabrina, Patrick, Hillary and I met at Sabrina's for a little blind tasting of Sauvignon Blanc. And yes, Sabrina, at first I was a little skeptical. I've always enjoyed Sauvignon Blanc and truly believe they have their place on the table when it comes to a multi-course meal. But I've never really looked at the grape with a critical eye. This was going to be fun.

We all brought a bottle of wine and gave it to Eric to tuck away from us all. He was the master pourer, the one who held the bottles and protected them from prying eyes. Hillary brought a delectable selection of goat's cheeses, Patrick brought a tasty herbed goat's cheese and Sabrina made shrimp and grits and a killer grilled tuna steak. I prepared a fresh salmon ceviche with dill, cilantro, habanero pepper, tangerine, mango, lime and avocado.

Wine #1 was a very pale pale yellow with a tint of light green. Very clear and bright with a clean fresh look about it. We all guessed it was 1-2 years old. On the nose I detected floral notes with a bit of fresh ginger and fresh fresh citrus. The first taste was like taking a bite out of a fresh granny smith apple. It had tart bright acidity with a hint of lime zest. The consensus was that it was New World, either 2004 or 5. I guessed it was around 12-12.5% alcohol. Eric pulled off the brown bag and revealed Mulderbosch 2005 from Stellenbosch South Africa.

Wine #2 also had a light pale green tinge to it, but was a bit darker than #1. The aroma was very herbaceous with a bit of nut and lemon rind. The palate revealed a very full mouthfeel but with quite a hot finish. I guessed maybe California, 1-2 years old. We all felt that the quality of this wine was considerably lower than #1, and that it was vastly more manipulated. It turned out to also be from South Africa. It was Kumala 2005.

Wine #3 had a bit of golden color and was less pale than 1 or 2; yet was still clear and fresh looking. The scent of grapefruit practically smacked me in the face. The grapefruit aroma gave way to hints of fresh cut asparagus with light fresh cut grass
and an herbaceous tone. The palate displayed sweet fruit with hints of pineapple and other tropical notes. The grapefruit characteristic led me to believe that it might have been from New Zealand. Maybe 2 years old. We all guessed that it was good quality. Eric pulled back the brown bag and revealed Cloudy Bay 2004.

Wine #4 displayed a pale almost light golden color. On the nose was a very floral aroma with a touch of ginger, some spicy characteristics and hint of lemongrass. The palate had a bit of minerality with limestone, lime zest and wet rock. It was not very mouthfilling, more razor sharp. I really fluctuated between guessing New World or Old World. The style really led me to believe it was Old World because of its elegance. I was wrong. This little wine was from St Supery, Napa Valley 2004.

All in all, this was very educational AND a lot of fun.

Tuesday, May 02, 2006

Further Tales of Tasting

On a beautiful recent Sunday evening our unnamed club of wine aficionados met to indulge our taste buds. Kelly was off work so he joined us as we plunged headlong into some very delicious bottles.

First up was a 2004 Rose of Pinot Noir from Luddite Vineyards. Kelly and I picked up this bottle at Crush Wine Company on our trip to Manhattan last October. Only 68 cases of this vintage was produced! The only two places to purchase this wine is at Crush and The French Laundry in Napa Valley. The owner/winemaker of Luddite is a passionate man who strongly believes in high quality hand-crafted wines. This rose exhibited a beautiful clear strawberry color with cherry sorbet or jam, red raspberry and white flower aromas. The bright fruit and balanced acidity on the palate was beautiful. I would pair this wine with full-bodied olive oil and lightly spiced grilled pork sausage.

Next we opened a 2001 Les Cousins Pinot Noir from Willamette Valley. Beaux Freres hand selected this wine as a personal cuvee for Robert Kacher. The vineyards that these grapes were sourced from hold some of the oldest Pinot Noir vines in Oregon. The nose displayed beautiful pinot fruit, spice and earth. At first taste, the acidity was too high and it almost seemed slightly bubbly. Leading Richie and Megan to think it might have undergone a secondary fermentation in the bottle, much like Champagne. After a few minutes it blew off and the wine settled down into a gorgeous almost Burgundian-style Pinot Noir. It had bright red cherry and blueberry and earth on the nose with soft supple tannins and a very long lasting finish.

Pressing onward we popped open the 2003 Domaine Chandon Carneros Pinot Meunier (thanks Bryce!). Both Richie and I were excitedly expecting a funk bomb of a wine. We were very pleasantly surprised when the wine revealed a fruit forward nose of cherry and rhubarb that continued on the palate! It was not funky at all, but a lovely fruit forward medium bodied wine exhibiting flavors of pomegranate and pie spice. It did have some earth on the nose but in no way was it overpowering. All in all I really enjoyed it. Pair this with black olives and spiced sausage.

And here we came to one of Richie's little jewels from his recent trip to Seattle; K Vintners 2004 "The Boy" a blend of Grenache, Syrah and Mourvedre from Walla Walla Valley. Very impressive. It had a deep dark garnet-like color and a nose that at first was extremely difficult to decipher. We were all working very hard for at least 15 minutes on dismantling the nose to get to the flavors. The winemaker had so tightly integrated the varietals that we couldn't pull out aromas. It was as if a seamstress had woven the wine together, interlocking each varietal so that the aromas of each hit all at once. Finally, we were able to detect fig, slight leather, stewed fruit and black cherry. On the palate was cocoa, huge berries and a slight tea-like character.

Next we had another well traveled wine sourced from Richie and Megan's trip to Seattle, the 2003 Boudreaux Cellars Cabernet Sauvignon. Good god! Two stellar Washington state wines in a row. Both are perfect examples of why Washington wines continue to get an exorbitant amount of press lately. I detected hints of vanilla, cola, dark chocolate and olive on the nose. The wine displayed a rich velvet texture that wallpapered my mouth. Wow! It was full-bodied and the finish went on for miles and miles.

And last, but not least, Michael finally showed up (a certain someone delayed his arrival.....hmmmmph) with a special treat...a 1988 Chateau Graud Larose. This beautifully aged Bordeaux was complex and impressive. It had an elegant aroma of leather, earth and sage. The palate exhibited a smoked meat quality, but it wasn't gamy or overpowering. The fruit on the wine had lightened but was still detectable. Pair with black olives, the olives will amplify the fruit in the wine.

Yet again another INCREDIBLE tasting. Thank you for hosting us Megan and Richie!