Saturday, May 27, 2006

2004 "Mad Dogs and Englishmen" Cabernet (20%) Syrah (20%) Monastrell (60%) (a/k/a Bodegas y Vinedos Murcia Jumilla) (Spain)

Some marketing "whiz" obviously gave this wine a made-up name, used the now-popular-in-America Aussie synonym for Syrah (Shiraz), and then listed the Cabernet and "Shiraz" grapes before the "Monastrell" grape (even though the Monastrell component is 60%) on the label, thinking that us "Muricans" wouldn't buy a Spanish wine labeled Jumilla or Monastrell. Thanks for your high regard of our wine savvy.

Apart from the condescending label, this is a large-bodied lunk of a wine. Not real complex, but darn mouthfilling. Deep ruby color. Sweet, ripe nose of sweet cream, ripe blackberries, prunes, and sweet pipe tobacco smoke. Rich, port-like fruit in the mouth -- dense and full. Some perceptible residual sugar in the mid-palate and finish. With its lack of complexity and very slight residual sugar, it wasn't very enjoyable on its own before dinner, but it actually went very well with the whole wheat pasta and sauteed peppers and bacon dish (recipe below) I made for dinner. I could see this going well with lots of different pasta dishes. 85. $10.99 at Whole Foods on Bellaire.

Whole Wheat Pasta with Peppers and Bacon

1 red, 1 yellow, and 1 green bell pepper, sliced into thin strips

1/2 bunch green onions, roughly chopped

1 clove garlic, crushed

1/2 pound good quality bacon (or pancetta, if you don't want the smoky flavor), sliced into 1/4 inch strips

1/4 cup dry white wine

1 pound good quality whole wheat (or regular) pasta

1/4 cup good quality olive oil

1/4 cup chopped parsley

freshly-ground sea salt, freshly ground black pepper, and red pepper flakes to taste

Get a big pot of salted water boiling. While it's getting there, fry up the bacon in a 12" saute pan until crisp or chewy, whatever you like. Remove bacon, pour off all but about 1 or 2 tablespoons of bacon fat and reserve it. Add the olive oil to the remaining bacon fat, then add the sliced peppers, the green onions, and the clove of garlic, and saute over medium high heat until the peppers start to soften a bit. Add back in the bacon, pour in the white wine, turn up heat and boil off for a minute or so, then add sea salt, freshly ground pepper, and red pepper flakes to taste. When the pasta is done, drain, pour into a big dish, add the sauteed pepper sauce (sans the garlic clove), chopped parsley, and toss. To add some richness, you can listen to the bad angel on your left shoulder and drizzle in a little of the bacon drippings you poured off earlier. A bit of freshly grated parmesan is a nice addition at the end.

Les Heritiers du Comte Lafon 2004 MACON (White Burgundy)

This wine is amazing for its lowly "Macon" pedigree. A light straw-gold with a slight greenish glint. This wine has a nose more like a good Meursault or Chassagne-Montrachet than a Maconnais wine: aromas of hazelnut, straw, ripe pears and grapes, undergirded with a terrific stony/earthy foundation. Rich, earthy, pear, orange peel, and marzipan flavors attack the palate. Texture is unctuous and buttery for a Macon, and the finish is pretty darn long. One of the best Macons I've ever had. 90. Was about $16 (I think, since I lost the receipt) at Richard's on Shepherd.

Monday, May 22, 2006

2002 Hazyblur Adelaide Plains GRENACHE (Australia)

I just love what the Aussies can do with Grenache. This is a rich, intense, and voluptuous wine. Dark ruby color. Gorgeously perfumed nose of incense, raspberry liqueur, gingerbready spice, and iodine. Rich, fleshy, exotic mouthfeel, with salty, dense, lingering flavors of raspberry liqueur and minerals. Lengthy finish, but with no discernable tannin left. Drink now for a real treat. 91. Got this a little over a year ago at Richard's on San Felipe, so I'm not sure it's still there, but I think it was around $23.

2004 Domaine Pichot VOUVRAY "Domaine le Peu de la Moriette" (Loire Valley, France)

A great value, very prototypical Chenin Blanc. Bright, light straw color. Nose musty at first, then with air, gorgeous pear/melon fruit and sea shell scents emerged. Crisp but ripe apple and honeydew melon fruit, together with flowers and chalky mineral flavors. Slightly sweet in style (as traditionally are many Vouvrays), but with crisp acidity to keep everything in harmony. Very nice summertime white. 87. About $10 per bottle at most Spec's stores.

Tuesday, May 16, 2006

2004 Rioja "Cortijo III"

Another Spanish wine with a minimalist, pumpkiny colored label. Hmm.

This wine was very much like a Spanish version of a well-made, but straightforward, DeBouef Beaujolais, although it is 100% Tempranillo. Medium garnet ruby color. Bright cherry, strawberry fruit on the nose. Soft, lush fruit flavors with wet stone, minerally elements in the background. No tannin at all -- for drinking this summer, perhaps even with a little chill on it, just as with Beaujolais. 87. Was $7 at Spec's on Smith.

1997 Antonio Vallana "Colline Novaresi" SPANNA

Antonio Vallana was one of my favorite Italian producers back in the 80s, and I recently found and reviewed two older vintages of his Boca D.O.C. wines here and here. They weren't quite up to the old standards, and neither is this one.

1997 was a highly touted vintage in Northern Italy, so I was expecting a wine of substantial concentration and still a bit on the youthful side. But this wine showed significant browning at the edges. It was also quite fragrant, but definitely showed up the funky/earthy side of the Spanna (Nebbiolo) grape, with chokecherry and barnyardy, earthy scents competing for attention. Earthy, evolved flavors with cherries again, with noticeable acidity. I would drink this up, as any more aging will only play up the earthiness and acidity. 84.

Friday, May 12, 2006

2005 (yes, 2005) Cartlidge & Browne California PINOT NOIR

This reminded me of a nicely done entry level Bourgogne -- in other words, it was more French in style than Californian. Light ruby color. Nose somewhat stemmy at first, but with air it brightened up with lots of lively cherry, mineral, and cola scents. Light-bodied cherry and mineral flavors. Texturally not as fleshy as many basic California Pinot Noirs. 86. Was a very good value for a PN at under $10 at Spec's on Richmond.

2002 Columbia Crest Columbia Valley CABERNET SAUVIGNON "Grand Estates" (Washington State)

This is a characterful, food-friendly, great value of a Cab. I'm usually not much of a Cabernet fan, since I believe it matches well with few dishes, but this one would go well with a broad range of foods. Inky, fully saturated black ruby color. Really nice nose of chocolate powder, minerals, overripe cherries, cassis, and gravel. Rich, full-bodied, and intense flavors attack the palate with smokey, cherry cough syrup, and mineral components. Very soft, yet packed with flavor--a real mouthful of wine with lots of character. 89. Would go GREAT with grilled lamb chops, pasta with meat sauce, lots of stuff. Was $8.50 at Spec's on Richmond, though I suspect it's available in all Spec's locations and lots of other stores.

Thursday, May 11, 2006

Toronto Trip

Just got back from the annual International Trademark Association (INTA) spring conference, which this year was in Toronto. Apart from official stuff, I was able to sneak in two very good meals with my Connecticut buddy Frank Duffin. We walked a good 45 minutes from the Convention Center at lunch time to a section of Toronto called "Portugal Village." Not knowing anything about where the good restaurants were, we stopped into a small Portuguese shop, and asked the woman proprietress, who obviously was from Portugal, where we could get good Portuguese food. She directed us to a place called "First Choice Restaurant," located at 1102 Dundas St. W, (416-588-3851), where I had a bowl of "caldo verde" -- potato and kale soup -- and we split a huge order of Pork Alentejana -- pork and clams. Sounds weird, but it was really good. We were the only non-Portuguese speaking customers in the place.

For dinner, we had our traditional Tuesday night steakhouse trek. Each year, Frank and I "stake" out, as best we can determine, the best steakhouse in whatever city the INTA conference is in, and this year our research led us to Barberian's Steak House, 7 Elm Street, (416) 597-0335. While wicked expensive, the steaks were excellent. The wine list had pages upon pages of great wines from everywhere, but the prices were outrageous -- which I think has to do with the Ontario government-run distribution system. It was hard to find anything first rate that was under $100. Although these were Canadian dollars, the poor exchange rate meant that we were only getting $1.05 Canadian dollars for each U.S. dollar.

Anyway, we settled on the 2000 Dessilani Fara "Lochera," a full-bodied Nebbiolo-based wine from the Novara region west of Milan (the most famous wine from this region is Gattinara; Fara is less well-known but can be just as good, in my view). This wine was deep in color, very fragrant of cherry liqueur, leather, and earth, with lots of body and concentration. It had some tannin, but they were ripe and smooth. This wine will improve over the next five years. For dessert, we tried two glasses of 2004 Henry of Pelham Winery Ontario Peninsula Riesling Icewine. My expectations were not that high -- Canadian Riesling Icewine??? -- but this wine was amazing. Intense, rich, honeyed peachy nose, with bracing acidity to balance the intense richness. Absolutely classic Icewine, which I would happily compare to the Germans'. It was so good I made sure to find a state wine shop (the "LLBO") before I left so I could buy a half bottle ($54!) to bring back. State-run wine distribution, with its attendant high wine prices, have got to be the single biggest negative about living in Toronto, which really otherwise impressed me as a sophisticated, diverse, HUGE, and very interesting city.

Friday, May 05, 2006

2002 Capcanes "Mas Donis Barrica" (Montsant, Spain)

This's wines evolution once I uncorked it was just bizarre. When I first opened it, I thought it was heat damaged. The color showed some brownish at the rim, and the nose was of stewed fruit and warm raw meat. Not very appealing. So I put it away and opened up a bottle of something else. Hours later, I tried another small glass, just out of curiosity, and the color and nose were better. The brown was gone, and cassis fruit and smokey, gravelly scents (almost Bordeaux-like) emerged. Medium-bodied cassis and minerally flavors. Somewhat tightly wound but good. Two days later (under the Vacu-Vin seal) it was even better. This wine seemed to go from its deathbed to the flower of youth the more air time it got. 87? Hard to say. Was about $12 at Spec's on Smith.

2004 "Carril de Cotos" (Tierra de Castilla, Spain)

This is Spain's version of great Beaujolais. Deep purpley-ruby color. 100% Tempranillo, this wine's nose is pure ripe fruit -- disarmingly fruity, in fact. Fresh-crushed plums and ripe berries jump out. Soft, medium-full bodied, and concentrated, with plenty of soft, ripe tannin in the finish. Oodles of fruit in the mid-palate. A terrifically fun and very food-flexible wine for cookouts, pasta, sipping, whatever. 88. Was a great buy at $7.99 at Central Market.

2002 Sausal Alexander Valley Zinfandel "Old Vines"

An evil wine! A really good wine! Dense black ruby color. Fabulous nose of spicy, minerally raspberries and sweet brambleberries. Some toasty oak in the background too. Powerful, and full-bodied, with excellent concentration and fruit, with some well-integrated tannin in the finish. 89. Was $18.99 at Houston Wine Merchant.

I said evil at the beginning. After half a bottle the first night, I was totally zonked. As it was a Friday night, I chalked it up to a hard week. Two days later, finishing the remaining half of the bottle, I was zonked again! The label says only 14.3% alcohol, which is middlin' for good zin, so I don't know what's going on here, but, in any event, C. Everett Koop's warning about not operating heavy machinery applies to this one.

Tuesday, May 02, 2006

Central Market (near Highland Village Shopping Center) -- I surrender . . . . I liked it.

Well, despite my general dislike for what I perceive as "hoidy-toidy" (sp.?) stores, I went to visit Central Market (the hoidiest of the toidiest) for the first time in over a year on Monday evening. I didn't wind my way through the whole store, but focused on the wines and the produce, my two favorite subjects. As to wines, I have to admit that Central Market has a very interesting -- even eclectic -- selection. That's a big plus with me. I like stores that put some serious thought into their wine selection. And they clearly do. Lots of my favorite regions were well-represented, including the Rhone and southwestern France, Spanish, Italian, and Portuguese wines. Prices weren't as good as Spec's, but they weren't bad either. I picked up a cheap, interesting Tempranillo to try.

Their produce selection is amazing, and very fresh-looking too. All manner of greens (I picked up some broccoli rabe for pasta). Prices a bit high (like Whole Foods, but seemed even a tad higher). But probably worth it for the selection and the freshness.

And, on a Monday after work, it wasn't that jammed with the high-fallutin', moneyed crowd that usually gives me the willies. (That's why I usually avoid formal wine tastings these days -- I really need to talk to a therapist about this "issue.") So, the bottom line is: I'll be back.

Monday, May 01, 2006

2003 Brigaldara Valpolicella Classico (Veneto, Italy)

Yet another wine displaying the problems with the historic heat of 2003 in central Europe. Color good -- dense black ruby color, with purple highlights. But nose not as "friendly" as Valpolicellas should be: angular, with scorched earth and crunchy cherry, almond and chalky spice scents. Full-bodied, but somewhat angular in the mouth too, with sharp flavors of scorched earth and cherries. Sharp tannin and some astringency in the finish. (Gee, I used the term "sharp" a lot. Guess this was a sharp wine.) 82. Was $15.53 at Spec's on Smith. Not nearly as good as the 2001 edition, which I reviewed here.