Sunday, April 27, 2008

2005 Linne Calodo "Leona's" (62% Zinfandel, 30% Syrah, 8% Mourvedre (Paso Robles, Cal.)

This hard-to-get wine from a very sought-after and relatively new producer was very intense, but would have been even better had its alcohol level been a bit lower.

Eye: Dark black ruby with violet highlights.

Nose: Intense, complex nose of spicy blackberries, rock dust, sweet cream, pungent black peppercorns, minerals, and ink.

Mouth: Huge body. Intense, peppery flavors, with bitterish blackberries fruit. This wine needs a substantial, meaty pasta sauce that the high alcohol can cut through, or else it's just too darn peppery.

Score: 90 (on the basis of sheer character, but certainly not elegance or subtlety).

Cellar or drink? In my experience, wines whose alcohol is so prominent in youth do not age well. The alcohol just seems to burn away the fruit. Drink now with a bit of airing.

Price/Store: Was $49.95 at Houston Wine Merchant.

2006 Mommessin MACON-VILLAGES "Old Vines - Chardonnay" (Burgundy, France)

This was great buy in a clean, unoaked, characterful Chardonnay.

Eye: Light brassy gold color.

Nose: Pretty, pure fruit nose: Pear, apple, peach pit, with earthy, stony notes subtly in the background.

Mouth: Lots of up-front, clean, concentrated fruit attacks the palate. Good weight and softness, with medium-full body, and a clean, pure finish.

Score: 88.

Cellar or drink? Drink now.

Price/store: $8 and change at most Spec's.

2000 Trimbach GEWURZTRAMINER "Vendages Tardives" (Alsace, France)

This was a terrifically flavorful, but not overly sweet, after dinner wine.

Eye: Very light straw color.

Nose: Drop-dead gorgeous nose of apricots, lychee nuts, yeasty bread, and a subtle background note of stony minerals.

Mouth: Ripe, rich flavors of buttery apricots and cherries, with earthy straw notes. Auslese-level sweetness. Long, clean finish, with a slow fade of apricot, straw and bread. Not at all tiring to drink, yet with fairly low acidity.

Score: 91.

Cellar or drink? Drink over the next year, as this does not have the intense acidity to ensure much more aging.

Price/store: Got this for about $70 for a full, not half, bottle at Spec's on Smith.

Saturday, April 26, 2008

Pasta with fresh tomatoes, fresh mozzarella, and Italian sausage

I made up this dish last night, and it's pretty darn good.


1 lb. package good quality penne or other pasta
12-ounce tub fresh mozzarella (drain cheese and cut into ¾" chunks)
3 mild Italian sausages (preferably homemade), skin removed , coarsely chopped
Half a bunch of green onions (scallions), chopped
12 basil leaves (chiffonaded, i.e., cut into thin ribbons)
¼ cup extra virgin olive oil
1 clove garlic, crushed but whole
4 med. tomatoes (seeds, gooey stuff, and ribs removed), cut into ½" pieces
¼ cup dry white wine
Fresh ground black pepper
Red pepper flakes
Sea salt


1. Get large pot of salted water boiling.

2. Meanwhile, heat skillet to medium high heat with a bit of olive oil, and brown chopped sausage meat. Remove and reserve sausage, add wine to skillet, turn up heat and scrape up remaining browned bits while wine boils a minute or two. Pour reduced wine and browned bits on to reserved sausage.

3. Water should now be boiling, so add pasta to pot of water.

4. Wipe skillet used for the sausage clean, add a bit more olive oil, turn heat to medium and when hot, soften the green onions and garlic. When the green onions are softened, add chopped fresh tomato, salt, black pepper, and red pepper. Sauté for no more than one minute. Remove garlic and remove pan from heat.

5. When pasta is al dente, drain it and toss it with tomatoes & green onions, the sausage & wine mixture, the basil, and the diced mozzarella until the mozzarella begins to get just a little bit gooey.

Serves 4 or 5.

© Tom Casagrande 2008

2001 Raymond Usseglio CHATEAUNEUF DU PAPE "Non-Filtre -- Girard" (Southern Rhone, France)

This Chateauneuf was disappointingly thin.

Eye: Medium ruby with brick at the rim.

Nose: Medium intensity but somewhat complex nose of Provencal herbs, smoke, iodine, and spicy berries.

Mouth: Lean and one dimensional on the palate, with intensely peppery, leathery, minerally flavors predominating, with some meek cassis fruit cowering in the corner. Decent length and balancing acidity. Not as weighty and ripe as I had expected.

Score: 86.

Cellar or drink? I would drink this up soon, as there simply isn't enough stuffing for further cellaring.

Price/store: Got this for about $29 at Flickinger Wines on the web.

2001 Casa Emma CHIANTI CLASSICO RISERVA (Tuscany, Italy)

The was the second of two amazing Tuscan wines we opened one night (to accompany my Tuscan braised meatloaf) while my parents were visiting from Massachusetts.

Eye: Dark, brickish ruby.

Nose: Sweet cherry, balsa wood, sweet, milky baking spices, and quartzy earth.

Mouth: Concentrated, lively flavors of penetrating, sweet-crisp cherries, ripe lemon juice, and leather. Like a ballet dancer it is so balanced, elegant, and lively.

Score: 92.

Cellar or drink? This is near its peak now, but will certainly hold and possible even improve in a cool cellar over the next 5 years.

Price/store: This was about $42 at Spec's on Smith.

1999 San Felice "VIGORELLO" (Tuscany, Italy)

This is a powerful, yet elegant example of a non-traditional style Sangiovese from Tuscany.

Eye: Very dark ruby with brick at the rim.

Nose: Very complex nose of of sweet, spiced cherries, sweet vanilla spice, smoky cedarwood, and earth.

Mouth: Rich, deep, intense flavors, but with great elegance and uplift at the same time. Cassis, dry cherry syrup, fragrant earth and new leather flavors are all there. Long, long finish. Outstanding!

Cellar or drink? This will probably hold for another 5 years in a cool cellar, but I can't imagine it getting any better than it is now.

Score: 93.

Price/store: This was a very nice gift that someone gave to Liz at her 50th birthday party in 2006. I don't think the 1999 is available anymore -- although I've seen the 2001 (another terrific year in Tuscany) around (at Spec's, for example) for about $45.

Saturday, April 19, 2008

2005 Tir Na N'Og "Old Vines" GRENACHE (McLaren Vale, Australia)

Wow! This was a huge, hedonistic wine! Australia is best known for its Shirazes, but I think their most underrated varietal is Grenache (which is the primary varietal in many wines grown in the southern Rhone Valley in France, such as Chateauneuf-du-Pape), and this is one of the best I've had.

Eye: Deep, saturated, soft black ruby.

Nose: Amazing nose -- sweet, oozingly ripe spiced raspberries, blueberry and apricot too, with smoky carrot cake scents as well.

Mouth: Rich, weighty, deep flavors of ripe raspberry syrup, pepper, spicy minerals, and balsa wood. Great weight and concentration, yet softly-textured. Tremendously long finish.

Score: 92.

Cellar or drink? This will keep for a year or two, but my experience with Grenache-based wines this huge and ripe is that they're best drunk relatively young. As they age, the fruit recedes, and the alcohol (which is pushing 16% in this baby) starts to intrude.

Price/Store: $28 at Spec's on Smith.

2006 Château Mourgues du Gres "Les Galets Rosés" COSTIERES DE NÎMES ROSÉ (Rhone, France)

This was an earthy, dry rosé well-suit to a meal, rather than on its own as an aperitif.

Eye: Bright pink with a hint of orangey highlights.

Nose: Rather complex nose for a rosé, with strawberry and watermelony fruit, minerals, and a distinct smoky earthiness.

Mouth: Lots of dry, up-front fruit and earthy minerally flavors, with good concentration and balance. Long, clean finish.

Score: 88.

Cellar or drink? As with all rosés, drink them while they're fresh!

Price/Store: Was $12.50 at Spec's on Smith.

2006 Viña Antigua SANGIOVESE-BONARDA (Maipu, Argentina)

This was a great value in a super-cheap red.

Eye: Medium ruby garnet color.

Nose: Needs time to open up, but once it does it displays a nice nose of sweet plums, lemon custard, and spiced, sweet apple wood.

Mouth: Medium-bodied, balanced flavors of smoky cherries and earth, with a surprisingly long (for the price), pure finish.

Score: 88.

Cellar or drink? Drink over the next year.

Price/Store: $5.24 at Spec's stores.

2005 Jean-Claude Thevenet MACON-PIERRECLOS (Burgundy, France)

This Chardonnay from southern Burgundy had nice purity of fruit and minerality, unmarred by oak.

Eye: Beautiful light brassy gold.

Nose: Medium intensity nose sporting scents of pungent rock dust, toast, grape skins, and barely ripe peaches.

Mouth: Broadly-flavored and soft-textured, with white pepper and grape skin flavors. Good balancing acidity and relatively full body.

Cellar or drink? Drink over the next several months.

Score: 87.

Price/Store: Was $16 at Spec's on Westheimer.

2006 CARRO (Yecla, Spain)

This perennial good cheap red is again a good cheap red.

Eye: Dark, soft blackish ruby with some purply highlights at the rim.

Nose: Sweet, grapey, plummy nose, with back notes of lemon juice and balsa wood.

Mouth: Good, weighty, soft flavors: cherry, blackberry, and earthy underbrush notes. Soft, broad mouthfeel, with a little bit of tannin to spare.

Cellar or drink? Drink over the next year.

Score: 87.

Price/Store: $8 and change at Spec's on Smith.

Sunday, April 06, 2008

2005 Bouchard Ainé BEAUNE PREMIER CRU CLOS DU ROI (Burgundy, France)

At my first wine job in NYC out of college, the importer I worked for (Paramount Brands) used to sell Bouchard-Ainé burgundies, and they were very good values at the time. Since the mid-1980s, however, I haven't seen this negociant's wines around. When I saw a few of them show up in Spec's, I had to try one. Unfortunately, this wasn't worth the hefty price I paid, as this lighter-styled French Pinot Noir could have used a bit more ripeness. (To be fair, at $38, this wine is actually priced on the cheaper end of premier crus from the 2005 vintage, but that's a lot of money for me.)

Eye: Dark violet/ruby color.

Nose: High-toned nose of sappy yet tart cherries, and perfumed chalk dust.

Mouth: Medium-bodied, with crisp flavors of stones, tart cherries and plums, and smoky balsa wood. Long finish, with fairly high acidity and some youthful tannin. All in all, a crisper, almost austere style of Pinot Noir.

Cellar or drink? I think it would be a gamble to cellar this one more than a year in the hopes that it will flesh out -- I just don't think it has the necessary ripeness to transform itself into a more generous style of wine.

Score: 87.

Price/store: Was $38 at Spec's on Richmond.

2005 Domaine du Cassan BEAUMES DE VENISE (Côtes du Rhône, France)

This wine was fragrant and nice, but could have used a touch more concentration.

Eye: Bright, deep plummy-ruby color.

Nose: Vivacious aromas of spicy cherry, stony minerals, black pepper, and "garrigue" (a smell reminiscent of the hot, dry aromas of herbs growing wild in Provence).

Mouth: Broad, soft mouthfeel upon entry, with lots of soft but coarse tannin. Flavors of bitter cherry, pungent minerals, and scorched earth, but with a slight lack of depth in the mid-palate. A distinctive wine that needs stews or pasta with meat sauce to shine.

Cellar or drink? This may soften in a year or so, but the shortcoming with concentration would make anything beyond that risky.

Score: 86.

Price/store: I think I got this one for about $15 at Spec's on Holcombe.

2005 Domaine du Grand Bréviande CHINON (Loire Valley, France)

This was a balanced, elegant-styled red. With just a touch more ripeness, this would have been really good.

Eye: Very dark black ruby.

Nose: Shy, but interesting -- charred meat, black cherry, and minerals.

Mouth: Soft, but concentrated. Nice balance too, featuring cassis and mineral oil flavors, with a slightly bitter undercurrent of brambly twigs.

Cellar or drink? The tight core of fruit and the balance says to me that this wine can age and improve for a few years.

Score: 87.

Price/store: Got this at Central Market for about $16.

Saturday, April 05, 2008

2004 Verget CHABLIS 1er CRU VAILLONS “Vieilles Vignes de Minots” (Burgundy, France) (unscored notes from memory)

I had this SUPERB Chablis at OLA (the South Beach restaurant discussed below) restaurant.

This seemed to be a very old-school, barrel-fermented style of Chablis, with lots of toasty gun-flint, minerally, and lemony-peach scents on the nose. The flavors were incredibly precise and the mouthfeel light, yet with excellent concentration of lemon-lime and chalky/minerally flavors. (Sorry, picture is for the 2006).

I'm usually only a cautious fan of Verget's white burgundies, as I associate Verget with a style that emphasizes minerally/terroir over fruit, but this was dead-on amazing. I think I wouild have scored this one over 90 if I had been scoring at the time.

Excellent restaurant in Dallas; very good one in Miami's South Beach

A couple of weeks ago, my family and I were visiting the Dallas/Forth Worth area and were lucky enough to score a late Monday night reservation at a terrific new (but small) Italian restaurant called NONNA. This is definitely in the "Top 5" of Italian restaurants I've eaten at in the US. The freshness and quality of the ingredients was superb, and the cooking was authentic, flavorful, and--best of all--not drowned in cooking fat to stretch the flavors. The pasta dishes and sauces were unique and well-executed, and the wood oven pizzas were true Neapolitan style, light and flavorful. And I could have made a meal of the astoundingly fresh olives brought to the table when we sat down.

Here are my daughter Rebecca's comments:

Nonna is such a fantastic restaurant. The food is outstanding and the service is good. I especially enjoyed the olives and the fried artichokes.

4115 Lomo Alto Drive

And two nights ago in South Beach, Miami, I had a terrific Latin American fish meal at OLA. The seafood here is remarkably fresh, and they offer about a dozen different kinds of ceviche!

OLA (at Sanctuary Hotel)
1745 James Ave.
South Beach, Miami, FL
(305) 695-9125