All posts by Wilfred Wong

Grilling: Cabernet, Rib Eye of Beef and beyond

14_06_26 2000 Dinner@Auberge du Petit Nice_6000_Blog

Right now I am thinking that I really would enjoy a perfectly grilled rib eye of beef (a similar cut to entrecôte in France). I can still remember the incredible one I enjoyed with my good friend Peter Chai at Restaurant Saint-Julien in Bordeaux many years ago. The kitchen produced a steak so bloody good that its memory remains indelible in my brain. On that day in the Médoc we drank a whole bottle of Bordeaux at lunch (well, I drank ¾ of the bottle). Now my palate years later is demanding that I re-create that moment from the past. This thought became more intense after I boarded a plane from Bordeaux just a day ago. I had just spent five days with judges from the Los Angeles International Wine Competition at the Bordeaux Le Fete (June 25th to 29th) drinking large glasses of Bordeaux (the Bordelais always pour huge glasses of wine for their guests and themselves) and melting into a blur of grilled meats and Bordeaux rouge.

If you love Cabernet Sauvignon, you have to go for the rib eye. With apologies to my vegan and vegetarian friends, rib eye and Cabernet Sauvignon is one of the world’s most perfect food and wine matches. Where is this leading? Grilling and BBQ  goes beyond all borders. While we in the United States have coined the phrase, “Barbecue- the great American pastime.” one just has to travel a bit and realize that this way of cooking can be found the world over.

It is safe to assume that every culture does a little bit of grilling. This popular way of cooking provides all of wine lovers with many pairing options. The choices that quickly come to mind are (and there are many more): Korean grilled (thinly sliced beef, marinated in a sweet soy-like sauce) with a dry to slightly sweet rosé. Argentine indirect grilling of beef- begging for a glass or two of Malbec,  I have enjoyed that many times in the vineyards of Mendoza in Argentina. How about grilled a whole chicken, a worldwide favorite? One could snag a fine California Pinot Noir and just melt into an easy chair in the backyard.

Now that the table has been set: How about a few wines to whet your appetite? Some folks in the wine world contend that I am a Napa boy. Well, yes I am really fond of wines from my backyard (Napa, Sonoma, Mendocino), yet my twitter and Instagram handle suggest otherwise. If you go by @willeboysf, you have to be  local and international at the same time. Having said that, one of my favorite wineries in the Napa Valley is Hall Wines and the 2011 Hall Cabernet is one to enjoy for this season’s grilling. A first choice with beef, but well suited with chicken and pork as well. Made from a cooler vintage, the wine’s edginess makes it more versatile than it would have been otherwise. When the super-rich and well-ripened 2012 is released, you will find the wine more suited for beef and heavier meat dishes. For partiers looking for something to dance on their palate and pair with a whole range of entreés, the 2013 Miraval Rosé Côtes de Provence has everything one would want. The wine is pleasing and gentle, with pretty red fruit flavors. Just imagine gnawing on a grilled chicken leg and washing it down with this wine. If you are into a sophisticated BBQ, I’d like to point you in the direction of the 2012 Sojourn Rodgers Creek Pinot Noir. This wine is awesome and delicious. Succulent and pure with lots of wild strawberries, it calls for grilled leg of lamb spiked with rosemary sticks, slathered with garlic and dotted with fresh cracked black pepper. Now take out the grill or buy a new one if you must, this is a good time to get the cooker ready and enjoy! While I am loading up my cellar with Cabernet Sauvignon and the weekly fridge with rib eye of beef, grilling offers so many possibilities. Make your days as yummiest as you can.

A day in the life of a wine judge

11_01_04 0830 SF Chron_221_Blog

What is a day like for me as a wine judge? Well, as fun as it sounds, a day of wine judging is a lot of work and responsibility.

As a wine judge and as a consumer, it’s good to know why wineries enter their wines into competitions. Wineries seek re-affirmation of the wines they have made, as well as awards to help market to consumers looking for a stamp of approval on quality. Wine judges have to be skilled and honest. All wines are tasted blind and judges have to be ready for a rigorous day of tasting. In most wine competitions, the day begins around 9:00 AM and often lasts until 4-5:00 PM. It is long and tiring, even for long-standing, experienced judges.

At the sound of my alarm clock, the judging day starts! I wonder who will be on my panel at this competition.  Will they be old friends or new ones?  Will they be experienced or newbies?  Of course all of this does not matter because I have a job to do. On most judging days, a panel will take on 125-175 wines. I look over the assignment list to see what our panel has drawn (Chardonnay, Pinot Noir, Grenache, etc.) Some competitions offer the judges a choice, but most assign you what they think you would like or can handle. In the end it does not matter, the job is to judge wines, and there are many.

The first flights arrive. We typically taste silently. The judges give their individual awards and the scores (Gold, Silver, Bronze and no medal) are recorded. We then break down the awards and arrive at a consensus for the panel’s group award. This goes on flight after flight until the day is done. All the while, I keep myself organized as I record my notes and scores for later use long after the competition has been completed. I drink lots of water, refresh my palate with crackers when needed and even roast beef to cut the tannins in red wines. You may be thinking: Does Wilfred ever gets tired? You bet I do, but the show goes on. Between flights, I will stretch my legs, take photos of the event and just take a breath.  It’s a long day, but I find it educational and enlightening.

I have been on the circuit for a long, long time. My wine judging career began in the mid 1980’s and has now spanned 30+ years, more than 200 competitions, 30,000+ wines and five countries (the United States, France, Spain, New Zealand and Australia). As an extreme wine researcher, covering all aspects of wine from vineyard to bottle, wine judging remains the finest equalizer. In a year’s time, blind tasting under these circumstances keeps my palate well grounded. If you give me a bottle of Robert Mondavi Reserve Cabernet Sauvignon to evaluate, my brain is already making qualitative decisions on the wine’s quality. In a blind tasting, my palate has control and the brain cannot influence it by knowing the price or producer. Over time, a wine taster improves in the understanding of what is in the bottle by tasting in different situations. Days as a wine judge are not always the most pleasurable, but they serve a great purpose.

 

 

It’s bubbles for June, of course!

13_07_19 1000 John Clark_400_Blog

What is so great about sparkling wines? Do they tickle our noses? Do they sparkle in our glasses? Are they fun to drink? Yes to all of the above and then some. For decades, bubbles in the glass have been used to toast, celebrate and dance the night away.  Now that we are in wedding season (June), sparkling wines and tying the knot are primed to be perfect partners.

Looking at the history of Champagne, Dom Pérignon (1638-1715), the monk and cellar master at the Benedictine abbey Hautvillers, is widely credited as one of the stars who helped improve the quality of Champagne. By the way, he did not invent or discover the champagne method, as some historians had implied. But without the good monk, the techniques of making sparkling wine may have taken a different path.

As a young wine professional, some 40 years ago, I found myself with one of the world’s finest Champagnes: Krug Grand Cuvée. By far one of my favorite sparkling wine memories. I just could not remember if the bottle or the room was spinning. All kidding aside, from Spanish Cava to Grand Cru Champagne, few wines provide smiles like a good bubbly. Sparkling and fun, there is a reason why they show up as invited guests at weddings, graduations (only for the adults, please) and other special moments. As I was looking at what to recommend, I found so many in my sweet spot that I couldn’t stop at three. I chose six that I felt needed to be showcased.

Bodegas Naveran Brut Cava 2011 is a sophisticated sparkler that is great when the whole family shows up and wants to dance the night away. Frisky, with appealing complexities, this is one of the best cavas in the marketplace. Also from Spain is the even more stylish Gramona Grand Cuvee Cava, dashing and almost handsome, this one is sure to sweep your guests off of their feet.

Going into one of the world’s secret sparkling wine regions, Adami Prosecco di Valdobbiadene Brut Bosco di Gica serves up seductive flavors reminiscent of the Champagne region of France. Many Americans enjoy drinking sparkling wines made in the USA and why not? Who can argue with the quality of the Domaine Carneros Brut 2009 or the Schramsberg Blanc de Noirs 2009? Time has already proven how outstanding both of those wines are. They taste delicious when they are released and age nicely over time.

You probably thought I forgot about Champagne from France!  Bruno Paillard Brut is one of the region’s finest. With plenty of fruit and complexity, this well balanced effort stands tall at the head of its class.

So go ahead and celebrate! Wine.com has sparkling wines from all over the world in a range of price points. You may also like to challenge the chef in the house to create a dish ideal for pairing with bubbles. You will be surprised how well it performs in a fine dining atmosphere.

Let’s Barbecue

10_01_25 Alejandro's BBQ_Part 2_01_Blog

May is National Barbecue Month. It’s time to Invite family, friends and neighbors over and haul out the dusty old grill from the garage. While you’re at it, bring a few wines to the party. There are all kinds of choices from Alicante Bouchet to Zinfandel (kidding on the Alicante, I was just playing on the A-Z theme). Back to the topic at hand, how about checking out some different, not-so-typical BBQ reds?

For starters, I really like the non-vintage Lucky Red Wine. Made for everyone to enjoy, this red is a crowd-pleaser, not to mention a fantastic value. A super choice with marinated grilled pork tenderloin, check out Chef Charlie Palmer’s recipe. The soft underbelly of the wine pairs well with the delicateness of the dish.

If short ribs are on the menu, pop the cork on the 2010 Castello Monsanto Chianti Classico Riserva. A deep and more complex wine than the Lucky Red, the gentle nuances of Sangiovese balances out the intricacies of grilled beef short ribs.

For the big-time eaters, a perfect match would pit the 2011 Shatter Grenache with prime rib of beef. While some may argue a Napa Cabernet Sauvignon would fit the bill better, I can envision satisfied diners with this Rhône Valley varietal.

No matter how you slice it, there are so many fine choices for BBQ now, or in the coming summer months.  These are my choices, but I am sure you have our own favorites. Browse our Big & Bold reds for more great picks for BBQ season!

A Trio of Top California Chardonnays

13_08_15 1000 Wines_1000_Blog

On Thursday, May 22nd, the 5th Annual Chardonnay Day will be here and the burning question is… what will be in your glass? If one wants to get maudlin, it was only four decades ago when Chardonnay was not on the menu. If you asked any retailer in the early to mid-1970s, “what is your best-selling white wine?,” you can be sure the answer would not be Chardonnay. No, the most sold white wine of that era was California Chablis (which in fact, was not Chardonnay at all). We have come a long way!

To some folks (perhaps those in the ABC – Anything But Chardonnay – crowd) Chardonnays taste entirely too similar, and to some extent I would agree. Wineries have become so adept at producing well-made wines that it can be hard to distinguish one from another. Yet differences do exist and the hallmark of the finer producers is high quality and consistency. Over the last half-dozen years, three  successful California Chardonnays that have exhibited these traits include  MacRostie Sonoma Coast, William Hill Estate Winery Napa Valley and Mer Soleil Reserve. What makes them the darlings of the industry is that they have found a place in the market and stayed true to producing wines of high quality and consistent character.

The William Hill Estate Winery Napa Valley is rock solid in its makeup. Drawing from Napa’s cool Carneros and warmer St. Helena regions, the wine exhibits fine core fruit notes and a warm and balanced palate. When I am looking to feed my friends lightly grilled prawns, I often reach for a Sonoma Coast chardonnay and no one does it better than MacRostie. A bit subtler than the aforementioned  William Hill, MacRostie deftly defines the crisp nature that this AVA is apt to show. On the bold and powerful side, I recommend the Mer Soleil Reserve. Creamy and layered, one could easily pair this wine with organic roast chicken (I am a big fan of organic chicken because the flavors are sweeter and more distinctive). This trio ranks among my best choices in the marketplace, and may make one wonder: was Chardonnay always this good? Let’s dial back to the early 1970’s and take a look at the varietal’s place in the market.

One of California’s greatest wine books, The Fine Wines of California by Hurst Hannum and Robert S. Blumberg, published in 1973, listed 32 Chablis (from California) and only 20 California Chardonnays, including, Buena Vista, Chalone, Cuvaison, Hanzell, Charles Krug, Llords & Elwood, Robert Mondavi, Parducci, Simi and Stony Hill. Yet the real story in this era was that Americans were still drinking California Chablis. From 750 ml (called fifths at the time) to 4.0 liter bottles, California Chablis was the show. But Chardonnay’s time was about to come.

As a retailer in the 1970’s, I started moving away from Chablis, instead offering our customers the likes of Beaulieu Vineyard, Simi and Kenwood Vineyards. Over time I moved the clientele to Cuvaison, Chalone and Spring Mountain, among others. The “everyday” group consisted of fresh, frisky and fruit forward wines and the upper tier brought wines into the French Burgundy tier. Chardonnay enjoyed such a great launch pad at this time; it eventually became the white wine that ran the business. As the industry grew up, wineries such as Sonoma-Cutrer and Kistler Vineyards took a bold step and modeled their works after the Old World epicenter of Chardonnay, France’s Burgundy region. Yep, those high-priced vineyards that only the French and American wine aristocracy could pronounce.  Puligny-Montrachet was not in the common vernacular at that time.

Chardonnay, the most important white wine in the world, is ready to party. What will be in your glass on Thursday, May 22nd, The 5th Annual Chardonnay Day? I already have a few bottles in the fridge ready for action. Look forward to sharing some tasting notes with you then!