All posts by Wilfred Wong

P.S. I love you! Time to explore Petite Sirah

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Once upon a time, there was this lonely grape called Petite Sirah. Upon discovery, farmers and winemakers loved this grape so much that they nicknamed it “petet serre” and said it very fast with a grin. The real name of the varietal is Durif (named after a French scientist who crossed Syrah and Peloursin at the end of the nineteenth century). For years, this varietal sat lonesomely on the shelves gathering dust. Customers breezed by it, reaching for Cabernet Sauvignon, Pinot Noir, Zinfandel and other more famous varietals. It is my intention to bring this varietal to the fore.

Not as ferocious as most Zinfandel, less stately than many Cabernet and much more robust than elegant Pinot Noir, Petite Sirah has found its home among people who simply enjoy wine and food without pretense.  I often call upon it for parties and when the gang comes by on the weekend for outdoor grilling and potluck meals. In today’s lesson, I have chosen three Petite Sirah for your enjoyment.

The 2012 The Crusher shows a shading of wood and plenty of pleasing grapiness. Coats the palate well and invites a plate of polish sausages, hot links and plain ‘ole hot dogs. For a fruiter style, with a bit less wood, I would go for the 2012 HandCraft. Perfectly poised, with its pretty red fruit flavors that pair nicely with roast chicken, I can almost feel the match on my palate. In the lighter and more elegant style, the easy-drinking 2012 Bogle does the trick nicely.

Not just for meals, Petite Sirah can serve as a cocktail wine to be paired with hors d’oeuvres. So take a trek off of the beaten path, snag one of these Petite Sirahs, and educate your palate about one of California’s hottest under-the-radar varietals. For more information, check out the group: P.S. I Love You, here is a link to their website.  I think I’ll grab a bottle of Petite Sirah to enjoy with a savory pot roast  for a comforting dinner on a foggy summer day in the city by the bay.

Happy Bastille Day: Classic Bordeaux

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People often have the wrong idea of Bordeaux. While the names of Latour, Margaux and Pétrus dance so gracefully off of our collective tongues, these are not the wines that “regular” folks drink. Those of us who are more value drinkers are more in tuned with Bordeaux AOC, Bordeaux Superiore and Bordeaux Rosé (pink has risen up to the top of consumer awareness and is now being sought out).

In a recent trip to Bordeaux, those are the wines that I drank; never did one glass of the “big” name classifieds crossed my lips. Not that I would not have enjoyed a glass of Lafite, instead I ended up drinking what most everyone enjoys on a day-to-day basis and guess what? There was no less enjoyment to be found; the everyday Bordeaux took care of my needs quite nicely.

So what should we be drinking in everyday Bordeaux? Château Bonnet Blanc has been one of Bordeaux’s top white wines for more than a decade. Vintage after vintage, the wine shows pure fruit and crisp acidity as it finishes with a food pairing bite. The Château Bonnet Rosé is another winner, showing a shading of salmon and pink in its color; crisp and bright, the wine asks for a lightly grilled salmon. On the red side, I recommend the 2011 Domaines Baron Rothschild Reserve Speciale Rouge. The wine is straight-forward and delightfully balanced; perfect with grilled hamburgers.

Let us celebrate Bastille Day and liberate Bordeaux from the shackles of its high priced profile. Yes, the classifieds (1st to 5th growth) are wonderful, but mainstream Bordeaux values provide an everyday enjoyment that we can afford.

Free the muscat

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Trends come and go, but most are fun and some are important. Over the last few years, Muscat has picked up global attention. A lot of this stuff  is sweet and fizzy and oh so easy to drink. But Moscato has not always been a trend. In it’s home base of Piedmont, Italy, it is known as Moscato d’Asti, and this wine has been in vogue for some time. While I have often enjoyed the sugar babies that are sweet and fizzy, my vote goes to the dried versions and that is why I would like to free the muscat.

Recently our team met with Master of Wine Olivier Humbrecht, and tasted several of his wines, including the 2012 Domaine Zind Humbrecht Muscat (Vin d’Alsace). I found the wine absolutely charming and stylish. With just a smidgen of sugar at 5 grams/liter (consumer threshold is around 6-7 grams), the wine stays between the stages of dry to barely sweet. In this area of sweetness, the wine can perform wonders with savory dishes like Szechuan Scallops on a b bed of noodles, as well with a faintly sweet dessert like Linzertorte, a common dish in Eastern Europe.

So I say, “Let us free the Muscat.” Enjoy this wine with some of your favorite foods and open a world of wine and food pleasures that you may have never known.

Grilling: Cabernet, Rib Eye of Beef and beyond

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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

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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.