I’ve got a little over 8 weeks left before the little peanut arrives, which is very exciting as pregnancy can be one of those things that makes time stand very still. My palate has done little tasting, but perhaps that’s not a bad thing as few wines I’ve tasted seem at all enjoyable. Red wines taste either too herbaceous or completely contrived and fake, whites are better, but most seem to lack complexity. Not that we are opening many complex wines – those are off limits until I’m able to enjoy a full glass. But there a few I’ve tasted that please this pregnant palate.
I was recently sent a some samples of Hugel wines from Fredrick Wildman. Hugel is not new to me, I’ve been drinking their wine since my amateur wine days in New York. It was a lovely experience to re-visit their Riesling. I love Alsace Rieslings – they have a stony minerality that gives a great backbone to the Alsace fruit. This wine definitely shows those characters – there is a blend of minerality, fruit (peach, pear) and a touch of flowers. What I like about this wine – what my current palate likes about this wine – is its acidity. It is crisp and clean, but not overbearing. Overall quite balanced. This is not a complex Riesling, with layers of aromas and flavors, but it has all the aspects I like in a good white wine – clean, refreshing, balanced and smooth. And I like that it’s under $20! It’s one I will get a few bottles of for the coming warmer months when I’m able to drink my wine again.
When you’re pregnant on your birthday, you have to focus on a dinner with super delicious food rather than super delicious wine. I suppose you could do super delicious wine, but for me there would be lots of jealousy involved so I request focusing on food. That said, my birthday dinner at small, foodie place in Northeast Portland had both amazing food and some super interesting and yummy wines.
DOC is the restaurant, an Italian place that has about 7 tables and an open kitchen. The menu is small but diverse and everything looked amazing. We opted for the tasting menu – 5 courses, they pick the dishes and each of you get something different so you can share. We were really able to taste a multitude of things.
My husband also opted for the wine pairing for the menu, which is a great way to taste some new things when he does not want to try and drink a bottle on his own. Plus I got to have little sips of most of them. Here are some very cool discoveries we made:
Provenza Spumante Brut “Sebastian” Metodo Charmat – To this day the word “spumante” on a label makes me step back a bit as I am reminded of the cheap Spumante d’Asti given to me in college. But the term “spumante” refers to the amount and size of the bubbles in wine, not to the quality of the wine itself. This particular wine hails from Lombardy and is made in the charmat or tank method, which differs from the traditional Champagne method because the bubbles are obtained by the addition of carbon dioxide into a pressurized tank rather than allowing a secondary fermentation in the bottle. It’s much less expensive than the traditional method, and the character of the wine is more fruit-driven, producing less secondary yeast characteristics. But the style can be delicious, as this wine proves. The palate was full of bright apple, crisp acidity and and a very balanced feel. Good match with oysters (I was told).
The second wine that stood out was a Kerner from Alto Adige – don’t have the producer’s name as the server, who was fantastic, described and poured the wine but we had little time to study the label. Kerner is an interesting grape, found in Germany, Austria and northern Italy. It is a crossing between Riesling and Trollinger, a slightly obscure red variety known to the region. Like Riesling, the wine was aromatic, with stone fruit flavors, crisp acidity and a touch of floral. I loved the texture of this wine as it was more medium-bodied and really lingering. Big fan – want to find more. it was also great with our beet salad and brussel sprouts (those dishes sound boring, but they were phenomenal the way DOC prepared them).
Next up was Monastero Suore Cistercensi Coenobium Rusticum, a wine made with white grapes, but fermented in the style of red – using longer skin contact and some oxidation. So rather than being white, it’s a more gold-almost-orange color. The nose is nutty, but with some honey, orange peel and white flowers. The palate has more fruit, though it still retains that nutty characteristic. It’s a very different sort of wine, almost like Sherry, but still retaining white wine characteristics. With the right food (for us, white truffle risotto and a chanterelle mushroom and pasta dish) this wine works. It’s not necessarily my normal style, though. But I love the story – you may have heard of monks making wine, right? Well this wine is made at a convent by nuns. The vineyard is located just north of Rome and the grapes are organically grown.
For our meat course we enjoyed a Nero d’Avola, which to be honest, we never got the name and was not our favorite. Granted, my palate is not in tune to red wines and my husband, as he stated, is still trying to figure out if he likes Nero d’Avola.
So I’ll move onto the last wine, a Moscato d’Asti. I missed the producer, but there are few Moscato d’Astis that I do not like, particularly now – I call it the pregnancy wine as many bottles have only 5% alcohol so a few sips is enjoyable and affects you very little, particularly at the end of the meal. What I particularly liked about this wine was the preparation. Tableside, our server first peeled a piece of grapefruit rind into our glass. He then added elderflower syrup, followed by the Moscato d’Asti. Such a great cocktail! He even made me one with sparkling water over the d’Asti. A great dessert on its own as well.
So that was the birthday dinner for the pregnant wino. In 9 weeks (probably a bit more) I’ll be back to tasting and drinking and will certainly seek out some more gems like these!
Last Wednesday night I participated in an online tasting hosted by Wines of Chile. The virtual tasting featured 8 wines, all red blends, and over a time period of two hours, with the help of streaming video and Master Sommelier, Fred Dexheimer, approximately 50 wine bloggers tasted these wines while interacting with the 8 winemakers. The red blend theme was a great choice to showcase the diversity and potential of Chile. Each wine was distinctly different, and the blends were each unique. Yet each wine also tasted distinctly Chilean. That is what I took away from this tasting. So often I taste wines that seem one-dimensional or factory-made. Though I may not love every wine we tasted over the evening, I appreciate the fact that each wine tasted authentic to its sense of place, respecting the grape and the terroir from which it came. Though I was unable to taste with the recommended food pairings (stuck in an office, no kitchen), there were some definite wines that I think were meant for the dining table, and though there was no group tasting with me, I had a few colleagues taste through the wines beforehand for some added feedback to share.
Though hard to pick a favorite, I especially enjoyed the Estampa Gold Assebmlage and the Hacienda Araucano Clos de Lolol. And of course, the Maquis Lien was an excellent value. And…a fair warning on my pregnant palate: everything seems to taste more acidic and bitter, meaning these two aspects in wine can be a bit overpowering, particularly with reds, so take that into consideration while reading these reviews!
Wine 1: Valdivieso Eclat 2005 Maule Valley (56% Carignan, 24% Mourvedre, 20% Syrah) $27
To be honest, I am rarely a fan of straight Carignan, and blends are a mixed bag for me. But this one was quite pleasing. It definitely struck me as more old-world in style. One colleague noted leather and black cherry notes. I found great red berry fruit and a touch of tobacco (also noted by another taster). The consensus here – light in body, full in flavor, great acidity and a grip in the palate. This was one of the wines I found would be a great match for food.
Wine 2: DeMartino Single Vineyard Old Bush Vines "Las Cruces" 2006 (66% Malbec, 34% Carmenere) $45
This is what I call a 'Chile meets Argentina' blend, and it is from the Cachapoal Valley, which lies in the northern area of the Rapel Valley, just north of Colchagua. Herbs and chocolate were the descriptions I got from my colleagues. One found it a bit sour. I noted a blend spice, berry and herbalness, plus a touch of licorice. Though it was a touch acidic for me, I noticed that it opened up in the glass with some time. The tannins leaned towards green (perhaps the sour note the other taster perceived) but were definitely more noticeable when first poured. As the fruit emerged in the glass, the tannins seemed better integrated.
Wine 3: Estampa Gold Assemblage Carmenere 2008 (57% Carmenere, 23% Cabernet Sauvignon, 12% Cabernet Franc, 8% Petit Verdot) $22
Not only did I like saying this wine, I was impressed by the taste, too. I'm a general fan of Carmenere – I like it's softness and it's blend of ripe fruit and smoky, meaty flavors. In this wine the Carmenere shows through, with soft ripe fruit undertones, a meaty character and some great acid. The other Cabernet grapes give this a bit of tightness, suggesting it may be too young right now. Though the tannins are soft, this wine would benefit with decanting or even a few years of bottle age. If you're a fan of Carmenere, this is a wine to try… unfortunately I could not find who imports this wine or if it is available in the US yet!
Wine 4: Montes Limited Selection Cabernet Sauvignon Carmenere 2008 (70% Cabernet Sauvignon, 30% Carmenere) $15
It is a blend true to itself as I get many more Cabernet Sauvignon characteristics than Carmenere. Eucalyptus comes through, red and black fruits and, as many other tasters noted, a touch of barnyard (but not in a Bret way, more of a greenish Cabernet undertone way). Tannins are a bit green, but the wine is straightforward in a way that is pleasing. Good value for a good wine. Montes is a classic winery that typically focuses on single varietal wines, but I enjoyed the blend.
Wine 5:Maquis Lien 2006(42% Syrah, 30% Carmenere, 12% Cabernet Franc, 9% Petit Verdot, 7% Malbec) $19
I've loved Maquis Lien since I first tried it when I visited Chile in 2006. Coincidentally, I was there when the grapes for this wine were being picked! Maquis is a family estate that makes just one one wine with a very cool label. This vintage is not as "jammy" as the 2001 I tried back in 2006. It is much more floral, with lots of red and black fruits. Spicy and dry, with gripping tannins. It is quite delicious, but a wine I would love to pair with some grilled meat and other foods. Stay tuned because we will have a deal on this wine this week!
Wine 6: Hacienda Araucano Clos de Lolol 2008 (31% Syrah, 29% Cabernet Franc, 23% Cabernet Sauvignon, 17% Carmenere) $23
Also impressed with this wine. Dense black fruit and a spicy long finish sums up the profile, but also in the nose mint jumped out at me. Another colleague noted menthol, but mint was stronger for me. Definitely herbal though, backed by ripe fruit. The palate had good acidity, firm, but tangy tannins and a really lovely finish.
Wine 7: Emiliana Coyam 2007 (38% Syrah, 21% Cabernet Sauvignon, 21% Carmenere, 17% Merlot, 2% Petit Verdot, 1% Mourvedre) $29
This wine is a favorite of one of our IT guys. I'd not had it yet, but was immediately taken in with the nose, which offered chocolate and licorice notes, dark fruits and a touch of spice. Also a hint of oak here. The palate was smooth and ripe, with all components well integrated. Good, complex flavors here that I definitely enjoyed.
Wine 8: Casas del Bosque Gran Estate Selection Private Reserve 2007 (61% Syrah, 26% Merlot, 13% Pinot Noir) $50
First, I'll express my disappointment with the weight of the bottle. It had to be at least twice as heavy as all the other bottles. What is it about a higher price tag that makes wineries decide to use heavier bottles? There is no need and it's not environmentally friendly. I find this practice prevalent in South America and I wish people made more of a stink about it.
Onto the wine – this was something a little different with Pinot Noir in the mix. This wine is from Casablanca Valley, which has a cooler climate ideal for Pinot Noir. Sadly, my palate was shot by the time I got to this wine, so I had to just enjoy the nose and use my co-worker's thoughts on the palate. The aromas were full of black cherry and chocolate, with a touch of herbs and licorice. The palate was "smooth" as I was told, easily coating the mouth and very balanced. Round and rich, this wine had layers of fruit and spice, and a nice finish to boot.
Finally, a few tidbits on Chile:
– Chile has a unique climate, perfect for grape-growing. With the Andes to the east, the Pacific to the west, dessert up north and ice fields in the south, the country is isolated. Probably why it remains phylloxera free and has little problems with vine disease at all.
– Chile's wine industry has really come into its own the past 10 years. Lots of investment, both locally and from outsiders, has brought the wine trade to new levels. Great values and solid collectibles are produced, bringing Chile to the forefront of the international wine world.
– Carmenere is the country's signature grape, but has only become so in the past 15 years. In the mid-1990s, DNA testing in the vineyards showed that many vines though to be Merlot were, in fact, Carmenere. Though similar to Merlot, Carmenere is very distinct, with rich and ripe fruits, soft tannins and a smoky, meaty characteristic that is prevalent in the aromatics. The warm climate of Maipo and the Rapel Valleys are ideal for this grape.
– Sauvignon Blanc has become a trademark for Chile, with great values coming from the Casablanca Valley. Known for their crisp acidity, citrus and vegetal like aromas and flavors, it's a perfect wine for warm weather or when munching on shellfish.
Being 16 weeks pregnant, I thought I'd try to incorporate this hindrance – and benefit – into my blog. The obvious hindrance would be my inability to drink. The benefit? My enhanced senses for tasting. It's not easy carrying around a belly in the wine business, but it does give a different perspective!
This is my second time around at this, and I am very grateful for nature, who swoops in and makes wine absolutely unpalatable for the first few months and gets you used to not drinking. When the taste buds return, they come back full force, with additional receptors that seem to pick up on everything. Which is where tasting becomes so interesting.
So over the next few months, as I taste (and spit) wines that I deem worthy to share, they will be noted from a different palate – my pregnant palate.