Braving the Willamette Valley front: Oregon Wine Month

15_05_27 0900 Wine Sets_5000_Blog
There is a belief among wine cognoscenti that grape vines must suffer before they can produce great wines. In the Willamette Valley of Oregon, not only does that happen, but everyone in the wine business undergoes an annual pain called, “The Harvest.” Is Mother Nature going to be good to us, or will we be left to our own devices and suffer unruly weather? Unlike other regions in the world, such as Australia and the Napa Valley in California, the Willamette Valley proves unpredictable, and provides vintners with unhappy grapes from difficult vintages. While all wine growing regions suffer good and bad years, Pinot Noir in the Willamette Valley, just like the varietal in Burgundy, paints a picture of extreme variance.

Why do it? Just like writers, photographers and chefs, it is because of the challenge. Many of the greatest wine growers and winemakers aim their sights at the Holy Grail and pursue Pinot Noir with unrelenting faith because when Pinot Noir is great, there is nothing better. This is where the geekiest of wine folks live. It is an on-the-edge behavior that puts them in another realm. Two recent vintages in the Willamette Valley underscore this theme. 2011, which was a cool year, yielded many ungenerous wines that most “normal” wine drinkers may not enjoy. Yes, they may pretend to like it at a party, but it lacks the big, ripe fruit characteristic of say, a Napa Cabernet Sauvignon. The 2012’s were a much different animal, and produced a wine that everyone would drink happily. For the most part, the 2012 wines are rich, rounded and juicy as can be. I already know a few purists who are scoffing at the wines for their uber-enticing style and seemingly early drinkability. Oh yes, I forgot to tell you, wine geeks often like wines that are crisp, high in acid, great with food and have potential to age over decade’s time. I am okay with both, I would just have to change my food pairing choices.

Pinot Noir is always a challenge. The wine is one of fussiest on the planet. The wine folks in the Willamette Valley are used to being on the outskirts of life and have come to love all their vintages for what they are. One fact is undeniable – unlike Cabernet Sauvignon, Syrah and Zinfandel, it cannot hide. Vintners cannot use oak, sugar or other varietals to make it better. It is what makes us love it or hate it. Here are a pair of favorites from my notebook. The classic and red-fruited 2013 Domaine Drouhin Pinot Noir from Dundee Hills, the fine and complex 2012 WillaKenzie Aliette and the cool vintage 2011 WillaKenzie Pierre Leon. Give them a try and you too will discover how nifty the Willamette Valley vintners are!

 

Food & Wine Fridays | BBQ

Low and slow with wine.

Summertime is synonymous with BBQ, but do you always have to have it with beer? No, I say! There is plenty of room on the table for a great glass of vino to go with everything from brisket to ribs. Here is a quick guide to some BBQ terms, foods, and the wines to go with them!


First a few definitions that should help guide you through any BBQ recipe:

  • Barbecuing is a low heat, slow, indirect cooking method that uses wood and/or charcoal embers to both cook and smoke meat.
  • Grilling is a high heat cooking method where food is cooked directly over open flame.
  • American pit BBQ traditionally has the heat source or “fire box” attached to the cooking chamber.
  • Dry rub or spice rub is a mixture used to flavor and/or marinate the meat, which has salt and sugar as its base.
  • Marinade is an acidic based sauced that is used to flavor and tenderize the food.
  • Brining is a process of marinating meat in a salt-water solution that may be flavored with herbs and spices in order to flavor, tenderize, and preserve the meat.
  • Bark is the dark crust that forms on BBQ’d meat. It is highly prized by BBQ aficionados.
  • Boston butt or pork butt is a cut of pork that comes from the upper part of the shoulder from the front leg and may contain the blade bone.
  • Spare ribs are the long cut from the lower portion of the pig orcattle, specifically the belly and breastbone, behind the shoulder, and include 11 to 13 long bones.
  • Baby back ribs are taken from the top ofthe rib cage between the spine and the spare ribs, below the loin muscle. They are more lean and tender than spare ribs.
  • St Louis cut ribs is a rectangular cut of the ribs, which contains the spare ribs and part of the baby back rib area. To many people, this is the best of all rib worlds.
  • Burnt edges or ends are cubed bits of meat from the point end of the brisket served with sauce on top or on the sides. They are a Kansas City specialty that is either served alone or in a sandwich.

Here is a break down of the 4 basic styles of American BBQ:

Memphis
BBQMeat of Choice: Pork
Wood of Choice: Hickory (Oak, Pecan, Apple, Cherry also used)
Famous Dish: Pork spare or baby back ribs “Wet” (slathered with sauce after smoking) or “Dry” (no sauce, just dry rubbed with seasonings and smoked) and pork shoulder.
Sauce Style: Tomato & Vinegar Base
Wines to go with: Spanish Grenache, Dry Creek Zinfandel, or Nero d’Avola

Texas
image4Meat of Choice: Beef
Wood of Choice: Oak or mesquite
Famous Dish: Sliced Beef Brisket served with thick cut white bread, Link Sausage
Sauce Style: Tomato Based Sauce with Some Sweetness and Chili powder
Wines to go with: Malbec, Australian Cabernet, Washington Syrah

Kansas City
image3Meat of Choice: Beef and pork
Wood of Choice: Mix
Famous Dish: BBQ Chicken, Ribs (St Louis cut), and burnt edges or ends
Sauce Style: Sweet Tomato Based Sauce with Molasses
Wines to go with: Lodi or Paso Robles Zinfandel, Cotes du Rhone, Spanish Monastrell

Carolinas
image2Meat of Choice: Pork
Wood of Choice: Hickory or Oak
Famous Dish: Pulled Pork or whole hog for “pig picking”
Sauce Style: Vinegar Based in East; Tomato Based in West; Mustard Based sweetened with sugar, molasses or honey also Served in Georgia & South Carolina
Wines to go with: Australian Shiraz, California red blends, Languedoc reds


Here are some current release wines that I love with BBQ:

Hurray for #Chardonnay Day!

14_04_11 1100 Pebble Beach Food & Wine_4000_BlogOh, it’s finally here – Chardonnay Day. The day I absolutely love and adore. Yes, I am the unabashed Chardonnay lover. I was hooked after my first sip of white Burgundy. Since then I’ve been searching the world for the same sensation for a lot less dough. It’s been tough. See, I fell in love with Chardonnay just after college when I traveled to Burgundy for a wedding. It was just the carafe of table wine they were pouring in the cafe, but I vividly remember thinking, this is so. dang. good. Much different than the Kendall Jackson and Columbia Crest we so often brought to dinner parties to seem sophisticated in college. I had very little wine vocabulary at the time, so I believe I called it, “deliciousness,” but I can’t be sure.

Now I know more about Burgundy and more about why I love wine from Burgundy. The terroir there is not a myth. Something about the soil, sun, aspect, grape clones and more help to create one of the best wines in the world – creamy but crisp, with layers of complexity between fruit and oak and spice… And yet, these wines are often unattainable in price.

And so, I try Chardonnays. I try any I get my hands on, seeking that wine that has the balance, the complexity and the je ne sais quoi that I can I love in Burgundian wine, but in a bottle I can afford. It will never be just like my Burgundy favorites,  but I have found many value Chardonnay that achieve balance and a loveliness that are a decent second… here are my favorites under $50!

Iron Horse Estate Chardonnay
From the Green Valley part of the Russian River, this cool-climate gem is affordable (under $25) and absolutely delicious. No malo, and a perfect balance of fruit and very light oak.

De Wetshof Bon Vallon Chardonnay
I absolutely loved this wine! And there are not many unwooded Chardonnays I like (Iron Horse an exception), but this did a fantastic job.

Esk Valley Chardonnay
Represents what New Zealand is doing in Hawkes’ Bay, and at an affordable price.

Catena Alta Chardonnay
Argentina is known for values, and this $30+ Chardonnay acts like a $60+ from California. It’s kind of a mild splurge…

Dierberg Chardonnay
A fantastic find for me! A small boutique wine with incredible character and complexity.

Hamilton Russell Chardonnay
This coastal winery delivers a ton of depth, balance and complexity on this high quality bottle from South Africa.

Craggy Range Kidnapper’s Vineyard Chardonnay
Chablis-like in style, can’t get enough of this New Zealand wine.

In general, for my style of Chardonnay, I love exploring the wines of Oregon, New Zealand, South Africa and little pockets of California

 

What Chardonnay will you drink for #ChardonnayDay?

The future of Australia… it’s bright indeed!

Yesterday, Australia’s First Families of Wine (AFFW) gathered at the Press Club  in San Francisco, showcasing wines from twelve different firmly-established wine-making families of Australia.

AFFW logoAs a history major, I love First Families.They get things started, they blaze trails and begin an era. They create “tradition.”

And Australia has tradition. In an effort to highlight this tradition and history as it relates to Australian wine, and put to rest any idea that Australian wine might be a “fad,” Australia’s First Families of Wine are going global!

What can we say about Australian wine & tradition? Quite a bit. First, Australians are funny. They are off-the-cuff, good sense of humor funny. Of the 12 representatives from the AFFW, not one was dry and boring. Second, they are all a bunch of dudes. Seriously, 12 men standing there talking about their wines. BUT, the majority of offspring from these 12 men are females.  In fact, three of them have three daughters. As they talked about the next generation, they explained that many of their children left the “nest” to explore, but then returned to the family business with a deeper passion for it. So we expect these first families to stay family-oriented as it moves to those fourth, fifth and sixth generations. The most exiting thing I discovered at the tasting with this group on Monday, was the diversity of these wines and how well they can age! Sure, I knew Australia was diverse – I already drink a lot of Australian wine. But the ageing potential… from a 15 year old Marsanne to a 18 year old Cabernet to the most luscious “sticky” I’ve ever had, the wines here were tremendous. Both for sipping and storing in your cellar.

Despite these families being the “first” and the “traditional” Australian wines, they are not opposed to change and innovation. In fact, they embrace marrying the old and new. Over the last century, wineries, like those part of the first families, have been experimenting with varietals and pruning and sorting and winemaking. They have worked hard to find out what works best.

The future of Australian wine is certainly bright. I had a chance to sit down with Alistair Purbrick of Tahbilk Winery, Robert Hill Smith of Yalumba Winery, and Chester Osborn of d’Arenberg Winery.  AFFM2   All three believe this is a perfect time for Australian wine. The cheap Australian wine craze has died down, and it is time to re-introduce the world to Australian wine from those who do it best.

Whether you love  jammy Shiraz, bone-dry Riesling, cool-climate Pinot Noir, aged Semillon or some creamy Chardonnay, Australia’s diverse climate and wine selection can satisfy nearly any palate.

Wine-Australia-logo-300x150

 

 

 

There has never been a better time for rosés

15_04_28 0900 Wine Sets_3000_Blog

So it seems that when one counts all of the numbers, and sees the dollars that flow in, it is still red (as in red wine) that drives the numbers and brings home the bacon. It seems the higher in the food chain wine drinkers go, the more they go to Cabernet Sauvignon, especially that valley along highway 29 called Napa. While Pinot Noir is still the Holy Grail, Cabernet is and will always be king. But must we only bleed red? While I will rarely turn down a chance at a fine Oakville or Rutherford Cab, I would never like to be remembered as a “one trick pony” wine lover.

Where does my pink wine experience begin? Not so gloriously. I have to admit, my first pink was not even the first straw colored, “dry” Sutter Home, but must have been a Carlo Rossi Pink Chablis (out of a four-liter jug) at a party in the Haight-Ashbury district of San Francisco. Though possible it was a syrupy sweet Ripple Pagan Pink. Memories that began my wine journey, kind of on the yuck side, but one that I had to take. They often say that one never makes it to the top unless one knows what the bottom is like.

Years later when I found “sophistication,” I discovered Rosé Champagne and learned how incredible that can be. While a lot of American wine drinkers did not understand the category, I learned over time that one should never turn down a glass of Dom Pérignon Rosé, ever! But the road to rosé credibility failed to materialize in the world of dry rose; these wines were left in the hands of a minuscule number of wine geeks. In the mid to late 1970’s, the category called blush took the market by storm. The industry pushed and succeeded to make a kind of kool-aid wine that they hoped would transform generations of cola drinkers into wine drinkers. It worked, but it also sent mixed messages about the color pink (orange, salmon, eye of the partridge, etc.). True students of wine struggled with this phenomenon because it devalued highly prized wines such as Tavel from the Rhone, Clairette from Bordeaux and of course, the aforementioned Champagne Rosé. The wine world created a mixed category that lumped the dry rosé with the  more popular sweet blush, and the view most sophisticated wine drinkers had was rosé =sweet. So where are we today?

Rosé is now a legitimate fine wine category. Producers have globally begun to craft superior wines that pair incredibly well with food. Over the last two decades, countries from below the equator (where the seasons are opposite from the northern hemisphere) have begun to supply the global market with some of the world’s best rosés and ensuring that this category’s pipeline never runs dry (of dry super premium wines so to speak). Among my recent favorites: the brisk, bright minerally 2014 Red Car Rosé of Pinot Noir from the Sonoma Coast, the charming and aromatic 2014 Belle Glos Oeil de Perdrix (eye of the partridge) from Sonoma County and the 2013 Sierra Cantribria from Rioja, Spain. Take it from one who loves wine, there has never been a better time than now to step into the world of pink wines, your palate will be happily satisfied and your soul will gain insights into the world of rosé!

The Official Wine.com Blog