Archive for January, 2016


Wines well suited for Island foods

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Thankfully there is a whole world to explore and enjoy in one’s search for good wine. Many wine lovers naturally gravitate to the award winners and specifically those which garner high scores and accolades from the major wine media.   There is always a time and a place to enjoy these, especially when sharing with some friends, co-workers or fellow wine lovers. I am sure most can recall at least one such really special wine ah-ha moment.

My question then is, have you also had that kind of ah-ha moment enjoying a mind blowing wine and food pairing?

In the “Old World” , France, Italy and Spain for instance, wine served with food is typically part of their lifestyle. Wine is regularly served at the dinner table, rather than only on special occasions.  Furthermore, each region typically has their own slant on regional foods AND what kinds of wines to serve with each. They have, after all, had a long history working out what works and what doesn’t.

We, in the U.S., have only recently really started down this road.

One of the interesting observations that I have learned over the years, is that different kinds of foods, more often than not, work with different kinds of wines .   How can the same wine, then, work with the same fish cooked with just salt and pepper, a teriyaki sauce and a Italian tomato sauce?

Since we have a wonderful selection of fresh fish here in the Islands, here are 4 wines which can work with a wide range of flavors and cooking preparations for you to experiment with.  Hopefully, the goal would be to find wines you could serve with fish at home.

2013 Rudolf Fürst Muller Thurgau “Pur Mineral”–I love this wine, because it is so amazingly light, minerally and ethereal with a crisp, refreshing edge.   You can therefore have this wine with all kinds of fresh fish preparations from simply sautéed with salt & pepper to lightly oriental in style to Mediterranean. Furthermore, because winemaker/owner Paul Fürst was selected as “2003 Gault Millau Winemaker of the Year” one is getting a stellar white wine at a reasonable price.

2013 Birichino Malvasia Bianca–The grape variety here is Malvasia Bianca and is grown in the cooler Monterey appellation of California. This wine has profuse perfume (lychee & grapefruit nuances), which in most cases will make the taster think the wine is sweet.  It is not. It is medium dry to dry depending on the vintage, with a lightness on the palate and a real, freshly squeezed lime edge, which is sure to keep your palate fresh and alert between bites.  Furthermore, we love how these kinds of “aromatic” wines uplift foods just as fresh herbs innate do.  You can fun with this wine at all kinds of Asian restaurants—especially Thai & Chinese—or even with Mexican or Mediterranean. This is really a quintessential “food” white wine, if there ever is such a thing.

2013 Champalou Vouvray Sec–This minerally, riveting white wine comes from France’s Loire Valley. Yes, this is the same general area where Joan of Arc did her crusades and where Leonardo Da Vinci chose to be buried. (the point being it has lots of history).  With my first sip, I am always re-amazed at how effortlessly light and ethereal it really is. Furthermore, this is yet another “aromatic” white wine, which is greatly butressed by the wine’s truly mesmerizing, prominent minerality which just enhances its food friendliness.  Besides the wide range of ethnic foods one could pair with this wine, it also really is an ideal wine just to sip on those especially hot days or after coming home from a hard day at work.

2014 Dr F Weins Prum Riesling “Estate”–The 2012 has just arrived here in the Islands. Cheryle and I were in the vineyards tasting these grapes with the winemaker/owner, Bert Selbach. (Cheryle was in total awe how impossibly steep and rocky they really are.)  Still, many of Germany’s top sites are also just as steep and rocky. In this case, it really is the masterful skills of Bert which separate him from his peers. His resulting wines are so remarkably light, ethereal, airy and delicious.  This would be the first wine I would grab for oriental foods. As you will see, it really is like biting into a cold apple and will help cool and soothe your palate between bites of spicy or salty foods.

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Today, we conducted a tasting of German wines for the trade.  It was really nice to see all of the young sommeliers/wine professionals who came to the tasting.  (I would like to greatly thank Warren Shon, Fritz & Agnes Hasselbach  & Theo & Johannes Haart for helping assemble the various wines).

To start off this casual, “introductory” seminar, we thought it important to point out the 13 anbaugebiete (winegrowing regions) of Germany & in an effort to keep discussions as concise as possible, we would be only discussing 4 today–the Mosel, Rheinhessen, Nahe & Franconia.

The first topic of discussion was the extreme growing conditions Germany historically experienced over the years.  In fact, until recently (essentially pre-1988), the wineries were lucky if they had 2 or 3 “ripe” vintages out of every 10.  This meant in many cases, as long as the weather permitted, longer hang time was needed & therefore the grapes would get more physiological maturity at lower potential alcohol levels.  This, has been one of my real fascinations with the wines from Germany, especially in terms of compatibility with foods.

Then, we discussed how ALL wines could be produced sweet to dry depending on what the winemaker wanted to do, whether the wine is sparkling, red or Riesling.  The point being NOT all German wines are sweet.

We then discussed sugar & its relationship to wine in Germany.  Sub-topics included Öchsle, süss reserve, residual sugar & chaptalization.

German 101German 201German 301Our first quintet of German wines to taste were each from a different grape variety AND all done dry in style, just to show tasters.

Silvaner–is a less heralded grape variety.  Historically, it provided the “core” for the German “country” white wines such as Liebfraumilch, for the masses to consume, both locally & abroad.  Culinarily, my wife & I discovered while in Alsace one year, Silvaner is a grape variety whose neutrality & pli-ability allows it to work with a surprisngly wide spectrum of foods.  Furthermore, its delicate aromatics accent & connect well with fresh herbs.  Hans Wirsching excels with this grape variety & his is certainly worth checking out.

Scheurebe–to help the plight of so many UN-ripe years, German scientists continually experimented crossing grapes vines, hoping to get some kind of Riesling nobility, but with earlier ripening times.  The Scheurebe (Samling 88) was one of the 2 most popular.  Created in 1916 by Dr George Scheu, this cross of Riesling & a wild grape variety can offer riper, rounder plumpness we like with intriguing black currant, grapefruit qualities.  Again, Hans Wirsching produces stellar renditions.

Muller Thurgau–yet another of the more popular grape crosses (Riesling & Madeleine Royale) created by Herman Müller in 1882.  Fürst, as we tasted today, produces by far the most interesting rendition I have tasted from Germany.  It is also incredibly diverse with foods, because of remarkable etherealness & minerality.  Paul Fürst (2003 Gault Millau “Winemaker of the Year”) has but 1 hectare planted of this grape variety & in red sandstone soils.

Riesling–in comparison, we decided to taste a DRY styled Riesling from the town of Piesport & Reinhold Haart.  (Theo Haart–2007 Gault Millau “Winemaker of the Year”).  As this wine deftly showcases, Riesling in this case has rounder, seemingly riper acidity.  Riesling is also a conduit of a vineyard’s “terroir”.  Furthermore, as we will see later in this tasting, there is so much more to consider within the Dry category.

Spätburgunder (Pinot Noir)–Pinot Noir (& Pinot Blanc) is gaining in popularity & notoriety in Germany.  In the 1990’s, we saw Meyer Naekel from the Ahr region; Heger in the Baden region & Fürst in Franconia as the leaders.  From my point of view they are still the leaders of this highly fickle grape variety, although some might a case for Becker from the Pfalz region as well.  Still, I think when you try a Fürst Klingenberger or Schlossberg designated Pinot Noir, you will better know, that German Pinot  has “arrived” on to the world class stage.

We also had a brief discussion of the different quality levels of German wine–Tafelwein, Landwein, QBA & QmP (including Kabinett, Spätlese & so on).  We also briefly discussed the VDP organization & how it unofficially greatly helps drive wine quality, since the wines we were sampling today were from VDP estates.

The second flight we tasted consisted of 2 wines from the same red slate soil, the same vintage & the top echelon winemaking of Johannes Hasselbach of Weingut Gunderloch.German 401  (Johannes carries on the high tradition of what his father, Fritz, established at this domaine).  One of the wines is a 2013 Estate Riesling Trocken (dry) & the other labeled as 2013 “Jean Baptiste”.   The Dry Riesling lists 13 degrees alcohol & the “Jean Baptiste”, which I would say is Feinherb in style & registers at 10.5 degrees alcohol.  Just another opportunity to discuss weight, physiological maturity, residual sugar & alcohol levels.

German 501We originally wanted the third flight to showcase “fruity” style Riesling (therefore some residual sugar) from the same vineyard–Kabinett & Auslese in oechsle measurement.  I was hoping to do so with wines from Bert Selbach at Dr F. Weins-Prüm.  Because Bert is a direct descendent of the iconic Prüm family, he has sensational vineyard holdings including parcels in Wehlener Sonnenuhr, Graacher Himmelreich, & Domprobst, Ürziger Würzgarten & Erdener Prälat.  Furthermore, we really like how ethereal & airy Bert’s Rieslings are.  They are light like no other AND completely showcase the vineyards’ terroir & soul.  Lastly (& probably most importantly business wise, his wines are so darn remarkably priced for what you get in the bottle).  Sadly, as it turned out, I forgot to bring the wines  & we ended up instead using a Kabinett, a Spätlese & a Gold Kapsule Auslese, although all from Dönnhoff, EACH from a different vineyard.  Even so, one could readily see the difference in must weight, extract, physiological ripeness, intensity & power as we went up the oechsle ladder.  The icing on the cake, was that we got to taste lots of Dönnhoff wines!!!!  How often does that happen?

Our intention for the next flight was to show what happens to a DRY, Cru quality wine with bottle age.  So, we served 2 DRY Rieslings from Dönnhoff, German 601a 2001 “Schlossböckelheimer Felsenberg” Spätlese Dry & a 2012 “Schlossböckelheimer Felsenberg” GG (Grosse Gewachs–Germany’s attempt at Grand Cru).  Nothing shy or wimpy in this flight!  OMG.  For those questioning if Riesling is a noble grape variety, you should have tasted these!    We also briefly discussed the main criteria for GG wines, so tasters could better understand & appreciate what was in their glass.German 701

The next flight showcased 2 Piesporter Goldtröpfchen Riesling Kabinett wines from Reinhold Haart–a 2012 & a 1991.   The goal was to show tasters how apparent sweetness levels change to a more tactile creaminess with bottle age.  Furthermore, the mineral comes soaring back to the forefront & the acidity integrates so much more harmoniously.  Just on another note, I hope it reminded all, that the Haart wines young or old, Kabinett or Spätlese are from a vineyard which is of Grand Cru quality, BUT also he is as good of winemaker as there is from anywhere in the world.

The final flight was again an opportunity to taste a young versus an older wine, in this case 2012 & 1996 Spätlese, each from the Nackenheimer Rothenberg vineyard & Weingut Gunderloch.  Here is another winery which produces superb wines, which WAY overdelivers quality for the price!  In 2012 when I was last there, this vineyard was on track to ripen 2 to 3 weeks earlier than Haart in Piesport, so I can find the wines to be more forward, young & old.  BUT, I also find the innate stoniness from the red slate greatly butresses the acidity to make it so much brighter & fresher.  This carries through the wine with age too.  I find the stoniness so much more exotic, provocative & thankfully different than that of the high toned, floral, minerality of the Mosel-Saar-Ruwer wines.  One can definitely end the meal in an uplifting way with the 1996 Spätlese.

And, as we summed up things at the end, we talked about all of the variables offered in today’s tasting–differences in grape varieties, soils, winemaking, residual sugar levels, alcohol levels, acidity, minerality, dryness/sweetness AND young versus old, just to name a few.  Now, just imagine the possibilities one can have pairing with foods!!!!

Thank you to all who came.

One learns….to ask better questions….& thereby continuing to learn.

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Domaine D’Aupilhac Les Cocalières

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One of the main challenges in running a restaurant (or any business for that matter) is staffing–finding the right people & ones who will “fit” in.  Dauting task to say the least.  What can be quite helpful is the candidate’s resume & especially letters of recommendation, especially if it is from someone you know and/or have a good reputation & long time industry credibility.

Whether it is all true & complete is the question, but it does provide one with background information & insight & therefore can perk one’s interest & more importantly equip you then to ask better questions.

I often find the same can be true with finding the right kind wine.

Here is a note from Anthony Lynch, son of wine importer Kermit Lynch recently passed along to me.  It certainly re-perked my interest.

Great wine is made in the vineyard, as the saying goes, but not all vineyards make great wine. In some instances, most notably Burgundy, centuries of experimentation have effectively pre-selected the best sites for today’s winemakers, but this is not always the case: sometimes the task of choosing a site—relying solely on intuition and an intricate understanding of what makes a terroir great—is left to the vigneron.    

When Sylvain Fadat, proprietor of Domaine d’Aupilhac, acquired the Cocalières parcel in 1998, it was overgrown with rugged, wild garrigue, and had been abandoned since the last brave soul cultivated it two centuries prior. Yet Sylvain saw enormous potential in this eight-hectare natural amphitheater. For starters, it lay at an altitude perched high above his hometown of Montpeyroux; coupled with the northwest exposure, this would allow for slow ripening with cool nights to preserve the acidity so dearly valued in a hot southern climate. Second, with basalt soils from its volcanic past as well as limestone deposits from an ancient lake, Cocalières represents a unique geological phenomenon. After years of painstaking labor to clear the land of massive boulders and tenacious shrubbery, Sylvain planted Syrah, Mourvèdre, and Grenache for his Cocalières red. The final step would be to give it the usual Aupilhac treatment: organic farming, native yeast fermentation, long aging in neutral wood, and an unfiltered bottling. Year after year, this terroir beautifully marries a delicate freshness with the ripe, soulful fruit we are accustomed to in southern reds. Here is your chance to discover the great cru of Cocalières, evidence that with a bit of ambition and hard work, good wine is indeed made in the vineyard“. Anthony Lynch

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An event worth checking out

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