Sunday, June 17, 2007

Look at those Grapes Grow!

Just last week the grapes at Three Fox Vineyards in Delaplane, VA were but babes - check 'em out this week!
Our baby grapes are well on their way to being all grown up...

We won't be volunteering out there again until mid-July, so this will be our last "grape update" for awhile... I wonder what they'll look like then!

Wednesday, June 13, 2007

A Tale of Two Rieslings

As I've mentioned in the past, I'd like to taste some more Rieslings. According to the wine goddess Andrea (Immer) Robinson, Rieslings are very versatile white wines that can pair well with food and are generally under-appreciated in the US. Since most of the food I eat on a regular basis (especially in the summertime) consists of veggies and fish, an exploration of Rieslings seems in order.

The two Rieslings I'm comparing here were not tasted back-to-back, but a couple days apart. And to foreshadow my conclusions here, neither compared to the Alsace Riesling we tasted during our "Big Six" tasting a couple weeks ago (I loved that wine!!), although one came close, and for almost half the price....

Bonny Doon vs Dr. Loosen
The two Rieslings tasted were the 2005 Bonny Doon Pacific Rim Dry Riesling and the 2005 Loosen "Dr. L" Riesling. In the traditional anti-establishment tradition of Bonny Doon, the Pacific Rim Dry Riesling was made from a blend of Washington State and Mosel (Germany) grapes; the Dr. L simply mentioned the Mosel-Saar-Ruwer region of Germany
as the source. Both wines were purchased at Total Wine in McLean, VA for $10 and $11, respectively.

Bonny Doon Pacific Rim Dry Riesling
As with all Bonny Doon wines, you can tell right away just from the bottle that the wine is going to be a little "different". ("Different" doesn't even begin to describe Bonny Doon founder and wine philosopher Randall Grahm - just check out their webpage and you'll see what I mean).

So, the idea behind the "Pacific Rim" Dry Riesling is that Washington State is a wonderful place to grow Riesling as the long, cool growing season allows the grapes to fully ripen while maintaining good natural acidity; however, Bonny Doon felt that German Rieslings have a "haunting floral perfume" to them that can't be matched. So they blend in approximately 25% German Riesling into 75% Washington State, et viola - the Pacific Rim Dry Riesling.

(Just for the record, Bonny Doon Vineyard started off just outside of Santa Cruz, CA. Always looking to expand vinilogical horizons, they have spread out to producing wine from Washington State, Italy, France, and probably a couple other countries / locales).

Tasting the Pacific Rim Dry Riesling
So I wanted to highlight that word, DRY, in the title for a reason - I now know what I need to look for in a Riesling to enjoy it - it has to be DRY!

Dry is kind of an interesting word in the wine lexicon, since is doesn't have an obvious meaning. I mean, how can a liquid be "dry", anyway? A lot of red wines may make your mouth feel dry, but that is actually due to their tannins, and is not what the term refers to in wine. In the wine world, dry refers to the fact that all of the grape's natural sugars have been converted via fermentation to alcohol. (Paradoxically, a "dry" county is one that doesn't allow alcohol, so it's no wonder people get confused with this term.) Most "normal" table wines are in fact "dry". Even wines that may seem sweet (many white wines for example) usually don't have any residual sugar left in them and it's just their flavors that make them appear sweet (with the major exception of dessert and fortified wines such as port and madeira).

Getting back to Rieslings - an important thing to look for in Rieslings to clue you in to their style is either the word "dry" on the label, or more likely their alcohol content. This Bonny Doon Pacific Rim was 12% alcohol (the Domaine Trimbach Alsace Riesling I loved so much from our Big Six Tasting was 12.5% alcohol); the Dr. L German Riesling was 8.5% (and as you'll see, this was not what I was looking for). With Rieslings in particular, there are two distinct styles that crop up - sweet and not-so-sweet. The sweet wines are the ones with a lower percent alcohol than the "not-so sweet" dry Rieslings (in general).

End of tangent - now for the tasting notes.

The 2005 Bonny Doon Pacific Rim Riesling had a big nose of pear, maybe lemon and a hint of floral. On the tongue it was nice and crisp, but not overly acidic - very well balanced. There was a hint of crisp apple, with some pear and citrus coming through. Overall we thought this wine had a Good Quality-to-Price Ratio, and will go down on our "buy again" list! We paired this with Indian cuisine and it worked fairly well.

Dr. Loosen - "the Man" of Riesling
So I wanted to do some research here to be able to tell you how important Ernst Loosen (loh-zen) was to world-wide Riesling production, but I couldn't find any pages detailing his influence. So you're just going to have to trust my memory in that I'm pretty sure he's taken his years of experience in Germany and has helped vineyards get Riesling get established in both New York State and Washington State (probably elsewhere as well). So when it comes to Riesling, I think Dr. L is something of "the Man".

Tasting the Loosen "Dr. L" Mosel-Saar-Ruwer Riesling
So the big downer here is that I should have looked at the label before popping this one open for dinner - having recently experienced the joys of dry Riesling, I thought this may go well with some grilled salmon we were having for dinner. D'oh! That 8.5% alcohol meant sweet sweet sweet - definitely nothing you'd want to mix with salmon. So I was a little annoyed at this wine for tricking me from the get-go, so may have been less objective in my analysis...

The Dr. L had apricot, citrus, and perhaps cut grass on the nose. On the tongue it was fruity, maybe with some pineapple, had a bit of gravel to it and had only a bit of acidity. Since it was so sweet I think this wine would need to be paired with really spicy foods if it had any chance to pair well. It had a very nice finish though.

Overall impression here is that if you like sweeter whites, you'd probably like this wine - I could tell it was crafted fairly well, but it just wasn't at all what I was looking for at the time so I couldn't really get into it. We Vacu-Vin'ed it and popped it back in the fridge, but even drinking it on its own the next day just wasn't doing it for me. Again - I'm just not really into sweet wines, so I think this is simply my palate versus any fault of the wine.

In Search of Dry Rieslings
So now that I know the importance of finding dry Rieslings, I'm in search of good examples under $20 (preferably under $15!). Anyone have any favorites? I'd love to hear about them, as I plan to continue my Riesling exploration as the mercury continues to rise this summer! In the meantime, I'm now going to be sure to check out alcohol content on each bottle before I buy it, and try to find some 12.5+% Rieslings to enjoy!

A Quick Foodie Post-Script
So I've gotten comments from folks wanting to know more about the food Kris and I have made to pair with some of our different wines. Well, as I mentioned before we were hoping for a dry Riesling to pair our salmon with the Dr. L Riesling, which didn't end up happening. But here was our meal nonetheless...

The salmon was pretty easy - we just cooked it on the grill in a foil packet with some onions and green garlic from our CSA (Community Supported Agriculture - I love the food we get each week!!) The side was a Sweet Corn and Black Bean Salad - a recipe we picked up from Whole Foods. This salad rocks!! It's a cold salad with corn, beans, onions and red pepper and a simple rice vinegar, olive oil, lemon, salt and pepper dressing. This is a great summer salad, and I recommend anyone living in a remotely warm place this summer check it out!

And the grand finale of the meal was a raspberry rhubarb pie, again made from super fresh CSA produce! I'm a big fan of rhubarb, and look forward to rhubarb pies each summer. I also made a strawberry rhubarb pie with berries we picked ourselves down the road at Butler's Orchard, a pick your own fruits and veggies place. Overall, I think the raspberries blend better with the tarter taste of rhubarb than strawberries do, which I think are more traditionally used. But both pies rock!

Tuesday, June 12, 2007

Chilean Merlot - while I still can! (by Kris, not Nate) :-)

Upon much prodding from Nate, I have decided to chime in and add my 2-cents for a wine blog here and there. It seems only appropriate that I start with my latest fascination, Chilean merlots! As June progresses and the summer continues to heat up, I relish the nights where it cools down below 70 degrees and I can still sneak in a glass of red wine (or two!). Nate and I have discovered the fantastic flavors and values of Chilean merlots and have been enjoying trying different bottles, to find a favorite.

We have somewhat recently adopted the Carmen merlot as our "house red" which we buy by the case and keep around for everyday drinking, a great second bottle, or just a guilt-free open. At only $6, this merlot is fantastic, (and has a high QPR, as Nate would say). :-) If we haven't written it up already, we should and will... However, recently we decided to experiment and see what a few more dollars would buy you from Chile.

Tonight's bottle is a 2005, Santa Rita Reserva Merlot from the Maipo Valley. The aromas are fairly intense, dark berries, currant (I have a story about that in a second) and distinct tones of vanilla. On the palate it is bursting with fruit, but is immediately balanced by the tannins and a hint of spice. I think this could be a red that could please both the "big-fruity" people as well as those liking their tannins and a bit more complexity. It's very enjoyable just sipping, but also went well with a polenta-veggie-lasagna I made tonight. What this Santa Rita has taught me is that while it is good to have a safe, $6 house read wine, when you want a treat, you don't have to splurge much more to get a large, lush and tasty merlot. This bottle cost $11 and I would definitely buy again when I want something a bit more special.

Now, since Nate always goes on tangents, I feel as though I need to follow suit....about currants: I had always seen wine described as having aromas or flavors of currant, but never had seen nor had a currant - we discussed whether this was an "old world" fruit that no longer is relevant as a wine descriptor today.... But, not more than a couple days later, while shopping at Trader Joe's, we happened upon a bag of dried currants and had to try it! To eat our words, (somewhat literally), we popped open the bag and tried our first currents! The flavor is intense, much like I would imagine a dried blackberry, mixed with a blueberry, and maybe a cherry too. Its tart, but also sweet, and definitely a flavor I have had in wine before. I really do think there is currant in the Santa Rita, although I admit to being a bit eager to find it in a wine - I guess I'll just need to eat a few more, and sip a bit more to be sure!

Sunday, June 10, 2007

The Grapes are Growing in Virginia!

As I've mentioned before, my wife Kris and I volunteer in the tasting room at Three Fox Vineyards in Delaplane, VA. We were just out there this last weekend, and I thought I'd post a picture to show you that the grapes are starting to take form in Virginia!

More updates as the growing season progresses! I'm missing out on bottling next week or I'd document that for you, but hope to have pictures from different aspects of the winemaking process as it comes up!

Sunday, June 3, 2007

We Have the Facts And Are Voting Pink!

Pink is definitely shaping up to be THE color for wine this summer. Both Wine Spectator and Wine Enthusiast have run cover stories on rosés, and the general media at large have picked up on this trend and run stories in newspapers across the US, so rosé - your time is now!

Catavino's Virtual Rosé Wine Tasting last month really piqued my interest in pink, and I plan to continue my exploration of rosés this summer. As I mentioned in my previous rosé tasting notes, I'd been a bit traumatized by White Zinfandel in the past, so it's taken me a while to come around to the notion that not all pink wine is wretchingly sweet. Once I overcame that roadblock, I've really started enjoying rosés!

The bottle
So I admit, I bought this wine for no reason other than it had a really cool bottle. Seriously, check that out - how cool is that?! I'm all for more interesting bottles, as long as they still fit within a wine rack, and just as importantly, fit within a refrigerator! (I'm frequently annoyed with Rieslings and Gewurztraminers in their tall skinny bottles that only fit cock-eyed in the fridge).

So anyway, I really liked the shape bottle. I did look beyond the bottle shape enough to note that this wine came from Côtes de Provence, France before purchasing it - I figured the French abhor sweet table wine, so I was pretty safe in avoiding anything remotely resembling White Zinfandel. Plus, Wine Enthusiast claimed that 8% of all the world's rosé was produced in Provence, so I figured they'd be a pretty safe bet.

But back to the bottle - not only was it a funky shape, it also had a raised sun and palm tree on the glass: again, trés cool. I've mentioned before that I'm a total sucker for wine bottles with raised images... See, I wasn't kidding. We're going to have to keep this one and make it into an oil candle or something.

The Label
Besides stating that it was from Provence, in typical French style the label was very unhelpful in conveying any useful information about the wine (grapes used, brief tasting notes, pairing suggestions, etc).

What I'd really like to start seeing on wine bottles is a website address! In a recent post, Winedeb mentioned that she found a web address on the cork - perfect location! If you're in a restaurant and you find something you like, you can just take the cork home with you as a "business card" of sorts. Why don't more wineries do this?? I'm sure the corks must cost a little more, but I think the cost would be more than offset by increased sales as people would be much more likely to be able to find the same wine again. I think this would be particularly helpful with French, Spanish or Italian wines - I always have a tricky time trying to Google for particular wines from non-English speaking countries, so having their web address would really help (even if I had to have Google translate the page, at least I'd be starting off in the right spot!)

Since its label was so unhelpful, I went online hoping to at least find out if this wine was made from
Grenache, Cinsault, or Syrah grapes - all of which are likely given its Provence appellation. But alas, a few minutes of searching turned up no pertinent information, so I'll just have to live in ignorance...

Tasting the Pink
This 12.5% alcohol 2006 Roque Martin rosé was purchased for $10 at Rodmans. As you can kind of tell in the photo, it was a nice dark salmon color. My first impression was that there wasn't much on the nose - this may have been because it was too cold, as I started getting notes of light berries, maybe strawberry, afterwards. First impression of the taste was similar - it made me think of Dr. Deb's recent description of a wine as "gravel with a twist of lemon". This wine was very minerally, with nice acidity and a slight citrus edge to it. It hardly had any fruit (although I started tasting berries a bit later) although it still came off with a hint of sweetness.

Overall Recommendation
This wine was thankfully not too sweet, so would work as either a summer sipper or paired with light fare, maybe even fish. I was not overly impressed by this wine though, and for $10 I would have to say it has just average quality-to-price ratio. I'm going to have to keep looking for the "perfect pink", and hopefully can find a favorite or two by the end o the summer!

Friday, June 1, 2007

Virtual Albariño Wine Tasting!

The good folks from Catavino are at it again! The theme of this month's "Virtual Wine Tasting" - Spanish Albariños! As with all Catavino Virtual Wine Tastings, you don't need a blog to join in on the fun - just grab a bottle that falls within that month's category and post it directly to Catavino's website.

So - Albariño. I'd heard of this white wine before, even have tasted one or two in the past, but didn't have any distinct recollections to know what to expect, or to steer me in my wine selection. So I did a quick search of what Total Wine in McLean had to offer, and my "choice" became quite simple - they only had one in stock. Thus I ended up with a $15 2006 Val Do Sosego Albariño from the Rías Baixas region of Spain.

Albarino and Rias Baixas
The Albariño grape (called Alvarinho in Portugal) is grown predominantly in Galicia in Northwestern Spain, as well as just across the border in the Vinho Verde region of Portugal. As seems to often be the case in the world of wine, Albariños coming from these coastal regions are said to pair quite well with food common to such a locale; in this case, that means seafood. The Rías Baixas DO (Denomination of Origin) is particularly well-known for its Albariños (and not surprisingly, it's seafood!). For additional background info/chatter, check out the Catavino forum set up for this month's tasting where you can read about it directly from the Spanish wine experts (Ryan and Gabrielle).

Tasting Notes
The 2006 Val Do Sosego Albariño from the Rías Baixas was light gold in color with just a hint of green to it. This immediately made me think of New Zealand Sauvignon Blancs, and that association was just strengthened by the nose, and again by the palate.

On the nose, I picked out lemon grass and green apple, and Kris was adamant about pear. On the tongue, the lemon-grass came through, and it had a very nice minerally-ness to it. It had a higher-than-average acidity, which made this medium-bodied wine nice and crisp. I've read this phrase a lot, but I think I'd like to use the term "racy acidity" here to describe it - it just seems to fit.

So, given that Albariños are supposed to pair perfectly with seafood we probably should have attempted to cook up some fish for dinner, but that wasn't in the cards for tonight. On a tip from some blog or another, we instead paired this Albariño with Indian food and I must say - it worked really well. It's always a bit tricky to pair Navratan Korma or spicy lentils with anything wine-related, so I was pretty happy with how to find a wine that could do it.

Overall Recommendation

This wine was *very* similar to many New Zealand Sauvignon Blancs I've had. I was a little disappointed, not because it wasn't good (it was), but because it wasn't that different from other wines I've had. This wine had a very nice acidity to it, but none of the smoothness or slight creaminess I have heard attributed to Albariños, nor did it have the supposedly-distinctive apricot or peach nose. So at $15 a bottle I thought it was a great wine, but I could pay a couple dollars less and get a very comparable Marlborough Sauvignon Blanc that would do the same thing for me. Perhaps I need to try again in case this was an atypical Albariño, although this was the only one carried by my usual wine shop so I'd have to hunt around a bit. But from what I've read from others posting their tasting notes on Catavino, it may be well worth my effort!