Friday, November 30, 2007

A cool idea for a slow sipper

A wine cellar is great for storing uopened wines at the correct temperature and humidity. Chilling an opened bottle, either by using a bucket of ice, a fancy gadget with a temperature monitor, or the plain old fridge all works well. What about the wine in your glass then? How would you keep it within the correct temperature range for drinking?

It is great to start your glass at the correct drinking temperature and finish it within 5 degree Fahrenheit so that the 'correct' aroma and texture can be experienced. However, what if you drink wine outdoor in the summer; or sip a glass that lasts for two hours?

This dilemma troubled me during the past Thanksgiving holiday when I wanted to sip 1 glass of Pinot and Rioja each during a 3 hour dinner. By the time I tasted the last drop in the glass, the wines become so warm that they actually tasted horrible.

So today I performed a quick search and found these plastic reusable ice cubes. Seems like it can be useful in chilling down the wine in the glass once it start to turn warm.

These look like a great idea for holiday parties too. Put one of this flashing cube in your favorite beverage, you will have an instant sparkler.

If this is a crazy idea, please let me know how I can safely and economically keep a glass of wine cool for more than 15 minutes without constantly reaching for that bottle in the fridge.

Thursday, November 22, 2007

Wines we drank on Thanksgiving

Happy Thanksgiving! One of the few days in the year that we are not counting calories. Good food, good company and a day off, what else can we ask for? Well, on this day, to complete a perfect meal, some folks insists on drinking American; some folks insist on perfect food and wine paring and the other simply want delicious beverages to go with that turkey and the side dishes.

In our household, a lot of alcoholic beverages were served on thanksgiving day including beer, wine and even cocktails. With all the alcohol consumed throughout the day, it is essential to keep the alcoholic content in-check so our guests can get home safely. So, in the wine department, we decided to drink the following wine, all with ABV no higher than 13%:

2003 Marqués de Gelida Cava Brut Exclusive
1996 R. Lopez de Heredia Rioja Viña Gravonia

1997 Trimbach Pinot Noir "Réserve Personnelle"

2003 Marqués de Gelida Cava Cava Brut Exclusive
ABV: 11.5%, Price: $12
Packaged in an unique and interesting plastic yellow label that wraps the entire bottle, this cava is a blend of 35% Macabeo, 30% Xarello, 20% Parallada, 15% Chardonnay. It is produced by El Cep, S.A and is aged for 3 and half years before release. It is simple yet pleasing to the palate which makes a perfect inexpensive sparkling wine to serve as aperitif.

Color: Pale straw
Nose: Mostly green apple and lemon, with a light touch of yeast.
Palate: Very crisp and fairly dry. With air, it becomes quite creamy and eventually yields a touch of sweetness. Flavor mostly refines to apple and citrus.
Body: Light. The bubbles are fairly large and slow.
Finish: Clean, long and inviting for the next sip.

1996 R. Lopez de Heredia Rioja Viña Gravonia
ABV: 12%, Price: $23
This traditionally made Rioja is made from 100% Viura. It is the 'youngest' wine currently released from the winery (released after 10 years of aging in oak cask and then the bottle). Although not particularly powerful, this wine possesses both elegance and freshness. In the few hours we drank the wine, it slowly opened up more and more. Fascinating stuff and a true beauty at this price range. Great match with the pumpkin soup we served.

Color: Deep yellow
Nose: Pear, roasted hazelnut and a touch of coconut.
Palate: Very dry with flavors of lemon and orange peel, showing a touch of muskiness (probably from oxidization in the aging process) and smoked wood. As hours went by, the flavor of citrus changed to preserved Chinese Ume.
Body: Medium to full.
Finish: Long with notes of honey and citrus and nuts.

1997 Trimbach Pinot Noir "Réserve Personnelle"
ABV: 13%, Price: $19
F.E. Trimbach is more famous for their whites but they do make a small amount of Pinot Noir. In good vintages such as 1997, they also make a "Réserve Personnelle" using ultra ripe grapes resulting in a more concentrated Pinot. If you are used to Pinot Noir from California, Oregon or even Burgundy, this flinty and lighter style pinot may not be your liking. However, this wine does exhibit the true character of thegrape with expression of the Alsatian terrior. At age 10, the "Réserve Personnelle" is surprisingly youthful and fresh.

Color: Clear medium ruby.
Nose: Explosive aroma of riped cherry and brown sugar. Hint of moss (or fern) .
Palate: The tannins is totally resolved. Velvety texture supports a mouthful of red fruits. Flavor is mostly red cherry with hints of vanilla and mushroom. Very flinty. Very balanced.
Body: Medium.
Finish: Long and clean. Mostly cherry and black pepper with a hint of mushroom.

Wednesday, November 21, 2007

Pre-Thanksgiving sip: 2000 Les Calèches de Lanessan

The turkey is marinating nicely in the fridge and the prep work for most of the side dishes is completed. Oh, it will be an interesting but hectic day tomorrow.

But for now, as a pre-Thanksgiving sip, (or just to unwind before the big day), we decided to go French and open a bottle 2000 Les Calèches de Lanessan, the second wine of Château Lanessan.

Château Lanessan, owned by Domaines Bouteiller, has been producing this second label since 1999. Les Calèches de Lanessan is a blend of 60% Cabernet Sauvignon, 30% Merlot, 5% Cabernet Francs and 5% Petit-Verdot. It is aged for 18 months in 30-50% new French oak barrels before bottling.

This wine is made in an early accessible and easy-drinking style and meant to be consumed within seven years of the harvest. One interesting fact about Les Calèches de Lanessan is the label bears a different carriage for every vintage. For the 2000 vintage, the label is the “Le Tonneau” (or “The Barrel”).

ABV: 12.5%. Price: $11.

Tasting notes:

Color: Dark Garnet, almost purple.

Nose: Classic Bordeaux, cassis, toasty oak and a little bit of olive after 30 minutes of decanting.

Palate: Fairly fruit forward dominated by sour cherry and cassis with notes of pepper at the back palate. Very balanced but still a bit tannic.

Body: A little bit thin, medium weight at best.

Finish: Not very long. Notes of dark fruits, pepper and earth.

2000 is a great vintage for Bordeaux when wines from the lowest appellations to the best châteaus achieve good to excellent quality. Les Calèches de Lanessan demonstrated that even a second label from a Cru Bourgeois producer can be really good. Although not as concentrated as its big brother, Les Calèches de Lanessan is very well made and exhibits a good QPR value.

That said, for the highly touted 2005 vintage, Les Calèches de Lanessan should be a decent drink. As a future reference, the importer of the 2000 vintage is Regal Wine Imports, Inc in Marlton NJ.

Wednesday, November 14, 2007

WBW #39: Sliver Burgundy

It is great to have Neil, aka the Brooklynguy, to host the 39th installment of Wine Blogging Wednesday originally started by Lenn. Neil is passionate about French wines and his favorite regions are Burgundy, Lorie and Champagne. The theme he proposed this time is ‘Silver-Burgundy’ where participants have to seek out wines from outside of the infamous Côte d'Or region. In fact, he only allows wine produced from the regions of Côte Chalonnaise and the Mâconnais to be discussed.

I am still climbing the steep and expansive learning curve of understanding wines from Burgundy, partly because of the unfavorable US/Euro exchange rate and partly due to the highly touted 2005 vintage where prices are unrealistic. Furthermore, wine prices from the lesser vintages such as the 2003 and 2004 have been inflated by at least 10 to 25% recently. In spite of these conditions, I found 2 lovely and affordable Burgundies to be shared in this WBW. Both of these wines are imported by VOS Selections.

2003 DomaineChofflet-Valdenaire, Givry, Chalonnaise
2005 Domaine Thomas Tradition, Saint-Véran, Mâconnais

2003 Chofflet-Valdenaire, Givry
ABV: 13%, Price: $22

Background information:
The Chofflet-Valdenaire estate, located in the hillside hamlet of Russily, has been in their family for over 100 years. Today, Jean Chofflet’s son-in-law Denis Valdenaire runs the 11-hectare domaine. Theestate’s Givry AOC comes from several vineyard parcels. The grapes are entirely hand-harvested and 100% destemmed. It is aged half in tank, half in two to three year casks for one year before bottling. They also produce two single vineyard cuvee being produced, Givry 1er Cru Clos de Choue and Givry 1er Cru Clos Jus.

Tasting Notes:

Color: Clear medium ruby. Tight rims.
Nose: Notes of ripe cherry. Initial funk, which my wife describes as rotten lettuce, that blows off after a while in the glass.
Palate: Juicy sour cherries giving way to notes of sage and earth.Slightly dusty tannins and lively acidity support the very balanced mouth feel. The fruit flavor is fairly focused.
Body: Light to medium.
Finish: Medium length with notes of cherry, dried herb, earth and black pepper.

2005 Domaine Thomas Tradition, Saint-Véran ABV: 13%, Price: $18

Background information:
Domaine Thomas was created in 1934 and now extends over 12 hectares on southwest facing slopes. They have been estate bottling the majority of the wine production since 1987, specializing in St-Veran. Lucien Thomas, owner and winemaker, produces his St-Veran from old-vines planted around a remarkable, single-block, south-southwest facing amphitheater vineyard. The St-Veran is made from 40-50 year old vines. Domaine Thomas also produces a St-Veran Vieilles Vignes made from a block of vines that are 70 years old. Neither of these 2 wines is treated with oak in order to preserve the terrior and the fullest expression of fruit.

Tasting Notes:

Color: Light golden.
Nose: Expressive aroma of pear and lemon. Notes of stones.
Palate: Fairly concentrated. Ripe pear and lemon zest flavors supported by lively acidity and undertone of minerals.
Body: Medium.
Finish: Slight peppery and bitter notes that support a long citrus flavor. The finish is very clean.

While not particularly complex, both of these wines are very food friendly. They are straightforward wines for simple and homey dishes. The Chofflet-Valdenaire pairs very well with an earthy but light Cantonese dish of Steamed Chicken with tiger lily and fungus. On the other hand, the Domaine Thomas, being a unoaked Chardonnay, is a good match for the steamed black sea bass we prepared.

For folks who would like to know the recipe of Steamed Chicken with tiger lily and fungus, the recipe is as follows:

Half a dressed chicken (about 1.5 lbs)
4 Chinese dried mushrooms

1/2 oz. Dried tiger lily [honey suckle flower]
1oz. Cloud ear fungus
4 Red dates
1 Tbsp chopped ginger
1 Tbsp Chopped garlic

2 twigs of Cilantro (optional, for garnish)

1 Tbsp Light soy sauce

1/2 Tbsp Dark soy sauce
1 Tbsp Ginger wine [We use the Domaine Thomas instead]
1 1/2 tsp Cornstarch

A dash of Sesame oil

1 cup of Water

1/2 Tbsp Light soy sauce
1/2 Tbsp Oyster sauce

1 tsp Sugar
A dash of Sesame oil

Note: All the ingredients above are readily available in any Chinese grocery stores.

Chop chicken into pieces. Season and marinate for 1/2 to 1 hour. Soak and rinse mushrooms, tiger lily, fungus and dates. Quarter the dates and discard the pits if present. Tie each tiger lily with an overhand knot. Cut mushrooms into thin slices.

Heat 2 tablespoons oil, sauté garlic and ginger until fragrant. Stir-fry chicken until 60% done, add remaining ingredients and sauce. Bring to the boil, cover and simmer for 15 minutes until done. Garnish with cilantro and serve hot.

Wednesday, November 7, 2007

Descendientes de José Palacios Pétallos, Bierzo

I initially learnt about the Mencía grape, an indigenous red variety of Northwestern Spain, by reading Eric Asmov’s Wines of the Times article ‘Bierzo, a New Taste of Spain’ last year. Unfortunately, there were so many other wines to be tasted and the effort of trying a wine composed of Mencía has been put off until now.

Browsing through the racks of Tinto Fino, a tiny but well organized wine shop in the East Village that specialized in Spanish wines earlier last month, I noticed one of the wines Eric mentioned, the Descendientes de José Palacios Pétallos, placed in the Castilla y León section, and I decided to pick one up and see what it taste like.

Doing some research via Google, I found out that Descendientes de José Palacios is a joint venture created in 1998 between Ricardo Perez and his uncle Alvaro Palacios who is of course famous for the "L’Ermita" and "Finca Dofi" from Priorat. The name of this project is created in honor of Alvaro’s father and Ricardo’s grandfather, José. The Palacios lineup contains four more expansive ($75-125), ‘cru- level’ cuvees: Las Lamas, Moncerbal, Fontelas and St. Martin and two lower-priced regional cuvees: Villa de Corullón (~$50) and Pétallos (~$20). The grapes of all these cuvees come from vineyards in Corullón and surrounding towns where the soils are composed of mostly schist over chalk. The age of the vines is generally between 40-90 years old.

ABV: 14%, Price paid: $21

Tasting Notes:

Color: Inky purple, tight rims.

Nose: Initially very tight only showing herbaceous notes (reminds me of a young Cab.Franc). After 15 minutes, aroma of plum and dried cherry pops out with hints of cooked meat.

Body: Medium to full. Very balanced.

Palate: Lush and extracted with bright dark fruit flavor. Quite thick and creamy (feels like melted milk chocolate). The wine is bit chewy and chalky with hints of oak. Smooth tannins balanced by adequate acidity. However, the fruit profile is not particularly focused and the wine show a little bit of heat at the back palate.

Finish: Medium at best. It is quite dry with notes of black pepper supporting the dark cherry flavor.

The Pétallos is a nice effort in exhibiting the characteristic of the Mencía grape. Being aged in 2-3 years old oak barrels, the wine is made in the new-world style but does not present itself as a fruit bomb or overly oaked. This is a middle-of-the road wine that is very pleasant to drink but will not 'wow' anybody. It is also a bit thick as a standalone sipper but pairs well with meat dishes or saucy food.

Saturday, November 3, 2007

2006 Colombelle Vin de Pays des Côtes de Gascogne

It is now November, Thanksgiving is around the corner and we are all thinking about family gatherings, turkey, ham, roast beef, yam, stuffings and all the travel arrangements associated with this holiday. As a matter of fact, Dr. Debs has already announced her Thanksgiving wines for 2007 here, and it was a great list of selections indeed.

The weather is already getting a bit chilly in New York City and I know I should be thinking about fall wines. However, I am going to buck the trend and give the summer a last hurrah by introducing this wine, 2006 Colombelle Vin de Pays des Côtes de Gascogne. As a matter of fact, I can say that this wine is actually something Dr. Debs should include in her Thanksgiving wine list.

A local cooperative from Gasconge, Producteurs Plaimont, produces the Colombelle. This is a refreshing white wine composes of 70% Colombard and 30% Ugni Blanc. The grapes are harvested in early September. After de-stemming and a short maceration, the grapes are lightly pressed and fermented in stainless steel tanks before bottling.

Most folks like to associate wines made with Colombard and Ugni Blanc as lightweight summer sippers but they fail to recognize that these wines are actually handy year round. It is especially good for light seafood and poultry dishes. As a matter of fact, I shall crack open a bottle (yes, this wine sports a screw cap) to serve with the salad dish on my Thanksgiving table.

ABV: 11.5%, price: $7

Tasting notes:

Color: Pale golden.

Nose: Explosive notes of white flower and a peach and a touch of honey.

Body: Light but well balanced.

Palate: Crisp entry. Flavor of grapefruit, peach and under-ripe pineapple fill the mid-palate. Nice acidity.

Finish: Long notes of citrus supported by hints of herbs and spice. Fefreshing and palate cleansing.

For $7, this is an extremely high QPR wine. This wine is a nice alternative to the usual white varietals including Chardonnay and Sauvignon Blanc. However, I would advise all of us to forego the exercise of analysing this wine and just enjoy. We did! Paired with grilled chicken, aspargus and wild rice. Awesome match.

Thursday, November 1, 2007

Paul Jaboulet Aîné Parallel 45

Halloween evening, after we have gone Trick-o-Treat with our child, I was exhausted and just wanted to have a simple meal with a glass of simple wine. Alas! There is my half bottle of good o’ faithful Parallel 45 left over from the previous night waiting to be finished.

I have had this entry wine by Paul Jaboulet Aîné many times. Parallel 45 may not be the best Côtes du Rhône you can buy, but for the money, this wine delivers value year in and year out. Moreover, it is flexible, you can pair it with almost anything (even seafood such as fried fish fingers). For this night, I paired this bottle from the 2003 vintage with a roast beef sandwich on pumpernickel topped with caramelized onions. Perfect combination!

ABV: 13.5%, Price paid: $8

Tasting notes:

Color: Dark ruby.

Nose: Not a huge nose. Light scent of black fruit supported by hints of oak and earthiness.

Palate: Fairly straightforward with riped fruit, borderline grapy and notes of herbs (mostly licorice) and spice typically associated in a GSM wine. Really soft tannins.

Body: Lightweight (even in Côtes du Rhône sense).

Finish: Short and clean. Mostly black fruit and slightly pepperish.

Even with an entry level wine, decanting is a must. Parallel 45 benefits from half to one hour in the decanter before serving.