Friday, August 26, 2011

Plenty of Summer Remains for a Dry Rose'

Dry Rose’ has become a cause for many who take wine seriously. No, it’s definitely not White Zinfandel and pink wine is not always sweet.

Rose’ wines are food-friendly and versatile. These pink wines are dry and a tremendous value. They are also some of the hottest wines, when it comes to sales, in the summer market.

Dry, pink wine really has skyrocketed the past few years. As a matter of fact, sale of Rose’ wines priced above $8 grew more than 53 percent between 2007 and 2008.
Dry Rose’ is affordable, delicious, east to pair with food and yet delightful on a summer evening with nothing but a cracker or snack foods.

Most Rose’ is made from traditional red wine grapes. The wine is simply left in contact with the grape skins for less time than red wine. You get less tannin in the wine and more balanced fruit flavor. Rose’ wines have hints of strawberry and other red fruit. Rose’ can also be made from just about any red wine grape.

Rose’ is my summer guilty pleasure. Here are the four best Rose’ wines I’ve found this summer. All of these are widely available.

Mas Donis 2010 Rosat – Spanish winemakers know how to make great Rose’. This inexpensive Rose is 80 percent Grenache, 10 percent Syrah and 10 percent Merlot. It is a full-bodied wine that will give you hints of red fruit, smoky flavors, and nice acidity. The Mas Donis stands out for its beautiful nose. Some Rose’ can be pretty flat when you stick your nose in the glass. You’ll love the wave of strawberry you get when you take a whiff of this $8-$12 wine.

Andieux & Fils Cotes de Provence
– French Rose’ is every bit as finessed and delicate as you would expect. The A&F Rose’ is refreshing and lighter than the Rosat. The blend is 60 percent Grenache and 40 percent Syrah. It has a salmon color with beautiful hints of red raspberry, strawberry, and even a hint of apricot or maybe peach on your palate. Like most Rose’, this wine has low alcohol at just 12.5 percent.

Banfi Rosa Regale – And if you really want to try something different pick up this delicious sparkler. Banfi is one of the most recognized wine names in Italy. They make this beautiful sparkling Rose’ that would be a marvelous before or after-dinner delight. Strong raspberry is lush on the mid palate. The bubbles are really quite restrained. The dark red cranberry color is beautiful. The alcohol is a ridiculously low 7 percent. This is the most expensive wine on the list at $20.

Charles & Charles 2010 Rose – Rose from Spain, France and Italy, and of course now one from the U.S.A. Charles Smith, of the two Charlies in the name, is one of Washington state’s best known, controversial, out-spoken and talented winemakers.

This Rose’ is 100 percent Syrah and it rocks. It’s the best I’ve tasted this summer and maybe one of the best I’ve ever had. It is big in flavor – think sage, raspberry, and maybe even a Jolly Rancher. This wine is proof you can enjoy world class wine for $10-$13.

Finally, I’d also suggest seeking out Pinot Noir Rose for Pinot loves. Most Pinot Rose’ is going to be above the price points mentioned here but the well-made Pinot Rose’ is a palate-pleasing treat.

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Tuesday, August 9, 2011

If Local Means Local Shouldn't That Include Wine?

So much has been written in recent years about the local food movement. Restaurants have sprung up across the nation espousing the 'farm-to-fork' movement.

For the unititiated, it's simply buy local produce and use local products on the restaurant table. I travel enough to get in and out of lots of restaurants and I'm constantly surprised how few 'farm-to-fork' operations maintain the 'local' concept when it comes to wine.

The same can be said for any restaurant whether its part of the farm-to-fork movement or not.

A somewhat pleasant surprise occured over the weekend visiting the historic Key West Shrimp House in Madison, IN. The Shrimp House had several area Indiana wines on their menu. They had wines from the Thomas Family Winery and Madison Vineyards.

In photo at right was my Saturday night entree: A shrimp, scallops and crab meat platter with sides.

Additionally, Madison Vineyards labels makes a Key West Shrimp House label exclusively for the restaurant.

Unfortunately, I didn't find the remainder of the wine list very interesting. For a place that serves fish, you would hope to find one Sauvignon Blanc or perhaps even a Seyval Blanc or an Indiana wine similar to a Sauv Blanc - there are plenty! I was suprised and pleased to find Mondavi's very nice Fume Blanc on the list but it was available only by the bottle.

The restaurant has a long history. Many years ago there were multiple Key West Shrimp House locations across Indiana including Indianapolis. The first one opened in Indy in the 50s. The Madison location opened in 1968 and continues as a family-run restaurant today.

The food is good. It's what you would expect in land-locked Indiana. I'm assuming most all of the product comes in frozen but the sides have a homemade quality most would enjoy.

In the last year I've been in Michigan and Wisconsin wine regions and those areas often struggle to get local wines into restaurants. Hats off to Scott Koerner at Key West Shrimp House for bringing local vintners' wines to Madison regulars and tourists!

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Basking in Oregon's Pinot Noir Afterglow

(Published July 28, 2011) - A wine trip to Oregon’s Willamette Valley July 18-22 served as a reminder why so many folks love wine country travel and good wine.

The trip was mostly personal vacation but also an opportunity to casually interview a few folks and gather some material for a few newspaper columns, Madison Magazine in Anderson, and the national online wine magazine – Palate Press.

Visiting 16 wineries in four days, and tasting approximately 50-plus wines, re-invigorated my love for sharing these stories. It’s not just the juice in the glass and the Willamette Valley’s incredible Pinot Noir but it’s the people, the food, the environment that makes a wine hobby so much fun.
As the resident wine geek for a number of folks, most requests revolve around Pinot Noir. Perhaps that’s because of Sideways, the run-away hit movie from 2004 which turned Pinot into a national sensation.

So let’s get that out of the way first. In the value Pinot category, I always recommend Mirrasou, Concannon, and Flipflop. All three labels have a nice, but very light, Pinot under $10. You can’t go wrong. If you want a little stronger Pinot flavor and will go up to $15, look for Mark West, Dashwood, or Castle Rock.

With that noted, I’ll put my wine geek hat on and head back to Oregon. Most value Pinot is very thin though some are well made. Oregon’s entry level Pinot Noirs start around $25-$35 price range.

But you really have to taste one of the wonderful Pinots at or near the upper price level to appreciate the grape. Additionally, I’d argue, tasting the upper-end Pinot will help you better select value brands.

Two suggestions that aren’t way off the price charts are Lange Willamette Valley and Domaine Serene Yamhill Cuvee. Both are widely available in the Midwest. The Lange wine retails around the $20 price point while Domaine Serene will range from $27-$32. Think of it as a special occasion wine if that is outside your normal comfort level.

The wine-writing thing opens doors. I chatted with three prominent winemakers, had appointments at several wineries and all were fantastic experiences. But it was the people behind the tasting room counters who made the trip. During our first three stops everyone recommended we visit Vidon Winery, a spot I knew nothing about. It turned out to be one of the best visits and awesome Pinot.

But that experience was the rule not the exception. We met two 25-year-olds at different wineries doing some of the grunt work who aspire to be winemakers. I was able to greet some old friends from two previous trips.

In photo at left, one of the magnificent views of the Willamette Valley. This shot was taken at Anderson Family Vineyards.

The people who make the wine aren’t just winemakers. Two columns ago I wrote about wine country travel and urged readers to talk to those people who are pouring the wine. The Oregon trip really drove that point home again.

Finally, for those ready to open their wallets here are a few recommendations or “Best of” from my trip: Lange Estate Vineyard Pinot ($60), 2009 Penner-Ash Dussin Vineyard Pinot ($60), Domaine Drouhin 2007 Laurene ($65), and Domaine Serene’s Etoile Vineyard Chardonnay ($40). All are available in better Indiana and Illinois wine shops and some liquor stores.

In photo at upper right is Don Hagge owner and winemaker at Vidon Vineyars, one of the best Pinots I tasted. His wines can be hard to find in most states, though.

Finally, one of the most enjoyable stops was at Republic of Jam in Carlton. Two ladies take Oregon’s magnificent fruit and turn it into unbelievable taste combinations. Many of their savory delights can be used in cooking. Look them up online and order some jam!

Editor's Note: See four albums of photos from my Oregon trip by clicking on My Wine Travel in the right rail.

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Tuesday, August 2, 2011

Vertical Offers Raunch, Fun Romp of Pinot, Pathos

Mr Rogers died, American troops invaded Iraq, and Saddam Hussein was captured. The year was 2003. Do you think you could persuade any reasonable Pinot Noir winemaker that a small-budget Hollywood movie would turn their world upside down?

Rex Pickett’s Sideways hit the screens in 2004 and nothing has been the same for Pinot, and certainly Merlot, since. It remains rather remarkable to this day how often the movie comes up when you visit regions known for their Pinot Noir. Marketers, winemakers, and tasting room folk credit Miles and Jack for the boom in Pinot popularity and sales.

If you love Pinot or just reading about wine you know the story. Now, Pickett is back along with Miles and Jack and gallons of Pinot Noir in Vertical. It’s the Sideways sequel.

The novel was released last year and talk of a Sideways follow-up has stayed hot since. During an October 2010 visit to Paso Robles, locals were discussing a possible movie. And having completed the novel, there is no question itwill be coming to a screen near you.

The Vertical story picks up after Sideways. Miles novel is made into a wildly successful movie and he’s in big demand. Buddy Jack is divorced and has hit hard times. Miles’ elderly mother is in failing health in Southern California and wants to go live out her life with a sister in Wisconsin. It’s not hard to see another road trip coming. Miles recruits Jack, packs up Mom, hires a Filipino caretaker and they’re off through California wine country and then to Oregon before taking Mom home.

Miles has been invited to host the International Pinot Noir Festival in McMinnville setting the scene for more over-the-top drunkness and sex.

Pickett has mastered storytelling and attention to detail but he’s shown no ability to exercise self control. Wading into the first few chapters you might be shocked by the raunchy descriptions of the orgies centered around Miles and Jack.

Pickett includes a level of detail on the sexual forays of our favorite author that just didn’t advance the story. It often reads awkward and out of place. It goes from making the reader uncomfortable to worse when Jack suffers from a problem erectile dysfunction medications warn you about in their wonderfully odd commercials.

But he does tell a wonderful story that serves as a screenplay for what could be another very successful movie. There is plenty of sex, winery name dropping, Willamette Valley wonderfulness, and Pinot Noir. It’s really a two-part novel. The first two-thirds of the book is the two buddys’ madcap roadtrip with the final third of the pages serving as a moving novelette about a middle-aged man dealing with the health and well-being of his aged mother.

Pickett has been spending time on Sideways for the stage. There seems little question Vertical the movie can be far behind.

If moviemakers can sign Paul Giamatti and Thomas Haden Church for Miles and Jack, a hit seems assured. How about Betty White in a serious dramatic role as Miles’ Mother?

If you like wine and good story telling you’re going to like Vertical. Or, you can just wait for the movie that’s sure to follow.

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