Monday, February 27, 2012

Grenache, Carignan Wine Grapes to Watch

Languedoc Vineyards in January
I always get a kick out of the next grape that's going to take the world by storm! It's always been fun among wine geeks to talk about such things though I'm not sure average wine drinkers really care.

Grenache is best known as the "G" in French Rhone Valley Cotes du Rhone GSM grapes. The other two would be Syrah and Mourvedre, for those who really care. I love Grenache and really love the Rhone varietals and blends driven by Grenache.

The Spanish call it Garnacha but it's the same grape. California Central Coast wine makers, especially the Rhone Rangers, are growing lots of Grenache and it can be found in Sonoma as well.

Carignan is a very old varietal well known in Southern France or the Languedoc. Much of it has been discarded in recent years, but it seems to be making a comeback along with the Languedoc which is emerging as a great value wine region.

Once in a while I like posting news I read elsewhere for those who always want to learn more about wine. Here is a story from the UK's Telegraph newspaper bout Carignan. And another story from the San Francisco Chronicle's website about California Grenache! Read up!

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Sunday, February 26, 2012

Wow! A Really Great White/Rose'

If you read the headline, gentle reader, you're probably asking how the bottle I'm saluting can be a white and a rose'?

The truth is that on the palate it had lots of characteristics of both. I picked this up several weeks ago and opened it Friday night when a friend was visiting. We poured it as a pre-dinner sip and finished it off later that evening.

Denis Jamain Reuilly Pinot Gris was simply sensational. It's from France's Loire valley and is a beautiful and very light colored salmon color.  The wine had a bit of orange, peach and very fresh citrus characteristics. At 12.5 percent alcohol, it was easy to drink.

There was certainly some mineral on the palate as well but not the higher acidity you might expect from a Pinot Gris. The wine is imported by Kermit Lynch. I find KL and Eric Solomon almost full-proof pics 90 percent of the time. The KL name is prominent on this 2010 Reuilly.

I bought this wine at Vine & Table in Carmel for $18.99. I found it online $2-$3 lower.

Denis Jamain 2010 Reuilly, $18.99, Very Highly Recommended

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Thursday, February 23, 2012

Quick Takes on Four Recent Wines

When I review a wine on my blog site I always try to make sure it's one readers can usually find. Or, it's a new wine varietal or something special worth reading about.

That's the case with this post with one unusual variety, a great white and two darn good reds.

Ledgestone Vineyards 2008 Frontenac - I discovered Frontenac during a spring 2011 trip to Northern Wisconsin. The grape varietal was pioneered by former University of Minnesota icon Elmer Swenson. Tim Abel makes one of the few 100 percent bottling I found in Wisconsin.

The big red wine features very pronounced sour cherry flavor that's just wonderful. This is a big tannic wine. It not only needs some age in the bottle but a healthy decant before drinking.

Here is a blog entry I wrote the day I visited Ledgestone and met Tim. You may or may not find Ledgestone, probably quite difficult to find outside of Wisconsin. But if you come accross a 100 percent bottling of the cold climate Frontenac it's definitely worth the investment.

Ledgestone Vineyards 2008 Frontenac, $28, Very Highly Recommended.

Chateau Lamothe de Haux 2010 White Bordeaux - I write a lot about red wines which taste at a quality level far above their price points. Here is a white French wine that does the same thing. This beautifully drinkable white is a blend of Sauvignon Blanc and Semillon. It's smooth yet crisp with a tart lemon flavor.

I had the wine with a shrimp and pasta dish - a perfect pairing. If you can't find this particular label, just seek out a White Bordeaux. It's one of the great value wines coming from the world's most prestigious wine region.

Chateau Lamothe de Haux White Bordeaux, $12.99, Highly Recommended.

The other two wines are quicky recommendations. Mas Janiny Cabernet Sauvignon is a light bodied Cab from the Launguedoc from organic grapes. This a smooth drinking Cab that is excellent for new wine drinkers or those who just don't want to be clobbered by the King of Grapes. $24,99, Recommended, available from The Organic Wine Company.

Unusual Suspects 2007 Red Blend - This Lodi Californa wine is a great value buy. I have written about it before but liked it even more on the second bottle. Think dark cherries and spice and a delightfully easy-to-drink red for under $25. The wine is made from  55 percent Carignan, 35 percent Tempranillo and 10 percent Grenache. It's a real tasty, spicy value wine.

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Sunday, February 19, 2012

A Different, But Still Fun, Saturday Morning Trip

Indianapolis' northside is my usual destination for Saturday morning shopping trips. Feeling less adventurous this Sat., Feb. 18, I headed to downtown Lafayette - just a half hour away.

For the better part of 30 years (maybe more) I've known my way around downtown Lafayette because I worked there in state government in the late 1970s. I probably have driven by O'Rear's Bakery hundreds and hundreds of times. I've never stopped.

Saturday morning I did go into O'Rear's and I'll definitely go back. The bakery is one of those old-fashioned places where you can see the dough mixers and all of the equipment just by peaking through a side door into the back. Brownies, cakes, cookies galore, pastry, and of course donuts.

Places like this deliver a unique homemade natural flavor that chain retail outlets just can't match. The building probably isn't much different inside and out than it was in the 1950s. They don't have a website, and their Facebook page has no content, but this is an institution. If nothing else I can testify driving past it in the 1970s.

It's located at 321 N 9th St., Lafayette.

My next stop was Main Street Cheese & Wine just a few blocks from the bakery - just the way I imagine it in heaven!

I had visited this shop right after it first opened nearly five years ago and wondered how they would ever compete. Well, the shop is still there and now serves breakfast. But the big hit appears to be the wine bar next door that is so busy they recommend reservations for Friday or Saturday nights. 

The wine bar had a nice selection at all price points and plenty of interesting food options and small plates to accompany a bottle of wine. I was mildly surprised to see such a wide selection of Indiana wine. I remember the shop carried Huber Winery products when I first visited and they have a pretty wide selection now. 

I have to mention two other business here before running through my last stop. Copper Dog Cafe is a wonderful little restaurant for vegetarians that's as charming as it is tasty. One of my frequent stops is at Lafayette Brewing Company for their great sandwiches, fries and handcrafted beers. 

McCord's interior seems to have never changed!
But my last stop Saturday was at the near-legendary McCord's Candy Shop - a downtown fixture since 1912. It's one of those places that if you've never been there make the trip to Lafayette just for McCord's. You enter to wonderful aroma of chocolate and fresh-faced college kids making hand-dipped milk shakes.

I bought two truffles - I'm conserving, seriously - and ate one last night. The young lady was almost apologetic for noting they were $2 each when I was picking them out. I have certainly paid more than two bucks for high-end truffles but seldom had one any better than McCords.

536 Main St.
I also ordered a diet cola which they hand mixed by putting the raw syrup into the cup and then the carbonated water - a spoon stirs it all up the old fashioned way.

You really want to visit close to Easter time if possible because they make the widest and wildest array of wonderful chocolate creations. The show case becomes a crazy colorful salute to Mr. Bunny and all his friends.
This place is a real Hoosier treasure!

One of the great things about visiting these places I've written about is they are all so close together. And in between there are numerous great antique stores and small interesting shops. Downtown Lafayette is a good Saturday morning trip!

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Tuesday, February 14, 2012

Two Great Reds: An Italian Value & California Bargain

Any time you can find a special-occasion wine for $20 and a real value for $11 it's been a good week.

I have received several trade samples of Arnaldo Caprai's Italian wines and finally got around to opening one over the weekend. I think it has great value for $20. The other trade sample I opened Sunday night was a Meritage from Robert Mondavi. It was equally surprising and wonderful.

Arnaldo Caprai 2009 Montefalco Rosso DOC - Here is an affordable wine that value drinkers can designate for a special occasion. The wine is 70 percent Sangiovese (same as Chianti), 15 percent Sagrantino (found only in Umbria), and 15 percent Merlot. The Montefalco region is south of Perugia in Umbria.

When I first opened the bottle I thought it was nice enough, though a little light. It was well balanced but rather unremarkable. But wait, after an hour or more of breathing the dark rich fruit opened up, maybe a little sour cherry, and as smooth and rich as Italian wines at this price point can be found.

The wine had a dry and lingering finish I really enjoy. I had the Montefalco with some pretty simple pasta but I could also see it with uncomplicated beef dishes. And the mouth feel is light enough to enjoy with cheese. How about some Parmesan Reggiano drizzled with balsimic vinegar? Yummy!

I almost always check out wines on consumer review sites after I've scribbled down my notes and thoughts. I often go to sites like Cellartracker and others. I was amused to find this wine rated from 83 points to 91 points. I certainly would be much closer to the 91.

Arnaldo Caprai is known for his work with Sagrantino. I have two bottles at home, both samples, and plan to open one as early as this weekend. It's something of a rare grape so it is at a price point much higher than the Montefalco. I can't wait to try that one if the Rosso is any example of the style of winemaking.

Arnaldo Caprai 2009 Montefalco Rosso DOC, Avg U.S. Price: $19, Trade Sample, Highly Recommended 

Robert Mondavi Private Selection Meritage - I've tasted several wines from the Mondavi "Private Selection" label over the past year and been impressed almost every time. This is Mondavi's entry level or call them 'supermarket' wines if you wish. If only all supermarket wines offered the Mondavi consistency and winemaking effort!

The 2010 Meritage is a blend of 42 percent Cabernet, 30 percent Merlot, 20 percent Malbec, and 8 percent Petit Verdo. The grapes come from Monterey County, instead of Napa, off California's Central Coash.

It's easy to call this a traditional Bordeaux blend as you can read from the grapes above. Nothing will knock you out about this wine but it's availability, price, and nicely balanced structure makes it a top choice of the grocery or liquor store shelf.

The most frequently asked question here and through my other wine writing is about good wines at a grocery price - the Mondavi Private Selection is good as any. Now, there are others and that's for another time and day but the Meritage is a very nice red blend that comes across soft, drinkable, and affordable. And my experience with wines at this price point and target audience is that you'll often find them below the suggested retail price.

Robert Mondavi 2010 Meritage,  SRP $11, Trade Sample, Recommended

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Tuesday, February 7, 2012

Wine from Italy's Organic Pioneers

Much of Europe is way ahead of the United States when it comes to the demand and supply of organic products.

Ivo Nardi, one of Italy’s leading organic wine producers, makes the Italian sparkling wine Prosecco and has become one of that nation’s organic farming method leaders.

Nardi’s Perlage label was one of 587 at Millesime Bio organic trade wine fair in Montpellier, France, Jan. 23-25. I attended the wine fair as part of a press trip sponsored by AIVB, the French Languedoc wine region trade association. 

The Millesime Bio is in its 19th year. It’s an international trade show allowing wineries to connect directly to importers from countries around the world. All participating wineries are certified organic by their national governing bodies to be eligible for participation.

Ivo Nardi, right, toasting sales manager Marcella Callegari.
Nardi and his brother Claudio have run Perlage since its founding in 1985. Prosecco is the far northeastern region about an hour from Venice. 

The Nardi brothers began to use organic farming techniques in their vineyards from the very beginning.  In 2005, Perlage began working in biodynamic agricultural practices.

A basic understanding of organic versus sulfite-free is necessary for U.S. consumers. The Food and Drug Administration has ruled, as recently as Dec. 2010, that wines sold in the U.S. can only be called organic if they are 100 percent sulfite free. Most European standards allow some use of sulfites to preserve the wine.
Therefore, a bottle of European wine will be labeled “produced with organically grown grapes” if it’s sold in the United States.  And that’s a point that doesn’t set well with European producers. Still, European organic growers use the absolute minimum sulfites needed.

Nardi insists the demand for organic products is higher in Europe than elsewhere.  He tells the story of selling 10,000 bottles of Perlage wines to a grocery chain in Holland. The buyers were reluctant worried if the product would sell. But the wines started flying off the shelves because the product was good – organic or not. That supermarket chain ended up selling 100,000 bottles in six months, Nardi said.

Nardi discussing his wines with importer Paul Chartrand
“We have a dream not just to be organic but that all of the production of DOCG Prosecco becomes organic within 3-4 years from now,” Nardi said. “We would like to increase our research on all of our production with the goal to reduce sulfites in all of our wines. The knowledge we gain helps with all of our wines.
“The philosophy in biodynamics is better responsibility and better relationship between man and the environment.”

But organic and biodynamic practices are difficult for farmers. They don’t use pesticides, herbicides, or any chemical products in the production of their wines. Cleanliness in handling the product, the exposure to oxygen, and cleanliness in bottling is far more critical than in traditional wine making processes.

During the Millesime Bio I tasted through the Perlage wines, particularly their Proseccos. We tasted the wonderful and groundbreaking Perlage Animae. It’s groundbreaking because it is 100 percent sulfite free. It was every bit as palate pleasing as the other four Prosecco wines we tasted. It retails in the U.S. for $29.99.

Prosecco is a delightfully affordable and refreshing sparkling wine made largely around the district of Valdobbiadene. Good Prosecco choices can be found from a variety of producers for less than $20. It has softer bubbles and a softer taste than many sparkling wines.

Perlage wines are widely available in the U.S. and imported by Chartrand Imports of Maine. Indiana’s Graybull Wines distributes Perlage. The label is also available in Illinois.

Perlage Sangiovese and two of its Prosecco sparklers are available in Indiana. Derek Gray said his biggest selling Perlage label is the Pinot Grigio.

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Sunday, February 5, 2012

Two Really Great White Wines

It's Super Bowl weekend and I almost always make sloppy joes and drink a big ol' Zin or California Syrah.

Hmm, maybe I'm getting soft in old age. But last night I opened a very nice white blend from the Languedoc and today popped open a white from one of my favorite Oregon producers.

Costieres de Nimes Nostre Pais White - I picked this wine up at Grapevine Cottage in Zionsville Saturday morning at the recommendation of owner/Wine Guy Doug Pendleton. He said it was going to be wine of the week in the coming seven days.

I can see why. I'm a sucker for Grenache Blanc lately and this is 80 percent of that grape grown in the Languedoc-Rousillon region. The remainder is half Roussanne and Viognier.

This is delightfully smooth and light-on-the-palate white wine with hints of lime. It has well-balanced citrus and just enough acid to make the wine crisp. Robert Parker's Wine Advocate gave this wine 92 points. Producer Michel Gassier is an up and coming star in the Languedoc region. Eric Soloman, who seems to his with all his picks, is the importer.

Frankly, this is one of the most enjoyable white wines I've purchased in a long time.

Costieres de Nimes Nostre Pais White, $17.99, Very Highly Recommended

Lange Willamette Valley 2010 Pinot Gris - Lange is one of my favorite producers. I love their Pinot Noir. I do drink some Gris on occasion and Lange delivers. I prefer their Pinot Gris Reserve which comes in at a little higher price point, but this $15 Pinot Gris is quality wine.

The wine was a little light on the fruit. I could only describe it as generic citrus. The acid makes it a good pairing for the baked chicken I'm fixing with a vinegar/cream sauce.

For the price, this is very drinkable, crisp and enjoyable white wine.

Lange Willamette Valley 2010 Pinot Gris, $15, Recommended

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