Tuesday, November 27, 2012

R Italian Market Adds Diversity to Indy's Southside

Indianapolis' food scene is really evolving and exciting. If you haven't checked out many of the new restaurants, the farmers market, the winter market, and other food happenings you are missing out.

A friend told me about a new Italian market on the southside near where I used to live. R Italian Market on 135 in Greenwood is a nice addition to the southside.

The market is owned and operated by Dave and Lynn Rodgers who came to Indiana in the late 90s. They missed the Italian foods available on the east coast and opened R Italian.

It sits  on 135, or old Meridian for southsiders, just south of County Line Rd. and accross from a Bonefish Grill restaurant.

I met Dave and sampled a few things. They have a nice range of meats and cheeses. One of the things I immediately noticed was prices. Their Parmesan Reggiano was $3-$3 a pound cheaper than I've found on the northside of the city. Even the always-expense Prosciutto was less than I find than the other side of town.

They also featured some wonderful crusty Italian breads, meatballs, and other Italian specialities made on site and pastas they buy from artisans elsewhere.

It's hard to find places like this. I love sharing them.

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Monday, November 26, 2012

Mondavi Carneros Pinot Noir is Surprisingly Good

Robert Mondavi = Napa Valley.

Robert Mondavi = Cabernet Sauvignon.

Robert Mondavi = California wine icon.

Now if we were playing a word association game all of those responses would be good ones if you mentioned the name of legendary winemaker and wine ambassador, Robert Mondavi.

But what if we offered this one - Robert Mondavi = Pinot Noir.

Huh? Pinot? Who? What? Why? Pinot Noir? Mondavi?

It might go something like that. Fair or not, Mondavi is associated with Cabernet or maybe his iconic white Fume Blanc (or Sauv Blanc, if you want to get technical.)

So when I received a 2010 Mondavi Pinot Noir sample I wasn't skeptical, I just didn't really know what to expect. Fair or not, not many people associate the great Mondavi name with Pinot. When we think of Pinot we think of the Sonoma Coast and the Russian River Valley.

Now, it's also fair to say the Carneros region in Napa Valley was cool long before Pinot was cool when it comes to Pinot Noir.

I recently popped open the bottle and like, 'wow dude, (or dudette), this is good Pinot!'

Okay, it has 7 percent Russian River Valley fruit to complement the Carneros but it's very nice Pinot. The grapes hare hand picked, it sees about one-third new oak barrels, and the wine is still pretty young.

I loved the really nice spicy, soft black fruit flavor. The wine was marvelously balanced and smooth. It had hints of a forest floor and a few fall pumpkin pie spices. It was beautiful wine.

I've written before that we take the icons for granted. I tasted five or six $100-plus Mondavi Cabs earlier this year and was really impressed with the consistency and quality. This little $27 Pinot is a welcome brother to the winery's better known bottles!

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Thursday, November 22, 2012

Chenin Blanc Proves Great Thanksgiving Pairing

Like many wine drinkers, I find Thanksgiving a time to experiment with wine pairings. As I wrote in my newspaper column, published below, the annual "Thanksgiving wine pairing" newspaper column is a challenge and a drag. How many times can you say 'Chardonnay and Reisling go well with turkey and if you want a red try Pinot Noir.'

I did make a few other suggestions but I also like to experiment with wine and food  - and not just with Thanksgiving. Actually, I'd suggest it's great palate-expanding exercise for any regular wine drinker. How about a Soave or even Pinot Grigio with your red sauce pasta? And one of my favorite exercises is trying to get white fish lovers to try a 100 percent Mourvedre or a nice Languedoc red blend.

Ying and yang are friends of mine and I'd encourage you to find your inner wine geek and break the molds. Drink what you like, experiment, and ignore the same 'ol, same 'ol.

Now, that being said, I didn't go crazy this Thanksgiving day but I did do something different. I love good Chenin Blanc. I had never done Chenin Blanc at Thanksgiving but the more I thought about it the more I thought it should be a perfect pairing.

If you like bone dry and minerality in your whites, you've got to be sampling Loire Valley whites.This Domaine des Baumard 2008 Savennieres was simply outstanding. Indeed, bone dry was the first words that registered in my turkey stupor when tasting this wine. I got lemon, richness, and complexity that was a perfect partner for the bird.

An interesting sidenote, I found this bottle in an unexpectedly large wine shop in Columbus, Indiana. It was marked at $24.50. If I had better internet access visiting Mom, I'd double check the price point across the net. But it's taken a Herculean effort to get the photo uploaded, through Photoshop, and this blog posted. My guess is that's a pretty fair price. If you like your whites bone dry the Baumard is outstanding.

Now, I think I'll finish the bottle off with a turkey leg!

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Sunday, November 18, 2012

Something New, Something Old for Holiday Turkey Pairing

The Golden Rule of wine and food pairing is a simple one – if you like it, drink it!

But when the family gathers for the turkey feast or at Christmas time something more is often expected. How about something different? Or maybe it’s time to serve up something a bit more extravagant!

An occupational hazard for wine writers is the expected column of wine recommendations for the holidays so who am I to disappoint?

The first rule of picking wines for a big meal is do not overly focus on the main protein. Think about all of those side dishes and the different flavors. That makes almost any wine a good pick. But with the Turkey and main course there are some certain winners and perhaps a few you’ve never tried worth picking up.

A good domestic Chardonnay will work every time. You can buy palatable bottles at the grocery or most liquor stores. I recommend value labels Robert Mondavi, Mirrasou, and flip flop as very drinkable wines if you want to keep you’re price point under $10 a bottle.

Dry Riesling is another outstanding choice. Frankly, there is so much good Riesling made in the U.S., you don’t need to think foreign to find a great bottle. New York and Michigan are areas really emerging with their Riesling wines. Washington state winemakers are producing great Riesling. Several Midwestern wineries are doing Riesling as well.

If there is a decent wine shop nearby there are several other great choices. 

If you like drier wines but want a big nose of autumn in your glass try a Gewurztraminer or Viognier.  Gewurzt is one of the most aromatic wines in the world. It can be fairly sweet to off-dry. Viognier, my choice of the two, is a drier white wine with hints of apple, pear, and spice. For an even better pairing go drier with a Pinot Gris or Chenin Blanc.

For the extravagant dinner gathering, splurge for the world’s best white wine – Chablis. Better wine shops will have a few labels to choose from. Chablis is Chardonnay made in a dry, crisp style with tremendous minerality and acidity. Real Chablis comes from Chablis, France and nowhere else. 

Frankly, don’t buy the other stuff. Chablis would be awesome with any poultry. You can find great bottles starting in the $20 price range and up. Domaine William Fevre, Billaud-Simon, and Drouhin are just three labels which consistently make outstanding French white wine. 

Here is an option many people just won’t think about or consider, but Rose’ wines make a great pairing with poultry. Rose is that nice middle point between white and red wines and the quality continues to skyrocket vintage to vintage. Find a French Provence Rose or an Oregon Pinot Noir Rose for your Turkey.  Midwestern wineries make pretty good to outstanding Rose’ wines. Just go for the dry Rose wines regardless of region to match well with your dinner.

The red of choice has long been Pinot Noir for Thanksgiving. And again, if you are sticking with value look for the labels mentioned above.  But if it’s off to the wine shop, consider a French Beaujolais – and not that Nouveau stuff. Find a Beaujolais Cru wine from Julienas, Morgon, or Fleurie. The Gamay-based wines are very affordable at $12-$18 and great with food.

If you want to impress pick up any bottle of Oregon Pinot Noir above the $30 price point. It is sure to be a huge hit with your guests. (Lange is a personal favorite.)

Next Column: Gadgets for the wine lover on your Christmas list!

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Friday, November 16, 2012

Hard Times in France's Beaujolais Region

Yesterday was the international release of this year's French Beaujolais Nouveau. Largely dismissed as nothing more than marketing it still is one of the major dates on any yearly wine calendar.

Many wine drinkers have tried to like the young wine, fresh from the vineyard but it is thin, it is uncomplicated, and often just isn't very good. But Beaujolais winemakers have gotten better in recent years promoting their Cru wines from 10 different regions. Now the Crus wines are Thanksgiving and holiday worthy for any meal. They are still lighter style wines but they are aged, have some tannin structure along with more depth of flavor.

It is actually fun to try the different Beaujolais Cru and appreciate the subtle differences.

You can read a lot about Beaujolais wines this time of year in a lot of different spots. But a news story of note caught my eye going through my morning reads. The Beaujolais harvest was severely impacted by 2012 weather.

Check out this piece from the iconic Decanter Magazine.

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Wednesday, November 14, 2012

Two Great Glasses (or more) of Awesome Wine

Oregon's Willamette Valley view from Penner Ash

Is there anything better for those of us who love wine than a really, really great glass of juice?

I do taste a lot of wine at price points up to $100, I'd guess. I buy some wine in the $40-$60 range and just a few a bit higher. I opened two great wines this weekend that just lights the inner fire to share these great labels and names with those who read my wine writing.

Both wines originated in iconic U.S. wine regions - Napa Cab and Oregon Pinot Noir - and they rocked!

Sattui sits at the north end of Napa on Highway 29
V. Sattui 2007 Mt. Veeder Napa Cabernet -This wine comes from one of Napa's most unique producers. V. Sattui, one of the region's oldest wineries, only sells its wine from the tasting room or online sales through its website. It is one of the most visited wineries in Napa.

I tasted through several of their wines during a March 2012 visit. The wines were consistently good. I remember liking a Zinfandel quite a bit before we got to the Cabs. The higher end Cabernet was excellent. I narrowed it down to a couple and purchased a bottle of the Mt. Veeder Cab for $48 which is now listed on their website for $53.

The wine is rich and supple with uber smooth tannins, hints of all sorts of dark fruit like cherry and currants. It is a bit softer than many Napa Cabs which is part of its attraction.

Mt Veeder is one of the premier appellations in the region. Here is a great description from weine-searcher.com:

The eponymous Mount Veeder peak is 2700ft (825m) high, and marks the boundary between Napa and Sonoma counties. The appellation's highest vineyards lie on a south-west-facing slope just below the summit, and stretch up to 2630ft (800m). 

Located five miles (8km) north-west of Sonoma town and half that distance again from Napa town, Mount Veeder lies equidistant from the two valleys which are arguably the most important in the United States.

This young lady appeared as we finished tasting!
The bottom line is absolutely great Cabernet at a half, or less, the price of many premier Napa Cabs. V. Sattui is a good stop for any first time Napa visitor. They have large deli where all sorts of cheese and other foods are available. There is plenty of room outside to have your own picnic. Some snobs turn their collective noses up at places like V. Sattui but it's perfect for the first time visitor. The staff was very friendly and knowledable during my visit.

They also have a little fun. Plenty of tasting rooms are very welcoming. But many of the upper end wineries certainly can come off as a bit snobbish. The people here depend on tasting room sales and they know. Staffers make the tasting room experience fun.

V. Sattui 2007 Mt. Veeder Napa Cab, $53, Highly Recommended

Penner Ash 2009 Dussin Vineyard Pinot Noir - I love Pinot Noir and have grown very, very fond of Oregon Pinot. I opened this with a good friend who really appreciates Pinot and we were both just blown away.

I picked up this bottle during a summer 2012 visit at the Willamette Valley winery. Lynn Penner-Ash is certainly an icon in Oregon winemaking. This is the top of her line of great wines. They are widely available (including in Indiana.) You might have trouble finding this particular bottle but her other offerings are worth a search.

This is a small production wine with usual production around 500 cases. The 2010 is the only Dussin Vineyard on the Penner Ash website and it's listed for $60. My memory fails me but I felt like I paid closer to $70 for this bottle. It was worth every hard-earned nickel.

Penner Ash tasting room action.
Wine Spectator gave the wine 92 points and I couldn't agree more. I might even go a point or two higher. The wine is almost floral with it's rich and silky dark fruit. It's very smooth and enjoyable on the palate with the depth and complexity a serious wine drinker would expect at this price point.

The 2008 Oregon vintage was hailed as one of best in years. I tasted the 2009 early after release and was generally unimpressed. But when I tasted the '09s a summer ago was really taken by the bold fruit and silky qualities.

Frankly, I have several favorite Willamette Valley producers and this bottle added Penner Ash to the list. There are lower entry points for price and they are worth a try. This particular wine is a great example of how you can buy awesome Pinot Noir without paying Burgundy prices.

Penner Ash 2009 Dussin Vineyard Pinot Noir, $60, Very Highly Recommended.

All photos in this post by my friend Drew Casey, who is now a tasting room associate at Chateau St. Jean in California's Sonoma County.

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Saturday, November 10, 2012

Going Back to Old Favorites Pays Dividends

When I first got serious about wine I got into Malbec - probably similar to many wine drinkers. Shortly after that, I discovered Tempranillo and Garnacha and fell equally in love with Spanish wines.

But as those two opened my wine eyes and palate, I was anxious to try new things. Recently, I've had a couple of simply dynamite Spanish reds.

San Roman 2006 Toro - Wow! This is big and silky smooth red wine that will would please most any palate. You might never guess it spends two years in oak from the smooth finish and balanced tannin structure.

I got coffee, smoke, vanilla,  licorice, and maybe some dark chocolate from this gorgeous tempranillo. Of course, I was nibbling some 85 percent cocoa chocolate while sipping so that could have influenced my thinking!

The nose was intoxicating with its aromas of dark, sweet fruit. This wine doesn't come cheap but it has been frequently featured on the popular internet wine flash sales sites. A friend picked up four bottles of this big beauty for $29 per bottle. Normal retail for the San Roman can range from $50-$65 - and what you get matches the price. If you have the opportunity to find it for less, treat yourself to great Spanish wine.

The critics love this wine: 94 points, Wine Entusiast; 93 points, Wine Advocate' 93 points, Wine Spectator - sweeping the trifecta of the most important wine publications.

San Roman 2006 Toro, $49-65 normally, 14.5 alcohol, Very Highly Recommended.

Vega Escal 2008 Priorat - With Grenache, Carignan, and Shiraz, it would be tempting to call this wine a "Rhone-style blend." But you probably have never had a Rhone (short of Chateaunauf de Pape) with this level of richness.

This wine spends much less time in oak, just six months, and might not have quite the intense depth of flavors as the San Roman but it is extremely satisfying red wine.

I would describe the palate as very ripe with rich fruit flavors and beautiful finish. This wine notched 91 points from the Wine Advocate.

Vega Escal 2008 Priorat, $20, 14.5 alcohol, Highly Recommended

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Wednesday, November 7, 2012

Fall - Christmas Good Time to Visit Uplands Wine Trail

Southern Indiana's beautiful roads in late October

 Wine country and Indiana aren’t exactly words often found in the same sentence but neither does it create an oxymoron.  Indiana has several wine trails and more than 60 wineries.

If Indiana has a wine country region, it’s southern Indiana’s Uplands Wine Trail. That doesn’t mean there aren’t other viable wineries elsewhere but several of Indiana’s best wineries are part of the Uplands.

With fall slipping away, a weekend winery visit makes for a great day. Several of the wineries are close in proximity and offer pumpkin picking, live music, or food to draw huge crowds.

Huber Vineyards just a few weeks ago.
The biggest celebration is probably at Huber Orchard, Winery and Vineyards. Huber’s has thousands of pumpkins, live music, food, hayrides, and huge crowds every weekend in all fall. And frankly, 

Huber is one of a small handful of Indiana wineries making better Indiana red wine than most Hoosiers have ever tasted in state.

Huber Vineyards set atop the hills overlooking the Ohio River near Louisville. The elevation, old glacial soils, and environment make it arguably Indiana’s best spot to grow grapes. 

Just 10 miles away is Jim Pfeiffer at Turtle Run Winery.  Pfeiffer is a blendaholic by nature and takes Indiana’s sometimes eclectic grapes and makes very drinkable wines.

Check out Huber and Turtle Run’s Chambourcin red wines. You will be surprised how Pinot-like these wines can be when they’re well-made. Huber has very nice light style whites while Pfeiffer’s are uniquely tasty. And both winemakers have worked steadily to reduce the natural sweetness of Indiana grapes. If you are into Brandy, Ted Huber has been making and aging award-winning spirits for several years.

The Uplands Trail gives the individual wineries marketing power and identity. “Validity, validity, validity,” said Pfeiffer, winemaker and owner of Turtle Run Winery. “When you have event marketing and have big events people take notice.”

A shorter Uplands Wine trip would be to Bloomington to Oliver and Butler wineries. Who hasn’t visited Oliver? The winery made its name with the sweet reds and whites but the Creekbend line of Oliver wine and other bottlings are very solid choices. Try Oliver’s Chambourcin and his Syrah. Bill Oliver makes his Syrah in a lighter French style that’s fruit driven with a hint of spice. I’d challenge anyone to blind taste his Syrah and guess its origins.

Next wander into the colorful countryside to Butler winery. Jim Butler is another of Indiana’s wine pioneers. He got his start at Oliver and then branched out on his own. He owns the unique distinction of winning the initial category first place in the Indy International Wine Competition a few years back with his wonderful Dry Rose’ wine.

But the Uplands area is more than just marketing. It soon may get validity well beyond good marketing. Butler has put in years of effort to get the Uplands designated as an American Viticulture Area approved by the federal government. It gives the area a unique labeling for its style and quality of wine. It’s an achievement that wine aficionados will recognize as serious winemaking.

“We probably started four or five years ago and we’re in the home stretch,” Butler said. “I’m hoping by the end of the year we’ll have it.”

All nine Uplands wineries have good websites with directions and hours. The wine trail also plans a holiday event Nov. 15-Dec. 31. The state has two other wine trails, another through Southern Indiana known as the Indiana Wine Trail, and the Indy Wine Trail around Indianapolis.

Indiana’s Uplands Wine Trail
{Est. 2008}
{Est. 1986}
{Est. 1983}
{Est. 2003}
{Est. 1995}
{Est. 1978}
{Est. 1972}
{Est. 2001}
{Est. 2002}
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Sunday, November 4, 2012

A Great White & A Solid Value Cab

Two more wine reviews and I'm caught up on recent bottles for review. If you want an all-purpose white wine great with food or alone, I've got one for you. Or, how about an affordable Central Coast California Cabernet?

Domaine du Bourdieu Entre-Deux-Mers 2010 - This Sainte Anne white Bordeaux represents what many people will tell you - white Bordeaux is one of the world's great value buys.

The wine is Sauvignon Blanc, Semillon, and Muscadelle. Then 10 percent of the juice sees a bit of oak. This wine stands alone with its smooth palate feel but has enough body to pair nicely with seafood. 

Entre-Deux-Mers is a wonderful region just to the southwest of the city of Bordeaux.

Sainte Anne Entre-Deux-Mers White Bordeaux, these wines generally available under $20, (I bought this bottle as a package buy so don't have SRP), Highly recommended. If you can't find this one, try some white Bordeaux.

Clayhouse 2009 Cabernet Sauvignon - Clayhouse is one of the great value labels out of California's Central Coast. You get the wonderfully bold flavors of Paso Robles for an average of $15.

This is not a smack-you-in-the-face like many California Cabs, but it has real Cab characteristics in the flavor with a smooth feel in the mouth. This wine will be a bit bigger than many Cabs at this price point.

It's nice dry red wine with the dark fruit, some spice, and moderate tannins. It's highly drinkable, affordable, and should be easy to find.

Clayhouse 2009 Cabernet Sauvignon, SRP $15, Trade Sample, Recommended.

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Saturday, November 3, 2012

Merlot and Pinot Noir Knock It Out of the Park!

The two wines I'm catching up on tonight were big surprises for me for different reasons. One was a wine I generally find "blah" (that's a technical term) and the other was a big surprise from an unlikely location.

Tamarack Cellars 2008 Merlot - I don't dislike Merlot nearly as much as I often find it uneven, uninteresting, and over ripe.

I was picking wines for a big dinner at work and tasted the Tamarack and was blown away by the dark fruit, chocolate, and spice of the Washington state wine. It's 90 percent Merlot with a splash of Cabernet and Cab Franc sourced from the Columbia Valley.

This Merlot had structure and secondary flavors of cocoa powder, maybe a slight hint of cinammon or one of those pumpkin pie spices. It was just wonderful with the steak we had at the dinner.

Wine Enthusiast liked this wine too, awarding it 92 points. Robert Parker at Wine Advocate gave the juice an 88, a bit down from Enthuisast obviously but still a good score.

I'd recommend this wine to anyone wanting a nice wine with a beef dish. It has a richness and structure that an awful lot of Merlot lacks.

This was simply one of the best U.S. Merlots I've tasted in a long, long time. I did buy this wine in Indiana.

Tamarack Cellars 2008 Merlot, $19-$26, Highly Recommended.

Peter Zemmer Alto Ridge Pinot Noir - Pinot from Italy! Seriously! Sure, I know the Italians grow some Pinot Noir and I've tasted just a few but this one was darn nice wine.

This area is up near Austria in Italy and clearly takes advantage of the higher altitude to produce very enjoyable Pinot. It was fairly light on the palate but had true Pinot characteristics for my palate. It has soft cherry and some floral hints on the nose and taste. It also had that silky quality I love in Pinot Noir!

Peter Zemmer Alto Ridge Pinot Noir, Around $20, Recommended.

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Friday, November 2, 2012

An Easy-Drinking Cab and Chianti Red Wine

Being way behind on wine mentions/reviews, time to catch up.

Here are some thoughts on really easy to find California Cabernet and Italian Chianti. I'd argue these are two wines you should always have on hand. A nice, easy-to-drink Cab for beef and a nice Chianti for pasta of fava beans in case Anthony Hopkins is a dinner guest!

Robert Mondavi Central Coast 2010 Cabernet Sauvignon - This wine is available, most probably, in your supermarket. Frankly, for $11 or less, you can do much worse. This wine does not have strong Cabernet characteristics but its quite drinkable. And after all, isn't that always the real test?

The wine is 88% Cabernet Sauvignon, 5% Syrah, 3% Merlot, 2% Petit Verdot, 1% Malbec and 1% Cabernet Franc from California's Central Coast. It's soft, It;s red. It tastes pretty good.

I drank this wine with some mildy spicy pasta and then with some chocolate and found it enjoyable. I love wines like this because they are easy to find and easy to drink.

Mondavi has repackaged this line with a focus on Central Coast fruit. The Mondavi Private Selection remains one of the best values for drinkability in the supermarket and elsewhere.

Robert Mondavi Central Coast 2010 Cabernet Sauvignon- SRP $11, (trade sample), Recomended. Try this wine for $9-$11. It works at that price point.

Banfi 2010 Chianti Superiore -  Wine Spectator gave this wine an 87 and that's about right. This is much like the Mondavi above. Is it a true representative of great Sangiovese, well - not quite. Is it drinkable and enjoyable - well, yes it is!

It has some cherry and a little astringency but a drinkable bottle of wine. If you have some pasta with tomato sauce or tomato based it will work well.

This wine can be found really cheap and in lots of liquor stores and wine shops. There is nothing special about it other than its simple drinkablility without any negatives. For the price, go out and buy it.

Banfi 2010 Chianti Superiore - SRP $11, (trade sample), Recommended Look around and you might find this bottle at $9-$10.

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