Alsace - Part II

Having escaped Strasbourg with a little less drama than when we/I tried to drive out of Paris we headed straight for Cave de Ribeauville. Honestly, we were a little confused when we got there, all I can say is that we were out of practice tasting wine in France. We arrived, we weren’t too sure what is happening, we tasted some sparkling wine and then we bought a bottle, not knowing what else to do, and then we left. The sparkling was a good introduction to Crémant d'Alsace, which apparently is the most popular sparkling wine in France after champagne.

As an aside Ribeauvillé, one of the small towns on the wine route, is definitely worth a visit if you are in the area. It’s a very traditional little town, surrounded by walls and with a good selection of lunch options, mostly based around potatoes, sausages, and cheese.

We stayed in an Airbnb and would recommend this approach a million times over the hotels that we flitted between the previous year. It was so much more relaxing, and so much less stress. Added to which we arrived on a Sunday, usually a day when EVERYTHING is closed, but luckily a pizza truck was pulling into the town carpark of the tiny village we were staying in just after we got there, and we were saved!

The next day we were up early to head up the hills to Husseren-les-Châteaux. And with this comes the most important piece of advice that I can offer you on wine tasting in Alsace, you should email ahead and book. These aren’t the big vineyards and tasting experiences that you might have had in the US. They are incredibly small places, and often you are tasting the wine with the winemaker, or at least someone who has been working at the vineyard for 20 years. They appreciate knowing you are coming and it will help avoid disappointment!

Domaine Kuentz-Bas has been producing wine since 1795. It’s up in the hills of the Vosges and is surrounded by its vines. Probably the least complex wines that we tasted, but it was the first stop. The wines were good, we particularly liked the Sylvaner and the Gewurztraminer and took a couple of bottles with us. The staff were also really helpful to two girls who probably looked a little lost, and one girl who was just throwing French verbs around like they were confetti!

We had finished with that tasting and had a couple of  hours to kill until the next appointment, so we headed to the local town to get some lunch. What I had imaged to be a charcuterie board or a small sandwich, turned into Rachel ordering a dish listed on the menu as ‘5 Meats.’ To this day we haven’t worked out what all 5 were, and that’s probably for the best.   

Domaine Barmès Buecher stole my heart and our tastebuds. The domain was created in 1985 with the marriage of Geneviève Buecher and François Barmès, the respective vineyards had been in their families since the 17th Century. The vineyard is biodynamic, based on the cycles of the moon and the planets. Or as Rachel will tell you, it involves obtaining a dead rabbit, burning it and then spraying the ashes throughout the vineyard to deter other rabbits. I don’t know if that had anything to do with the wine, but it was really good.

Geneviève helped us, and we tried most of their 31 wine inventory, which may account for the 6 bottles that we took with us and definitely couldn't fit in our suitcases. The wines were complex, delicate and yet full, and incredibly well-balanced. This was my first taste of the amazing wines that Alsace can, and does, produce.

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Geneviève helped us, and we tried most of their 31 wine inventory, which may account for the 6 bottles that we took with us and definitely couldn't fit in our suitcases. The wines were complex, delicate and yet full, and incredibly well-balanced. This was my first taste of the amazing wines that Alsace can, and does, produce.

When you hear that a wine was served at the dinner following the Obama Nobel Peace Prize ceremony, and you are in the area, it’s worth stopping by. Trimbach is probably the name that many people know, if they know any wines from Alsace. The tasting room is a little more commercial than any other place that we went, you still have to go through the grape storage area and a working courtyard. The wines are really good, and very classically Alsacian, if you read this blog and want to try some wine from the region, you can’t go wrong with a Trimbach (and you will probably find it quite easily.)

Alsace I

Last Autumn I was luckily enough to be in London for work, and despite our mixed experiences last year in the Loire, we decided to do another wine trip to France. This time, however, we got as close to Germany as possible, and went to Alsace.

For those not familiar with the area, Alsace is in the far east of France, bordering on Germany and Switzerland. Ownership of the area has switched back and forth between Germany and France, but now it seems firmly settled in the latter. It has a moderate climate, and the Rhine river runs through it.

Most importantly for me, and thus Clō Wines, is that I studied in Strasbourg for a year at university, and will bore anyone with how much I love the city. Luckily Rachel has a soft spot for sweeter wines, balanced with acidity and minerality, and there is arguably no better region for them than Alsace.

A fair amount of Googling and consulting of wine magazines and books resulted in the discovery of the very best vineyards, emails were written and appointments were booked (definitely our number one recommendation when visiting the region). However, no amount of research prepared us to be standing on the street of Strasbourg at 5pm on a freezing Saturday trying to find a glass of wine!

As a side note I have to take complete responsibility for the Strasbourg part of the trip. I’d insisted a weekend in the city, so that I could revisit all of my favourite places, but then, if they truth be told, some of them had closed, and some looked a little less appealing 9 years later.

Anyway, eventually we found this little wine bar, which met all of our needs and so much more. It was called Terres à Vin and served a wide range of local wines, with delightful small plates and an incredibly knowledgeable staff. The place was charming and definitely comes with Clō Wines seal of approval.

Anyway, the next day we took off into the countryside, with me behind the wheel, just hoping to avoid some of the road traffic issues we faced the year before!

Before, we go too much further into the trip, a little background on the winemaking history of the region might be of use.

Alsace and the Noble Grapes.

Alsace is the smallest of the wine regions in France, and is divided into Haut-Rhin and Bas-Rhin, the majority of the really good wine comes from Haut-Rhin. Alsace is separated from France by the Vosges Mountains, which results in one of the driest and sunniest climates L’Hexagone. The vines are planted on the lower slopes of the Vosges on soil which varies from granite to limestone, from clay to chal to gravel, and not forgetting the local pink sandstone.

In Alsace white grapes reign supreme, with 90% of the AOC being white wine. There are 3 major AOCs (a post for a different day).

  • Alsace AOC (92% white still wines)
  • Crémant d’Alsace AOC (Sparkling white and rosé wines)
  • Alsace Grand Cru AOC (Limited special vineyard wines)

The four “noble” grapes of Alsace are Riesling, Pinot Gris, Muscat, and Gewurztraminer and they are to be found everywhere. They account for the majority of vines planted, and are (almost) the only grapes planted in the grand cru vineyards of the region.

Riesling is what the region is most famous for, it has a steely taste, but it nothing like the sweet Rieslings that may spring to mind. When done well, which it often is in Alsace, it is incredibly well-balanced and incredibly drinkable.

Pinot Gris was the real surprise for me. I’d all too frequently thought of it as a ‘nothing’ wine, but a skilled winemaker can make an amazing full-bodied-yet-dry wine, that could be drunk with strong flavoured foods or sipped on its own.

Muscat smells like grapes. No other way to put it. It’s a pleasant wine, and a great aperitif on a hot day.

Gewurztraminer is probably high on the list of grapes that people know from Germany/Alsace. It’s full-bodied and frequently a little sweet (though Rachel wouldn’t like me saying that, maybe I should say it is off-dry!) It smells like potpourri and roses.These aren’t the only grapes that you will find growing as you drive through the vineyards. Pinot Blanc. Sylvaner, Auxerrois,  and Alsace’s only red grape, Pinot Noir are also scattered over the hills. The Pinot Noir contributes towards the creation of Crémant d'Alsace, the sparking white wine of the region, which makes a delightful change after the still wines

One final thing to note is the propensity to taste what is referred to as “Vendange Tardive” or late harvest wines. No quibbling about here, these are sweet wines. With minimum ripeness, and sugar, levels being set. Traditionally these wines are drunk with foie gras.

But that’s probably enough information on Alsace, let’s get down to the tastings!

 

 

 

 

 

Back. Again.

There is really no excuse for our absence from blogging, except that maybe we got exceptionally busy for a little while there, and forgot how to write. I say ‘we got exceptionally busy’ that should really apply only to Rachel who is making considerable progress through her WSET Diploma. Exams in Fortified Wines and Spirits, and papers on Gin, and the relationship between multi-retailers and their suppliers, will hopefully bring us back around to still and sparkling wines, which is really the part that I enjoy the most. I think the ‘forgetting how to write’ only applies to me, and for that you have my utmost apologies.

Anyway, the new site brings with it a new commitment to update the blog more regularly, and some new services that we are planning on offering here at Clō Wines, though more details on that will follow soon.

There’s some exciting blogs coming as well (which is only fair given the absence). We have an update, or two, on our trip to Alsace, more Virginia tastings, probably something educational and informative, alongside the usual whimsy and prominence given to all thing English wine related!

So, with promises of a prompt return, welcome to the new Clō Wines site, and I hope you come back!

These Aren’t Beach Reads (Unless You Want Them To Be)

It’s the time of year for ubiquitous lists of books that are deemed appropriate to be read “on the beach.” 

I have never quite understood what qualifies one book over another to be read on the sand. Length? Seasonal content? The ability of the pages to withstand sunscreen smudges? 

However, I’m also the kind of person that lugs giant tomes to the beach. I read War & Peace on a beach in Jamaica. In Bermuda I sat under an umbrella and read about the Iraq War. I finished Whittaker Chambers’ book, Witness, at a resort in Antigua. Yes, I like nice beaches, and yes, I’m obviously a really good time at parties. (And I also don’t get in the water much, because the ocean is the shark’s house, people.)

Anyway, all of that to introduce the list below. We’ve listed five of our favorite stories about wine, ones that you can read anywhere you want. Just like a good bottle of bubbly, these books don’t need a reason or a season to be enjoyed. 

(And what makes this list better than any other is that we also suggest wine to drink along with your book. You're welcome.)

Adventures on the Wine Route: A Wine Buyer’s Tour of France by Kermit Lynch

Without hesitation, I will tell you that this is my favorite wine book. Kermit Lynch is now a wine merchant of international renown, but back in the late 1980s and 1990s, he was a lowly wine merchant driving around France in a rental car and climbing from one mildewy cellar to the next to bring back the wines that made him famous. There’s no uppity commentary or elitist wine musings in this book; just a focus on how the purity of the place and its people translates into wine. (One of my favorite passages discusses how a male vintner’s wine often reflects the demeanor and temperament of his wife.) Each chapter focuses on a different growing region: Burgundy, Bordeaux, the Loire, the Languedoc, Provence, and the Rhône. The book is a love story to wine, an ode to the individuals who produce it, and a pleasure to read.

Pairing: Pick up a bottle of red or rosé from Domaine Tempier (Provence) – probably the wine most associated with the history of Kermit Lynch. Lynch started importing Domaine Tempier in the mid-1970s and Tempier has now become one of his most important producers, and one of the most esteemed names in the word. (You can afford a bottle if you’re willing to spend in the neighborhood of $40-$50!)

The Widow Clicquot by Tilar J. Mazzeo

“Veuve” means “widow,” in French and this is the story of Barbe-Nicole Clicquot Ponsardin, the young widow who led the Clicquot wine house into prominence, revolutionized the Traditional Method of making champagne, and did all this while smashing the glass ceiling before anyone even knew what a glass ceiling represented. The story is told from the perspective of the author, and contains digestible tid bits about the invention of and process for making the world’s favorite sparkling beverage. A quick, easy and interesting (and inspiring!) read. 

Pairing: Champagne, of course!  If you want to be authentic about it, a bottle of yellow-label Clicquot will run you between $45-50. (The Grande Dame, the good stuff, is a little more pricey at $150-200.) If you don’t want to splurge, find a sparkling wine that’s made in the Traditional Method and sip away.

Napa: The Story of an American Eden by James Conaway

Ever wondered how Napa got its start? It was a dusty old farming town before the likes of Jack and Jamie Davies, Robert Mondavi, John Daniel and André Tchelistcheff made it into a world-class wine-producing region. But it wasn’t easy, and like any great American story, there was a whole lot of drama – family feuds, lawsuits, bankruptcies, divorces, you name it, and Conaway has probably written about it. This story is a social history as much as anything else, and will give you the cultural and historical context to help you appreciate your next visit to the Cali vineyards.

Pairing: A Cabernet Sauvignon from BV (short for Beaulieu Vineyards), a bottle of Schramsberg sparkling wine, or anything from Howell Mountain – the first Napa sub-region to be officially recognized as an American Viticultural Area.

The Billionaire’s Vinegar: The Mystery of the World’s Most Expensive Bottle of Wine by Benjamin Wallace

This is one of my favorite wine books to re-visit, because it’s got everything – history, world-class vintages, fraud, mystery, criminals, Thomas Jefferson, and a Koch brother. Not only did I learn a ton about the great Houses of Bordeaux, I got a taste for how the other half lives and have decided to aspire to it! This book also discusses wine fraud in detail – an issue that continues to deeply impact and resonate throughout the wine world. It’s a fast-paced, interesting and informative read, with enough real-life drama that a movie is in the works. 

Pairing: The wines referenced in this book are wildly out of my price range, but grab yourself a Bordeaux from the Haut-Médoc (home of all of the Bordeaux first-growths but one) and sip aspirationally!

Wine & War: The French, the Nazis and the Battle for France’s Greatest Treasure, by Donald Kladstrup and Petie Kladstrup

I was gifted this book for Christmas, and in true vacation mode, sat in my pajamas and read it all in a single day. Not many of us think about how the ancient vineyards of France survived two World Wars, but it’s a legitimate question, and the answer is far more interesting than I would have imagined. It turns out that the love of good wine – and the appreciation for its history – spans political and ideological differences, even in wartime. It also turns out that there are a number of interesting ways to build wine into a wall. A fast and entertaining read.

   

 

 

Pairing: Grab a bottle of white or red Burgundy (Pinot Noir or Chardonnay) and sip appreciatively while you read just how close these vines came to disappearing forever.

Springtime, Sunshine ... WINE TASTING!

You guys, it has been a cold and nasty winter over here in the Mid-Atlantic. I know, I know, all the New Englanders are all like, "9 feet of snow!" but in response I have some half-hearted comment about how you all are used to it and how DC IS PRACTICALLY THE SOUTH AND ANYTHING BELOW 45F MAKES MY BONES FREEZE AND I CAN BARELY GET OUT OF BED. Plus the entire city shuts down over one inch of snow-like precipitation. The drama of winter is intense around here, people. Wikipedia gives us credit for "SnOMG" for a reason.

ANYWAY. All of that to say that it's finally getting warm enough to climb out of the hibernation hole and head out to Virginia for a little wine tasting.

We've written about Glen Manor Vineyards before, and it still remains one of our favorite local wineries (and maybe favorite, ever? In any case, they are friendlier than the French).

This past weekend, Jeff White, Glen Manor's vigneron, hosted a special barrel tasting with his 2014 vintages.

Barrel tastings are literally what they sound like - the wine is still aging in the barrel, and is tasted for quality (or for fun!) by inserting a wine thief (a long, glass metal tube that pulls up the wine) into the bunghole (this is the hole in the barrel - yes, it's called a bunghole. I know, I snicker every time. Sometimes wine is unintentionally irreverent and therefore hilarious) and pulling wine out into the glass. Vintners do this periodically to taste how the wine is aging, test the acidity and chemical levels, and also to get a sense of which barrel will be their base for a blend.

In this case, Jeff offered us the opportunity to taste some key differences in a wine as it ages - a first for me. We tasted the differences in yeast strains, the differences in grapes from two different plots in the vineyard, and also the differences in barrel treatments. Cognitively, I know all of these things make a difference in how a wine develops. But I'd never experienced them outside the classroom before. Turns out there is something to the whole "learning and then doing" thing. I guess I should have focused more on that in my physics lab...

Anyway, a word about how these factors impact wine development.

Yeast. We all know that yeast is a basic component to making wine. Yeast eats grape sugar, and the result is alcohol. Poof! Science. (See, I did pay attention in lab! To the important stuff, anyway.) Winemakers can change certain variables about their wine with the strain of yeast they choose to use. It's not too far off to say that yeast changes everything.

Allow me to whip out some of my utterly mundane wine trivia - the most frequent yeast strain used in winemaking is a cultured yeast known as saccharomyces cereviseae. (I made a flashcard on this type of yeast for my last wine exam. This marks exactly the second time I've ever applied this knowledge).

Cultured yeast means it's packaged and ready to go - it's inoculated into the must (must is the almost-wine), and when applied, issues predictable results. However, there are all types of yeast that can be used to influence wine development. A lot of them are cultured, but some winemakers are rebels about it and use ambient yeast in their winemaking. Ambient yeast is the yeast that's indigenous to the area and basically what the name implies - wild. Ambient (or indigenous) yeast is everywhere. It is on surfaces in the winery, blowing around in the air, and sitting on vegetation near the vines. Instead of being manually added to the must (almost-wine), it colonizes naturally and begins its work turning juice into wine. (For you Upstate New Yorkers, a fabulous winery that excels at using ambient yeast in their wine is Freedom Run. Take a visit.)

At Glen Manor, we were able to sample two Cabernet Francs that were fermenting with two different strains of yeast. The difference in taste and texture was remarkable. There's a whole lot of science that goes into how a yeast strain impacts the development of tannin chains, flavor profiles, and the whole 9 wonky yards. I'll spare you the re-hash and just leave you with the idea that if you're every able to chat with a winemaker about it (and taste some samples!), do it.

Site Selection. Site selection is another really big factor in wine development. It boils down to this: you don't want your grapes to get too hot or too cold, too wet, or too shady. Basically, winemaking grapes are the mother of all Goldilocks. They want everything just right. Generally, the ideal layout for a vineyard is on a south-facing slope, so the vines get the most direct sunlight. (As with any rule, there are many exceptions to this.) Why is this important?

When you distill it down, grape vines are just plants. And plants love sun. Remember photosynthesis? (Yes, science class. Again.) Sunlight spurs the conversion of carbon dioxide and water into sugar. In the case of vines, the sugar is stored in the grapes. And the grapes make the wine. The amount and intensity of the sunlight influences the sugar production in the wine - the hotter the climate, the sweeter the grapes, generally speaking. More grape sugar also leads to higher alcohol wines (recall what I refer to as the "happy hour equation": sugar + yeast = alcohol. The more sugar in the grapes, the more alcohol is produced). This is one of the reasons why a wine from Lodi, California, where the grapes sit in the hot sun, tastes different than a wine from the Niagara Escarpment, up by Canada, which gets fewer warm days and less sun.

At Glen Manor, we tasted Cabernet Sauvignon grown from vines planted north-to-south, and east-to-west. The differences weren't nearly as drastic as a comparison between California and New York, but they were noticeable in subtle differences in the length, ripeness and viscosity of the wine.

Barrel Selection. One of the last steps in the creation of a wine is selecting what type of barrel to age it in. Think of it like the final step in a long recipe - the barrel is where the wine will bake for the next several years, and the type of oak selected can impart different textures and flavors. In the States, we are most familiar with barrels made of new French Oak. Have you ever sucked down a big, buttery Chardonnay? Then you've tasted wine aged in new French Oak - it imparts those flavors of vanilla, caramel and toast. (It also occasionally comes with the overly done up, aggressive older women whose fondness for heavily-oaked Chardonnay has given us the delightful moniker of "cougar juice.")

Lots of wineries - American and otherwise - use barrels made from American oak, which can impart notes of sweet coconut and dill. Hungarian and Eastern European oak barrels are also used for nuttier, richer flavors. Some oak doesn't taste at all. That's called neutral oak.

Jeff had us taste two Petit Verdots aged in French oak barrels that had been seasoned over different time periods - the first over 36 months, and the second over 24 months. ("Seasoning" means that the barrel are toasted to attain a char that imparts flavor.) The differences in the wine were most noticeable in the aromas and the integration. By that I mean, the Petit Verdot aged in the 36 month barrel had stronger aromas, which makes sense - the char on the barrel is longer. The 36 month wine was also a little bit more integrated. The tannins were smoother, because barrels allow the interplay of oxygen with tannin, which causes the tannin to soften. Either way, I am a fanatic about Petit Verdot from Glen Manor, so both went down quickly!

And thus ended this lovely day in Virginia wine country.  In the meantime, it's ROSÉ season, people!

Kicking Off 2015 - Good Wine & Good Food

Hello, internet. We are back.

We were on an extended break due to a confluence of events that included holidays, travel, wine exams, and the general business of being an adult which always appears relatively simple on the outside, but actually taxes me to a greater degree than I probably should admit. Some days I’m not quite sure how I made it to, and continue to persist in, successful adulthood.

ANYWAY. With that little disclaimer/over-share, let’s return to the vino, shall we?

We kicked off the year with an amazing wine dinner with friends, and the highlights are worth sharing. I am fortunately blessed with friends who cook SO MUCH BETTER (and so much more frequently) than I do.

But!

I can pair wine. So, that’s how I get out of having to assist with the meal, which is better for everyone, because I usually end up a) cutting myself or b) setting something on fire.

Anyway, onto the menu, with pairings:

Appetizer: Crostini two ways, with homemade bruschetta and prosciutto, ricotta and honey.

Wine Pairing: Vecchia Modena Premium Lambrusco

Can we talk about how under-loved (and under utilized) Lambrusco is? Lambrusco is a sparkling red wine out of Italy. It’s light-bodied, frizzante, and meant to be drunk young. This is pure picnic wine, people. It also pairs really well with prosciutto, and stands up the acid in raw tomatoes, hence why I paired it here. It is also a suitable accompaniment to pizza, and is basically THE perfect wine for sunny, summer afternoons in the park. Also for as an aperitif.

First Course: Frisee Salad with Poached Egg and Lardon

Wine Pairing: Homage to Heritage White Burgundy, Pouilly-Fuissé

So, I went with a White Burgundy for this course. To be honest, as I served it I was wondering if I should have gone for a more high acid white; maybe a Chablis or even a Sauvignon Blanc. The pairing turned out to surprise me, though, and I think it may have been my favorite pairing of the meal. This Chardonnay had notes of ripe fruit – melon, apple and pear – and just a touch of neutral oak aging which gave it a little bit of creaminess and weight. The fruit matched the crispness of the frisee, and the weight and creaminess basically had a mind meld with the poached egg and lardon. I could eat this salad and drink this wine together for the rest of my life and be pretty happy about it.

Second Course: Cacio e Pepe with squid ink pasta

Wine Pairing: 2013 Roio Orvieto Classico

Cacio e Pepe is a light pasta dish consisting of Parmigiana cheese, pepper and…pasta. It’s simple and elegant, as most of the best meals are. And because of this, I struggled mightily with the wine pairing. Complex meals with multiple components are generally easier to pair – there are more handholds, if you will. More elements for the wine to link onto, more nuances to bring out subtleties in the wine. In simple dishes, there is nowhere to hide – the wine either works, or it doesn’t.

I played around with red wine possibilities for a while, contemplated a high acid white… In the end, I reverted back to my basic rule for all pairings: when stumped, go local.

Cacio e Pepe, it turns out, is native to the Umbria region of Italy. There’s also a lovely little white wine native to Umbria called Orvieto, which ended up being a perfect match for this dish. Orvieto is mostly Trebbiano (kind of like Chardonnay), a grape that has neutral qualities so as not to overwhelm this simple dish, and just enough acid to cut through the creaminess of the cheese and stand up to the pepper.

Third Course: Braised beef short rib over polenta

Wine Pairing: Donnachiara 2007 Taurasi Aglianico

Aglianico is a grape that has been around forever. It was a major export in ancient Greece, consumed by the Romans, and even protected by Popes. Like a lot of Italian wine, it’s had its ups and downs in quality. But this Taurasi (referring to the region where Aglianico is grown) is on point. Taurasi is in southern Italy, in the region of Campania, where it grows on volcanic soils. The soil lends the wine its most notable characteristics – black fruit flavors followed by smoke, ash, tobacco and black olives.

So often hearty beef dishes are paired with rich, fruit forward wines like a big Napa Cab or juicy Merlot. (Indeed – these short ribs had even been braised in Merlot…). But this Aglianico had just the right amount of grip and smoke to bring out the earthy elements of the meat and highlight the silkiness of the polenta. This was really a case where each element of the meal was beautiful on its own, and together they made an incomparable pair.

Desert: Chocolate soufflé

Wine Pairing: Blandy’s 5 year old Malmsey Madeira

Can I first say how lucky I am to have friends who can effortlessly craft perfect chocolate soufflés? Especially when these are the same friends with whom I did a lot of stupid things in college? From beer bongs to soufflés. The evolution of adulthood.

Anyway, this pairing was almost reflexive for me – I heard chocolate, and I paired Madeira.

Madeira is a fortified (sweet) wine from Portugal. I love it beyond all reason. Emma hates it and thinks it is gross.

To each their own, I suppose.

The flavors of Madeira pair so well with chocolate. Unlike more fruit forward fortified wines (think, Port), the most notable flavors in Madeira are fig, coffee, caramel and nuts. It’s the perfect offset to the sweetness of the chocolate.

The other great thing about Madeira is, frankly, how weird it is. (I love odd stories and weird wines….Madeira fits the bill in this regard). I’ve written here before about how heat is the enemy of wine. That is and remains true, except when the wine is Madeira.

Back during the Age of Exploration (Columbus! Pilgrims! East India Company!), Madeira was the standard beverage consumed on ships heading to the New World or the East Indies. To prevent the wine from spoiling, a neutral grape spirit was added (usually brandy) just before the wine was stashed into the hull of the ship. On the long sea voyages, the wines would be exposed to excessive heat, oxygen and movement, which transformed the flavor of the wine. The wine would be, essentially, cooked.

The modern method of making Madeira is intended to mimic the elements the wine was exposed to during long sea voyages. The modern process is called “estufagem (es-too-fuh-jem). It works like this: the best Madeira houses harvest their grapes, ferment them in steel or in oak and then….put them in the attic. Yup. They just stick them up in the attic (presumably not with all their winter clothes, family photos and Christmas ornaments...)where the wine is exposed to the boiling heat of Portugal summers. (Lower quality Madeira is put over stove generated heat, but the best stuff is attic-aged.)

Exposure to the elements that destroy most wines – oxygen and heat – are what make Madeira what it is. The added benefit of making it this way (besides the fact that it’s delicious) is that it makes Madeira virtually indestructible. You could open a bottle, put it on a shelf for a couple of months, expose it to summer heat, and then serve it, and it would still taste fine. Madeira lasts forever. 100-year old Madeiras are not infrequently sold. Vintages dating back to 1780 are known to exist in great condition. Old bottles come to market (usually at auction) and are still drinkable. (To compare, still, dry wine doesn’t usually last that long. Vintages from the 1800s are more likely to oxidize or spoil due to cork breakdown or bottle damage).

All of that to say, Madeira was a lovely way to finish off the meal.

You know the food was great when all the preparation fogs up the windows.

You know the wine was even better when your 30ish year-old friends feel compelled to finger-write their feelings on the window.

A Blizzard, A Bottle and; No Corkscrew

Sounds like a nightmare, right?

Buffalo, New York, is currently blanketed by approximately 5 feet of snow. No one is getting in or out or anywhere.

The first rule of emergency weather preparation (besides generators, first aid, fresh water, etc) is to STOCKPILE THE WINE to ensure that you never find yourself trapped in the house for several days without easy access to your best coping mechanism libations.

The second rule is to have a corkscrew on hand.

BUT FEAR YE NOT - if you don't have a corkscrew, there are creative ways to get into your bottle.

My sister and brother-in-law live in Buffalo, are currently snowed in and yesterday found themselves with a bottle of wine, but no way to access it. Thankfully they are both handy and know that the best way to solve a problem is to google it immediately. And then also to video tape yourselves attempting to do something where safety is not guaranteed and which might result in disaster. And send said video to your sister who has a blog, so she can put it on the Internet.

A video of these two trying to get into a wine bottle with a screw, a hammer, and sheer force of will is below. I'll summarize the process here:

1. Put screw into cork.

2. Attempt to lever out the cork using the tail of the hammer.

3. Realize you may break it/you're not strong enough/you don't want to be the one who spills the wine.

4. Make your husband do it.

5. He breaks the cork.

6. Cry dramatically in despair.

7. Husband tries again.

8. Remainder of cork is removed with screw and hammer.

9. Epic celebrating.

 

Wine Review: 2011 De Morgenzon DMZ Syrah

Weeks when Rachel teaches a class at DCanter (which you should all attend if you are in DC,) are good weeks for me. I get to watch a preview of the class, maybe taste some of the wine and learn a bunch about regions/grapes that I didn’t know about. This week was one of those weeks, the class was on Syrah vs Shiraz, and the truly shocking thing was that they are one in the same! Both wines come from the same grape; the different name comes from where they were grown, and how the wine was made. Usually, Syrahs come from the Northern Rhone area of France, where the vines grow on incredible slopes and the wines have tastes and aromas of cracked black pepper, earth and leather. Shiraz tends to come from the New World, especially Australia, where the vines have an easier time, and the wines are more aromatic and fruit forward. Anyway, after class this week, we had a tough choice of which wine to have to accompany our dinner.

In the end we went with the De Morgenzon DMZ Syrah 2011. This wine comes from South Africa, where is spends 11 months in French oak giving it hints of vanilla and smoke on the nose and on the palate.

When you first smell the wine, you get dark fruit, blueberry and boysenberry with a little dark chocolate and a fair amount of leather. It smells earthy but with a little smoke and some cherry. On the palate you find stewed fruit, overripe plum, and bramble. The wine finishes with some pleasant tannins. This is definitely a food wine, we ate it with steak, but you also can’t go too far wrong with chili either and since it is winter, both of those are pretty good options.

Rating: Weeknight Wine Place of Purchase: DCanter, Washington DC Retail Price: $20 If you like this you will like California Cabernet Sauvignon, Zinfandel, Australian Shiraz

Wine Review: 2010 Lamoreaux Landing 76 West

Better late than never is what they say, right? We’re a little late this week, but we’re still sipping! And here’s what’s been in our glasses lately:

Last week, I taught a class at DCanter about wines from New York state. (I gave it the title “New York State of Wine,” which I think amused me more than it did everyone else.)  I am an Upstate NY native. This doesn't entitle me to like NY wine - trust me, there are a lot of things I'm not crazy about, even though I'm from NY (prohibitively high property taxes? outlawing the Big Gulp? Also, everyone is corrupt). But the wine? The wine is fantastic.

The funny thing is, I had a really difficult time convincing everyone else that New York wine would be as good as I told them it would be. That is, until everyone in my class got to personally experience the gems coming out of the Empire state, from the Finger Lakes to Long Island.

One of my favorite vineyards in the Finger Lakes is Lamoreaux Landing Wine Cellars, on the Seneca Lake wine trail. Lamoreaux Landing is a third generation vineyard with 20 different vineyard holdings up and down the lake. And they are making seriously good wine. I actually discovered this wine by ordering it at a local restaurant, where I became so taken with it that I made a special trip out to the vineyard the next day. Now, it’s a yearly stop on my holiday visits back to the Finger Lakes. I taste the new vintages, stock up my own cellar, and buy a bunch of Lamoreaux wines to give as gifts. (If I like you, you get a Lamoreaux wine. If I don’t, you get something else.)

The bottle I opened last week is one of my favorites, Lamoreaux Landing’s 76 West. It’s a Bordeaux-style blend that is primarily Cabernet Franc and Cabernet Sauvignon, with Merlot added as well. Cabernet Franc grows beautifully in the Finger Lakes, and develops the smoky, earthy complexity that gives this wine texture and depth. A lot of wines on the market are “Bordeaux-style” while tasting nothing like the blends coming out of Bordeaux, but the 76 West is an exception - the wine actually drinks like a young Bordeaux, with notes of black berry, black cherry, cassis, chocolate and earth on the nose and palate. It’s not nearly as tannic and grainy as some young Bordeaux can be, so if you’re craving a French style wine on an American palate (and budget), knock yourself out!

I sipped this lovely little number on it’s own, but it could easily be paired with steak, a rustic pasta dish with meat sauce, or a deep, creamy cheese.

Rating: No, I Won’t Be Sharing. Place of Purchase: the vineyard at Lamoreaux Landing, but you can order it online! Retail price: $25. You’ll like this if you like: Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Malbec, Bordeaux

I’ll be writing more about New York wine in the coming weeks, so pop on some Billy Joel and put yourself in a New York state of mind (an Upstate New York state of wine, to be more precise…!)