What I Drank On My Summer Vacation

16 Aug

Ah, summer vacation. In childhood, we couldn’t wait for summer to romp and play, no worries of homework or responsibilities. During high school I worked, dated, partied, hung out with my friends, and traveled both Europe and the States with my family. Fresh out of college, I worked, too broke to afford to travel, until my honeymoon in France, which was fabulous and full of vigor but we were still too broke to eat or drink well. Twenty-something years later, now in middle age and trucking along our teenagers, vacation time is precious and the difficultly is making a calendar that suits our various needs.

Scotland. We escaped to Scotland, getting away from the summer heat of New York to the cool, rainy highlands and dark, foreboding castles. Or so we thought, until we arrived and found the highest heat index Scotland has had in 40 years. We had sunny days and sunburned bodies. Worn out from each day and a full itinerary, we’d collapse into a chair to review the dinner menu, and I’d search for something wonderful to drink. And so I searched.
Glen Coe

Glen Coe. I could not have felt more at home in these highlands.

 

local

A local on his way to work.

 

brodies

Deacon Brodie’s Tavern, Edinburgh

 

Maybe you’re laughing. Was I too naïve, thinking I might find a lovely wine to accompany my travels in a land known for ‘whisky’ (that’s how they spell it, without the “e”) and warm beer served in public houses?

Perhaps I was. But I managed to drink wine most nights, regardless.

Friendship like whisky

 A popular attitude in Scotland. The sign reads:
“Friendship is like Whisky, the Older the Better
Too Much of Anything Is Bad, But Too Much of Good Whisky Is Barely Enough”

I was thrilled when we arrived in the town of Oban (pronounced: ‘OH-bun’, not ‘oh-Bahn’), for they have the famed Classic Malts of Scotland distillery of the highland malt of the same name. Tours were plentiful and cheap, plus they keep offering you opportunities to taste the wares. Who am I to refuse?

oban

Since 1794, this famed distillery has been the center of town. What can I say? I’m a fan. The Oban malts are in very high demand worldwide, and given the attention to detail and the

Oban glass

Oban’s namesake 14 year Single Malt (twice distilled and matured in second use bourbon barrels)
and Distiller’s Edition (finest of the 14 year selection is then matured a second time in sherry casks).
Shown with two “proper” Glencairn tasting glasses, the dram and pour.

I loved the “Oban Whisky & Fine Wines Shop” across from the distillery. They did have wines I recognized, but in the same relation to the whisky as shown in the circle on the wall, demonstrated below. Perhaps a quarter of their inventory was wine.

whiskey & wine

 

The Oban Whisky & Fine Wine Shop. Here, it’s quietly suggested that you purchase the whisky.

I found my answers (and my options, many were good) and enjoyed our travels to sunny isles and castles, lochs and churches. I drank cool ciders when the wines were scarce or suspect, and visited distilleries to taste the local whisky. Some nights we ate like the locals in the evenings, thought we tended to stay with fish & chips and not the favored haggis. We requested & took the local recommendations for food, seeking out (much to our surprise) small Italian restaurants to provide all of us with perfect comfort food and most importantly, good wines.

papilio

Our better meals were in small Italian restaurants like this one, which sat 27. 

Thanks to #WBC14 I had recently tasted more wines from regions of Italy, Portugal, Greece, even Croatia, so I had an eye for more than just the popular Vinho Verdes, Barolos and Montepulcianos, or the wines of northern Italy and the Alto Adige that I adore, especially Lagrein.

The rare heat was perfect to drink sparkling wines, sparkling and still rosés, and on the coolest night I splurged for one rare Emidio Pepe Montepulciano d’Abruzzo that I couldn’t resist. Most of my choices, like this lovely rosato pictured below, cooled our bodies, refreshed our palates and cut through salads and sauces, leaving us satisfied, happy, and ready to continue our journey.

rosato

 One of my favorite wines from the trip, Bortomolio Rosato Frzzante- crisp, dry, delightful. 

While I didn’t discover a great many new wines to share, the post-#WBC14 break for my palate allowed me to enjoy the local spirits helped me to indulge in the Scottish experience, returning refreshed and ready to explore all new wines to share with you in the near future.  Until then…

à votre santé!

and a few more shots from Scotland:

isla mullBeautiful Blue Skies over the Isle of Mull.

ForeWell

“Water was either suspect or in short supply here. We suggest you drink the whisky.”

coffee mug

“Would you care for a sense of entitlement with your morning beverage?”

barrel rev2

The Oban Distillery tour was incredibly informative. A shot prior to barrel tasting!

sunset

Sunset, Port of Oban

Urquhart Castle

Urquhart Castle Ruins on Loch Ness

inverness

Dusk, Inverness

toes in water

a relaxing opportunity to cool my heels and enjoy Loch Lomond

“Life is a journey, not a destination.”

-Ralph Waldo Emerson

Where have you journeyed lately, and what did you drink on the way? 

à votre santé!

Dinner With Friends- #MWWC11

10 Aug
Note: This post is 1) different that what I normally write, 2) about a recent wine dinner, as well as 3) a response to my friend Jeff ‘s request for submissions to the Monthly Wine Writing Challenge, #MWWC11 which if you really want to (if you blog & want to write about wine)  you can see here.  Or if you ride or like comic writing, you should check out my favorite  section of  Jeff’s blog, which I really enjoy. I hope you enjoy this post! Feel free to comment and let me know -JvB
wine-stain1-3

A friend I’ve not seen for 28 years was in town for a family wedding- his! So I invited Joe & Kaz to come to our home for dinner while they were in NYC, visiting from Osaka Japan. Joe has lived in Japan for almost two decades and I knew we’d have a lot to discuss. I was a little nervous about making dinner since our Western meals are quite different than those in the East, so I enlisted my (much) better half to help create a solid dinner plan, while I, as in classic form, worried and worried about what wines to serve.

I stared into my cellar, pondering choice after choice, changing my mind several times. Finally I settled on a small- production petite sirah I’ve been holding for a special occasion to pair with beef, and a vinho verde I love on hot summer evenings. I grabbed a bottle of Chateau de L’Aulée AOC Méthode Tradtionelle brut sparkling wine from Touraine, France so we could toast the wedding. And just for fun, I selected two half bottles of dessert wine, a port and a sauternes. I felt prepared. No, really I felt terrified, but at least I had wine!

IMG_0347

 

Since both my wife and I are freelancers in the arts and work a lot of (ok, almost all) evenings and weekends, we rarely get to entertain. We also didn’t know how busy we would be prior to our dinner. As my schedule got increasingly hectic, she agreed to shop while I was working. Our menu plan included several cold salads that I could help prep and she could execute while I was grilling the entrée. The butcher didn’t have the cut of meat I wanted available, so she purchased several shoulder steaks and we agreed to make kabobs to allow us to serve efficiently.

As she sliced a butternut squash and put that into the oven, I cubed the beef and dumped it into a bowl for the marinade- then diced fresh garlic, onion powder, cracked 4-color pepper mix, and ground some Himalayan salt on top. I added two heaping tablespoons of extra virgin olive oil, a splash of balsamic vinegar, then raced to the cellar to get a bottle of my ‘everyday’ red table wine- a bottle of 2011 Los Vascos from Colchagua, Chile which is managed by none other than Baron Eric de Rothschild.

los vascos

This wine is one of the best values I keep in my cellar at about $10 a bottle, and is great to drink but doesn’t break my heart if I need a lot of it to make a meal taste wonderful. I poured it on the beef and mixed my marinade happily, putting the bottle aside as a backup to the Petite Syrah, then covering the marinade bowl and sliding it into the fridge to continue the prep.

Annette and I chopped Israeli cucumbers and diced roma tomatoes, parsley and scallions for a cucumber/tomato salad that could be dressed quickly with oil and balsamic vinegar. As I washed vegetables for the kabobs, she cut yellow and red peppers for me, moved to prep an avocado salad that had to be made at the last minute, then put sweet peas and water into a pan to cook while I scraped & preheated the grill.

Thirty minutes had passed and we were moments away from our guests arriving, so we enlisted a daughter to set the table while I aerated and decanted the petite sirah, using a True Fabrications Aerating Pour Spout to pour into the decanter. The petite sirah was a gorgeous, near-black purple in color, delightfully aromatic with the scent of african violets, and exciting even to pour. I was happy that the spout had caught some sediment as well as aerating. I rinsed it and set it aside, then pulled the meat out and built the kabobs for grilling, using mushrooms, onion, cherry tomato, yellow and red pepper, and of course the marinated steak cubes.

true

 

Joe and Kaz arrived and we greeted them, opened the bubbly and toasted their wedding, and I took them with me to the backyard to grill the kabobs while Annette completed the salads and vegetable courses.

IMG_0346

The grill ran about 550 degrees and while kabobs require about five minutes a side for medium well (turning over once), I prefer to turn them every three minutes as neither the vegetables nor the meat always turns as one wants. After a quick sear, I moved several kabobs to a higher level to grill them to medium rare over the same duration. We chatted about their trip, enjoying the sparkling wine until it was time to take the kabobs off the flame.

Following our guests into the dining room with a plate of burning hot skewers, I noticed that Annette had made a couscous (when did she find time to do that?) and also managed to plate the butternut squash rings so that they enclosed the steaming hot green peas, a neat little visual I didn’t know was in her repertoire! I refreshed flutes with sparkling wine and poured the petite sirah, as Joe gave a quick Japanese blessing, “Itadakimasu” or いただきます.  A few bites in, Joe exclaimed his joy at the wine, which made me beam proudly and take time to explain my choice, ignoring the earlier requests from my 13-year old daughter who had begged me not to wax poetic about wine tonight…sorry, sweetheart!

Modus Operandi is the Napa, CA home of winemaker Jason Moore. I was introduced to his wines by a fellow oenophile who INSISTED I try Jason’s cabernet sauvignon- I loved it, noting the depth and complexities of flavors, with an unusual bonus: chocolate covered strawberry notes on the finish. I quickly joined the Modus wine club and have been a fan ever since. Jason may not be the first of the independent winemakers that I decided to champion and support, but he is highly accomplished and we share an affinity for passion in the things we do. His work is exemplary.

Back to the dinner table: Joe noted the sirah was more black in color than red, more floral than fruity on the nose, and deeply complex. I agreed, and explained that it was made in very limited quantity (only two barrels produced) and that I chose it specifically to complement both the meat and array of vegetables due to its flexibility to pair so well with grilled foods. I have a full review of the ’09 sirah here.

 

IMG_0348 IMG_0349

The meal I had been so worried about had been a success, and we talked late into the night. After a small intermission we cleared dinner, I made coffee while Annette served berries and some small pastries I’d picked up at Financier for dessert, and I brought out the dessert beverages to our guests. These included the 2006 Chateau Doisy Vedrines which is showing beautifully right now, a tawny port from Kalyra Winery, from Santa Barbara, CA that I just tasted recently on my Wine Blogging trip, and a calvados: Christian Drouin Coer de Lion “Selection”, a delightful digestive that offers apples, spice, and cinnamon-all the best parts of apple pie- in the glass.

IMG_0350

We sampled sips of all three, and a little XO courvoisier that was a gift from a client.

My fears of failure seemed to have been conquered by paying great attention to detail. Fresh, flavorful, and colorful food well-paired with tasty wines and made for a lovely, memorable evening with old friends and our spouses. While I don’t know when I’ll see my friend Joe again, I hope that Annette and I will work harder to entertain more guests at our home sooner, rather than later.

à votre santé!

 

 

 

Bodan Roan Cab Sauv ‘2011

3 Aug

Bodan Roan Cabernet Sauvignon 2011, Napa Valley. 13.6% ABV, $9/bottle from Astor Wine & Spirits.

roan1

The first thing you’ll notice with Bodan Roan 2011 Cab Sauv is that the color looks like a pinot, not a cab. The light color belies the grapes. The nose, too shows bright red fruit, some vegetation and touch of wood. On the palate, the red fruit is quite bright and matched by powerful acidity, showing a quicker finish as loose tannins creep in gently. A hint of stone is the final note after the tannins subside. This is a wine made for food, flexible and capable of pairing with just about anything, leaving a clean and fresh palate quickly without imparting a new color of its own. A great table/house red for warm seasons or climates that can stand up to any food, easygoing & providing solid value.

Just beware if you taste on its own, you might say ‘bleh’ but if you taste with food, you’ll likely say ‘yeah!’.

roan 2

à votre santé

Real Lambrusco: Pay it Forward!

27 Jul

While attending the Wine Bloggers Conference in Santa Barbara, I had the opportunity to meet some amazing winemakers and taste a bunch of fabulous wines. Several stood out, but there is one that I feel has been overlooked by the US wine market. It’s time to show a little love for this wine, and doing so will undoubtedly improve your summer.

Lambrusco.

Now, some people might have a negative reaction to that word. (I had one early in my life to tequila… but that’s another story!)

Lambrusco. Wine writer Fiona Beckett wrote about lambrusco in The Guardian here (click the link or  read my favorite excerpt below):

Beckett says, ” I don’t mean that lambrusco – the weedy, pissy kind drunk by students in the absence of anything better – but real lambrusco: deep crimson, frothy, and one of the great glories of Emilia-Romagna.”

Right! It’s NOT the swill you might imagine in your worst fears. REAL lambrusco is dry, fruity, red, bubbly, refreshing, low in alcohol- delightful in every way, and pairs wonderfully where you might want a red wine, you might wand a sparkling wine, but here you get the perfect marriage of both.

The first lambrusco I ever tasted was a simple, $12-16 bottle from Canali. I tasted this, and was thrilled.

Canali

Check out the brilliant color. Add fizziness, very dry fruit, crisp acidity. It’s very satisfying on the palate! 

Later, I did a quick search to try and find it (two shops close to me in NYC carry it for about $15-16 per bottle, and was a little surprised. It had a score of 84 points. “Hmm,” I thought, “I felt this was an 88-92 pointer,” as my eye wandered down the page to see five awards in the last three years alone. As much as I like to think that I don’t care about scores, evidently they still have an impression on me. Until I realize that in this case, the score didn’t matter. I really enjoyed this wine, it was an ideal example of what my palate needed (that 50 or so other wines that day didn’t come close to).

Here’s a search from wine-searcher. Ignore the scores, look at the awards.

This summer, why not find a lambrusco you love. Serve this to your friends and neighbors, and watch the delight in their faces. If you play on social media, you’ll see a constant stream of people supporting the #Pay It Forward” movement.

Try this one, oenophiles!

Real Lambrusco. #Pay it forward.

 

You’ll be glad you did.

 

à votre santé!

Special thanks to Fiona Beckett, and here’s the entire link to her article in The Guardian:   http://www.theguardian.com/lifeandstyle/2014/apr/05/lambrusco-uk-wine-review-fiona-beckett

David and Goliath: The Independent Winemakers

22 Jul

I’ve been a long time fan of small, independent wine makers. It’s easy to see, by my reviews.

With the independents, you can find great personality, unusual choices, sometimes chances being taken that can be greater highs and perhaps greater lows. But the highs can be mind-blowingly good, and create loyalty amongst followers. Even more importantly, oenophiles find amazing VALUE and personalized service from independent winemakers. For example, I can’t call Prince Robert of Luxembourg (the owner of Chateau Haut-Brion) personally, but I can call up Jason Moore or Blair Fox and ask for a case of wine to be shipped in time for Thanksgiving, and get it! You might even find something you like as much as that second growth/premiere cru. At least, you can find things that you will adore to come back to time and time again, affordably!

Here are a couple of resources that might point you in a direction to try:

The Observer’s David Williams’ “California Wine: Why the Independents Rule”

http://www.theguardian.com/lifeandstyle/2014/feb/15/california-wine-david-williams?CMP=twt_fd

http://abclocal.go.com/kgo/story?section=news/technology&id=9201811

http://www.winesnw.com/news_reviews/archive-goingsolo.htm

 

Here are MY personal favorites from the USA for right now.

http://www.orinswift.com/

http://moduswines.com/

http://www.blairfoxcellars.com/

http://ripkenwine.com/

These are winemakers who have thrown a stone from a sling and hit time and time again, square in the temple. They might appear small, but they are powerful, equipped, and skilled winemakers! Over a period of months, Dave Phinney exploded from anonymity to fame based on one wine. Who will follow? Only time will tell.

What are YOUR favorites independent winemakers from the USA?

à votre santé!

Furious Live Wine Blogging. Day 2- Reds!

13 Jul

It’s hard to explain the insanity of Live Wine Blogging at the WBC14  Wine Blogger’s Conference, but let’s try: 300+ people crammed into a conference room with round tables for 8 with a number in the middle. 50 minute time limit on the event! Wine makers run around the room, changing tables every five minutes from table number to number (in order), trying to shout above the din what their wine is while they both pour tastes and answer questions. Bloggers furiously try to taste each wine, scribble notes, and tweet or record their findings as they try not to spit wine on themselves or their digital devices. All of this while the conference leaders shout furtively into a wireless microphone that only feeds a speaker in one small corner, far below the room volume. A tiny bit of insanity, strangely fun, while frustrating. Did I mention the intermittent internet connectivity, or the lack of good signal in the basement? Oh- never mind. :)

Regardless- we tasted some good, some not so good, from $8 to $60 (Jordan Winery’s 2006 Cab: Tasty!). Here is my pile of tweets for your enjoyment!

 

Labyrinth Pino ’12 clone 667 “More Cary grant than John Wayne”

2011 SB Syrah Brett and barnyard on the nose, very mixed palate. Grill pleaser for sure.

Monterey Pinot. Black cherry, boysenberry, nice tight finish. Stelvin & $15- easy to drink!

2010 vineyard 511 Cab- aged 30 mo’s in oak! Menthol & Forest, black fruit and long pull.

Symmetry Meritage ’11 Classic Sonoma, where’s my steak?

Carmenere Reaerve 2011. $13, earth & brown spice, ideal for Classic French aka boef bourg.

’06 Cab. Lovely Alexander valley, menthol and perfume- so old world! Luxury-Yum!

à votre santé!

Sanford Wines- Tasting Passion in the Bottle!

12 Jul

Over the last few days I’ve been tasting a great deal of wine. So when I came across a winemaker that made a serious impression on me, instinctively I wanted to know more. Here’s the story:

Sanford Winery was the last tasting of the day for me in Santa Barbara, CA, a town loaded with local winemakers that have shops and tasting rooms dotting the town. At Sanford’s tasting room, I noticed a level of complexity and depth in the wines I was tasting- an impression that showed a great level of care, as my palate began to compare these new world wines to old world wines, finding more in common than most of the wines I’d found from this region.  I needed to find out more.

 

IMG_0401

IMG_0407

IMG_0403

 

IMG_0404

IMG_0406

A few calls later and a nice trip up the Pacific Coast Highway found me in the beautiful hills of Lompoc.

sign

IMG_0431

IMG_0426

Sanford Winery (owned by the Terlato Wine Group) has a lovely tasting room, but fortune had smiled upon me. Not only did I get a chance to see the grapes up close, but they were bottling and I was able to see the process from vine to bottle, in its entirety. IMG_0458

IMG_0460

IMG_0477

IMG_0480

IMG_0448

IMG_0449

IMG_0450

IMG_0451IMG_0457

IMG_0461

IMG_0446

 

jvb&auggie

IMG_0453

IMG_0452

IMG_0454

IMG_0456

IMG_0444

 

IMG_0440

IMG_0441

IMG_0436

IMG_0439

IMG_0442

For the wine lover, it’s a huge (and incredibly rare) treat to be able to walk through a winery with the employees, see everything from the vines to the hoppers, crushers, stainless steel fermentation vats, filtration tubs, french oak barrels, the cold pressing and filtration systems, and top it off with bottling!

But of course, that’s only the tip of the iceberg. Every single person I met at Sanford was both happy and passionate about their work. Everyone smiles, wanted to shake my hand and chat about their work while they continued their jobs- with fire in their eyes and love for the process. I noticed as we walked through the property… this person had been here for ten years, this person, twelve… 18, 20, even employees who have been with the company for over 24 years. Its impressive!

That passion and love for making a great product shows. Not only can you see it in the eyes and faces of the employees, but you taste the difference in their wines!

Maybe you noticed that I didn’t bother giving you any tasting notes about these wines. In the last week, I’ve tasted hundreds of wines. While some were lousy and some were great, many were nice but very few of them made a serious impact on me. The people and the products from Sanford Winery made an impact on me, and after meeting them and seeing their operation up close, I knew that tasting notes would not be what I wanted to share with you. Instead, I wanted to share with you the passion I experienced in drinking their wines, because that same passion was apparent in every person I met at Sanford and every element of my experience visiting the winery.

Tasting a beautiful wine might make you question your adoration for wines from other world regions.  For this wine lover and reputed French wine snob, I was duly impressed by a current club-offering pinot which compares beautifully to northern burgundy, in the nose, color, palate, and finish. If you are an oenophile, you might know what that means to me, and what high praise it is. It’s why I wanted to take the trek to walk among the vines, touch the grapes, meet the people behind the magic in the bottle at Sanford- because they made a significant impression on me, and that’s why I needed to share Sanford with you. I have seen it ever so rarely: Passion, in the bottle. 

IMG_0462

 

IMG_0463

 

 

à votre santé!

Follow

Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 73 other followers

%d bloggers like this: